HC Deb 22 March 1956 vol 550 cc1478-83

3.59 p.m.

The Minister of Education (Sir David Eccles)

I beg to move, in page 7, line 30, after "widows," to insert "widowers."

The Chairman

I think it would be convenient for the Committee if this Amendment were taken together with the following four Amendments standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman, and with the Amendment in Clause 30 standing in the name of the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. They all relate to the same subject.

Sir D. Eccles

I think that will be for the convenience of the Committee, Sir Charles. These five Amendments to Clause 8 and the Scottish Amendment to Clause 30 widen the scope of the regulations to be made governing the reallocation of the lump sum benefits in favour of widows and dependants. That is why they have to be recommitted.

The five Amendments to Clause 8 were put down to meet points made during the Committee stage by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham (Mr. M. Stewart) and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Newcastle, Central (Mr. Short). With both of their criticisms, the Government agree. They said, first, that the right of a married woman to elect to bring her family into the scheme should not be limited to cases where the husband is wholly or mainly dependent upon her; and secondly, that the wording of Clause 8 (3, b) was obscure.

The best way to deal with obscure drafting in the Bill is to leave it out. That I propose to do, and also to add certain words earlier in the Clause which have the effect, when we come to make the regulations for the widows' and orphans' scheme of leaving open for discussion whether or not married women should be treated on exactly the same footing as married men. That would be novel, and, of course, would have to be discussed with the representatives of the local authorities and of the teachers.

Were the Committee unwilling to accept the Amendments, as the Bill stands there would be a difference between married women and married men such as, I think, is embodied in other pension schemes. Men entering the profession, if they are married, or when they get married, will be required under the rules to be drawn up, to join the new scheme for the reallocation of their lump sum benefit. It is necessary to have them all in so that the Account may carry both good and bad risks and, therefore, be financially in a position to pay out claims which are made earlier than the average.

As the Bill stands at present, married women, new entrants as well as those already in posts, have the right to elect whether or not to join the scheme. But, of course, if one gives such a right, a high proportion of the bad risks will, naturally, fall upon the Account. That is why there is placed upon the married woman who may have this choice the limitation in respect of her husband. It is prescribed in the Bill that she can choose to join only where the husband is wholly or mainly dependent upon her. That is in order that the Account should not have to carry a very high proportion of the bad risks.

I have sympathy with the argument which was, I think, put forward by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central. He said that nowadays it is an anachronism to treat married women and married men in these different ways. I suppose that there was a time when cases where the husband was wholly or mainly dependent on the wife were comparatively rare. Times have changed, and now it is hard to tell which spouse really keeps the family together. That is a fact, but I cannot say whether the teachers and the local authorities will wish to treat married women in the same way as married men. If they do, it means that all the married women must come into the Account in the same way as Clause 8 now provides that all married men must come in.

I am grateful to hon. Gentlemen opposite for giving me a lead in putting down these Amendments. They make the Clause wider and more interesting, and it remains to be seen exactly how those concerned will wish to define the status of married women as compared with married men when we come to draw up a scheme.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

We shall all agree that these Amendments would make the Clause more satisfactory in scope and more clear in wording than when it first appeared in the Bill. If I understand aright, the Amendments would do two things; remove the restriction about the husband having to be wholly or mainly dependent—which is a change of substance—and then, compensating for that financially, as it were, they would require all new women entrants as well as men to come into the scheme.

Sir D. Eccles

I know that this is a difficult point. As the Clause will be framed if the Amendments are accepted, it will be open to discussion whether the teachers wish all married women to be brought in. If they prefer the regulations to go back to the old pattern, the married women will be left with the choice, but with the limitation about their husbands being wholly or mainly dependent on them. We shall have to see what they decide.

Mr. Stewart

If I follow the right hon. Gentleman, it may result after discussion that, in fact, the rules would be of the kind envisaged in the first draft of this Clause. The Amendments make it possible either to have rules which were the only rules possible under the first draft, or other rules.

I raise that point because the wording of subsection (2) as it would appear after amendment would be: Rules made under this section, so far as they provide for pensions for widows, widowers and children, may apply, irrespective of election, to male or female teachers who enter into contributory service after the date specified in the rules…. We have often been told that the word "may," in an Act of Parliament, means "shall." From what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I presume that this is one of those occasions where "may" does not mean "shall," but means what it says.

It is a point which has always mystified us, but at any rate we may, I think, take it from the right hon. Gentleman that "may" in this context does not mean "shall," and that it definitely means that this is one of the alternatives which are open; and that with all the various possibilities for rules the ones that are finally adopted will be adopted after consultation by the right hon. Gentleman with the persons referred to in the Clause. Presumably, under Clause 21 of the Bill, the rules finally approved would be subject to discussion by means of a Prayer in this House. I have no doubt that we shall all await with interest to sec what rules the Minister is able to prepare under this Clause.

These Amendments widen the scope of the Clause and they also make an alteration, not in substance but in form, which makes it clear that a teacher who is a widow may take advantage of these provisions to provide for her children. That was the point which was somewhat obscure in the original drafting of the Clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Short) will be gratified by what has been done to meet the very sensible point which he raised in our Committee discussions, and I think that we all welcome these Amendments.

Miss Alice Bacon (Leeds, South-East)

I apologise if I am asking the Minister for a further explanation of something which he has already made clear during the discussions in the Committee, but through no fault of mine I was unable to attend most of the sittings of the Committee, and there is one matter about which I am not clear. I take it that in addition to married people, both men and women, this scheme will be open to unmarried men and unmarried women. The majority of teachers are unmarried women and I am wondering whether they will be able to join in order to provide for their dependants.

Sir D. Eccles

Under Clause 9, there is a separate scheme whereby teachers can appoint their dependants. It may be that a woman teacher has a sister whom she would wish to appoint. That matter is dealt with under the next Clause.

Mr. George Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)

Can the Minister tell the Committee what he has in mind about discussions about this matter that he must hold with all the organisations concerned? Does the right hon. Gentleman propose to impose some time limit by which he will require an answer to this problem? Unless he obtains a majority opinion in favour of what it is proposed to do by these Amendments, will he, in the rules, revert to the original scheme as provided by Clause 8? Am I right in assuming that?

Sir D. Eccles

I think it would be best to see how the discussions develop. I must admit that I have no idea how teachers will respond to this matter. I rather think that they will adopt the more modern method.

Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)

I thank the Minister for including these Amendments, which I think, are very good ones and meet the point which we raised in Standing Committee. I take it that the effect of the Amendments will be to widen the scope of the regulations which the Minister may make under the Clause. They will not necessarily affect the scheme, when it comes out at the end of the sausage machine, but they will enable the Minister, the local authorities and the teachers to widen the scope of the scheme. Previously, women could elect only if their husbands were dependent upon them, but the Amendments will enable all married women teachers to elect in favour of their husbands.

Perhaps he most interesting point which the three parties will have to consider is the question whether or not women new entrants to the profession must elect. Obviously, men new entrants will have to elect, but whether or not it will be possible to make women new entrants do so is another matter. That is one of of the knotty problems which the parties must face.

I believe that this is a step in the right direction. With equal pay and the general equality which women have won now, this is the only way to deal with the matter. As the Minister said, in most homes nowadays the spouses are on an equal footing; it is difficult to say who is dependent upon whom. I think that we are very wise to alter the Clause so that teachers, local authorities and the Minister can put women teachers upon an absolutely equal footing with their men colleagues.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In page 7, line 31, leave out "male."

In line 47, after "widows," insert "widowers."

In page 8, line 1, after "male," insert "or female."

In line 6, leave out subsection (3).—[Sir D. Eccles.]

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.