HC Deb 13 December 1961 vol 651 cc519-33

(1) Section nineteen of the National Insurance Act, 1946 (which contains provisions entitling persons in certain circumstances to a guardian's allowance and further provides for the modification of certain of those provisions by regulations), as modified by regulations under that section or under section six of this Act, shall apply to a local authority or a voluntary organisation or a person with whom a child is boarded out by the Minister or by a local health authority or local education authority (or in Scotland an education authority) in respect of a child who for the time being is in the care of that local authority or voluntary organisation or is boarded out as aforesaid as it applies to a person in respect of a child who is for the time being a child of his family.—[Mrs. Castle.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)

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

The purpose of the new Clause is quite clear from the wording. The aim is to secure that those who take over the guardianship of children shall all be recognised as having the same rights to guardian's allowance under the Act.

Having been successful in securing from the Minister certain changes in the present provisions about guardians' allowance in Clause 6, I hope that when I draw his attention this evening to what strikes me as another anomaly he will be equally forthcoming and flexible in his mind and responsive to the point which I am bringing before him. This has arisen in very much the same way as the matter which led to Clause 6. We all know that as we go about our constituencies and our Parliamentary work we discover little lacunae in the legislative provisions of various kinds which we have not appreciated before. They may seem to be quite minor, but they can have a substantial and severe practical effect on the life of the people. This is how the new Clause came to be on the Order Paper.

I was recently in my constituency at a meeting of a body called The Friends of the Blackburn and District Orphanage and Children's Homes, a body which has been in existence for over half a century and which has done invaluable work in taking into its care abandoned, orphaned and generally unhappy children who have not been fitted anywhere else into our social system. Quite clearly a body of that kind is doing necessary work and is doing it well. It is inspected by the Government authorities, and if were not a reputable organisation it would not be allowed to continue. Equally clearly, it is doing a piece of work which nobody else is doing, because although the local authority from time to time asks it to take certain children into its care and custody, those children sponsored by the local authority form quite a small minority of its forty-two children. The rest have been put into its care at the request of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children or by the direct application of persons who can no longer continue to take charge of the children, or sometimes even the welfare officer of the local authority will recommend someone to apply to the Orphanage and Children's Home at Blackburn to see whether it can help. It is doing work which would not be done otherwise.

7.15 p.m.

When I was helping in an appeal to raise funds, I was astonished to discover that the Blackburn and District Orphanage is totally dependent on voluntary funds and receives no official support except when the local authority specifically puts a child in its care. In that case, the local authority pays the orphanage £3 5s. a week towards the maintenance of the child. But, of course, this is a matter of agreement. There is no statutory entitlement to this sum. I understand that when arrangements of this kind are made by local authorities with voluntary organisations the terms of financial assistance given by the local authority are negotiated locally and are flexible and varied.

As I say, I was surprised to find that these voluntary bodies, children's homes and orphanages, are not entitled to any sort of social service payment. On making further inquiries, I discovered that they have made representations to the Minister on this point. For instance, I understand that the National Council of Associated Children's Homes, to which the Blackburn and District Orphanage belongs, has made repeated overtures to the Minister asking that family allowances payable to children in the home's care should be paid direct to the home.

I believe that occasionally there is payment of the family allowance. For instance, when the home admits a child in respect of whom family allowance is payable, it gets in touch with the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance at Newcastle. The person who is entitled to draw the family allowance in respect of the child in the care of the voluntary home is entitled to continue to draw it from the Ministry on condition that it is forwarded to the voluntary organisation which is taking care of the child. Apparently, from time to time the Ministry checks that this sum is being forwarded. If for some reason the individual who is drawing it has not forwarded it to the voluntary body, the Ministry cancels the family allowance when the pension book needs renewing, and thereafter no payment is made to anyone.

I am told that the Blackburn orphanage has had cases in which as much as £40 has been drawn in family allowances in respect of a child put in its care which has not been passed to the orphanage, and the person who has wrongfully drawn the allowance has been prosecuted by the Ministry.

In these cases, the orphanage receives nothing. That is why these voluntary homes and organisations have asked that, since the Ministry recognises that it is a sensible principle that the family allowance should come to them in this way, it should be paid to them direct, because clearly a child which needs support is getting it and a child which otherwise would have had a payment from the Government is thrown entirely on charity if that payment is not forwarded to the body which has officially taken over the care of the child.

It is clear that there have been patchwork arrangements in the past which recognised that it is a reputable principle that a voluntary body which takes over the job of bringing up a child of family allowance age should be considered to be in loco parentis and deserving of financial help under our social services for doing this admirable work.

It may well be that the Minister will argue, as some people have argued, that we could not possibly pay the family allowance direct to an institution because it would be a contradiction in terms, and that family allowances are payable, by definition, to help family incomes. However, that has been stretched a little by practice. I suggest that the same argument does not apply to the guardian's allowance and that is why—I see that the Minister is getting a little nervous and restive—I tabled my new Clause in this form in an attempt to foresee any legalistic or bureaucratic difficulties. I tabled it partly, perhaps, influenced by the knowledge that I have had a little effect on the Minister in this sphere and partly in the hope that I might be twice lucky.

I suggest that the payment might be by way of guardian's allowance because that allowance is already paid outside the family circle. It is payable to any person in respect of any child who is for the time being a child of his family. There does not have to be a blood relationship. The child has, for the time being, become a member of the family. In the case of children in homes and voluntary institutions, the home is the only family that the child has. It takes the child in and gives him a home in the most intimate sense of the word. Of course, most of them have moved a long way from the old days of the large, impersonal institution.

I am well aware that it is a far better solution of the problem of the orphan, illegitimate child or abandoned child that it should be found a home, a foster-parent home or an adoptive home, but that is not always possible. The Blackburn and District Orphanage tried to keep abreast of modern ideas and thought by dividing its institution, which has forty-two children in it, into family units, groups of about eight children with one person acting as the mother. Why should a child of this kind, who is living in a family unit which happens to be in a building with other family units, receive no State support? This illustrates a gap in our legislation which, perhaps, we have not appreciated up to now.

It is for that reason that I have brought the matter to the attention of the House. I should think that there are other hon. Members who were not aware that there are many children who, in the normal way, would receive a payment under our social services but whose welfare and care—because they happen to have been taken into an institution which is not run by a local authority but is voluntary—is dependent on voluntary subscriptions and public-spirited people holding bazaars, meetings and campaigns and making collections. It is just like the old days when there was no sort of State provision for the situation in which these children find themselves.

Apart from anything else, I should have thought that it would have given the children themselves a greater sense of dignity and status if they had known that a contribution was being made on their behalf as of right to the body looking after them, a contribution by the insurance fund in this case, just as it is made in respect of children in similar circumstances who are looked after privately. It would be a move forward from the old Dickensian approach of little waifs being thrown on the charity of their fellow beings. That is a very important reason for trying to close the gap. It is surely anomalous that any child who has been deprived of a parent or parents and who is cast on the world because of his tragic circumstances should not be covered by our social service legislation.

I hope that the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will give very careful consideration to this matter, will recognise that there is a gap of which we were not conscious before and agree that the Bill presents us with a useful opportunity to close it.

Mrs. Thatcher

I am aware that the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) in her overtures to my right hon. Friend, has hitherto met with almost unique success. However, I must inform her that my right hon. Friend is reluctant, indeed does not wish, to go down this particular garden path with her at the moment. I shall try to give the reasons for that.

We are dealing with guardians' allowance, and the hon. Lady has used family allowances to illustrate her point. But, of course, they are two different things. One is entirely a grant from the Exchequer and the other is part of the National Insurance scheme

7.30 p.m.

Guardian's allowance is a payment of 32s. 6d. a week to a person who takes into his or her family a child whose parents have died. One of the conditions for payment is, with very rare exceptions, that both parents must have died. There are very rare exceptions. For example, there is the case of the child who is virtually an orphan because it is illegitimate, its mother is dead and its paternity has not been established.

A second exception is where the parents are divorced, one of them being under no liability for and having nothing to do with the child, and the other one being dead. The third exception is where one parent is dead and the other is missing or untraceable. There is a fourth exception under this Bill, namely, where one parent is dead and the other is serving a lengthy sentence of imprisonment.

Apart from those exceptions, the general proposition is that guardian's allowance is payable only where both parents of the child are dead. There are, of course, many cases of children in the care of voluntary organisations which would not begin to qualify for guardian's allowance because the children are not orphans since one or other of their parents is alive or traceable.

Mrs. Castle

I appreciate the terms under which the guardian's allowance is payable, but the hon. Lady will realise that Section 19 of the National Insurance Act covering this point provides that regulations may modify those provisions in cases, for example, of illegitimacy. If we were this evening to decide that the guardian's allowance could be payable to these organisations, presumably we could then, by regulation, decide whether, in a case where a child is illegitimate—there are a number of such children in these homes—greater flexibility could be allowed.

Mrs. Thatcher

The point that I am trying to impress upon the hon. Lady is that, so far, guardian's allowance is payable only for an orphan. I admit that we have made slight erosions into that rule, but the fact remains that it is payable, usually for an orphan, only where the orphan is taken into the family. The allowance is paid so that the family which takes the orphan into its care shall not suffer financial disadvantage thereby. Its purpose is to help the family which takes an orphan into its care.

It is the general purpose of the National Insurance Scheme to provide for payments to individual families or persons who would otherwise be at a financial disadvantage as a result of one or other of the various contingencies for which the scheme provides. It is, therefore, paid to families for specific children. It has never been paid to any general body to meet its liabilities. It is our contention that were this Clause to go through, the central purpose of the scheme would be avoided. The allowance would not be paid for a particular child and go to the benefit of that child. It would, in practice, go into the general funds of the body running the orphanage or into the general funds of the local authority. There would cease to be the essential connection between the payment of the allowance and the benefit of a particular child.

Mrs. Castle

Surely the hon. Lady is a little hair-splitting. If the guradian's allowance is paid to a family which takes the child into its care, it is going into the general funds of the family. One cannot say that that sum, whatever it is, is earmarked and put into a separate money box. It is not. It goes into the general family fund. If the family happens to be a little larger because it is in a home, the principle is not violated in any way. The principle is the same.

Mrs. Thatcher

There is a vast difference in degree between a child in a family living as an ordinary family and a child in an orphanage or in the care of a local authority. We provide by other means for children who need to go into care. It is not as if they are left without Government support. As the hon. Lady knows, since the Children Act, 1948, there has been a clear duty on local authorities to provide for all children in need of care, and that duty is recognised by the Exchequer making grants in one way or another. It is not as if one leaves orphans or other children in need of care without the assistance of Exchequer funds. They are provided for in another way. We use the guardian's allowance, as I have said, where a special benefit is required for a child whom someone else has taken into the family.

Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Aston)

Is it not the fact that a court order has to be obtained? Why should it be necessary for a court order to be made so that a local authority institution may qualify for the grant?

Mrs. Thatcher

I am not quite certain about that point. I will find out and let the hon. Gentleman know. I do not think it is entirely as a result of a court order. I know that in the case of the N.S.P.C.C. it is necessary to take a child before the court as being in need of care and protection, but I am not quite certain whether that applies in the case of a local authority.

At any rate, we do make other provisions for children who are in need of care. It is not a choice between this provision and no provision at all. If this Clause were to be accepted, so far as the local authority is concerned, it would merely mean that it would get 32s. 6d. per child from the National Insurance Scheme instead of getting it through the Exchequer grant.

Mr. Ross

Surely if these institutions did not do this work it would have to be done by the local authorities. The point is, is any payment made to such an organisation, and, if not, why not?

Mrs. Thatcher

I have in the meantime checked on the point raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Aston (Mr. J. Silverman). No court order is necessary for a local authority acting under the Children Act, 1948.

On the point raised by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), guardian's allowance is for a family which takes a child into its care. It is not intended to provide any kind of subsidy or grant to voluntary bodies. That is exactly what this Clause would do if it were passed. Where any voluntary organisation boards an orphan out to foster parents, both of the proper parents being dead, and at least one of them having been an insured person, the foster parents can claim guardian's allowance because the general basic conditions of the scheme will have been satisfied.

But it then becomes an allowance payable to a new family in respect of a child whom it has personally taken into its care and of whom it has personally become the guardian. In that sense people get the allowance, but it is not given as a general subsidy to a voluntary organisation. We believe that would be outside the purpose of the insurance scheme, and this is an insurance benefit.

Mrs. Castle

Is not the implication in what the hon. Lady said that there is no purpose whatsoever in this voluntary work? Is she saying that she thinks the work of these organisations is redundant and unnecessary? If she is not, then they are meeting a need.

The hon. Lady says that this form of words is inappropriate. What form is appropriate for the State to make the same contribution towards the upkeep of a child in the care of an organisation as it is prepared to make if a child goes into a family? When the hon. Lady says it is different in degree, as I pointed out, there are a number of these organisations such as the Blackburn and District Orphanage and Children's Home where the 42 members of the family are broken up into family groups. It might meet the hon. Lady's point if the finances could be organised on that basis.

That they are not physically broken up into a number of different homes is only due to the fact that they cannot get accommodation and cannot get the staff, so that they have to keep them under one roof. The difference in degree is not as great as the hon. Lady said. I would, therefore, ask her whether I have to go back to Blackburn and say that in the view of the Ministry of Pensions, this organisation is unnecessary, because as the hon. Lady said, the Government have provided, in other ways for children of this kind?

Do the Government say, "We provide for them to go into foster homes or into local authority care, and all the rest of it, and if we do not pay you it is because we have provided for them in other ways"? I ask the hon. Lady to say whether she thinks that this organisation might as well be wound up, because she has made other arrangements for looking after the children. If not, in what form does she think these people could most appropriately receive the State help which they would get if the children went into private families?

Mrs. Thatcher

I do not think that the hon. Lady is drawing the right inferences from her feelings. Of course, there is a place for voluntary children's organisations, and I myself, as no doubt does the hon. Lady, contribute personally to quite a number of them. What I am trying to say here is that the guardian's allowance is not a proper method of subsidising voluntary organisations by the State. There is a query whether there is a proper method through the Home Office, but that is not a matter for my right hon. Friend. The guardian's allowance is not an allowance which should or could be deflected to subsidising voluntary organisations.

Mr. Ross

I can well understand the feeling of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle)—this feeling of frustration. Here we are, on Report, and she is denied the liberty of constant interventions such as we enjoy during a Committee stage.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The hon. Lady has not done too badly.

Mr. Ross

It is not for me to say that. I think that it is a tribute to the persistence of my hon. Friend that she said so much without incurring the displeasure of the Chair. I think that my hon. Friend is on a good point here, though I can appreciate all the difficulties with which the Government are faced in this matter. They are limited by Statute and by the actual definition of "guardian", but when my hon. Friend tells us that, in the case of this very worthy organisation, there is actually an artificial creation of family groups, I wonder whether or not the Minister could not have another look at this point, bearing in mind—and I take it this is the point which the hon. Lady made—that if this same organisation, instead of doing that, had sought out some family and had boarded out a child, that family would have been entitled to the guardian's allowance, provided, of course, that the child came within the original definition; that is to say, that it was an orphan, or, with the few exceptions we have, to which one is being added by the Bill itself. Bearing that aspect in mind, it might well be that something could be considered.

I know that something is done for these charitable organisations. I think that on both sides of the House we find them worthy, and I can think of one in Kilmarnock—Tanker ha'—which is a children's home run by the Church of Scotland for orphan children. I certainly would not like to see the reservoir of private personal charity drying up to the extent that these people become absolutely indifferent, but let us appreciate that if that help were not given, it would place a greater responsibility on the local authorities, and a greater call on State funds.

We recognise this to a certain extent already. The Rating and Valuation Acts have placed upon local authorities the mandatory power of relieving these charitable organisations of 50 per cent. of their rates, and that loss to the local authorities is partly regained through the equalisation grant. Therefore, we have already had a look at the same kind of problem in regard to charity on a national basis.

7.45 p.m.

While I fully appreciate the difficulties of the Government about the limitations of guardianship and the definition of those entitled to the allowance, I still feel that it may well be that something else could be done. I still think that there is a difficulty in doing it through the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, and it may well be that it should be another Department with, probably, more direct responsibility in the social sense. Although I think that my hon. Friend has done a service in raising this point, I must say, quite frankly, that until she told me of it I had not heard of it before. Let me be equally frank and say that I do not think that this is the way in which it could be done.

I hope that those responsible for the social policies of the Government, who, according to the evidence we have had tonight, are reconsidering it, will look at this point, bearing in mind the amount of money saved to the State by such organisations. If the hon. Lady will have another look at the family aspect of this matter, it may well be that she will be able to meet it without even having a new Clause like this. That is a possibility, if this matter is organised on a family basis. Has the hon. Lady thought of that point? It is very difficult, because unless she has personal knowledge of how the home works, it would be difficult for her, and we would not expect her to answer now. But if she made available to some of us her answer on this aspect of the matter, we would certainly be very pleased.

Mrs. Castle

I was hoping that I might have had some indication from the hon. Lady that she would look at possible ways of dealing with this matter and would communicate with me about it. If she feels that this is not the right way to help, would she consider the point about the direct payment of family allowances to voluntary organisations, which is sometimes now done indirectly? If the hon. Lady, or perhaps her right hon. Friend the Minister, will agree to look at this matter, and see whether there is any way in which it could be done more appropriately, I will not press the new Clause.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary did not rise, because it did not seem to us, as she had already explained, that this matter has anything to do with the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. The work of these homes, as each of us as citizens knows, is immensely valuable, and I am rather sorry that the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) phrased, even interrogatively, the suggestion that all of us did not have that feeling. I am quite sure that the National Insurance Fund is not the right basis for the support of these homes, and I must tell the House that it does not come within the sphere of my Departmental responsibilities.

Mrs. Castle

Not even family allowances?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The homes do not come within the scope of my Department. They come into the picture only in respect of family allowances and only if their arrangements comply with the law of family allowances.

The basic question, which is what is the best method of helping these bodies, is not a question for me. It would be quite wrong and would mislead the House if my hon. Friend were to say that she would consider or look further at the general issue, because it is for the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn and others concerned to take this matter up, if they wish, with my right hon. Friends who are properly concerned. I must leave the matter there.

As to whether there is any contrivance which would enable this home to be brought within the scope of guardian's allowance, again I must hesitate to express a view, and so must my hon. Friend. These are matters which are settled by the independent statutory authorities set up by Parliament, and whether a particular body meets the conditions is not a matter on which it would be proper for me to comment.

Wide though the scope of my Departmental responsibilities is, it would he misleading the House and not helping the hon. Lady if I or my hon. Friend were to take this one on board. The care of children lies in the hands of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. There are also the welfare activities of local authorities, which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health deals with. In Scotland, it is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland.

If the hon. Lady wishes to pursue this subject either on a constituency basis or generally I suggest that she pursues it with the Minister concerned. This does not arise in the Bill. With the best will in the world, the fact that I was able, as she generously acknowledged, to meet her on a point which did come within my responsibilities—that is, the precise conditions in which a family could obtain guardians' allowance—does not enable me to take this general question of the subsidisation of children's homes very much further.

Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)

I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me raising this point with him, because I have not been in the Chamber long. He and his hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary showed a good deal of sympathy with the general approach of my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle). Is it not possible for him, now that he has heard the general discussion and has shown his sympathy with the general problem, to raise this matter with the other two Departments with a view to seeing whether something can be done to mitigate it?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

No, Sir. I do not think that I should serve the House if I sought to assume responsibilities which are not mine. I am quite pre pared to invite the attention of my right hon. Friends to HANSARD, of which I am sure they are, in any event, very regular readers. I hope that I do not seem to be unhelpful, but it does not really help to enlarge one's own very wide sphere of responsibilities to obtrude in other people's. It does not make for efficient administration. It would not help to solve the point the hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn has in mind. Those of us who know the hon. Lady realise that she is more than capable of pressing any point in the right quarter if she so wishes.

Question put and negatived.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

The new Clause—(Application of injury benefit to temporary employment outside United Kingdom)—in the name of the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) and other hon. Members, is out of order, as it would increase the charge on the Exchequer.

Mr. J. Silverman

On a point of order. Can you tell me, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, why this Clause has been ruled out of order?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I can. As I said, it is because it would increase the charge on the Exchequer. As drafted, its effect would be to extend pararaph 1 of Part I of the First Schedule to the 1946 Act so as to make insurable temporary employment outside Great Britain if it stemmed from a contract in Great Britain. The effect of this would be to increase not only the benefits payable as the new Clause specifies, but also the contributions leviable, since the aggregate contribution levied attracts an Exchequer contribution of one-fifth. This would impose a charge, which is not covered by the Money Resolution.

Mr. Silverman

Further to that point of order. Before this Clause was drafted I took advice from the authorities of the House. I was told that the Money Resolution, which is a fairly wide one, was wide enough to cover it. Apparently, later somebody discovered Section 2 (b) of the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, 1946. The new Clause would not place any further charge on the Exchequer, for this reason. It deals, as was intended, with the person who is in normal employment in this country, but who is sent by his firm to do a job in another country which is not covered by any reciprocal agreement. The job may last for a week or for two weeks. His insurance payments will continue during this period. He thinks that he is covered against industrial injuries, but if he has an accident he finds, to his dismay, that he is not covered.

The Clause is intended to deal with a person who is already insured, that is, a person who already pays industrial insurance. It does not impose any obligation upon anybody who is not already paying industrial injuries. Therefore, it does not extend to any class which is not already insured. In these circumstances, the new Clause can apply only—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. I am obliged to the hon. Member for arguing his point, and it may be that he could have limited his new Clause to keep it within order, but as it stands I am persuaded that it could attract an extra charge on the Exchequer and for that reason I must adhere to my Ruling that it is out of order.