HC Deb 10 December 1963 vol 686 cc219-23

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

Q14. Dame Irene Ward

The Prime Minister (Sir Alec Douglas-Home)

With permission, I will answer Question No. Q14.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley (Mr. H. Macmillan) told the House on 1st August that he was considering certain matters concerning pensions and allowances. Since I became Prime Minister I have myself been looking into this question and the representations that have been made particularly as regards widows.

My right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance will put detailed proposals before the House in today's debate. These proposals will be directed mainly towards some improvement in the position of widowed mothers, whether they go out to work or stay at home and look after their children, and will be on the following lines:

First, the widowed mother's personal allowance will continue until the last child's nineteenth birthday instead of the eighteenth birthday as at present; and the child's allowances and the family allowances in respect of widowed mothers will also continue until the child's nineteenth birthday instead of the eighteenth birthday on the same conditions that now apply, namely, if the child is in full-time education or is a low-paid apprentice. This involves extending to the same limit the children's allowances paid to other National Insurance beneficiaries. The cost of this proposal will be £2 million a year, including about £1 million for family allowances, rising to about double that cost within 10 years.

Secondly, we propose a change in the allowances to the children of widowed mothers and an increase in the amount. At present these children attract a National Insurance allowance and a family allowance. We now propose a single allowance of 37s. 6d. a week in respect of each child of a widowed mother, instead of the existing aggregate allowance of 30s. a week for the first and second children and 32s. a week for subsequent children. The estimated cost of this is £3½ million a year.

Thirdly, we propose some improvement in the earnings rule as it applies to all widows and to retirement pensioners with a continued preference for widowed mothers. We propose that the earnings limits should be increased from £6 to £7 in the case of widowed mothers and from £4 5s. to £5 in the other categories. The cost of this would be about £2 million.

In addition, we propose to deal with the situation of what are known as pre-Grigg widows. These are the widows who have been drawing pensions on the basis of the 1952 code because their husbands died before the date—4th November, 1958—on which the Government accepted the recommendation of the Grigg Committee that future Service widows' pensions should be related to their husbands' retired pay or pension. It has now been decided that the pensions of those pre-Grigg widows should be calculated on the same percentage basis as widows whose husbands died on or after that date. The cost of this is estimated at £300,000 in the first year.

Dame Irene Ward

Will my right hon. Friend accept the appreciation of many hon. Members, myself among them, of this new break-through? Will he convey to the Chancellor our appreciation of his co-operation with my right hon. Friend? Will he also accept my pleasure at the successful result of our assignations and my hope that he will go from strength to strength in the magnificent new break-through which he has so successfully started?

The Prime Minister

The House knows how interested my hon. Friend has always been in these questions. What my colleagues and I were particularly anxious to do was to benefit not only the widow who was ableto go out to work, but the equally deserving widow who stayed behind to look after her children.

Mr. H. Wilson

While the Government are now being a little more forthcoming at this late hour, after resisting for several years our proposals in this direction, as is on record, proposals against which hon. Members opposite have voted, will not the right hon. Gentleman agree that the time is now long overdue for abolishing the earnings rule in respect of widows? Why does he not do it?

Sir G. Nabarro

The right hon. Gentleman's party did not say that at the Scarborough Labour Party conference.

Mr. H. Wilson

Of course we did. [Interruption.] Is the right hon. Gentleman aware, if he can hear what I am saying, that this was said in our policy statement at our party conference and was available to be read by those hon. Members who can read? Finally, is the right hon. Gentleman proposing nothing to help the position of the so-called 10s. widow, who is suffering more acutely than any other class in the country?

The Prime Minister

People hold different opinions about the earnings rule. We have held the view, and we have acted upon it, that we should make an extra allocation in this matter and that the widow who earns £7 a week should not have that deducted when her pension is assessed. I think that that is a tenable position. I cannot say what the future may hold. The broader and more general question of pensions must be a matter which all Governments keep under review.

Mr. Wilson

Probably because of the noise, the right hon. Gentleman forgot the second of my questions. Will he tell us why nothing is being done about the so-called 10s. widow?

The Prime Minister

I have nothing to say on this occasion about the 10s. pension.

Miss Vickers

I thank my right hon. Friend for what he has said. Is anything to be done for the public service widows and the widows of Service men drawing pensions under several different codes, some getting less than £200 a year?

The Prime Minister

What is known as the pre-Grigg class of widows is a case in which there is an anomaly which I am convinced should be put right. The wider question must wait for another occasion.

Mr. Bellenger

While congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on the result of his ruminations since he became Prime Minister, may I ask him whether that statement portends an early General Election?

The Prime Minister

I think that the right hon. Gentleman had better wait and see, but he had better be ready for it at any time.

Captain Litchfield

May I ask my right hon. 'Friend whether he is aware that his action in personally looking into this question of the pensions of Service widows so soon after assuming office, and in announcing this welcome decision, will be very warmly appreciated far outside the circles concerned in this House, in the constituencies, and in the Services?

Mr. Paget

May I ask the Prime Minister whether he is aware that 1958 widows are only one of the examples of anomalies in Service pensions, and that this arises from paying pensions not in respect of service, but in respect of the date of retirement? Will the Prime Minister tell us that at some time the principle of the same pension for the same service will be seriously considered? Anything else is grossly unjust.

The Prime Minister

I have said that I have satisfied myself that this is one anomaly with which we ought to deal, and I hope that the House will feel that that is right. If I discover other anomalies we may be able to deal with them in future.

Mr. H. Wilson

When the Prime Minister says that he has nothing to say about the 10s. widows, does it mean that we can expect a statement from him in the near future about this, or has he considered this anomaly and decided to do nothing about it?

The Prime Minister

I meant what I said. We have dealt with a certain section of widowed mothers, and the pre-Grigg widows. The wider question of other pensions is a matter which Governments must always keep under review and do their best for the country.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

I think that we can discuss these matters further at a later stage.