HC Deb 22 June 1956 vol 554 cc1790-828
The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. W. F. Deedes)

I beg to move, in page 5, line 14, after "order" to insert: but without prejudice to the powers of the authority in relation to that person by virtue of the order".

Mr. Speaker

I suggest that it would be for the convenience of the House that on this Amendment there should be a general discussion of it and all the other remaining Amendments. Of course, I shall call the Amendment in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) if afterwards he wishes to have a Division on it, but if we could have a general discussion covering the matter which, I think, these Amendments do cover, it would help us all.

Mr. Deedes

The course you suggest. Mr. Speaker, is one which I certainly should find helpful, and I hope that those concerned with the later Amendments will agree, because all these Amendments are designed to achieve the same purpose. At an earlier stage I indicated to the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) that I would examine the wording of Clause 5 to make clear that when a child returns to its own home, or another home, for a trial period, the local authority retains the care and control of the child given by the court order; and that a form of words should be sought which would remove doubts which, I understood from the right hon. Gentleman, existed in the minds of some magistrates about what measure of ultimate control was retained by the local authority. I promised to try to remove ambiguity from the wording, and I hope that the Amendment may go some way towards doing that.

The six Amendments in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl), which follow this Amendment, provide additional screws for tightening up this part of the Clause. We see no objection to them, indeed we welcome them. But I am anxious to be frank about this, and I should add that, by a curious coincidence, this subject arose at a late hour last night during the Adjournment debate, which is not yet on the record. A specific case was raised by the hon. Member for Nuneaton (Mr. Bowles). As the right hon. Member for Middlesborough, East and the hon. Member for Widnes are particularly interested, and will not yet have had an opportunity of reading what was said by the hon. Member for Nuneaton and my reply, I thought that I should mention it, because I should not like them to feel that I had deliberately made no reference to it.

The Adjournment debate related to a case which involved the power of the court, the revocation of an order and the sending home of a child for a trial period. I do not think that anything which was said has any bearing on these Amendments or this Clause. However, I stress that it is important that, wherever a court has refused to revoke an order in respect of a child, the child should not be returned, even for a trial period—which does not require the authority of the court—without the full authority of the children's committee of the local authority; that is to say, that it should not be possible for a children's officer to take a personal decision to return a child for a trial period, as is possible under the terms of Clause 5, without the full knowledge and consent of the children's committee. If the right hon. Gentleman reads what was said last night, he will see that that is on the record. I do not think that anyone is likely to quarrel with it, but I felt that I should make it clear before we parted with this Clause.

Mr. James MacColl (Widnes)

I wish to express my appreciation to the Joint Under-Secretary for going so carefully into these matters in an endeavour to meet the points raised during our discussions in Committee. I should also like to thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) for having raised this problem in Committee and securing a discussion then which has made it easier for us to discuss the problem now.

I welcome what has been said by the Joint Under-Secretary. I almost hesitate to continue speaking, because I might appear not to be in harmony with the hon. Gentleman and he might have second thoughts about my Amendments. The point here is that it is not just a question of the power of the local authority, but of its duty to accept responsibility for a child. What may happen in a typical case is that a small boy, who may have chased his little sister round the room with a table knife, or refused to go to school, is brought before the court. He is examined by the psychiatric adviser available to help the court in these matters, and it appears that part of the trouble is due to home conditions. Everyone knows that truancy is a natural consequence of tension in the home.

As a result of careful examination, which is practically always accompanied by a probation officer's report, based on visits to the home, the court decides that the child should go away from home for a period and it makes a "fit person order" committing the child to the care—the word is "care"—of the children's authority. Under the law as it used to be the authority had the right to refuse to become a fit person. But under the 1948 Children Act that position no longer applies. Although the authority may make representations, it may not refuse.

In the best regulated families these matters are settled by discussion, and it is comparatively rare that the court feels it necessary to over-rule the judgment of the authority. In most cases the authority is anxious to co-operate with the court. But there is always the possibility of cases where, acting on the advice contained in the reports which it has received, the court may feel it necessary to over-rule the misgivings of the children's authority in the matter and it is entitled to do so.

The child may come home for a holiday in a remarkably improved condition, both in cleanliness and general demeanour. That very often happens and the parents immediately say, "Everything is perfect. We want to have little Alfie home permanently." Often the court has grave misgivings about this because, obviously, the home conditions were wrong before and if the child is allowed to go back home, nobody can be sure that the trouble will not break out again.

It may be that the removal of the child to a new environment was the reason for the improvement. There is no means of finding out except by experiment. But if the court revokes the order, the child will have to be brought again before the court if that is found to be necessary, which is a bad thing. Another complaint must be made to the court and all the evidence heard before a new order can be made. That is unpleasant and may have a bad effect on the child.

Under the procedure, which is widely adopted and legitimised by this Clause, it is possible for the children's authority, instead of coming to the court, to send the child home for a period to see how he gets on. Then, when an application for a revocation of the order is made, the court has the enormous advantage of knowing the result of this practical experiment. Therefore, beaming parents and a satisfied child may come to the court and say, "It is working very well", and then the court may revoke the order.

But some magistrates are frightened of that procedure. They are afraid of such cases as that alluded to in the Adjournment debate last night, where it may be possible for the court to make an order one day and for the children's authority to send the child back home the next. That. of course, is not good for law and order. For one thing, if everybody has seen Alfie disappear for an indefinite period and finds that he is back next day, the local children will not be impressed by the court. That has to be taken into account, because it does not improve the relations between the court and the authority either.

11.30 a.m.

My own view, which, I think, is the view of the majority of magistrates, is that it is worth taking that risk because it is an admirable arrangement, though there is a suspicion among certain magistrates that it will derogate against the authority of the court. That is emphasised by the drafting of this Clause, which uses the words "handing over the care of the child to the parents". If the court makes an order committing the child to the care of the authority as a fit person, it ought not to be in the power of the authority to hand the child over to the care of the parents, because that would seem to be derogating from the completeness of the original order.

This has worried a number of experienced clerks of courts and magistrates. Happily, these matters hardly ever get to the High Court but, when they do, a great deal of trouble is caused. As the Minister will remember, I have been the humble subject of appeals to the High Court in these matters and, as a result. the law has been considerably advanced. Fortunately, however[...] these appeals do not occur often.

These words are not definite enough. What is the difference between "court", "control", "custody" and "charge", all of which are mentioned in the Children Act? Therefore, it is a pity, on the whole, that the Government, in drafting this Clause have used the expression handing over "the care". What would satisfy most people, and what I hope the Minister will advise is the effect, is that the care of the child, in the sense of general responsibility for its morals, remains with the authority to whom it has been entrusted by the court.

The word "charge" is defined in Section 17 of the Children and Young Persons Act, 1933, as being:

Any person to whose charge a child or young person is committed by any person who has the custody of him shall be presumed to have charge of the child or young person; In other words "charge" is a delegation of authority, and that seems to be the right word, which is why I have suggested it in my Amendment to line 16, after "the", insert "charge and".

We want to be sure not only that the authority, if it knows that something has gone wrong, can step in and interfere, but is also responsible for what is going on in the home. If the fit person order were revoked by the court, the court could make a supervision order either to the children's officer or to the probation officer, which would give responsibilty to someone to watch what was going on in the home. Therefore, it would be an absurd position if an authority, by this rather extra-legal way of doing it, could contract out of the supervision which, in fact, the court could order if the authority had gone the whole hog and had applied for the revocation of the order.

It ought to be made clear by the Home Office to children's authorities that if what they want is a more or less permanent handing over of the child to the parents, with full responsibility, then the right procedure is to apply to the court for a revocation of the order That is a legitimate and legal way of doing it which satisfies honour and everything else.

If, however, it is a contingent experiment to see how things go for a short period before applying for revocation, or before advising the parents to apply for revocation, they ought to retain, and must maintain, adequate supervision over what is happening We do not want a situation arising and headlines appearing in the papers of fearful trouble having arisen in the home, either cruelty or neglect or violence having broken out. A case where the children's authority has handed the child to the parents and has never visited the home again would lead to a great deal of criticism of children's authorities. It would confirm the worst forebodings of the more timid magistrates—if I may use that phrase—who are reluctant to try this experiment. Therefore, I hope that the Joint Under-Secretary will use his influence with the children's authorities to make clear the difficulties.

It should also be pointed out that what they should do, if they are to try the experiment, is to hand the child over to the parents and then continue to keep an eye on what is happening, just as a probation officer under a supervision order does. When they reach the stage of deciding that everything is going well and there is no need for further supervision, they should apply to the court for a revocation of the order. The books are tidied up, Alfie is patted on the head, and everyone is congratulated and is satisfied that a good job has been done.

If that is done, this excellent experiment will work. Otherwise, it will lead to friction and criticism between the magistrates and the local authorities, which would be a tragedy and which, unhappily, happens more often with children. When two bodies of adults emotionally concerned with the welfare of children get together, nothing is more certain to lead to violence between them, because they get so excited about the problem and angry with each other. That has happened far too often over the care of juvenile delinquents in the past, although things are much happier now because there is close co-ordination between the interests of the two bodies. I am not worried that this would happen in London, but I am afraid that it might lead to trouble in other areas where there is not such a close link between the two authorities.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 5, line 14, leave out from "determine" to second "that".

In line 16, after "the", insert "charge and".

In page 6, line 13, leave out "in the care and".

In line 14, after "the", insert "charge and".

In line 18, leave out "in that care and".

In line 18. after second "that", insert "charge and".—[Mr. Marquandl]

11.38 a.m.

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

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This Bill was given a Second Reading by the House as recently as 15th May, and the fact that it has had since then a consideration which has been both speedy and thorough is one for which I would like to express the gratitude of the Government to the House as a whole and, in particular, to the members of Standing Committee E.

This is an important Measure and one which, I would suggest to the House, is carefully and appropriately calculated to meet the needs of the situation today. There are some social measures which, by arranging a general increase in rates of benefit, but not altering very much the structure of the National Insurance scheme, are benevolent in their intention, and, in certain situations, very helpful. But these are not days which, in the judgment of the Government, make that kind of Measure appropriate.

The Bill, as I indicated on Second Reading, is put forward by the Government in the belief that it is rather in the nature of an instrument of precision, designed to bring relief at particular points of our welfare and social service system where, on a sober consideration of the facts as they are, it seems to us that the need is greatest. In other words, it is designed to apply what, in present circumstances, are the inevitably limited funds available to what, after a good deal of care, thought and consideration, we think to be the points of greatest need.

So far as the National Insurance side of the Bill is concerned—it has two sides, the family allowances side and the national insurance side—the provisions of the Bill carry out the recommendations of the National Insurance Advisory Committee, which gave that aspect of our social services very careful thought before producing its Report earlier this year. The family allowances part of the Bill carries out decisions taken after a great deal of thought also by the Government.

The total cost of the Bill, as I indicated earlier, will be about £12 million a year to the Exchequer and about £3½ million a year to the two Insurance Funds, the great bulk, of course, falling on the National Insurance Fund and a comparatively small amount on the Industrial Injuries Fund. The benefits of the Bill are largely concentrated on the widow with children, the larger family and the case of the older children who are still at school or are undergoing apprenticeship.

The most important item of the Bill in terms of cost is the increase of 2s. in the rate of family allowances to be paid in respect of the third and subsequent child. During the course of our discussions, some doubt was expressed from time to time whether this should not be extended and why, indeed, the increase was not given in respect of the second child.

I think there was some misunderstanding in that criticism, perhaps, of the very nature of family allowances which are payments which, though assessed in relation to the particular number of children, are intended to be payments made for the benefit of the family as a whole. With that fact borne in mind I think that the justification for concentrating this additional relief in aid of the larger families generally becomes somewhat clearer.

I do not think that there is very much need to waste the time of the House in dealing with any doubt that, in present circumstances, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor said in his Budget speech, it is the larger family which encounters the most difficulty. That is borne out only too clearly if one studies the food surveys published by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. It is apparent, I think, that when the size of the family reaches three children, then in certain vital items of diet the average diet of the family falls below the standards approved by the British Medical Association.

That does not necessarily mean that it is those children who go short. The figures are averaged out for the family and it is probably the experience of hon. Members that, in many cases, it is the mother who goes short in order that her children shall not. Therefore, the proposal to concentrate the major part of the financial relief which it is in present circumstances possible to give on the larger family is, I think, justified by the proved fact of the greater need of the larger family.

It is curious that while, in the course of our discussions in the House, the whole emphasis has been that perhaps even more funds might be made available in the direction of family allowances, outside the House there has sometimes been criticism of the improvement in family allowances being made at all. I have heard the criticism that as family allowances were not payable in respect of the children of an older generation, it is, perhaps, rather doubtful policy to pay them now. That, I think, is a wholly unsound and ill-considered criticism of the family allowance system, a system which I, personally, have believed in for many years.

It is, after all, the fact, of which all of us can be proud, that all sections of society who have difficulties of one kind or another—the old, the sick or the unemployed—have in recent years seen improvements made in benefits to them under the whole elaborate structure of our social security system, and I do not see why the families with children who, as I have indicated, also have their difficulties, should not share in that general' improvement through an improved social security system.

The family allowances are extended by the Bill to be paid in respect of children up to the age of 18 if they remain at school or if they are apprentices. During the course of our discussions, some fear was expressed that "apprentice" might be too strictly construed and that a legalistic approach depending upon a deed of apprenticeship would be adopted. I think that on an earlier stage I was able to reassure the House of the commonsense approach which has been adopted where there has been a de facto if not a de jure apprenticeship, and we propose to continue that approach.

This proposal, which was included in the Election manifesto of the Conservative Party at the last Election, will, I think, play a very useful though, may be, subordinate part in encouraging parents to encourage their children to undergo training either by way of school or apprenticeship for jobs requiring skill and education; and in this way is, perhaps, a pendant to the very interesting matters which the House was discussing as recently as yesterday.

Certainly, in some degree, it should help to resist the very natural temptation which the high wages for juvenile labour in blind alley jobs might offer to parents who are hard pressed to put their children into a job for immediate remuneration without training or experience for the future. I am sure, therefore, that this proposal fits in with our scheme of social services to meet family and national requirements as best we can.

Similarly, there is the provision under which the mother will continue to draw her quota of the widowed mother's allowance so long as she has a child, even though he is not at school or not serving an apprenticeship, living with her, until that child attains the age of 18. That is designed, as the House will remember I indicated at an earlier stage, to keep the family home together.

A provision particularly welcomed by the House was that to raise to 16 the age up to which family allowance is payable in respect of incapacitated children. The age of 16 was selected because after that age such children become eligible for National Assistance in their own right. Previously, there was a gap in respect of such children between the payment of family allowance and eligibility for National Assistance. This proposal will close that gap.

Then there is the other part of the Bill relating to the adjustment of National Insurance with particular reference to widows and their children, and for that may I once again express the gratitude of the Government and, I hope, of the House to Sir Will Spens and his colleagues on the Advisory Committee for the extremely careful thought they gave to this very complex subject. One matter which under their terms of reference they had to leave aside, so far as a detailed recommendation was concerned, was the amount of the increase to be made in respect of the widow's children. They recommended a substantial increase, but they took the view. with which I respectfully agree, that the precise amount was probably outside their terms of reference.

After a great deal of thought the Government decided that the right thing to do was to make an increase of 5s. in respect of each child of a widowed mother, thereby raising the amount payable for the first child to 16s. 6d., for the second child to 8s. 6d.—to which, of course, must be added 8s. family allowance—and for the third and subsequent children, similarly, 8s. 6d., to which under the Bill must be added 10s. That makes the amounts 16s. 6d. for the first child, 16s. 6d. for the second and 18s. 6d. for the third and subsequent children. That was a deliberate increase in the rates which is quite out of line with the general increases which have been made under the National Insurance Scheme since its inception and very far ahead of changes since then in the cost of living.

Perhaps it will help the House to envisage the magnitude of the change if I compare those figures with those originally provided under the Act of 1948, under which the provision was 7s. 6d. for the first child and 5s., the family allowance figure, for the second and subsequent children. If Parliament passes this Bill into law, these figures, therefore, will provide that for the first child the total payment will be more than double what was provided under the Act of 1948, for the second child it will be more than trebled and, for the third and subsequent children, it will be not far short of quadruple the original amount.

That, I think, indicates that we have tried to make decisions which will give from the funds available the maximum possible in the directions where the need seems clearly to be greatest. Hon. Members who have studied the Report of the National Insurance Advisory Committee will agree that after its consideration of the evidence it indicated very clearly that the widowed mother with children is emphatically one of those directions.

An interesting feature of the Bill is the new provision for giving what I have earlier colloquially called the flying start for sickness and unemployment benefits to widows at the end of their period of widow's allowance or widowed mother's allowance. The original idea, which has been germinating for some years, was that such a woman should be given an entitlement directly related to her husband's insurance position, but that has disadvantages, particularly in cases where the husband's contribution record is poor. The present proposal gives full sickness and unemployment cover to such widows in those circumstances, that is, sickness benefit of unlimited duration and unemployment benefit subject to the normal duration rules for that benefit.

In the case of the widowed mother who has brought up her children, the application of the normal rules of unemployment benefit will result in her being entitled to the maximum—at present 19 months'—period of unemployment benefit, because the period required to bring up her children which counts for entitlement, as does the period of marriage, must necessarily be more than the 10 years which will qualify for unemployment benefit for the maximum length of time.

The flying start will be put into effect, if the House passes this Bill, by regulations which would be authorised by Clause 2 (6). They will be made under the earlier Act and require the affirmative Resolution procedure. I do not think that it will be possible to present such regulations before the House rises for the Summer Recess, but I hope to be able to present them in the autumn when, if the House wishes, there will be a further opportunity to discuss this aspect of the matter.

In earlier debates there was some comment on the provision in the Bill to implement the recommendation of the National Insurance Advisory Committee to raise the age from 40 to 50 at which, if it is reached while widowed mothers' allowance is still being drawn, it would entitle the widow to a permanent pension. The provision in the Bill which embodies that recommendation places the woman whose children have passed the age at which she is entitled to draw widowed mother's allowance in the same position as the childless widow. She will become entitled to a permanent pension if her husband dies after she has passed the age of 50.

As the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough East (Mr. Marquand) will recall, we had considerable discussion on that in Committee. I think it became clear then that any difficulties which might be anticipated will be met, as the Advisory Committee thought, by the flying start provisions. It therefore is our intention not to appoint a day for this raising of the age until Parliament has passed the regulation enabling the flying start to be put into operation so that the change from 40 to 50 will not operate until those regulations come into force. I think that that will obviate any of the difficulties which might have been feared.

In any event, it will be some time before the effect of the change is likely to become apparent. Under the Bill as it stands it cannot apply to any woman widowed before the appointed day. After widowhood she will be entitled in the normal way to the widow's allowance for 13 weeks and under the flying start regulations she will be entitled to sickness benefit so long as she is sick, or to unemployment benefit for the appropriate period.

In the case of the former widowed mother, the appropriate period means the full period of 19 months, and when the three months' widow's allowance is added it will be nearly two years after this comes into operation before any change becomes apparent from a practical point of view. In Committee I undertook to watch this carefully to make sure that difficulties do not arise and, as I have indicated, there will be plenty of time to keep the matter under review.

At this stage, I should deal with the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele), that this provision ought to have added to it a provision enabling the change in age to be altered again by regulation. I undertook to consider that. I did not table an Amendment on Report stage, and perhaps I shall not incur displeasure if I say that that decision was taken after a great deal of thought and that, in view of the importance throughout the National Insurance Scheme of the appropriate ages for entitlement, I do not think that this is a question which should be dealt with by regulation; but, if it is to be dealt with, it should be by legislation.

In respect of widowhood. the Bill. I think, embodies the modern approach and ideas to the subject by which we concentrate the funds available to give relief to the widow with children, the older widow and the sick widow. Those are the directions in which the funds available ought to be concentrated; but the younger, fit, childless widow, after the payment of widow's allowance, which will help her to adjust herself to her new and perhaps difficult position, ought to be encouraged to return to ordinary life and work. The best way to enable her to do so while, at the same time, protecting her from difficulties is to equip her, as this Bill proposes to equip her, with a flying start for sickness and unemployment benefits.

I commend these proposals which. as the Houses will appreciate, are part of an integrated whole, as embodying and carrying a little further sensible modern ideas of the treatment of widowhood which first appeared in the Beveridge Report and which further thought and consideration has emphasised and developed.

I wish to say one thing more about dates of operation. As the House will see, the Bill is riddled with provisions under which days can be appointed and I have touched on one or two of the reasons why those days have to be appointed and why it is necessary to bring some of the provisions into effect on different dates. Anything I say on dates now is subject to the view of the House on Third Reading, to its willingness to pass the Bill on Third Read ing, and to the consideration given to it in another place.

Subject to that, I wish to add a word or two to what was said of our intentions on timing by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary at an earlier stage. My hon. Friend indicated that it was our intention that the extension of the upper age limit to 18 for children at school and apprentices and 16 for handicapped children would be brought into effect on 1st August, a date which is extremely convenient in view of the fact that otherwise, under the existing law, many children will come out of family allowance on 31st July.

I hope that on the same date, 1st August, we may also be able to make provision for the payment of family allowance to children committed to the care of local authorities when on trial at home—children concerned in the Amendment to Clause 5 which we discussed earlier—and also to those who will benefit in connection with potentially polygamous marriages under Clause 3.

We hope to introduce later—the date in view is 21st August—the provision for widowed mother's allowance at the 40s. rate and the widow's pension at the higher rate for industrial injury widows where there is a young person under 18 residing at home, and also to bring into effect the relaxation in the duration of marriage rule from 10 to three years. This provision will enable 5,000 to 6,000 widows at present receiving a 10s. pension to go on to the full rate of widow's pension as from the appointed day. We hope to be able to bring that into effect on 21st August.

My hon. Friend has already indicated our intention with respect to the increased rate of family allowance for the younger children and the increase in the widowed mother's allowance. The date we have in mind is 2nd October. We hope, also on the same date, to make provision at the rate of 16s. 6d. instead of 8s. to qualify for widowed mother's allowance, and to increase the rate of child's industrial injury death benefit where the child is not living with the widow.

Although the House must first decide whether to give the Bill a Third Reading, I thought I might indicate that if Parliament gives authority we shall bring these beneficial provisions into effect as speedily as we can. I know, and I think the House will agree, that these provisions will bring some measure of much-needed relief in a number of useful directions. I know from correspondence which I receive that the date of their operation is a matter of personal feeling and personal need to considerable numbers of our fellow countrymen and women. My desire, and that of my Department, therefore, is that the administrative arrangements should operate as speedily as possible in order that these provisions now before the House shall be brought into effect.

In what I suppose will be my last speech on it to the House, I commend the Bill as a carefully considered Measure for using a comparatively limited, although I believe not inconsiderable, amount of funds in a useful direction. While not underrating other things which it may well be possible to consider later, none the less these directions seem to me to be the most clamant and the most imperious.

12.2 p.m.

Dr. Horace King (SouthamptonItchen)

I want to begin my comments on the Bill with what I think is an appropriate quotation:

Too many wealthy people are out openly to enjoy themselves on sold-out capital: too many of the poor look ahead only to the next week. The conscience of society insists on limiting the misery of the poor and the power of the economically strong. This passage is taken from a brilliant essay by a young Oxford undergraduate of 1933 which appeared in a collection called "Red Rags"; and the author was the Minister.

By this Bill, society is assuaging its conscience by distributing some £14 million—£15½ million less the £1½million which the Minister expects to save on National Assistance—to some two or three million of the poorest and most needy people in the country at a time when society permits twice that sum to be raised in a few hours by gamblers in Trinidad on the Stock Exchange. I commend both halves of the quotation to the right hon. Gentleman in the hope that he may carry out a little of the second part of the work which he envisaged so long ago.

We have nothing of which to complain in the right hon. Gentleman's handling of the Bill. Again I quote from this delightful document;

The good minister must be ever alert, energetic, conciliatory, never tired and never rude. I think the right hon. Gentleman lives up to the standard which he set himself twenty years ago. Any faults which we have to discuss this morning lie not in the Minister but in the Bill. They were there on Second Reading and, in spite of the efforts of my right hon. and hon. Friends in Committee, they remain in the Bill today.

It would be churlish not to thank the Minister on behalf of the widows and the fatherless children, and indeed the large poor families of this country, for that in the Bill which is good—for instance, for the increased family allowance of 2s. a week for the third child, which the Minister tells us is in fact not for the third child but for the family and which, if there are three children, represents a contribution of 8d. a week per child towards meeting the increase in the cost of living.

There is also the shortening of the qualifying period of marriage for widow's benefit—a very important provision; and there is the bringing at once into full employment and sickness benefit of the widow after she has exhausted her widow's or widowed mother's benefit. That will be welcome to many in their first period of anxiously seeking work when nobody wants to employ them. While the prospect of employment for widows might be quite certain in parts of the country, it is by no means so in all parts of the country, even in these days of full employment.

Moreover, this concession lasts only about six months, although I understand that it can be extended up to six months more. I was delighted that the Minister told us this morning that in the case of widowed mothers it may extend to 19 months. But after this respite the widow goes out on the very difficult task of competing on terms of complete equality with the rest of the community.

There is the increase of 5s. a week for every widow's child, so that a widow with three children gets an extra 17s. for the children and gets 91s. 6d. a week instead of 74s. 6d. a week on which to live. I will return to that point in a moment.

There is the excellent reform that the incapacitated child, whose family allowance automatically stopped at the age of 15 and who did not get anything from National Assistance until he was 16, now gets a family allowance. Some of us have advocated that reform in the House for some time. I hope that the Minister will convince the Chancellor of the Exchequer that that feature of the Bill is a good feature, and will make him sympathetic to a similar Amendment which I hope we shall discuss in Committee on the Finance Bill next week. Some of the finest parents in the country are those who devote their lives to looking after incapacitated children—spastic children, epileptic children and mentally backward children—and this Amendment means that instead of their having to carry the entire load of maintaining those children between the ages of 15 and 16, the State intends to help them.

An excellent improvement in the Bill carries on the widowed mother's allowance as long as one of her children is under the age of 18 and at any rate minimises the harm which the Bill does in another way which I will explain in a moment. There is also a Clause which assists children's committees in what must be the goal of everyone who works on them—attempting to get -the deprived child where it ought to be, back in the family. That is an excellent Clause.

Why, then, should some of us be grudging about such a Bill? First, because I believe it makes a retrograde alteration concerning widows. Nobody wants to give a young and able-bodied widow an automatic and permanent pension. By all means, let us concentrate the aid where it is most needed. I have nothing to cavil at in the principle which the Minister has advocated here—that his aim is to concentrate on the widowed mother, the sick widow and the aging widow. Where I quarrel with him is at what moment we should draw the line for helping the aging widow.

I believe that my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) was right in fixing the age of widowhood, at which a woman comes into benefit of the widowed mother's permanent pension, at 40. This Bill makes the minimum age 50. It will not affect many at once, and the best news which I have heard this morning has been that this particular provision in the Bill will come into operation as late as it possibly can. Fortunately, none of the widows who is getting benefit under the scheme at present is to come under the axe which this Bill imposes for some widowed mothers in future, but, in the years ahead, this provision will be hard on some women who, between the ages of 40 and 50, lose their husbands.

I am not one of those who think that it is as easy as some imagine to turn from child-bearing and child-rearing and go out and earn a living. I am old-fashioned enough to think that children need a mother at home, and that motherhood is a hard and highly skilled job. It is not good enough to say, as the Joint Parliamentary Secretary did on Second Reading:

I think that any woman who has the ability and the will to go out to workȔand who can make proper arrangements for her children—should be encouraged to live in the wider world outside. … She has lost much by losing her husband, but there are compensations if she can take a job outside—again, provided that her children are cared far."—{OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th May, 1956; Vol. 552, c. 1907.] I do not think that one can make proper arrangements for children by buying nannies, a place in a day nursery or a home help or neighbour to look after children if they get a little troublesome. What worries me deeply about the whole of the scale of National Assistance for widows and widowed mothers is that it still fails to cope with the belief, which I have at any rate, that the widowed mother should be regarded as one engaged in a full-time job. I believe that there would be less juvenile delinquency if every child had the preciousness of the security of a home, and I should like to see the widowed mother treated as a wage-earner and fully qualified for proper maintenance from the State, even when her children are 19 or 20 years old.

The Bill does little or nothing for the 10s. widow and the no-shilling widow. It is true—and I always try to be fair—that some thousands of these widows wilt come at once into benefit because of the new three-year qualification for widow's benefit. It is true that a few more will benefit by what the Minister has called the "flying start" in the application of unemployment and sickness benefits, but for the great mass there is nothing.

I want to give the House a fragment from one of many letters which I have received, as I am sure all hon. Members have. This letter is from Mrs. Elsie Harrison, who is the Chairman of the Northern Area of the 10s. Widows' Association, and she writes:

After being brought up on the starvation rations of the first World War, rearing families in the lean 20's and 30's; coping with factory work, housework, rationing, fire-watching and the strain of loved ones in danger; the ordeal of food scarcity and rising prices, and the illness and loss of loved ones since, at a time when their own physique undergoes change, has provided a tremendous strain, mentally and physically, for widows of this age. They just cannot be expected to go on doing two jobs. So many tell me they are worn-out, not ill enough to go on sick, but just exhausted. They dare not retire on National Assistance, they dare not take days off because they may lose their jobs, and the new proposals offer no hope. My hon. Friends tried in vain to improve this Bill in Committee, and the opportunity for improving the Bill for the 10s. widow has now been lost, certainly in this piece of legislation. My hon. and right hon. Friends also fought hard in Committee to raise the general rates of assistance and to remedy what I believe still to be the main defect of the Bill; that is, that it fails to match up with the grave economic position of widows and widows with children.

Let me give two examples. The right hon. Gentleman, on one occasion, either in Committee or in Second Reading, conceded that 75 per cent. of the widows with four children have to go to National Assistance for supplementary help. This Bill will not lift all these widows out of the necessity of seeking National Assistance. My right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand), in Committee, quoted the fact that one in three out of the widowed mothers in the country has to go to National Assistance for help, and this Bill will not lift all the widowed mothers of the country away from the necessity of going on National Assistance. Even if it were true that it did, looking at the amounts of money which the Bill provides, National Assistance would stand condemned.

This is my second example. A widow with three children will get 91s. 6d. a week. If her husband had lived, the money going into the family, assuming that he was that mythical person—the average worker, would have been £10 a week, the average wage in the country being over £10 a week today, and his children would still have got family allowances. Therefore, we really ought to offset, against that 91s. 6d. some 12s. of it, which is the family allowance which would have been paid to the mother if her husband had been working. The real comparison which we have to make is between the average wage of £10 a week going into that home and the sum of 79s. 6d. which we pay to that widow for her widowhood and her fatherless children. To put it another way, we pay 16s. 6d. for a widowed mother's child—in the case of the third one it becomes 18s. 6d.—and, translating what the Minister has said, we pay 16s. 6d. plus 8d., which makes 17s. 2d. per child to the widow.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary has devoted much of her life to the work of children's committees. I would ask her to tell the House how much a foster parent is paid for looking after a child in this country on behalf of a children's committee. It is twice or even three times that amount, and the foster parent is given not only an amount which is more than we give to the widow, but is also provided by the children's committee with clothing and all kinds of other things for the child.

What is the cost of keeping a child in a children's home? The answer is from £5 to as much as £10 per week. How much in Borstal or at a public school? I am one of those simple people who believe that the right of the widow's child to a full life will be conceded some day by this country to be identical with the right of the child of any other persons in the country, including the right of those who spend some £400 a year in keeping their children at Harrow and Eton. If a widow, crushed by bereavement and the burden of bringing up three fatherless children, sinks under that burden and goes to the devil, leaving her children to the State, then, instead of giving her 57s. 6d. to feed and clothe three children, the State will spend about £20 a week on them, through a children's committee.

I welcome the Bill as a tremendous step forward, but it is because Britain does not do enough for its heroic widowed mothers and fatherless children, does not do enough for the widow herself in her struggle to find work—and let me emphasise that the Advisory Committee whose advice the Minister has followed in moving back the qualifying age of the widowed mother from 40 to 50 also says that if the employment position becomes difficult the Minister may find himself compelled to bring the age back towards 40, as it was before—it is because Britain is failing really to deal adequately with those who are, I think, the unhappiest victims, those who have so far been neglected under the Welfare State, that I would say that although the Bill is a good one, it does not go far enough. It is for those reasons that I would say that what we need, and what I would commend to the Minister, is a full and thorough investigation into the whole economic question of widowhood.

The goal of our legislation in this respect is to be found in the admirable sentiments expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) during the Committee stage. He then said: What we want to avoid is a noticeable difference between what the widow's child can do and enjoy and what can be given to the child of the family whose father is in work. We do not want the widow's child to be noticeably different. We want the widow's child to be able to join in the fun and games and have those things which other children are having."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 31st May, 1956; c, 38-39.] In so far as this Bill moves towards that goal I welcome it, but I do not believe that we have yet achieved the goal.

12.22 p.m.

Mr. Richard Sharpies (Sutton and Cheam)

It was not until the hon. Member for lichen (Dr. King) had nearly concluded his speech that I was certain whether he was welcoming the Bill or was speaking against it, but I was very glad that, in the end, he did say that he welcomed it. I believe that the whole House and that the whole country welcome it. It is difficult to pick out for commendation any particular points in a Bill which benefits so many people, but one of the provisions which brings happiness to me is that which will help the widow with small children to bring up. She has a very difficult time indeed and very often is a very courageous person, trying to keep a home together and at the same time, possibly, having to earn 4the money she needs to provide that home.

There is one point, however, which I believe to be an anomaly, and which I should like my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to clear up. I refer to the extension of the family allowance for children who remain at school up to the age of 18. This was referred to in Committee, but the position was not then made clear. I think it was the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) who spoke of there being a gap. In reply, my hon. Friend said:

I cannot say that there will be no gaps. If we achieve what we want and the appointed day becomes 1st August for the extension of the age limit of family allowance, it means that children whose sixteenth birthday occurs before 31st July will continue in benefit."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E; 7th June, 1956, c. 101.] I am concerned about the position of the child who is still at school today but whose sixteenth birthday occurred before 31st July, 1955. To take an extreme example of the position as I see it—and I stand open to correction, which is why I raise the matter—the child whose sixteenth birthday was on 30th July, 1955, and who has remained at school will have been in benefit for the subsequent 12 months. The child whose birthday was only three days later, say, 2nd August, will have been out of benefit—

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

It is the other way round.

Mr. Sharpies

I am sorry. The child whose birthday was on 2nd August, 1955, will have been in benefit for the 12 months from that date until the appointed day.

There is an anomaly of some sort there. My hon. Friend may say that we cannot put the clock back and have the allowance payable from before the appointed day, which is at some time in the future, but this Bill was definitely foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech over a year ago. The parents of children whose birthdays fell on or around that time knew, when they were deciding whether or not to keep their children at school for an additional two years that this legislation was foreshadowed and, I should have thought, I could reasonably assume that the children would have the benefit for the whole period. As it has happened, it has taken some time for this Measure to pass through all its stages.

The other difficulty which might be put in the way of making the appointed day so as to include these children is the administrative one of making back payments. I would submit on that point that these children who are still at school on the appointed day, and under 18, have to be brought back to benefit in any case. The administrative difficulty, therefore, is possibly not so great as it might at first sight appear to be.

If the facts as I have given them are correct, I would ask my right hon. Friend to consider them and to see whether nothing can be done, even at this late stage, to correct what might be an anomaly. I do not wish further to delay the passage of this Bill on its way to the Statute Book. In part, it fulfils a Conservative Election pledge and I wish it well.

12.30 p.m.

Mr. H. A. Marquand (Middlesbrough, East)

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman upon having got the Bill as far as it has now gone, and, in anticipation, I congratulate him upon it reaching the Statute Book very shortly. He was good enough to thank the Members of Standing Committee E for the cooperation that we gave him during the consideration of the Bill and in expediting its progress to this point. I am glad to think that I may have played some part—I am not trying immodestly to take too much credit—in accelerating the process.

I pressed him. when he first made his announcement, to deal with the Measure this Session and not postpone it until the next. I am fully aware that the Chancellor's subsequent decision to increase the family allowance must have had something to do with the acceleration. None the less, my hon. Friends and I have certainly done our best to ensure that the Bill has received proper consideration, that its defects, as we think them to be, have been given full examination, and that the Bill, though we do not like it entirely, reaches the Statute Book quickly so that its benefits become available to all concerned as rapidly as possible.

I thought that the dates which the right hon. Gentleman announced this morning, were, in all the circumstances, very reasonable. We are very glad indeed to know them. We do not want to do anything at all today to delay the Bill. We wish it to have its Third Reading this morning. We also wish another Bill coming before the House later to get a Third Reading today. That is why we are keeping this debate brief.

Though we are glad that the Bill is reaching the Statute Book quickly, it does not mean that we are entirely satisfied with it. The right hon. Gentleman, as I gather from works of reference, has a very distinguished ecclesiastical ancestry, but I regret to say that on this occasion what he has laid before the House of Commons is no more than a curate's egg. It is good in parts, but it is not good all the way through.

We are bound to welcome, so far as it goes, the increase in family allowances which is proposed, the raising of the age of children in respect of whom family allowances will in future be paid, and the elimination of what has been referred to as the gap in the case of the handicapped child who at present can draw National Assistance at 16 but whose family allowance finishes at 15. We are glad of improvements of that kind, which have been referred to by the right hon. Gentleman and also by my hon. Friend the Member for Itchen (Dr. King), but none the less we still regret that the family allowance provisions are not sufficient.

The right hon. Gentleman said, rightly —I agree with him—that the family allowance should be regarded as a payment for the benefit of the whole of the family, that the fact that one calculates how much allowance to pay a family according to the number of children in it does not necessarily mean that each family allowance is appropriated to a particular child. He rightly drew our attention to the fact that it is the families with the largest numbers of children which are nearer the poverty line in this country and that many of them fall below it and some are unable to give their children the food which the Food Survey would consider satisfactory.

We have expressed our disappointment at this by suggesting that the increase in family allowance ought to be made available for the second child. But it does not matter in what way it is done. I am not necessarily objecting to paying the family allowance at the moment in a way which will increase the income of the larger family. In whatever way it is done, the increase which is now proposed is still not sufficient compensation for the rise in prices which has taken place since the last improvement was made. In particular, it is not sufficient compensation to mothers of families, especially mothers of large families, for the increases in the price of bread and milk which will follow the other provisions which the Chancellor has just introduced.

We were always told in the Election promises of the Conservative Party that when it eliminated subsidies it would ensure that this would not result in any hardship for those who were in need. We do not think that the provision for family allowances contained in the Bill has gone far enough to implement the pledge.

we welcome many of the improvements in the Bill in respect of widows. We particularly welcome the proposals for giving the widow a flying start in insurance and providing her with greatly improved eligibility for unemployment and sickness benefit. These are definite improvements which, as we have already said, were the brilliant suggestions of the National Insurance Advisory Committee, for which we are very grateful. We are glad that the suggestions were made, are incorporated in the Bill, and will come into operation as soon as possible.

However, we still regret that the National Insurance Advisory Committee thought fit to suggest the raising for certain widows of the age of eligibility from 40 to 50. We are still doubtful about the proposal. What my hon. Friend the Member for Itchen said about it is very sound and very just indeed. Though that is a defect, undoubtedly the most serious defect in the Bill, as my hon. Friend said, is that the opportunity was not courageously taken really to remedy the position of the widowed mother with young children.

I recognise—of course I do—that a departure has been made here from the hitherto observed principle of uniformity of benefit. Here benefit is to be payable in respect of a widow's child at a higher rate than in respect of the child of the unemployed or sick man. We do not object at all to that apparent breach in what was once thought to be a sacrosanct principle. What we regret is that, once having decided to make such a breach, the right hon. Gentleman did not go far enough, and did not make satisfactory provision for these children.

The hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharples) apparently finds these proposals satisfactory, but I and my hon. Friends certainly do not. Our feelings about them were so well expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Itchen that I almost hesitate to say it all again, and yet I feel that I must place on record once more what I have said at previous stages of the Bill, that we cannot be satisfied with a situation in which 30 per cent. of widows are obliged to resort to National Assistance and no fewer than 75 per cent. of widows with four or more children are obliged to resort to it.

The right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend may say "We are not satisfied either, and that is why we are making the additional provisions". However, they are, admittedly, not making additional payments sufficient to relieve the families of the need to resort to National Assistance. The proposals in the Bill will, as soon as they come into operationȔthere is no doubt about it—improve the ability of widowed mothers to look after their young families, but they will not improve it sufficiently.

In the Standing Committee, the right hon. Gentleman said:

It it clear that this proposal should have the effect of reducing in some degree, though I do not place undue emphasis on this or suggest the figures might be very large, the number of those widows who do resort to Assistance, and who, as the National Insurance Advisory Committee reported, resort to Assistance to a greater extent than other classes of National Insurance beneficiaries. I do not say that it will be anything dramatic, or that there will be vast numbers, though it clearly must affect them in some degree. We ought not to look at this matter narrowly or entirely from that point of view. We ought to look at it from the point of view of an actual increase of benefit, both to those in respect of assistance as well as to those not in receipt of assistance."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 31st May, 1956; c. 36.] Nobody asked the right hon. Gentleman to do anything dramatic; nobody suggested there were vast numbers. We know fairly well, from the reports of the Assistance Board, what are the numbers of those resorting to National Assistance, and they are far too great.

One cannot draw any crumb of comfort from those statements of the right hon. Gentleman. Some widows and large families will, no doubt, no longer be eligible for National Assistance for a short time; but prices are still rising, and the prices of necessities are going up. If the word "vast" is justified, it is justified by a consideration of the numbers who will remain on National Assistance, on the right hon. Gentleman's own admission that he cannot expect anything more than a slight degree of improvement. They will remain a depressed class in our community.

The very fact that the amount for war widows' children is to be 5s. a week per child greater than that for National Insurance widows' children seems to prove that the latter are not yet to receive enough payment for the mother to keep them adequately without resorting to Assistance, or without continual anxiety. Those children are not getting a fair chance in life, and there is no good reason why they should not be given it.

We all hoped, from the inauguration of the system of all-in National Insurance proposed thirteen or fourteen years ago by Lord Beveridge, that we should have the great mass of our citizens supported at least in tolerable comfort without the necessity for going to National Assistance, though we recognised that for years to come there must be large numbers, who had no benefit from the National Insurance Scheme, who would have to draw Assistance. But I am sure nobody thought, when the Beveridge Report was produced in the 1940s, that in 1956 we should have to say that the children of some 90.000 widows might still require National Assistance. Those children are not given a fair chance.

The most odd and anomalous thing about this situation is that the Exchequer will have to give them assistance, and will have to pay extra sums of money through the National Assistance Board, and yet we are told that the small additional sum which we suggested might be adequate, to make this increase not 5s. but 10s., could not be found. The State will have to pay a substantial amount for these children through National Assistance to keep them on bare subsistence but we are told that the Insurance Fund could not bear the extra burden of giving them a sum equal to what the war widow's child will receive.

That ought to be known; it ought to go out from the House of Commons so that the whole country may know. If that is really so, and if the National Insurance Fund is not in a position to accept a liability as large as that, then the working people of this country had better be told. This House should say to them, "You should realise that the Fund which you are providing through your contributions, and through the State's contributions, is not large enough to guarantee that your children, if you should die next week, will have a decent chance in life; you are going to condemn them to have to leave school too early, however intelligent they may be, so that they may go to work and try to help their widowed mothers. You are depriving them of the chances which other boys and girls in the community have".

The sooner we think about this matter the better. We all ought to get down to thinking closely about this aspect of the National Insurance Fund, as well as about the others to which it would not be in order for me to refer now; we must ensure that the system will in future become more adequate than it seems to be at the moment.

There are differences of opinion among Members of this House, and there were differences when we were in Committee, about what exactly the Bill might bring about. Some said the results would be pretty good; others said that the Bill did not go far enough. Let us hope that after the Bill has been in operation for a reasonably long period we may proceed to find out what its effects really are.

I plead with the right hon. Gentleman to pay very serious attention to the requests which we have made, that in, shall we say, twelve months, or whatever period he thinks is reasonably long enough to give us full experience of the working of this Measure, we should have a survey of widowhood in this country. It should not be merely a survey such as the National Assistance Board can provide, but a thorough economic and sociological survey of the position of the widow and her children, and of the opportunities which that widow's children have to be educated and to rise in the community according to their aptitudes and their abilities. All these matters should be the subject of close survey, and the results put before the nation. That survey might well be carried out by a university, or by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, as was suggested on Second Reading.

Do let us resolve to carry out that research so that, when the Bill is on the Statute Book, we shall not merely watch its working, as the Department will, through its machinery, but that we, as members of the House of Commons and representatives of our constituents, may try to ensure that a really thorough and rounded picture can be presented later to the House and to the country.

I am sorry that the Bill does not go as far as we would like. None the less, we hope that it will reach the Statute Book quickly, and that its provisions, such as they are, will rapidly be put into operation. We thank the right hon. Gentleman quite sincerely for the extremely clear way in which he has always explained its provisions, and for the courteous manner in which he has replied to our complaints and criticisms, some of which may at times have been put rather sharply.

12.47 p.m.

Miss Joan Vickers (Plymouth, Devon-port)

I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) will forgive me if I do not follow him in some of the matters he raised, because there will be a far more adequate answer by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I should like to take advantage of the quotation introduced by the hon. Member for Itchen (Dr. King), when he said that my right hon. Friend is alert and never rude, and take this opportunity of making one point which I believe to be rather important.

My right hon. Friend has, in the Bill, conceded something which may be very helpful to many social workers in the future, the principle that the widow's family and the large family are still within the scope of real need for social work. We have at present far too many children —over 60,000—coming into the care of the local authorities. I hope that through this Bill those numbers may be minimised.

I would ask my right hon. Gentleman whether he would be kind enough to make and maintain a further survey, in addition to that requested by the right hon. Gentleman for Middlesbrough, East, a survey of the number of children of large families and of widows who do come into care in future. He has, through this Bill, indicated that he realises there is a problem in this particular respect.

There is another matter about which I feel very strongly and, as hon. Members may recall, I did put down a Motion on the subject, but, unfortunately, I was not able to bring it before the House. I refer to the importance of keeping the family together. We are finding it is increasingly difficult for large families to do this. A great many of the larger families happen to have parents who are unskilled workers, not even receiving the average wage mentioned by the hon. Member for Itchen.

It was rather interesting to find that an investigation was made by the National Assistance Board in regard to 2,000 widows in receipt of supplementary pensions. In 36 cases where children could really be said to be neglected there were 35 widows who had four children or more, one who had nine, three who had eight, four who had seven, eight who had six, and four who had five. I think that it is this class of person that we should consider. I am very glad, therefore, that this Bill has come before the House, but I would ask my right hon. Friend to keep that point in mind in future years.

In the investigation at Luton, it was found, also, that the size of the family had a bearing on child neglect and, therefore, it is for that reason that I welcome the provision that the third child and subsequent children are to receive additional children's allowance. In the survey at Luton, it was shown that the mean size of the family in that town was about 3.2 persons and that the social problems came in families of 6.4 persons. I hope that the Bill will mitigate some of that hardship.

As we are fortunate enough to have the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department here, I hope that it may be possible for him, together with the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, to see that, as a result of the Bill, fewer children are brought into the courts. I welcome, also, what the hon. Member for Itchen said on the question of disabled children. Very much more is being done by voluntary organisations for spastic children, and this Bill will enable the mothers to have the opportunity of helping their children and keeping them under better conditions, and of enabling them to send their children for these new types of education.

I live in a dockyard town where a great many of the young men and some young women go in for long apprenticeships on wages which are below the national average and their families have to keep them, and I am sure that the provisions of the Bill will be of great benefit to them.

1 have been rather dubious about the question of widows and the age at which they are to go to work. My right hon. Friend has very kindly agreed that he will keep an eye on this problem. I am not altogether in agreement on this with the hon. Member for Itchen, because I feel that in many cases it is very beneficial for women to go out to work. In fact, in our City of Plymouth we have a widows' club at which we arrange for them often to get evenings out, and I can assure hon. Members that they are, in tact, getting to be known as the merry widows. They get some time to themselves. I think that it is beneficial for these women to take some part in normal life and not have to be always looking after their children.

I agree that juvenile delinquency is not a great problem in widows' families. In cases where both parents go out to work —I have not the exact figure for widows —it is below 30 per cent. of the children who come into the care of the courts as juvenile delinquents.

I should like to say that probably my right hon. Friend may be the first Minister who has given his blessing to potential polygamy. Having worked overseas in a great many countries, I am sure that this will not cost him a great deal in the future, because, in my experience, the more educated women are very much against this system. Therefore, I do not think that it will involve a large provision by this Bill, but I should be interested to know what reciprocal arrangements he is making in these cases with other countries.

1.5 p.m.

Miss Pitt

I hope that I may be able to reply to some of the points which have been raised. First, the hon. Gentleman the Member for Itchen (Dr. King) found parts of the Bill excellent, particularly those which referred to the provisions for handicapped children, and those for providing the widow's element of widowed mother's allowance until her children reach the age of 18. He renewed his quarrel with the proposed change from the age of 40 to 50 for the widowed mother when she is no longer entitled to widowed mother's allowance.

On that, I would remind the hon. Gentleman, as we did during the Second Reading and in Committee, that the extension to the age of 18, will mean that many more widows will go over to the age of 50 when, automatically, they will come into benefit for widows' pension and, secondly, that for widows below that age the provisions afforded by the flying start into National Insurance will make sure that if they are not able to work they will qualify for sickness or unemployment benefit.

The hon. Gentleman referred more than once to what I think he felt was the parsimonious nature of the 2s. increase for the third and subsequent children, and suggested that this would mean, in the case of the family where there are only three children, that only 8d. per head per week would be gained. That is true, but it only needs one more child in the family to double it. In fact, this is a modest measure of help to the larger families, and I am quite sure that the hon. Gentleman, even though he feels that it should be greater, would not wish to deny them what the Government now propose to give.

The hon. Gentleman also complained that there was little or nothing for the 10s. widow. Again, I do not want to take up the time of the House by repeating the long arguments which we had on this subject in Standing Committee, but, as the Report of the National Insurance Advisory Committee pointed out, and, as has been said in our previous debates, the majority of 10s. widows are working. Far more of them are at work than other widows, and, for those who are not, those most in need will gain by the other proposals in the Bill. I cannot repeat too strongly, because I believe this to be the case, that the woman who enjoys the 10s. basic pension is more privileged than many of her sisters widowed since 1948 who get nothing at all.

Dr. King

I heartily agree. The difference between us is that I would give something to the no-shilling widow and the 10s. widow. What the hon. Lady is refusing to do is to give anything further to the 10s. widow.

Miss Pitt

It would not be in order to discuss that today. It would require counter-proposals on contribution rates.

The hon. Gentleman's final point was that although the Bill was a good one it did not go far enough. Perhaps this morning he is in slightly querulous mood, because usually he is so very anxious to encourage anything to improve the social services. Therefore, I should like to accept on behalf of my right hon. Friend his comment that the Bill is a good one and to leave for further discussion his aside that it does not go far enough.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Sharpies) asked a specific question about the gap on the extension to the age of 18 for family allowances. His question was: while the child who became 16 before 31st July, 1955, and went out of family allowances might come back again after we have passed the Bill, what happens to the intervening 12 months when the allowance has not been paid? The answer is that it is not usual to pay National Insurance benefits or family allowances retrospectively. In any event, the proposed increases are to meet day-to-day current expenses. I do not think that there is a strong argument for suggesting that the increased allowance should be paid for a period which the family has already come through.

My hon. Friend also mentioned that the gap was made more pronounced by the fact that the fixing of 31st July as the date when a child came out of the benefit of family allowance could lead to anomalies, since the child whose birthday occurred on 30th July, 1955, came off the allowance the following day, whereas the child who was lucky enough to have its sixteenth birthday on 1st or 2nd August that same year, remained entitled for approximately another 12 months. That has been the case, and it serves to emphasise the provisions in the Bill which will carry family allowances up to the eighteenth birthday rather than ending them on 31st July following the sixteenth birthday.

The right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) referred to the Bill being like the curate's egg, good in parts.

Mr, David Jones (The Hartlepools)

The bishop's egg.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

An archdeacon's omelette.

Miss Pitt

The discussion seems to be straying. I do not propose to pursue that except to say to the right hon. Gentleman that we are glad of his help and his support of those parts of the Bill which he finds good.

The right hon. Gentleman deprecated the change from 40 to 50 as the age for ending the widowed mother's allowance. I have said as much as I can about that this morning. The right hon. Gentleman said categorically that the children of widows were not getting a fair chance in life. I do not want to spoil the morning's harmony by making a political point, but it is proper to remind the right hon. Gentleman that the widow's child is getting a much fairer chance now than in the days when his own party was in power. I cannot do better than repeat the figures which I gave on Second Reading. and which my right hon. Friend has given already this morning, to show the difference in benefit for the widow's child between now and 1948.

The 5s. increased benefit for the first child is more than double the amount paid for the first child in 1948. For the second child, the total payment in benefit and family allowances is over three times as much as in 1948. For other children, with the increased family allowances, the benefit is now nearly four times what it was in 1948. Therefore, even though hon. Members may feel that this provision does not go far enough, I hope that they will be sufficiently generous to admit that it is a great improvement on 1948.

The right hon. Gentleman also said that 90,000 widows with children were forced to seek National Assistance. I do not know where he got his figure from, but I am sure that it is grossly exaggerated and that the true figure is considerably below that number.

Mr. Marquand

If the hon. Lady would give us the figure, we would be very glad. I based my statement on the 1954 Report of the National Assistance Board.

Miss Pitt

There are about 100,000 widowed mothers and the Report of the National Insurance Advisory Committee showed that about 30 per cent. of them resorted to National Assistance. I would expect the figure, therefore, to be about only one-third of what the right hon. Gentleman has indicated this morning.

Mr. Marquand

Perhaps we had better clear this up. I certainly do not want to give false figures. I evidently made a slip of the tongue between the total number of widows receiving National Assistance and the number of widowed mothers receiving National Assistance. I accept the hon. Lady's figure. It must be more like 33,000 than 90,000.

Miss Pitt

I am glad that we now have that clear.

The right hon. Gentleman's final point was to ask my right hon. Friend whether we could not have a review of the position of widows and widowed mothers. The Ministry constantly keep these matters under review. We should be failing in our duty if we did not check on the position of widows, and particularly of the widowed mothers, and if any special circumstances arose in which we felt that a closer review was needed, we would be prepared to consider that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Miss Vickers) came back to the question of the constant survey of families, although I think she had in mind particularly the number of children of widows who come into the care of local authorities, the number of families which are broken up in this way and the number of problem families where, even if children do not come into care, considerable public money is spent in their rehabilitation. I promise my hon. Friend that we will bear this point in mind and that it will be included in the reviews which we constantly undertake.

We have come to the final stages, in this House at least, of a Bill which has been generally welcomed and has received support on both sides. That is not unnatural, for the Bill seeks to add to the help that we give to two groups of people who command our sympathy and our support—that is, the widows, especially those with young children, and families, especially those with several children.

I do not want to prolong the debate, but I should like to emphasise the two main points of these provisions. We all accept that our attitude to widowhood has changed since the war. We accept that the widow should, where possible, be independent and should take her place in the community. I believe that the whole trend of modern thought has been to encourage the widow to lead her own life, sharing the interests and the work of those around her, despite the misfortune of losing her partner.

In that connection, I should like to take up another point made by the hon. Member for Itchen, who quoted my words on Second Reading, when I made the somewhat similar statement that I believed the widow should be encouraged to lead her own life provided she made proper arrangements for the children. The hon. Member questioned "proper arrangements," saying that he did not necessarily mean the arrangements provided by the day nursery or the nanny. I do not think I would disagree—there are very good day nurseries and sometimes they are table to help the children tremendously—but I wonder whether the hon. Member has never heard of the good granny?

I can think of many instances in which widows' children are cared for by their grannies and have all the love, affection and expert attention that we would wish them to have. In such a case, I see no reason why the widow, if she is able, should not go out, not simply to earn extra money, but to feel that she really is taking part in the community life and is not being put on one side because she no longer has a husband. I think, too, that the proposal to establish the widow in insurance will help to enable her to lead her own independent life.

We are agreed that it is the widowed mother who is most in need of our practical help. Again, I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton and Cheam for his comment that this was the provision in the Bill which gave him the greatest happiness. We all share that view. There is no need for me to stress the difficulties which the widowed mother has of maintaining the home and giving her children the best chance she can in life, and of acting as both parents—for that is what she has to do; she has to be man and woman in the house, and we know that that is not easy.

These widowed mothers are not even organised and we do not hear a great deal about them, as we do of other sections of the community. There is all the more reason, therefore, why we should be concerning ourselves with them today. This is, no doubt, the reason why the National Insurance Advisory Committee recommended in its Report that there should be a substantial increase for the children of widowed mothers. I believe that the provision we are now making is a substantial increase.

The improvement in family allowances, as my right hon. Friend said this morning, is the most expensive and most farreaching provision of the Bill. I should like to go into the history of family allowances, because I feel very strongly about it, but I shall not take the time, except to say that the allowances are a help to the larger families at the time when they most need it and when the calls on the family exchequer are heaviest. Nobody pretends that a family allowance maintains a child, but it does make a contribution to the amount of money available to the family at a time when the family is having the greatest calls upon its purse.

Nor are family allowances intended to relieve only the poorest families, although, obviously, they will be of the greatest help to them. Whatever the level of income, the demands are heaviest upon growing families, and I am surprised that there is still criticism of the merit of family allowances. It has continued even since I made this same point on Second Reading. I myself have received criticism.

I read in a newspaper only this week a letter from a mother who is obviously enjoying the benefit of family allowances. By the way, we have had no complaint from any mother enjoying the benefits. The complaint comes from other people in the community. That mother who wrote that letter felt as I do, for she was surprised that those who had fought the battle for improved social conditions in the past should now criticise family allowances, which are part of the improved social conditions.

I think we ought to retain a sense of proportion in this matter. It is sometimes suggested that those parents who give themselves the pleasure of a large family—and, after all, it is a pleasure to the parents, despite the hardship and the struggle, and a pleasure to the family as a whole, as I know from my own per- sonal experience—should not enjoy any of the other pleasures of life. Why not? I think dad is just as much entitled to a pint of beer as a chap who has not a family, and I think that mother and dad together should be able to go to the cinema, and that mother, if she likes, should have her hair "permed" occasionally.

Since family allowances are contributions to the budget of the home, I do not think that we should criticise when we see parents enjoying these other pleasures, knowing that the money coming to them by way of family allowances is helping them also to maintain a higher standard for their children.

I believe that this Bill will help the two sections of the community we all of us want to help.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.