HC Deb 13 June 1966 vol 729 cc1163-73

Again considered in Committee.

Miss Herbison

I was about to say that, apart from any question of principle involved in the extension of means testing, its application to people in full-time work would bring some awkward, though not necessarily impossible, problems to solve.

One in particular is an accurate and fair measurement of current earnings for this purpose, which would be an important thing to get and on which the new Clause offers no guidance. The hon. Member for Farnham said airily, "Let the Minister decide." But the Minister would have to decide on certain criteria. These criteria have not been given, Since earnings will be taken into account in assessing resources, any increase in a man's earnings would affect the amount of the family allowance, which would cause real difficulties for the family. It might cause a lack of incentive in certain areas and one would have to be careful about that.

It would be wrong to introduce a radical and expensive new departure of this kind by Regulation. The Government regard the relief of poverty among the children of low wage earners as of great importance. I have said what we are already doing. When the Government are ready with their proposals for relieving such poverty, they will be presented to Parliament in the proper way with a full opportunity for discussion and amendment of any legislative measures required. That seems to me and to the Government to be the right way of dealing with this great problem. This is being examined urgently and when we are ready we shall bring forward our proposals.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

The Minister would have been much franker with the House if, instead of the reasons which she has given for refusing to accept the Amendment, she had told us that the Treasury had refused to give her the money. I am convinced that that is the reason. The one which she put up would not hold water because it is so feeble. I appreciate her compliment to my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe), who raised this matter in no party political spirit. That is the way in which I intend to approach the subject.

No one in his right senses can believe the right hon. Lady when she says that she will not adopt the solution put forward because it might prejudice the ultimate decisions of the Government once the review has been completed. Surely she will not stand at the Dispatch Box and say that, after the review, she will do less for the low-wage-earning families with a large number of children than is proposed to be done in the new Clause.

I would have hoped that a solution on the lines of much enhanced family allowances for all recipients would have been in the Minister's mind. I hope that she will bear this in mind during the review which she is undertaking. By far the greatest proportion of allowances goes in Surtax and other tax allowances. Family allowances, National Assistance and National Insurance benefits form only a small proportion of the total. I could give the right hon. Lady the figures because in the last Session I asked a series of Questions on this topic.

We in the Liberal Party have come to the conclusion that the right solution to this problem is to sweep away the existing structure of family allowances, National Assistance, National Insurance benefits, Income Tax and Surtax allowances and replace them with a single and unified system of family allowances payable to everyone as of right. I will be delighted to send the Minister a copy of the pamphlet in which these ideas are more fully described.

I return to the immediate question facing the Committee. I accept that the Minister is correct when she says that this problem had been under consideration for a long time before the present Government came to office. In other words, it had been under consideration for a long time before 18 months ago. 13ut if it was of such great importance in the minds of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and the Minister stressed that it had been, why was this survey of the low income families not initiated immediately the present Government come to power?

I understood that the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster had been instructed by the Government to undertake a complete review of all social security provisions, and and I was under the impression that that included family allowances and the problems of the low-wage earner with a large family. Now, apparently, this is not so. The right hon. Lady said on Second Reading—and she repeated this tonight—that a special survey is being undertaken into the circumstances of these families to determine the incidence of hardship among them.

I equally do not understand why the right hon. Lady imagines that there would be strong feelings in the country if the new Clause were accepted. Surely it provides us with the opportunity to deal with this problem. It would bring the total income of the low-wage-earning family up to at least what is considered to be appropriate for those who are not in employment. This would not prejudice any decision which the right hon. Lady might arrive at in the light of the review which she mentioned.

I agree that if the Minister does not have all the information which she needs to make a final decision, then this review is necessary, but she could take this in- terim step tonight, bearing in mind that the Government's legislative programme is crammed full for as far ahead as we can see. The right hon. Lady said that there were so many problem left to her to solve by the previous Conservative Government that she practically did not know where to start. I have a certain amount of sympathy for her, but in that case why does she not take the opportunity given her by the new Clause at least to do something in the interim period while the review is under way and while, as we know, no additional time will be provided for social security legislation during the lifetime of this Session: that is, till next October?

To do something for these families in the immediate future would be a fair and reasonable step for the right hon. Lady to take, because it is utterly inequitable that people who are earning low salaries will in many cases receive less under the Government's proposals—bearing in mind that the right hon. Lady said that there were 200 such families—than people who are out of work. This is a direct incentive to people not to work, to remain unemployed, so that they can get the improved benefits which the Minister is providing in the Bill. I should have thought that that alone was enough to make the new Clause acceptable to the Government. The socially undesirable effects of persuading people to remain idle at a time when Labour is so short hardly needs emphasising to the Committee. That is not my main criticism of the right hon. Lady's attitude. I am sure that, as a humanitarian person, she must agree that her attitude is fundamentally wrong when she comes to reflect on it.

That anybody with a large number of children who is earning should receive less than the equivalent person who is out of employment seems to me absolutely crazy, and I hope that, although it is very late and the Minister has already made a speech on this subject, my short remarks will have given her time for further reflection and that she will provide some better answer than she gave on the previous occasion.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

I am very much afraid that the right hon. Lady has not convinced this side of the Committee. Towards the end of her speech she implied that she would consider a proposal put forward by her hon. Friend and go into the whole question of abolishing tax allowances, which will take a very long time. We must press the Amendment to a Division.

I rather thought that the right hon. Lady would object to the way in which I moved the Amendment. When one has as weak a case, as she has, it is a good policy to abuse the other side's advocate. The suggestion that there is something wrong in taking a party point on this is a very odd point of view for hon. Gentlemen opposite to take. This is a serious Bill, the provisions contained in it are serious, and the suggestion in the Amendment and the new Clause is serious.

It is frivolous to suggest that we should not make party points from this side of the Committee. I never noticed that that was an objection when the right hon. Lady was in opposition. Hon. Members opposite must get used to the idea that they are the Government. They must not go on expecting us to refrain from criticising them for fear of hurting their party feelings and simply because they say this is too important for party criticism.

In any case, I was not indignant about the delay. I know that whatever the right hon. Lady will try to do the delay will be interminable. I was indignant about the fact that there was no hint of this delay in the promises. It is not the party line that is rather squalid, but leading the poorer people and those who need help to believe, as the right hon. Lady has said, that she is taking the opportunity to rectify the wrongs which the Tory Party left behind—to promise that the Ministry of Social Security will do this and lead people to believe that they will be helped, and, now that the opportunity has come at last, to disappoint them. Once more they will be let down, as years ago, the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Minister of Housing and Local Government said they were let down before.

Make no mistake about it, if the Labour Party go into the Lobby tonight to vote against the Amendment it will be voting for keeping, until the Government can make up their mind, a quarter of a million families and perhaps three-quarters of a million children living below subsistence level.

Miss Herbison

I do not think that there are any further points made by the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) with which I need deal. My hon. Friends and the people of the country will still have faith in the Government, particularly when they look at our record in social security over the past 18 months. An important point was made by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock), who asked why we did not start the survey a long time ago. Last year our officers were engaged in another survey, a survey of the financial and other circumstances of old people. It was impossible for us to have two such important surveys going on at one time. This survey is a much smaller one, so we can get it done quickly. I can give an assurance that the results will be processed as quickly as possible.

Mr. Lubbock

If this is a much smaller survey and it does not take the same number of staff as does the survey on the old people, why could not the right hon. Lady have invited some universities to co-operate and to undertake it simultaneously with the other survey?

Miss Herbison

This smaller survey is being carried out. I do, in fact, keep very closely in touch with the people doing research work in this matter, and have given some help to them. We now await the results of our inquiry into the circumstances of these families. Whatever research is done, we want to make the greatest use of it.

The hon. Member for Orpington made only one other point. It would have been a most telling one if it were correct. He said that it would be an incentive for a man to lose his job and remain idle because, under the Bill, he would receive more than he could when in work. That is not the case. That is why the point made by the hon. Member is a false one, and why we have 15,000 people suffering a wage stop. If those other people came out of work they, too, would suffer the wage stop. What the hon. Member for Orpington considered to be one of his most important points is not valid.

I ask my hon. Friends to reject the Amendment, in the full knowledge that we are urgently trying to do something about he problem.

Question put, That those words be there inserted:—

The Committee divided: Ayes, 116. Noes, 181.

Division No. 18.] AYES [10.18 p.m.
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Glover, Sir Douglas Pike, Miss Mervyn
Astor, John Glyn, Sir Richard Pink, R. Bonner
Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n) Gower, Raymond Pym, Francis
Baker, W. H. K. Grieve, Percy Quennell, Miss J. M.
Batsford, Brian Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds) Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Bell, Ronald Gurden, Harold Rees-Davies, W. R.
Berry, Hn. Anthony Harris, Reader (Heston) Renton, Rt. Fin. Sir David
Biggs-Davison, John Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Black, Sir Cyril Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Blaker, Peter Higgins, Terence L. Roots, William
Bossom, Sir Clive Hill, J. E. B. Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. J. Holland, Philip Russell, Sir Ronald
Boyle, Rt Hn. Sir Edward Howell, David (Guildford) St. John-Stevas, Norman
Braine, Bernard Hutchison, Michael Clark Scott, Nicholas
Brinton, Sir Tatton Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Sharples, Richard
Bromley-Davenport,Lt.Col.SirWalter Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Buchanan-Smith,Alick(Angus,N&M) Jopling, Michael Sinclair, Sir George
Buck, Antony (Colchester) Kimball, Marcus Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Burden, F. A. King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)
Campbell, Gordon Knight, Mrs. Jill Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Chichester-Clark, R.. Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Cooke, Robert Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.
Corfield, F. V. Loveys, W. H. van Straubenzee, W. R.
Costain, A. P. Lubbock, Eric Vickers, Dame Joan
Grosthwaite-Eyre, Sir Oliver Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)
Crowder, F. P. Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham) Walker, Peter (Worcester)
Cunningham, Sir Knox Marten, Neil Wall, Patrick
Currie, G. B. H. Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Ward, Dame Irene
Dayidson,James(Aberdeerishire,W.) Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Whitelaw, William
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. (Ashford) Monro, Hector Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Doughty, Charles Morgan, W. G. (Denbigh) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward Munro-Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton) Nabarro, Sir Gerald Worsley, Marcus
Elliot, R.W.(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.) Nicholls, Sir Harmar Wylie, N. R.
Errington, Sir Eric Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Younger,Hn. George
Eyre, Reginald Nott, John
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Osborn, John (Hallam) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Giles, Rear-Adm. Morgan Page, Graham (Crosby) Mr. Jasper More and
Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Pardoe, J. Mr. Anthony Grant.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Garrow, Alex
Alldritt, Walter Davies, Ednyfed Hudson (Conway) Ginsburg, David
Anderson, Donald Davies, Harold (Leek) Gourlay, Harry
Archer, Peter Davies, Ifor (Gower) Gray, Dr. Hugh
Armstrong, Ernest Davies, Robert (Cambridge) Gregory, Arnold
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Delargy, Hugh Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)
Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice Dempsey, James Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Lianelly)
Barnes, Michael Dewar, Donald Hamilton, James (Bothwell)
Barnett, Joel Dickens, James Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)
Baxter, William Dobson, Ray Harper, Joseph
Beaney, Alan Doig, Peter Hattersley, Roy Hazell, Bert
Benn, Rt Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter) Henig, Stanley
Bidwell, Sydney Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret
Bishop, E. S. Edwards, William (Merloneth) Hilton, W. S.
Blackburn, F. Ellis, John Hooley, Frank
Booth, Albert English, Michael Horner, John
Boston, Terence Ennals, David Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas
Braddock, Mrs. E. M. Ensor, David Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.) Howie, W.
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Faulds, Andrew Hoy, James
Brown,Bob(N'c'tie-upon-Tyne,W) Fernyhough, E. Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Hughes, Roy (Newport)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak)
Cant, R. B. Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Jeger,Mrs.Lena(H'b'n&St.P'cras,S.)
Coe, Denis Floud, Bernard Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)
Coleman, Donald Forrester, John Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)
Concannon, J. D. Fowler, Gerry Jones,Rt.Hn.SirElwyn(W.Ham,S.)
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Fraser, John (Norwood) Judd, Frank
Cousins, Rt. Hn. Frank Freeson, Reginald Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)
Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard Galpern, Sir Myer Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)
Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford) Gardner, A. J.
Kerr, Russell (Felthem) Norwood, Christopher Short,Rt.Hn.Edward(N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
Leadbitter, Ted Ogden, Eric Silkin, John (Deptford)
Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton) Orme, Stanley Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Lee, John (Reading) Oswald, Thomas Slater, Joseph
Lever, L. M. (Ardwick) Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn) Snow, Julian
Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Owen, Will (Morpeth) Spriggs, Leslie
Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Paget, R. T. Swain, Thomas
McBride, Neil Palmer, Arthur Symonds, J. B.
McCann, John Park, Trevor Varley, Eric G.
MacColl, James Parkyn, Brian (Bedford) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
MacDermot, Niall Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred Wallace, George
Macdonald, A. H. Pentland, Norman Watkins, David (Consett)
McKay, Mrs. Margaret Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.) Weitzman, David
Mackintosh, John P. Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E. Wellbeloved, James
McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Price, Christopher (Perry Barr) Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
McNamara, J. Kevin Price, William (Rugby) Whitaker, Ben
MacPherson, Malcolm Pursey, Cmdr. Harry Whitlock, William
Marquand, David Rankin, John Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Mendelson, J. J. Redhead, Edward Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)
Mikardo, Ian Reynolds, G. W. Williams, Clifford (Abertillery)
Milian, Bruce Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon) Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Miller, Dr. M. S. Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.) Winnick, David
Molloy, William Robertson, John (Paisley) Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
Moonman, Eric Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.) Woof, Robert
Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Roebuck, Roy Wyatt, Woodrow
Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Rogers, George Zilliacus, K.
Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Ross, Rt. Hn. William
Moyle, Roland Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.) TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mulley, Rt. Hon. Frederick Ryan, John Mr. Charles Grey and
Murray, Albert Sheldon, Robert Mr. George Lawson.
Newens, Stan Shore, Peter (Stepney)

To report Progress and ask leave to sit again.—[Mr. Charles R. Morris.]

Committee report Progress; fo sit again Tomorrow.