HC Deb 15 May 1956 vol 552 cc1843-907

Order for Second Reading read.

4.8 p.m.

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

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

I suppose, Sir that in accordance with the custom of the House I should, as I have a young family, disclose an interest, though I must add that I understand that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will in due course deprive me of a substantial part of that interest.

The Bill, like old Gaul, is really in three parts. First, it implements the Report of the National Insurance Advisory Committee on Widow's Benefit, which I laid before this House in the early part of February and on which I made a statement on 27th February. Secondly, it makes a number of important changes in the structure and scope of the family allowances scheme. Thirdly, it implements the promise contained in the Budget speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to increase the rate of family allowance by 2s. in respect of the third and subsequent children.

The close connection which exists between the family allowance scheme and the national insurance system provides, in a way, the underlying structural unity of the Bill. As hon. Members will be aware, it is the fact that a child as defined for family allowance purposes is also for that reason, and by that means, defined as a child for national insurance purposes. Consequently, by widening the definition of "child" for the purpose of the Family Allowance Acts, we automatically widen it also for national insurance purposes. The purpose of this Bill on those two matters is to carry out what I may describe as the theme of providing, in particular, benefits for widows, especially those with children, and additional benefits also for the family. That is the underlying theme and the centre of unity of the Bill.

The Bill itself is not as long as the amount of material with which it deals might suggest. If I may be allowed to say so, the parliamentary draftsmen have done extremely good work in compressing—or, if I may borrow a phrase from the Department of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation, pressurising —

Mr. J. T. Price (Westhoughton)


Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

— the contents of the Bill into a comparatively limited space. If the hon. Gentleman is not careful, I shall talk about de-retirement.

To take the first part of the Bill, that which relates to widows, the provisions of the Measure implement, and in full, the Report of the National Insurance Advisory Committee. Perhaps in that context I might be allowed to say a word about the Committee itself. It seemed to me on another Measure that there was perhaps some misunderstanding of its position and function, and as we are at the moment proposing to implement a number of its proposals it might be helpful to the House if I said a word about it.

It is, of course, advisory. The responsibility for acting or not acting on its advice remains with the House and with the Government. It is, on the other hand, a body which contains among its members very distinguished representatives on both sides of industry as well as extremely experienced independent people, it has a procedure which enables it to deal with evidence either orally or in writing, and it is a body with great experience of the highly complex problems of national insurance.

Therefore, while I would not for one moment suggest that it is right to accept its advice without thought or criticism, none the less I am certain that serious students of these matters will weigh seriously any recommendations coming from that body. In respect of this Report it has certainly seemed to us right to ask Parliament to implement the recommendations in full.

The Report, and, therefore, the provisions contained in the Bill, emphasise and carry perhaps a little further the conception of widowhood which was originally brought out in the Beveridge Report and the Coalition White Paper. Adopting what was then a new idea, the line was taken that widowhood as such ought not to attract a permanent pension, but that what resources were available should be concentrated on three categories of widow— the widow with children, the sick widow and the older widow— and that those who fell into none of those three categories should after a period of 13 weeks, during which they would draw the widows' benefit provided under the Act which the right hon. Gentleman the hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) carried through the House, go back into the battle of life on the same basis as the spinsters.

Thus, the idea was that the resources available from the Fund were in greater measure and in more adequate degree to be concentrated on the three categories to whom I have referred. In its Report the Committee endorses that attitude and in some of its proposals it carries the doctrine a little further, as appears from the terms of the Bill. It certainly seems to me that the underlying ideas of the treatment of widowhood to which I have referred are sound and in many ways far more wholesome than the older idea.

The most important of the Committee's recommendations was that a "substantial increase"— that was the expression which it used— should be made in the allowance in respect of widows' children. At present, the rate is 11s. 6d. for the first child and 3s. 6d. for the second and each subsequent child, though in their case there is also the family allowance. What the Bill proposes, after consideration of the advice from the Committee, is an increase of 5s. in respect of each child. In other words, it is proposed to raise the weekly payment in respect of the first child from I Is. 6d. to 16s. 6d. and in respect of other children from 3s. 6d. to 8s. 6d., to which is added the 8s. family allowance for the second child and, under the other provisions of the Bill to which I made a passing reference a moment ago, 10s. in respect of third and subsequent children. What the widow will get will be 16s. 6d. for the first and second children and 18s. 6d. for other children.

The effect of this, to give an example, is a widow with three children under the existing provisions gets, if we include family allowance, 74s. 6d. per week, and the proposals will raise the amount to 91s. 6d. a week. That is an increase of 5s. for each child and 2s. for the third child by way of the increased rate of family allowance. It is also proposed to make a similar increase of 5s. in respect of widows' children under the industrial injuries scheme.

I suggest that this is a substantial increase within the spirit and the thought of the Committee's recommendation, and I think it is right that we should make such an increase. The Committee found that of all National Insurance beneflciaries widows with children were the section which had in largest degree to resort to National Assistance. Indeed, it found in the case of widows with four or more children that 75 per cent. of them were resorting to National Assistance, which compares very adversely indeed with any other category of National Insurance beneficiary.

This increase should help in considerable degree the widows who are left with children, and they will certainly mark, if the House adopts them, a remarkable increase when compared with 1948. For the first children widows will be receiving more than double what they received in 1948 and for second and other children, family allowances included, about three times what they received then.

The Committee made another important recommendation which affects other categories of widows and, in particular, affects not only the widow who is colloquially known as the "10s. widow" but the other, and perhaps less frequently referred to, category of widow who under the National Insurance scheme receives no pension at all. I referred a moment ago to the underlying idea of widowhood in the Report, and, in particular, to the idea that the young fit childless widow ought to be helped and encouraged to restore her ordinary position in the workaday world.

It has been found that one of her difficulties in doing so at the end of either her widows' benefit or her widowed mothers' allowance has been that her ordinary contribution position under National Insurance has been insufficient to provide her with the sickness and unemployment benefit which she may need at any time. The Committee has therefore suggested, and we have accepted its advice, that the right way to deal with the difficulty is to provide that when one of these widows comes out from benefit, either from the widows' allowance or the widowed mothers' allowance, she should be given what, if I am not again offending the hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. J. T. Price), is colloquially known as a "flying start" in National Insurance. That is to say, she should be put in the position of eligibility on the basis of the same contributions as originally established her widow's insurance position, in relation to both sickness and unemployment benefit.

As the House will recall, sickness benefit can be drawn as long as the person concerned is sick, but unemployment benefit depends on the length of contribution and, therefore, the exact amount of unemployment benefit which the widow will be able to draw will depend on the length of her marriage. The idea is to provide her with a position in which she is eligible, immediately on coming into the situation in which she has to earn her own living, to be fully equipped against the dangers of sickness and unemployment.

That is comparatively easy to state, but it is extraordinarily complex to do. What we propose in the Bill is slightly to enlarge the regulation-making power under the 1946 Act to enable us to effect this by regulations, and if the House accepts the Clause I should propose to lay regulations, which will be subject to the affirmative Resolution procedure, as soon as I can after the Bill becomes law. That provision will affect about 40,000 of the ladies in the 10s. a week category as well as a number of those who are not in possession of any pension at all.

There is one other proposal which will also help widows in that category, and that is the proposal contained in the Bill to reduce the qualifying period of marriage for widowhood benefits from ten years to three years. The effect of that, as soon as the Bill is law, will be to bring into pension at the full National Insurance rates about 5,000 to 6,000 widows at present receiving either 10s. a week or no pension at all; and in future years it will mean that about 1,000 in each year who would not otherwise receive a pension will, in fact, receive it.

There is one proposal in the Measure which, contrary to the others to which I have referred, operates in the direction of restricting rather than expanding benefits, and perhaps I should say a word in particular about that. At present, if a widow is over 50 when her husband

dies she receives a widow's pension until it becomes a retirement pension; in other words, she receives pension for life. If she is over 40, under the existing law, when she ceases to draw widowed mother's allowance—that is, when her children cease to be children for whom benefit is paid under the scheme—she will also draw pension for life.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly will remember that that was not a proposal of the Beveridge scheme, but it was a proposal which he himself introduced between the publication of the White Paper and the introduction of his Bill. If he will allow me to say so, he introduced it for the extremely sensible purpose of assisting the widow to keep a house together while she had young or adolescent children. The right hon. Gentleman gave that reason in the course of the debate.

We are proposing to achieve the same end as that which the right hon. Gentleman had in mind, but by a different method— by the proposal in the Bill to pay the widowed mother's own share of widowed mother's allowance to her while she has any child under 18, even though that child, being neither at school nor an apprentice, is not itself entitled to family allowance or the children's portion of widowed mother's allowance. We feel that that would help with the problem which the right hon. Gentleman had in mind.

Experience has shown that this is a better method of dealing with it. I do not say this in any criticism of the right hon. Gentleman's proposal; he launched this great and new scheme against the background that we had to see how it would work. In practice, the provision for the payment of permanent pension after 40 if at that age the widowed mother came out of widowed mother's allowance, has produced anomalies and unfairnesses.

I do not want to weary the House with examples, but I have one example which illustrates the point which I am seeking to make. Let us take the case of a woman aged 45 when her husband dies— a woman who has a daughter aged 14That woman would be entitled to pension for life. If, however, her husband had lived for another four years, until she was 49 and her child was 18, she would not be entitled to pension for life.

That kind of anomaly in a scheme of this sort has given rise to a feeling of unfairness, and we have come to the conclusion that it is better to deal with the objective which the right hon. Gentleman had in mind by securing that all widowed mothers shall get their own share of widowed mother's allowance until the youngest child is 18, rather than by the provision to which I have referred and which the right hon. Gentleman introduced.

Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)

Is not the right hon. Gentleman creating another anomaly? We are now to have widowed mothers who move into this class at the age of 40. All the arguments which the right hon. Gentleman has employed about the barrier between the ages of 49 and 50 also apply between the ages of 39 and 40. He is taking out of the pension field a group of women who, having borne children and, as widowed mothers, brought them up, will be faced, at the age of 40, with the task of trying to earn their living, with no pension under the Bill.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I do not think the hon. Gentleman can have understood what I was trying to say, and I am sure that that is my fault rather than his. These matters are very complicated. We can discuss this matter further, but I think we are eliminating the kind of anomalies of which I gave an example.

Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)

The right hon. Gentleman has said, in effect, that of the two widows he described, one would have a pension and the other would not; but under the provisions of the Bill, neither would have a pension.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Neither would have a permanent pension, but both would have the widowed mother's share of widowed mother's allowance until the child was 18. Under the present law they would not have that. This is a subject on which it will be interesting to hear the views of the House, but it seems to us, as it seemed to the National Insurance Advisory Committee, after hearing evidence, that this was a more practical and fair way of dealing with the anomalies and difficulties which have arisen in the operation of the present law. It seems to us much less anomalous and much fairer.

Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)

Is it not the case that the proposal is to increase the age of the child from 16 to 18—two years—but to increase the age of the mother from 40 to 50—ten years?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I will come to the question of the ages of 16 and 18 when I come to the part of the Bill dealing with family allowances. When the hon. Member has had time to consider what I have said, he may desire to reflect further on the matter. This is a matter to which not only the Government but also the National Insurance Advisory Committee have devoted a good deal of thought, and they have come to the conclusion which I have outlined. I know that the hon. Member will want to consider the point seriously before forming his own final views.

It is not, of course, proposed to bring the solution to which I have referred into force so as to affect any existing widow, or until the new provisions with respect to what I call the flying start, which require the making of regulations and the affirmative Resolution procedure, have come into force. This will, of course, take care of any difficulty which it seems might otherwise arise.

I will not refer in detail to the other smaller provisions in the Committee's Report, but I will refer, in passing, if I may, to the removal of a small difficulty that has arisen in connection with marriages which by the law of the place where they were contracted could have been polygamous but were in fact monogamous.

Mr. Kenneth Thompson (Liverpool, Walton)

Which are they?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

If my hon. Friend wants an explanation, the man, by law, could have married a number of women but, in fact, has married only one. I think that is a fairly accurate summary, and perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) will bear me out.

The National Insurance Commissioner has decided, in those cases, that although there has been what seemed an ordinary monogamous marriage in practice, if, by law, it could have been polygamous, it should not be treated as a marriage either for widowed mother allowance or for any other National Insurance purpose. There have been a few cases affecting Commonwealth citizens, and we have decided to put the matter right and to provide that if the marriage is, in fact, monogamous, then it shall be treated as a marriage for all purposes of widowhood benefit, retirement pension and maternity grant of the National Insurance scheme. That is one of the small matters discovered after the operation of the scheme for a number of years, but it affects some of our fellow citizens from the Commonwealth overseas, and, for that reason, we are particularly glad to put it right.

The other part of the Bill relates to family allowances. Clause 1 (1) implements the promise of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget to increase by 2s. the rate of family allowance for the third child and subsequent children. That was discussed in the Budget debate and I do not think it is incumbent upon me to argue it at any length. It will have this effect it will be paid in respect of 1,850,000 children who are in or part of 1,150,000 families—families which themselves contain no fewer than 4 million children. It will, therefore, be a payment— it will cost about £ 10 million in a full year which will help the larger families.

The food surveys published by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food confirm the fact, and there is little doubt, as is evidenced by common observation of hon. Members, that particularly large families are a section of society which need a little assistance at this time. I suppose it is the common experience of hon. Members that of all groups of our society the large family is worse off in many ways than a single person or a small family. So it seemed right to us to make this adjustment of family allowances operate directly to help the larger family.

The justification needs only this additional argument, that it is, of course, the fact that the high standards which now operate in the care and upbringing of children are in a large degree responsible for the rising standard of physique and health in the children of this country. The maintenance of this standard imposes heavy sacrifices and burdens on the parents, and I think it is in the broad national interest that, even in these times when additional expenditure is difficult to justify some additional payment should be given to help in that direction.

The original Family Allowances Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Jowitt, or Sir William Jowitt as he then was, was introduced by a quotation from "The Vicar of Wakefield" who was ever of opinion that the honest man who married and brought up a large family did more service than he who continued single and only talked of population? Sir William Jowitt referred, as I should like to refer, to that as a "robust and a vigorous sentiment." It is in that spirit that this provision is put forward.

In the same spirit, there is a provision which implements an undertaking given by my right hon. and hon. Friends to raise the age of entitlement to Family Allowance for school children and apprentices. Under the present law family allowance is paid until a child's fifteenth birthday, or until 31st July following his or her sixteenth birthday if he or she is at school or apprenticed. So far as school children and apprentices are concerned, it is proposed to raise that age to the eighteenth birthday.

I gave some consideration to the question whether we should adopt again the terminal date of 31st July following the child's birthday and I came to the conclusion that it would be wrong for a number of reasons. It would be anomalous for many to go on paying family allowance after the eighteenth birthday, since people at eighteen become adults for normal National Insurance purposes. Equally, they become liable to call-up for National Service and there might be some unfairness at paying in respect of those who were deferred when those who were called up would not receive it.

It also avoids the difficulty of gambling on the turn of the dates, depending on the child's birthday. If you manage to arrange things so well as to be born just after 31st July, under the present scheme you get about a year's more Family Allowance than if you timed your entry into this world to arrive on 31st July.

Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)

It is the same as the Premium Bonds.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

It is perhaps introducing another element of chance, but I must not provoke the right hon. Gentleman.

Also, the date 31st July is quite irrelevant to apprentices, and for these reasons it seems a sensible and clean-cut idea to terminate this allowance on the eighteenth birthday. These modest concessions, costing a little over £2 million, will help, in particular, those people who keep their children at school for a longer period than they are compelled to by law, or apprentice them in a skilled trade, and as such will attract the House as being in accordance with a sensible social policy.

The Bill also raises the age of entitlement to family allowance to 16 in the case of a wholly incapacitated child. The reason why that is raised only to 16 is because at 16 such a child becomes entitled to National Assistance in its own right. But under the existing provisions there has been a gap between the age of 15 when such a child, as he cannot continue at school, has ceased to be entitled to family allowance, and the time he became entitled to the National Assistance in his own right

Some time ago my hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) introduced a Private Member's Bill in which was contained the substance of what is now Clause 5 of this Bill. The provision in that Bill, which did not reach the Statute Book, and in this Clause, are designed to deal with children committed to a local authority for care and whom it is considered expeditious and wise to send back to their families on a temporary basis. There was some doubt about what was the legal authority for doing that and the Bill puts it beyond doubt. It also provides that when such a child is returned to its family the allowances shall be payable in respect of the child. 1 should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree for the thought which he gave to the proposals contained in his Bill, and which we have now decided to incorparate in this Measure.

Clause 4 extends the power we have to make reciprocal arrangements for family allowances purposes with other countries. Under present conditions we can make reciprocal arrangements regarding family allowance only with the Commonwealth. This extends the power to enable reciprocal arrangements to be made on the same basis as for National Insurance purposes. We are entering into a reciprocal agreement with Belgium for National Insurance purposes under which Belgium is making a concession to us in respect of her family allowances scheme. If the House gives us this power we shall wish to make reciprocal arrangements with Belgium in connection with our family allowances.

The cost of this Bill can be looked at in this way. It falls both on the Exchequer and on the National Insurance Fund. So far as the Exchequer is concerned the 2s. for the third and subsequent child will cost £10 million in a full year and the extending of family allowance ages will cost £2 million in a full year. There is, therefore, a total cost of £ 12 million to the Exchequer. The cost to the National Insurance Fund, on which the biggest item is the additional payment for widows' children, will be £ 34 million in a full year. That is a substantial sum and whenever National Insurance benefits are increased it is necessary to consider the effect on the contribution rates. This particular expenditure will tend to decline after about ten years, and, therefore, the permanent cost of this National Insurance charge provided by the Bill does not seem to us sufficient to warrant changes in the contribution rates at present. It will have to be taken into account in the light of other changes which may have to be considered when the National Advisory Committee completes its Report.

Mr. J. T. Price

A few moments ago the right hon. Gentleman referred to the large percentage of widows—I think 74 per cent.—who have to apply for National Assistance. In giving this estimate, should not there be a saving on National Assistance?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has saved much time, because there is to be. I am giving the House the full facts. There will also be a charge on the Industrial Injuries Fund, because I explained that we are extending this in respect of industrial injuries by £160,000 a year to begin with and rising to £250,000. There, again, we have had to consider the effect on the industrial injuries contribution particularly in view of the Report by the Government Actuary of the First Quinquennial Actuarial Review of the Industrial Injuries Scheme.

We came to the conclusion that this change would not of itself justify an increase in rates, although, clearly, that will have to be taken into account when the time comes to consider them. On the other side of the ledger—and I come now to gratify the hon. Member for Westhoughton—there will be a saving to National Assistance of about Elf million from the saving of the Bill as a whole. That necessarily is not a precise calculation because the matter will turn on the precise circumstances of a number of families. The hon. Member was quite right in saying that in considering the aspects of the Bill we want to know what reliefs it will bring here.

Mr. Steele

I appreciate that there will be savings to the Assistance Board, but surely there will be some saving in reducing the age from 50 to 40 for widowed mothers. Does the figure of £3½ million take into account the savings which will be effected there?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Yes, it does and that is why, as the hon. Member will, no doubt, recall, I said that, after ten years the amount of £3½million will tend to decline. It will tend to decline because of the compensating adjustment of the Fund. That is why it will tend to fall and why we feel that this can be looked at, not as a permanent increased charge of this order on the Fund, but a permanent charge perhaps on the nation.

Dr. King

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again. Can he say how much will be saved on the change from age 40 to 50 for widows? That will be a matter we shall want to raise in Committee, and if we knew how much it would cost that would help both the Government and us in our discussions.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I would rather not hazard a figure without further thought. There will be very little saving in the beginning because, as I have indicated, this will not affect existing widows as they have a settled expectation of this benefit. It will tend to grow after ten years.

Mr. K. Thompson

My right hon. Friend has now made clear to me what was not clear before, that the existing rights of a widow drawing a pension will not be interfered with. When my right hon. Friend spoke earlier on this subject he said that they would not be interfered with as they exist now or until the "flying start" has become effective. I take it that the two exceptions are quite separate and that existing rights will be maintained?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

My hon. Friend is quite right. He, or probably I, must have telescoped two separate points. I am coming to a convenient part of my speech to deal with that.

The Bill provides a number of appointed days for different provisions. We did not propose to appoint a day for the 40–50 change until the provisions for a "flying start" could be brought into effect. The bringing into effect of these provisions will depend on the making of a regulation under the Bill when it becomes an Act and an affirmative Resolution of both Houses of Parliament. As my hon. Friend said, the other exception of existing widows will not be affected as it is a quite separate provision.

We have a number of powers to make appointed days. It would obviously be wrong to start speculating now on when those days will be. That must be when Parliament decides that the Bill shall become law. I very much hope, however, that we shall be able to put into force the extension of family allowances of school children up to 18 at the beginning of August. The reason is that a number of children will be coming out under the existing law on 31st July, following their sixteenth birthday, and it would puzzle people concerned if we took them out of family allowances and then put them back a few months later. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already said that it is hoped to bring into effect the increased family allowances for the third and subsequent children on 1st October. The 2nd October is the nearest pay day to the beginning of that month.

This Bill reflects in two ways certain ideas of social policy which we wish, despite the economic difficulties of the time, to seek to achieve. The first is the concentration of the resources available in some of the directions where they seem to be most needed. The other is to give some further support to the family as the only sound foundation of a sound society and the care for the young, which must be the major pre-occupation of any com- munity which has a faith in its future. Because it seems to us that this is a serious and sincere attempt to serve those efforts, I commend the Bill to the House.

4.45 p.m.

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

The Minister was commendably brief in the agreeable speech he made. I am afraid that, unlike him, I cannot claim a direct personal pecuniary interest in the matter any more. I might have had one had the Bill been introduced a year or two earlier. My personal interest, nonetheless, still remains very strong. As a parent, I have had some experience of receiving family allowance, and, as a son, I have had some experience of living in the household of a widow.

As the right hon. Gentleman told us, the Bill contains two main provisions, the increase of certain family allowances, which was foreshadowed in the Budget Statement, and the implementation of the recommendations of the National Insurance Advisory Committee on Widow's Benefit. Of course, we welcome both those improvements in the conditions of our people, as far as they go. Perhaps I may be permitted to say that I especially welcome the provision in regard to widows because, when the right hon. Gentleman first announced his intention to implement those recommendations of the Committee, he told us that he would not be able to do it this Session. When he made that announcement 1 intervened and said …16s. 6d. is still a pitifully small sum on which to bring up, feed and clothe a growing child? If that is the most he can do, will he not at least do it at once? I must say that I am glad that in subsequent representations which I made to the Lord Privy Seal I found that apparently the Government had changed their mind

On 27th February the Minister said: It will not be possible to proceed with this legislation this Session."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1956; Vol. 549, c. 837–8.] However, when I questioned the Lord Privy Seal, whom I am glad to see here to-day, on 8th March— when he announced certain provisions concerning elections in Northern Ireland— I asked: If the right hon. Gentleman can find time for this legislation, could he not also find time for the Bill to implement improvements in widows' pensions recently announced, on which I promised him that the Opposition would give him an easy passage? The right hon. Gentleman replied: I must, of course, in answer to the right hon. Gentleman in respect of that very important matter to which he draws attention, say that it is an obligatory duty which we have to perform."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th March. 1956; Vol. 549. c. 2329.] I was pleased, and I am sure that many widows who will benefit from these provisions were also pleased.

As a result, we have this Bill before us and, if I have played any part in expediting its introduction, I am all the more grateful that it has been brought in. I am glad indeed to hear again this afternoon from the Minister that he is going to do his best, if the Bill is given a Second Reading— as I am sure it will be, and its Third Reading— — to use the powers given him under the Bill to make the necessary Regulations as soon as possible.

I have said already that we would give the Bill an easy passage and today we certainly intend to fulfil that promise. We shall not attempt to oppose its Second Reading. We shall criticise it in parts no doubt during our proceedings this afternoon. We look forward to opportunities on the Committee stage to examine it even more carefully. If we have undertaken to give the Bill an easy passage, that does not mean—and I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will agree that it ought not to mean—that we are pledging ourselves to see it rushed through Committee. We want to have opportunities in Committee to examine very carefully all the various proposals, and, if possible, to persuade the Government to improve some of them.

Asking, as we do, for careful deliberation during the Committee stage— and we on our part undertake that there will be no delaying tactics— we want to see the provisions for the children of this country improved, and improved to the maximum degree possible. We shall not stand in the way of any improvements, even though they do not go as far as we should like, but we want the opportunity to explain how we think this Bill will affect the mothers, the widows and the children of this country during the course of that Committee stage.

Turning now to the family allowances provisions of the Bill which are contained in Clause 1, these were announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget Statement. They were part of the Budget provisions for the general economy of the country. As I think the Minister indicated this afternoon, they were in line with the policy of the Tory Party. As I understand that policy, it has been to get rid as quickly as possible of all subsidies and to give some compensation to those who are to be most hit by the policy of raising the price of food, which the abolition of subsidies entails.

The Minister today passed rather rapidly over that aspect of these proposals, almost as rapidly as the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech passed over the elimination of the bread subsidy, which he mentioned almost in passing and which some hon. Members indeed failed to notice in the general course of his speech. We are faced this afternoon with the consequences of the abolition of the bread subsidy and with the consequences of the Government's measures in regard to the milk subsidy, both of which have raised the price of bread and milk, and this has happened on top of and in addition to the steady rise in food prices which has already taken place.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Smethwick (Mr. Gordon Walker) reminded the House in the Budget debate that in 1955 alone, whereas the rise in the general index of prices was 6 per cent., the rise in food prices was no less than 8 per cent. As a consequence of the Budget measures, there is likely to be a still further rise, so that the extra 2s. per week family allowance which is proposed this afternoon is some compensation for the rises in food prices and, in particular, for the rise in the prices of bread and milk.

We have had many arguments about prices and their effect on different classes of the community, but nobody can deny that children eat bread and milk. Nobody can deny that they must be, and ought to be, among the principal consumers of bread and milk. These rises in prices of bread and milk affect them more than anyone else in the community. We have to ask ourselves whether the proposal to increase family allowances by 2s. for the third and subsequent children in a family is sufficient compensation for the rise in bread and milk prices.

I ask the Government this question: Does not the second child eat bread and milk too? The right hon. Gentleman said that these burdens fall more heavily on the large family than on the small one. It is perfectly true, but they fall upon all families in which there are young children. We should have preferred to see a proposal from the Government to compensate all families by way of a rise in family allowances not by going so far as to provide a family allowance in respect of the first child, but by continuing the established policy, on which I think both parties in the House are agreed, to pay family allowances for the second and subsequent children in a family. We should have preferred to see — and we think the Government ought to have introduced it— an all-round increase in family allowances.

Admitting the special needs of the large family—and, of course, one must admit that the large family is most severely hit by the various difficulties which confront working class families at present—none the less, we feel that this particular addition is inadequate, and we would welcome —and we will see whether we cannot at later stages of the Bill persuade the Minister to be bold and take the whole step—a provision in this Bill to pay family allowances to the second as well as to the third and subsequent children.

I need not spend any time at all on the change provided in the Bill in the definition of what constitutes a child. We owe that to that Advisory Committee which put this definition forward as one of the recommendations in its Report on widow's benefit. I should like to say that the Minister's tribute this afternoon to the Advisory Committee is well deserved and, once again, we should like to join with the right hon. Gentleman in thanking the Advisory Committee for the very considerable amount of time which it devoted to studying this and other problems.

We hope that this change in the definition of what constitutes a child, that is, the raising of the age to 18, will provide some incentive to the children themselves to stay on at school or become apprentices; in other words, to accept and engage in education, instead of trying to rush out into paid work at the first opportunity, and that it will also reduce the incentive of parents to do the same thing—to hurry their children out because of the poverty of the family as a whole. We very much hope that in consequence we shall have children staying on in school for longer periods, and more boys, and even girls if possible, entering apprenticeships in industry, instead of taking the very often comparatively well-paid jobs that lead nowhere.

I turn now to Clause 2, which contains the implementation of the Advisory Committee's recommendations about widows. These recommendations by the Committee were very wise, very penetrating and very ingenious, and when we read them we were really delighted. The solution which they have found for many of the problems and anomolies which have been created by the working of the National Insurance Acts up-to-date are greatly to be commended. They were ingenious and sensible. We particularly welcome the change in the qualifying period of marriage, and the introduction of eligibility for unemployment and sickness benefits, which the Committee recommended and which are provided for in this Bill

We have only two qualifications in mind in extending our congratulations to the Committee on this Report. My hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West(Mr. Steele), if he is fortunate enough to catch your eye. Mr. Speaker. will want to expand on this matter to which he has devoted a great deal of study in the past. Therefore, I want to put it no stronger than to say that, despite the improvement in the right of widows to receive sickness and unemployment benefit, we are not sure whether it was really necessary to do away with the former category of "incapable of self-support." However, I pass that by because, as I said, my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West knows a great deal more about the working of this provision than I do, and he may wish to say something later.

Similarly, we are not quite happy about Clause 2 (5) which deals with the substitution of the age of 50 for 40 as the qualifying age for pension of a widowed mother whose children have grown up and for whom she no longer receives an allowance. It is true that this is a recommendation of the Advisory Committee. It is equally true that the Committee justified it at great length in paragraphs 43 and 44 of the Report. The Minister this afternoon followed very much the lines of the argument which the Committee adduced in those paragraphs.

One must admit that there is some force in the arguments which the Committee puts forward and which the right hon. Gentleman brought forward this afternoon. But did the Committee or does the right hon. Gentleman sufficiently take into account, in recommending his proposal, the difficulty which a widowed mother over the age of 40 encounters if she is trying to enter the labour market for the first time? We hope that she will be enabled by the family allowances and widow's benefit, and so on, to look after her family at home while they are young. We hope that she will not be forced to start earning her living while the family is still with her. At the end of that time, when the family is grown up, she will be 40 or more years of age. Between that time and her attaining the age of 50, she has to find a place in the labour market. It strikes one as an extremely difficult thing to have to do. even in times of full employment.

The Minister said this afternoon that the provision for the payment of permanent pension after 40 has produced anomalies. That is true. Examples were given by the Committee and were repeated this afternoon by the Minister. But when the Minister was asked a question by my hon. Friend the Member for Itchen (Dr. King), he was not quite easy in answering it. My hon. Friend suggested that though some anomalies may be removed by these provisions, new ones may be created. I was glad that the Minister at this point indicated a willingness to consider representations. I feel sure that hon. Friends of mine who have wide experience of the working of these provisions will want to make those representations this afternoon and later in Committee. We are glad to know that the Minister himself feels that a fuller examination is needed and that he will listen carefully to anything that is said.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I did not wish to indicate that I thought a fuller examination was needed. I said that the Advisory Committee and the Government had given careful thought to this matter. What I did say— and it was hardly necessary to say it — was that I will, of course, listen to any point which any hon. Gentleman desires to raise.

Mr. Marquand

I did not wish to misrepresent the Minister. I am quite satisfied with the undertaking that he has just given.

May I turn to the case of the widowed mother with children still in her care. As I have already said in this debate and in discussion on another Bill, it is highly desirable, in my view, that such a mother should be able to stay at home and look after the family, at least while any of the children are below school age. All recent studies of child delinquency, child psychology and so on show that this is extremely important. What happens during the years of infancy may form the whole character of a person later on. The constant presence in the home of a parent— and, of course, particularly of the mother— is vital to that sense of security and confidence which has to be built up at those tender years. Even later than school age, in my own experience, it seems that it is vitally important that the children should know that the mother is there when they come home.

Mr. J. K. Vaughan-Morgan (Reigate)

indicated assent.

Mr. Marquand

I am glad to see the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan) nodding approval. I know he gives a great deal of thought to these matters. From study in one's own family and other families, one feels that perhaps during the last twenty years or so, that important aspect of family life may have been under-estimated in the revolt from the old-fashioned strict family life of the Victorian period. We are now coming round again to realise its importance. Therefore, I hope that everything we can do will be done to assist those mothers who see their duty in that way and who wish to stay at home and look after the infants and later the schoolchildren

The situation of such widows has been anything but satisfactory. The Minister referred to this, and I should like to emphasise it again by quoting from the Report of the National Insurance Advisory Committee on the Question of Widow's Benefit. Paragraph 38 says: About 30 per cent. of women receiving widowed mother's allowance are receiving supplementary national assistance. This percentage is higher than for any other class of National Insurance beneficiary. Further, this is an average figure. While the percentage for the widow with one child is much the same as for beneficiaries generally, the percentage for the larger families is very much greater, rising to about 75 per cent. for families of four children or more. That is a deplorable state of affairs. We have to ask ourselves whether the increases and the improvements proposed in this Bill will be sufficient to take these children out of assistance. Will it be sufficient to give them the chance to live a proper family life? The numbers of persons on assistance, as the Minister told me not long ago in answer to a Question, have risen by 30,000 since the last increase in National Assistance scales. Today there are 1,600,000 persons drawing National Assistance, to whom, I suppose, we may add 900,000 in respect of their dependants. I do not know the exact figure. Perhaps nobody knows. Probably one in twenty of our population at the present time, if not actually drawing in the sense of having a book, is dependant upon National Assistance to some degree. We cannot be happy about that situation.

Retirement pensioners are not within the scope of the Bill, and about them I will say no more, but we cannot be happy about the position as it affects widows. At the time of the last Report of the National Assistance Board, 93,000 widows were drawing National Assistance. It is too large a number altogether. In fact, I would say that it is 93,000 too large.

The estimate presented to us this afternoon and contained in the Explanatory Memorandum of the Bill shows that the saving to the National Assistance Board if these proposals are implemented will be £1,500,000. Good— fine— but how many people will be taken off National Assistance? The Minister has said that he could not be quite precise about the figure of £ 1,500,000— that it was in round figures. I wish that he had been able to hazard a guess as to the number of widows and their families who could have been taken off National Assistance in the time mentioned in the Memorandum. Possibly there may be time for him to look at that later on and to consult with the National Assistance Board

We really want to know what the position is. We want to give these children a real home of their own, and a real chance as they get older. How many of these children of widows drawing National Assistance ever really have the chance, about which we are so fond of boasting, of getting to the grammar school, and from the grammar school to the university with State scholarships. They may be able enough to qualify, but the pressure to go out to work to help the widowed mother is so great that children with some sense of responsibility are all to often led to miss those opportunities. They are a depressed class in our community and we want to be sure what will happen to them.

What is the measure of what such families and what such children ought to receive? I am very grateful—and I am sure that all who are interested in this problem are very grateful—for the remarkable article which appeared inThe Timeson 14th May setting out figures giving us an idea of what various classes benefiting from various sorts of social benefits in fact receive. If we look at National Assistance we see that in respect of the child under five years only 13s. is paid, and for the child between five and 10 the amount is 15s. 6d. By the time the child is 11, 18s. is paid by the National Assistance Board and between 16 and 17 the Board—which has the duty of finding out what is necessary to maintain a child—pays 23s. 6d.

Those figures are substantially higher than those proposed in this Bill for the widow's children. If we look at war pensions, we find that the amount payable to the widow for her children is even higher than that. Here, I do not want to be misunderstood. I hope that I cannot be. I hope that nobody in this House who knows anything about war pensions would think for a second that I would want to suggest any kind of reduction or lowering of the standard of war pensions or of the pensions and allowances paid to war widows. I hope that any record I have is sufficiently good to make it quite clear that I would never suggest that.

I am bound to say, however, that the widowed mother with three children who is drawing National Insurance will receive 92s. 6d. a week under these provisions; the war widow similarly placed will receive 127s. 6d. I think that 127s. 6d. is a much more satisfactory figure. It seems to me, then, that despite the provisions proposed in the Bill—and they are improvements—the National Insurance widow without other resources will still have to go to the National Assistance Board at least for her rent

I do not regard that as satisfactory. I have received a letter from the Secretary of the National Joint Committee of Working Women's Organisations, which says: …there is an urgent case for asking that the benefits paid in respect of widows' children should represent the full cost of maintaining the children, plus a contribution to the family overheads ' The letter goes on to say The national Joint Committee last month discussed very fully the Minister's statement of 27th February. Their view was that an increase of 5s. for each child was inadequate, and they want to urge very strongly that the benefit should be at least 20s. or 21s. In view of what is regarded as a reasonable sum to pay to war widows, and in view of what is regarded by the National Assistance Board as the minimum to be paid, they are not far off the mark. So I want to say—as I gave warning on another Bill that we might have to do—that during the Committee stage we really feel that it will be our bounden duty to seek for some improvement of these allowances.

May I say just one thing more? We discussed recently the earnings rule for pensioners of various kinds. This afternoon we are discussing the position of widows. The more we go into it the more do we find anomalies, complexities and variations of payment which are very difficult for us to understand—they are still more difficult for the pensioner himself or herself to understand. The Parliamentary Secretary admitted that fact the other day and said that she would do her best to get the new provision concerning the earnings rule widely publicised and explained in popular terms. If I am not mistaken, we have yet to receive the Report of the Advisory Committee on Contribution Conditions. These conditions, again, may be complicated and difficult to understand.

What we are doing is to tackle this problem piecemeal. We on this side feel that in view of all the difficulties that have been thrown up by these various separate examinations, what is now needed is a thoroughly comprehensive review of the whole of the system of National Insurance. We are sorry that it was not done when opportunity occurred for the statutory review at the end of a five-year period. We are sorry that that review was hurried through because of the imminence of the General Election. We shall certainly do our best — and we hope that the Minister will do his best— to get a more thorough and satisfactory comprehensive review of all these conditions before very long.

5.18 p.m.

Mr. John Tilney (Liverpool, Wavertree)

As I shall take up the time of the House for only a few minutes, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesborough, East (Mr. Marquand) will forgive me if I do not comment on his many comparatively minor points. The words he used in effect welcomed the Bill, which will, I believe, find an echo up and down the country.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his courteous reference to the Bill I had the honour to introduce in the last Parliament, the third Clause of which he has been good enough to embody in Clause 5 of this Bill. There were two other Clauses in that Bill which was withdrawn, and I should like to express my appreciation to the many voluntary bodies, especially on Merseyside, which helped me with that Measure. I believe the House would also like to express its thanks to the many voluntary workers who, even in these days of the Welfare State, work unobtrusively and unsubsidised behind the scenes helping many a child and many a home.

The second Clause of my Bill would have enabled the court, on the making of a judicial separation order involving the custody of children, to direct to whom any allowance should be payable. I agree with my right hon. Friend that the problem arising when a parent goes away with a family allowances book, leaving the children with the other parent, can be tackled much more easily administratively than by a Bill of this kind.

There was one other Clause which raised a matter of which I think the House would like to take note. Although we all agree on the principle of family allowances in binding a family together, we have to accept the fact that there are a number of families, either where parents are mentally backward or where some- thing goes wrong between them, where some of the children are handed over to a local authority or a voluntary home. In such cases the social worker often finds great difficulty in getting the money which is handed over to the parent by way of family allowances sent to the voluntary home to pay for the children.

I know it is said that this is a matter of principle and that it is up to the parent to buy a postal order, to get pen, paper and envelopes, and to send the money every week, but our experience in the Army brings home to us the great difficulty of getting some families to put pen to paper or to make a businesslike effort in this direction.

I should like to quote to the House two cases which have been brought to my notice. In one, there were six children in the family and the third child, a boy of ten, was in a voluntary home. The mother was finding it very hard to manage on the money allowed to her by her husband and she was in arrears in her payments to the voluntary home. Many visits were made by the voluntary workers, but the mother continued to say that she found it very difficult to send the money as the temptation of having it in her own hands was too strong.

In another case, where there were arrears of payment, the social workers who had been trying to help the family, which had fallen on very evil days, had to give evidence against the family because it had not paid its proper contribution for the upkeep of one of the children in a voluntary home.

The first Clause of my Bill endeavoured to make it possible for such a parent to sign a document, before a justice of the peace or some other authorised person, allowing a voluntary body or a local authority for a short period of time, say, 12 weeks, to draw the family allowance for those particular children. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that as Form FAM.36 enables a parent to delegate authority to collect family allowance while the legal parent is physically unable to do so, and while we allow children to be sent away from the family into a home, to some extent the principle of keeping the family together has already been abrogated.

If my right hon. Friend would look once again into the problem and see whether by administrative means something can be done to remove the temptation from many of these parents, not only the parents but also many of the social workers would indeed be grateful to him

5.24 p. m

Dr. Horace King (Southampton Itchen)

I am tempted to follow the details—important details—which the hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) has raised in his speech, but I will say only that many hon. Members on both sides of the House would be unwilling that family allowances should be paid to parents who proved by their conduct that they were not fit to have their children and whose children have had to come under the protection of the State. I congratulate the hon. Member on succeeding in getting quite a useful little Clause into this good little Bill.

Mr. Steele

It is not a minor Clause.

Dr. King

It is a major Clause; I am corrected by my hon. Friend. He is right. It is quite an important improvement.

I hope that I misunderstood the hon. Member for Wavertee when, in paying tribute to those who do voluntary work, the hon. Member said that "even under the Welfare State" much voluntary work is going on. I am sure that he will agree that once the political battle over establishing some new part of the Welfare State has receded into the past, both political parties in the country and both sides of the House realise that the Welfare State does not dry up the wells of human charity. In the State hospitals, in the State institutions for mental defectives—in one of which I recently saw the parents of the children have made the gift of an extra building, by voluntary effort—in the State schools through parents' associations and in the voluntary work being done by hundreds of thousands of people in the National Health Service and in the care of the old folk, such as by the provision of travelling meals, we have seen that the Welfare State does not mean the abolition of human good will and charity but often means a great opportunity for its expansion and development. I congratulate the hon. Member on the Clause which he has managed to get into the Bill, and it will please all who give voluntary service to child welfare.

I believe that the great National Insurance framework which we built up was, on the whole, a magnificent achievement of the first Labour Government after the war. I watched it with admiration from outside and I have learned to admire it and its creators even more deeply since I came into the House. It had, however, one serious defect, in that it failed to match up to the problems of widows. It is true that one could not do everything or foresee everything in shaping the insurance scheme, but I am afraid that when the House was considering it in those early post-war days, and even somewhat in this Bill, it was not fully alive to the hardships which are endured by widows, and especially by widowed mothers.

I welcome the Bill and pay tribute to the capable and kindly way in which the Minister has introduced it. One is always afraid, when a Minister goes from the Treasury to a great welfare Ministry like the Ministry of Pensions, no matter how many intermediate stages he passes through —

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

The right hon. Gentleman did not go direct; he paid an intermediate call.

Dr. King

I said that he had passed through an intermediate stage. It may be that that was a mellowing process. Nevertheless, one is a little afraid lest the voice of the Treasury should suddenly emerge in the Ministry of Pensions. The present Minister follows a line of very distinguished predecessors at this Ministry since the war, from both sides of the House. He is in charge of one of the most loved Ministries which has ever been set up in any country of the world, manned by people who are doing a fine job in National Assistance, in care for disabled soldiers and old-age pensioners and in all the great social work which makes people outside the House and in it very proud of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. We are sure that he will add his own distinguished contribution to that line of Labour and Conservative predecessors.

I hope that as we discuss the Bill in Committee the Minister will be as courteous as he always is on the Floor of the House and that we shall have an opportunity seriously and in detail to examine the question of adequate assistance for widows. Let us be quite clear that although this is a good Bill— I know it is the custom for the Opposition to say that it does not go far enough— my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) is right in saying that much of the virtue and benefit of it is minimised by the result of Government policy in other ways. The increased benefits for children, increased family allowance benefits, and increased widows' benefits are largely gobbled up by the rise in the cost of living, and far from there being a real advance in the relative position of the widowed mother, as one would imagine from the Minister's introduction and from the wording of the Bill, the advance is a minor one, because it has to be set against the fall in the value of money.

I assure the Minister that I do not make that point from the traditional grudging point of view of an Opposition speaker. It would be ungracious not to welcome this Bill. I particularly welcome the extension of the family allowance to children who go to school after the age of 15 up to the age of 18, and the extension of the children's allowance to apprentices of that age. This is a matter which, as the Minister will remember, we debated on the Finance Bill some two years ago, and I am more than happy to see that particular provision in the Bill.

There is one tiny section of the Bill which gives me even greater pleasure. We are here recognising in this House, really for the first time, the particularly anomalous position of one group of parents, namely, those who have mentally defective children who are sufficiently backward not even to be able to go to special schools for defective children. As I mentioned during the Finance Bill debate some two or three years ago, while financial concessions are made for the bright child who goes on with his education, while concessions are made for the backward child who goes to a school for the mentally defective and continues his education, this narrow group of parents whose children are so helpless that they must be cared for at home has received no such help. The family allowance was dropped when such children attained the age of 15, and then, for a year, the parents had to keep them until, at the age of 16, they became nominally adults and were covered by National Insurance. I want again to pay tribute to the mothers of England who look after such helpless children in their homes, doing a 24-hours-a-day job. I thank the Minister most sincerely for reaching out, and. by means of this Bill, giving a helping hand to some of the noblest parents that Britain has.

It is worth remembering that, by and large, this Bill caters for decent fathers and mothers, for decent widows and for decent widowers, just as it caters for decent children. The Press might occasionally mention the mass of decent fathers, mothers and widows of Britain instead of giving the idea that all mothers waste their family allowances and all our youth consists of Teddy boys. By and large, we have a great and wonderful family life in this country, and if this Bill helps to develop and stimulate it, good work will be done.

There is one provision in the Bill, which some may regard as a detail, but which I none the less welcome as important, namely, that a woman whose husband has died will automatically be put at once on to full insurance rights without having to make a number of payments to qualify. I would remind the Minister that these widows will still have to pay their National Insurance contributions. We must not forget the 10s. widow and the no shilling widow. I remember that when I raised this matter of the difficulties experienced by 10s. widows some years ago, I got indignant letters from women who asid, "You talk about the 10s. widow. We are no shilling widows." Widows who go out to earn their living under very difficult conditions have to pay their full National Insurance contributions out of their often meagre wages. The consequence is that the so-called 10s. widow is at the moment getting less than half of her 10s. when that amount is set against what she has to pay back to the State.

I want to say a word or two this afternoon about the position of widows, in anticipation of what I hope will be a serious debate in Committee. In my view, the general formula, of which the Minister has given a rough indication this afternoon, is exceedingly plausible and rather dangerous. The Minister spoke of the young, fit and childless widow. He said, quite rightly, that Britain cannot afford to keep for ever, without her doing any work, the young, fit childless widow.

Let us make it quite clear that none of the payments we make to any widows in this country would keep them; no young, fit and childless widow even now, at the age of 40, could live on what she would get from the present National Assistance benefits. We do not hand out to them £ 10 or £ 15 a week so that they may sit hack in luxury and idleness. Nevertheless, I believe that some such fear was in the minds of those who shaped the first National Insurance Act, was at the back of the minds of the Committees which have reported to the Minister, and is even behind this Bill today.

I believe that we are doing injustice to a group of widows whose husbands happened to die on the wrong day. of all anomalies, the worst is the anomaly which shifts out of the full benefits of the Welfare State into the 10s. National Insurance class a group of widows whose only misfortune is that their husbands died on the wrong side of a certain appointed day. Among those, the 10s. widow receives only the concession in the Bill that she will walk straight into full insurance rights if she starts paying her insurance contributions.

I have been worried about the change of age from 40 to 50, and that was why I interrupted the Minister. I hope there will be second thoughts about this in Committee, particularly as regards the widowed mother in the 40 to 50 age group. The Minister pointed out that there were anomalies under the present scheme. I tried to suggest that there would be still graver anomalies even when we moved the age to 50 and excluded any widow between 40 and 50, once her children were grown up, from getting any benefit under this scheme.

I am worried about the widowed mother with two or three children who, having brought up her children, comes to the age, as it will be under this Bill of somewhere between 40 and 50 and whose youngest child passes from the stage when the child itself and the mother qualify for any help. Somewhere between the age of 40 and 50 the widowed mother has to go out on to the labour market. She has done one of the noblest and most highly skilled jobs which anyone can do in the community. Very often, she has brought up her children in the cramping circumstances of widows' allowances, and has saved the State at least three, and possibly four, times the expense which might have been incurred, if, on becoming a widow, she had decided to abrogate her responsibility and throw it upon the State. We pay £ 6 or £ 7— sometimes £ 8— a week to keep deprived children under the children's committees of this country. We probably pay any sum between £ 3 and £ 6 a week to keep the child who has gone wrong in Borstal or some other preventive or protective institution. Yet these widowed mothers have been keeping their children on something like a third of that amount.

I seriously suggest that all the proposed figures for payments to widows in this Bill are inadequate. If we are to say to a widowed mother, "Having done that service for the State, having brought up your children, you are now 43. 44 or 45 and you must compete in the labour market and learn a new trade. There is nothing the State can do for you." we shall be doing a great wrong to some very deserving mothers. When we get down to business in Committee, I hope that with the Minister's support we shall be able to devise some means of increasing the help proposed for widowed mothers. I conclude as I began by saying that 1 welcome the Bill and hope that in Committee we shall take the opportunity as a council of State to examine some of the fundamental issues which it raises and particularly that of the widowed mother

5.40 p.m.

Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)

My right hon. Friend must be extremely gratified with the reception which the Bill has received. It does not complete the picture of National Insurance in this country, but it will be agreed that it is another logical step following on what Governments from both sides of the House have done for many years, starting, of course, soon after the turn of the century with the Liberal Government of that day.

There is only one alarming Clause in the Bill which my right hon. Friend did not explain clearly and that is the Clause which changes the meaning of monogamy and polygamy. I trust that it has no sinister aspect and is not otherwise out of keeping with the Bill. The other Clauses seem to have general acceptance. Like the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) I have been disturbed by the problem of widows. Of course, if we treated widowhood itself as a basis for much larger benefits, I suppose that my right hon. Friend would then have to run in terror from the National Association of Spinsters. That is an awful possibility with which he and future Ministers might be confronted.

Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)

The hon. Member should not be personal.

Mr. Gower

The spinsters might claim, with some justice, that their plight was even worse, because they have not had the good fortune at some stage of their lives of having the assistance of a husband. They might say that in that respect life had treated them even more poorly than it had their widowed friends.

My right hon. Friend has not entirely dealt with what I consider to be a major defect. It is true that the Bill goes some way to meeting the problems of widowed mothers, but it does not deal with the fact that many widows, by virtue of having been married, on the death of their husbands find themselves suddenly suffering under a substantial disability. Does my hon. Friend contemplate taking some action which will meet the transitional period between a woman becoming a widow and beginning to earn? There is already an arrangement by which, when a woman becomes a widow, for a certain number of weeks she receives a full widow's pension. Could not that arrangement be extended to cover a longer time? It is one of the difficulties of the 10s. widows and the so-called "no shilling" widows that they are suddenly faced with the job of having to work again.

I should say that the disability is far greater if a woman has been married for 30 years, while it may be negligible in the case of a woman married for only two or three years. I do not suggest that my right hon. Friend should consider widowhood as such as a ground for special consideration. A woman may have been married merely for a matter of months and in that case her marriage is merely an incident in her life. However, if she has been married for a very long time, she may have a case for continuing to receive for a far longer period the payments which are made for so many weeks. The length of time for which she receives the payments could be adjusted according to the length of her married life.

We all recognise that this is an extremely difficult problem. I have been in touch with both kinds of widow. An odd feature is that a person who receives 10s. is more aware of her plight than is a person who receives nothing at all. It is one of the peculiarities of the problem that the no shilling widow in many cases does not realise her plight. Because she receives a limited benefit, the 10s. widow cannot understand why that benefit is not increased and it is extremely difficult to explain. It is not easy to make a long explanation on the lines of my right hon. Friend's speech. It is impossible in some cases to explain why their benefits are the only ones which have stood still in this way. I hope that the difficulty about this period of time would at least be considered and studied.

On both sides of the House the Bill is welcomed. The hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) said that the increases will be swallowed up in the price increases of recent years. That is not entirely the case, because many recipients of family allowances have increased their earnings. The provisions of the Bill are to meet the particular problems of the larger family. I recognise, of course, that there are those whose earnings have not increased, but a large number of people with large families will have increased their earnings and the provisions of the Bill are to meet the peculiar problems of those with extra family responsibilities.

It was suggested by the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East that all family allowances should have been increased, but we all recognise that that would be something on an entirely different level. In debates on former Bills there have been strong pleas for allowances for the first child, but we know that the cost of that, if not prohibitive, would be on a completely different level from that of the present Bill. That is not necessarily a valid criticism of the present Measure which within its scope is a logical step. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have often advocated different rates and selected differences in rates. This step is as logical as some of those advocated from the other side of the House. I hope that both sides of the House will combine to give the Bill an unopposed Second Reading.

5.49 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

I am sure that the Minister has had a very agreeable task in introducing this Bill. Even hardened politicians like introducing popular rather than unpopular Measures, and although the right hon. Gentleman is pretty tough, I am sure that he found this an agreeable beginning to his period of office. This is his first substantial Bill as Minister of Pensions and National Insurance.

When the right hon. Gentleman rose to speak, I think he must for a moment have found himself thinking of his perdecessor, who referred this matter we are discussing to the National Insurance Advisory Committee on Widow's Benefit in March, 1954. Certainly I find it strange not to see the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor in charge of this Bill, and I take this opportunity of expressing to him the gratitude I personally feel for his unfailing courtesy, and of paying a tribute to what I think was the most remarkable grasp which he had of this complex subject. Moreover, he carried on social policy in the Ministry in a way which, I feel sure, met with the approval of both sides of the House

I wish to turn to the first main proposal of the Bill, which is really part of the Budgetary and economic policy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, namely, the increase in the family allowance for the third child and subsequent children. This is welcome. I regret, however, that the right hon. Gentleman did not propose to increase the family allowance for the second child. I thought I saw the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) looking at me very keenly when he made his observations a few moments ago, for certainly I have always been an advocate of a family allowance for the first child.

The Chancellor has missed an opportunity here. He has disclosed his mind twice now, saying he wants a period of stability. He did so first to the Economic Committee of the Trades Union Congress, and subsequently in public in a speech the other day. What the right hon. Gentleman wants now, as also voiced by the Prime Minister in his speech at Perth, is a period of stability, a period during which further calls on the national income in wages and salaries and personal incomes will be moderated and, if possible, brought for a time to a halt in order that our economy may recover and we may re-establish confidence in our future and build up our reserves.

It seems to me that he could have struck a bold blow for this policy if he had been prepared to increase the family allowances all round. I think that it is the difficulty of the family man to meet the increases in costs which is, to a large extent, the inspiration behind the demand for higher wages and salaries. To have tempered that a little by an increase in the family allowances all round would have been a contribution towards the policy which the right hon. Gentleman wishes to follow.

This introduction of a differential between the second child and the third and subsequent children is a new feature in the family allowance system. We have already many differentials in child allowances of one kind and another, and it is extraordinarily difficult for ordinary persons to relate the cost of children to such differing amounts, according to different circumstances. For that reason, it would have been preferable to have increased the family allowances generally instead of selecting the third child and subsequent children for this increase. Anyhow, it is too late to do anything about that now. I think the Money Resolution will prevent us from moving any Amendments in Committee to that end. As I read it, the Bill cannot be amended in that respect.

I turn now to the child allowance for widowed mothers. This is a feature of the Bill which may be capable of discussion and possibly improvement in Committee. The question is, is the 5s. increase proposed enough? My right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand), who began the debate from this side of the House, has already reported to the House the contents of a letter he received from a representative body of women's organisations. I doubt whether the increase is enough. Indeed, I think all our social payments are on the low side.

I say again what I said in relation to the retirement pension, that I really think the time is coming when we shall have to raise our targets and lift our standards, because when the best has been said about the social payments, the fact remains they are, in general, either 1946 or 1948 standards written up to date. I do not think they are good enough.

After all, we hear a great deal about the prosperity of the country and the higher standards of the working folk, which we can agree exist. There is no doubt about it. The general mass of the people of Britain are living on a higher standard today than ever before. We may as well acknowledge the truth, because that is it. Although they are all hard up— we are all hard up— that is largely because as their wages have increased, as they have in wide areas of industry, they naturally have pursued their expanding desire for the amenities and comforts and enjoyments of life, and in these days many things which would have been regarded as luxuries in my childhood are now accepted as common features of every household. We all want to see that continue.

So our targets are bound to be too low if all we do is to bring up to date 1946 or 1948 standards— because 1946 standards, as I have repeatedly said, had their roots in 1938 standards and really provided for very little more than a reasonable public assistance level before the war. So if I pick out the proposed increase of 5s. for the widowed mother with a child and say it is low, that is a criticism which can be applied all round; but since we are dealing with this benefit for a particularly deserving section of those who receive the benefits of our welfare arrangements, we can say that this should be put higher, even though other benefits remain at their existing level. I think that further consideration of that should be given in Committee.

The crucial test is the one which my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East made, of adding up the total income of the widowed mother to see whether all-in it represents a satisfactory standard of life for a woman who is left alone, who feels great insecurity and fear for the future, which unless she is careful she will convey to her children psychologically in a most undesirable way, whereas we want to see her firmly established in the community, able to face the future without any serious doubt of being able to bring up her family in a decent way.

Now I come to the 10s. widows who at different times have assumed a political importance probably out of all proportion to their numbers. The 10s. widow has become almost as explosive as the pre-Oaksey widow, who in another connection scored a notable triumph over the Minister, assisted as she was by the most violent advocacy of the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), and by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South-East (Mr. Callaghan).

We hope that the Minister will be prepared to consider the position of the 10s. widow. I know that some people argue that the 10s. widow should never have been. They argue that it was a mistake to allow this reserved benefit to continue. After all, in other connections certain benefits under the old scheme were discontinued and replaced by new ones, and some people grumbled about it. There was the expectation of many people to get the 10s. or 20s. pension at the appropriate age without the retirement condition. When it was replaced by the new benefit with the retirement condition, it will be remembered that there was a certain amount of grumbling about that. However, in this case the reserved right to the 10s. widow's pension was retained and carried forward under the new scheme. Therefore, it is no good saying now that the 10s. widow ought never to have been. She is.

What do we do about it? It can be argued that, since this benefit was not perhaps fully justified at the time, we can let inflation fritter it away and reduce its value to a 2d. stamp without our feeling any pangs about it. That is a wrong approach. Having given the benefit of a personal reserved right, we have a duty to preserve its value.

Mr. Gower

Would the hon. Member advocate that without doing something for the other class which has been mentioned in the debate?

Mr. Houghton

I do not think we should confuse the two. If there are widows without benefit who ought to have benefit, let us provide it, but do not let us mix that up with the simple point of bringing up to date the purchasing power of the reserved 10s. widow's pension. This is the logic and equity of the matter. If the 10s. widow is not entitled to the benefit any more, we should have the courage to take it away. We should not leave the pension there and let it decline in value and justify that on the ground that it is a reserved benefit.

Dr. King

I am sure my hon. Friend would agree that there is no grudging reservation of any kind and that the pension is something to which the widow has a right. There is no doubt about that at all, is there?

Mr. Houghton

There is no doubt at all. The National Insurance Act, 1946, decided that she had the right. The Act could have taken it away, but it did not. It took other benefits away from the old scheme and replaced them by new, and the House could have done the same in this case. It did not do so, and therefore it confirmed the right of these widows to have their 10s. pension. If the House decides that it is no longer justified, it has a perfect right to withdraw it, for the House is supreme in this matter, but there is no suggestion that that should be done. Therefore we are under the simple obligation to maintain the purchasing power of the benefit to which this House decided these widows had a right, and which no one is now proposing to take away from them.

I come now to the difficult question of the widowed mother and the problem of the 40–50 age limit. If I may say so with respect, it was on this point that the Minister failed to give us a very clear picture of the new proposals. He should have pointed out that the new proposals are a new set of proposals to replace the old. It is not a simple question of lifting the age from 40 to 50 below which a widowed mother, passing out of widowed mother's allowance, is barred from drawing a widow's pension. The new arrangement gives the widowed mother between 40 and 50 who passes out of widowed mother's allowance the right to retain the widow's element of the widowed mother's allowance until the child reaches the age of 18, whether it is at school or not. Indeed, she retains the widow's element of the widowed mother's allowance even if that child marries before the age of 18, as long as the child continues to live at home. This proposal is to be found in paragraph 40 of the Report of the National Insurance Advisory Committee.

This, of course, is a substantial improvement on the present arrangements for many widows, and it seeks to remedy the very thing that has been criticised this afternoon. It enables the widow whose child leaves school at the normal age to retain a widow's pension for three years longer, whatever age she may be; she is to retain the widow's element of the widowed mother's allowance for three years longer even though the child has left school and gone to work, and even though the child marries during that time. That is a very distinct additional provision, and in this particular case goes beyond the provision of giving allowances in respect of children who stay at school until they are 18. This is given to the widow whether the child continues at school or not, and even though the child is employed and bringing home wages and making a contribution to the maintenance of the home.

It is a noticeable change in the proposals, and it means that a number of widowed mothers will continue to draw some benefit under the new proposals which they would not draw under the existing proposals, despite the benefit of the lower age. Therefore we have to weigh one set of proposals against the other. Some will benefit more under the new than under the old, and some will be better off under the old arrangements than under the new. This is the difficulty when we are facing a conception of benefit different from the one now in existence. I am not sure that there will be united opinion on this matter on either side of the House. In Committee arguments may be used on both sides for and against the new proposals. I see advantages in the new arrangements, and I should certainly wish to retain those advantages in any revision of the benefits agreed upon in Committee, whatever we do about the question of age.

It is very difficult to generalise about widows. The best thing that can happen to most of them is that they should get married again, and the best chance of getting married again is to go out into the world and meet men—and that they are more likely to do at work than if they sit at home waiting for the milkman. We should do all we can to encourage widows to reinstate themselves in the community and workaday life and look to the future, either in the widowed state or in the hope of remarriage. I do not think that in these days we want to think of the widow as a sad-faced woman who wears widow's weeds for years after her husband dies and sits at home lamenting her lot.

We must not be sentimental about this. It is for their own happiness and for the good of the community and their families that they should go out, but at the same time we want to safeguard those widows for whom that opportunity is not readily available. I suggest to the House that there is a new generation of women coming on now, many of whom will be the widows of the future.

They are women who have done jobs of work, women who have skill, women who are used to office or factory life or work in hospitals or in domestic service, or who have done some other work while they were single. Many of them carry on their jobs for a while after they are married. In my constituency, many of them are doing jobs of that kind in the textile industry, while bringing up their children. There is a local tradition that women work in the mills, and they like to go on doing it. In many cases it provides them with the opportunity of getting out of their homes for some hours a day and mixing with other people while having a job of work. We want to encourage that wherever possible.

We wish, however, to underpin the security of the household and the welfare of the family in all cases where for the widow to go out to work is not possible or appropriate. I wish that the administration of these benefits could be more flexible, and that we could look at the position of persons and of families separately and judge the merits of their particular circumstances. Obviously, that would be impossible. I think that when we come to choose between the old arrangement and the new, or try to find a compromise between the two, we should have these two considerations in mind— the encouragement of those who can go out to work while maintaining their own homes, and the position of those who are not, for various reasons, able to do so.

We are giving a very valuable benefit to those not able to do so because of sickness or because they are unable to find a job. I am sure that from the trade union side those two concessions are very welcome indeed. It is the flying start to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, of putting them into insurance straight away, so that they will be safeguarded in cases of sickness or unemployment.

These are the main features of the Bill which will engage our attention. In many ways, the Bill will be welcome, and I should like to say what a grand job of work has been done by the National Insurance Advisory Committee. I only wish there was some such instrument to give us a report before the Finance Bill, so that we should know what was going to be in it, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer would be able to say, "I am implementing the Report in full and you fully understand it because you have read it". How much better that would be.

We have a curtain raiser to these National Insurance Bills when we have a full explanatory report, complete with historical details, from the Advisory Committee. I think that these reports are full of common sense, and that the House ought to study the recommendations very carefully before setting them aside. They are the keynote which we should have to guide us when we go into Committee.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. J. K. Vaughan-Morgan (Reigate)

Perhaps the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) will forgive me if I do not follow him in some of his more contentious arguments because I think that we can look forward to having some dingdong battles in Committee on the Bill.

I should like to add my congratulations to those extended to my right hon. Friend on bringing forward this his first major Measure in his present office, and to echo also the very generous tribute which the hon. Member for Sowerby paid to my right hon. Friend's predecessor, Lord Ingleby. I have been a back bencher for five years and I have listened to practically every important speech which the noble Lord made as a Member of this House. It is in no way a reflection upon his successor to say that no one on either side of the House had as remarkable and detailed a grasp of these National Insurance problems as he had. He is in every sense of the word a technical expert. We on the back benches shall miss his counsel. We sometimes disagreed with him, but I must say that he was usually right.

I am also delighted that my right hon. Friend was able to bring this Bill forward earlier than was anticipated. I hope that he will not allow the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) to suggest that he was the only one to try to bring pressure to bear on the Minister in this matter, because we did too.

As regards the Bill itself and the changes affecting widows, I think that my right hon. Friend has the right basis in what he is proposing. I think that the principles are right but the difficulty will be their application. Although he has the timing of the appointed day to juggle with, I am afraid that there may be a series of anomalies and also a difficult hiatus caused by the parallel implementation of quite different principles. I think that we ought to look at that point very carefully in Committee.

I do not want to delay the House, and the point which I should most like to talk about concerns the position of the widowed mother. I was very much in agreement with what the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East said today and in our consideration of another Bill when we raised the amount which the widowed mother could earn without deductions. I think that we were on the right lines. What we were making was a welcome relaxation in that respect, and we were improving on the remarkable change which the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summer-skill) made in the Bill in 1951, when she exempted the earnings of the widowed mother up to 60s. on an entirely different basis. But we must remember that we have not yet answered to our own satisfaction the question whether it is or is not right for widowed mothers to go out to work.

Of course, we cannot generalise about this problem. The suggestion of the hon. Member for Sowerby that widows ought to go out to work in order to meet future husbands is going to make competition worse for spinsters. He also went on to suggest that it would be desirable to have the benefits adjusted to each particular case. He was right, but unfortunately it cannot be done in that way. I think that the truth of the matter is that the House and the country as a whole have not the material on which to take a proper view of the economic position of the widowed mother.

In some localities it is possible for some widowed mothers to do part-time work which will in no way interfere with their making a home for the children. For others, that is not possible. Equally, there are some mothers who can go out to work and arrange for people to look after their children, while others find that impossible. There is no real evidence on which we can base our conclusion.

If we look at the Report of the Advisory Committee on the earnings limit we find the statement there are 100,000 drawing the widowed mother's allowance, of whom 20,000 are earning £ 2 or more. But there are no statistics which tell us the total number of widowed mothers who in fact are going out to work. We do not know the numbers and we do not know their prospects in the labour market. I feel that that is not naturally the business of the Advisory Committee, and that it would be excellent if the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Pensions jointly could initiate a social survey which would give us the facts about all the economic and social circumstances which affect the life of the widowed mother.

Now I want to make a suggestion in the full consciousness that I have no evidence in support of it. The right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East said it was undesirable for a mother with children under school age to go to work. I entirely agree with him as regards the majority of cases. Indeed, I am beginning to wonder whether there is not a case for considering a social allowance to the widowed mother, apart from the allowances, for the fact of guardianship, in the sense that she loses the opportunity to go to work if she has to keep the home going for children who are not at school.

That extra allowance or benefit, or whatever it may be called, would be payable only if the circumstances justified it, and it would be taxable. It could not be applied to every family or to every widowed mother who might not deem it desirable to go to work. Because I think that we have not yet found the right solution of the problems of the widowed mother, I hope that this suggestion will be considered.

6.21 p. m.

Mr. Tudor Watkins (Brecon and Radnor)

I believe that all of us on this side of the House welcome the interesting remarks of the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan).

Although I welcome the Bill, I am disappointed that we have not had a general review of the social insurance schemes long before now. Hon. Members are entitled to that because we know from experience of the 1948 legislation that there are a number of anomalies which should be corrected, particularly sickness benefit. For instance, some of us on this side of the House would like something done about Section 62 of the Act, and also about non-contributory pensioners. Quite a number of such anomalies could have been dealt with in this Bill but, as that has not been done, I hope that we shall have a future opportunity to deal with many of them.

I want to pay tribute to those who have administered our National Insurance schemes from the beginning, and particularly to those who were brought into the organisation in 1948. They have done a wonderful job of work, and hon. Members can say generally that there has not been much criticism of the administration in that respect.

I also want to join in the tribute paid to the National Insurance Advisory Committee for its excellent reports and work. Unfortunately we do not know what reports have been received from local advisory committees, of which there are a large number. I should like to see a White Paper giving their recommendations, although I think it would have to be a very large one, as a number of interesting recommendations have been made by those committees.

The tone in which the Minister introduced the Second Reading of this Bill pleased me. I like the right hon. Gentleman much better as Minister of Pensions and National Insurance than as Minister of Transport, and I am glad that he excelled himself this afternoon. I welcome the increases but, speaking personally, I should welcome still more an all-round increase and family allowances paid for the first child as well. I am not saying that merely as party propaganda but because I believe firmly in it, as I am sure do other hon. Members.

I have always linked family allowances with school meals. Both represent an ideal to me. However, school meals have not been passed on to the children as they should have been. I appreciate, Sir, that school meals do not come within the scope of the Bill but they are another form of family allowance.

I welcome the uplift to the age of 18 because it will have a great influence on children staying on at school, especially in some rural districts where there is great demand upon their labour owing to the present manpower shortage. Parents continually ask me to do something to help their boys to leave school at the age of 15, so I welcome this increase, particularly as regards apprentices. There has been great difficulty in getting boys to take apprenticeships, so this increase will give an impetus in that direction also. I also welcome the provision in the Bill to include mentally and physically handicapped children. That is a great reform. The Minister ought to be proud of that provision, whatever else is in the Bill.

I do not want to repeat what has been said about widowed mothers and widows, but I agree with the hon. Member for Reigate that we should have more information in that respect. It was possible to have a survey of those remaining at work up to the age of 55. Is it not possible to make a survey of the circumstances of widows after their bereavement? Conditions in districts vary considerably, and such information would confirm what some of us have said in this connection, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton).

I was disappointed that the Minister did not give us figures in connection with the change from 40 to 50 years of age. Surely figures are available? Otherwise how do the actuaries estimate what contribution is required from the insured contributor? Perhaps this information will be available for the Committee stage of the Bill.

I am certain that a great deal of advice has been given by local advisory committees. Have any of them made suggestions or recommendations about the new proposals in the Bill? I take the view that widowhood is a tragic thing. and I do not share the views of my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby as to what widows should do. We in Wales are sentimental and I should not like to advocate what my hon. Friend advocated this afternoon. At the same time, I agree that proper provision must be made for widows, and I only wish that something could have been done in this Bill for the 10s. widow. Those of us who look at this matter from the ethical standpoint remember that the Bible says that not one sparrow shall fall to the ground, and 1 place the 10s. widow in that category.

Despite what I have said in favour of the Bill, I have offered some criticisms, and I hope that I shall have the opportunity during the Committee stage to make more. All the same, I say that this Bill is bound to make many people much happier.

6.30 p. m.

Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)

We have had a very interesting debate. It has shown the various opinions which are held on both sides of the House, and we shall no doubt have them developed in Committee.

The hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan) made a most interesting suggestion. I hope and trust that the Minister will follow it up. A social survey such as was suggested by the hon. Member would be very worth while. The Minister may recall that the National Institute of Economic and Social Research had the job of surveying the National Health Service, and had the Guillebaud Committee not had the information provided by the Institute, its Report would not have been so worth while. If the suggestion made by the hon. Member is adopted we shall have information which will be very helpful to us.

The hon. Member for Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) indicated that the Bill contained some minor points. It has, of course, one major Clause, Clause 5, for which the hon. Gentleman himself was responsible. We should compliment him upon his responsibility for the major part of the Bill, but the minor parts are also very important.

It can scarcely be expected that I shall say anything new at this stage. Even the Minister has mentioned the seaman from Sierra Leone whose wife is being brought within the scope of the Bill in that she will be able to obtain family allowance.

The main question about family allowances is why the extra 2s. should be paid only in respect of third and subsequent children. My right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) put a point on which we are entitled to an answer. If the extra 2s. is part of the Government's plan to offset the abolition of the bread subsidy and the reduction in the milk subsidy, why is it not paid in respect of the second child as well as the other children?

There is one point about family allowances which has not been made. If the Government feel that the third child requires an extra 2s., why should not the fourth child have an increase and so on —if the Government really believe in payment on results?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Perhaps in his leisure moments the hon. Gentleman would work out for me the answer in this case: it is reported to me by my Newcastle office that there is a case in which twelve family allowances are being issued to one family.

Mr. Steele

I should like notice of the question. We had better leave that until the Committee stage, and I have no doubt that I shall have the answer to it then.

With other hon. Members, I welcome the payment of family allowances in the case of children remaining at school until 18 or becoming apprentices. In relation to this provision I recall my own experiences in dealing with the existing position. There was the difficulty of the mentally unfit child, and also the problem of the boy who could not become an apprentice until he reached 16. I do not know whether that problem has now been overcome or whether there are still difficulties. I was always appalled at the number of letters and forms which had to be sent to the families and to headmasters of schools to certify that the children were still at school.

At one time I had the idea that if we increased the age to sixteen for all children irrespective of whether they were at school, we should have overcome the problem of the mentally unfit child and should have abolished all the form-filling in respect of children at school, and also all the difficulties about apprenticeships, because it is recognised in trade union circles that, broadly speaking, children cannot become apprentices until they are sixteen. However, the Minister has gone beyond that in relation to children at school and apprentices, and I welcome the provision.

I also welcome— it has been generally welcomed— the provision relating to sickness and unemployment benefit, with the contribution credits accorded to widows. This is very valuable. To widows who have young children it will be an extension of the widow's allowance as a form of resettlement benefit to enable them to get back into ordinary employment. The provision of contribution credits for widows is another instance of how we are departing from the idea of an insurance principle. I can remember a very telling speech in a previous debate by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), who is now Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, indicating how far we had departed from the insurance principle. If it were necessary, this provision would be further evidence that today the benefits under our social services are no longer really related to the contributions which are made.

I hope that the Minister will think again about taking away the umbrella represented by the provision for a widow who is incapable of supporting herself. I remember what was said when this provision was being implemented. It is true that there are a number of widows who will not be able to get a doctor's certificate and draw sickness benefit. I am also certain that there will be a number, not many, who may under the provisions of the Bill draw unemployment benefit for a short time, but they will not be suitable for employment. They will fall between two stools, being unsuitable for employment and yet being unable to draw sickness benefit because no doctor will be prepared to give them a certificate. I trust that the existing provision will be retained to act as an umbrella for these cases. I have learned in my experience of insurance that everything that one can possibly think of is bound to happen, and that such cases as these arise.

Most of the debate has been taken up in discussing the position of widowed mothers. I want to draw attention to what the then Minister of Pensions and National Insurance said on 13th December in the House when he informed us that he was referring the question of widow's benefit to the National Insurance Advisory Committee. The right hon. Gentleman made this interesting statement: I am not altogether happy about the age of 50, which was rather arbitrarily chosen."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th December, 1954; Vol. 535, c. 1525.] That statement was made in the context of the debate in which we were discussing the 10s. widow and other widows. I may be wrong in my impression, but my impression was that the Minister had the feeling that the age of 50 was too high as the age at which a woman was able to draw a pension as a right. My impression was that he thought this question should be looked at.

I also had the feeling that he was looking at the question having in mind the possibility of abolishing the right of the 10s. widow pensioner to her entitlement and perhaps reducing the age of 50 to 45 or even 40; because it seemed that what was running in his mind was the fact that the age of 50 was too high and should be reduced. I feel that, left to himself, the then Minister of Pensions and National Insurance might have made a proposal of that kind.

I turn to page 31, Appendix III, of the White Paper. There is one interesting figure to which I want to draw the Minister's attention. Let us look at the figure for the age group 45–49, showing the type of award following the widow's allowance— after the first thirteen weeks; and we find that that age group was the highest percentage of widows who receive nothing under the new scheme. There are 4,000 widows getting the widowed mother's allowance, and 4,600 who get no benefit under the new scheme. That is 49 per cent. of the widows, who, at the end of the period of the widow's allowance, get nothing at all under the new scheme. That is the highest figure in any group. It is also the highest number of people, in the age groups shown under 50, entitled to some benefit under the provisions for widows. It seems to me that that reinforces my plea that something ought to be done for this group of widows.

If we are to ask those widows to go into employment we must look at what their chances are. My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) made an interesting suggesting that they should all get married; but I do not know what their prospects are at that stage, and it is not always easy to ensure that they will get married.

Let us look at Appendix VI of the White Paper. Unfortunately, the divisions of age groups are not exactly the same, but if we take the age group 45–54 and consider the total number of widows who normally are gainfully employed, we find that 46 per cent. are unemployed; whereas the figure for single women unemployed is only 25 per cent. As the age groups rise, the percentage increases. It is clear from these figures that the prospects of a widow getting employment after the age of 40 are not very good.

I have read the Committee's Report very carefully, and it seems to me that instead of having in mind the conception which the Minister had when he asked the Committee to look at this question, it has gone in the other direction, and its proposals make matters worse for some of these widows. It seems to me that there is no evidence in the Report for increasing the age from 40 to 50.

I wonder whether the Minister can give us any further information about this point. Perhaps we might be given it in Committee. If we look at Appendix III and at the group including widows up to the age of 50, we find that there are 12,900 widows getting widowed mother's allowance. Can we be given any information about what happens afterwards? It might be interesting to know the position.

As the Minister indicated in a reply to a question put to him, it is clear that fewer widows will get the pension, because he said that he hopes to make savings in that direction to enable him to make provision for the extra 5s. for the widowed mother. The Minister was reinforced in that by my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby, who said that we must look at the provisions of the Bill as against the old provisions. I am not so sure that the new provisions are all that can be desired.

Let us look at the position of the widow aged between 40 and 50. It is true that under the new provisions she will be able to draw either sickness benefit or unemployment benefit when her widowed mother's allowance ceases. If sickness benefit is paid, possibly she will get it until she is 60, if she is ill, and she will then go on to her retirement pension.

If she gets unemployment benefit, according to the provisions of the Bill. the possibility is that she will be entitled to unemployment benefit for a period of about nineteen months. But that is not a long-term benefit. In fact, she may not get the unemployment benefit for nineteen months, because payment of the unemployment benefit is subject to conditions. The first condition is that she must be available for work, and the possibility is that she might not be. In those circumstances she would not get the unemployment benefit.

I have looked at the example which the Minister gave. The right hon. Gentleman indicated that there might be a widow aged 45 who has a child aged 14. At the end of the application of the widowed mother's allowance provisions she would now get a pension. But if the husband lived until the wife was 49 and the child 18, she would not get a pension. The new provisions mean that when she is 45 and the husband dies, she will draw the widowed mother's allowance until the child is 18 and by then she will be 49 years old. That does not necessarily mean that she will get a pension. In fact, she will be in exactly the same position as the other widow, and no pension will be paid at all. In effect, the right hon. Gentleman has said that whereas the widows are to get off to a flying start in connection with the provisions for sickness and unemployment benefits, the widows between 40 and 50 will be "grounded" by the proposed provisions.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

It would be helpful if the hon. Gentleman would apply his mind to how, in the example I gave, one can justify the widow's chance of a permanent pension being affected adversely by the fact that in my latter example her husband lived for four years longer than in my former example. The difference between the two would be highly unfair, whereas our proposal would put them on the same basis.

Mr. Steele

I agree that the proposal would put them on the same basis but it is the unfortunate fact that neither would get a pension.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

There are alternatives.

Mr. Steele

But any alternatives do not measure up to what is required, because we have to look at this question of what is suitable at a particular stage. What age are we to decide upon for the giving of a permanent pension for the widow? It seemed to me that the previous Minister held the view that the present permanent position at the age of 50 represented an age that was too high, and that he had in mind reducing the age. But the provision for pension after the widowed mother allowance has ceased between the age of 40 and 50 needs careful examination. I believe it would be wrong to take away the present provision.

The extra 5s. provided for the widowed mother has been mentioned. I am happy that this new principle has been accepted. I have mentioned before that I was never happy about the position. When the Beveridge proposals were put forward there was too much emphasis on the question of equality of benefit, and it seemed to me that the widowed mother with children could not be compared with old-age pensioners. I am happy that we have got away from that principle and have adopted this new one. My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby said that 5s. is not sufficient. He believes that all the targets are too low and should be raised. My right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East thinks that the provisions are not enough,

I have extracted some figures which I wish to quote because I think them important. In paragraph 155. the Beveridge Report states: The rate of …benefit proposed is designed to be sufficient, in combination with children's allowances, to meet subsistence needs, even if the widow does not undertake any gainful occupation while she is looking after the children. I think, in effect, we are hoping that now we shall do even more than provide merely subsistence levels. Taking a widow with two children aged 4 and 6, the provisions under the Bill would mean that the widow would have 40s.;the first and second child would have 16s. 6d. each, which is made up of 8s. and 3s. 6d. plus 5s., making a total of 73s. The National Assistance scales provide 40s. for the widow and the first child would have 15s. 6d. The second child would have 13s. The very important factor of the rent is taken into account, and if we take it at 10s.;total that up we get 78s. 6d. So there we have National Assistance scales which are 5s. 6d. more than would be provided under this Bill.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

That calculation depends on certain assumptions on the National Assistance side of the equation as to the age of the children owing to the different child allowances at different ages.

Mr. Steele

I agree, but the right hon. Gentleman will note that the ages of 4 and 6 which I have taken are not the best ages I might have used had I desired to make the case much more damning. I have been conservative in my estimate in that regard.

I have examined the Explanatory Memorandum issued before the National Assistance scales were increased on the last occasion, and I will take the example given there which I think is fair enough. It is that of a married couple with three children aged 12, 8 and 3— one in each age group. If the woman was widowed she would be entitled to £ 4 9s. 6d. under the Bill but under the National Assistance scales as outlined and the example used in that Memorandum she would be entitled to £4 19s., which would mean in effect that she would still be entitled to an Assistance grant of 9s. 6d.

I appreciate and welcome the new principle which has been adopted, but there are certain grounds for criticism and room for discussion during the Committee stage about whether the amounts are right. No doubt Amendments will be moved.

There is another Bill to be considered after this one, and I have no intention of taking up further the time of hon. Members. I agree with the main provisions of this Bill. We welcome its introduction. No doubt we shall find reason to discuss it in Committee and put forward Amendments, but we have no intention of opposing the Measure tonight.

7.0 p. m.

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

There have been so many comments this afternoon on this Bill which need an answer that I hope that hon. Members will accept that I will do my best to answer what I think are the major questions. The remainder we can perhaps deal with on the Committee stage of the Bill, because we on this side of the House are equally anxious to have adequate time to deal with the Bill.

The right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) welcomed the provisions of the Bill as far as they go. That in fact seems to have been the pattern of the majority of the speeches from the benches opposite. The right hon. Member queried the 2s. increase in family allowances for the third and subsequent children, and asked whether that was some compensation for the removal of subsidies. He referred also to the rise in food prices in 1955. The last thing I want to do is to disturb the harmony which has existed throughout the debate so far. This is not a controversial subject, but I think I should perhaps point out that family allowances were only 5s. per head when the party of the right hon. Member was in power. They were still 5s. when the party left office in 1951.

The right hon. Member went on to ask why we could not make this increase for the second child. That point has been repeated several times. I would say in answer that the increase is an increase for the family. The money which is paid additionally for the third and subsequent children goes into the family exchequer and, I have no doubt, will be spent to meet the whole of the family requirements.

The right hon. Member again stressed the difficulty which the widowed mother will encounter in entering the labour market, a point which was raised subsequently by the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) and the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele). I think that I cannot do better than to refer to the specific wording of the Report (Cmd. 9684) which is very clear on the subject. The members of the National Insurance Advisory Committee, to whom tribute has been rightly paid as responsible individuals, said in paragraph 48: We think that women who are widowed even in the late forties, or who have reached this age when widowed mother's allowance is no longer payable, ought in general to be able to find employment within that period. We have reached this conclusion after considering statistics, some of which were specially obtained for us, as to the occupational position of widows and the volume of unemployment amongst them. The Committee made a reservation: We wish to emphasise, however, that our conclusion relates to present employment conditions: if large scale unemployment were to occur the qualifying age for widow's pension might have to he reconsidered. I think that in general that is the answer to the concern expressed today about the position of widows in their forties entering the employment field.

The right hon. Member made reference again to National Assistance, and the fact that the numbers had risen, as was shown in the Answer which my right hon. Friend gave to him when he asked a Parliamentary Question. It is true that the numbers had gone up in the figures he quoted, but I think it is always a little invidious to quote just one example. If the right hon. Member had been able to go back a little further than the three months to which he referred he would I have found that the total number of people drawing National Assistance has dropped by nearly 200,000 since the year 1954 and early 1955. So there has been a considerable reduction in the number of individuals and families drawing National Assistance, although the right hon. Member referred specifically to the quarter at the beginning of this year.

Mr. Marquand

The hon. Lady will understand that I asked that Question particularly to ascertain what had happened since the scale rates had been increased. Surely a comparison with the past is almost irrelevant to our present discussion. We have to discover how many are drawing Assistance on the present scale rates.

Miss Pitt

What is really relevant, surely, is how many people in the population are having to seek National Assistance in order to supplement their income, whatever may be the source. The general tendency has fallen considerably over the past eighteen months.

Mr. Marquand

Will the hon. Lady arrange, without the necessity of my putting a Question on the Order Paper, to get the up-to-date figures before the Committee stage of the Bill?

Miss Pitt

Yes, indeed. The right hon. Member was unlucky in that the Question was not reached in time for an Oral Answer. We have more up-to-date information.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wavertree (Mr. Tilney) mentioned the question of deprived children, and in particular unco-operative parents who sometimes do not make the necessary contribution when their children are taken into care. I will refer to this matter only briefly, but I express to my hon. Friend my sympathy on the point that he has in mind. For eight years I served on the Children's Committee in Birmingham and I know the problems of dealing with deprived children. I am particularly glad that in this Bill we make a modest improvement, in my opinion, on the methods that are now being used in order to try to return those children to their parents and their own families.

The hon. Member for Itchen stressed that we are not yet fully alive to the hardship of the widowed mother. Perhaps there is a large measure of truth in that. The widowed mother does not belong to any organised body and we do not get constant protests here or elsewhere made on behalf of these women. I am very glad that all hon. Members today find themselves so much in agreement with the need to give special care and attention to the widowed mother because of her responsibilities in bringing up a family.

I should like also to thank the hon. Member for Itchen for his tribute to the Ministry. I liked especially the phrase he used when he said that it was "much loved." I think that all the officers of our Ministry will very much appreciate the fact that, whereas so often, I am afraid, civil servants are spoken of in less polite terms, the hon. Member has been most generous—and rightly so—in commending the work which they do.

The hon. Member also said that he wished the Press would talk about normal families instead of abnormal ones. How I agree with the hon. Member. I remember him making the same point in an Adournment debate some time ago, when he said that the mother who murdered her child made news, but the mother who looked after her child never hit the newspaper headlines. Nevertheless, it is the good mother, the widowed mother, who looks after her children, makes a home for them and works and fights for them, with whom we are concerned today. Whether she makes news- paper headlines or not, it is a matter of conscience with all of us to help her as much as possible.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) asked if we could help him to explain to the 10s. widows the apparent difference of treatment in their case. We came across the question of the 10s. widow again in the speech of the hon. Member for Sowerby, (Mr. Houghton) who, much to my surprise, is an advocate of the 10s. widow. I shall have something to say on that subject a little later, so I shall content myself now by saying that the hon. Member always takes such a responsible view, and is so broad in his outlook on all welfare matters, that I am genuinely surprised to find him coming down in support of the 10s. widow.

Mr. Houghton

Will the hon. Lady permit me to say that I pressed the case of the 10s. widow when my right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) was Minister a long time ago? I have been consistent. I may be misguided, but that is how it is.

Miss Pitt

The hon. Member is at least consistent in his affection, which is a very commendable trait.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barry made one point which I should like to emphasise. It was apropos of the comment that 10s. is all too little to compensate for the removal of bread and milk subsidies. He said, very sensibly, that in the majority of cases, families welcome and enjoy the benefit of wage increases which will provide compensation for those changes.

I come again to the remarks of the hon. Member for Sowerby, apart from his observations on the 10s. widow, I should again like to thank him for his tribute to Lord Ingleby, the former Minister. I hope that Lord Ingleby will read the comments and the tributes which have been accorded to him today. The hon. Member for Sowerby said that he is an advocate of family allowance for the first child, so he seems to be somewhat of a rebel in many matters. I do not think that there is time to pursue that argument, an argument which has been pursued here over and over again.

He referred to the 10s. widow in, I think, these terms "Some people argue she should never have had a right to this 10s. pension". I should like to deal with that more fully, but in fact 1 think that it is still questionable whether the right action was taken in 1948.

The hon. Member for Sowerby also said that we should do all we can to encourage widows to go out to work. I find myself in agreement with that view. I think that any woman who has the ability and the will to go out to work —and who can make proper arrangements for her children—should be encouraged to live in the wider world outside. I am quite sure that life is much more interesting when she can shut the front door of her house behind her and make contact with other people. 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 for.

My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan) came back to the question of work, and I hope that I have answered that question. He also very sensibly made the point that one cannot generalise. The position of every woman will be different— whether she is able to work, whether work is available, etc. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West raised again the question of why the 2s. should not be payable for the second child.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

Before my hon. Friend finishes her observations on the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Reigate, can she say what she has in mind about his proposal for a general survey, which all of us think very important, to get full information on certain points?

Miss Pitt

I have had a word with my right hon. Friend, and we are prepared to look at that.

The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West said that we were getting further away from insurance principles with the new recommendations to give widows a flying start for sickness and unemployment benefit. I would remind him, however, that a necessary preliminary to the flying start is that the husband should have been an insured person and that contributions should have been paid for him. The link with the contributory insurance principle is still there.

The hon. Gentleman also referred— and here I should like to correct him if he will allow me— to Appendix VI of the N. I. A. C. Report, and drew our attention to the difference between the proportion of widows and the proportion of single women employed and unemployed—as he said. In fact, what the table shows is the number of women occupied and unoccupied. I can conceive that there must be a variety of reasons why women, single, widowed or married, should be occupied in their homes or looking after families and not necessarily unemployed. I hope that I have made that clear.

The main purpose of this Bill is quite clear and has been dealt with at some length, so I do not want to take up further time on it. We are about to effect improvements in family allowances, especially for those families with a large number of children. This Measure will improve the position of widows, especially of widowed mothers, and the opportunity has been taken to close certain gaps which experience has shown to exist in National Insurance. The increase in family allowances is the biggest item because it is obviously the most widespread and, as my right hon. Friend has already reminded us, it is the most expensive.

I want to stress that family allowance is a family benefit, as the name implies, and is intended to assist all families, irrespective of income. Earnings are not related to the number of children in the family. We are all well aware, that the greatest expense is when children are young, and usually there is only one wage packet coming in. That surely— if need arises— confirms the merit of family allowances.

I am sometimes surprised that the comment should be made to me— and it has been made again, arising out of these proposals— that family allowances are not warranted. The same comment must have been made to all hon. Members at times. There are always those who say that the parents should be able to manage. There are, I am sorry to say, the older people who comment "We managed without them." There are always those prepared to say that the money is wasted on drink, or smoking, cosmetics, or things like that. [An HON. MEMBER: "And the pools."] Yes, and the pools.

I can only say that I believe that family allowances make a very valuable contribu- tion to the maintenance of family life in this country. For every case we hear of where an abuse takes place—and, of course, we all hear of the occasional one —there are the thousands more who never attract the Press headlines, families where the money is used wisely and where the children benefit. I have one brief answer myself— but there are thousands of people like me throughout the country who could make the same answer— when anyone questions the merit of family allowances. I reply "My mother had six children and very little to manage on. I wish she had had the benefit of family allowances."

The benefits of family allowances can be seen in the improved physique and increased height of the children. I have no wish to elaborate that or I might be thought to be making a political point. In fact, both parties have claimed "Look at the bonny children ", and it is true. Something which pleases me very much, and which has not been referred to in this debate, is the fact that when boys and girls leave school now at the age of 15 they are no longer boys and girls. They are not quite so adult as they think they are, but they are young men and women.

They are not children— and sometimes frightened children— going out to earn their living for the first time. They are sufficiently mature and strong in body to be able to face the tremendous change in their lives from being school children to being workers in factories or in shops. I am not pretending for one moment that family allowances deserve the whole credit for that. They do not. In part the reason lies in the increased school age, increased social services and in scientific advances. Nevertheless, it is a very big improvement, and one which I am particularly happy to note.

The increase will also help parents who are prepared, very often at great sacrifice, to maintain their children at school or to apprentice their boy—not very often their girl, I am sorry to say—to a good trade, knowing full well that these benefits will help their children later in life. The extension of the family allowance to the age of 18 is a modest measure of practical assistance to such parents but, much more important, it is a measure of encouragement.

The increase to the sixteenth birthday for the physically and mentally handicapped child closes one of the gaps to which I have referred. I am glad that that has been done. Most hon. Members will be aware that after the age of 16, now that the gap is about to be closed, the handicapped child qualifies for National Assistance at the rate of 23s. 6d. a week.

In respect of widows, the most important recommendation is the 5s. increase in benefit for each child. Since the point has been made several times today that this is not thought to be adequate, I would refer to the article inThe Times which the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East mentioned in his speech. In fact, he commended it. That article, referring to the 5s. increase, says: These new rates really reach subsistence standard" — That is for children. I will be fair and quote the remainder of the sentence — though the widow's own pension still falls short. Here, from an article which has been commended to us, is confirmation that the 5s. increase is a generous improvement in the position of the widowed mother with children to care for.

The Government are in agreement with the Advisory Committee on the social importance of providing for mothers with adolescent children. All of us have sympathy and respect for the widowed mother in the job that she is doing in caring for her children, although I am sure that the women concerned would like a little more tangible expression than our sympathy and respect. We are now giving it in this practical way.

I should like also to point out, on the question whether 5s. is a sufficient increase or not, that it is a considerable improvement on what has been done before. My right hon. Friend, in his opening speech, reminded us of part of that. I should like to give the whole of the comparison with 1948. The 5s. increased benefit for the first child is more than double the amount paid for the first child in 1948, and for the second child the total payment in benefit and family allowance is over three times the 1948 allowance. For other children, with increased family allowance, the benefit now is nearly four times the 1948 figure. I think that is the answer to the criticism that has been made.

Mr. Steele

These are very interesting comparisons, but the hon. Lady will recall that a certain right hon. Gentleman who was then in opposition said that we ought not to have brought in family allowances at all.

Miss Pitt

Perhaps I might remind the hon. Gentleman that the Family Allowances Act became law in June, 1945, under the Caretaker Government. I know that the allowances were not paid until the following August, but in fact the Caretaker Government passed that Measure.

Mr. Steele

I am not taking any credit for our party for the passing of that Act. The hon. Lady was saying how much better off these people are now compared with 1948. I was only saying that when the order was given for the family allowances to be paid, it was criticised by the Opposition of that day.

Miss Pitt

I think we are both entitled to feel that we have made our points.

I want to comment on an item in Clause 2 which curiously has not so far called forth any comment today. That is the reduction in the period of marriage necessary before widow's benefit can be paid. When this Bill becomes law, widows will be able to qualify for pensions, subject to the other conditions, if their marriage has lasted for three years or longer, instead of ten years, as now. I think that that is an important step forward in caring for the widow, and I should like to make quite clear that it will apply retrospectively to the widow who has not been entitled to benefit on that count up to now — although, of course, I do not mean a retrospective cash payment. I think it necessary to make that clear. The payment will, in fact, be made from the appointed day.

I have already dealt with Clause 5. which refers to the child committed to the care of the local authority, and who may be returned to the parents for a trial period. I am very glad that that provision has been introduced, for the reasons that I gave earlier.

May I refer to the 10s. widow, since she has intruded upon our debate today. I think it necessary to attempt to answer some of the points which have been made. The 10s. widow, so called—and I think it is an awful title—has rights preserved from the pre-1948 Acts. Many of the widows who were incapacitated or had children were transferred at once, and those over 50 could qualify for the retirement pension at 60 on specially easy terms. Of the original 450,000, only about 80,000 still remain under 60 and are drawing 10s. But in addition, 65,000 of the 10s. widows' pensions have been awarded since July, 1948, because the pensions were continued.

Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

Can the hon. Lady say how many widows verging on 60—between 55 and 60—are getting only 10s.?

Miss Pitt

I do not think I can answer that question offhand, but I promise that I will let the hon. Lady have that information before we reach the Committee stage. In fact, I have just given part of the answer when I said that about 80,000 from the pre-1948 days are still under 60. There are, however, a number under 60 who have come in since because of their reserved rights under the pre-1948 contributory pension schemes.

I want to refer to various points which have been made on the subject of the 10s. widow. In the Committee stage on the National Insurance Bill in 1954, the hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) said: I do not think we could take away from the widow any money she is receiving; but it would be reasonable to say that in future we are not going to pay the 10s. pension to young widows Similarly, the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, West said, on the subject of the 10s. widow: At that time "— that is, in 1948— we thought that we were conferring a benefit on that widow, but it seems to me that we did the very opposite."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th December, 1954; Vol. 535, c. 1535 and 1532] The result of continuing the benefit means that we still have widows receiving the 10s. pension —childless widows in their twenties and thirties.

Mrs. Mann

We also have them between 55 and 60, and on both sides of the House that is regarded as a standing disgrace.

Miss Pitt

But surely the hon. Lady will agree that it is not necessary that the childless widow still in her twenties and thirties should enjoy the 10s. benefit when her opposite number, who has been widowed since 1948 and whose husband was not in the old contributory pensions scheme, gets nothing.

We ought to limit the amount of money which is available to those widows most in need. The 10s. widow is privileged compared with those whose husbands were not in the 1948 scheme because, for instance, they were too old or were not married before July, 1948, and got no pensions under the National Insurance Scheme. In the Government's opinion, it would be wrong further to increase this differentiation at the expense of the Insurance Fund. I would remind hon. Members that no contributions have been paid towards the 10s. pension since 1948.

The Advisory Committee Report shows no general hardship amongst these widows. About three-quarters of them are in regular employment. The proportion drawing Assistance is lower than in any class of beneficiary under National Insurance. It is only 12½ per cent., compared with 28 per cent. of widowed mothers and 23½ per cent. of retirement pensioners. When a number of them have been re-established in Insurance, as will be the case when this Bill goes through, and with the reduction in the marriage period from ten to three years for those over 50, we shall have dealt with the hardest cases amongst the 10s. widows.

I always think of the social services as a net to help people who fall by the wayside or fall into trouble. This Bill endeavours to strengthen the net in certain respects where it has been shown to be weak, or where, in certain respects, it did not provide any cover for a minority of people in the population who needed it. I am very glad that we are today giving a Second Reading to a Bill which, I am quite sure, will add to something which is the strength of our country, namely our family life.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 38 (Committal of Bills).