HC Deb 06 July 1965 vol 715 cc1505-23

In section 210 of the Income Tax Act 1952 at the end of subsection 1(a) the following words shall be inserted:— (6) if she is a widow and has residing with her a child of her family under the age of 19 years, to a deduction from the amount of income tax with which she is chargeable equal to tax at the standard rate on £280".—[Mrs. Thatcher.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mrs. Margaret Thatcher (Finchley)

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

Mr. Speaker

With this new Clause we have agreed to discuss new Clause No. 29 "Allowance for domestic help for employed disabled person".

Mrs. Thatcher

This Clause may not be of shattering importance to the British economy as a whole, but it certainly is important to the lives of a number of our citizens. Its purpose is to help widows with children by reducing the amount of tax that they would otherwise have to pay. The House will be aware that in other branches of legislation the widowed mother's claims have been specially recognised by special provisions, but so far the tax system has never recognised the widowed mother as a person requiring special reliefs.

The merit of the case speaks for itself. Most women placed in the position of being widowed with young children would have one thing uppermost in their minds—that whatever happened the children must suffer as little as possible. Frequently a comparison which is made is that between the income of the family before the death of the father, with only the father earning, and the income of the family when only the mother is earning. Nowadays there is another comparison to be made. So often many families have both the father and the mother earning, and the children benefit from the incomes of both. After the death of the father they are reduced to the income of the mother only.

The real comparison, from the children's viewpoint, is the life they led under the old régime, when both father and mother were earning, and the life under the new one, after the death of the father, when only the mother is earning. When father was alive there were two lots of personal relief, two lots of earned income relief, except where the joint income exceeded £10,000 per annum, which I am not unduly concerned with at the moment, and two lots of reduced rate relief. After the death of the father, the widowed mother will have only the single personal rate of tax relief, one earned income relief and one lot of reduced rate relief. The family will, therefore, have to live with a considerably reduced income. The gap is very considerable and no recognition is at present given to this fact under the tax arrangements.

Thus, at a time when the widow has the greatest grief to bear, she also has the greatest readjustment to make in her financial position, and our contention is that we are still not doing enough to help her. I know that a great deal has been done in the past in other spheres of legislation. It seems rather ironic that other legislation should recognise this claim, but tax legislation so far does not.

Under Section 214 of the Income Tax Act, if a widow has to employ a housekeeper, or is able to do so, she can get a tax relief of £75. If she cannot afford a housekeeper, but nevertheless employs someone to look after the children, she can get tax relief under Section 17 of the Finance Act, 1960, if she has a nonresident child-minder. Neither of these reliefs is characteristic to the widow nor to the widowed mother. Both are available as well to the widower. Although his position may be very tragic in the grief-stricken sense, his income is very much greater, and has been continuing throughout the period of the tragedy, whereas that of the widow may not have been.

There is one other tax position I should like to refer to and that is the position immediately before the introduction of this Finance Bill, compared with the position since its introduction, on the assumption that its provisions will take effect. Before the Bill, the widowed mother who had to employ someone in order to enable her to go out to work to earn the family's living could get relief on the National Insurance contribution which she paid in respect of the person she employed. The Financial Secretary will perhaps know that if any woman who is a widow employs a domestic help for more than eight hours a week, a National Insurance contribution of some 11s. 4d. a week is payable in respect of that person.

11.0 p.m.

Before the present Finance Bill, that 11s. 4d. every week would rank for tax relief and could be set against the widow's income so that she got full relief for it. Since the Finance Bill, on the assumption that it goes through, which I think is probably a realistic assumption, relief has been withdrawn completely in respect of that 11s. 4d. every week. So, in common with other women who employ people to enable them to go out to work, this Finance Bill has in fact worsened the position of the widowed mother who has to employ help to enable her to go out to work. Therefore, our contention is that the Financial Secretary has by this Bill made the position worse and he therefore has some relief in the kitty to give back in another way.

On another occasion we asked him still to allow relief under circumstances like these to all employers who employed people in this way, and he told me that the cost of doing so would be to give back £2 million of what he had taken away by the Bill. So we can take it that he has got £2 million in hand, and instead of giving it back to people such as myself, we thought it better that he should give it back to the widowed mother who is more in need.

The new Clause provides higher tax reliefs for the widowed mother so long as she has living with her a child under the age of 19. The relief we have decided to ask for is roughly half way between the relief provided for a single person and that provided for a married couple. The relief for the single person is £220 a year, that for the married couple is £340 a year, and for the widowed mother we are proposing £280 a year. This would, in fact, be a kind of modest housekeeping allowance, part of which would be her own personal relief, and the extra £60 because she is a widowed mother carrying on a difficult task.

I have not the slightest shadow of doubt that the Financial Secretary will have prepared very well-considered defences why he cannot accept the Clause. I think that he is the biggest "No-man" of the present Government, judging by his performance throughout the Finance Bill. When the Government want to put up a man to say "No" they always put up the handsomest man to do so—the handsomest man, at any rate, from the Treasury. Of course, those of us with more experience will know that most of us prefer the plain man with cash in his pocket to the handsome man without, and I expect that that will be the case today.

May I go through the hon. Gentleman's possible defences? Firstly, he will say that this will cost the Treasury so much. I think that is entirely the wrong approach. He has already got £2 million as a result of this Finance Bill which we ought to have back. But what we are really deciding in this Clause, the viewpoint we are really putting, is that there are certain groups of people who have an equitable claim to have less tax extracted from them and to bear a lesser burden compared with other people.

I have not the exact figures of the cost of this Clause, but I have considered the Government Actuary's report which the Financial Secretary presented to the House on the third quinquennial review of the National Insurance Acts. At present there are approximately 141,000 widowed mothers' allowances in payment, and 21,000 widows' allowances, some, not all, of which would go to widowed mothers. The report also tells us in rather technical language that in future men are going to have more stamina and live longer. In paragraph 40, it says that there should be a decline in the number of widows, and it goes on to say that this is a reflection of the assumed improvement in male mortality. I have no doubt that that is good news, but it means that, if the Financial Secretary accedes to the new Clause, the cost of it will go down during the coming years.

His second defence will be that help has been provided in other ways. If he admits that widowed mothers deserve special help and that help has been provided in other ways, he also admits that widowed mothers specially deserve help aid therefore he will assist my case and not his own defence.

His third argument will be that such a new Clause would help only those who already pay tax. Finance Bills do not give anything away. We are really at the annual schedule of legalised larceny, and one's advice to a professional burglar would be that if he is going to steal, he should not take from those least able to withstand the loss. His fourth argument undoubtedly will be, "Why has this not been done before?" As a barrister, the Financial Secretary knows full well that if he is defending himself on a charge of larceny, it is no defence to say that he erred in good company.

During the Finance Bill, we from this side have moved several Amendments and new Clauses designed to help single women and widows. Each one has met with the same reply: a good deal of sympathy, but no action this year. It has shown that it is very much easier to touch a man's heart than it is to touch his pocket.

We are giving the Financial Secretary this last chance. We hope that he might consider part of the new Clause. If we ask for too little, we will ask for more. If we ask for too much, we might be prepared to take less. If it is suggested that the drafting is defective, he will still have time to introduce his own Amendment to Clause 10, on the assumption that we will discuss that later.

Mr. Will Griffiths (Manchester, Exchange)

I have not taken part in the debates on the Bill up to this stage, and I do so now only because of the provocations contained in the speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). She is always beguiling, and she has made a characteristic and attractive speech tonight. We all listened to the sympathy that she expressed for widows and widowed mothers, but I cannot help recalling that fairly recently she had executive responsibility in this field. I twice introduced a Private Member's Bill to abolish the earnings rule for widowed mothers, and I did not see the hon. Lady giving me any encouragement at all. So her attractive and persuasive speech tonight has to be compared with her performance when she was in office, and the support she then received from the tut-tutting hon. Members on the benches behind her.

It does no service to our Parliamentary institutions to have a charade of this kind, with hon. Members who held office so recently, apparently completely unaware of the hardships that widowed mothers and widows suffered and still suffer, as the hon. Lady illustrated so vividly tonight, suddenly becoming blindingly aware of the appalling position their fellow countrywomen are in. When she was a member of the Government she did nothing at all about them. It is true that the hon. Lady was a junior Minister and that possibly she did not have great influence in the higher reaches of the Cabinet. If, however, she really meant what she said tonight, she should have resigned her office. My criticism of an attractive speech is that it does a disservice to our Parliamentary institutions because it is full of hypocrisy and humbug.

Mr. Alison

In supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and giving general support to her new Clause, I wonder whether I might refer specifically to new Clause 29 "Allowance for domestic help for employed disabled person", which appears in the names of myself and a number of my hon. Friends and the aim of which is to provide special tax allowances for disabled persons who are engaged in whole-time work and for whom domestic help is unavoidable and essential. I hope that I shall carry with me the sympathy and indulgence of the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. Will Griffiths) because, not having been a Member of the House in the last Parliament, I am at least free of the possible charge of hypocrisy in voting. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Member will listen to me with an open mind and judge the merits of my case without prejudice.

It will assist if in putting the case I try to argue from the particular to the general. My interest stems from a constituency case. It is a good thing to refer to particular cases, because this helps the House to focus on a flesh-and-blood situation and enables it to judge the merits of abstract legislative theory against the background of a human being.

The only difference between the constituent and ourselves is that we make the laws and he is at the receiving end of them. He is a man aged 49 and he has been a polio victim since the age of 15. Since that age he has been totally paralysed below the waist and has had the limited use of one arm. Thus, he has had total disability of three of his four limbs. For 33 years, during which time he has been drawing National Assistance and whatever form of assistance preceded it, he has been disabled, unemployed and chairborne.

By a freak stroke of good luck, this constituent of mine found himself, in the village in which he lived in my constituency, living as a neighbour of somebody who recently became director of the National Scientific Lending Libary, at Boston Spa. For some time before his appointment as director of that establishment, the neighbour was in the habit of calling on my constituent, taking an interest in him and befriending him. When he became director, he went out of his way to see whether special work could be found for this permanently paralysed cripple to get him out of his home and to enable him to make a contribution to society and to lead something like a normal life.

By dint of a good deal of hard work by all concerned, they managed to take him on as a temporary clerical assistant in the Library, sorting out the waiting list of books, which are sent all over the world on loan from the Library. So satisfactory was this individual—a polio victim since the age of 15 and unemployed for 33 years—in this temporary work that he has now been taken on as a permanent employed official of the Library at £12 a week. He has been doing the work for more than a year.

Immediately this freak opportunity occurred, however—it resulted partly from chance and partly from human kindness—there was a counteraction from the iron arm of the law, which we draft and set out in the Statute Book. As soon as this man succeeded in getting work and a regular wage, after all those years of disability and unemployment, the first thing to happen was that the West Riding County Council, which had been providing him with 12 hours' home help per week because he was living by himself, his mother having died shortly before, said that it would be necessary to charge him £3 8s. a week for the home help because he was now in work.

11.15 p.m.

He could not possibly afford this out of £12 a week, and so he had to dispose of the home help provided by the West Riding authorities and engage help of a more limited nature, costing him £2 10s. a week. Also, he now has to pay the cost of getting to work at a rate higher than that of the ordinary person because he cannot use public transport. He has to pay a higher council house rent because his rebate has been reduced.

He must employ domestic help, because he cannot even wash up or make his own bed. He simply cannot carry on without very adequate domestic help, and while his case must be equalled, unhappily, many times throughout this country, all he seeks is some relief on the cost of that domestic help. It is a remarkable and perhaps sobering fact that this man reckons he is just about 10s. a week better off by working full-time than when he was living on the State.

All he asks is this relief in respect of his domestic help. In presenting his case, I appreciate straight away that there are difficulties in making allowances for these special cases—exceptions always lead to complications. But I want at once to dispose of two standard arguments which are always advanced by Treasury Ministers. The first is that it is impracticable, and here I would quote a letter from the Financial Secretary in which he states that mine is a very reasonable argument but adds that it would be impracticable to grant what we ask because, as the Royal Commission on the Taxation of Profits and Income pointed out, to take account of the precise items of personal expenditure which individual taxpayers incurred, would be quite impracticable.

That is the argument. It would be impracticable to take account of the precise items of personal expenditure in respect of each individual. This is the general plea of impracticability, but I would draw the attention of the Government, as I have already drawn that of the Financial Secretary, to the fact that there is already a special concession in respect of a tax allowance for domestic help. It is a statutory concession. Section 479 of the Income Tax Act, 1952, has provided a case history of a special concession in respect of domestic help for clergymen in vicarages, because it is held to be necessary in consequence of the work of ministers of religion. It probably has something to do with parishioners attending parish meetings in vicarages. But this is a special concession in respect of a particular category, and to say that what I seek this evening is impracticable is hardly a tenable argument when such a concession has already been conceded in respect of the clergy.

Disability is often prayed in aid as a particularly difficult form of classification from a tax point of view, and here the Financial Secretary has again reminded me of what the Royal Commission had to say. It is that it is not possible to devise a scheme which is both fair as between one taxpayer and another and which is at the same time practicable. But the Conservative Government of 1962 introduced in the Finance Act of that year the special help for blind persons because they could be regarded as being in a unique class. In other words, they could be easily identified.

So, the plea of impracticability has already been given away, because the Government have made a special concession to clergy and, in the case of disability the objection is ruled out because we make a special concession for the blind. If we look at these two special categories—the clergy in relation to domestic help, and the blind who have special allowances—we find that in their cases it is not only that they merit special treatment on their own grounds. I emphasise that, because nobody for a moment suggests that a blind person should not have special treatment, but the fact is that, in law and for the purposes of taxation, we treat them differently because they are easily identifiable. Their merit is that they are easily classified. It is a matter of facility of classification, not the merits of disabilities or pains or grief which they suffer.

The clergy are all too easy to identify because they have a particular profession and wear dark suits and dog collars. Blind people are also in a special category because we know what a blind person is, and his disabilities come in for the same ease of classification. But it is not the nature of the disabilities or the special expense which they involve which is the clue to the Treasury concession in these cases: it is ease of classification. Nobody will convince me that it is more essential for a parson to have an expense allowance in respect of domestic help that it is for the crippled person to whom I have referred. Nobody will convince me that a blind person is necessarily worse off than the person crippled in both legs, who is permanently chairborne and can use only one arm.

We are supposed to make laws. It is surely not beyond the wit of man to devise a category which could include a person who has lost three limbs, so that such a person could be given a tax allowance for the domestic help without which he could not carry out his job. If my constituent did decide to leave his job, he would have to go on National Assistance, obtain home help and cost the Treasury £15 a week. The Treasury would not be much better off. Could the Financial Secretary show a little human consideration and make some allowance for these people?

Mr. MacDermot

This is the third occasion on which we have discussed the subject of personal reliefs. On each of the two previous occasions I have had to point out that in a year in which my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has had to increase taxation he cannot seek to sort out the anomalies which exist in personal reliefs and to make further concessions.

Of the two subjects which have been raised, one is new and one we have discussed before. The hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) moved a new Clause proposing personal relief for widowed mothers. She sought to flatter me as to my appearance. I hope that she remembers that handsome is as handsome does. It appears to me that when the Opposition have a case which may evoke sympathy but which has little logic behind it, they put up their most attractive representative to try to beat the brow of Treasury Ministers.

I think that the hon. Lady realised the defects of the case which she argued because she deployed very persuasively the arguments against her own proposals. She is proposing that a widow who has residing with her a child under 19 should receive a personal allowance of £280 instead of the ordinary single personal allowance of £220. The allowance proposed in the new Clause would be available even if the widow was not entitled to a child allowance in respect of the child. It would be available to widows, and widows alone, and not to widowers or other single people who would be in the position of being responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of a child. Therefore, even if we were in a position to accept proposals of this kind, one in this form would not be acceptable.

The hon. Lady pointed out that in our tax system the widowed mother has never been the subject of special relief. There is good reason for that which no doubt was recognised by Treasury Ministers under the previous Administration. In dealing with tax reliefs, one cannot single out a category of people for benefit alone when other people in similar circumstances are not entitled to that benefit. If a relief of this kind were to be given, it would have to be given to all people who were in a similar position to widows. Although widows always attract great sympathy for their plight, when one is looking at this matter from a Revenue point of view, one must compare her position with that of another taxpayer who has the same responsibilities and the same means available to discharge them.

The hon. Lady pointed out some of the special reliefs that are available to widows already—the child minder's allowance and the £40 additional personal allowance where she does not have a resident child minder. There are also, in the case where the child qualifies for child allowances, child allowances varying from £115 if the child is not over 11 years of age, £140 if between 11 and 16, and £165 if the child is over 16 and is undergoing full-time education or training.

She made the comparison of the position of the widow with that of a married couple where there are available two sets of allowances; but the reason, of course, for this is that the latter are the allowances for two persons—one taxpayer with a joint assessment for two persons. These are some of the detailed reasons why, quite apart from the general difficulty which I mentioned at the outset, we are not in a position to grant relief of the kind in this Budget and why this Clause must be rejected.

The hon. Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) raised again the question of domestic help for employed disabled persons, one which has arisen as a result of his concern for a constituent of whom he told us about in Committee and again this evening and whose circumstances obviously are such as to evoke great sympathy. What he is proposing is that a disabled taxpayer who works full time should be entitled to tax allowance in the case of a domestic servant to the extent that he necessarily is involved, by the performance of his duties, in expenditure on domestic help that he would not otherwise incur.

The arguments that he adduced in support of his new Clause are ones which I sought to answer in Committee. There was one which I was unable to answer and which in deference to the thoroughness with which the hon. Member deployed his argument, I should like to deal with now. That was the parallel he instanced, or he described it as a parallel, of the rather unusual case under which a clergyman in certain circumstances may claim a tax allowance for the part cost of domestic help. I told the Committee I was unaware of the circumstances of this allowance.

I have looked into it and it is an unusual one, but it derives from the general taxation principle that an individual, whether disabled or not, who can show that he has to incur wholly, exclusively and necessarily in the performance of the duties of his office or employment certain expenses, can claim deduction for the appropriate part of that expenditure in computing his taxable income. It is under that rule that this special allowance that the hon. Member referred to is given to some clergymen, but as such it is something which is quite different from what is now proposed, which is a special form of disability allowance.

We discussed at length in Committee the possibility of a general tax relief for disabled persons, and I explained to the Committee at some length the reasons why we, like previous Administrations, much as we should like to, have been unable to find a satisfactory administratively workable solution to this problem. All I need say about this specific proposal is that we cannot think it would be right to single out from this general field for a special relief those disabled persons who, because of their disability, employ domestic help. I am sorry to have to fulfil the hon. Lady's prophecy but my advice to the House must be to reject the Clause.

11.30 p.m.

Mr. Paul Dean (Somerset, North)

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. Will Griffiths) has left the Chamber. He made a wholly unwarranted attack on my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). Anyone who remembers her record at the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance and the extent to which National Insurance benefits were then increased, in particular for widowed mothers, will recognise how unwarranted and unjustified that attack was.

We have had from the Financial Secretary a disappointing reply for the third time during the Finance Bill on these social service subjects. In Committee he granted one concession, namely, in respect of tax relief for the blind, for which we were all very grateful. I gained the impression from listening to the hon. and learned Gentleman for the third time on these subjects, that the whole concept of tax relief for conditions of this kind is anathema to him. I appreciate that, in view of present economic conditions, his arguments on the details carry some weight. However, I have the suspicion that, far from intending to re-examine the whole question of tax relief for the disabled or for people with special responsibilities, such as caring for children or for the elderly, the Government are rather hostile to the whole idea of extending these arrangements. Yet, as my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley said, we are not suggesting giving something to people. We are suggesting leaving a little more of their own money in their own pockets to enable them to meet the special expenses which they have owing to their condition, to their responsibilities, or to their disability.

If we believe in encouraging people to provide for themselves as far as possible without social security benefits, it is surely right to encourage them in the way we suggest. These two Clauses deal with two types of people who have special responsibilities and who incur special expenses. My hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) made out a particularly strong case for tax relief for disabled people who are able to go out to work. It is both economically and socially right that people of that type who are prepared to take on work should be encouraged to do so. However, if the effect is to be, not only that they lose social security benefits, but also that they will lose the assistance which they have been getting in the domestic help which they must have, the disincentive is too great for them. I am very disappointed with the arguments adduced by the Financial Secretary.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

I am not in the least surprised that the Financial Secretary got up so quickly to give us negative replies to these two Clauses. I always find, and I am not condemning the Financial Secretary alone, that it is much more difficult to get time to discuss these very human problems in this House than to discuss a great many other problems. I was not surprised that, as he was going to deny the two Clauses, he wanted to get it over very quickly, in the hope that perhaps some other people would not want to take part in the debate.

I support both new Clauses with all the force I can command. I am not going over again all the points so admirably made, but I want to make one point about the widowed mother, the only one that my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) omitted from her excellent speech.

It is this. A widowed mother—and this distinguishes her from a widow—generally speaking, has very little chance, with her child or children, of ever improving the standard of living of the family.

My mother was widowed very early in life, and I say very strongly and forcefully that once a family loses the main supplier of the household needs and income, there is very little chance of an improvement of the standard of life of that family until the children grow up.

One can do a great deal to relieve general hardship and maintain a reasonable standard of living, particularly if the widow takes on the burden of being the breadwinner, but when there is a father, if he is at all a good type and works hard in industry or a profession, as the years pass, he moves up the ladder and gets a higher salary.

I am not going to argue about all the difficulties that women face in the working world. We all know that they have many to face. One of the difficulties we have to remember is that a widowed mother with a family is struck practically when the father dies, and the Financial Secretary's argument about the difference between the widowed mother and the widower ought, perhaps, to be seen in this perspective. Treasury spokesmen always take up the difficulties in all these Clauses about making concessions which are not going to be fair to other people.

I know that I should be out of order if I continued very long about this, but perhaps I will be permitted to say that in the debates on the 10s. widow, the 10s. widow—[Interruption.] I always give people their due, which is what the Treasury Bench do not do.

The Labour Government operated that pledge—one of those they gave at the time of the General Election—they gave the 10s. widow what they promised her, but they left the no-shilling widow, so that in this matter of equality between one person and another in relation to taxation reform or social reform there are plenty of anomalies to be dealt with. I hope that I shall live long enough to see some of them dealt with.

My other point relates to the Clause in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison) who spoke of the difficulty of personal assessment. One realises that in these matters there are very great difficulties, but the case mentioned by my hon. Friend can be accentuated by thousands of others. There was the interesting case of a woman teacher whom it was sought to attract back to the teaching profession. She was allowed to work half-days and at the end of her week's work she was allowed to have her salary made up by National Assistance. If that is not going rather outside the general scheme of fairness, I wonder what is. I know that this was within the law. I have already taken up the case with the Chairman of the National Assistance Board, because I can think of many people who deserve a little more than they get.

If that was not a special arrangement made to suit a particular person, what is? I would be foolish if I did not realise it as something special. If these cases were put to the country, I know what the country's answer would be. It is a pity that the Treasury Minister does not know the answer himself, or perhaps he would say that he was too busy to get the Treasury officials to look into all these cases—and I am not a bit surprised.

Having voiced my support of these Clauses, I want to deal with the absolutely monstrous attack that was made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. Will Griffiths). [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is he?"] I would not care if I never saw him again. I do not mind whether he is here or not. He made only one point with which I agree. Quite a number of hon. Members and others outside the House wonder that the Parliamentary system seems to involve one in saying one thing when in government and another thing when in opposition. But there is a very subtle difference between the present Government and the Opposition. We on this side of the House, when in government, may not have gone quickly enough—and goodness knows, I have said that very often. Indeed, if my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley had been the Minister of Pensions and had had her way, we would have gone a bit further than we did.

I want to accentuate the difference between the present Government and the Opposition. We never made promises—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] It is quite true that we might not always have taken action, but we did not make promises and then fail to take action. The attack by the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange was most discreditable. It is true that there were two specific pledges, one of which was that retirement pensions would be increased. That pledge was carried out, and I am bound to remark that it was a woman who was in charge of the Ministry of Pensions and that if she had had backing for what is now the subject matter of these new Clauses and the men in the Government had been fair in the matter, it would have been better for the solution of this human problem today.

11.45 p.m.

I am concerned with the 10s. widow and the increase in retirement pension. I am in politics in a difficult part of the country where I meet the full force of Labour promises which are made day in and day out. They may not appear in the Labour Party manifesto but party workers go round and say, "We will do this and we will do that," and then nothing happens. When my party was in government and hon Members opposite were the Opposition we may have gone slowly. Indeed we did, and I do not mind attacking my party when I want to. I reckon that it takes a long time to win a battle and that if there were more women Ministers we would win more social battles, because women understand social problems generally much better than men do. I except the excellent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash. During those thirteen years—

Mr. Thomas Steele (Dunbartonshire, West)

On a point of order. Are we fighting the last election or are we dealing with the new Clause?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Samuel Storey)

I understand that the hon. Lady Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) was referring to an attack made upon the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) who moved the new Clause.

Dame Irene Ward

The attack was on what my hon. Friend did in the last Parliament and there has been an election since then. I sat on the benches opposite for 13 years and heard dozens of promises made, Motions and Bills moved and new Clauses to Finance Bills voted on in the Lobby by hon. Members opposite and now that they have the chance to do something we have this pettifogging, idiotic, negative reply to the debate. Although I have been occasionally critical of my party when in office, I would much prefer to belong to a party which moved slowly, without making promises which were not kept, than to a party which made dozens of promises and talked about millions of Bills and Motions and then when it had the chance could not implement any of them. The speech of the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange was absolutely despicable and appalling.

Sir Keith Joseph (Leeds, North-East)

The Government will realise that a number of my hon. and right hon. Friends feel strongly on this subject and particularly about the attack made on my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). In the course of the debate we have heard some thorough and lucid speeches on cases which deserved to be put and studied. But I wish at once to comment on the attack on my hon. Friend made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. Will Griffiths), who has now left the Chamber.

The hon. Gentleman alleged that because my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley was in office as a member of the Tory Government at the time when a Private Member's Bill of his to abolish the earnings rule for widows had not been given leave to be introduced and passed through the House, her speech was one of hyprocrisy. Anyone who has been in Government, and asks later for something new, would be open to the charge of hypocrisy only if it could be sensibly alleged that any Government could in their period of office do everything that needed to be done.

While my hon. Friend was at the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, the allowance for each child of a widowed mother was increased by no less than 50 per cent., and that 50 per cent. increase was not subject to the earnings rule however much the widowed mother earned and was far more valuable as a first priority for the benefit of widowed mothers than any relaxation of the widowed mothers earnings rule, although continuous relaxations of that earnings rule were made while the last Government were in office and while my hon. Friend was at the Ministry concerned. So I reject, and I hope the House will emphatically reject, the allegations made by the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange, who, I see, has now returned to his place.

My hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), in a particularly trenchant and persuasive speech, put a case which deserves the closest study, but the Government have embarked upon the argument that this is not a year for relief and neither are these the categories to which they would choose to give priority. It is no light thing for the Government to discourage, as the Financial Secretary's answer does, people who, despite heavy burdens, are seeking as far as lies in their power to support themselves. I hope that our arguments will be carefully studied by the Government. The cases have been forcefully put, but the Government are in obdurate mood. As there is so much further business before the House, I shall not advise my right hon. and hon. Friends to divide on the new Clause.

Question put and negatived.