HC Deb 22 January 1964 vol 687 cc1090-200

Order for Second Reading read.

3.55 p.m.

The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. Richard Wood)

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

When I went to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, last October, I joined actively in the consideration which the Government had been giving for some time to the special difficulties of widows and their children. Two months later, just before Christmas, a series of proposed improvements was announced by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. The object of the present Bill is to give legislative effect to these improvements.

Because widowed mothers have to bring up their families without the help, financial and other, of their husbands, they have always attracted special sympathy. In the past, we have agreed that they should be treated exceptionally, and there has been very little argument between us about that. The party opposite gave them preference in 1951, by an Act which included special relaxations of the earnings rule for widowed mothers and which also extended to them the increase of benefit which was then given to older pensioners.

The Conservative Government have improved the favourable earnings rule for widowed mothers on a number of occasions, and last year we also exempted from the earnings rule 26s. of the widowed mother's personal benefit, the total of which, as the House knows, is 67s. 6d. The Bill now proposes a further improvement and will increase from £6 to £7 a week the amount which a widowed mother may earn without its affecting her allowance.

In 1956, the Government introduced preferential rates for the children of widowed mothers, and the preference was increased in the 1960 Act and again in the 1963 Act, less than a year ago. This Bill proposes a new step to bring the allowance which a widowed mother draws for each child, together with family allowances, up to the amount of the guardian's allowance which is paid for an orphan. The effect of a father's death on the fortunes of the family is always bound to be serious, and it therefore seems right to pay the widow who is left with the sole charge of children as much for each of them as we pay for an orphan. A widow, therefore, will get 37s. 6d. in all for each of her children.

The Bill includes one more extension of the present provisions. There has recently been a number of cases in which children of widows are staying on at school beyond 18, often waiting to take a university place, but their mothers have lost all the allowances for them although the children are still in their last year at school. In 1956, we raised to 18 years the limiting age for family allowances and children's allowances under the National Insurance Act and the Industrial Injuries Act. It is now becoming more common for children to stay at school beyond 18, and we therefore propose by the Bill to extend the limiting age from 18 to 19 years in order to deal with this situation.

This will bring in, admittedly, a few children who have already gone to university and are receiving university grants. On the other hand, there will, no doubt, be a few children over 19 still at school. But the National Insurance scheme deals with groups of cases and it is necessary, therefore, to draw a line which will broadly mark the end of schooling for the great majority of children. We believe that the age of 19 does this without bringing in too many in other sectors of education for which financial provision is already made. On the National Insurance side, this will not only be of benefit to widowed mothers but it will be of help also to the sick and the unemployed and, indeed, to a few retirement pensioners who still have children over 18 at school.

The similar extension of the age limit for family allowances which the Bill proposes will be of rather more general benefit to people with children at school up to 19. The family allowances and National Insurance provisions have always been kept in step, and this will continue to be so. These provisions will be of special help to widowed mothers in that they will be able to go on with the widowed mother's allowance for up to a further year. Those who are over 50 when their youngest child is 18, and, therefore, are assured of a pension, will have the benefit of the more favourable earnings rule for another year. Some will reach their fiftieth birthday during this additional year and will, therefore, qualify for a widow's pension which would not otherwise have been payable to them.

So much for the purpose of the Bill. But, as the House will agree, these excellent proposals, as in the case of so many other National Insurance Acts, are included in a vehicle of some complication and of cross-references, so it will not, I think, be amiss if I give a fairly brief description of the Clauses. In view of the fact that we have ahead of us some hours of discussion it may have the effect of reducing a little of the fog which might otherwise persist about this difficult subject.

Clause 1 increases from 18 to 19 the age limit for the definition of a child, both for family allowances and for dependency increases of benefits under the National Insurance and Industrial Injuries schemes, including the allowances for their children paid to widowed mothers. The insurance schemes have always applied the family allowances definition for the purpose of widows' and dependency benefits, and it seems obviously sound, both in principle and administration, that this should be so. The change to the age of 19 can, as the House will have seen, be made by simply amending the Family Allowances Act, and this is done in Clause 1(1). Subsection (2) of this Clause provides a similar extension for widowed mothers who have a son or daughter living with them who has left school, and who usually will be working.

In the case of a child of this kind no payment is made. But since 1956 widowed mothers have been able to receive their personal benefit in order to help them to maintain a home for a son or daughter who is growing up. Therefore, the age limit here will become 19, which will mean that each year about 20,000 of these widowed mothers will receive the widowed mother's allowance for one more year. Most widowed mothers move on to widow's pension, and, therefore, the difference for them is that they can take advantage for another year of the more favourable earnings rule for widowed mothers. Others will receive a benefit which otherwise they would not have got, and those reaching 50 during the extra year will be able to qualify, as I have pointed out, for widow's pension.

Clause 2, taken with the First and Second Schedules, provides for increases in the allowances for children of widows, including industrial injuries widows, and in the rate of the child's special allowance. The future total payment, as I have said, is to be 37s. 6d. a week for each child including the family allowances. This is a substantial increase. A widowed mother with three children will, when the provisions in the Bill come into effect, be getting altogether £9 a week, which is over three times the benefit of £2 15s. which she received in 1951, and which is considerably more than double in real value. Subsection (2) makes a technical change and tidies up the provisions where the child is not living with the mother.

Clause 3 safeguards the position of a comparatively small number of widowed mothers who are at present receiving a supplement to their insurance benefit from the National Assistance Board. The Board will be able to disregard these increases in children's benefits, subject only to the existing rule that the total weekly income disregarded should not be more than 30s. It is quite exceptional to disregard National Insurance benefits in this way. But this special provision has been included on this occasion in order to make sure that all widowed mothers, including those receiving a supplementary assistance allowance, should benefit from the Bill. Subsection (2) makes a consequential amendment to Acts relating to legal aid, because the same types of income are disregarded in determining the disposable income of applicants for legal aid as are disregarded for National Assistance.

Clause 4 is concerned with the earnings rule, a subject on which there is more misunderstanding than on any other main feature of the National Insurance scheme. From the moment that I returned to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance I have been urged to do a number of things. I found that Ministers of Pensions have not only an excellent cadre of official advisers, but also an army of unofficial advisers which, as far as I can see, includes a substantial proportion of the total adult population of the country.

Among the unofficial pieces of advice which I have been given is, first, that I should be more selective by varying the emphasis of benefits and giving help to groups of people in particular need, and, secondly, that I should sweep away all the earnings rules. I am disturbed that, after 15 years of patient explanation by successive Ministers, such contradictory demands can still be made, often by the same people.

I have explained that the main object of the Bill is to make selective increases for those who command special sympathy, and that it makes certain relaxations in the existing earnings rules. But I hope that I can make clear now why the abolition of the earnings rules would be wholly unselective and therefore contrary to the purpose of the Bill. The earnings rules do not stop anyone from earning, and they are certainly not an ingenious device—as is sometimes suggested—for depriving people of benefits for which they have already paid in contributions.

The National Insurance contract is to pay benefits to people who, for one reason or another, cannot work and support themselves by their earnings, and it is on this basis that contributions are assessed. That is why, as right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite know very well, we have now a retirement pension rather than an old-age pension. It is also why Parliament rejected unconditional widows' pensions and chose instead to have widows' benefits selectively paid to those widows who, because of age or family circumstances, cannot generally be expected to provide for themselves by their earnings.

The effect of the earnings rules, as every hon. Member knows very well, is that a pensioner earning more than so much a week has his pension reduced. The level at which deductions begin for widows and retirement pensioners is at present £4.5s. a week. Widowed mothers can at present earn rather more—£6 a week—before any reduction is made. Under the provisions in the Clause these figures will go up to £5 and £7. If all earnings rules were abandoned, the whole retirement principle would have to go too, and the clock would go back 20 years to the idea of unconditional old-age pensions.

The immediate cost would be well over £100 million a year, most of which would go to provide full pensions, some at the married rate, to about 400,000 people who are continuing with normal work and earnings during the five years after minimum pension age. This large sum of money would not, therefore, be devoted to those who needs are greatest, but would supplement earnings of at least £5 a week, if Parliament approves this Bill, and often earnings much greater than that. Most of us could probably devise more constructive uses for £100 million.

I have already said that in the case of widow's pension the earnings rules support the similar important principle that the pension is designed for widows who cannot work and earn. The significance of the dividing line between widows who qualify and those who do not qualify for pensions is that widows who are over 50 when their husbands die, or when their children grow up, are presumed to be likely to find it more difficult to establish themselves in work than widows who have been free to do so much earlier in their lives. But I am well aware that there are a number of widows over 50 who qualify for a pension and are able to take up full-time work. Indeed, some of them may have been working all the time. Therefore, to make sure that benefits go to widows who are most in need of them, it is surely justifiable to have an earnings rule to support them.

We all agree that widowed mothers are a special group, because their problems and responsibilities are greater than those of widows who have only themselves to support, and most of the benefit paid to widowed mothers is therefore given regardless of what they earn. Under the Bill a widowed mother with two children will keep £5 1s. a week however much she earns, and if she is not at work, or if she is earning up to £7 a week net, she will be able to receive another £2 1s. 6d., bringing it to £7 2s. 6d. This additional benefit will not be wholly withdrawn until her earnings reach £9 12s. a week, when her total net income will be £14 13s. Many married men are bringing up families on incomes of that sort of size, and therefore, without abandoning the main principle which I have been trying to describe, the Bill relaxes the conditions as far as possible to help this particularly deserving group of widows with whom we all feel great sympathy.

I do not think that I need say very much about Clauses 5 and 6. Clause 5 provides for payments out of the Exchequer, and Clause 6 is a formal one. The extra expenditure which will result from the Bill will be about £7½ million in the first year, including about £6½ million in insurance benefits, and the rest in family allowances. Widowed mothers will benefit to the extent of about £5 million a year. In 10 years' time the total annual cost will have risen to about £9½ million.

I do not think that I need describe the Schedules in any detail. They contain provisions which are consequential or transitional. I have already explained that the First and Second Schedules go with Clause 2 to make 37s. 6d. payable for each widow's child.

Schedule 3 deals with transitional matters. It also answers, among other things, the important question, "When is a child not a child?", and, if hon. Members look at paragraph 4, for instance, they will see that it deals with the case of a hypothetical young man whose sickness benefit is being increased by 41s. 6d. a week in respect of a hypothetical sister of 18 for whom he is claiming payment as an adult dependant. Having been an adult until the coming into force of the Bill, the girl will again be treated as a child because she is under 19, but, so long as the brother's period of sickness benefit continues, he will receive 41s. 6d. for her instead of having this cut down to 20s.

On the other hand—and this is the beauty of the Bill, because people gain both ways—if the brother and sister have a widowed mother living with them, the widowed mother will be able to get widowed mother's personal benefit, because her daughter is once more really a child, even though she was being treated temporarily as an adult. I hope that I have succeeded in making that plain.

Schedule 3 also contains the usual provisions for appointed days, which will be fixed by Order. I am proposing that all the changes in the Bill will come into operation from Easter Monday, 30th March, so that the first payment of the increased or new benefits will be the payment which falls due in Easter week. Widows' benefits and family allowances are paid on Tuesdays, so for the great majority of the people concerned the first payment will be made on Tuesday, 31st March.

Schedule 4 is formal.

I believe that the Bill makes a series of worthwhile improvements, in particular for a group for whom we would all like to see life made a little easier. I therefore hope that the Bill will be welcomed as a useful addition to the statutory provisions, and another example of money well spent.

4.15 p.m.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison (Kettering)

From the financial point of view this is a comparatively small Bill, but it raises some questions of general importance. I do not propose, naturally, to go into the broader questions which we discussed on a Supply day a little while ago, but I keep in mind the fact that in the view of this side of the House the general level of benefits under the National Insurance Acts is insufficient. We gave our reasons on that occasion and I do not propose to repeat them today.

Like the right hon. Gentleman, I turn to the particular points in the Bill. I begin, as the Bill begins, with the definition of a child. From the point of view of National Insurance legislation, the 19-year-old is in a remarkable position. Having become an adult, he now becomes a child, but the line between a boy and a man is not the same as the line between a child and an adult. Consequently the 19-year-old, though still a child for the purpose of benefits received by someone else, ceases to be a boy or girl for the purpose of his or her own contribution or benefit, and we are therefore creating a very odd object in this 19-year-old person.

What is even odder is the line the Ministry has taken in this matter. I have three letters written in February, April and July last year by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West (Dr. Bray). My hon. Friend was trying to get the Ministry to change this age limit of 18. What he had in mind were the Income Tax provisions which provide specially up to a certain age, and thereafter make the question whether or not one gets children's relief dependent not on age, but on the mere existence of full-time instruction.

That is a different standard from the one in the Bill, and the Ministry was not having any of it. We were told in the February letter: Under the National Insurance Acts provision is made for increases of benefit and allowances to be paid for children only for so long as they can be regarded as children for the purposes of the family allowances scheme. It was pointed out by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that the age limit was 18, and when it was suggested that further help might be needed in the case of people who were on full-time instruction, the comment was that where help is needed to enable a young person over 18 to continue his education it is to the education authorities that one should look for it. That is to say, the considered conclusion of the Ministry at the time—and the letter mentions that a good deal of thought had been given to this question of dependents—was that anyone beyond 18 was to be dealt with by education grant—and that, of course, recognised that there would be dependent people beyond the age of 18; dependent in the sense that they were under full-time instruction.

This argument was repeated in a letter written in April, which said: One of the main reasons why we consider that the system of education maintenance grants is better suited to help families where young people are continuing in full-time education beyond the age of 18 is that the education authorities can take proper account of both the income of the parents and the expanses involved in the particular course of education. I think that the Ministry was wrong at the time, and I have quoted the letters to show how completely it has changed its attitude.

I go a little further. In July—not so long ago—the Ministry wrote saying: Age 18 was adopted because it was the highest practical point that could fitted in to the National Insurance and family allowances schemes and it has not so far proved possible to improve upon it. There has to be a point at which childhood comes to an end for these purposes and it could not betaken beyond age 18 without far-reaching consequences in the structure and administration of both schemes. The right hon. Gentleman has courageously, though somewhat surprisingly faced these far-reaching consequences. We always meet them in any discussions on National Insurance. We are told that it is a house of cards, and that if we remove any card the whole thing will come down with a crash. That is exactly what, in more dignified language, the Parliamentary Secretary was saying at the time. A short time ago, in the course of a debate on these matters, the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor said that although circumstances might change the arguments that were sound at one time remained sound at another.

What has led the Ministry to make this change?

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

Has the hon. and learned Member ever observed the few Conservative women Members sitting on these benches?

Mr. Mitchison

I hope so. I do not know why I should be taxed with a failure to contemplate the beautiful. Certainly I have. I hope that we shall hear from all of them. I hope that they will condemn, as I do, the attitude that the Ministry took last year on these matters. The hon. Lady is not slow to condemn her own Government. The other day she did not want to throw the small shopkeepers to the wolves for pie in the sky. The memorable phrase could be applied, with modification, to some of the present considerations.

Dame Irene Ward

The hon. and learned Gentleman is extremely nice, but he seems a little slow in this matter. Has it not occurred to him that the women Members on this side of the House can occasionally bring some pressure to bear on their own Government?

Mr. Mitchison

I am glad to hear it, but in this case the pressure seems to have been applied by my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, West—

Dame Irene Ward

Not at all.

Mr. Mitchison

—whatever pressure may have been applied afterwards.

Perhaps I may try to help the right hon. Gentleman by giving him a possible reason for this change. It seems to me that he must have read and pondered upon the words which his right hon. Friend the Prime Minister delivered at a Conservative meeting a short time ago, He said: From this moment on the fact that there is a General Election ahead of us must never be out of our minds. It must, therefore, have been in the right hon. Gentleman's mind. Then followed a sentence unexceptionable in principle although a little doubtful in grammar: Every act we take, every attitude we strike, every speech we make in Parliament or elsewhere must have that in mind. Is that the explanation for the change of mind? If not, what is? Why has the age of 19 been selected? I find it very difficult to understand that. It is out of keeping with the broadly similar age limits in the other parts of the Act. Further, nobody has ever thought of the age of 19 before. There are plenty of cases where the ages of 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18 have been used, but 19 and 20 have always been left out. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman thought it was time to give them a run.

Seriously, I hope that the Government will consider whether there is a real case for what my hon. Friend was asking at the time, namely, that we should at any rate consider whether an age limit is appropriate in these cases, or whether the basis should be the continuance of full-time instruction.

The right hon. Gentleman said that the reason for this change was that rather more people were continuing under full-time instruction. That is the opposite of what was said by the Ministry in the letters to which I have referred. They said that it was not connected with that; it was merely a matter of dividing responsibility between the National Insurance scheme at one stage and the education authorities at another. It seems to me, however, that the reason I have given is at the root of the matter. I cannot see the real reason for having an age limit in this connection, especially when there is no such age limit in the parallel case of Income Tax. I agree that the two schemes have different purposes, but the point is substantially the same.

I turn from that to the second point, which concerns the increases to be made in widowed mothers' allowances, making them up to 37s. 6d. a child, including family allowances. We shall not object to that, but there seems to be a case for differentiating between children who are quite young and children who, as they grow older, become more expensive. The right hon. Gentleman knows by heart the Labour Party proposals in this matter, and he will know that we have suggested that there should be a higher rate for rather older children. It might make administration a little more difficult, but it would be unfortunate to make that plea, after the right hon. Gentleman's telling us that the very schemes which the Government are bringing forward would involve a total breakdown of the whole matter. I would view any such arguments with a somewhat critical eye in that context.

I turn from that to what, in many ways, is the most important part of the Bill—a matter which raises a serious constitutional question—namely, the legislation concerning the earnings rule. The full effect of the rule was referred to the National Insurance Advisory Committee for a report, which it made in May, 1956—Cmd. 9752. The question was so referred to the Committee under Section 41(3) of the 1946 Act, which provides that the right hon. Gentleman, may refer questions connected with the duration of the Act to the Advisory Committee, and that such questions may include questions about the amendment of the Act. The right hon. Gentleman has to give the Committee information, and so on, and a report is ultimately made before the House, as was the report that I have mentioned. That is the function of the Committee in relation to the 1946 Act and questions arising under it.

But Section 77 of that Act gives the Committee another function, namely, to consider regulations to be made under the Act. This legislation leaves a great deal to the Minister by way of order-making powers. He can make regulations on almost everything. I think I am right in saying that in form the change now proposed is exactly— although the figures are different—like changes which have been made from time to time by regulation. Indeed, we have had one case after another where regulations have been submitted to the National Insurance Advisory Committee, and where reports have been published and laid before the House. I have two—on this question, at any rate, the two most recent—before me now.

Section 77 of the Act provides, this time in considerable detail, for the consideration of the regulations—for objections in writing, for specific grounds of objection, for the omissions, additions or modifications asked for by the objector, for consideration by the Minister and so on. They allow the Minister in cases of urgency to accelerate the process. The report has to show what amendments have been made and what effect has been given to any recommendation of the Committee. In general, it is a very proper exercise of the control by Parliament over the existing regulation-making power of the Ministry in this matter, and to the best of my knowledge that procedure has always been adopted on this point before—because it has arisen before.

What is remarkable is that if we look at the last two reports—the report which was ordered to be printed on 27th January, 1960, in connection, I presume, with the 1959 Act, and the report of 19th March, 1963—we may find a reason why the Minister in this case has preferred to do it by Statute rather than by regulation. He is not obliged to refer to the Advisory Committee a change, an amendment, in the 1946 Act or new legislation, though he may, but he is obliged to refer to the Committee any draft regulations. The plain fact of the matter is that the National Insurance Advisory Committee has been jibbing about this pretty definitely, and though I do not entirely agree with the Committee's grounds—I shall develop this in a moment—its view is, at any rate, fairly clear.

I need say no more about the 1960 report than that after making the comparison which the Committee has always made in these cases between the growth of the average rate of women's earnings, or earnings in general, and the changes proposed in the limit for which no deduction is made—this comparison is always made—the Committee said, quite rightly, that it was not its business to argue the retirement principle but added: We are bound to say that the earnings rule could not continue to be relaxed with impunity. We shall see what is meant by "relaxed" in a moment. When we come to the 1963 report we read, in paragraph 8: In our report of January, 1960, we assented, not without some hesitation"— that is the passage to which I have referred— to the earnings limits which now exist after considering the levels of average weekly earnings published…by the Ministry of Labour…". After making a comparison in that case, the Committee just managed to agree.

My impression—and I ask the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to confirm or deny this in her reply—is that the Minister did not dare to make these changes in the form of regulations and to send them to the National Insurance Advisory Committee because he thought that he might get either a fiat disapproval or comments which would be exceedingly unwelcome, particularly at the moment and in view of what the Prime Minister said a short time ago.

This raises a constitutional question. It seems to me to be an extraordinary decision that a Minister whose regulation-making powers are so tightly subject to previous investigation by an independent committee, to objections and to procedure of that kind, and who is bound to subject himself to that control, should be allowed to do exactly the same thing for the first time in a highly unusual way by introducing a statutory provision and thereby to get out of the whole of the controls which Parliament obviously intended that he should have in this matter. I cannot think that that is right.

Sir Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)

The hon. and learned Gentleman talks about getting out of the control which Parliament has imposed. In fact, Parliament itself is doing the controlling at first hand by this method rather than doing it at second hand by the other method.

Mr. Mitchison

I cannot agree with that for two reasons. First of all, Parlia- ment can criticise a Report of the National Advisory Committee and, secondly—surely this is the point—when something is sent to the Committee because it has to be seen, the Committee has to take evidence from outside, to listen to objections, to report on them, and the whole thing is intended, as the hon. Member will see if he looks at the two Sections, to put a far firmer control on the Minister than anything which can be given merely by Parliamentary discussions without the preliminary investigation which the National Insurance Advisory Committee is intended to make.

I regard this as a lamentable method of getting out of the control to which Parliament intended the right hon. Gentleman to be subject and to which he has been subject in every previous case on this matter that I can find. If the hon. Member were right, it would be interesting to see what he says to explain this sudden change—because a change it is.

I turn from that to look at what I think is the substantial point rather than the constitutional point about this change. I am not dealing with the merits of the earnings rule but with the comparison which the National Insurance Advisory Committee has made in all these cases. The comparison has always been between the rise in average weekly earnings and the rise in the limits proposed by the Minister. I think that the simplest way in which I can make the point is this: a day or two ago we had the average weekly earnings of full-time women—as they are called in the Ministry of Labour circular—in October, 1963. They were just a shade over 8 guineas and they represented a 40 per cent. rise since the figure in April, 1956. If we look at the rates in 1956 we find that the limit in those days was about one-third of the average weekly earnings. This was in the average case in which the limit would operate; the half-way house, as it were.

But when we make the same comparison with the limit now proposed and the average earnings in October last, we find that instead of it being about one-third it is about three-fifths. This is a very considerable change in effect. This means that the average amount which can be earned now, in the bottom range and the middle range—I am not complaining about this; I am far from complaining about it—will be unaffected.

But I should like to point out that if this is right—and it is a procedure which the National Insurance Advisory Committee has always applied—there has undoubtedly been a substantial change, and it is such a change as to make the earnings rule of very doubtful value.

I come back to the report which was made in 1956 and to the minority report put in at that time by Professor Titmuss and Miss Spelman. Hon. Members will find it on page 30 of the report. They give as well as or better than I can give the substance of the objections to the earnings rule with respect to widows. I know that when the Minister was explaining the Bill to the House, he talked about retirement and retirement pensioners. I entirely agree that in this matter retirement pensioners are in a different position. With them, the question obviously is whether the retirement is real retirement and whether we still want a pension contingent upon retirement. Questions of that kind arise. They do not arise in the case of widows.

As regards widows, one is doing something entirely different and trying to compensate them for the loss of their husbands' earning power, if one likes to put it that way, the loss of a person in the household who, whether by earnings or otherwise, could, and we hope did, help. That is a quite different matter and one has to apply different considerations.

It is because of the difference between those two types of case, which are dealt with together in the Bill and which the Minister spoke of together, that in our Labour Party proposals on this matter we propose to abolish the earnings rule for widows in benefit, but we do not propose to do so with regard to retirement pensioners. We may have to consider the matter further. For the moment, I am concerned simply with what we have promised and have committed ourselves to.

Turning back to what Professor Titmuss and Miss Spelman said in their minority report, they took the sort of point which I have mentioned and said: The logical solution for the Committee"— that is, the Advisory Committee— would have been to adopt a lower earnings limit for women. But this would be at variance with the whole direction of public policy in equalising rewards for men and women. It is not exactly a reward, but one sees the point. Yet an 'effective' earnings rule devised for men is not at present nor can be in the foreseeable future an 'effective' rule for women", the reason being that their earnings are much lower still on the average, as can be seen from the tables published from time to time by the Ministry of Labour; and the effect of a limit which goes three-fifths of the way up the scale for women and a far lesser measure up the way for men is quite different in the two cases.

The minority report goes on to state that: This unresolved dilemma is partly responsible for driving the Committee further towards a weakening in the earnings rule as an instrument of policy. That is the point that the Advisory Committee took later in the two Reports which I have mentioned.

What is happening is that the earnings limit is becoming ineffective for the kind of purpose for which it was intended when it stood at about one-third of the average women's weekly income. Something else is happening, too, and here again I refer to the minority report, this time at paragraph (5), which states: One representation received by the Committee from an individual put the present problem in these terms: 'The great mischief of this limitation is that nobody understands the reason for it…Elderly women refuse urgently needed work "so as to be on the safe side". Their attitude is, "if we don't earn anything they cannot get us". The general attitude is that it is just another piece of administrative nonsense…. With the proportion that the limit occupies in the earnings rule, this becomes more and more merely a piece of administrative nonsense. The report went on to say: Apart from this, there is evidence to suggest that the present system of rules is accompanied by widespread deceit and evasion. "Widespread" is a general word, but if one looks at the number of prosecutions for non-declaration of earnings by widows, it is alarmingly large. I agree with Professor Titmuss that I am sure the reason for it is that most elderly women, particularly most of the widows whom we are trying to deal with today, simply do not understand this or the reason for it and regard it as fundamentally unfair.

For those reasons, we shall, if we can, take a later opportunity to suggest that this alteration in the limit is not enough and that the time has come, not to run away from the findings or the likely findings of the National Insurance Advisory Committee, but to consider the matter properly and to get rid of the earnings rule for widows. I am not talking of retirement pensioners, who seem to me to be a different matter and for whom there are different reasons.

That is all I have to say about the Bill. It is obvious that we shall have to go into these points, and, perhaps, others, in more detail in Committee. I do, however, point out that although the Bill is quite short, it proposes to do a number of things and that, therefore, there are matters which may fall to be considered in Committee which are not in the Bill at present. I am not on great and grave matters of principle but on items which are important and which certainly should be raised.

One of those matters relates to National Assistance, as does the subsection to which the Minister referred, and that is the effect that the earnings stop arrangements are having, particularly in the case of the 100,000 or, so children who are involved with them. This is not a matter for hasty decision. It might not even be a matter for dealing with in the Bill—we can see—but, clearly, it is something to be considered now that there is such heavy local unemployment as exists in some parts of the country. Indeed, it might well have been considered before.

Taking that as one instance, I turn to two more instances connected with National Insurance. That is the question of averaging earnings, about which there has been hardship and difficulty. I shall not argue it at length now and I suggest it only as something which should at least be referred to the Advisory Committee. It was so mentioned in the Phillips Report in a passage that is quoted at the end of the Advisory Committee's 1956 Report and it was mentioned again in one of the two Reports by the Advisory Committee. The time really has come to look at this question.

One or two other matters are involved, too, but I turn from that to mention one last point that arises under the Industrial Injuries Act, with which the Bill also deals. Under that Act, there is an extremely troublesome and difficult question, and I do not wish to minimise the difficulty of it about old people—for they are that now—who were treated as partially incapacitated under the old Workmen's Compensation Acts. I shall not develop the point; it will be much better done by my hon. Friends who represent mining constituencies, where this is an acute question, including in that respect my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison), who also represents a mining constituency.

The administrative tangle is so dense, and the number of anomalies that will be created if we do anything and the number of anomalies that exist if nothing is done are both so considerable, that many men who have been badly hurt in mining accidents and the like are not getting as much as they should. Shortly, that is because their benefit is related to a scale of earnings from which we have long since moved. I have been at the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, and so have my hon. Friends, about this. I know it is difficult, but it is a case where one must say to the Government, "You have got to do the right thing, even if it is a troublesome thing, and if you are going to bring down the whole pack of cards by doing it—well, it is as good a case in which to do it as is any other." I do not believe it will, particularly after what we were told about the 18 to 19-year-old child. I hope that it will be raised during the debate.

I hope that I have not been talking for too long. I often do, and probably have, but we shall not oppose the Second Reading of the Bill. We think, as I have said, that it does not go far enough, and that there are a number of other points which could conveniently be dealt with in Committee at the same time. We regard it with a certain amount of amusement and scepticism because of its timing so soon before a General Election. I am sure that the hon. Lady will tell us that that has nothing whatever to do with it. Still, we are entitled to form these views after what the Prime Minister said; and there it is.

4.51 p.m.

Captain Walter Elliot (Carshalton)

I have been a Member of the House for only just over three years, but I well recall the succession of improvements which the Government have brought in for pensioners and in the National Assistance scales in general. I have always got two or three letters from individuals saying, of course, that these things were done only because of the approach of a General Election. So it seems that, whenever we do, we shall get these rather carping criticisms that this is for the coming General Election.

I could not follow the arguments by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) about how this Bill was approached, so I will not comment on them, but his argument about the earnings rule seemed to be that, as the exemption became a higher proportion of the average woman's wage, the earnings rule became less and less tenable and, therefore, had to be done away with. It seemed to me that the reverse was the case, because they get nearer and nearer to the top of the scale, and so, if we did away with it, inevitably we should benefit the women earning the most money.

We know that if we did away with it for widows the actual sum of money would not be very great, but surely, if we are prepared to spend that money, it is better spent helping those who need it—for example, by putting up the earnings limit to £8 instead of £7—instead of helping those who do not need it.

I very much sympathise with my right hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench when a Bill of this sort is brought in. Whenever they make concessions, of course, we always want them to do more. I am sure that in their hearts they would like to make such concessions, and the problem would be off their minds and consciences for good, but they have to count the cost, whereas we on the back benches, particularly on the opposite side of the House, are not so inhibited. In the observations I make, or such criticisms if they are criticisms, I certainly to not want to hide the pleasure given me by the Bill to improve the allowances for a very deserving class of people.

I want to look mainly at two points in the Bill. First, is one which was touched on by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Kettering, about the age limit of the child which is to be raised to 19, and I must confess that I agree with him that the raising of the age limit of the child from 18 to 19, welcome as it is, in logic does seem a small amount only and is difficult to sustain. I am sorry it has not been possible for the Government to make a much more radical improvement. The concession made for children being educated full-time or serving apprenticeships presumably is to compensate the parent, at least in many cases, for the fact that those children are not earning any money. To many households this is important. The children not only cannot support themselves but the mother still has to keep the home going for them, and, of course, that does not stop when the children reach the age of 19.

In fact, as the hon. and learned Member said, in the vast majority of cases the child going to university and higher education starts at the age of 19, and certainly, therefore, if the mother needs help with the child up to the age of 19, then she must need it just as much afterwards, if the child is not earning any money to keep the household going. Admittedly, in most cases a grant is made to the student or apprentice, but I do not think that anyone here would argue that he does not need all that to support himself at his establishment of further education.

I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House must have had letters explaining this to them in detail. I do not believe that there is anything left from that grant to maintain the home which must still be kept up by his mother. Logically, therefore, the limit should be raised to the age at which the child completes his education.

We are told in the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum to the Bill that the cost of this concession from 18 to 19, one year, is £1.2 million. So if this were extended for another two or three years and, of course, the proportion of students covered would decrease, the financial burden on the Exchequer, I am sure, would not be very great. I believe that this is a matter which will become increasingly important as time goes on, and I believe that we should give thought to it now. There is pressure to raise the school-leaving age to 16; we have accepted the Robbins Report, whereby every young person, qualified and willing, will be able to get higher education. Both those objectives, I think we all agree, are very desirable. They will be resisted by many because of the loss of earnings to a household and we have got, therefore, to organise our help so that it will overcome that resistance.

Now I should like to look briefly at Clauses 2, 3 and 4 of the Bill, the help given to widowed mothers. I well remember that during the war, when the nation was gradually having its manpower and womanpower fully mobilised, it was done by the late Mr. Ernest Bevin as Minister of Labour very well and very tactfully. Gradually, he went up the scale until he reached the age group of about 50, and when that happened a sort of restless stir went through the nation. The reason was that he was touching the mothers of the nation. I think that we should pay regard to this feeling in considering the mother, we should consider not only the economics.

A report has been recently published called Fatherless Families, and this weekend I read a review of it. I have not read the book, but one sentence in the review struck me. It said this: The fatherless family, whatever its walk in life, is set apart by being poorer, lonelier, worse housed and less secure than other families. As a general proposition that is true, but I hope not entirely true. And such security as a family has is often only achieved by the superhuman efforts of an overworked woman.

The Bill brings additional help, but I am not at all sure that all those who need help are getting it. The official figures that I have show that 148,000 widowed mothers' allowances are being paid. The figures that I saw the other day said that 2½ million widows in this country are looking after 1 million children approximately. Of course, there will be many widows without children, but I calculate that there are at least 500,000 widows with children.

It seems, therefore, that a large number are not covered by the widowed mothers' allowance. No doubt a minority have a reasonably large income and do not need help, but there must be many cases that need help and do not get it. I should be glad if my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary would comment on that when she winds up the debate.

I think that the time has come to look at the position of the widowed mother in an entirely different way. If she is left with a family to bring up, and my figure is correct, about 1 million of the nation's children are concerned. That is a high proportion and it is important that these children are brought up properly without killing the mother by overwork. By the child allowance under the Bill, a mother will get 37s. 6d. for each child per week, about £100 a year. Is that really adequate? I do not think that it is. I see that to keep a child in a children's home cost £9 a week or nearly £470 a year. It is just as well, therefore, that all widows do not send their children to homes; but under the stress and strain of making ends meet perhaps quite a number of children finally go to homes because the mothers break down. It would be good business as well as merciful if that could be avoided.

When a homeless child goes to a foster parent, I am not clear by what criteria the payment is fixed. I understand that it is about 50s. but that it varies. That does not seem to be a great deal to me. The widowed mother gets 37s. 6d. I do not know why there should be that difference—whether the foster parent is considered worthy of a small profit for taking in a child. If so, I do not think that it is a particularly good principle, although, doubtless, foster parents save the local authorities money. In any case, I believe if 50s. is the average amount for a foster parent, the difference between the payment to him or her and that to a widow is too wide.

I certainly would not advocate that the State should accept full responsibility for the maintenance of children, except in special circumstances. I do not believe that that is what most mothers want. Widowed mothers should be relieved of the cracking strain under which so many of them break down. As I said at the beginning, my observations are not meant in any way to detract from my pleasure at seeing the Bill. It is one more Measure to improve the lot of these people which the Government have brought in, and I shall be glad to see it on the Statute Book as soon as possible.

5.5 p.m.

Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)

The Bill introduced by the Minister today makes several improvements in the social services. The Minister occupies a very important position. I consider that the Minister mainly in charge of the National Insurance section of the social services has one of the most important positions in the Ministry. We all know the sympathetic nature of the Minister, and if we put forward these from both sides of the House for improvement in this Bill I am sure that the Minister will give them his sympathetic consideration.

This is a limited Bill to which I give my support, but I wish that it went further in the relaxation of earnings rules. It improves some benefits regarding the children of widowed mothers, but mainly it is a Bill to alter the earnings regulations for the widow, the widowed mothers' allowance and also the retirement pensioner. All are important. The widowed mothers and retirement pensioners are well over 5 million and, therefore, the Bill affects a number of our citizens in some respects.

The points with which I want mainly to deal are related to the earnings rule. Clause 4 alters the earnings rule applying to widowed mother allowances and the widow on retirement pension. The limit of net weekly earnings at which the rule begins to operate is raised from 120s. to 140s. a week in the case of widowed mother allowances and from 85s. to 100s. per week in the case of the widow on retirement pension.

Speaking about the proposed new rule for widows, the Minister stated that he would like to see the benefits go to those in the greatest need. I think we all should. But what I cannot understand is that the pensioner widowed through war or industrial injury has no earnings rule. In respect of a pension from war injuries and industrial injuries, there is no limit on earnings, and the pensioner can earn as much as £10, £15 or £20 a week. Surely if one is consistent in logic and follows the Minister's argument, how can he know the situation of those to whom the earnings rule applies? They might easily be those in the greatest need. All have lost their main breadwinner, the mainstay of their homes. Therefore, if we are logical, the earnings rule should be abolished for all, and I hope that the Minister will give sympathetic consideration to this point.

The earnings rule has always been a sore point with the old-age pensioner or person on retirement. He feels that he is fit and well and that if he chooses voluntarily to continue working, he should not be subject to an earnings rule. The Minister proposes to raise the earnings limit for him from £4 5s. a week, which is small, to £5, which is still a small sum. A boy starting out at 16 can earn £5 a week. Yet the Minister says that the old-age pensioner who wants to continue working and do a full week's work, should not be allowed to earn more than £5 a week.

Sir S. Summers

Surely the hon. Member must acknowledge that it is not an old-age pension. It is a retirement pension, Therefore, the £5 cannot be considered as something which can be earned in the whole of a week. Otherwise the person has not retired.

Mr. Hunter

Shakespeare wrote: …a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. One can call it a retirement pension or an old-age pension. I do not think we want to quarrel on that point. On old-age pensioner who is fit and is doing the same job of work as anyone else at a bench or in a shop or office—and many are employed on non-manual work in offices in the City—feels that he should be allowed to earn the same amount as the other person. As to the argument that this could be a danger to those who are in work, it falls short if one examines it.

I believe that if we limit the old-age pensioner to earnings of £4 5s. or £5 a week, there is a danger that an unfair employer—I do not think there is an enormous number of them—could use it as an excuse for employing cheap labour by saying to the pensioner "We are not allowed to pay you more than £5 a week." This is a sore point with many retirement pensioners, and I hope the Minister will give the matter sympathetic consideration. I do not say that he should relax the rule all at once, but if we could increase the 100s. to 140s., thus making the limit £7 a week, it would be a useful step forward, and would lead on to a gradual relaxation of the earnings rule.

I also want to speak about what is not in the Bill. I want to raise again the case of the 10s. a week widow pensioner. This subject has been raised on a number of occasions, by women's committees and by deputations. Surely it could be dealt with. It would not cost a great deal of money. I understand that there are 87,000 widows receiving the 10s. a week pension. What does 10s. a week amount to today? It amounts to about 3s. in terms of pre-war purchasing power. Since 1948, 16 years ago, the value of that 10s. pension has gone down and down, and it now cannot represent much more than 3s. in terms of the purchasing power pre-war. The Minister ought to take a bold step and bring the 10s. per week, widow pension up to its 1948 purchasing power, which would make it 30s. a week. This would mean adding £1 per week, and as there are only 87,000 of these widows, it would not be an enormous sum.

I hope very much that the Minister will consider the points that I have raised. I said that I wanted to intervene only briefly and mainly to deal with the earnings rule. We recently had a debate about retirement pensions, which is an important matter because the number of retired persons is growing rapidly each year thanks to the better standard of living, better medicine and better science. It is important that their case should be put in this House and that they should not be overlooked in our national life, so that pensions can be raised in line with other standards of living.

5.14 p.m.

Sir Spencer Summers (Aylesbury)

I am sorry that an engagement upstairs prevented me from hearing a good deal of the Minister's speech. I came in just when he was making the child into an adult and still claiming that she remained a child.

I want to take up in connection with the earnings rule the criticism ventilated by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) of the manner in which the Government had handled this situation in that they had decided to increase the limit under the earnings rule without reference to the Advisory Committee. The hon. and learned Member seemed to think that this was somehow an affront to proper constitutional procedure. I think that there are many people who are delighted that the Government having taken a view have decided to govern. What the reference to the Advisory Committee meant was that the power to govern was restricted until such advice as it put forward was presented. In any case, it delayed matters, and it transferred part of the power which ought to rest with the Government of the day.

I find it difficult to understand the criticism when what was done was not criticised in itself. All that was criticised was the manner of doing it. I do not think that people outside this House will be very impressed by that argument, and I hope that the Government will not pay any attention to the criticism made under that heading.

I agree that the earnings rule is one of the most difficult to defend to the public, one that is least understood, partly because—

Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)

Before the hon. Member leaves the comments made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), may I point out how I understood his remarks about the Advisory Committee. It was not so much from the angle of criticism of what was embodied in the Bill. It was, rather, that this had never been done before, that this was a precedent. My hon. and learned Friend's main point was: why has this precedent been established? That is how I understood it.

Sir S. Summers

If the hon. Member and his hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench dislike anything that cannot be sustained by precedent, then we know where we are. We on the Government benches are perfectly prepared to consider change on its merits, and if change of this kind can speed matters up and produce a more sensible answer, then let us have new methods and not rely always on the old ones.

I was saying that this limit on what somebody can earn while still drawing his pension in full is very difficult to explain and is in many cases misunderstood. Part of the reason is the slip which the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) made in referring to old-aged pensioners. He said that there are many old-aged pensioners who are doing jobs which they have done all their lives and they ask why they should not be allowed to earn as much as they like. The answer is quite clear to those who are familiar with these things in this House. It is not an old-age pension at all. It is not related to age beyond the fact that there is a minimum age which one must attain before one is eligible for the pension. It is a retirement pension, and the limit is a test of retirement. We cannot stress too frequently what the meaning of the earnings rule is.

Mr. Charles Curran (Uxbridge)

I agree with my hon. Friend and am glad that he is developing this argument. The principle by which we impose an earnings rule for the pensioner is that the condition on which he gets the pension is that he has retired from regular work. But, as my hon. Friend knows very well, after the pensioner has retired from regular work for five years, the pension is then paid unconditionally. If this principle is a good one, is it not just as good at 65 as it is at 70? What difference in principle can there be in those five years?

Sir S. Summers

That is a diversion, but I will deal with the point because it is not the first time that it has been raised. If people were treated at 65 as the law permits them to be treated at 70, there would be scores of people of 66, 67, 68 and 69 earning very good wages, very often in excess of £20 a week, and, in addition, receiving a pension to only a very small part of which they themselves had subscribed. The bulk of the pension which they receive is provided by other people who have reinforced the fund. They have not had time in their own lives and since the scheme began to contribute personally more than a relatively small part of the pension. It would, in fact, mean that far more pensions would be paid to people who certainly do not need them if earning over £20 a week.

Those arguments do not apply to people over 70 years of age because the number of people who continue to work after the age of 70 and who would, in these circumstances, be entitled, and who are now entitled, to the pension, is relatively small. In most cases it is thought fair to the people coming on to keep others in work beyond the age of 70, so that is in itself a barrier to the situation arising in more than a few isolated cases. But if the age were 65 I think that a dual position would arise, and I can quote many cases where there is no claim in equity to awarding a pension to a man aged 66 which other people have produced.

Mr. Curran

I quite follow my hon. Friend's argument, but would he apply it to the woman who receives the pension at 60 subject to an earnings rule and who at 65 is released from that rule? Does he think that this is a point of principle also?

Sir S. Summers

I think that if the different age for treatment between a man and a woman is fair, I can see no reason why what is good for a man between the age of 65 and 70 should not be good for a woman between the age of 60 and 65. If it is fair in one case, then it is fair in the other.

To come back to my argument, I am delighted that the amount allowed under the earnings rule is to be increased. I would not mind if it were increased a little more. I do not think that I realised until today how much this thinking of where the earnings rule should stop has been dominated by women. I do not mean that in any offensive sense at all. It appears that if we put the amount under the earnings rule too high the retired woman pensioner will be as well off as what has been quoted as the full-time woman. That has had the effect of inducing the Advisory Committee to be very cautious in going along with those who want to see the amount increased.

I think it is rather rough on the men, of whom there are more than there are women, that their earnings should be kept down because of their possible application to women. That is one reason why I am very glad that we have not this afternoon to take into account the caution which has hitherto been exhibited in thinking about this matter. It is high time that men were released from the shackles in comparison with the women's situation and allowed to earn what is more reasonable in the circumstances, even if the effect is to do more than justice to women by the single figure for both sexes.

I now come to the criticism that has been ventilated, that widows have been bracketed in the Bill with retirement pensioners. The Opposition would have them bracketed with widowed mothers. They argue that that is a bad distinction which we shall be asked to alter in Committee. The traditional picture of the widow is that of someone who is old. But it is not always the case that a widow is old. There are, regrettably, a number of widows without children—I am not now talking of the widowed mother—who may be 40 years of age or less. It is the picture of the old person which lends an emotional content to the argument that the widow should be treated more akin to the widowed mother than to the retired pensioner.

The difficult arises that if we take the person of 35 or 40, who is perhaps widowed, and her sister a spinster, and if we have granted the concession which the Government are asked to make to the widow, she will be able, it has been suggested, to earn £7 or £8 without her widow's pension being affected. But her sister will be entirely differently placed. The retired pensioner is, I think, quite a different person from the young lady in that sense.

I do not see how we can draw the line—

Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Under the present regulations and the present legislation a young widow of 35 who had no children would not be in receipt of a pension at all. If she has children who have left school and she has not reached the age of 50, then, again, she would either drop to nothing or to 10s. a week. Therefore, the people with whom we are con- cerned, the widows who are in receipt of pensions, are over 50 years of age.

Sir S. Summers

I will deal with that point. I may in expressing myself have added to the confusion. I do not see why two sisters, one of whom is a widow and the other a spinster, but both elderly, should be treated different as regards earnings if they are entitled to a pension just because one is called a widow and the other a spinster. The law at the moment treats them alike, and I am bound to say that the distinction between the widowed mother is very understandable. But once we draw the line and put the widow in with the widowed mother, then it is impossible not to include the retirement pensioner as well. The logical point at which to draw the line, if a line is to be drawn—and I think it should be—is the widowed mother because to draw it anywhere else would be almost impossible to defend and the whole of the retirement pensioners would have to be included if we drew the line at a further point than we have drawn it at present.

I am very glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister has contrived to bring the effects of this legislation into force as quickly as he announced this afternoon. It is highly commendable that those concerned are able to work out all the administrative details required so that people can have the benefit at Easter. I should like that expression of appreciation to be conveyed to those concerned with the matter.

I want briefly to ventilate a matter which has been a bee in my bonnet for some time and which could have been dealt with in the Bill but which has not been so dealt with. In the schedule of allowances for children on page 2 of the Bill, Clause 2, the amount for the second and third child differs, of course, from the amount payable for the first child, because there is no family allowance for the first child. It is 8s. for the second child and 10s. for the third and subsequent children. It is seldom realised that it costs £70 million a year to pay a family allowance for the second child.

I am not one of those who say that there is so much abuse in the use of family allowances that they ought to be done away with. One frequently hears that argument, but I do not go along with it. I support the proposition that family allowances are a good thing in order that the rate for the job shall prevail in industrial relations without reference to the complicated arguments which could be advanced if there were no family allowances to take care of the larger families.

Lord Beveridge, in suggesting the foundation on which our social services rest, said that there must be a so-called free health service and a family allowance system on which to construct the system that he was recommending. I support that proposition. I believe, however, that it is high time that we rethought the case for spending as much as £70 million a year on the second child. I think that there is something to be said for spending more on the third and subsequent children, because such under-nourishment as there is to be found in this country generally exists in the very large families.

I would have preferred that the family allowance system was altered to cut out the payment for the second child, with the benefits under this Bill correspondingly increased for the second child, and that the money saved should be spent partly on improving the lot of the third and subsequent children and partly on improving the position of old people by stepping up the pension at 70.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

Whilst I appreciate that many arguments could be advanced for discriminating in the payment of family allowances, how can the hon. Gentleman's case be sustained when one-fifth of the children who are in receipt of National Assistance belong to one-child families? I could understand his argument if it were suggested that the poor family in the one child class should benefit from the money saved, but I cannot understand the argument that it should be given, willy-nilly, to the third and fourth children rather than to the second child. It is illogical.

Sir S. Summers

The hon. Gentleman is free to think it illogical, and perhaps I have not made myself plain. But I believe that parents should be told, "You should be capable of bringing up two children without help from anybody". If parents cannot earn a reasonable wage, or if they are casualties of life and do not get help, whatever the system may be they should be enabled to provide for two children without help.

The second child is the wrong place at which to begin help for children. It should be the third child. The hon. Gentleman may not accept this point but I believe that the money would be better spent in other parts of the social services. I would like to see the stepping up of pensions at 70, for instance, but I cannot, of course, develop that now.

My next point is a little complicated to explain, and I hope that I do not confuse or state it wrongly. I am referring to the position of the widow who has taken out her own insurance. She did it when her husband was alive in the belief, she being a career woman, that it would be rather nice to have a higher pension based upon double contributions than a pension based solely on her husband's contributions. I think that I am right in saying that 21s. 6d. is the improvement which comes from dual contributions by people who survive the relevant ages to draw the pension.

I know of a case where joint contributions were made but where the husband died. The question then was whether the wife should continue her contributions—for she was still a career woman. She feared that her employers—she was a teacher—on the assumption that she would draw sickness benefit when ill would reduce her pay. She thought, therefore, "If it is going to be assumed that I will receive sickness benefit I had better receive it. In order to receive it I shall go on paying."

It was pointed out to her, however, that she would get no more pension than if she relied alone now on her husband's contribution. In those circumstances, she thought that she could have her own contributions back. But when she went to the local National Insurance office she was told, "You had a chance to say that you would stop contributions, but because you did not take the opportunity you cannot have them back, at least not without reference to the Minister."

If it is true to say, as I believe it is, that the widow so placed does not, in fact, derive any more benefit from continuing payments after her husband's death, she should have the right—less sickness benefit received—to recover her contributions, for otherwise money has been taken into the pool from her from which she will derive no special benefit.

This is a small point in a very complex subject, and I hope that I have made it plain. I welcome the Bill very much and apologise if I took rather longer than I intended.

5.36 p.m.

Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Aylesbury (Sir S. Summers) need apologise for the length of his speech. I thought that it was rather brief. I was glad to hear him agree with the progress being maintained on the relaxation of the earnings rule, because I join with him in that view.

However, the hon. Gentleman was a little unreasonable—no doubt unintentionally—towards my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). I did not conclude from what my hon. and learned Friend said that he considered that precedent should stand in the way of improvement. I understood him to mean that he was not sorry that the Minister had taken this step without even going to the Advisory Committee. I understood my hon. and learned Friend to wonder, however, why this unprecedented step had been taken now. We may all draw our conclusions and may reach different opinions. I hope, however, that precedents will never stand in the way of improvement and progress.

On more than one occasion I have referred to what I regard as an industrial disease, Dupuytren's contracture. I shall not dilate on how it happens, or the treatment for it, for that is not my purpose now. I ask the right hon. Gentleman, as I have frequently asked his predecessors, to refer this disease to the National Insurance Industrial Injuries Advisory Committee. But I would be delighted if the Minister, without even going to the Committee, were to say that he is prepared to prescribe it as an industrial disease.

The Minister made two very important pronouncements. He thought that the age of 19 was about right. I do not want to enter into the complexities my hon. and learned Friend spoke about—when a child becomes an adult and an adult ceases to be so and becomes a child. What impressed me most was his suggestion—and I hope that the Minister will think about this for the future—that as this break with what is regarded as the established age of 18 had been made, for these purposes age should be measured not by the calendar, but by the length of full-time instruction at school. Although the Minister has made his pronouncement about raising the age from 18 to 19, I hope that he will reconsider what measuring rod should be used for the recognition of dependency.

The Bill's benefits are limited, but the Bill raises many major issues about National Insurance, widows, widowed mothers, the earnings rule and retirement pensions. Necessarily in a Bill of this kind, it also deals with the financial implications of National Insurance and the Industrial Injuries Scheme. However limited and short it may be, it also has something to say about the disregards of the National Assistance Board. These are big issues and I have been pleased that the debate has ranged widely and I hope that it will continue to do so.

My welcome for the Bill's proposals is reserved only because they do not go far enough, particularly in connection with the earnings rule. The reason, I believe, is that the Bill has been hurriedly prepared. I have read and re-read the Queen's Speech at the opening of the Session, but I have been unable to find any reference to any legislation of this kind. The Bill is an afterthought. There is not a word in the Queen's Speech or in speeches on the Address from Government spokesmen about anything being done for present or future beneficiaries under National Insurance and the Industrial Injuries Scheme.

Our reasoning why this should have been the case must be by process of deduction. We have had a new Minister, and I am delighted to see him in this job. We also have a new Prime Minister. Those are two facts and the third, as sure as I am standing here, is that sometime this year we shall have a General Election. With those circumstances in mind, it is my belief that the tempo of Government thinking has been increased and that, instead of the pace of the tortoise, they have now taken unto themselves the pace of the greyhound.

Mr. Percy Browne (Torrington)

The hon. Member cannot be allowed to get away with this. I have been in the House for 4½ years and there has been a National Insurance Bill every year since I came here. There have been National Assistance increases on at least two or three occasions, but to my recollection only once has this been mentioned in the Queen's Speech.

Mr. Taylor

I do not think that that is correct. The usual procedure with major legislation like this is that it is mentioned in the Queen's Speech. This is a departure from precedent, another example for the hon. Member for Aylesbury.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Robert Grimston)

Order. I think that we had better get back rather more closely to the Bill.

Mr. Taylor

This business began on 10th December with the announcement of the proposals which are now the basis of the Bill. There was another departure from precedent because the announcement came not from the Minister, but from the Prime Minister. He said: Since I became Prime Minister I have myself been looking into this question"— of pensions and allowances, and I am very pleased about that— and the representations that have been made particularly as regards widows."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th December, 1963; Vol. 686, c. 220.] The operative phrase is, "Since I became Prime Minister". It was only six weeks since the Prime Minister had formed a Government in very difficult circumstances. He had had to fight a by-election campaign. It is no wonder, in those circumstances, that today we have this limited Bill.

I am still unable to divorce the coming General Election from the Bill. The cost to the Exchequer will be modest. I believe that the Bill has been introduced in the hope that it will appeal to many people and be an example of what has become the Prime Minister's slogan about the modernisation of Britain.

However, irrespective of the motives which have prompted it, and although it is restricted and not all that one would wish, it is a step in the right direction of bringing needed assistance to widowed mothers and widows and in some sense to some retirement pensioners. I will not say any more about the raising of the age of 19. I welcome this proposal, but I hope that it is not the end. I also welcome the increase to be given in respect of children. That, too, is a matter on which the Minister should be congratulated.

I want to make a few observations on Clause 3, which raises the question of National Assistance disregards. The Clause says that the increases for children will be disregarded with a ceiling of 30s. To take an example which may seem extreme, suppose there is a family with six children. The first two would get an increase of 7s. 6d. and the remaining four would have an increase to 5s. each. Those figures, added together, exceed the ceiling of 30s. When the Parliamentary Secretary replies, I ask her to say whether that excess above the 30s. is to be taken into account when an application is made by a widow for supplementation. I take it that that is so, but I should like to be clear about it.

I say nothing about the earnings rule except that I welcome the increase of £1 for the widowed mother and 15s. for widows and retirement pensioners. I reiterate what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering said. Our policy on these matters respecting widows and widowed mothers, if we become the Government at the next General Election, will be to do away with the earnings rule.

I want to say a word or two about categories of widows not mentioned in the Bill, the 10s. widow under National Insurance and the 20s. widow under the Industrial Injuries Scheme. My hon. and learned. Friend the Member for Kettering mentioned the 10s. widows, but I want to make an appeal to the Minister. Since 1948 these two categories have had no increase at all. Although we hear much about the 10s. widow, the 20s. widows—I assume because they are smaller in number—seem to be forgotten. I hope the Minister will take into consideration the case of the 20s. widow.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering mentioned partial compensation cases. I shall not go into details, because they have been repeated by my hon. Friends and myself on many occasions, and are well known to the Department, which knows the number affected. It is known that by no stretch of the imagination will these people ever be able in their post-accident employment to reach the two-thirds maximum. They are deprived, not only in some cases of any compensation, while others have very limited amounts, but also of the supplements given in 1961 and 1963.

We have a new Minister whom we know as a humane man. We know that he has great sympathy with the disabled. I appeal to him to look at this matter, as his predecessors did. The partial compensation cases are of people who can never hope to reach the two-thirds difference between pre-accident and post-accident earnings. The situation for many of them, particularly in the mining areas, is a source of frustration and bitterness. I am sure that something could be done, and I am convinced that something should be done for them.

5.55 p.m.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

I wish to add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Minister for bringing in this Bill. It has some very satisfactory features, although, of course, we could add to them. I am delighted that he has acted so speedily. The proposals in the Bill will be widely welcomed, not only by hon. Members and by the people affected, but also, because I know very strong representations have been made to the Minister and his predecessor, by the National Council of Women and other organisations which keep a close watch on matters of this kind.

I regret that the earnings rule in respect of widowed mothers is not to be dropped altogether, but, having been in this House of Commons for a very long time, I realise that we have to move step by step, whatever Government are in power. As a general rule it takes 10 years to win a battle, so I assume that we have made some progress and that in years to come we may see the earnings rule in respect of widowed mothers dropped entirely.

I listened with great interest to the comments made by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). I always listen to him with great interest because I know he has great knowledge. As a rule, unfortunately, I know only too well that my knowledge will not match his. I like to listen to those who have expert views on any matters. Very rarely, as an ordinary back bencher, am I able to sense a weakness in the case put forward, as was the situation on this occasion.

On the question of extension of the age from 18 to 19, the hon. and learned Member made great play about some letters sent by an hon. Member representing one of the Middlesbrough constituencies. He must be aware after his years in the House that points of view expressed by correspondence and speeches have probably been expressed before the arrival of a new hon. Member. I shall try not to be too obvious in what I am trying to do, but the original idea of extending the age from 18 to 19 was put forward a considerable time ago. No doubt other hon. Members had some representations made to them. One came to me from a constituent. It did not go as far as the Bill goes, and I am grateful that the Bill has gone further. However, the case which I argued for my constituent related to the problem of widowed mothers with children at school who had already qualified for a university place which was not available because of the shortage of university places.

When boys or girls reached the age of 18 and qualified for entry to university, the widowed mother's allowance ceased and, at the same time, the full implications of the earnings rule was applied to the widowed mother. Therefore, the home circumstances worsened, which certainly could not be regarded as satisfactory from the young people's point of view or, particularly, from the widowed mother's point of view.

When my right hon. Friend examined the position, it was found that it was not simple, which is not an infrequent occurrence concerning legislation. It is now proposed in the Bill to raise the age from 18 to 19 in several cases, and I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for having covered the point. The widowed mother who put the point to me—and it was the first time that it had been raised with me—is absolutely delighted that in her representations about widowed mothers she has had some effect on Parliamentary legislation, although, as she has pointed out, it takes so long to deal with these matters that her son is now, I am glad to say, at university.

The hon. and learned Member for Kettering seemed to thing that either the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West (Dr. Bray) or other Members of the Opposition had moved the Government in the direction of this Bill. The hon. and learned Member is always very pleasant and he gave way to me twice, and I could not help pointing out that there are hon. Members on this side who can, and do, argue behind the scenes with the Government. I am very glad to say that Conservative women Members have carried on a pretty heavy battle with the appropriate Ministers for a very long time on this subject, long before there was talk about a General Election. I am sorry that, perhaps, I have upset hon. Members opposite about that.

My hon. Friends and I asked the former Prime Minister if he would have an inquiry made into the whole situation as it affected widows. If I may say so with respect, I think that women know a little more about widows' problems than men. I am not such a feminist that I often indulge in saying things about women in the House, but I think that, on the whole, in matters of this kind women understand a little more easily and more readily women's problems. My hon. Friends and I tried very hard to persuade the former Prime Minister that widows were in certain difficulties. I very much regret that we were unable to examine whether it would be wiser to reduce the age of 50 because the real problem of a widow over the age of, say, 30 is that if she has to go back into full-time employment after the loss of her husband it is much more difficult for her to do so if she has been out of employment for some time.

This is something which depends on the part of the country in which the widow lives. In my part, the North-East Coast, there is very little work for women. In other parts, like the textile areas, it is very much easier for women to get back into employment. My hon. Friends and I felt very strongly that this was the sort of thing on which people who were able to contribute expert evidence should be heard. I say with very great regret that the former Prime Minister did not feel inclined to in- stitute an inquiry. Therefore, unfortunately, we had to take various deputations to my right hon. Friend's predecessor, but we were unable to win our case. Hon. Members opposite might sometimes give a little credit to hon. Members on this side who have responsibilities for their constituents in exactly the same way as they have. However, that is by the way.

Having had our request for an inquiry turned down, and being a rather pugnacious and militant back-bench Member, I decided that I would see how I got on with the former Prime Minister. I have known him very well for many years. When he was a back bencher he was more militant than I am. Before the House rose for the Summer Recess I sought an interview with him. It was very satisfactory because I had the opportunity of adding to his knowledge about widows which I thought was lacking. He was very courteous and kind and said that he thought that I was being very moderate, which was an unusual thing for a Minister of the Crown to say. The result of the interview was that he would look into the matters which I had raised. I thought that I had got a very long way.

Then my right hon. Friend resigned his position and the new Prime Minister took office. The hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor) seemed to think that this idea was thought up by the new Prime Minister, but the former Prime Minister gave an undertaking to me before the House rose for the Summer Recess that he would make a statement within two months of the date on which I raised the matter. The next thing which happened was that, as soon as the new Prime Minister took office, I wrote to him and drew his attention to the undertaking which had been given by his predecessor. We had an amusing exchange in the House on the matter of the assignation. I have also known the present Prime Minister for a very long time. He is a man who keeps his promises.

It is a very good thing for back-bench Members to know the Prime Minister. Because I know him I am not inhibited in the way that I address him. Therefore, quite recently, I was asked if I would go to see my right hon. Friend at No. 10, Downing Street. When I went we discussed this whole question. Being a very vigorous and active Prime Minister, he is perhaps a little annoyed, like many of us, about the length of time that it takes to get things done, and he got in touch with my right hon. Friend the Minister and my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. Incidentally, it is a very good thing to have a woman in the Ministry. I have always been delighted with the co-operation which I and my colleagues have had from my hon. Friend. We have an enthusiastic and very competent team at the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. With the enthusiasm of the Prime Minister, the Bill has been produced in a very short time.

I hate to destroy the build-up of right hon. and hon. Members opposite, but they were barking up the wrong tree. I could hardly wait to get on my legs to say so.

Mr. Mitchison

We are wolves!

Dame Irene Ward

There are wolves and wolves. I am not sure that I would not rather have a few wolves on this side than all the wolves on the Labour benches.

That is the story of the Bill. For the record, I should like to say that, in the main, the general public is inclined to be cynical about what back-bench Members can achieve. However, occasionally—not very often—back-bench Members can get quite a lot done. Of course, the Bill was not referred to in the Gracious Speech. It might interest hon. Members opposite to know that my right hon. Friend's predecessor wrote a letter saying that he was not sure whether there would be time for it to be put into the Gracious Speech. I have been long enough in the House to know that some things go into the Gracious Speech and some do not. Then something crops up, or representations become effective, and action follows on something else. It is a lot of nonsense to talk about there not being time, if there is the will on the Government Front Bench to do it.

When the 10s. widow becomes entitled to her 10s., would it not be possible to let her have a document setting out the whole circumstances and history of the 10s. widow? I do not think that it is known that these widows have an advantage over other widows. I send to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary every letter of complaint that I get. The Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance is a very competent Department, which must cost a great deal of money to maintain. I believe in getting all the details set out for me, instead of my doing it and having to pay a secretary. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for the magnificent way in which she deals with these matters. It would be helpful if in such cases the history of how the 10s. arose was pointed out. I shall not argue the merits of the case, but they could have come within the terms of the inquiry which the former Prime Minister turned down.

I want to raise one financial point. There are so many anomalies that the inquiry which we wanted—after all, women are much more practical about detail than men—would have been very helpful. Last year I asked my right hon. Friend the Secretary to the Treasury: what was the cost of a retirement pension to a married woman contributing in her own right under the present Act reaching the age of 60 years on 1st June, 1964, and subject to full Income Tax relief in respect of National Insurance contributions; and what was the cost in similar circumstances to a widow who has not been subject to Income Tax and has been unable to claim relief in respect of National Insurance contributions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd May, 1963; Vol. 676, c. 136–7.] I will not give the Answer in detail, but I have had it worked out. A married woman earning and paying the full rate of Income Tax also receives graduated pensions under the new scheme. She gets her pension, on the basis of this Answer, for the payment of £114, whereas the widow who does not have the benefit of graduated pensions, who is exempt because she is at a lower rate of earnings, has paid a total of £120 when her pension becomes due.

I cannot think that this is fair to the widow or, indeed, to the spinster. I am always battling about these things. In case right hon. and hon. Members opposite think they fight all the battles, I would point out that this was their arrangement when they introduced their Measure. It is worth remembering that, as it is worth remembering that they created the 10s. widow. I have repeatedly asked why there should be this treatment of someone who is in the lower category of earnings and has not the advantages which married women have. Married women have substantial advantages which were created during the war to attract married women into the war effort, not that they needed much attracting. The fact remains that lower-paid workers—whether they are men, widows or spinsters—have to pay more for their pensions than people who earn incomes which attract Income Tax relief.

I know all the arguments. One argument is that at some time or other tax is paid and that puts it on an equal basis. It does not, because masses of people having paid Income Tax when they retire fall into the category of not paying tax at all because of the reliefs given from Income Tax. Widows, spinsters and lower-paid workers are in the unfortunate position of paying more for their pensions than others. When my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary was at the Bar, I understand that she specialised in Income Tax. This matter merits her special consideration.

I have made my point and when my hon. Friend winds up I hope that she will chop the heads off hon. Members opposite for not recognising the work which is done on this side of the House. I have very much pleasure in supporting the Bill. I thank my right hon. Friend for introducing it.

6.18 p.m.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

I am sure that the whole House is grateful for the historic review of the Bill given by the hon. Lady the Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward). She is, as ever, in fashion, for we on this side of the House are now accustomed to the recital of manoeuvres, intrigues and pressure groups that are constantly at work amongst the Conservatives.

In saying that I do not wish to detract in any way from the hon. Lady's value as a back bencher, but I hope that she will forgive some of us on this side who believe that the doors she found opening to her were opened to some extent, if not to a large extent, by the imminence of a General Election.

I have carefully followed the arguments which have been advanced this afternoon, especially that advanced by the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot), who made a very bold bid to assess the number of fatherless children in this country. He referred later in his speech to a review which he had read of the extraordinarily erudite and revealing book by Margaret Wynn, Fatherless Families. If he had had the opportunity, as I have but evidently he has not, of reading the book, he would have found that in the book there was a very careful attempt to assess the number.

Margaret Wynn comes to the conclusion, in her book, that 785,000 children are brought up in this country without fathers. A third of them are fatherless through death, while the others are fatherless through divorce, separation, or illegitimacy. The plight of these children is clearly reflected in the fact that half of the children who receive National Assistance are children of fatherless families—180,000 of them.

These figures, and the fact that a third of the 785,000 fatherless children are fatherless through divorce, separation or illegitimacy, reveal, among other things, the considerable risks of marriage. Widowhood apart, between 7 per cent. and 8 per cent. of marriages today are terminated by divorce. Sir George Cold stream recently told the Estimates Committee that he anticipated that in the coming year there would be 42,000 cases of domestic proceedings before magistrates.

Lord Beveridge fully understood the consequences of marriage breakdown. He made it clear in his Report that he wanted a social security plan which would put a premium, as it were, on marriage, rather than a penalty. He stressed at the time, though, lamentably, this has been overlooked, that he wanted a housewife's insurance policy. If more attention had been given to this over the years and less to expounding an excessively romantic view of marriage—if we did not have the pressures from, perhaps, advertising; and, in many cases, women's magazines seeming to embroider the concept of a romantic marriage—and more attention was paid to reality, we would realise how necessary it still is, as it was at the time of the publication of the Beveridge Report, to have some form of insurance against marriage breakdown, particularly for the sake of the children.

It is clear that even since the publication of the Beveridge Report the risk to the children of marriages generally is now greater. People marry younger and live longer and, therefore, marriages are exposed to risk for a greater time. The result of this gap—a gap which Beveridge wanted to fill—is that we now have within our insurance system a wide open door, which means that the child of a broken marriage is exposed to extraordinary risks.

Such a child is insured under our National Insurance scheme against the sickness of his father and unemployment, and is partially insured against the death of this father, although I will elaborate on this shortly. However, he is utterly uninsured against the loss of his father by desertion, separation or divorce. There are, in fact, 455,000 children who are fatherless as a result of divorce or separation as against 260,000 fatherless through death.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

Will the hon. Member include in the same category the 30,000 illegitimate children?

Mr. Abse

I have to some degree already mentioned them, but I will return to that point.

When a woman quits her single state and takes up work as a housewife she exposes herself to far more hazards than if she decides to work in a factory. The State insists on her having insurance cover against the risk of industrial accident, but gives her no adequate cover against the serious danger which she must and does suffer in marriage resulting from divorce or desertion. The State gives her only partial cover in widowhood.

Failing such insurance cover, one is left with some desperately unsatisfied needs on the part of the children made fatherless by divorce and a legislative patchwork replete with anomalies—anomalies which make it clear that we distinguish at present in the most bizarre fashion among the children made fatherless through death.

I listened carefully to the Minister when he explained a particularly complicated Clause in the Bill. I know that he will not consider that I am being disrespectful when I say that, almost with a relish, he complicated the already complicated and indicated that he was well aware of the meaning of the Clause, although many hon. Members are not aware of its meaning. It is unhealthy, when giving insurance cover for disabilities of the kind hon. Members generally have in mind, that the elucidation of this insurance cover should be so esoteric that it can be understood by only a few.

This is an unfortunate attitude to take. The whole aim should be to make it simple. One should not take an almost obsessional delight in being able to complicate the matter. It is to some degree, because of such attitudes that we have today so many lamentable anomalies when a child finds himself fatherless.

Although hon. Members have been speaking about widows and old-age pensioners, I want to speak, as already will be apparent, about children, because I believe that that is the approach one should have. It is lamentable, in my view, to find that how far a child will benefit from his father's insurance upon the child finding himself fatherless depends on the answers to questions which are very far indeed removed from the hapless child's needs. It will depend on whether his parents had been married and living together in the family. Were they married and separated? If separated, was it a permanent or temporary separation? Had the father been divorced from the mother? Did the deceased father maintain his wife and child or did he not?

Were the parents not married and as a result—and this answers the query of the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock)—was the child illegitimate? Where and with whom was the child living when the father died? Was he with the unmarried father and mother, was he with a mother and stepfather or was he living with his mother who had never married?

Again, the amount the child will benefit will be dependent upon how his father died; whether from an industrial accident or an industrial disease. Did he die from other causes, or was the father a soldier or airman? If so, what was his rank?

This is the first occasion on which I have spoken in a debate on National Insurance during the five years in which I have been in this House and I confess that my interest has been focused on these anomalies because of my Act, which brought some reform into divorce law. That measure focused my attention on some of the hazards to the children of broken marriages. Perhaps I can illustrate how children's needs are being ignored and other criteria substituted by this example. If married parents separate before the death of the father, the child and his mother receive the same National Insurance benefit on the father's death as if he had never left them. They are still his wife and children, and it is irrelevant whether or not he was supporting them, but if the father dies from industrial injury, the whole facts of separation and support become relevant.

The privilege under the industrial Injuries Act whereby the mother receives higher benefit for the child, and has no earnings rule, is barred if permanent separation from the father takes place before death and the father had not supported the children.

Therefore, the level of benefit for the fatherless child depends on whether the father had been willing to support his family as well as upon the manner of the father's death. If the man had been a bad father, and had not treated his children properly, there is the ludicrous position that the State also treats the child badly—he has to suffer twice.

Again, the child who is fatherless because of the divorce of his parents cannot have industrial death benefit claimed for him, as I understand it. All the mother can do is to apply for a child's special allowance, but she ceases to get this if she remarries—unlike the fatherless child whose widowed mother remarries, when the industrial death benefit may be reduced, but would not cease. In short, the child who has lost his father, first by divorce and then by death, is discriminated against by the State as compared with the child who has had the one misfortune of losing his father by death.

To revert now to the position—

Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)

Is it not correct to say that it does not matter whether the wife has been separated from her husband by death or otherwise? These widows and their children can get a better economic income from the National Assistance Board than can the sick, the unemployed, or the injured.

Mr. Abse

More is the shame, if that is so, though I doubt it. But if the Beveridge suggestion of insurance cover for the housewife were implemented, the woman would get the benefit, as she should, as of right, and not have to go begging to the Assistance Board.

Let me turn to the position of the illegitimate child. A child who is spurned by his putative father is also spurned subsequently by the State, since an unmarried mother on her own who has been receiving maintenance under an affiliation order cannot receive any benefit if the child's father dies—again, the child has to suffer twice. Again, a man's own legitimate child may not receive benefit when the man dies because the insurance cover received by a legitimate child upon his father's death does not depend upon the child's need but upon where his mother is. If the child had been abandoned by the mother, who deserted the home on his father's death, that child—who clearly is a widowed mother's child, even though fatherless by death and motherless by desertion—cannot receive the widowed mother's child allowance, because the regulation insists that the child allowance can only be paid in with that of the widowed mother's. There is, apparently, no procedure by which the child's allowance can be transferred to whoever is looking after the child.

I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary, with her experience at the Bar, will realise that the following case is not so uncommon. It is the case of the father having sole care of his own children because of separation or divorce, and who is, as a result, living with another woman who is not free to marry him. What happens within such a family unit on the father's death? The legitimate children will receive nothing because the absent mother is absent, not dead. For the younger children in such a group, who would be illegitimate, the mother would receive nothing under the National Insurance Acts, but if, perchance, the father had died as a result of industrial accident she would receive something, but less than would be received for a legitimate child—as I understand it, 7s. 6d. less.

There are some families in which, when the breadwinner dies, some of the children receive benefits and some do not, and there are other families in which some of the children receive the full rate and others a lower rate of benefit. What the children receive depends on the marital history of the parents and, in addition, quite ridiculously, on the order in time in which the marital events take place. Such complexities are clearly due to this piecemeal legislation, of which this Bill is just another part.

Children in similar economic circumstances should receive the same support on the death of the father. If we are concerned with children, what we have to use as a yardstick is the children's need; we should not concern ourselves with all this paraphernalia which is so replete with all these types of anomaly. In Australia and New Zealand, and, to some extent, in Denmark, where children are insured against desertion and failure to support, as well as against death, these problems do not arise. Margaret Wynn, in the book I have just mentioned, puts forward the very interesting suggestion, which I hope will be considered, of a fatherless child allowance. It is time that a proper yardstick was found so that such an allowance could be paid to every fatherless child.

Are there not problems enough for the fatherless child, without poverty being added? The fatherless child is under-protected and under-supervised. All who know anything of the problem appreciate how these children are prone to live in inadequate accommodation, and how they have to suffer disruptions, such as repeated changes of home. Are not their problems already enough? When I took my child to school this morning before coming to the House, I saw another child coming from a nearby children's home. Even though the other child is undoubtedly well looked after, one could realise just by looking at the two children how the child without a father is at a sufficiently severe disadvantage without having poverty added to all his other disabilities.

I cannot understand how we can take an approach other than that of trying to relieve the strain on the mother in order to enable her to give more emotionally, because a widowed mother needs to give more, and her child needs to receive more, not less, than the child of two parents. I cannot understand why, amongst other things it has been suggested, as it is in this Bill, that 37s. 6d. is sufficient for a fully-grown son, wearing man-sized clothes but who, being yet a boy, will undoubtedly subject his clothes to all the rumbustious activity of a healthy youngster. I should not like to keep a child, who is already entering his teens, on 37s. 6d. a week.

These are the children of widows who, by the time widowhood has come to them, have very often already completely depleted their savings. In very many cases, death results to the father after a long period of illness, during which the family have scraped the savings barrel until there is literally nothing left when death comes, and there is no question of dipping into anything. Many are left to support their children on the bare allowance, which it is now proposed should be 37s. 6d. A survey made by the Bristol Social Studies Department has revealed how often all the savings are used up before the death of the husband after a long illness. We should, too, begin to relate the earnings rule to the children within a family, so that a widow has the right to earn, say, an additional £2 for each child without deduction. The whole present emphasis seems to be extraordinary. It is the child, all the time, we should be looking at.

Why should a widow with an unearned income obtain the full advantage of her husband's contribution—because a widow's pension is payable to her, whatever may be her income—while the widowed mother who seeks to support her family by working for £12 a week as a shorthand typist receives nothing? What possible justification can there be for putting the widow with an unearned income in a better position than the mother who is trying to keep the home together and give her children a respectable standard of life by going out to work?

I do not think that there is any moral justification for such a state of affairs. Why should the child of a mother whose husband has been killed at work find that he is better off than the child whose father was killed outside the factory gates? We should think of the child and not of the contributions and the regulations. Why should the children of 10,000 widowed mothers receive reduced benefits because of a shortage of contributions on the husband's card, and why should the same earnings rule be applied to these mothers when, obviously, there is need for these mothers to earn more money than the mothers who are on full pension? Is this not an extraordinary anomaly?

Why should the weekly disregard of 30s. fall upon the mother of six children as on the mother of one child? We hear of voluntary societies who find themselves in an extraordinarily embarrassing position because their social workers tell them that a family of six is in need of a great deal yet they dare not and cannot effectively give them more than to a home where there is only one child. Why should the voluntary societies be placed in this intolerable position of being unable effectively to act, even though there is a will to act, because of this anomaly in the disregard rule?

Reference has been made in the debate to the amount paid to foster mothers and it has been rightly pointed out that the foster parent was receiving today on average about 10s. a week more than the amount provided in this Bill. I was recently at a conference of the Association of Foster Parents, which I had the privilege of opening. I heard enough there to know that although there are many grievances among foster parents they certainly do not put among those grievances first and foremost the fact that the remuneration is inadequate for a job which often involves taking in a difficult problem child from a disturbed home and looking after the child seven days and seven nights.

These, incidentally, are foster parents who do not have any National Insurance contributions paid for them. They know, however, that the amount paid to them is inadequate. Undoubtedly, this is one of a number of reasons why two out of five of the placements of children who go to foster parents break down. This is a scandalous figure, because it means that the children are circulated from one home to another, accumulating problems with them as they move. This, as I have said, occurs to some extent because of the small amount that the foster parents receive, and yet it is at least 10s. more than the amount about which we are indulging in such laudatory attitudes in connection with this Bill. The amount which the foster parent is receiving is inadequate and yet we condemn the child of widow to receiving less than that amount.

One of the consequences of our attitude towards the fatherless is that we pay £13 per head per week for 4,000 young people detained each year in penal institutions. The widow needs a great deal of moral and psychological support from the community but we should at least give her sufficient financial support. It is because we fail to do this that so many families of widows break down and the community is compelled to pay an average of £9 10s. a week to keep a child in a local authority voluntary home.

The great Jewish prophet Malachi gave a warning in the words: …and I will be a swift witness against…those that oppress…the widow, and the fatherless… Our choked juvenile courts reveal our failure to heed that prophet's warning.

6.45 p.m.

Mr. Charles Curran (Uxbridge)

Like the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), I have been reading Margaret Wynn's Fatherless Families. I agree that the accumulation of anomalies in that book is most impressive and is something which we cannot continue to ignore in our legislation. This Bill, as far as it goes, is a good Bill. It makes a substantial improvement in the conditions of widows, widowed mothers and retirement pensioners. It would be very ungracious for anyone speaking in this debate not to make it perfectly plain how warmly he appreciates the Government's action in introducing the Bill and providing these benefits. They are urgently needed and, I am sure, will be very much welcomed by those who receive them.

I am sure that the widows and pensioners who will benefit from the Bill will have no time for the sort of electioneering stuff we had from the other side of the House on when it was decided to do this and for what reason. I should have thought that in the House we, could take for granted on both sides that, whatever our differences of approach, we are equally concerned to help those who need help. I therefore decline to see any purpose in making party points about the motives behind the Bill.

We must face it that the Bill is probably the last piece of legislation that will be introduced in this Parliament to deal with the persons who benefit from it. It brings us to the end of a cul-de-sac along which we have been proceeding since the end of the war, a cul-de-sac along which the Tory Party has been proceeding ever since 1951. When we took office we took over the welfare legislation which the Labour Party had left behind it. We have concerned ourselves ever since to seek to improve it, to humanise it, to increase the benefits and to reduce the restrictions.

All this has been very necessary and very welcome, but the Bill now confronts us with the basic question of how far we are to continue to legislate for widows and pensioners on the assumptions of 1945 to 1951. The anomalies to which the hon. Member for Pontypool drew attention are real, but they do not occur by accident or in a vacuum. They are the product of assumptions which we made between 1945 and 1951 in legislating about welfare benefits.

Let us consider, for instance, how it comes about that we have an earnings rule at all. We built the Welfare State on the assumption that benefits should be provided as a substitute for earnings: that benefits should be given to people because they could not earn: and that the benefits should be large enough for them to live on without supplementation—in other words subsistence benefits. This assumption has turned out to be completely fictitious. The benefits never have been sufficient for subsistence and I do not believe that it is practicable to increase them to the point where they would provide subsistence. I think that the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) would agree with me.

It would not be financially practicable, within the present structure, to raise the retirement pension to the point at which none of the recipients would need to seek National Assistance. The hon. Lady made that point, if I may say so, with great cogency when she spoke at the Labour Party Conference at Scarborough. Very courageously, she said that it was not practical to talk about raising the pension all round so as to take all recipients who now go for National Assistance off the National Assistance need level.

The other side of the story also came out in that debate at Scarborough, as the hon. Lady will recall. The reason for the earnings rule was spot-lit there in a dramatic fashion. The hon. Lady was followed by Mr. Harry Nicholas, the party treasurer, who is assistant general-secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, speaking on behalf of the party's National Executive. Mr. Nicholas spoke in very blunt English indeed about the reasons why the unions wanted the earnings rule. We listen to all sorts of criticisms now from the other side of the House about the earnings rule. I am glad to hear them. But let us not forget that the earnings rules were built into the Welfare State by the Labour Government in 1946 at the bidding of the unions. The Labour Party sticks to the earnings rule for pensioners, and it was very interesting to hear Mr. Nicholas, the trade union mouthpiece, making it as plain as words could make it that the unions were in favour of the earnings rule for pensioners now.

I have with me the official report of the Conference and I will quote one phrase from Mr. Nicholas's speech. His words are reported in full from page 236 onwards. On page 240, at the end of his speech explaining why the Labour Party supports the earnings rule for pensioners, we read what Mr. Nicholas had to say about the reasons why. This is part of what he said: …because without the rule the pension could be a permanent subsidy to wages, which in turn can be depressed by the employers". There we have the root of the matter. The Labour Party, at the bidding of the unions, clapped the earnings rule upon retirement pensioners because of the fear that, without the rule, pensioners would take the money and go into the labour market and take on jobs for less than trade union rates.

I will do the hon. Lady the justice of saying that I think that, privately. perhaps, she might take the same view as I take about the absurdity of the earnings rule for pensioners. She did not speak on the matter at Scarborough, but I was watching her attentively—not that it is any hardship to watch the hon. Lady; on the contrary—and I must say that her face as she listened to Mr. Nicholas, the trade union boss, defending the earnings rule was much more eloquent than Mr. Nicholas's tongue.

Miss Herbison

I was a member of the working party which produced the document. Mr. Nicholas was winding up the debate, and he did an excellent job. He was putting forward not the policy of Mr. Nicholas, not the policy of the trade union movement, but the policy which had been decided by the Labour Party and put to conference. I was at that stage in agreement with what Mr. Nicholas was saying, as I shall be if I have the opportunity to speak from this Box tonight.

Mr. Curran

Agreed, but the point about Mr. Nicholas's speech was that here was a trade union official, a senior official of, I suppose, the principal trade union in this country, asserting in thoroughly downright fashion that the trade unions are still in favour of the earnings rule and that the Labour Party is still in favour of it as it applies to retirement pensioners.

When considering the origin of the rule, we should keep that in mind, and we should ask ourselves these questions. Does this trade union fear make sense? Is it true that, if there were no earnings rule, pensioners would take the money and then go into the labour market, offering to work on the cheap at cut rates? I do not believe that for a moment. I believe that the dream which seems to haunt the sleep of trade union chiefs that, if the rule were removed, there would be a phantom army of pensioners marching to work, offering to take jobs at cut rates, is no more than a bogey. It is utterly wrong for the Labour Party or for any trade union spokesman to argue that, without the earnings rule, wage rates would be endangered by pensioners. If the trade unions cannot protect wage rates without picking the pockets of pensioners, they should be ashamed of themselves. I, for one, decline completely to accept the assertion that the earnings rule is necessary, in the interest of the trade unions, to protect wage rates. Yet this was the genesis of the matter. The rule was put there at the beginning because of this trade union fear, and it is still defended, even now, by reference to the same argument.

I said that the earnings rule, which derives from this trade union fear, is based upon the fiction, for fiction it is, that the benefits are sufficient to provide subsistence. They are not. This is the reason why they have to be supplemented. It is also one reason why the rule is so unpopular, among widows, widowed mothers and pensioners.

One reason for its wide unpopularity, of course, is that the rule applies only to earnings not to incomes. It is possibe for someone—whether widow, widowed mother or pensioner—to be penalised by the rule because he or she earns money, whereas, if the income were unearned, there would be no penalty whatever. I regard it as extraordinary, and I am sure that the ordinary citizen regards it as extraordinary, that there should be this differential bias against people who earn and in favour of those who do not. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad that I am carrying the Labour Party with me on this, but it should not be forgotten that it was the Labour Government who created the rules. They were its parents, and if the Labour Party now wishes to commit infanticide, I should be glad to know.

Miss Herbison


Mr. Curran

It was the Labour Party that put it there in the first place. Let us not run away from that. The rule did not come into existence as a result of some supernatural act; it was put there by the Labour Party.

The earnings rule is, indeed, unpopular, as we are told, and one reason for its unpopularity is that, to the ordinary citizen, it does not make sense because it presses very harshly upon people who go out to work and it does not press at all upon such widows who have inherited money, perhaps, from their husbands, and who do not need to go out to work; they can draw the pension in full.

Although the Bill, as far as it goes, is to be welcomed, no attempt is made by it—perhaps it would not be reasonable to ask the Minister to do so—to face the basic question: What sort of policy should this country adopt towards widows? As the hon. Member for Pontypool pointed out, we have always legislated for widows piecemeal. We have passed one Act to give benefits to one kind of widow, and then we have passed another to give benefits to a different kind of widow. So we have gone on, until we have created a positive labyrinth of rules governing different kinds of payments to different kinds of widows.

In the book Fatherless Families, facing page 40, there is a chart which sets out in detail the insurance benefits paid to widowed mothers. This chart shows that there are no fewer than nine different categories of widowed mothers, each of whom draws a different kind of benefit on a different basis. One of the objectives of a sensible social policy in this country should be to make this chart unnecessary. I do not believe that any ordinary citizen can possibly pick her way through this administrative jungle, yet it is this jungle which governs the payments to widows of one kind or another.

I do not want to repeat what has been said about the ways in which these anomalies display themselves. I merely point out that the existence of these anomalies causes, quite rightly and naturally, a very great deal of bitterness in this country. We pay pensions to widows and widowed mothers by asking from what did the husband die; in what circumstances did he die? I suggest that the basic question which we should ask when making payments to widowed mothers is what do we give money to widowed mothers for? We give them money to enable them to bring up their children. The needs and appetites of a widowed mother's children do not vary because of the way in which their father died. The children of a man run over by a bus need just as much to eat, drink and wear as the children of a man killed at work. Yet we discriminate quite irrationally between one kind of widow with a family and another.

As hon. Members have said, this leads to a sense of injustice, and I think that it is a perfectly justifiable sense of injustice. After all, if we are to give benefits to widows so that they may bring up their children, we should give them the money and not put any restrictions on it. We should leave the widowed mother to decide for herself how she shall spend it. If she chooses to stay at home, that is her affair. If she chooses to take money and supplement it by getting a job, that is equally her affair. I cannot see that the State has the smallest right to concern itself with what she does. But I agree that under the structure built up in the post-war years the State does interfere, and I concede that we cannot change the rules until we change the structure.

This is the point that I should like to emphasise to the Government. I believe that we should re-examine our basic assumptions about pensioners and widows. I believe that we should ask ourselves questions such as the question which Beveridge answered in one way but which many women will answer in a different way, namely, whether widowhood as such should qualify the widow for benefit. Beveridge laid it down—and in post-war legislation we have followed Beveridge—that widowhood as such should not create a claim for benefit, that it should do so only if the widow is either looking after dependent children or is so old that it is improbable that she could stand on her own feet in the labour market.

The assumption that widowhood as such does not create a claim for benefit is not, as far as I can tell, shared by a great many women in this country. I do not want to generalise about them, but from my experience and correspondence and interviews with my constituents and all the other ways in which we who sit here are made aware of what people think, it has been borne in on me that for the ordinary woman getting married is a career and the loss of her husband is to her analogous to the loss of his job by a man. The loss is all the more serious if she is left with dependent children to support.

We need to re-examine our Welfare State assumptions, starting with the question: what shall be the policy of the State towards widowhood and towards the widow left with dependent children? There is a case for saying that the State should pay a fatherless children's allowance to all fatherless children without asking in what circumstances they became fatherless. A great deal could be urged in favour of this, but it is part of the larger question of on what basis we should run the Welfare State.

I do not believe we can cope with this question simply by criticising or debating the kind of Bill which has been brought before the House about once a year since I came here which amends one or another part of our welfare legislation. I think that the matter needs radical review. I agree that we cannot do that this side of the General Election, but we have been patching and cobbling for years, and I do not believe that we can do much more patching and cobbling.

When the election is over and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister returns to his seat on the Front Bench, as I am quite sure he will, I hope very much that one of his first acts will be to send a magisterial memorandum to his Cabinet calling on it to make a radical review of the basic assumptions on which we conduct the Welfare State. Until we do that, we shall continue to be plagued with the anomalies and absurdities which are created by the piecemeal legislation in which we have been dabbling for the last decade and a half.

7.6 p.m.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)

I listened with great attention to the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran). I have listened to him on several occasions, and I am quite delighted by some of the things that he says. Sometimes, however, he says things with which I disagree. His suggestion that the gamut of social insurance should be examined is correct.

The hon. Member was looking to the future through, I thought, very dark glasses, because he hoped that the Prime Minister would be Prime Minister after the General Election. He knows full well that that will not be so, but I do not mind the hon. Member hoping. We shall probably put some of the things which he suggests into operation. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, when he becomes Prime Minister, and my right hon. and hon. Friends, will look into this matter with the intention of reorganising it in its entirety.

I welcome certain parts of the Bill. It recognises that we are not playing fair with the widows. Every time a piecemeal Measure is brought forward further anomalies are created. It is these anomalies which cause a good deal of unrest among the recipients of benefit under the social insurance legislation.

When a woman, unfortunately, loses her husband, whether by illness or accident, obviously a great void comes into her life. If she has children she has greater responsibility, which probably adds a greater burden to the grief from which she is suffering. The children themselves, unless they are very young, find out what it means to be without a father. I do not think that we appreciate the effect of inadequate insurance schemes on a widow and her children. Some people think that money replaces everything which matters. I do not think that that is so. I think that we should be thinking more about helping a widow and her fatherless children over the first few months of widowhood.

I remember staying with some people in a seaside resort. Although the lady of the house was middle-aged, the grief which she showed every time that she mentioned the name of her husband made me realise what widowhood was. She used to say, "He went out and never came back". He was knocked down by a bus and was killed and the amount of benefit that his widow derived under the National Insurance scheme was very small. But even the money which she received as a widow was little recompense for the loss which she had suffered from her life. I believe that we do not look into this problem with the seriousness that we should.

When we think of the widow who is trying to bring up two or three children upon the existing benefits, we must compare her position financially with that of the ordinary family in which the father is earning a decent wage. Consider, for example, the widow who has been accustomed to an income of about £20 a week. She may have two children. Probably the home is being built up, certain commitments have been undertaken and payments are due. Then, the husband does not come back, but the widow has to try to live the same kind of life as before. It is almost an utter impossibility for her to do so.

The impact of the loss of her husband, and upon the children of the loss of their father, is something that cannot be measured in terms of money. I suggest that we could have a committee examining this problem with greater seriousness than is now the case. The question of the first few months is extremely important until the widow settles down to the life which she will have to lead without her husband and with the children to look after.

What usually happens is that eventually the widow has to go out to work. She desires to help her children to be educated, but she can do very little with the amount of benefit which she receives unless she supplements it by earnings at work. Therefore, she has to take employment. Unfortunately, a good many widows have never been trained to do anything except housework. They have no profession to which they can turn.

As a nation, we fail in not doing more in the training of young widows. This might necessitate supplementing their income to have somebody to look after their children during the time they are being trained in a profession. Probably the nation itself is losing, because many of these women have the ability to be trained but were not fortunate enough to have the opportunity before marriage. Therefore, we should do more about this.

As time goes on, the home becomes shabbier. There is never money to spare for refurnishing. This has an effect on the children when they go to school and talk to their friends. Often, they cannot bring them home because the home has deteriorated, and they feel this deeply. These are the kind of comparisons that we must appreciate in these matters. Therefore, even the increased amount of benefit which is to be provided by the Bill is vastly insufficient. We must do more than we are doing now.

There is to be an increase to 37s. 6d. in the allowance for keeping a boy of the age of 15 or more who is growing into manhood, who probably requires as much clothing as a man and certainly eats as much food. If, as may be likely, the boy is rumbustious at play and does not, perhaps, care sufficiently for his clothes, the cost of his clothing will be equal to that of an adult. Therefore, we should consider increasing the amount of money as he becomes older.

There is another point about raising from 18 to 19 the age for allowance for a young person who is undergoing full-time education or apprenticeship. I smiled when the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) took a good deal of the credit for this improvement. Even though the hon. Lady is not now present, I will say something about her remarks, although this is probably to her credit.

It is quite true that the back benchers on the Government side can have an effect on the Government. I hope that every group of back benchers can, on occasion, exercise the sort of pressure that makes their Government jump into line. Obviously, if the back benchers on both the Government and the Opposition sides joined forces, the Government would undoubtedly have to take notice, and each of us would help the other in achieving some further advance. The raising of the age for allowances from 18 to 19 for the children of widows is essential. Many young people remain at school for further education until their nineteenth year. There is, however, something that I hope the Minister will consider, because this is important, especially for widows.

The boy or girl who is fatherless may get the opportunity to go to university, and often it can happen that in the first or second year the student fails in his or her examination. The failure may be only slight, however, and the university offers the place to the student if he comes back the following year. Unfortunately, the education authorities will not make a grant towards the student at university and this means that the opportunity is lost.

The boy or girl in question is, perhaps, still affected by the loss of his or her parent. We should look more kindly on this aspect and should extend the benefits to the boy or girl whenever they are in full-time education, because the few shillings extra that could be granted in such a case might help the widow if she is working to enable her son or daughter to continue at the university. I know that the figure is only small and probably, in most cases, would not be sufficient, but I hope that the Minister will note this suggestion and try to extend the age from 19 indefinitely while full-time education is being undertaken.

I want to say something about the Industrial Injuries Scheme and workmen's compensation. There are, unfortunately, a good many anomalies in the comparison between men who were injured or wounded during the war and men who have been similarly affected in industry. I agree that anybody who suffered disablement as a result of his efforts in war needs, perhaps, greater consideration than those who have suffered disablement in industry. The war is now receding further away from us, however, and on many occasions there are certain comparisons in which the disparity is too great.

Although I do not want to go into all the details, one in particular of which I should like the Minister to take note concerns the single-seater vehicle which is provided for a paraplegic, whereas the 100 per cent. war disabled obtain a two-seater motor car. I hope that the Government will consider this distinction which exists throughout the country, and not only in the mining areas, from which come most of the industrially disabled and most of those in this category who suffer intensely.

I was speaking only the other day to a paraplegic who had been for a trip in his one-seater car, and who stopped in a lane at ten o'clock at night, and, unfortunately, nobody came past and he was there until two o'clock in the morning. I know of another case of a man on the Pennines;he was there all night. That was last winter, in the very serious weather which we had then. Obviously, these people, though they have to travel in a one-seater car, will go. We ought to be more willing than we are at present to supply them each with a two-seater car so that they can have some enjoyment in their lives in spite of their great disabilities. I hope that the Minister will consider that.

Briefly, because I know that some of my hon. Friends want to speak, I should like to say something about the men injured in industry between 1924 and 1948—the forgotten number. I think that there are about 16,000 at present—probably fewer—men who were injured during the depression period and who are now suffering from their injuries, but who have not received a penny, probably, since the termination of the war or even the beginning of the war, and some never at all, because of the fact that their wages now are the same as they were before their accidents.

Consider a man who has a leg off below the knee and has a 5-inch stump; the measurement is a 5-inch stump. He would normally be able to claim 46 per cent., about 46s. at present, adding the civil pension rate. Unfortunately, because that man is getting wages now higher than he did at that period he does not get any benefit whatsoever. These people at present feel very sour against not just the Government, but the House of Commons, because they have never been recognised.

Take a man who lost an eye. I know several men who have lost an eye. If a man loses an eye completely and it is taken out he gets 47 per cent. disability pension under the Industrial Injuries Scheme.

During the present period men working two or three days a week and who suffered an accident have not had a penny piece for it even though they have lost a tremendous amount in wages. But for their accidents they might be earning £20 or £25 a week. Because they do not take contract work, but are on day wages since their accidents, they do not get a penny partial compensation.

I know that if the Labour Party had continued as the Government these men would have been brought into the scheme, or, at any rate, some payment would have been made to them. I press the Minister to consider this. I hope that the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary will pass on to him what are not only my wishes, but the wishes of all my hon. Friends: we want these people to be recognised. I hope that further consideration will be given to them and that the Minister will do something about it.

In the whole ambit of National Insurance we may differ about certain matters, and may try to score party points, but we must be humane. At no time should we allow the differences between us on these issues to prevent benefits from going to those who deserve them and who are looking to us for a decent income so that in this affluent society of ours they, too, can live a decent life.

It is for this House, no matter who is the Government, to look after our unfortunate fellow citizens who have not been quite as lucky as we should like them to have been. I hope that the Government will consider these things and do whatever is possible.

7.25 p.m.

Mr. Percy Browne (Torrington)

I should like, if I may, initially to congratulate my right hon. Friend on the introduction of this Bill. Whether it was prompted by my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) or by the forthcoming General Election or by whatever reason, it seems to me to be one of those Bills which usually, on average, come about once a year.

As other hon. Members on both sides of the House have pointed out, we try to increase benefits piecemeal for pensioners and others. I agree with those who say that there are far too many anomalies in our present system. I remember saying in the House in a pensions debate about two years ago that I felt that possibly a Royal Commission was the only way in which to arrive at simplifying the present system. For example, there are, I believe, at the moment 70 different rates of pension being paid in this country. It seems a fantastic number.

While this is so, let me, with a certain hesitation, suggest that we have got an organisation of sterling worth in the National Assistance Board, which is there for those who need it as of right for their use, and which is most humanely administered. Till we can correct these anomalies, it takes care of all those who fall between the stools which we in this House have put up for them.

The hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) made an extremely interesting speech and rightly stressed the position of children. I think his speech impressed many hon. Members who heard it, since he pointed out that really a child was best off if it had no father, and was a child who still had a mother and whose father had been killed as a result of an industrial injury. This really brought home to us the anomalies of which everybody has been speaking.

Since we are discussing a piecemeal Bill, I would take up a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran). I thought he asked one or two pertinent questions, but I am not perfectly certain that he got the right answers to them in what he said subsequently. He and I have discussed the earnings rule before. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that if the Conservative Party thought the earnings rule wrong it could have repealed that regulation during the past 12 years. That, I think, is by the way.

What the Minister said this afternoon was that he had some people saying to him, on the one hand, "You must concentrate help where it is most needed," and, on the other, "We must abolish the earnings rule, which is selective." I myself think that the Minister and his Department have over the past years, certainly since I have been in this House, been moving in the direction which must result in the abolishing of the earnings rule altogether before we are much older.

We started with an increase from 60s. to 70s. in 1960 and we have now got up to 100s. for a widow or retirement pensioner. We arrived in 1961 at the situation where we had to change the hours rule, which is applicable to the earnings rule, because then it had become complete nonsense. At the moment, because we are increasing the amount which is disregarded, I believe that we shall shortly have to come to the conclusion that the only sensible thing is to abolish the earnings rule altogether.

We keep hearing—and even in 1959 to 1960 we were given the same figure—that it would cost £100 million a year if we were to abolish the earnings rule, yet we have increased the disregards since and we are still told today that it would cost £100 million. That is an arbitrary figure, probably produced by somebody in the Ministry of Pensions some time in the mid 1950s and used by every Minister at the Dispatch Box ever since. I should like to know from my hon. Friend whether she can guarantee that this is a correct figure today. I am sure that she will hedge round it, but I hope that she will give an answer.

Mr. Curran

Could I persuade my hon. Friend to take one step further? We have been told ad nauseam that it costs £100 million a year to remove the earnings rule from pensioners, but no one has told us what it would cost to remove the earnings rule from widows and widowed mothers, which might be quite a different figure.

Mr. Browne

I would not want to ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary any other question than what it would cost to remove it from widowed mothers. I do not believe that it would be right to remove the earnings rule for widows as opposed to spinsters or other retired pensioners. I do not think that they should be placed in a different category if they have arrived at that time of life. I want to come back to another category in a moment. So far as the earnings rule at the age of 60 for widows or any other kind of pensioner is concerned, I think they should be treated the same.

One thing which I think should be attempted, although I appreciate the administrative difficulties, would be to average out the pension of the retirement pensioner who is still working during the time he works. This was mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). It affects my part of the country in particular. I have corresponded with the Minister about it, but I am told, understandably, that this is impossible when men and women move about. If someone stays in the same place and works seasonally—we have differences in my constituency of unemployment levels of 2 per cent. in the summer and 5.5 per cent. in the winter so one appreciates that there is a lot of seasonal work—it would be a great help if the average could be worked out for the year.

Another question concerning widows' pensions, which was also touched on by the hon. and learned Member for Kettering, is the difference in pension between the woman widowed when over the age of 50, and whose late husband has contributed so that she should draw a widow's pension, and the widow widowed earlier in life who now gets only 10s. I have always defended, and shall continue to defend, the Conservative Government's determination that the 10s. widow's pension is a hangover which the Labour Government had not the courage to get rid of in 1946 when they introduced the present legislation. Rather than increase this pension, I would prefer that any money which is available should be used to enable the woman who is widowed after the age of 40 to draw the widow's pension at the age of 50 instead of 60.

I take the point which hon. Members have made that it is in many parts extremely difficult for the widow who may not initially have been trained in any particular skill. Possibly she has been working behind the counter of a shop, is married at the age of 20, becomes a grandmother, is widowed at the age of 40 or 45 and can find no form of employment. At the moment she is given through the widow's benefit a very limited time in which to adjust herself to a new life—13 weeks. Quite often she goes tick and that is one way of enabling her not to contribute and to have a little longer in which to adjust herself. I think that the contribution should not be doubled for husband and wife—in this case for the widow and her late husband—and that this pension should be available at 50.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge raised a number of questions, but he did not touch on the problem, which other hon. Members have mentioned, of disregards and the change made in the child allowance in this Bill under Clause 3. It would presumably be out of order to talk at length about this but I have always felt that income disregards should be raised considerably above the present level of 30s., for the reason that if we wish to encourage thrift it is wrong to penalise in their old age those who have been thrifty.

As my hon. Friend said, this is likely to be the last debate on this subject before the General Election. I hope that it may not from my point of view, as I am not coming back. But there are questions which hon. Members on both sides of the House must ask themselves in the future when dealing with pensions and the Welfare State.

These are questions which have been raised by same of us on this side of the House since 1960 and pinpointed by the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) in July, 1962, when he asked if we could continue to give a pension sufficient for the needs of pensioners today. The answer was "No". Should it therefore be selective? If it is to be selective, how should it be selective? This is the thorniest problem of all. Another problem is, should National Assistance rates go up by an equal amount when National Insurance rates go up to keep the differential.

At the moment, National Assistance rates go up when the Assistance Board considers that that should happen, although presumably the Treasury have to find the money and the Minister has to make the final decision about whether the increase shall take place. We all know that pensioners find that when the National Insurance rates go up the difference between the National Insurance and the National Assistance rates decreases, and this causes resentment. However much we may try to explain how it happens, it causes resentment. One understands that these people are no worse than they were previously, but they think they ought to be better off, which I think is what is intended.

Are the National Assistance disregards right as they are? Do widows' increments, which we discussed in a Bill in 1961 or 1962, make sense? Why should the widow lose so many of her husband's increments if she is more than 15 years younger than her husband was? Finally, is the earnings rule, as it is today, making sense? Are we coming to the end of the earnings rule?

These are some of the many questions which have to be decided by whatever Government is in power. It is ridiculous to say that one should take pensions out of politics, any more than one can say that one could take farm income out of politics, simply because it is the Government of the day who have to find the money and ensure that the money is worth something. Because I believe that the Conservative Government have ensured that the pensioner's money has been worth something, I am certain that the Conservative Government will be returned to power and will ensure that that money is worth more in future.

7.50 p.m.

Mr. Harry Gourlay (Kirkcaldy Burghs)

The hon. Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne) said that the Conservative Government have made sure that the pensioner's money is worth something. I remind him that the £, worth 20s. when his Government took over in 1951, is now worth only 13s. 9d. according to the Chancellor of the Exchequer's latest figures.

Mr. P. Browne

I said that the pensioner's money was worth something. In fact, in real value it is now worth one-third more than in 1951.

Mr. Gourlay

I will deal with that point later. I have some specific figures with which I may be able to challenge the hon. Member's views.

The hon. Member said that he expected that a future Tory Government might abolish the earnings rule because of the progression which had been going on in the past few years. I believe that his hopes may well be realised in the future, but certainly not by a Conservative Government.

The hon. Member spoke of the 10s. widow pension as being a hangover because of the lack of courage of the Labour Government of 1945–1951. If he would read some of the speeches made then by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), he would see that my right hon. Friend specifically stated on more than one occasion that what he was seeking to do was to safeguard the rights of the 10s. pensioner.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran) made a good point in connection with the differentiation between income and earnings when dealing with the earnings rule. This is another example of where the manual worker usually suffers in this type of inquisition. I also agree that the cause of the husband's death should not be the reason for a difference in the amount of benefit paid to the widow, which was the point made by the hon. Member for Uxbridge.

Earlier, the hon. and gallant Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) said that back benchers on both sides of the House were prone to suggest improvements in the way of social security benefits and that we on the back benches were not inhibited to the same extent as the Government, who have to count the cost. But there are many occasions when the Government do not seem to be inhibited at all about counting the cost. I have in mind some of the gross miscalculations in the spending on Blue Streak and other nuclear missiles.

I do not suggest for a moment that we on this side of the House are not concerned about the defence of the country, but we are at least very careful about the way the money is spent on certain items of defence. Another example is that at a time when the Government felt unable to increase nurses' pay they saw fit to give about £80 million as recompense to surtax payers.

The Bill brings benefit to a number of people who are in need—to the extent of about £6½ million a year—and for that reason we must to some extent welcome it. But the time is long overdue for a Bill to alleviate the hardship which exists among pensioners despite the fact that the Minister of Pensions, in a reply to me only a few weeks ago, stated that in his opinion the pensioners were thoroughly well satisfied because the pension now stood at a higher level than since 1945.

The fact is that in 1946 the pension for a single person was 26s. It is now 67s 6d. But in terms of 1945 prices it is now worth only 36s., representing an increase of a mere 10s. over that long period, which is very small when we consider the degree of affluence which the Conservative Government are supposed to have helped us attain. This to some extent answers the point made by the hon. Member for Torrington.

When he comes to the Dispatch Box at Question Time, the Minister appears to be quite complacent about the fact that 1½ million pensioners require national assistance supplementation. Improvements contained in the Bill have been urgent for a long time. They now appear as one of the many carrots which the Government are dangling before the electors prior to seeking their support once again.

Not long ago the change in definition of a "child" was regarded by the Minister as unnecessary and impracticable. But now at this point in time, the Minister has suddenly decided that it is an essential and worthwhile improvement to raise the age of a "child" from 18 to 19 in respect of benefits to be received under several Acts of Parliament.

Two years ago I had a case of this kind where the daughter of a widow became 18 years of age in the month of January. She was in her final year at school and intended to go to a training college to become a teacher. But in the month when the girl had her eighteenth birthday—there was no other change in the family circumstances—her mother's income was considerably reduced by the loss of the family allowance in respect of the child and a reduction in the mother's earning limit.

As a result of the reduction in the mother's income, the girl was going to be obliged to leave school, which would have meant that another teacher would have been lost to the profession in Scotland, a profession which is already grossly in short supply. However, thanks to the rector of the school and members and officials of the education authority, some special financial assistance was organised which enabled the girl to remain at school and complete her education.

In the light of the Minister's remarks today, it is interesting to look at the reply which I received from the Parliamentary Secretary when I raised the case with her. Her reply, dated 14th February, 1962, said: The normal age limit up to which children can be included is 15, the upper limit of the compulsory school age, but children who remain at school or are apprentices after that age can now, as a result of a change made in 1956, be included up to 18… The letter goes on: This is not to say, of course, that the State has no interest in helping to maintain children over 18: but if we are to help them we first must look more closely at the reason for their continued dependence on their family. This means that where help is needed to enable a young person over 18 to continue her education, it is to the educational authorities that one should look for it.…These authorities know the educational considerations involved, and can assess the young person's needs and cater for them more effectively than is possible under a comprehensive and universal national scheme of social security payments. So we have in the Bill a complete reversal of what was decided policy by the Minister only two years ago. In fact, it is possible that education grants could have been available to the girl in this instance, but they would certainly have fallen much short of the reduction in income which the widowed mother was to suffer.

While one welcomes this belated repentance, there is no doubt that the desire for popularity before a General Election is the primary reason for the sudden conversion and not so much the pressure which the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) claims she has brought to bear on the Minister in the past two years.

The increase in the earnings rule is also welcome. But why should the Government not remove the earnings rule altogether in respect of widows in the same way as it is done in the case of widows in receipt of industrial injuries pensions and war pensions? We understand from the Bill that the relaxation of the earnings rule for widows will cost about £1.2 million per year and that in respect of retirement pensions about £500,000. I suggest that there is a very good case for removing the earnings rule, particularly for widows. I understand that the removal of this earnings limitation would cost about £10 million a year. Perhaps, in her reply, the Parliamentary Secretary will correct that figure if it is wrong.

I now come to the question of the 10s. widows. These people are treated as the Cinderellas of all pensioners. Certainly, all those widows who have the misfortune to hear themselves described as being a "hangover" from previous legislation will be horrified by the attitude adopted by the hon. Member for Torrington. This pension was first introduced in 1936. The least that any benevolent Government, even before a General Election, should do is to give that pension the same purchasing power that it had then. This would mean raising it to about 30s. It is the intention of the next Labour Government to do so.

Clause 3 requires the National Assistance Board to disregard increases in allowances for the children of widowed mothers and I fully support this. But why did not the Minister take the opportunity to tackle a number of other anomalies in the administration of National Assistance? I refer particularly to the "wages stop" as it is operated. I am sure that most hon. Members realise that this operates extremely harshly, particularly in Scotland because of the low wages of unskilled workers there. Most hon. Members will have seen in The People last Sunday the report about a Scottish worker who, previously, earned £16 to £18 a week. Because of ill-health he had to leave that job and his earning capacity in his new work was about £11 to £12 a week. Subsequently, he was forced to give up work altogether.

The result is that he is now suffering tremendously as a result of the wages stop because he has not been able to get the benefit of the last two increases given to National Assistance. There is surely something wrong here and this is one of the urgent problems that one would have expected a benevolent Government to deal with.

While the Bill seeks to improve the financial position of as mall number of pensioners it still leaves a great deal to be desired and there will be great disappointment among many pensioners who will receive no additional benefit. The Government, however, will soon be judged on their record. It is a miserable one on social security and the electorate will demonstrate their dissatisfaction.

Since 1951, the Government have increased the contributions to the National Insurance Fund by employers and employees together by about £575 million a year while the Exchequer contribution to the fund has fallen from 26 per cent. to 16 per cent. Those figures were given in the House on 9th December last. If the Government had accepted their financial commitments they would have given a substantial increase to all retirement pensioners. The inadequacy of our social security benefits is clearly demonstrated when one compares them with average earnings and with the benefits in other countries.

While I do not seek to oppose the Bill I certainly regret that its proposals are not more far-reaching.

7.54 p.m.

Mr. Philip Holland (Acton)

I do not share the disappointment of the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Gourlay) with the Bill. Unlike a number of other hon. Members on both sides of the House, I do not see it as another piecemeal Measure but as an excellent precedent for the future. It deals almost exclusively with a single category of insurance beneficiaries—the widowed mothers—at least to the extent that about five-sevenths of the total cost of this Measure is devoted to improving the widowed mothers' incomes.

My right hon. Friend has thus broken the hitherto established pattern of the across-the-board general increases once every two-and-a-half years to three years for all beneficiaries. The pattern has been broken both as regards magnitude and frequency, since the widowed mothers' children's allowances were given preferential treatment in the general increases that came into force only last May. In the circumstances, it cannot be claimed that these new increases are overdue. They cannot be overdue if the last increase was only in May.

I believe that my right hon. Friend is right to take the more flexible view that individual categories in which hardship may be more prevalent than in others should be reviewed from time to time independently and should be given special treatment. I hope that he will follow the precedent he has set by looking at other hardship categories such as, for example, the 350,000 people who have been drawing sickness benefit for more than six months. I understand, according to non-departmental arithmetic, that a 10s. increase in the basic single rate and an appropriate increase in the double rate would work out in total at about £11½ million.

My right hon. Friend might also, in reviewing other categories on a future occasion, look at the possibility of an increase for the 1,787,000 pensioners over the age of 75. At that age they are beginning to be more in need than when they first retired, when they had a certain legacy of clothes and other things to help get through the early years.

Clause 3 is a particularly welcome innovation in enabling the widowed mothers in greatest need, who are drawing assistance, to receive the full increases in children's allowances without any deduction from their National Assistance supplementary benefit. I am not aware of any previous occasion when this provision has been incorporated in a National Insurance Bill. Its appearance here reflects great credit on my right hon. Friend's sensitivity to these problems and his imaginative approach in solving them.

The question of the earnings rule is, as we have heard from both sides of the House, a complicated one and one on which different people of all parties have different views. But I think that to abolish it altogether for one category would make its abolition for all categories rather difficult to resist. A point not greatly stressed by my right hon. Friend, and not mentioned since, is that the total abolition of the rule for all beneficiaries would deny people the right to defer retirement for up to five years in order to earn a possible additional 30s. a week in increments to be added to the pension. Indeed, I have the impression that it would also deprive about 2 million pensioners of the increments they have earned already, which averaged out at about 8s. 9d. per person per week in 1962.

I believe that my right hon. Friend has tried to strike a balance between relaxation and abolition of the rule for widowed mothers, who are not concerned with the possibility of earning increments It is right that he has relaxed their position as much as possible without breaching the principle of the earnings rule sufficiently to have a repercussion on the rule as it applies to pensioners.

The relaxation which is now taking place in Clause 4, coupled with the improvement effected in the 1963 Act, reduces the impact of the earnings rule on widowed mothers to what I would regard as negligible proportions. I will explain that by taking the case of the widowed mother with three young children. She will now receive total allowances and benefits of £9 a week. She will be able to be in receipt of a total income, composed of benefits and earnings, earnings after allowable deductions for the care of the children and fares to and from work and so on, of £16 a week without any diminution of benefit.

When her net earnings reach £8 a week, she loses 10s. of her £9 benefit, 6d. in the shilling and after that shilling for shilling, but only until her earnings reach £9 11s. 6d., when her benefits have been reduced to £6 18s. 6d. a week. Therefore, the earnings rule for the widowed mother, for whom it is less important than it is for the pensioner, will apply only to earnings between £7 and £9 11s. 6d. a week. It will not apply to earnings less than £7 and not to the remaining £6 18s. 6d. for the widowed mother with three children earning above £9 11s. 6d. The impact of the rule is therefore limited and does not apply on today's values to most of the range of part-time earnings until they reach the maximum. It applies only in the early stages of full-time earnings. That is what I mean when I say that its impact is probably fairly negligible under the provision of the Bill added to those of the 1963 Act.

By concentrating the increases in benefits on the children's allowances, my right hon. Friend has greatly reinforced his direct easing of the earnings rule, because children's allowances are not subject to it. The relaxation of the earnings rule for pensioners from £4 5s. to £5 is probably merely an acknowledgement of the general trend of part-time earnings, which are gradually rising, so that it is right that from time to time that the earnings limit for pensioners should rise in line with the general trend of earnings. The Bill recognises that, but the necessity for it underlines the difficulty which might be found in attempting the abolition of the rule for one category of beneficiary only, because clearly it was felt necessary in the relaxation of the rule for the widowed mother that something should also be done for the pensioner. The abolition of the rule would have the same impact.

Altogether, the Bill sets two very useful precedents. The first is by its nature and its timing and the second is in Clause 3, by which the widowed mother in the greatest need gets the full benefit of the increase without any loss of National Assistance. My right hon. Friend is to be warmly congratulated on introducing it so soon after he has moved to his new Ministry and I think that this is a good augury for his success in an appointment which I expect him to hold with distinction for a very long time to come.

8.3 p.m.

Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)

I have waited a long time, from the beginning to nearly the end of the debate, and I have several comments to make. One concerns the widow of 40 who is not allowed a pension if her children are no longer dependent on her.

Between 1954 and 1956, I agitated for the reduction of the age at which a widow could claim a pension. I wanted it reduced from 50 to 40. During that time, I had a remarkable experience. The Conservative Party apparently wanted to do something about it, having been influenced by my questions and various orations, and to my surprise intimated to me that it was prepared to make the reduction and said that I would receive Government support if I moved such a proposal. Rather oddly, I met some difficulty when I told my Labour colleagues what the position was. Some influential Labour Members said that they would decidedly support it, but shortly afterwards I found that they had been influenced by other Labour Members and that I could not get support. I ultimately succeeded in getting a Labour Member to support me and without much difficulty or discussion, the age was reduced from 50 to 40.

Two or three years later, for some reason or other, perhaps it was becoming too expensive, or it may have been a political reason, the Conservative Party decided that the age should be raised and should again be 50. I did not find much opposition to that proposal. I have always tried to help widows and in debates on this subject I have argued the case for increasing their standing and benefits under the National Insurance Acts. At the same time, for a few years I have felt that politicians were too sentimental in their attitude to widows, concentrating too much on the political argument and forgetting the existence of other beneficiaries.

I was surprised to find that this Bill benefited widowed mothers and their children, but I was also very satisfied. For years, in the Press and in the House, I have made plain my attitude towards National Insurance and I have always said that at the least the scheme should give more benefit than National Assistance. The Bill now implements that ideal and in future the widowed mother will have a good deal more than National Assistance. She will have been cleared of National Assistance.

I want to make a comparison to see what is the difference in regard to widowed mothers under the Bill and sick and unemployed people in regard to National Assistance. There is nothing in the Bill to help unemployed or sick people. There is not one section of the community under National Insurance which gets a standard benefit equal to National Assistance. The standard benefit for practically all classes under National Insurance is below National Assistance level. The National Insurance Scheme should have a system of benefits whereby practically all men and women who are unemployed or ill have an amount at least equal to National Assistance, including rent. In fact, they should have more.

The Labour Party, under its new proposals, is guaranteeing that beneficiaries on National Insurance will get paid. They will not of necessity be paid an amount equal to National Assistance, but if the Labour Party finds that any of the beneficiaries are below the National Assistance level, it is prepared to see that the applicants get the amount made up to at least National Assistance levels. That will be an improvement.

I have been interested in comparing widowed mothers with present beneficiaries under the Nationaal Insurance Scheme on a satisfactory level. I have compared the widowed mothers with the sick and unemployed. A married man with one child gets £5 9s. for himself and £1 for the child, so his income is £6 9s. To get a proper comparison with the widowed mother, I had to consider the case of a widowed mother with the same family in numbers living in a similar house, and paying a similar rent to see how much more on a fair economic basis she would get. She would get a greater economic benefit than the sick or unemployed man.

A married couple with one child and with the man insured gets £6 9s. and the widowed mother with two children gets £3 7s. 6d. plus £3 15s. She therefore gets £7 2s. 6d., which is 13s. 6d. more for the same number of family, three, and the same economic conditions. The married couple, however, would have two adults to keep, while the widowed mother has only one adult to keep, herself. With the same number of family but one adult instead of two, the question is, what is the economic advantage to the widowed mother? I put it at 10s. For the married woman there is at least 10s. difference for keeping two adults instead of one. For the three in the house the total advantage to the widowed mother is thus 23s. 6d.

Take the case of a married man with two children. His income for four people from insurance is £5 9s. and £2 for the children, making £7 9s. The widow with three children gets £3 7s. 6d. and £5 12s. 6d. under the Bill, making her income not £7 9s. but £9. That is a difference of £1 11s. But, if we add 10s. benefit because she has only one adult to keep compared with the married insured man with two adults to keep, she gets an extra advantage of £2 1s. In the case of a married couple with three children, five people, the amount is £5 9s. with £3 for the children, an income of £8 9s. The widowed mother gets £3 7s. 6d. and for the four children she gets £7 10s.

That is the same number of people in the same kind of house paying the same rent, but the widowed mother has one adult less to keep. In that case the widowed mother receives not £8 9s. but £10 17s. 6d. an advantage of £2 8s. 6d more than the insured married man. If we add 10s. there is a difference of practically 58s. to the advantage of the widowed mother. I am not complaining about the widowed mother getting that amount of money. It is about right in relation to the attitude I have adopted that insurance benefits ought to be far more than National Assistance.

What ought to be our ideal? What ought to be our attitude after nearly twenty years with National Insurance? What is the social basis which we have? Throughout the country we have a social basis—and it is virtually that of National Assistance. Is this the ideal for the community? Ought we to accept National Assistance as the basis when it is regarded as the lowest practicable scale for a family? Ought we to continue in this way, when many people who come on to National Insurance, unless they have other means in addition to their insurance benefits, are constantly below the level of National Assistance? It is a lopsided situation, and we ought to strive with every effort to improve it.

I want to compare the amount of money which a widow receives under National Assistance with the amount which she receives under National Insurance. I understand that under National Assistance she receives the same as a single man, 63s. 6d. Add a sum for rent of 25s., which makes 88s. 6d.; and add an allowance for two children, one at 19s. 6d. and one at 23s., which is 42s. 6d.; and we have a total National Assistance level of 131s. Under National Insurance, if the widow has three children, she is about 11s. 6d. better off. In the second case which I mentioned, the widowed mother has 21s. a week more under National Insurance than under National Assistance, and in the third case, when she has three children on 28s., which is the lowest possible scale for children, the widowed mother receives about 180s. under the Bill and is, therefore, 21s. above the National Assistance level. Where she has four children she has an income of 196s. under National Assistance while the insurance level is 217s. 6d. She is 21s. 6d. better off than on National Assistance.

I have taken the number of widowed mothers in 1962 out of the National Insurance Annual Report from which it appears that 108,000 were receiving benefit in 1962. Leaving aside the industrially injured, there were 1,198,600 sick and unemployed. In other words, in 1962 there were about eleven times more sick and unemployed than there were widowed mothers.

In making a comparison between National Assistance and National Insurance payments we find that the only case which can be regarded as fairly satisfactory under the new Bill is that of the widowed mother. This indicates to any thinking politician who has to deal with these problems that we must seek a more economic balance not only for the widowed mothers but for the remainder of the insured, who are eleven times greater in number even if we leave out the industrial section.

My next point concerns widows whose children cease to be dependent upon them before they are 50 years of age. We have widows who can claim a widow's pension when their children have ceased to be dependent only if they themselves are 50 years of age. The widow under 50 years of age whose children are independent receives no pension whatever. What can we do about this? The Tory Government took some action about it but then reversed it. The fact is that they are not prepared to make any improvement.

We might consider the situation of widows who are only 40 when their children cease to be dependent upon them. We might consider whether we can reduce the age to 40 as the age at which they can receive a pension in those circumstances. At the moment, at the age of 40 in those circumstances they loose the pension which they have been drawing, and from that age onwards they have to pay ordinary contributions—and they do not again draw a pension until they are 60. I know that this raises the question of expense, but I suggest for consideration by the Government and those concerned with pensions that when a widow of 40 or more ceases to be able to draw a pension, a concession should be made to her whereby she may pay her contributions up to the age of 50 and then again draw a pension. If we make no change in the present situation, such widows must pay contributions without receiving a pension again until they are 60. I believe that widows who received such pensions but lost them having brought up perhaps three or four children merit such treatment. They should be treated specially. It is always easy to make suggestions, but whichever party is in power it must always consider expense. The age at which a widow could get a pension was raised from 40 to 50 largely because otherwise a great number of pensions would come on to the fund. What I suggest is a very easy compromise and it has the merit of reason. Efforts should be made to put it into practice.

I do not pay much attention to the discussions which take place about the earnings rule. If widows can earn up to £10 a week and have some pension, they are not in the category of widows who are in need of special help. They are widows who can play their part in the world and make a fairly reasonable income. Whatever attitudes may be adopted by the political parties, there is sound reason for some limitation being placed on widows' earnings. Even when subject to deduction they will not be badly off. These matters are not of great importance in the overall picture. What is important is the level of treatment of the 2 million people who receive an income when they are ill or unemployed. We should be concerned about them more than about anything else. We should raise the benefits of all the people who are on insurance benefit far above the level of National Assistance.

8.33 p.m.

Mrs. Eveline Hill (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

I thank the Minister for the improvements that are being given to many people under the Bill. I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) relate the numerous anomalies that there are in this complicated framework of the insurance Acts. One would have hoped that it would be found possible to simplify some of the complicated provisions connected with insurance. It worries me so considerably that the cost of administration should be so high. It might be thought and expected that if the system were simpler the administrative costs would, therefore, be less.

I know that the point that I want to take up particularly is a very controversial one, supported more by hon. Members opposite than by my hon. Friends. It is in relation to widowed mothers. Although widowed mothers will welcome the Bill and the increased earnings they will be allowed to have before losing the widowed mother's allowance, I cannot reconcile myself to the fact that some widowed mothers are treated differently from others from the point of view of money received from investments. We should consider this matter from the point of view of the principle that is involved.

It would be cheaper, certainly simpler in the long run, if the restriction on a widowed mother's earnings were entirely removed. At present, a widowed mother may receive some unearned income, on which she pays Income Tax, and does not lose her widowed mother's allowance. Another widowed mother, perhaps living next door, may lose her allowance because she earns perhaps a similar amount to the first.

Unfortunately, the widowed mothers who are likely to lose their entire allowances are often those who we are trying to encourage to return to work, particularly professional women. A professional woman returning to work may find that her earnings preclude her from receiving the widowed mother's allowance while a similar sum received by her next door neighbour from investments will not preclude her from receiving her allowance. We should try to simplify and, if possible, remove some of these anomalies.

My experience is that these anomalies cause friction and bad feeling between people, especially if women affected differently by the earnings rule live in the same street. I am glad that many people will be helped by the Bill, but I had hoped that my right hon. Friend would have been able to remove some of these difficulties. The big things in life are not necessarily those which create the biggest difficulties. The small, irritating problems often present the greatest hardship, particularly when a widowed mother must act as father and mother to her children, an extremely hard task.

We all recognise this, but we have not done sufficient in the Bill to make life easier for them. I hope that we will do better in the future and that these narrow margins will be dealt with in such a way that these anomalies will cease to irritate people who are performing a difficult task.

8.39 p.m.

Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)

Like most hon. Members, I welcome the improvements in the Bill as far as they go. The hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mrs. Hill) made some suggestions and thought that if the Government had accepted them many of the irritations, particularly of a financial nature, felt by widowed mothers would have been removed. In my experience they are not feeling irritated but are conscious of a deep sense of injustice. The sort of example given by the hon. Member for Wythenshawe could be multiplied throughout the country.

I was interested in the valiant efforts made by the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) to prove that she and the hon. Ladies opposite had got the Government to take action on this matter now. I will let her have her beliefs and her arguments. I only know that the vast majority of people believe that the Prime Minister made his announcement when he did because an election was very near. I will therefore not spend any time arguing about it.

We have had some very good and constructive contributions in our debates on social insurance, because hon. Members on both sides are very concerned about these vital human matters. I always enjoy the speeches of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran). They are constructive, they are the result of much thought and examination, and I agreed with much that he said. Only at the end of his speech did I feel that his good sense had failed him completely, for he then voiced the hope that after the General Election the present Prime Minister would be carrying out what the hon. Member wished to see in this Bill. I do not think that the great majority of people would join the hon. Member in that hope.

My hon. Friends the Members for Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor) and Dearne Valley (Mr. Wainwright) spoke, as they usually do, with very great feeling, and with very intimate knowledge of the difficulties that they, as Members of Parliament representing their kind of constituency, and mine, come across almost every week. Time and time again over the last 12 years my hon. Friends have pressed the old pre-1948 compensation cases. I understand that the previous Minister, or other Ministers, could pull out all the stops and say why, administratively, it was impossible to do anything for those cases.

I do not accept that it is. A Minister should be strong enough to say to his advisers, "This is what I want done. There are difficulties—you have to find ways and means of overcoming them." If the present Minister had more time, I am sure, judging from his background and his interests, that we might have got that attitude adopted in the Ministry, and that something might have been done for these pre-1948 compensation cases. But he has not the time to do it now, and it will be a Labour Minister, knowing these cases intimately, who will bring in the legislation to give to these forgotten people the justice we so strongly feel they should have.

Perhaps I underestimate the Minister. I can remember when, last year, we debated the pneumoconiosis cases, and so on, the then Leader of the House, who has almost left us now—perhaps his own Front Bench would rather not see him on the back benches after what he has written in the Spectator—after listening to the whole debate, took the right hon. Gentleman out. When the Minister returned, while an Opposition Amendment was being discussed, he was able to tell us that a Government Amendment would be moved in another place to meet our case.

I assure the Minister that thousands of people were then most grateful to the Minister of Pensions and the Leader of the House. All of us who were interested in these matters explained to our constituents who were affected how this result had been achieved. I hope that between now and the Committee stage, which I understand is next week, the Minister will give some thought to this matter and that if he finds that it is too late to do anything about it then and to move as fast as did his predecessor, he will contrive to have something done about it in another place.

I do not think that there is a Member on this side of the House who has given so much time and thought to questions concerning National Insurance as has my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay). Tonight he drew comparisons, but he made it perfectly clear that he was not criticising the improvements being made to the benefits for widowed mothers. He accepted them, but he compared what their income would be with that of other recipients of insurance benefits. The whole tenor of his case was that present sickness benefits and unemployment benefits are completely inadequate for our times. I am very pleased that he dealt with this matter so thoroughly, and I hope that when the Joint Parliamentary Secretary replies to the debate she will be able to say something on these points.

It does not matter what the Minister may say about increases made in benefits. I am not interested in the number of those increases, but I am concerned whether the benefits now are adequate for the chronically sick of whom there are so many in the heavily industrialised areas. I do not think that they are. The Government should consider giving to the chronically sick some of the fringe benefits which the industrially injured receive, such as constant attendance allowances. Has any consideration been given to this point?

I should like to deal with the question of widows' benefits and to refer, first of all, not to the earnings rule but to the qualifying ages for widow's pension of 40 and 50 years to which my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend referred. When the legislation was passed by the Labour Government, the age was then 40 years. If her last child had finished education and left school by the time a widowed mother was 40, she received widow's pension for the rest of her life.

From 4th February, 1957, the age was raised from 40 to 50 years. In our debate on these matters in January, 1963, the previous Minister, when questioned about this, said that he felt it was better to raise the age to 50 and to use the money so that a widow would then be in the position of being covered for sickness and unemployment benefits and be credited with payments while sick or unemployed until she is in a position to work".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th January, 1963; Vol. 670, c. 500.] I think of the women in Scotland and in the north and north-west of England particularly. What chance is there for many of them to find work, particularly at 40 years of age? According to the latest figures from the Ministry of Labour, there are in Scotland over 25,000 women registered as unemployed and in the north and north-west of England there are over 32,000. It is not much comfort to those women to offer the argument which was used on 25th January, 1963, as a justification for making the age 50 rather than 40 years.

Has the Minister given any thought at all to the idea of not having one day as a dividing line in this matter? I am sure that he and his Parliamentary Secretaries must have come across cases of the kind I have come across. Only a fortnight ago, at a meeting, a woman came to me and spoke about her sister, a widowed mother. Her last child left school only two weeks before she became 50 years of age. She lost the whole of her pension as a consequence. I visited another widow in my constituency about 10 days ago. She was between 47 and 48 when her youngest son became 18. He was an apprentice. She immediately lost her widowed mother's allowance. She receives the 10s. by virtue of her husband's contribution rights previously. She might very well have not received even that 10s., but, in fact, she does receive it. In an area like mine, work is very scarce, and, about a week after this widow's money was cut to 10s., her young son of 18 lost his job as an apprentice.

I have two of this woman's pay slips with me. It is important that the Minister should know the facts in some of these cases. She works as a school cleaner in the village where she lives. Her normal wage is £3 8s. 6d. a week gross. She takes home £3 3s. 1d. She pays 5s. Income Tax—I ask the House to note that—and she pays 5d. National Insurance to cover industrial injury.

Let me deal with what happened after she had worked exceptionally hard scrubbing the school during the Christmas and New Year holidays. Her gross pay was £3 8s. 6d. a week. Other taxable items amounted to £12 18s. 11d. This was the extra money she received after having been down on her knees for hours and hours scrubbing school floors and desks over the festive period. She paid 5d. in respect of industrial injury benefit. Her Income Tax was £3 6s. and she paid a graduated contribution of 6s. 3d. I think that this is a scandal. I wonder whether the Minister knows anything about what is happening to such widows. This woman was not affected by the earnings rule because her earnings were too small, but we have a Conservative Government which extorts from this hard working woman Income Tax at the rate I have quoted.

Has the Minister given any thought to having, not one day as a dividing line but a sliding scale? Let the upper limit be set at an age—it might be 45 or it might be lower—at which a widow could qualify for the full benefit and then have a sliding scale downwards until the young widow who has no children and who is perfectly fit to go to work is reached. These cases have been going on for such a long time that the Government should have realised what has been happening. If Conservative women Members had been doing the job which has been done by my hon. Friend—and I call her "my hon. Friend"—the Member for Tynemouth, these cases would have been pointed out to the Government and would have backed up what we on this side have been saying. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary what is being done about this.

We say quite clearly in our policy in "New Frontiers for Social Security": To ensure fairness, this"— that is the pension— will be on a sliding scale according to the age of the widow at the husband's death. Much greater justice would obtain if that were accepted by the Government.

I am glad that there are hon. Members opposite who have grave doubts about the earnings rule as it is applied to widowed mothers. However, some hon. Members opposite are still old-fashioned enough to think that we should have it. We on this side have decided that there should be no earnings rule for widowed mothers and widows. I say again to the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary that no principle in involved in this. I believe that strongly.

First, let me take a case such as that dealt with by the hon. Lady the Member for Wythenshawe. A widow's only income may be what she gets in widow's pension and what she can earn. Now, if she earns above £7 a week, she will lose part of her pension. In the same village or town she may have a friend who, possibly, while married was much better off and who enjoys a big income without going out to work—an unearned income, an income from investments, and this woman has no earnings rule applied but receives her full pension. No principle is involved here. It is a matter of penalising the widowed mother who has to go out to work and, at the same time, care for her children as against the widow who, if she wishes, can devote all her time to the care and rearing of her children and still have an adequate income from unearned sources.

My second point concerns industrial widows whose husbands have died from industrial injury or disease. No earnings rule whatever is applied to their pension. We were told in the debate of January last year that the Government were continuing this principle to induce men to work in dangerous industries. I simply do not accept that.

Even if that were the case, those of us who come from the areas where the dangerous industries are located are aware of the anomalies. Consider two men living next door to each other, both suffering from an industrial disease and each of them receiving a 100 per cent, pension for pneumoconiosis. They both die and post-mortems are held. The Pneumoconiosis Board decides that one of the men died from pneumoconiosis and that the other did not. Thus the widow of the man whose death is accepted by the Board as being attributable to pneumoconiosis gets a bigger pension. She is a widowed mother who has no interference from the earnings rule. But the other widow receives a smaller pension and has the earnings rule applied to her. It is no wonder that these women find it difficult to know what Governments are playing at. This, too, is an example in which no principle is involved. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will deal with these matters when she replies to the debate.

I wish to touch quickly on one or two other matters. My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) said that in his five years in the House of Commons this was the first time he had spoken in a debate of this kind. I hope that he speaks often in these debates. What he said was good and fresh and it made many of us think seriously about these matters. I am sure that the many anomalies of which he spoke are anomalies to which the next Government must give great consideration.

I come now to the raising of the age from 18 to 19 for the person who remains at school. We were told that this advance was the result of so much urging from the Government side of the House. When my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) produced the letters which he quoted to show the urging that was done, this improvement was described as being administratively impossible and other reasons of principle were given to show why, as late as July last year, it could not be done.

I make no song and dance about it. I am delighted that the Minister has decided to do this, but in Committee we will try to get him to go further. It is not only a case of raising the age from 18 to 19. In the education of young people at universities, higher technological institutes, and so on, the criterion should not be age but dependency. Now that the Government have moved so far I hope that the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will give real thought to it between this and next Thursday and perhaps be ready to follow us in moving to the new criterion of dependency.

I want to say just a word about the 10s. and 20s. widows. It is true that the 10s. widow is a carry over—and there are also the no penny widows. At least, however, this pension was given on the basis of the contributions of those men who worked before 1948 and were insured and who expected that their widows would have pensions. All we have ever asked the Government to do is to raise the 10s. to what would be its real purchasing power. I do not think that that would be very difficult. Again, no principle would be involved. The same thing applies to the 20s. widows. Labours policy is to raise the 10s. to 30s.

I say finally to the Government that this Bill has been brought in very near an election; it is part of the follow up to the Prime Minister's Guildhall speech. We welcome it, we will give it a very quick passage through the House. We are convinced, though, that the next National Insurance Bill will be brought in by a Labour Government, that it will cover many more matters than this, that it will go very carefully into many aspects which have been raised by both sides of the House and that it will bring the social justice in which we on this side of the House believe.

9.7 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This, I think, has been one of the most enjoyable debates we have had on National Insurance for some time, and one which has contained a number of new ideas. A new book has been written, and whenever there is a major new work produced it is very quickly reflected in the debates in this House. I would start, therefore, by referring, in the first place, to these new ideas which have been produced.

The Bill itself is primarily a Bill about widows, and that was the reason for its being brought to the House at this time, but there are a number of people, as the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and my hon. Friends the Member for Carshalton (Captain W. Elliot) and the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran) pointed out, who are in analogous positions and whose plight has been put forward in this debate.

I am referring to the new book entitled Fatherless Families. The speech which the hon. Member for Pontypool made was almost completely a precis of that book and of the reviews which have appeared upon it in many newspapers. I should like, therefore, to take the first opportunity of commenting upon it.

We have, as hon. Gentlemen have pointed out, various insurances within National Insurance and the Industrial Injuries Scheme for the fatherless child—for example, for the child who is completely orphaned, who has neither father nor mother, a guardian's allowance of 37s. 6d. We have provision for fatherless children who are the children of widows, and that is what we are mainly talking about today, and if the Bill goes through the mothers of such children will receive 37s. 6d. in respect of those children. The third insurance for children is for the children of the divorced woman whose former husband has died. If then he was supporting the child—and it is a very modest test of support—the mother of the child will get 37s. 6d. for the child.

Those are provisions insuring against some of the more normal insurance contingencies, such as the death of the father, something against which one can insure, butwhat we are being asked to do by some hon. Members is to insure against things which it is not possible to insure against. For example, it is not possible for a father to insure against things which it is within his control to bring about. One cannot have in an insurance scheme—National Insurance or industrial injuries—a father insuring against the possibility that he may desert his wife. One cannot have a father insuring against the possibility that he may have an illegitimate child.

Mr. Abse

Is the hon. Lady seriously putting forward the view that if, within his insurance stamp, there was cover in the event of the marriage breaking down, the fact that he was making that payment would make him more likely to commit adultery and desert his family? Surely it is clearly an irrelevant issue. What the Parliamentary Secretary has put forward is quite fallacious, because it would not influence his personal conduct or his marriage one whit.

Mrs. Thatcher

I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is not, in my understanding of insurance, possible to insure against things which one can bring about oneself, any more than it is possible to insure against setting fire to one's own house.

Mr. Abse

What about suicide?

Mrs. Thatcher

Under the National Insurance scheme we give benefit to a widow if her husband has committed suicide. That is an absolutely extreme case. It is much more unlikely that a man would take his life than that he would walk out on his wife, particularly as the suggestion is that there should be 50s. a week benefit for the child, because we might then well get the case where a family is suffering a certain amount of matrimonial difficulty and it would pay the mother handsomely if her husband walked out and deserted her. We sometimes get this under National Assistance as it is. One is constantly coming up against new aspects from individual cases.

I can well remember a National Assistance case, which I dealt with personally, where a man came to see me whose wife had walked out on him and left him. She had two children and the National Assistance Board was paying her nearly £11 a week because she was paying a high rent. We took the view that we had to relieve her need wherever she was. The man said to me, "If it had not been for National Assistance our marriage would have still have held together, because she would not have walked out unless she knew she would get a quick income from the Assistance Board".

That is a case which has actually occurred and which came before me. We take the view that under National Assistance we have to relieve need where it occurs. I do not think that we can insure a person against something over which he has control.

Mr. Mitchison

I always understood that one could insure at Lloyds against twins. If one can insure against two, why not against one?

Mrs. Thatcher

I can assure the hon. and learned Gentleman from personal experience that that is something over which one has no control. Alas, I did not insure myself, and my husband was furious. The main point is that one cannot insure against something which it is within one's power to bring about.

The hon. Member mentioned Beveridge on this. From other things that he said, I think that it must be quite a time since he read the Beveridge Report and that he did not check the quotations. If he has recently read the Report, he will know that this is not a new point. Beveridge himself considered it, and I will quote what Beveridge said. There are in Mrs. Wynn's book certain selected quotations and some very important points are left out.

The Beveridge Report says: Divorce, legal separation, desertion and voluntary separation may cause needs similar to those caused by widowhood. They differ from widowhood in two respects: that they may occur through the fault or with the consent of the wife, and that except where they occur through the fault of the wife they leave the husband's liability for maintenance unchanged. I now come to something which is not quoted by Mrs. Wynn. I will continue with the Beveridge quotation: If they are regarded from the point of view of the husband, they may not appear to be insurable risks…". Beveridge went on: …a man cannot insure against events which occur only through his fault or with his consent, and if they occur through the fault or with the consent of the wife she should not have a claim to benefit. Mrs. Wynn quotes the next bit: But from the point of view of the woman, loss of her maintenance as housewife without her consent and not through her fault, is one of the risks of marriage against which she should be insured; she should not depend on assistance. Recognition of house wives as a distinct insurance class, performing necessary service not for pay, implies that, if the marriage ends otherwise than by widowhood, she is entitled to the same provision as for widowhood, unless— Mrs. Wynn leaves this out: —the marriage maintenance has ended through her fault or voluntary action without just cause. That is to say, subject to the practical considerations mentioned in the note below she should get temporary separation benefit…and guardian or training benefit where appropriate. The practical considerations mentioned in that note are: There will often be difficulty in determining responsibility for the break-up of the marriage. There will in cases of desertion be difficulty in establishing the fact or the permanence of desertion. The hon. Member knows how invidious it is sometimes in cases in the courts to allocate the responsibility for the break-up of a marriage, and to ascertain in the magistrates' courts whether there has, in fact, been desertion and whether the desertion is permanent.

The note goes on: There will in all cases be the problem of alternative remedies open to the wife. It goes on: It may for practical reasons be found necessary to limit the widow's insurance benefit to cases of formal separation, while making it clear that she can in all cases at need get assistance and that the Ministry of Social Security will then proceed against the husband for recoupment of its expenditure. Beveridge gave, I think, a very much fairer picture of the problems involved than we have yet heard in this debate, and I think it is only fair to quote him very nearly in full when he was considering this problem. In fact, he could not come to a solution of it.

While I am referring to the book, I would point out that attention has been drawn to one of the big tables in it. I have not been through the table minutely, but I think that the hon. Gentleman will have noted that most of the insurance figures are out of date, because they refer to the period before the last general increase last May, which the House approved at an increased expenditure of £227 million a year. There is, however, a column in that table which would seem to indicate that widows' benefits are taxed as unearned income. I am authorised by the Treasury to say that that is false; they are, in fact, taxed as earned income. This is a fallacy which is often repeated, and I am, therefore, glad to be able to tell the House quite authoritatively that widows' benefits are taxed as earned income and not as unearned income.

That brings us to the provision made by the State for fatherless children outside the insurance provisions which I have already mentioned. The hon. Member was a little disparaging of the National Assistance Board. In fact, he was more than disparaging of it; he was almost unkind about it. Those of us who have attended these debates in the House for some considerable time have the greatest admiration for the work done by the National Assistance Board, as the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay) said.

Mr. Abse

Would the hon. Lady explain in what way anything I said disparaged the National Assistance Board? All I said was that these women should be able to have assistance by way of right. Surely that is no reflection on the Board? I take exception to the suggestion that I in any way criticised the officials of the Board. We are aware that in every area they are doing a good job of work.

Mrs. Thatcher

The hon. Gentleman said that they would have to go begging to the Board. I thought that he used the word "shame". I distinctly remember that he said they would have to go begging to the Board. This does not help to get those who are in need of assistance to go to the Board. Quite the contrary. It might stop them when they would otherwise go very quickly.

The Board makes provision for all cases of need and does not distinguish, for the purpose of benefit, between the mother who is unmarried and the mother who is married. It relieves the need which is there, and that is quite right. The needs of the fatherless family are assessed in the same way as those of other people in need—by reference to the common scales of assistance set out in the regulations.

For example, the mother will receive £3 3s. 6d. a week, each child under 5, 19s. 6d. a week, each child over 5 but under 11, £1 3s. a week and each child over 11 but under 16, £1 8s. per week. Those over 16 can apply for assistance in their own right. To that is added a rent allowance and then there are fringe benefits, such as a pint of milk each day for each child under 5, cod liver oil and vitamins. The Board also gives people who have been on National Assistance quite a time special grants for the replacement of clothing, household goods, etc.

Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington (Mr. P. Browne) and the hon. Member for Pontypool have commented on disregards. These have never been intended to bolster up the standard of living or income. The system is based on providing for all essential needs and for bringing a person's income up to a level at which those needs can be provided. The strictly logical way, therefore, would be to have no disregards at all, but that would not be practicable and would frustrate any voluntary organisation which wanted to give help.

If, for every 1s. one earned, one lost an extra 1s., one would not benefit at all by one's own efforts, so this is, therefore, a recognition that we need something so that people shall be able to help themselves a little without losing benefit and that other people, such as voluntary organisations, shall also be able to assist. If we were to have a separate disregard according to the number of children, this would mean that a woman with several dependent children would have exactly the same allowances from the Board as a woman who had, say, £6 or £7 extra, and that would not be right, at any rate under the Board's present terms of reference, which instruct it to make income up to a certain standard so that a woman can meet her commitments.

Where there is a maintenance order and the woman is regularly in receipt of National Assistance, she can submit that order to the Board, which may take over the collection of the maintenance and pay her a regular supplement. This often helps tremendously because maintenance has a way of being very erratic in reaching a deserted or separated wife.

Sir S. Summers

Does that mean that the Board will also assist in tracing the person due to make the maintenance?

Mrs. Thatcher

The Ministry itself does all it can to assist in tracing these people. It will supply the whereabouts of the husband to the clerk of the magistrates' court or to the registrar of the High Court in order to enable maintenance proceedings to be brought. The trouble often is that we do not know the latest address. In some cases the Board will take criminal proceedings against a man who persistently and wilfully refuses to maintain his dependants.

I am sorry to have to come back to the hon. Member for Pontypool, but I have nearly finished with him. He said words to the effect that people were beggared to go to the National Assistance Board and pointed out that in New Zealand, Australia and Denmark there are allowances for fatherless children.

I have said that in this country we have a certain amount of insurance and a great deal of National Assistance, so that everyone is looked after. I hope that the hon. Member for Pontypool will bear that in mind. In Australia, widows' pensions are payable subject to a means test on income and property and to residence and citizenship qualifications. Allowances for dependent children are payable to widowed mothers and for this purpose a widow includes a deserted wife, a divorcée, a woman whose husband has been in prison for at least six months, and a woman whose husband is in a mental hospital.

A deserted wife or divorcée who has not taken reasonable action to obtain maintenance from her husband or former husband is not eligible for a widow's pension. The Australians, therefore, have nothing more than we have. In fact, it is all subject to a means test whereas we have at least some insurance provisions for the widow.

In New Zealand, widows' benefits, including allowances for dependent children, are available to widows and the wives of mental patients and to deserted wives provided that they have applied to the court for a maintenance order and subject to a means test on income and to residential qualifications. The New Zealand benefits, including those for widows, are all subject to a means test.

In Denmark, widows' benefits, including allowances for dependent children, are payable subject to a means test and to citizenship and residence requirements. Assistance provisions for other fatherless families are available subject to maintenance conditions on the other parent or putative father.

Apart from the above provisions, there do not appear to be any special allowances payable to fatherless children apart from any supplementary assistance arrangements details of which are not known.

This has been confirmed verbally by Australia House, New Zealand House and the Danish Embassy. It is therefore, quite misleading to say that Australia, New Zealand and Denmark have better provisions than we have. In fact, the boot is on the other foot.

Mr. Abse

Although clearly subject to a means test, is not the hon. Lady evidently saying that they have provision for separated wives? That was the point which Margaret Wynn was making and it is the point which I was trying to make. Even though subject to a means test, there is insurance provision for the separated wife.

Mrs. Thatcher

We have provision for a separated wife in National Assistance. Many countries would not be giving the separate provisions if they had, as we have, the very wide terms of reference of the Assistance Board to provide relief and help to make people's incomes up to a certain minimum regardless of where that need is, or whether it is a separated, or deserted wife, or widow, or old person. So much for some of the remarks on that book.

I now turn to some of the comments of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), which were echoed by a number of hon. Members, about the provision connected with the age of 19. One of the questions has been why there should be a fixed limit at all and why it should not be until education of the child is completed, so long as the child is a dependant. At the same time, we are being asked not to make National Insurance provisions complicated, but to make them simple. Every demand which is made would introduce a new Amendment which would result in increasing the complexity of the Act. One of the reasons why we resisted changing the age of 18 was that throughout the Act 18 was the age at which a person became an adult. As a result of the Bill, we have introduced a complexity in that there are some times when a child is an adult at 18 and some times when it is not.

We have tried to keep the number of anomalies to a minimum. One of the qualifying conditions for widow's pension is that the widowed mother should be 50 when her child becomes what used to be 18 and is now 19. The widow with one child, even when the child becomes independent, if he is less than the age of 19 and still lives at home with his mother although she is earning, will qualify for the widowed mother's personal allowance until that child reaches the age of 19 if the Bill goes through, against 18 at present.

If we were not to make that period end at a specified age but dependent upon the end of education, we think that it would put an almost intolerable burden on the child, who would be under very great pressure to continue education, regardless of whether he was a suitable subject or not, in order to qualify his mother for widow's benefit if the age of 50 was reached by the mother during the critical time. As it happens, at the moment the child's wishes in the matter are neither here nor there, as the allowance finishes at the age of 18 and will finish at the age of 19 if the Bill is passed. That is one of the main reasons for having a fixed age.

We also think that this prevents unfairness between one case and another. There used to be a provision when under a Labour Government the age was only 16, for using the date 31st July after the age of 16 had been reached. That led to much unfairness between one case and the next according to whether the age of16 was reached shortly before or shortly after the 31st July. We decided to go to a particular age and first increased it to the eighteenth birthday and now, by the Bill, it will be increased to the nineteenth birthday.

Another point which has to be considered is that we keep the definition of "child" the same throughout family allowance and National Insurance dependency provisions. If we were to make it right up to the finish of education regardless of when that occurred, whether at 21, 22 or 23, the family allowance would continue in payment during that time and may well be paid to a number of people whose children were already in receipt of adequate sums from the State for continuing university education and who, in any case, were well able to cope with their children without additional help.

Particular reference was made to a case where benefit ceased to be paid when the child reached the age of 18. I want to make clear that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) said, the Bill was conceived as a widows' Bill and that one of the main reasons for making this change was the beneficial effect for them, particularly for widowed mothers. We then had to consider repercussions on the rest of the scheme. We had to consider that unemployment and sickness beneficiaries would have to receive extra entitlement for children up to the age of 19.

Slightly different considerations may arise. All kinds of people nowadays draw unemployment as well as sickness benefit. There is the person who retires at 60 and is in an occupational scheme, but wants to continue a job after he retires and enjoy an increased standard of living until he is 65. He often goes to the employment exchange and may be in receipt of unemployment benefit for the full period of 19 months, yet he is in quite a comfortable position because of a very good occupational pension scheme. Often he has a child at university and will be benefiting from this provision as well as a widowed mother.

We considered the case of sickness benefit, which illustrates the point rather more cogently. Over 50 per cent. of the working population are now covered by sick pay schemes. Nevertheless, in many cases, when a man claims sickness benefit he will have full or part salary, or from a sick pay scheme full sick pay perhaps for himself and a dependent wife and children, and, if he has a boy at university, a State grant for maintenance and also the family allowance. In his case he will be receiving a salary with tax relief for the oldest child and he will be receiving full sickness benefit, none of which is liable for tax, and family allowance, which is liable for tax, in respect of a child which is probably receiving benefit under a full univesity grant.

We have to consider this type of case, and this is one reason why I told the hon. and learned Gentleman that this is the kind of case which can often be dealt with better by discretionary grant from the local authority, as it is by the present Bill. We shall be increasing the benefits for all these people by increasing the age from 18 to 19 and thereby extending family allowances as well as the title to dependency provisions. We have to keep one kind of benefit in line with another in the scheme, and it was not possible to exclude, nor do I think it desirable to exclude, those on unemployment benefit or sickness benefit, because there are many hard cases, too. This is one reason why I said to the hon. Gentleman that perhaps if there is a hard case one can get the money to it better from a local authority.

The discretionary system often benefits people far more than a rigid insurance system. Where there is a discretion, often those people whose need is greatest get far more than they do under a rigid insurance system. But local authorities vary enormously one from another, and although there may be discretion to help a person, the standard of help given to the widow or the person with a dependent child at college varies very much. We therefore thought fit to deal with the bulk of the cases now by increasing the age limit from 18 to 19.

The hon. and learned Member, and a number of other hon. Members, referred to the earnings rule. The first point which arose was a question why we had chosen to make this change by legislation and not by reference to the National Insurance Advisory Committee. One of the main reasons was that if we wanted to get this through, as we hoped, by 30th March, there simply was not time to lay the matter before the National Insurance Advisory Committee. As the hon. and learned Member probably knows, we should have had to draft and lay regulations. These regulations would have had to be advertised and 28 days would have had to elapse. Representations would then have been received by the Advisory Committee, which would have had to consider them. The Committee would have to have one meeting and possibly a second meeting. It would then have made its recommendations to the Minister, who would have had to put them into effect by means of an affirmative Resolution, which, I believe, takes at any rate three weeks to get before the House.

Mr. Mitchison

Is not this why in Section 77 there is provision for the Minister to certify that on account of urgency or any special reason regulations should come into operation without delay, and to put them into operation without delay?

Mrs. Thatcher

Why not put it in the Bill when we have a Bill before the House by which to do it? In addition, it is part of the provisions for widows, and we were anxious to draw attention to the fact that this is a widow's Bill and to make it quite clear that this is part of the provisions for widows.

I also point out that this is amending a Section of another Act. This is a view taken by lawyers and I therefore mention it to the hon. and learned Gentleman: the regulations would not merely have been amending regulations, but would have been amending a Section of an Act, and some lawyers I know take the view—including one very eminent lawyer who has put the view to me—that where we are amending an Act of Parliament we should do so by an Act.

Mr. Mitchison

No doubt that is so, but the hon. Lady's Ministry has twice done the same thing by regulations. Every time it has been done before it has been done by regulations. Why not do it again?

Mrs. Thatcher

We have had the power to do it by regulations only since 1956. There have been analogous cases where we could have done things by regulation, but if we have legislation before the House we have sometimes put the changes into the Bill.

The hon. and learned Gentleman also talked about the amounts. Sometimes the amounts are raised only by reference to the increases in average earnings. Thus the amounts are raised so as to make the limit at which the earnings rule operates realistic. There is another type of change, which is a definite advance in the earnings rule. Last time it appeared to be an increase to keep the value of the limit where it was in real terms, but again that has not always been the case. In April, 1959, and March, 1960, the earnings limit for widowed mothers was raised within that year from 80s. to 100s. That was a similar increase to what this now is. It is a definite advance in the direction of relieving a greater amount of earnings.

One or two of my hon. Friends have asked for really up-to-date figures on the cost of abolishing the earnings rule. My hon. Friend the Member for Torrington said that he did not believe the figure of £100 million. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge has expressed a similar view on other occasions. I have got a really red-hot figure—

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mrs. Thatcher

I am very glad that I am not wearing a red dress today.

To continue, I have a bang up-to-the-minute figure, and it is £110 million, based on the earnings limit in the Bill and upon the rates of benefit now paid. Although the earnings limits have been raised, the rates of benefit payable have been increased. The largest part of this figure would consist of paying pensions to those who are at present deferring retirement. The figure for abolishing the rule for widows and widowed mothers is £6 million, assuming that the Bill becomes law.

The hon. and learned Gentleman and other hon. Members made some points about the averaging of earnings. This point was dealt with by the National Insurance Advisory Committee in 1956, and it reported on it at some length. It came to the conclusion that the disadvantages of such a system would outweigh the advantages. The Committee pointed out that, on the average, some pensioners would be worse off. In cases where the person has kept just below the current earnings limit and then suddenly gets a bonus, if that bonus is averaged it will clearly affect the amount of benefit for a large number of weeks. If it is not averaged and stays for only one week, it will affect the benefit for only the following week.

The Committee also explained that at the end of the averaging period when adjustments came to be made a pensioner might be left for a time with neither pension nor earnings. This could not be dealt with week by week. It would have to be averaged in retrospect over a year, in which time the pensioner might have been paid more pension on the average than the averaging would warrant, and just at the time when he had stopped work and his earnings had gone right down he might have his pension benefit withdrawn because of his past earnings, and, as the Committee pointed out, be left with neither pension nor earnings.

I was grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Acton (Mr. Holland) for referring to the subject of increments. If the earnings rule were abolished for retirement pensioners, many pensioners who now manage to increment their basic pensions by deferring retirement—and thereby manage to incur for themselves a pension of up to about 30s. a week more than the basic pension—would not be able to do so. The increments provision of the National Insurance Scheme is an important one which assists people rapidly to increase their weekly incomes by deferring their retirement.

A number of comparisons have been made between the Industrial Injuries Scheme, the War Pensions Scheme and the National Insurance Scheme. The hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) referred to some comments which were made in 1963. She was probably referring to one or two of the early White Papers on social insurance consequent on the publication of the Beveridge Report. Some of her references might even have been from speeches which I made. As to the case for a separate industrial injuries benefit fund, either there is a case for making separate provision for disablement or injury due to a special cause or there is not. Parliament has hitherto taken the view that there is a special case for having special provisions, over and above the ordinary sickness benefits, for these cases.

It is logical that if one takes the view that disablement arising from an industrial cause should give title to a special benefit, one should also take the view that the death risk from an industrial cause should give title to preferential benefit. That, as I understand it, is the view that has been taken. Justification for this was given in the White Paper "Social Insurance, Part II, Workman's Compensation, Proposals for an Industrial Injuries Insurance Scheme", Cmd. 6551, September 1944.

Mr. Mitchison

We respect, the hon. Lady has misunderstood the point. We agree that those in receipt of industrial injury benefits have had better treatment. We do not disapprove of that. What is the logic of having an earnings rule in the National Insurance Act and not having one in the Industrial Injuries Act? It is nothing to do with the amount of benefit. If the rule is right in one case it is surely right in the other; or if it is wrong in one case, is it not wrong in the other?

Mrs. Thatcher

I cannot agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman. It depends on the principles of the insurance applying to the two different schemes. National Insurance is based on the concept of absence of earnings and one is insuring against being unable to support oneself by one's own efforts. The Industrial Injuries Scheme is based on entirely different concepts, partly due to historical reasons, and it has an element of compensation in it, as the hon. and learned Gentleman knows.

The hon. and learned Gentleman asked where the logic was in having something applying to one scheme and not to another. I cannot see the logic of choosing one feature from one scheme and saying that because an industrial injury widow is treated better from the point of view of earnings, one should abolish the earnings rule for widowed mothers in the National Insurance Scheme. If one is going to compare one scheme with another, one should not merely accept one feature but compare the benefits at every stage.

If one asks why an industrial insurance widow should do better from the point of view of earnings, why should she have a preferential rate of benefit of 7s. 6d. over the National Insurance widow? The hon. and learned Gentleman is driving at ultimately having the same provision for widows, regardless of whether widowhood resulted from industrial injury or otherwise.

If hon. Members opposite want to abolish the death benefit provisions of industrial insurance I am sure that, if they talked the matter over with my right hon. Friend, they would see that it would go a long way to making his administrative task simpler. In the meantime, it would be absurd to attempt to justify the existence of a scheme and to justify its differences—its preferential rate—and then to complain of the very preferences which that scheme gives.

Miss Herbison

The hon. Lady is now being completely illogical. In the first instance, the woman widowed by industrial injury gets a higher weekly benefit, and I do not think that a single Member on this side of the House makes any objection to that. That widow gets the higher benefit because she comes under a completely different scheme. Our one objection is that the one widow has an earnings rule applied to her and the other has not. For the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to suggest that the abolition of the earnings rule in the one scheme means making both schemes completely alike is just nonsense.

Mrs. Thatcher

Nevertheless, we would have a number of hon. Members pointing to the difference in treatment between two widows living next door to each other, one drawing the industrial injury widow's benefit and the other the widow's benefit under the National Insurance Scheme. That is one of the things that those who do not appreciate the two schemes often call an anomaly.

Miss Herbison

The hon. Lady is now basing her case differently, by saying that if she allows the earnings rule to disappear for the ordinary widow, someone, or some party, will say we should abolish the other. She is not giving any valid reason at all for not abolishing the earnings rule for the widow who is receiving her money through National Insurance—none at all.

Mrs. Thatcher

I think it quite illo-illogical to take one feature of the one scheme and, because that is different, to say that it must apply to the National Insurance scheme.

A number of hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Mansfield (Mr. B. Taylor) referred to the 20s.widow under the Industrial Injuries Scheme, something for which there is no counterpart in the scheme. The case of this category of widow has been referred to the Industrial Injuries Advisory Council. The reference was made on 3rd January, 1964, in the following terms: To review the provisions governing death benefits for adult dependants under the National Insurance Industrial Injuries Act, 1946, other than the provisions relating to the higher rate of widows' pension under Section 19(3), and to report. We shall receive that report in due course.

Once again, a number of comments have been made about the 10s. pension, and my hon. Friend the Member for Torrington spoke very succinctly. I would point out to those who are not always with us in these debates that the vast majority of these 10s. payments have come into existence since 1948, and are still coming into existence. During the last five years there have been 35,000 new cases, so it cannot be said that all these are people who have been receiving 10s. a week ever since pre-1948.

Of those in receipt of this payment, 84,000 are under the age of 60, many of them being those who did not qualify for full National Insurance benefit, either because they were over 50 when they were widowed or were under 50 when their children grew up. Most of them will qualify for full retirement pensions in the ordinary way. Another 27,000 are over 60, and a great many of these, also will qualify for retirement pensions when they retire. Only about 11,000 of them are over 65. A considerable number of these are on National Assistance, and it would not benefit many of them if their pensions were increased.

The hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) suggested that 30s. would restore the 1948 value. It would require 7s. 5d. to restore the 1948 value. Many comments have been made about an election and the Bill. Whenever we have a National Insurance Hill someone opposite always asks, "When is the General Election?" If hon. Members opposite go on saying it long enough they are bound to get an answer some day. I would point out that there have been improvements in benefits for widows every single year under the Conservative Government from the year 1955 and I propose to go through them.

In 1955, there was a general increase in benefit rates. Personal benefits were increased from 32s. 6d. to 40s. Benefits to all children were increased from 10s. 6d. to 11s. 6d., and the benefit to the first child from 2s. 6d. to 3s. 6d. There were several improvements in 1956. The allowance for the children of widowed mothers was increased by 5s. from 11s. 6d. to 16s. 6d., and from 3s. 6d. to 8s. 6d. for the subsequent child. Again in that year the widowed mother's personal allowance was introduced to help widowed mothers to maintain the home for adolescent children who left school.

The 10-year marriage rule was replaced by the three-year rule. The pension age limit was raised from 40 years to 50 years. The benefit rule for widow's pension and widowed mother's allowance was relaxed by the introduction of the 20s. band with proportionate deductions. In 1957, there was the introduction of arrangements to enable widows not entitled to long-term benefits to qualify for sickness and unemployment benefit irrespective of the insurance record. This arrangement also applied to the 10s. widow and was a valuable concession.

Miss Herbison

The hon. Lady has had a considerable time to reply and all I want her to give the House and the country for each year when these increases were made are the increases made in contributions. This is a bit of propaganda. We want the whole story, including the increases in the contributions and the money which the Government are getting from the swindle of the graduated pensions scheme.

Mrs. Thatcher

The hon. Lady tries to interrupt me when I have only two minutes left to reply and I am giving the facts of what the Government have done.

In 1958, there was a general rate increase. The personal benefit rate was increased from 40s. to 50s. and all the children's allowances were increased. In 1959, the earnings limits were raised, and again in 1960. In 1961, there was a general benefit rate increase. The allowance for widows' children was increased by 5s. to £1 5s. for the first child and 17s. for each subsequent child. In 1962, there was the implementation of the provision whereby certain widows were able to receive half the rate of increment of the husband's insurance.

In 1963, there was a general rate increase. Personal benefit was increased to 67s. 6d. The allowance for widows' children was increased by 5s., and 26s. of the widowed mothers' allowance was exempted from the earnings rule and the earnings limit was increased. In 1964, the allowance for children is to be increased to 37s. 6d. for each child, including the family allowance, and the earnings limit raised to £7 for widowed mothers and £5 for widows. I have left out a number of extra things.

Miss Herbison

What about the contributions?

Mrs. Thatcher

As the hon. Lady knows, contributions for widow's benefit, sickness and unemployment benefit and retirement pensions are not separated and are, therefore, not comparable with the figures which I have given. In spite of the noisy reception, I hope that the House will welcome the Bill and will assist us in its speedy passage so that the widows can receive the benefit.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Peel.]

Committee Tomorrow.