§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.20 a.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Social Services (Sir Keith Joseph)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This Bill provides some pension to those left out of the 1948 National Insurance Scheme. It makes better provision for women left widows between the ages of 40 and 50 and provides a constant attendance allowance for the very severely disabled. The Government hasten to the House with this Bill which fulfils, if it passes into law, three pledges given by the Conservative Party during the recent election. I must also hasten to acknowledge that we would not have been able to come so quickly to the House with legislation had it not been that two-thirds of this Bill is adopted from the legislation which was lost at Dissolution but laid before the House by the right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman).
We acknowledge the work of the party opposite on the second and third parts of this Bill. We acknowledge the work of Mr. David Ennals, particularly on the preparation on the widows and severely disabled side. I am delighted that so many of my hon. and right hon. Friends who have contributed so much to all three parts of this Bill are in the House, and I think that they would wish me to say that we shall miss Mr. Christopher Ward who played a considerable part in Committee on the relevant parts of this Bill.
This Bill will bring help to no less than 250,000 people, including many of the most deserving in the land. I will start with the first Clause dealing with the very elderly non-pensioners whom I have called the "left outs" from the 1948 National Insurance Scheme. These are people, now very elderly, 87 the minimum age for men and 82 the minimum age for women, who were excluded from the pre-1948 pension schemes and 1008 because of their age at the time when the 1948 National Insurance scheme was introduced were excluded from that too. The last Government and the previous Conservative Governments rejected the case for some pension for these "left out" very elderly on the respectable ground that they had paid no contribution and therefore they should draw no benefit.
That is a very respectable reason, but the fact is, as hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will find, that opposition clears the mind and frees the emotions a certain amount. In opposition we came to see that the strict logic of the case had in the past too narrow a foundation and must take second place to a broader understanding of the human realities of the situation. These "left out" very elderly, mostly living on fixed incomes, have seen the pensions which they lacked through no fault of their own grow steadily in real value and importance. In 1958 the contrast was sharpened by the late-age entrants who were from that year given the right to a National Insurance pension, although the maximum contribution of any such late-age entrant could have been no more than £155. For that payment the late-age entrant had an annual right to a pension which is now over £400 for a married couple.
What Clause 1 does—and I hope that hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite will take this into account—is to provide some very belated transitional arrangement for the very elderly "left out" of the 1948 scheme. I want to pay a real tribute to my hon. Friends who crusaded during the last two Parliaments for this treatment of these people, led by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), who started the whole process of persuasion, followed by my noble Friend Lord Colville of Culross, followed in succession by the late Bob Matthew and my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), and then my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) and my hon. Friend the Member for Paddington, South (Mr. Scott).
Clause 1 then provides a once-for-all belated transitional arrangement for 1009 the remnant of those excluded through no fault of their own from the 1948 National Insurance scheme. How many are there? We can only guess, but we believe that there are about 100,000. Who were they? There are really three groups. There are those who were both excluded from the pre-1948 scheme and, because they were over retirement age when the 1948 scheme was introduced, were excluded from that legislation. There are those who under the 1948 scheme did have the chance to pay contributions but did not take that chance. In a perfect world no doubt those individuals would be excluded, but we cannot now administratively distinguish between them and those who did not have the chance, so those who did have the chance but rejected it are included.
There is another very small group, those who were covered by pre-1948 Act pension schemes but who for one reason or another, due mainly to deficiency of contributions are now entitled to benefits less than the benefits provided by Clause I. They will have their benefits topped up.
Those are the groups, together with their wives, and widows. Subject only to a simple 10 year residence test which will be included in Regulations, they will be entitled to the benefit provided by the Bill.
I emphasise that the benefit is not being extended to those who could have qualified for full pension under the 1948 scheme but who for one reason or another failed to do so. They have had their chance and will have their chance under the 1948 legislation, and for them it is fair and proper to apply directly the contributory principles. We have to bear these people in mind, these people who have deficient contribution records under the 1948 scheme, in arriving at a fair balance in contrast with those who have had no right to pay contributions at all. That is why in this broad attempt at rough justice the Government are proposing a benefit of £3 for a single person with £1 17s. for an adult dependant, making £4 17s. for a married couple. On the one hand we have the great army of existing pensioners, over 7 million in all, many of whom have been lifelong contributors. On the other hand we have the "left outs" non-pensioners who have paid no contribution at all.
1010 We must get these pensions into payment as quickly as possible. We hope that Parliament will pass the Bill in all its stages before the recess. We shall need something like three months to secure claims and make awards. About half of these non-pensioners who will benefit are on supplementary benefit and are therefore known to us. As for the other half we really need the help of the country because these are very elderly people and they may not be quick to read advertisements and fill in coupons. We shall appeal to families, relatives and friends and all the agencies of government to draw to our attention those individuals who may be entitled. I here and now ask hon. Members on both sides of the House to write to me direct in as simple a form as they wish, if they come across cases which they think merit attention.
We shall need at least three months to identify these benefit cases. We should be ready by early November, and it so happens that under legislation introduced by the late Administration, with our entire agreement, supplementary benefits are due to rise in the week beginning 2nd November. It seems entirely convenient that these new payments, many of which will be going to supplementary benefit recipients, should be put into payment at the same time so all adjustments can be made simultaneously. The gross cost will be £14 million in a full year, with a saving on supplementary benefit of £7 million. The net cost will therefore be £7 million and, as it will go to people who have not contributed, the money will not come from the National Insurance Fund but be paid by the Exchequer. The benefit is a straight-forward pension and will rise proportionately if the standard pension rises. Just like any other pension, it will not be disregarded; it will be subject to tax. The charge in the current financial year will be £4 million, and the Supplementary Estimate will be presented as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that those old people who are already drawing supplementary benefit will not get £3 on top of supplementary benefit? There may be some misunderstanding on that point?
§ Sir K. Joseph
That was the next point I was about to make. Those people who are living entirely or mainly on supplementary benefit will get no gain from this legislation. Those people drawing supplementary benefit at less than £3 a week will lose that benefit but will gain the £3 or £4 17s. pension and will be better off by the difference between the two. Those people who are just above supplementary benefit will get the full gain of the new pension.
I ask the House, and particularly hon. Members opposite, to recognise that this vintage group contains a large number who would be entitled to supplementary benefit if they felt able to claim it. There are a large number who abide by an old morality—a morality which we regard as no longer appropriate. Nevertheless, they are people of integrity and they will welcome a benefit as of right because they have denied themselves what they regard quite wrongly as a benefit out of charity. A large number of these people will get benefit from the pension.
I turn to the provision for widows. Clauses 2 and 3 of the Bill solve the long-standing grievance that a woman widowed just before the age of 50 gets no pension whereas a woman widowed the day after she is 50 does receive a pension—leaving on one side the residuary 30s. a week pension right which is phasing out as those entitled to it from 1948 grow older and disappear.
The Bill broadly substitutes for the sharp difference before and after the age of 50 in pension payment for widows a scale of pension starting when the woman is widowed at 40 with 30s. a week and rising to a full pension of £5 when a woman is widowed at age 50 by 10 equal annual steps of 7s. a step. It was the method adopted by the previous Government and we are making no change. Any woman widowed over 40 should in future qualify for a pension. The relevant date for a woman who qualifies for widowed mother's allowance will be the date when because of the age of her child or children she ceases to be entitled to that allowance.
The new rule will benefit about 100,000 existing widows, many of whom were already drawing the 30s. pension, whose 1012 pension will simply be increased to the proper figure according to the age when they were widowed under the Bill. As others now receive no pension we shall undertake a publicity campaign and we shall need time to identify the widows who are entitled and not already known to us. To provide us with that time we propose to bring the pension into payment in April, 1971.
We are also adopting in Clause 3 a proposal by the previous Government to drop the three-year marriage qualification for widows' pension. On a minor matter the Bill provides powers to introduce a regulation to prevent any abuse in a case where a woman is widowed within a year of marrying a man over 65. We see no reason at the moment to introduce such a precaution, but we are taking power to do so if it becomes necessary.
The widows' pension will cost £13 million in a full year. It will be paid out of National Insurance Fund, which at the moment is in surplus. It is not sensible to adjust the contributions which would involve about a penny or 1½d. a side to pay the extra cost, but we will take it into account when the next up-rating occurs. The cost will rise over the years and in due course may reach as much as £20 million a year.
Lastly, I come to perhaps the most important innovation of all, the first step in a better treatment for the disabled. This was common ground between the parties, though the credit has to be given to the Labour Party for starting upon legislation. As a long-standing supporter of the Disablement Income Group and of other similar bodies, I should like to pay a tribute to Mrs. Ann Armstrong of the Responaut, and to that astonishing woman, the late Mrs. Megan du Boisson of the Disablement Income Group, for drawing so vividly to public attention the plight of the disabled. It was a remarkable tragedy for this country that in one month last year, through accident in the one case and a lingering death in the other, the community lost Mrs. du Boisson, the leading figure in D.I.G., and the Reverend Mary Webster, the founder and leader of the National Council for the Single Woman and her Dependants which works for women who often give up their lives to care for disabled parents. We are starting now on the process of a period of better treatment for the disabled and the Bill is the first step, at 1013 which both Mrs. Megan du Boisson and the Reverend Mary Webster would have rejoiced.
Clause 4 provides that there will be £4 a week attendance allowance for people who need attention by day and by night or who need continual supervision. Nobody pretends that £4 a week will be enough by itself to secure full-time professional attendance at home, but it will be valuable additional cash resources for households which have to bear this financial burden. There are some households for whom the Supplementary Benefits Commission is already a help. We shall treat this £4 as an additional requirement under the Supplementary Benefit Scheme and the necessary regulations will be laid. Therefore, in effect, the £4 or the equivalent figures for children will be disregarded. It will be payable only when a disabled person has needed attendance for six months. It is not intended for short-term emergencies, but for the long haul of chronic severe disability. Parents will get an allowance if they have a severely disabled child living with them.
We are in the realms of guesswork when it comes to the matter of figures. We believe that there will be something like 50,000 people who will be entitled, including 10,000 children. But we will not be surprised if our figure is to a degree wrong. We do not know until claims come in and have been judged how many will qualify. The judgment of who will or will not be entitled will be a difficult medical one.
The Bill provides in Clause 5 for the appointment of an attendance allowance board to decide who satisfies the conditions.
Clause 6 provides a right of appeal only on the question of law to a national insurance commission. The Attendance Allowance Board will delegate the appraisal duties to general practitioners and other doctors but the job is so important that we intend to secure the service on the board, after due consultation, of doctors of the highest experience and qualifications. The House will be aware that there is a great deal to be done before we can pay the attendance allowance. We must set up the Attendance Allowance Board. We must consult the people who are experts in 1014 these procedures and give appropriate publicity. We have to design with them a programme to get the allowances into payment. We have to make regulations, distribute leaflets, get the publicity, attract claims, and arrange for claimants to be appraised and judged. It may be that to arrive at, say, 50,000 beneficiaries, we shall have to filter and appraise as many as 100,000 claimants. Each case will need detailed medical evidence, and it would not be wise to suggest that we can hope to get the allowance into payment before April, 1972. It is our intention to work to that date.
The cost in a full year will be £10 million, plus administrative expenses.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
Can my right hon. Friend say what is the position about taxation on this attendance allowance?
§ Sir K. Joseph
No, I fear that that is for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
This Bill draws on the initiative and support of both sides of the House. In a full year it will distribute £30 million, rising in due course to an even higher figure, to some of the most deserving people in the land. I commend it to the House.
§ 11.41 a.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
I must first congratulate the new Secretary of State on his appointment. Although we would rather that he were not there, that has been decided for us, and we wish him well.
I remember the right hon. Gentleman when he first came into this House in 1956. He will recall that we were both very interested in the social services at that time, and we had many conversations about the emerging problems of social security as we saw them in years gone by, which have become formidable since. The social services have been the right hon. Gentleman's close interest for a long time, and the House will recognise that he has now a big responsibility in administering the Government's social policy.
It is in the right hon. Gentleman's province that we fear most of the harmful cuts in Government expenditure. We hope, perhaps against hope, that we shall 1015 be able to give him support and that he will not come under severe criticism from this side of the House for fulfilling some of the implications of Conservative policy. We shall therefore give him our closest attention.
Having said that, I had better present my own credentials. It looks rather topsy-turvy for me to be the Opposition spokesman this morning with my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) on the benches behind me. But it is his choice and not mine. He has pleased himself. I have been drafted. My right hon. Friend has become the editor of New Statesman, which I suppose is the exchange of one form of bondage for another. We congratulate him upon the great tribute to his talents and wisdom, and we appreciate his desire to be relieved of some of the obligations and fetters of a Front Bench spokesman.
I am here purely as a makeshift, for today only, while we sort out shadow portfolios. We are a democratic party. We do not allow our Leader to choose his own Shadow Cabinet. It is done by ballot among members of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the process takes a little time. Meanwhile, since in terms of political ambition I am held more in respect than in fear, there seems to be no difficulty in my taking on this rôle today. I hope that nothing that I say will inhibit my right hon. Friend from attempting to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, later in the debate. His contribution to thought and achievement in Labour's social policies is universally acknowledged, and one of the tragedies of the General Election was the loss of so much of his work which was on the point of fulfilment. As the Secretary of State has acknowledged, this Bill salvages several small but important features of the mammoth reform which my right hon. Friend had almost completed piloting through all its stages before the Dissolution.
I must not overlook the fact that on the Treasury Bench, though not sitting there at the moment, we have as Chief Secretary and Minister of State the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) and the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), both of whom played a conspicuous part in the campaign 1016 launched by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) to get Clause 1 of the Bill where it is. Although the hon. Member for Abingdon pioneered this so persistently and agreeably, the luck of the Ballot brought the present Chief Secretary and the present Minister of State at the Treasury on to the stage in the repeated acts in this drama. The Chief Secretary sponsored a Bill in 1969 comparable to Clause 1, and the Minister of State at the Treasury sponsored a similar Bill the year before. They are both on the Treasury Bench now, acting as the watchdogs over public expenditure. If they were here, they would be sitting on the Treasury Bench like a couple of inverted Micawbers, waiting for something to turn down. These two hon. Members are now accomplices in the fulfilment of Conservative Party policy, comrades in arms, perhaps wielding cardboard axes on public expenditure but, for the moment at any rate, fostering a Bill which will increase it. It will increase it by nearly £40 million a year.
This is the first Bill to receive a Second Reading in this new Parliament. It is quite significant in content, in the social improvement that it will bring, and because it increases and not reduces public expenditure. However, I think that I am entitled to ask what is the future of the Government's policy on the social services. This is the only Bill on the social services foreshadowed for the present Session. Is this all that we are to get between now and October, 1971? Commendable as it is, the Bill clearly lifts two proposals from Labour's National Superannuation and Social Insurance Bill, apart from Clause 1 which fulfils the pledge of the Conservative Party. Has the rest of my right hon. Friend's Bill gone into the wastepaper basket? Is there nothing else in the minds of the Government which we shall see between now and the end of the present Session? Is this all that the Government have to say on the great questions of poverty and social security? We should all like an answer to that.
Coming to the Bill, Clause 1 proposes pensions of £3 for a single person and £4 17s. for a married couple falling in certain groups of elderly person who, for one of three reasons, was excluded from the full benefit of the 1948 scheme. In 1017 Committee, we may want to examine a little more closely the composition of those categories. One can see clearly the stronger case for those who were excluded absolutely on grounds of age from any possibility of entering the 1948 scheme, compared with those who had an opportunity but rejected it and those who took the opportunity and have come out of it with a reduced pension. The three categories are quite distinct, and we may want to look at them a little more closely.
I want to deal with the principle of Clause 1. The right hon. Gentleman said that after a good deal of thought and persuasion by Conservative Members the Government had come to the conclusion that the logic of the matter had rested on too narrow a base and that a broader judgment should be made of this issue. We have gone over this ground a great deal, and it is on the record that we on this side voted on two occasions against the Second Reading of the Bills of 1968 and 1969. In 1970 a similar Bill was talked out and there was no Division, but had there been a Division we should again have dissented from the Bill being given a Second Reading. It is right that I should again put on the record a summary of the reasons which led us to dissent from the proposals. I will not stop to argue any of these reasons but will just summarise them.
First, we took the view that to grant pensions to non-contributors was in breach of the contributory principle of the National Insurance scheme.
Secondly, if people excluded from the 1948 scheme on grounds of age are now to be granted pensions, there was a case for doing so years ago. They have been over pension age all the time since 1948. The Conservative Governments between 1951 and 1964 apparently overlooked them and did nothing about their position which now makes such a strong appeal to the Government. The case for granting a pension to people over 80 years of age is no stronger than it is for granting a pension to them at 66, 70 or 75—or is it? Is the fact that these persons are now over 80 years of age a strong ground for giving them a pension which they have never had before? Is it that they are so old that they should now have it? If the age of 80 has a particular significance in this context, why are not we considering an addition to the pension of all persons 1018 over 80? Why is this special regard for persons over 80 being applied only to the non-pensioner?
Thirdly, this pension is non-selective between one recipient and another; no question arises of comparative or absolute need. This runs counter to the Conservative philosophy of giving more help to those in need. Under the supplementary benefit provisions the need of those who qualify and apply is already being met. Those not receiving supplementary benefit must, presumably, have personal resources above the qualifying limit and, as the right hon. Gentleman said, the additional pension will absorb some part of or all the supplementary benefit being paid to thousands of people. Some recipients will, therefore, be no better off when they get the £3 pension. They will have something as of right without a means test rather than something as of right with a test of need.
If it is suggested that it is more humiliating or undignified for old people to apply for supplementary benefit, the answer must surely be that it should be no more undignified for non-pensioners to apply than for contributory pensioners, many thousands of whom do apply and get help under the supplementary benefit scheme. In both cases the whole system of National Assistance was transformed by the Labour Government into the supplementary benefits scheme. We removed many of the features of National Assisance which we were told were disliked. Undoubtedly, the supplementary benefits scheme has been far more acceptable than the National Assistance scheme, and far more people have felt able to apply for and get benefit under it. We cannot distinguish between non-pensioners and others on the ground of social or personal attitude to supplementary benefit.
Fourthly, if, as I have shown, the proposed pension is not justified on grounds of need, there can be little case for additional expenditure of £14 million gross, £7 million net, when the Conservatives attach such importance to reducing Government expenditure. We must bear in mind that this is a charge upon the Exchequer, upon the taxpayer, and not upon the contributor.
Fifthy, there are more pressing things to do in the social services with £7 million. This is not where our priorities 1019 would lie. The £7 million could be used to improve many essential services and to provide extra benefits in cases of hardship.
Sixthly, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East said in our last debate on this subject, very old people probably have a greater need for physical social services than for an addition to their income. Much has been done to improve facilities for old people, and this money would be better spent in that direction. There are thousands of people who are longing to go into care in pleasant and agreeable surroundings provided by the many newly built homes for the very old.
Finally, if pensions are granted for non-contributors, what about the contributors who are on reduced pensions as a result of a shortfall in their contributions? We all know of cases where the reduction in the contributory pension is unjust by reference to the totality of contributions over a long time. A person may have dropped out for a good reason for a time, the average contributions fall short of the average of 50 and in consequence that person has a reduced pension. Should we continue to penalise a person who falls short of the average of 50 contributions a year while giving pensions as of right to those whose average is nil?
Those are the important grounds upon which we have felt in the past bound to dissent from the proposal which is embodied in Clause 1. I have given these reasons to show that our dissent in the past has not been party political and has not been without considerable feeling for the problems of very old people. Quite simply, however, the case was not convincing enough—not even for a Labour Government—to justify expenditure in this direction. The case convinced others, and especially right hon. and hon. Members on the benches opposite. The position of aged non-pensioners made a strong emotional appeal to many people in the country, and the older they became the stronger became the emotional demand for something to be done. The Conservative Front Bench, cool and hesitant for a time in embracing this proposal, eventually fell in behind the claim. It found a place in the Conservative Party manifesto and now appears in a Government 1020 Bill, so we take it for what it is, a political judgment—none the worse for that—to fulfil a political pledge to make belated restitution to the survivors of those who were excluded from the 1948 scheme 22 years ago, and of course their widows.
When I was speaking on the Bill sponsored by the hon. Member for Farnham, the present Chief Secretary, a year ago, and speaking for myself alone at that time, I argued in favour of doing just that, and I am on record for what I said at the conclusion of that speech. I was then making an appeal to my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East, but what have the Government done? Although they give recompense for exclusion, it is on a basis less favourable than the standard pension payable at the present time. The right hon. Gentleman, while giving no explanation of why £3, and not £3 10s. or £4, gave as a reason for the reduced amount that one had to hold the balance between those who had not contributed—covered by Clause 1—and those who had contributed but owing to a short-fall in their contributions were getting a reduced pension, the very group of people to whom I referred a moment ago.
I think that if one decides to do a thing of this kind, it is on grounds of clear distinction of a particular group from all other groups, and one has to deal with it on that narrow basis. Having decided to do it, having pledged themselves to do it, they have failed to do what many people will regard as adequate justice, in this case. Although I am not always the recipient of favourable communications from Mr. O'Hanlon, who has been a persistent campaigner in this cause, he has drawn my attention to his views of extreme dissatisfaction with the proposed amount, and I understand that he has communicated his views to the Government.
If we are giving recompense, it could be argued that there should be a degree of retrospection, but this is to be done from a forward date, on a reduced basis. It is not very clear exactly how the amount will be arrived at in individual cases. I am a little puzzled by the use of the words on page 2, "as may be prescribed" and "at prescribed rates". No doubt we shall get a little further explanation of the assessment of the £3. 1021 That is all I have to say about Clause 1. We shall not stand in the way of what the Government propose to do.
Now I come to Clauses 2 and 3 which deal with widows' pensions, and, as the right hon. Gentleman said, will remedy a long-standing grievance of which we are all aware and been familiar with over the years of the younger widow who finds herself completely excluded from widow's pension, in some cases by a few days, or a few months, on grounds of age. This, as the right hon. Gentleman conceded, has been lifted from the Labour Government's National Superannuation and Social Insurance Bill. This matter had a part in our programme more than 10 years ago. It has been confirmed Labour Party policy to remove this grievance as soon as we got the opportunity, and we are therefore glad that the Government have decided to bring the remedy into this Bill.
§ Mr. Houghton
I think that we were perhaps a little slow in getting going on some of these reforms, but of course we were passing through very serious economic circumstances at the time, and a great deal of preparation had to go into a complete reform of the social services. I think it is reasonable to suppose that when there are a number of things upon which one wishes to bring about improvements it is better to try to do it comprehensively than piecemeal. Today we are dealing with this piecemeal, and this is one of my criticisms of the way in which the matter is being dealt with.
I come, now, to the question of attendance allowance. I join the right hon. Gentleman in his reference to the late Megan du Boisson, who campaigned fearlessly and long to get recognition of the plight of the disabled. Some people dislike pressure groups. I think they are a good thing. They may be narrowly based. They may pursue a line and stick to it regardless of economic circumstances, or of what has been done in other directions. They stick to it, and they press 1022 it home. That is really the only way in many cases, otherwise it becomes lost in the woodlands of reform and change which very often hold back reforms much longer than should be so.
Here we have the attendance allowance brought into the Bill but not, I regret, the invalidity pension. Where has that got to? What about the death grant in my right hon. Friend's Bill? Where has that got to? If the Government are picking out things from my right hon. Friend's Bill that could be brought in within the existing structure of the social insurance scheme, surely there are other things to be brought in besides these two important and welcome changes proposed?
I come to my conclusion. This is not really a confident beginning for the new Government on social security. We had expected more from them than this. They appear to have left a monumental reform and reshaping of National Insurance and national superannuation to lie in the dust of the election. They have salvaged two things which they have not the political heart to see go into limbo. They have been too mean to honour fully the pledge they gave to the oldest of the non-pensioners.
§ Sir K. Joseph
The right hon. Gentleman is normally very fair. Our pledge was always qualified. It was always made plain by the Prime Minister, even during the election campaign, that the pledge was "some pension" for the very elderly.
§ Mr. Houghton
I did not say that they were in breach of their pledge. What I am saying is that they are too mean fully to implement their intentions to bring about a pension as of right for this group of persons. It is a matter of opinion. I do not want to be ungenerous to the right hon. Gentleman, it is not in my nature, but I feel that if they are going to do something they should do it properly and fully.
There is no grand design in the Bill no original thought, no inspiration. This is a mouse brought forward from the labours of the previous Administration, which I began, and which my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East completed. It bears the stamp of political mediocrity, if I may say so, and would it be too much to say that it is wet with 1023 the tears of the right hon. Gentleman's Ministry at seeing all the work of years cast aside and the abandonment of the biggest thing since Beveridge? Anyhow, it is a small beginning, such as it is. It is a good beginning, but it is not a confident beginning. Nevertheless, we shall not stand in the way of the improvements which the right hon. Gentleman wishes the House to approve.
§ 12.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Fidler (Bury and Radcliffe)
I rise with some trepidation to make my maiden speech, and I hope that the House will offer its usual indulgence to me on that account. First, I offer my sincere congratulations to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the clarity and lucidity with which he introduced the Bill—in marked contradistinction to similar if more comprehensive legislation, quite unintelligible and incomprehensible, placed before the House in the last Parliament.
I represent the Bury and Radcliffe Division. I am conscious, as I speak this morning, of the very distinguished predecessors who have represented that division. The late Sir Walter Fletcher will be known and remembered with affection by a number of colleagues on both sides of the House, as will his successor, Mr. John Bidgood, who served as its representative until 1964. It is true that there was a period of mental aberration on the part of the electorate when the representation was loaned to an hon. Member from the Labour Party who, I understand, was lately in charge of the catering arrangements of the House. I can only hope that in trying to match his contribution I shall not give the House mental indigestion—not being in a position to give it physical indigestion, which was in the capacity of my predecessor.
Bury is a Saxon word meaning "stronghold", and hon. Members will forgive me if I say that I am determined to make Bury a stronghold in terms of my representation. My division covers three different types of township. Bury is a county borough, Radcliffe is a non-county borough, and Tottington is an urban district council. They are long-established and represent a good cross-section of the type of local authorities with which we shall have to deal. Bury 1024 is associated with the name of the Stanley family. The Earls of Derby have been lords of the manor ever since 1485. Bury is surrounded by beautiful countryside, yet it has been described as the town of 100 industries, perhaps the oldest being the paper-making industry. One paper-making firm has existed for over 300 years. Bury's industries include paper-making, engineering, clothing, motor engineering, and footwear. The widest spectrum of industry is covered.
Many famous sons have come from my constituency, including John Kay, the inventor of the fly shuttle, his son, Robert Kay, inventor of the drop box, and Dr. James Wood, master of St. John's Cambridge, and subsequently Bishop of Ely. Dare I mention, too, the name of Sir Robert Peel, who became Prime Minister of this great country? That was the first time that a representative of Bury became a Member of Parliament and subsequently Prime Minister, and it is not for me to prognosticate what the future may hold for my division. There was also Lord Hewart of Bury, who rose to the rank of Lord Chief Justice.
We are proud of the sons of Bury, and we are equally proud of Radcliffe, an ancient town which was first recorded in A.D. 79 as being on the Roman Road from Mancunium to Ribchester. The town of Radcliffe, which was founded by the Saxons, has a great history, and a wool-weaving tradition dating back to the 12th century. It is now the centre of a great deal of industrial activity.
The third of my little trio is Tottington—a beautiful town which is little more than a village but is a pleasure to live in. In recent years it has seen a great deal of residential development through private enterprise. It is now faced with the threat of overspill development, from which I hope to defend it in order to maintain its present congenial atmosphere unsullied.
It is this cross-section that has honoured me with its representation in the House. I think I know what the people want. That is why I welcomed the Gracious Speech, with its indication that electoral promises are to be translated into post-election performance. I shall not pursue the many points that were made in the Gracious Speech and 1025 which have been covered in debates earlier this week, but education is a matter that has caused great concern in my constituency, Bury being a township that refused to submit a comprehensive scheme to the education ministry. Bury and Radcliffe and the rest of my division are proud of their grammar schools, which are first-class and which have long histories of scholarly successes. The Bury Grammar School for Boys was founded over three centuries ago. These grammar schools have long histories of service, and their traditions must be maintained and not destroyed.
We are equally proud of our secondary modern schools, which have improved, and are improving. In our view, a dual system gives an opportunity to every child to make the best of his natural aptitude and ability—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hesitate to interrupt a maiden speaker, but we are not debating the Queen's Speech now. The hon. Member must relate his remarks to the Bill.
§ Mr. Fidler
I ask your forgiveness, Mr. Speaker. I apologise for my inexperience. I was going on to say that today we are concerned with the elderly, the widows, the seriously disabled, and the attendance allowance which will make life a little more comfortable for them. The plight of the pensioners should be our prime concern, and it is a great delight to me to know that the first Bill placed before the House by my Government deals with this very important matter.
The right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) said that to some extent there had been a lifting of certain Labour Party proposals. I make bold to state that the reasons for the Bill being placed before us today as the first Measure of the present Government is not that it existed anywhere else, or in any other party programme; its introduction was designed to carry out an Election promise, to deal in a spirit of compassion with the most needy in our community. The Bill deals with those who have hitherto been ignored. The right hon. Member for Sowerby was good enough to ask why they had been forgotten in 1948. In 1948 the Labour Party was in office, and if we must regret the exclusion of this group at that 1026 time we must criticise the party then in office for being unmindful of it.
The plight of young widows was energetically pressed by my hon. Friends when they were in opposition in the last House, when proposals to assist young widows between the ages of 40 and 50 were discussed. They were then projected as pie in the sky, and as something for the future, whereas we are bringing forward legislation today to give them immediate benefit.
We have to get our priorities right. People who have reached the evening of their lives are the most deserving of our support. Our young people have their whole lives before them to achieve the things that their natural ability and industry can achieve. Those who are of working age can earn sufficient to provide them with a decent life. Their wages have kept pace with the cost of living. But what about the pensioners—the category of persons living on fixed incomes? Hon. Members have all had experiences similar to mine. When we speak to old-age pensioners they are liable to say, "The only thing on which I can spare any money is my transistor radio set. The last time I bought batteries they cost 9d. each; this morning I bought some and they cost me 1s. each. How am I to expect to live and indulge in this little luxury on my £5 a week or less?"
Galloping inflation has had a crippling effect on pensioners. There is an urgent need to readjust pensions to see that they keep pace with the cost of living. We must see that there is an adjustment at the earliest date to a level which will bring to those pensioners what the £5 brought to them when it was introduced, and we must have regular reviews to see that pensions keep in line with the increasing cost of living. It is my hope that my right hon. Friend will be able at an early date to take steps to see that pensions are in some way geared to the cost of living index.
It is my sincere belief that the Conservative Party is the party of compassion, and I am proud to sit as one of its representatives today. My right hon. Friend in presenting the Bill has proved that it is our intention to give the country what it mandated us to give it in the recent General Election. I not only congratulate my right hon. 1027 Friend on his speech; I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the whole Cabinet, who, in the first few days of Government, have immediately dealt with the priorities as we see them. There is the priority that I mentioned earlier and must not refer to again, but particularly we have this first Bill, which looks after the elderly and those who are seriously disabled and require an attendance allowance, besides dealing with the plight of our young widows.
As a back bencher of the Government party I say that I am unwilling to sit back and act as voting fodder—an experience which I understand many hon. Members opposite had in the last Parliament. It is therefore with all the more delight that I wholeheartedly support my Front Bench today, seeing them doing what we expected them to achieve. We promise them that we shall gently persuade them and press them a little further, always remembering that this is the party of compassion and that this will be our first priority.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)
As a maiden speaker I feel it might not be entirely appropriate for me to offer congratulations to the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Fidler) and I will therefore leave such felicitous offerings to those more experienced than myself. As the new Member for Oldham, West I have the considerable advantage and the challenge of representing a constituency with very distinct and social economic needs. I must confess that I lack the legal expertise which characterised both my immediate predecessors. In the course of his brief tenure Mr. Bruce Campbell used his wide legal knowledge for the unfailing advantage of many of his constituents, while before him Mr. Leslie Hale, in the course of a long and illustrious career in this House, set a pattern of eminence in the representation of his constituents which it would be presumptuous for a new and young member such as myself even to seek to emulate.
It is not only the intricacies and complexities of the legal brain that I lack. Leslie Hale's reputations as the fastest speaker in the House of Commons is 1028 another of his accomplishments which I am well advised not to challenge. It was not for nothing that he was known not only for his rapid delivery but also as one of the most brilliant and wittiest speakers, even in this talented Chamber. I am fortunate that the needs of the area with which I am concerned, South-East Lancashire, are sufficiently clear and pronounced that they do not depend so much on my personal artistry for their expression as upon their own unspoken advocacy.
There can be no doubt that first and foremost among these needs must be placed the overriding necessity to bring effective measures to bear against the widespread and enervating poverty of the region. Since my constituency contains an above proportion of elderly and of chronically handicapped persons, largely because of the ravages of byssinosis and other disabling industrial diseases, the people of Oldham and Chadderton can be expected to take an unusual degree of interest in this Bill. I am bound to say that instead of the usual acclamation of three cheers I would be surprised if they managed more than two for these proposals. Take the first, the pension for the over-80s. As laid down in the Bill at a level of £3 for a single person in this age range and £4 17s. for a married couple, it is not only below the supplementary benefit level but 40 per cent. below the present retirement pension which now stands at £5 for a single person and £8 2s. for a married couple.
This means that so far from relieving an elderly person or couple from the need to claim supplementary benefit to obtain what the State has already established as their minimum entitlement, they will still be obliged to do so if they lack other income, for fully two-fifths of the benefit due to them. This part of the Bill is sadly a long way from representing a new deal for the over-80s. From the point of view of the remedying of poverty in advanced old age it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the provisions of this part of the Bill are either otiose or inadequate, for, where a person in this age category has a private income or private pension large enough to render them ineligible for the receipt of supplementary benefit, then from the point of view of the remedying of poverty for the purpose of concentrating resources 1029 on those in greatest need, a principle dear to the heart of hon. Gentlemen opposite, these provisions are superfluous.
If they are designed to help those whose present income is only just above supplementary benefit level then a more effective means of tapering the abruptness of the cut-off point would surely be by further widening the disregards on capital and other income. For those whose current level of income is below supplementary benefit level, either they are now receiving supplementation of income or not. If they are this Bill in no way absolves them from that continued necessity. If they are not—and it is this group which might expect to be helped most provided they can be found—it is difficult to see why they should be gratified to receive a noncontributory benefit as of right when they have so far resisted a non-contributory entitlement of greater value, if the supplementary benefit has the tarnished aura of charity because it is not preceded by a contributory history. It is not clear why the former benefit which is similarly handicapped and now introduced by this Bill should be any more gratefully received.
To put it another way, perhaps the philosophy behind this part of the Bill is that those persons who through no fault of their own were excluded from the benefits of the National Insurance Act, 1948, now deserve special assistance since they have reached an age where the burdens of infirmity may well be expected to impose unavoidable additional costs. If so, again I would argue that the limited expenditure under this Bill could have been more purposefully applied if directly tied to a definition of infirmity irrespective of age. Many people now aged 80, in chronic ill-health, and those below that age are considerably more in need of this supplementation than many who are over 80 and still remain in the robust vigour of good health. This could thus be paid as of right if the definition of infirmity were made dependent on a general practitioner's identification of a person as housebound.
In what context should this first part of the Bill be placed? If it is not too controversial a supposition to introduce into a maiden speech, it is difficult 1030 to avoid the conclusion that the primary motivation is to arrogate a reputation for compassion early in the lifetime of this new Government on the cheapest possible ticket. The £14 million to be expended on pensions for the over 80s is inevitably a rapidly declining commitment. In reviewing this Bill it is the dog that did not bark which is the most conspicuous.
Poverty in this country is centred largely on two main groups, low-paid wage earners and the general body of the retired elderly. For the former we still await the announcement of that early, substantial increase in family allowance foreshadowed by the Conservative manifesto and numerous Conservative policy statements. For the latter, we still await a Government decision about the level they intend for the ordinary National Insurance retirement pension. The Government should be reminded that once again this requires amplification about whether it is merely intended to maintain the traditional relationship with national average earnings.
Do the Government propose to emulate the ambition of the previous Administration in raising the level of the retirement pension from 19 per cent. to 40 per cent. of national average earnings and then to 60 per cent. of previous earnings for low paid workers? It is only in the context of such professed intentions that this commitment to such a small and limited minority group as is embraced in Clause 1 can be seen to contain any independent validity.
Turning to the proposals on pensions for widows aged between 40 and 50 in Clause 2, I am relieved to be able to revert to the more usual tenor of a maiden speech in congratulating the Government on their wisdom in following Section 28 of the National Insurance Act introduced by the previous Administration. My sole concern here is to question the consistency of Clauses 2 and 4. Is it not incongruous on the one hand, rightly in my opinion, to taper eligibility for the widow's pension below the age of 50 and yet on the other hand sharply and arbitrarily to limit the benefit for mentally and physically handicapped and extreme disability involved in constant attendance allowance?
What of those with disability which is more moderate but which still severely 1031 penalises or, indeed, entirely eliminates their earning capacity? Even without the need for constant attendance, permanent disability arising from accident, illness or congenital disability invariably entails a considerable increase in daily living expenses, as well as a loss of earning power. For those with very poor work prospects, the previous Administration drew up a long-term invalidity pension, calculated in the same generous manner as the proposed earnings-related retirement pension.
How, then, do this Government propose to fill the benefit gap between minor short-term sickness and liability to constant attendance? What is really needed is a clear Government commitment in principle to a comprehensive disability pension scheme payable as of right, though varying in amount, to those in work as well as those out of work and without regard to age. Even if every over-80 pension and the constant attendance allowance is to be restricted in scope, one is pleased to note the Government's conversion in both these cases to benefits as of right.
I hope that this conversion signifies, as we await the report of the Finer Committee set up to consider the problems of one-parent families, that the Government agree in principle that any new allowances payable to these families should also be not discretionary but payable as of right. I also trust that it signifies the Government's agreement, for example, that the maternity grant of £25 should be paid as of right to mothers irrespective of contributions under national insurance. If even such limited additional grants as of right were established so early in the lifetime of this new Government in the crucial field of poverty concerned with the problems of one-parent families, an issue which is only too likely to become a major issue before the House soon, then vitally important precedents will have been set today.
I cannot leave the constant attendance allowance without some brief comment on its size. In the absence of a high level long term invalidity benefit, which was proposed in the now defunct National Superannuation and Social Insurance Bill, it is the grossest euphemism to suggest that £4 even begins to approach the cost 1032 of covering constant attendance. For a 48-hour week, the minimum cost of attendance for a severely disabled person in London is at present £20, and a week consists not of 48 hours but of 168.
I have confined my remarks mainly to the issues of principle arising from the Bill. There are other matters of detail which are also open to discussion and controversy, which I have deliberately omitted. For instance, should a minority non-medical attendance on the attendance allowances board be made mandatory, since disability involves a distinct social component? Should the constant attendance allowance be paid in certain cases without waiting for the expiry of the six months' minimum eligibility period? Should provision be made for representation of a claimant before the attendance allowance board by his general practitioner?
Such detailed matters of application I defer to the Committee stage, since I feel it best to concentrate on such insights into the Government's strategy in social security as are revealed by this Bill. In this light, I can only conclude that my constituents in Oldham and Chadderton, while by no means wishing to look a gift horse in the mouth, will search in vain for more than minor patching up of an essentially untouched central structure.
§ 12.34 p.m.
§ Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
It is symptomatic of the high rate of take off in this dynamic Parliament that I have the privilege of following two consecutive Maiden speeches and of offering very sincerely, on behalf, I am sure, of both sides of the House, our warm congratulations on the skill and assurance with which those making them went through this ordeal. In the days when you and I, Mr. Speaker, were contemplating our maiden speeches, hon. Members generally approached this ordeal with great timidity. It may be that, concealed behind the assurance and skill of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Fidler) and the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), similar emotions existed, but it is certainly a fact that those of us who heard them were as impressed by the manner as by the most interesting matter contained in both their speeches.
1033 We were also glad that, as they have both the good fortune of occupying seats once filled by great personalities of this House, the late Sir Walter Fletcher and Mr. Leslie Hale, they both made fitting references to these two considerable former hon. Members. We congratulate them on their speeches and we hope to hear them frequently again.
May I also congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State both on his appointment, which strikes many of us as an ideal one, for he seems to have all the qualities designed for this difficult and responsible office, and for the fact that he has had the privilege, no doubt with the assistance of the Leader of the House, of introducing the first Measure into this new Parliament, and that it should be a Measure which, whatever views anyone may hold as to the detail, has two conspicuous merits. First, it will give much-needed help to various sections of our society who stand in need of it, and second, it seems to follow the good principle of selectivity in social security improvements in the sense in which it has sometimes fallen to me to argue it in this House. I mean selectivity in the sense of selection on the basis not of a means test, but of a category in which considerable numbers of people in real need are to be found. All three of the categories benefited by this Bill are categories of which that is true.
It would be churlish not also to congratulate the putative fathers of different sections of the Bill. First the right hon. Member for Coventry, South-East (Mr. Crossman). I share, with due respect to the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), the disappointment that the right hon. Gentleman was not in what many of us regard as his usual place, because of the fact that he has gone to conduct my favourite purveyor of light fiction, and that it has been decided to rejuvenate the New Statesman by incorporating a somewhat older one. With the sad consequence from the point of view of this House—although they are good reasons for the reading public—that the right hon. Gentleman is not there. Of course we acknowledge, as my right hon. Friend did, that two of these provisions were taken as salvage from the wreck of the great ship which the right hon. Gentleman had piloted near, but not into, port when his 1034 right hon. Friend the then Prime Minister advised the dissolution of Parliament.
This must be a good day for my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), who has pursued the question of the over-80s without pensions with enormous vigour and pertinacity, to see a Minister propose the Second Reading of a Bill which will do just that. I hope that I may congratulate my hon. Friend on this indication of what can be done by a determined back bencher if he really cares about something and has the tenacity and vigour to pursue it.
On Clause 1, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, whose sensibility in these matters I hope we all recognise, mentioned the fact that some of these very old people would not apply for supplementary benefits. I am sorry to say that among these very old people there is some truth in this. May I express the hope, however, that the fact that this provision is being made under which they obtain their benefit in another way will not be allowed in any degree whatever to support the theory that there is anything demeaning in applying for a supplementary benefit. Only harm and unnecessary suffering can come from allowing any support at all for that idea.
It is the fact that this House lays down in Regulations made by successive Ministers that people whose incomes are below a certain level are entitled, as of right, to supplementary benefit. It is certainly true in my own experience that the officers, often at quite low level, of the Supplementary Benefits Commission are sympathetic, kindly and zealous in their handling of individual matters. I hope that my right hon. Friend will, in the administration of the Department he is just taking up, use his considerable influence to ram it home that there is no stigma involved in any citizen who comes within the income level laid down by Parliament exercising his or her right to a supplementary pension.
Finally, on this aspect, as he has now returned to the Chamber, I want to say how particularly glad I am to see the Under-Secretary of State, in every sense, in his place. As many of us know, he has, both before coming to the House and since, been of the greatest help and shown the greatest kindness to many of 1035 us in dealing with these particular problems.
I want to address my remaining remarks almost entirely to Clause 4—the attendance allowance Clause. I want to begin by asking one or two questions. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be able to tell us what is the basis of calculation of the figure of £4. I hope, too, that he will be able to deal a little further with the point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) as to the income tax position. In the case of the attendance allowance which we at present know, that involved in the War Pensions Scheme, the pensioner himself, as is the case with every other war pension provision, is free of tax. In the case of the permanently disabled person who is single the question of taxation may be academic. But in the case of the married couple, where the wife is working—and probably, because she has a disabled husband, working particularly hard—and who have, therefore, an aggregation of their incomes for tax purposes, I say to my right hon. Friend that it would be quite shocking if the tax gatherer were allowed to take into account this payment for the purpose of assessing that couple's income tax.
I appreciate, as he has said, that questions of exemption from taxation lie with my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. And here let me say how much we hope that my right hon. Friend is now well on the way to recovery. But I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will be insistent, and that the House will be insistent with him, that a provision of this sort, designed to deal with this particular need, shall not be allowed to affect by one penny the tax liability of the couple concerned or of the individual concerned. I was delighted to hear that my right hon. Friend is arranging that this payment shall be disregarded for supplementary pension purposes, and that, of course, strengthens the case that it should also be disregarded by the Inland Revenue.
My right hon. Friend recognises, as he did by using the phrase that this was a first step, that this welcome proposal by no means completes the necessary 1036 provision for the long-term disabled. We all know in our constituencies and in our private lives the most tragic cases of this character; of people, sometimes quite young, stricken with polio or with a deteriorating disease, or involved in an accident other than an accident at work, who will never work again; whose lives will be confined to a wheelchair, or perhaps to bed; who will never be able to earn; and who will have added to the misery of their physical condition the worry that they are a financial and, perhaps in other ways, a burden on their wives or husbands, their parents or other kinsmen.
This is the category at this moment which I suggest to my right hon. Friend requires the biggest emphasis. Whatever the rate of sickness benefit may be—whether wage-related or not—whatever the rate of supplementary pension may be, these may well be adequate at any time for those who are sick or in need for a short period, but they cannot, almost as a matter of definition, be adequate for those who will never work again.
I suggest that there is a real need for a complete review of and a generous increase in the provision for this category of disabled people. My right hon. Friend need not be deterred by the thought that the financial obligations that he would incur in this way would be enormous: mercifully, the number, though we do not know precisely what it is, is limited. But this is an area for real generosity.
I believe also that my right hon. Friend should take the opportunity of clearing up the strange anomalies which divide the provision made for different types of disabled people in accordance with the circumstances in which they contracted their disability. There are roughly three categories. The first is the war pensioner, and all Governments have said, and I have no doubt that my right hon. Friend will say so, too, that the man injured and disabled in the service of his country is entitled to high priority.
Secondly, there is the industrially injured person, the provision for whom itself results to some extent from history; from the fact that the injured workman's rights under workmen's compensation were taken away by the original Industrial 1037 Injuries Act and this scheme substituted; a scheme with considerable merits, but subject to the great defect, as I see it, that the payments made are based on loss of function and, except for special hardship allowance, disregard loss of earnings, and therefore give to an injured man, in this day of other earnings-related benefits, sometimes very inadequate provision compared with his earnings when at work.
Then there is the third category—the person disabled neither in war nor in industry but who, apart from what is proposed in this present provision, gets only the ordinary social security benefits. Even the distinction between that person and the person injured at work can be very narrow. A man may be injured in an accident on the way to work. As I understand it, if he was on the way to his work in his employer's transport he gets the benefit of the industrial injury provisions, but if he was making his way to work by public transport or by his own transport he is not so covered. These are anomalies which seem a little oppressive to someone who, by being just the wrong side of the line, finds that the support he gets by way of social security payment is very much less than would be the case if he were just the other side of the line.
I therefore hope that the Under-Secretary will tell us today that the Government are reviewing the whole of this provision for disability; the different categories, the need for something better—whether or not one calls it a disability pension—than the ordinary social provision in this particular class of case.
May I, with respect, commend to my right hon. Friend by way of example many of the features of the war pensions scheme. Those of us who know something of that scheme regard it as perhaps the best of our social security arrangements, not least because it includes the help of those extraordinarily able and kindly people the war pensions welfare officers, as well as a whole series of specially calculated allowances designed to help in particular contingencies. Is it not possible for the special features of the war pensions scheme, particularly now that with the passage of time there are fewer and fewer people covered by them, to be incorporated into a new scheme to deal with the disabled in 1038 whichever category they are and regardless of the circumstances in which they suffered their injury? Could we not have welfare officers and a further system of allowances as well as a good basic pension for them? I urge as strongly as I can on my right hon. Friend that this should be one of his high priorities.
I pick up a point that was made by the hon. Member for Oldham, West. I hope that before long my right hon. Friend will be announcing some improvement in respect of family allowances covering at least the large families of the low earners. I suggested only a few weeks ago to the right hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), as he may recall, that there is no instrument to his hand more efficient for this purpose than family allowances. They have the enormous merit of going to a man, or rather to his wife, whether he is working or not. One gets out of all the problems of wages stop and of higher social security payments while out of work than when in employment. Family allowances come in and play a major part in providing for the upbringing of the next generation with its necessities properly provided for. There is a real problem of family poverty in this category.
If we cannot do it across the board, and we may not be able to do so, I leave mith my right hon. Friend the suggestion, which again I made to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that he should increase the allowance for those people who do not claim the child allowance under income tax. There could be an option. The better off will use the tax allowance and the less well off could get the increased family allowances. In that way my right hon. Friend could concentrate extra resources in the one direction of particular need which I do not think is yet covered even in pant by this Bill.
I wish my right hon. Friend well. I know that the social security of this country is in excellent hands, and I look forward to seeing as the years pass spectacular but well-founded improvements.
§ 12.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Crossman (Coventry, East)
I wish to add my congratulations to the two maiden speakers who have 1039 recently taken part in this debate. I particularly congratulate them on straying, as I notice maiden speakers now regularly do, further and further from the paths of neutral and boring noncontroversiality. That is a great relief to hon. Members who follow maiden speakers, although I must restrain myself in commenting on what they said, although I feel tempted to do so.
I also congratulate the Secretary of State. If there had to be a Tory successor to me, I should have chosen the right hon. Gentleman. I must also tell him that he is very lucky in his Parliamentary Secretary. I have only one word of commiseration for him. I know something about the size of the merged Department which he runs and I found that it was difficult to do one's work with two Ministers of State. I shall watch with anxiety his physical health if he seeks to administer this great range of activity. If he prefers to massacre it or to wind up parts of it I shall see why he has such a limited staff. I have a grave foreboding that his intention may be not to run the Department but to cut it back in ways which would enable him not to have very many staff at his disposal.
I also thank the right hon. Gentleman for the kind words he said about parts of the Bill that he has lifted from our Bill. He referred to Mr. David Ennals who made himself responsible for the constant attendance allowance improvements and put a great deal of thought and planning into them. The right hon. Gentleman was generous to pay the tribute he paid to Mr. David Ennals.
I found the speech of the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), as always, interesting. I think I agree with all that he said about family allowances. It is overwhelmingly clear that the time to put them up is the time when one does the up-rating of National Insurance. It would be intolerable if next year National Insurance rates increased and family allowances were not increased. That would be deliberately leaving one group, among whom we know poverty is at its worst, with a benefit whittled away by an increase in the cost of living.
I hope that with the clawback techniques which we invented in Government— 1040 there was some feeling among Tories that they were bad when we first introduced them, but the more the right hon. Gentleman and the Chancellor study the subject the more likely it will be that the grandiloquent phrases about negative income tax, which we also thought about at the beginning, will sober down until they do roughly what we did, learning and following our example in respect of family allowances.
I want to say one or two things about the contents of the Bill, part by part. I was disconcerted when the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) said that we had taken too long about dealing with the widows. I thought that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) made the right reply to that. It is very easy to make little, petty, piecemeal reforms, but we were dealing with a major reform for widows in which dealing with the widow under 50 was a minor part. The major part of the problem is the one million widows on supplementary benefit. One million of the two millions on supplementary benefit are widows living in poverty. They are so poor that they have to go on to supplementary benefit. The whole aim of our reform, which the present Government refused to accept, was to introduce a major reform to lift the whole level so that widows in future would be above their present level.
That is possible only if one introduces an earnings-related scheme and the widow inherits from her husband the earnings-related pension which he has acquired or, alternatively, has her own, if it is better, or a combination of the two. That was our proposal which reached Committee stage. Even if one works on the estimate that one is dealing with 100,000 widows between 40 and 50, one is dealing with only a tiny fragment of the major problem of all the injustices to widows, of the conditions which we inherited and which we intended to remove, and we had produced a workable method of doing away with them.
Here we have a Bill which lifts out of our Bill one tiny aspect, yet we have hon. Members opposite saying, "It is wonderful. Now we are implementing our pledges." If it were a pledge, it was a modest little pledge which leaves the major issue of social justice, which I think concerns the low-paid worker with 1041 a large family, on one side, with family allowances and the widow, on the other side, untouched. There is no sign of that problem being touched by the Bill. The Government have abandoned a workable scheme which had been worked out and was ready and which would have been operative in 1972. There is therefore no prospect in the years immediately ahead of any basic change in this respect.
We shall wait with great interest to see how this works out, because the best we can say is that hon. Members opposite will begin to work out schemes. The Ministry and the officials know that if Ministers come into office with no very clear idea of what they want to do, except that they do not want to do the big thing which they can do, it will take a long time to think up workable proposals. Perhaps it will be four years before we shall see any prospect of anything being done to deal with that major part of the problem.
Coming to the question of constant attendance allowance, I re-emphasise what the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames said about taxation. I am very glad that the Secretary of State accepted our view—which was, by the way, a modification of that with which we originally started—that the constant attendance allowance is not part of the National Insurance scheme. It is not financed by contributions. One is not insuring against having a spastic child or a wife who is a permanent invalid. This is a grant which the State makes through the social services and not as part of a contributory scheme.
That re-emphasises my point that to tax a grant of that kind on the ground that we tax the benefits of a contributory scheme is a meanness. We on this side will certainly support the Secretary of State if he is resolute and fights the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as he will need to do, because I suspect that all Chancellors of the Exchequer would take the line that it should be taxed. We will ally ourselves with the Secretary of State in extracting from the Chancellor what would be a quite expensive concession if this grant were to be free of tax.
If we give a grant, and we say that it is not a contributory pension but is an outright grant, to people who need it 1042 because of their special disability, it will be nonsensical, having given the grant with one hand, to take it away in taxation with the other hand.
This will be an important issue on which we should like to support the Secretary of State. I know what he and his Department want and what any reasonable man wants. The only question is whether one can ever make a Chancellor reasonable in the way that a Secretary of State for Social Services thinks that he should be reasonable and in a way in which he rarely is reasonable, in any Government. So much for the constant attendance allowance and the question of grant and tax.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby said, it is all very well taking the constant attendance allowance of £4 a week, but by far the most important thing that we were providing for the disabled was the earnings-related disability benefit. We had two parts to our scheme. We had introduced an emergency scheme under which, for six months, a recipient got an earnings-related supplement to his flat-rate pension in return for his graded contributions. This six months' provision was wonderful for the transitional sickness. It does not touch the problem of the chronically sick or the chronically disabled. The latter were fully treated in the big scheme. Are we to be told that all that is to go and that we are to have no long-term earnings-related benefit for the chronic sick? Is that to be jettisoned with the pension scheme for the sake of the insurance companies?
The main reason for stopping our scheme on the pensions side was that the insurance companies would be upset by the scheme. They would not be upset if the Secretary of State conceded a longterm disability pension of the exact kind to be found in our Bill. I was, therefore, rather disappointed. I thought that at least those Clauses in our Bill would be put forward today.
I know the difficulty that if the Government introduced the benefit, they had to introduce the contribution and, therefore, they needed earnings-related contributions to pay for it unless they were to burden the flat rate contribution. I therefore recognise the Government's difficulties. It is very difficult to throw overboard an 1043 absolutely concrete, practical way of abolishing poverty in sickness, old age and unemployment and then to think out ways in which to fill the vacuum which an irresponsible Opposition has created.
The Secretary of State will find as he goes on that this is a more and more difficult problem and that the loss of our Bill is not merely the loss of something for which my party stood. It is the loss of a Bill which was the only practicable method put forward in the 1960s and 1970s for dealing with this problem. It is known by the Government Front Bench to be the only practicable method, but it is a method which was not pleasing to those who have made large sums of money by the extension of insurance into the area of superannuation. We all know why our Bill was stopped. The Conservative Party know their friends and what they were put in power to do. They won the election, and they must do it. In doing that, however, they will be facing problems which they have not solved.
My last point is the question of the over-80s. I have no doubt that the Government have a mandate for this. There is no question that they have to do it and that they have a right to do it quickly. I strongly congratulate them on their speed, because the sooner the electorate forgets this, the better for them. This will not be one of those benefits which the more it is understood, the more it will be appreciated by those who receive it. There has been a general impression outside the House—not improperly drawn, I quite agree, from the wording of the propaganda—that the Government, when in opposition, were sincerely concerned with helping the over-80s. There was an impression that we would, perhaps see the introduction of higher pensions for the over-80s. I congratulate the Government on getting it over quickly and on getting over quickly the disillusionment which will set in when it dawns on people what they are getting and when they begin to realise what this Part of the Bill does.
I was sorry for the Secretary of State, because we knew very well what he had been told in the Department about the difficulties. I very much appreciated his phrase "once-for-all belated transitional 1044 arrangements of rough justice". That is what one calls a dynamic description. It is a very fair description of what the right hon. Gentleman has had to put forward today.
This is a little puzzling. We appreciate that most of the unfortunate recipients will get simply nothing at all, because all that will happen will be that the £3 will be docked from their supplementary benefit since the majority already receive as much as this from supplementary benefit. As the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames said, as supplementary benefit is something to which a person is entitled as of right—and the Secretary of State emphasised this—as to the £3, the result is merely a bookkeeping transaction to say that the first £3 of what a recipient gets shall be called this new pension. Actually, it is not even a pension. It is a State grant paid for out of taxation.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby said, it was interesting to us on this side, especially to those of us who have been involved in these matters, to know how the Government decided upon a figure of £3. We all know why the Secretary of State chose £3. It has to be substantially less than a person could get by contribution, otherwise the contributors would feel uneasy. This grant, therefore, is not a grant or restitution in view of injustice. If it were, one would have to pay the whole pension as a lump sum. If these people have been cheated, if there has been this "grave injustice", how does £3 produce adequate compensation to somebody who has been cheated since 1948—if he has been cheated—of the full pension rate? Why should £3 be thought to be the right level? The Department told the Secretary of State that, above that level, he would have trouble with contributors who had had their pension levels docked because they have not paid the full contribution rate, and, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman cannot pay more in a way which would upset the contributors. The right hon. Gentleman spelt it out very honestly to us, poor man. We felt the embarrassment.
The only difference between us is that having heard the case against it, I decided not to do it. The Secretary of State, however, was not free to make that decision. He was mandated by an 1045 indignant electorate. Millions of people voted Tory to help the over-80s. It is the cheapest pledge I have ever seen, because it costs only £7 million—and the £7 million will be entirely wasted. I do not know how many of the 100,000 calculated by the Secretary of State are entitled to supplementary benefit but are not receiving it or are only just above that level. None of us knows the answer. I think we can be safely assured that the vast majority of those not receiving supplementary benefit and who are 87 years of age are too well off to get it—and quite a large number will be substantially well off.
Here we have a Conservative Government who say that they must save on public expenditure and who will unload £3 million or £4 million, which could otherwise go to real social security causes, which is to go to people who have no need of it whatever—people who are in comfortable circumstances but who will be entitled to a State grant of £3 because they refused to pay their contributions from 1948. That is the fact.
The Secretary of State has admitted this morning that the Bill will affect other than deserving cases. If it had affected only the deserving cases, we should have passed a Bill to deal with them, if we could have limited the recipients only to those older people who were already pensionable in 1948, and who, therefore, were genuinely denied the pension, or to people who had been denied it by mistake. The Government now also have to include, however, everybody who survives who consciously refused to pay his contributions but who nevertheless feels aggrieved. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that it seems to me, if one is short of money, that a very strange way of paying money is to pay it out when one knows perfectly well that the majority of those who will benefit in fact do not need it.
I have a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman on the other part of his Measure. I was particularly concerned before I left the Ministry about the plight of the mentally handicapped. I was deeply shocked at the discovery that they are being welshed of the pocket money due to them in hospital. That is to say, in hospital one is entitled under the law to receive £1 pocket money. That is so in a general hospital and in a geriatric hospital, 1046 but in mental hospitals some doctors are allowing 4s. 71½d. and not £1. I was intending to pay £1 out of supplementary benefit which is where it should come from. Why should we have this distinction, saying that a patient in a geriatric hospital should get £1 supplementary benefit but a patient in a mental hospital should be doled out per week only the sum which the doctor thinks fit? That could have been done by the Secretary of State for about £4 million. I hope that he will look at this formula, too. I can see the Chancellor being anxious. We shall be very glad to watch whether the right hon. Gentleman gets this £4 million as well as the £7 million.
Money is desperately needed in the Health Services and desperately needed in social security, whereas the money under this Bill is needed only to fulfil an election pledge which, if it had been spelt out to the electorate, no one would have wanted, because when it is spelt out, one must ask, who gains by it? Those who need it receive supplementary benefit.
Summing up, I shall not, of course, object to the Government pushing their Bill through. Two-thirds of it have been borrowed from us. The other one-third is needed to carry out a pledge. I emphasise how wise they are to get rid of it now, for I do not think we shall hear much more about this grandiose help to the over-80s once this unfortunate Measure has been implemented.
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)
I shall be grateful to receive the traditional indulgence which this House gives to a maiden speaker, the more so since I am following two such very distinguished Members, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman). I shall try not to abuse the privilege, so that my speech is not described as more of a hussy than a maiden.
My predecessor, Mr. Ben Whitaker, although here only for four years, made a distinctive mark both as a back bencher and as a Minister. He followed a tradition set by a very distinguished predecessor of mine, Mr. Henry Brooke, who contributed so much to the public 1047 life of this country, and who is still doing so in another place. He served the constituency well, and I can only hope I can emulate the services which those two gentlemen rendered to Hampstead.
As is customary, I should perhaps start by saying something about the constituency. I want to remove one well-held misconception. Many people, from reading the newspapers and listening to the wireless, believe that Hampstead has residing within its borders more Members of this House, and, indeed, of another place, than almost any other constituency in the British Isles. Beware of falling into the trap of including in Hampstead the area in which the Leader of the Opposition used to live, which is Hampstead Garden Suburb. I am sure that even in her absence I can say that my right hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) will be relieved to hear that we in Hampstead have no territorial ambition to acquire Hampstead Garden Suburb from the Borough of Barnet.
One would be on much safer ground if one associated with my constituency the old Bull and Bush and Hampstead Heath and the traditional Bank Holiday fairs. On those occasions, the whole of London and his family rub shoulders. This is the true cosmopolitan Hampstead, a community of various races and religions, of people who live side by side in harmony, as they have done throughout this century, and Hampstead has certainly seen over the years, particularly in the 'thirties, a vast influx of refugees, particularly from Nazi Germany, who have become part of the community. The electorate is now well over 71,000—and it was not due to be altered by the Boundary Commission. It contains a substantial number of elderly people, many of whom do not, for a variety of reasons, qualify for the regular State pension.
I do not propose to be controversial in this speech, but I hope hon. Members will forgive me for recalling that this subject cropped up at many of the election meetings which I held, and I was shocked to hear hecklers bellow out such remarks as, "They are getting National Assistance. What are you worrying about?" Apart from the fact that the 1048 hecklers had forgotten that National Assistance was no longer called that, I am afraid I have little time for that sort of remark. Although it is true that the Supplementary Benefits Commission will make payments, this matter of help, whatever hon. Members opopsite may say about these being payments as of right, offend many people's sense of pride, understandable if illogical. These people want to feel that they are getting a pension by law as of right and not, as I have heard it described, as some form of charity or hand-out.
I am, therefore, delighted at this speedy translation of pledge into performance. I confess I found it somewhat surprising to hear hon. Members say that pledges, if they happen to be small, are not really matters of great moment. I believe the country will judge this Administration by the fact that they are willing to carry out a pledge which they gave.
May I make one appeal to the Secretary of State and to the Under-Secretary of State who will reply to the debate? I think it is vital that we find these people as quickly as possible, and I heard my right hon. Friend say there would be some form of publicity campaign. I would urge him as strongly as I can personally to vet the leaflets and advertisements so that they appear in common sense English and not the sort of officialese used in recent years, particularly by the Inland Revenue, and which may not be so difficult for us or accountants to understand but is virtually impossible for many people to understand, particularly the over-80s.
If I am not out of order I would say that I hope that very early steps will be taken, either by the Chancellor or by the Secretary of State, to assist those other pensioners in that curious bracket whose pension suffers if they work. I look forward to an early easing of the earnings rule.
I now turn to another aspect of the Bill, that of the severely disabled. I warmly welcome this part of the Bill, as one who has served in local government for over 20 years. I have seen so many people in homes whose families would have wished—contrary, if I may say so, with great deference, to hon. Gentlemen on the other side—to have kept those people in their own homes, in 1049 their own surroundings, if they could have afforded attendance help. It is not my view that these old people or the disabled necessarily want to go into the magnificent new homes run by the State, voluntary associations or local government. These people would in many cases feel happier to be in their own homes, and the longer they can remain, with help, outside the residential care of the welfare authorities the better it will be, a point made by the hon. Member for Lancaster (Mrs. Kellett) with great practical and recent experience of this matter.
I saw some of those problems of the disabled some years ago as a member of a local disablement advisory committee. I have not had such long service as the hon. Member for St. Pancras, North (Mr. A. W. Stallard), but he and I have both seen the problems which are not recognised sufficiently by the general public. This fact will certainly be brought home more clearly to me because my wife has just been elected as founder-chairman of the local rheumatism and arthritic committee and certainly members of her committee and association and friends will be helped and comforted by this Bill.
I hope that I have been sufficiently brief so far, because I have been warned by older and more experienced Members about being as brief as I can. I want to end by expressing as firmly as I can my belief that we have a chance to make the 1970s the dynamic decade, with better opportunities for people to make more of their lives and to make Britain great again. But, and it is a very important but, at the same time I hope we will all remember those who through no fault of their own cannot keep up with the rest, who through no fault of theirs cannot manage on their own. The people included in this Bill are but a few of the categories who will need help. If we can understand their needs and desires we will be able to do all that most hon. Members want to do, certainly on this side of the House, within our framework of efficiency and dynamism, but without diminishing our essential sympathy, compassion and understanding.
§ 1.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
It is an agreeable experience to follow the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg) on 1050 the occasion of his maiden speech. He made a most interesting speech and it was extremely well delivered. Its manner and matter were equally stimulating to hon. Members on both sides. I entirely agree with my right lion. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) that maiden speeches ought not necessarily to be non-controversial. Whether or not a speech is controversial depends, of course, very much upon the listener. The hon. Gentleman's speech did not seem very controversial to me and I warmly congratulate him upon it.
I know he appreciates that he follows an hon. Member, Mr. Ben Whitaker, who was much respected in this House and the hon. Gentleman's speech encourages me to think that the whole House will be pleased to listen to him again, especially on questions concerning the welfare of disabled people.
The House will know that I have a very close personal involvement in some of the provisions of this Bill. In the interests of historical accuracy, it will be recalled that the concept of an Attendance Allowance Board made its legislative debut in what is now the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, which I had the honour to promote in this House during the final session of the last Parliament. The concept was taken up by my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East, and included in his Superannuation Bill. I am, therefore, pleased that this Bill provides for an Attendance Allowance Board to supervise the administration of the constant attendance allowance. I am sorry that another of my proposals taken up by my right hon. Friend from the original provisions of my Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Bill has not found its way into this Bill.
I refer to the provision for helping the wives of men who are long-term sick. It was a provision for protecting the earnings of women whose husbands have been absent from work through sickness for a period of more than six months. I hope that it is still not too late to consider the inclusion of that very important provision in this Bill. The constant attendance allowance was only one of the provisions proposed by my right hon. Friend to help the severely disabled. Nor was it the most important provision. Our proposal was that here should be 1051 developed an entirely new financial deal for the long-term sick and disabled. We proposed an earnings-related invalidity pension, as well as a constant attendance allowance for the very severely disabled. I am certain that the many organisations working to help the severely disabled will want to see the invalidity pension introduced in this Parliament at an early date.
It has already been emphasised that those who are most in need, families existing on supplementary benefit, are the least likely to benefit from some of the provisions of the Bill. I have a constituent, a young woman who is old beyond her years. Both of her parents are grievously ill and her sister is severely disabled. This young woman, who is devoted to her family, works part-time and already receives £4 from the Supplementary Benefits Commission. I ask myself how will she benefit from a constant attendance allowance of the amount provided in this Bill? She ought to be allowed to stay at home all day to care for her family.
We must make certain that the constant attendance allowance is not subject to taxation. I am glad that my hon. and right hon. Friends have said that they will give every help in resisting any attempt to levy taxation on this allowance. The amount of £4 is not nearly enough for many people whom both sides of the House would like to help through the constant attendance allowance. My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), in a very attractive maiden speech, referred to a message from the National Campaign for the Young Chronic Sick. It was argued by the N.C.Y.C.S. that there are 168 hours in a week and that, for 48 hours, the minimum cost of attendance for a severely disabled person in London is £20. It is only when we look at figures of that kind that we come to understand the full extent of the problem for those who have to care for the disabled and the modesty of what is proposed in this Measure. There were very many provisions in my right hon. Friend's Superannuation Bill which do not appear in this Bill, many of which are eagerly awaited by the most severely disabled of our fellow citizens.
1052 Nevertheless, I know that the Under-Secretary of State is a man who has taken a great personal interest in the problems of disabled people. He gave me a great deal of encouragement in processing with hon. Members on both sides of the House the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. I very much hope that he will look again at those provisions in my right hon. Friend's Superannuation Bill which have now lapsed, but which people outside the House would very much like to see reintroduced at an early date.
I am glad that the new Secretary of State today paid tribute to the late Megan du Boisson of the Disablement Income Group. No one did more than she to focus attention on the financial needs of the disabled. It is not only a question of finance were are discussing, but also the dignity of disabled people. More than anything else they want to lead lives which are as normal as possible. They want to be among their families. They want to contribute to society, particularly to industry, if they possibly can. If they receive anything, they want to feel that they receive it as of right. I pay tribute to Miss Mary Greaves and other leaders of the Disablement Income Group who are now continuing the excellent work of the late Megan du Boisson, among other people, in focussing attention on the urgent financial needs of the disabled.
I know the Parliamentary Secretary appreciates that every organisation outside the House is now awaiting the full implementation of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. I am sure that he and his Ministerial colleagues at the Department will do everything they can to give that Act the fullest possible effect throughout this country.
§ 1.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
I should like to pay my tribute to the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) for the work which he has carried out on an all-party basis on behalf of disabled people and to the Act which he sponsored. I agree with him in wishing that it should be implemented as far as possible and as soon as possible.
It is something of a record that a Government which has been in office for only three weeks should introduce this Bill, which I warmly welcome. I wish that the right hon. Member for Coventry, 1053 East (Mr. Crossman) and his right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) were in their places, since I thought the grudging welcome they gave and the sarcasm which they employed about the Bill, particularly Clause 1, were out of place. To hear the former Secretary of State characterising my right hon. Friend's proposals as mean when he himself during his term of office did nothing at all for these people was not a pleasant experience. I wish he were here to hear what I have to say. To rehearse all over again all the esoteric arguments for denying this simple act of justice to the people who were excluded in 1948 was deplorable. It is a peculiar attitude for a party which has just left office to criticise this Bill as being mean when they themselves for some six years refused to do anything to relieve the situation.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State expounded today in an admirable way the provisions of the Bill, all of which I applaud. I am particularly associated with Clause 1, for which I have campaigned for a long time. I would point out in reply to the remarks made from the Opposition Front Bench by the right hon. Member for Sowerby that for the first time in 22 years this Bill remedies a notorious gap in our social security system which has been the subject of great emotion. This, however, does not seem to be understood by the Opposition, but it is deeply felt by the old people who have been excluded. They were not merely left out; they had not even pension books although they lived in the same blocks of flats as other people who had. However, this is now being remedied and it is a great thing that this Bill should be before Parliament. For those who perpetuated this situation to come to the House today and be waspish about these proposals, as was the right hon. Member for Coventry, East, is to be condemned.
What the Opposition have forgotten in their criticisms today is that, in the period of Labour Government, from the date when I first introduced my Private Member's Bill in 1964, 150,000 of those old people have died, very often in disillusionment and disappointment at the various promises made to them by the last Government. I remember the Labour Government making a promise that there would be an income guarantee. Indeed, 1054 the Prime Minister of the time, the present Leader of the Opposition, wrote to me saying that they would get an income guarantee in 1965, after the first Private Member's Bill was filibustered in this House by the now noble Lord, Lord Wigg. Some hon. Members will remember that incident, though it has not been recalled today by the Opposition Front Bench, and probably for very good reasons. But it was promised and in that interval some 150,000 people have died.
§ Mr. Gregor Mackenzie (Rutherglen)
The hon. Gentleman has given us the arithmetic of 150,000 in the last six years. Since he himself is making a rather waspish speech, he might care to take his arithmetic a little further and inform the House how many people died during the previous term of office of the Conservative Government when they were inactive on this matter. That would be an interesting exercise.
§ Mr. Neave
There were 600,000 people excluded by the Labour Government in 1948 and a number of them died during the term of office of the Labour Government to 1951. I have been a critic of my own party in these matters and I was coming to the point—I will not disappoint the hon. Gentleman—that there was an inheritance and a large number of these people died while a Conservative Government was in office. But I am making the different point that it is deplorable for a party what has just left office to attack a new Government for remedying a grievance and an injustice which they themselves failed to do. There is a responsibility in these matters on both sides and it does not behove right hon. Gentlemen opposite who have recently held office to make criticisms.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that it was rough justice to pay only £3 a week for a single person and £4 17s. for a married couple. This may well be so. I campaigned for a full pension. Mr. O'Hanlon is not at all pleased that his non-pensioners are not receiving a full pension.
I welcome the Bill because I recognise that there were anomalies in regard to those who had not full contribution records. I made representations to my right hon. Friend that there should be a full pension. I regret that this could not 1055 be done, but I should like to know from my hon. Friend when he replies how the amounts were arrived at. I based the original Private Member's Bill on two old people living in my constituency in the village of Uffington in the Vale of White Horse. They are still alive today. They do not want to give their names because they belong to a generation that does not like publicity. The man is now 88 and his wife 87, and I was glad that I was able personally to inform them of my right hon. Friend's proposals. So, in many senses, justice is being done. The psychological effect of being left out was the real point, and the many pedantic arguments in the past about the contributory principle seem rather remote today. However, can we be assured that they will get any proportionate increase in pension in the event of increases in retirement pensions being made?
Will my hon. Friend also deal with the point which appears in the Explanatory Memorandum on Clause 1 about the widows of men above pension age in 1948 who would have acquired a title to a pension if they had not died, or widows who may become widows of men entitled to a pension under this Bill? I understand that regulations can be made to provide widow's pensions or retirement pensions for widows in such cases. My hon. Friend must be aware that many of the people with whom he and I have been in correspondence are the widows of men who were excluded in 1948. It will be necessary at an early stage to make an announcement about the regulations, when they are likely to take effect, and what pension will be paid under them.
I come now to a rather unhappy subject which I have had to raise before in my long protest against the attitude of various Governments and their failure to pay a pension as of right here. This is the fact that those who are excluded from National Insurance are not entitled to other benefits, and their relations constantly write to hon. Members saying that they do not receive the death grant when these old people die. I hate referring to this matter, especially at a time when so many very old people are pleased to hear that their claim is being met, even if only in part. But the matter 1056 has to be referred to, and I hope that my hon. Friend will say what the position is with regard to the death grant because it is a source of grievance among relations. I have received many letters from the widows of men who were excluded in 1948 saying that the first time that they realised the position with regard to death grant was on making application for it when their husbands died and not receiving it.
My right hon. Friend has already given an explanation of the effect of the pension on supplementary benefit. It will be necessary to give personal explanations in each case where one is dealing with people of this age, and I will come to how I think that they could be contacted in a moment.
The greatest benefit of this Bill is that they will not continue to feel shut out solely on the ground of age when they see others in the same old people's dwellings or blocks of flats receiving pensions. That has been their grievance and, from the point of view of the National Insurance Act, 1946, that is why they were shut out. It was because they were above pension age on 5th July, 1948. These cases have always been the exception. These people were specifically shut out and unable to contribute, and it is for them that I have campaigned, together with a large number of my hon. Friends to whom I wish to pay tribute. I give special mention to the late Robert Mathew, who did a great deal of work in this connection when he was the Member for Honiton.
A very important point in the minds of these old people is the possession of a pension order book. If they are able to have pension order books, they will be able to apply for local authority concessions on public transport and so on which registered retirement pensioners receive.
I come now to my final point, and it is one which seems to be a great complication. When Miss Herbison was Minister, I asked her on many occasions to make a register of these old people. Very often, she took a sympathetic view. In my exchange with the hon. Member for Rutherglen (Mr. Gregor Mackenzie), I mentioned that there were 250,000 of them in 1964 and that there are just over 1057 100,000 today. In my view, the making of a register by the Ministry would have helped in investigating the position. It was decided that it was not possible, and I very much regretted the decision. If we had had such a register today, it would have helped a great deal.
I have no doubt that my hon. Friend will tell us a little more about how he intends to advertise for applications. I think that local newspapers will be much the best. A newspaper of that kind will circulate in a locality where these people may be known to welfare workers and where their friends and relatives may read the Secretary of State's advertisement. However, like a number of my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite, I have the names and addresses of several thousand in my correspondence. They have been accumulated since I began to take up the matter with the previous Conservative Government in 1963. I am more than willing to hand over all those details to my hon. Friend.
When I look at the history of this claim, I marvel at the obstinacy and ingenuity displayed by the previous Government. Certainly I was a critic of the Government before them, but it is sad that the claim was rejected because it was a simple act of humanity and nothing like as complicated as some hon. Members are saying today. There was no point in talking about contributions when the people concerned were not entitled to contribute. That is how they see it and how most other people see it. By its acceptance of Clause 1, the House will not only do right but redeem a bitter wrong.
§ 1.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
I hope that I will be forgiven if I do not take up all the points made by the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave). I want to confine my speech to some comments on the attendance allowance, which is a specific element in the Bill. However, before I come to them, I want to extend a warm welcome to the Parliamentary Secretary, because I know from recent debates of his deep concern about the issues under discussion. While welcoming him, I must warn him that I have read carefully all his contributions both in the House and in Committee when he was in opposition, and I know where he stands on all these issues.
1058 I do not propose to become involved in the argument about whether the proposed attendance allowance was first proposed by the Labour Government. There can be no argument. The proposal was put forward by the Labour Government and the Parliamentary Secretary made a great number of incisive comments when it was discussed in Committee. So there is no point in hon. Members opposite claiming that this was not a project put forward by the Labour Government. Of course, it was. I am not saying that it was actually "lifted" from the Labour Government by the new Administration, but the fact is that the proposal was brought forward by the Labour Government.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris
Everyone seems to be "lifting" from everyone else! The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), even the author of the over-eighties provision, has been talking about "lifting" on his own side!
§ Mr. Ashley
I agree that everyone is talking about "lifting" from someone as a result of the General Election battle. The House will recognise that, if the Government have lifted anything, they may have lifted the idea of pensions for the over-eighties from the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave). The argument for the payment of pensions to the over-eighties has been elaborately dealt with on both sides of the House. Irrespective of what one thinks of the arguments, the hon. Member for Abingdon can take great satisfaction from the influence he has had in pressing his Government on an issue on which he feels very deeply.
I give the proposal for an attendance allowance a qualified welcome, and I am consistent on this issue. I welcome it as a proposal which was previously put forward by the Labour Government, and my welcome is qualified because I believe that it is an inadequate attendance allowance. I made exactly the same point when the Labour Government were in office. Hon. Members will recall that I was critical of the Labour Government when the proposal was put forward. Although welcoming the proposal for an attendance allowance I specifically said that it was inadequate.
The attendance allowance has two purposes. It will buy time, a few hours 1059 a day, for severely disabled people, but it will not buy round-the-clock time. It will simply be a minor contribution towards helping the people in greatest need. Secondly, if will ease the penury although it may not solve the poverty of relatives of severely disabled people, who bear the greatest burden in looking after them. It will ease the burden on the relatives who often make great sacrifices to look after the people in greatest need.
I take it for granted that the allowance will not be taxed. It is small enough as it is. £4 a week does not go very far today. If the many promises which have been made by the Government come to fruition, it is possible that the £4 will be enhanced in value. If there are sweeping cuts in taxation, as we have been promised, and if the cast of living is lowered, the value of the £4 may be enhanced. It is possible, however, that the cost of living may continue to rise. It is just possible that we may not have sweeping reductions in taxation. And I suggest that the Government should consider not only in- creasing the £4 but also tying it to the cost of living. If the cost of living increases, in a few years' time £4 may mean nothing at all.
The disabled are like the tip of an iceberg and only partly visible. They are now being helped by the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris), and by this Bill, which is the first major financial provision for the disabled. There is still a great deal to be done and the provision for an attendance allowance is only a first step in what I hope will be comprehensive provision for the severely disabled. The ultimate aim must be a disablement pension given as a right.
The first priority in terms of the attendance allowance must be the widening of the restrictive qualifications. The Parliamentary Secretary will be well aware of the arguments I am using in asking for this. The provision contained in the Bill seriously restricts the numbers, and many thousands of severely disabled people will be denied help if they are able to take a pill and get a good night's sleep. The Bill provides that only a person who is so severely disabled as to need constant supervision day and night 1060 will get the allowance, and the Government, like the Government before them, are excluding those who need constant attention only during the day. This is a serious anomaly to which attention was previously drawn by the then Opposition, and it is for the present Opposition to remind the Government that the anomaly still exists. I hope that these legitimate arguments will be taken into account.
It is estimated that about 50,000 people will benefit from the attendance allowance. If my proposal for including severely disabled people who suffer only by day is accepted, the numbers will increase five-fold, and 250,000 people will qualify for the allowance. This five-fold increase in expenditure to £50 million is "peanuts" compared with the amount of suffering which would be saved.
I hope that the six months restriction which is now laid down will be removed. It is wrong that severely disabled people should have to suffer for six months before qualifying for payment. The first six months of severe disablement is the very time when the attendance allowance is most needed as this is the major period of readjustment. I hope that the Government will drop this qualification. My answer to the argument that a person suffering from flu' might claim to be severely disabled is that the Attendance Allowance Board will decide who is severely disabled or likely to be severely disabled for more than a couple of months.
I am delighted to see that the membership of the Attendance Allowance Board will not be confined to doctors. I am sure that the Government will choose the membership of the board with great care. Good doctors are needed to serve, but we do not need just clever doctors, we need doctors who care about and understand the problems of severely disabled people. It is a mistake to assume that disability is the sole concern of the medical profession. This Bill and the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act proves that disability is the concern of us all. I hope the Bill will ensure that both Parliamentary and public opinion swings round to ensuring that we begin a comprehensive attack on the major problems of all severely disabled people.
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Bonner Pink (Portsmouth, South)
I hope that the hon. Member for 1061 Stoke on Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) will forgive me if I do not follow him immediately on the subject of the constant attendance allowance, but I hope to come back to that aspect of the Bill later.
I welcome the Bill for three reasons. First, it relieves hardship for those least able to look after themselves. Second, it provides pensions for our oldest citizens. Third, it extends widows' pensions and introduces constant attendance allowances. The provision of pensions for those barred in 1948, all of whom are now over 80, has been well covered by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave). It has been the subject of numerous Private Members' Bills from this side of the House, but the idea never received approval from hon. Gentlemen opposite. The right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) said today that the reasons why they did not approve it were, first, that it was non-contributory, and, second, that it should have been done before.
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the question of age. Age is important, because these older people are far less able to look after themselves, but I think the right hon. Gentleman overlooked the fact that in the last six years there has been a tremendous increase in the cost of living, which has made this pension much more vital than before. Old-age pensioners have received increases during these years, but the people about whom we are talking today have not.
I find it difficult to understand the attitude to the contributory basis. After all, an old-age pensioner receives a considerable amount of his pension direct from the taxpayer, and not on the basis of contributions.
§ Mr. Brian O'Malley (Rotherham)
The hon. Gentleman referred to pensioners receiving a considerable amount from the taxpayer. At the moment an old-age pensioner receives about 18 per cent. of his pension by way of Exchequer subsidy. The vast majority of his pension comes from contributions.
§ Mr. Pink
I cannot quote the exact figure. I did not think it was 18 per cent. It might be less. It is a question of principle. The old-age pensioner receives part of his pension directly from the taxpayer, and that being so I see no 1062 reason why these people over 80 should not, in their turn, receive a pension or grant which will also be a direct charge on the Exchequer.
I welcome the Bill because many of my constituents will benefit from it. I have a large number of old people in my constituency, and they will benefit from its provisions. I only hope that they will be told about the Bill so that they can take advantage of it. I hope, too, that they will not be too proud to accept the pension. Something which is rather too easily glossed over is that these elderly people are extremely proud, and I hope that that pride will not prevent them from accepting this pension.
The part of the Bill which gives me particular pleasure is that dealing with widows' pensions. The right hon. Member for Sowerby said that we had lifted this provision, and the provision about the attendance allowance, from the previous Government's Bill. The House will recall that about a month or two after I was elected to the House in 1966 I sponsored a Bill to introduce a sliding scale by age, and to remove hardships and anomalies, and I therefore consider that I can claim some credit for this Bill. I was interested to hear the speech today of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Michael Meacher), because his predecessor, Mr. Bruce Campbell, introduced a Bill on similar lines in the last Session.
There are two hardships which I have in mind, and which I am glad to see are to be done away with. The first is the rigid application of the age qualification, whereby one woman widowed the day before her fiftieth birthday has to wait ten years for her old age pension, while another woman widowed one day after her fiftieth birthday receives a pension immediately. The other is the rule by which a widow with a pension who remarries and is again widowed loses that pension unless she was married for three years, and unless her second husband had paid sufficient contribution. I am glad that both those hardships have been recognised and removed by the Bill.
There are about 400,000 widows between the ages of 50 and 60, of whom 25,000 receive no widow's benefit. Of those widows, 10,000 receive help by way of social security, so they may or may not benefit at all from the Bill, but certainly about 15,000 widows will. There 1063 are about 120,000 widows aged between 40 and 50 who will benefit from the Bill unless they receive social security benefits.
In the Bill the sliding scale starts at 40. My proposal was that it should start at 35. There are about 20,000 widows aged between 35 and 40 who will not benefit from the Bill. I shall not try to persuade the Government to extend the sliding scale down to 35 because, as we recognise, this is virtually an agreed Measure, but I make a special plea for one class of persons. Nowadays girls marry younger and have families sooner. The widowed mother's allowances ceases when the child leaves school. If a woman marries at 18 or 19, and has a child when she is 20, she may lose her widowed mother's allowance when she is about 35, and she is not eligible for a pension for a further five years, until she is 40. These are the widows for whom I make a special plea. I hope that for these people the Minister will provide a modest pension of perhaps £1 a week from the date of cessation of the widowed mother's allowance until the commencement of the widow's pension. I am sure that the Minister will receive that suggestion with sympathy.
I welcome the constant attendance allowance. It may not be enough, as has been suggested, but at least it is a start. I know of many cases of hardship in my constituency, and I am sure that this provision will relieve a great deal of it. Many people who are only partially disabled need help, too. One of my constituents is able to work, but he is not able to get to and from work. His mother—or someone else—has to take him to and from work, and this is a heavy burden on her because of the bus fares. Another of my constituents needs special and expensive diets. These are anomalies and hardships which are not covered by the scope of the Bill.
There are, however, other people who are not covered, and I should like to read one letter which I received this week from one of my constituents. He said:I would like to draw your attention to two queries, which I hope you can answer. The first is, my daughter is mentally handicapped, her age is 18½ years, and I get a reduced supplementary benefit for her, the full amount is not payable until she is 21 years old. Why, 1064 now that a person becomes an adult at 18, and is allowed to vote, is the full amount not payable at 18?The second is, the tax allowance for my daughter, before she was 18 and classed as a child was £140. When she became 18, she was classed as a dependent relative and the allowance was cut right down to £75.It may be that this constituent will benefit from the Bill. I nevertheless ask the Minister to consider giving power to the Attendance Allowance Board to take into account the degree of disability and the degree of attendance necessary, and to award percentage grants.
I welcome the Bill, which will remove much hardship. I appreciate that my proposals would add to the cost but I hope that the Minister will give them sympathetic consideration and adopt them in the near future, if not now.
§ 2.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)
I add my congratulations to the Parliamentary Secretary on his appointment. As one of the Members who were on the ill-fated Committee on the previous Bill, I know as a result of the five months during which I debated the provisions of that Bill with him his considerable interest in and knowledge of this subject will be of tremendous use. I am very sorry that the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Fortescue)—the hon. Member's second-in-command on that Bill—whose own great knowledge of this matter we all appreciate, is now muzzled by the tradition that Government Whips do not join in in debates in the House.
There is need for the kind of comprehensive Bill that the National Superannuation Bill was, and I regret that the Queen's Speech contained no mention of anything concerning the question of the award of pensions to those with no occupational pensions at the moment, or of better pensions to those who have occupational pensions which are not much use. Over the whole field of legislation covered by that Bill nothing but this Bill was mentioned in the Queen's Speech.
In the past I have opposed Private Members' Bills drafted on the lines of Clause 1. I have spoken twice in opposition to them, partly for what the Secretary of State called the respectable reason that people have not made contributions, 1065 whether they had been entitled to or not, but more importantly because I felt that they had the priorities wrong. I still oppose Clause I because at a time when we are told that there is to be reduced public expenditure other things should be given priority in respect of the amount of money to be distributed in the form of grants—although they will be called pensions in the Clause.
Yesterday, in reply to a Written Question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), the Secretary of State, referring to the Bill, said:In general, those who do not come within the scope of the supplementary benefits scheme will benefit."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th July, 1970; Vol. 803, c. 101].Why do they not come within the scope of the supplementary benefit scheme? It is because their income or their capital is such that they are not entitled to it. As a result of my opposition to the previous Bills I received letters from various parts of the country. None were from my constituents, but some came from Harrogate and others from St. Anne's, and there was one from Bournemouth. They were all from or on behalf of people who had claimed supplementary benefit and had been refused. So we shall spend £7 million mainly on people who have incomes higher than the supplementary benefit rate at the moment, or have capital above the supplementary benefit level.
I shall take the Secretary of State's advice and search in my constituency—indeed, I have been searching already—for people who would benefit by the Bill. So far I have found no one in my constituency, over the age of 87 in the case of men and 82 in the case of women, who did not benefit from National Insurance and were not drawing supplementary benefit. It may be that there are some. It may be that if the Secretary of State goes through the door to the other place he will find some among their Lordships, because many of the 50,000 concerned were not in the pre-1948 occupations which made them liable to contribute.
I know that the Government have a clear mandate to bring in the Bill. In their manifesto they said:The next Conservative Government will take urgent action to give some pension as of right to the over-eighties who now get no retirement pensions at all.1066 The manifesto is carefully worded and clear, but the effect that the propaganda of the party had in the country was rather different. I found that as a result of all that appeared in the Press and all the literature issued on the subject a number of my younger constituents believed that none of the over-80s received pensions. Some believed that the Government were actually depriving the over-80s of incomes that they should be receiving.
The Bill is in direct contradiction to Conservative policy, because Conservative policy on social security is selectivity—giving to those whose need is greatest. The Bill does exactly the opposite. In that sense it is a fraud, and many people will be pointing out to us and the Government in the next few months why they think that it is a fraud.
Last time I spoke I accused the Conservative Opposition, as it then was, of hypocrisy in this matter. I still believe that the party opposite is guilty of hypocrisy. The people about whom the Conservatives were talking were 65 when the 1948 Act was passed. They were 68 when the Conservative Government came into power and 81 when the Conservative Party went out of power. Yet as soon as the Labour Government came in we had Private Members' Bills concerning these people from Conservative Members, with the support of the Conservative Opposition. If what my hon. Friends say is true the amount of the grants payable under the Bill is paltry. To give these people £3 is not to give them very much, especially as many of them will immediately have that £3 deducted. I hope that that fact will be made clear.
The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) implied that people feel that there is something to be ashamed of in claiming supplementary benefit. It was the Labour Government's aim, over the last four years, to get rid of that idea, but people who claim grants under the Bill will have to go to the Social Security offices exactly as if they were applying for supplementary benefit. The only difference is that those whose incomes are above the level of supplementary benefit as well as those whose incomes are below it will qualify. I suggest that 1067 that is precisely the opposite of what the Government have been saying.
I welcome the provisions concerning widows' pensions and the constant attendance allowance. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), who suggested that £4, even if that was the figure in our Bill, may be inadequate, and that we should write in a provision something like that which was written into the Bill of my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), which would at least keep the benefits in line with the cost of living.
I welcome the provisions for widows' pensions. I am glad that the Secretary of State has made it clear that it is existing widows—those who were widowed in the past between the age of 40 and 50—who will benefit. But if £7 million is going spare out of the reduced public expenditure that we are going to have, many of the provisions in my right hon. Friend's Bill on national superannuation concerning invalidity pensions and all the other matters raised by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames should have priority over the provisions of Clause 1 of this Bill.
§ 2.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Rossi (Hornsey)
First of all, I should like to congratulate the hon. Members for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Fidler), Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) and Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), for the able and composed way in which they made their maiden speeches. It is not so long ago that I made my own, and I realise the agony they must have gone through. But having jumped in for the first time, one finds that the water is then much warmer. This is a kind and friendly place, even making allowances for the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton). If my voice sounds hoarse from a sore throat, it is because I was hoping to have relieved it, but the hon. Member took exception to that.
I should also like to congratulate the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State on their appointments and on the characteristic vigour with which they have introduced this Measure—literally within a few days of the reassembly of Parliament after the upheaval of a General Election and the 1068 appointment of a new Administration. Knowing them both, one is not surprised at the vigour they have shown, but I and, I am sure, many of my hon. Friends feel doubly gratified that some of the promises which we made in our election manifesto are being so quickly implemented. My constituents who are affected by this Measure will also be gratified.
We had the typical offering of sour grapes from hon. Members opposite. The right hon. Member for Coventry. South-East (Mr. Crossman), from his high eminence, told us that the over-80s were too wealthy to deserve his attention. Their friends will know how true and near the mark he is in making these utterances from his Olympian heights.
The right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) felt that the criticism of us was that we should introduce this Measure today and not during the 13 years of our previous Administration, ignoring completely the intervening 5½ years—an important period, because six hon. Members from this side tried persistently to introduce Measures of this kind and were defeated by the then Government by every known Parliamentary device.
Therefore, one can understand the shamefaced way in which they give this half-hearted opposition to the Bill. Their attitude is, "We will not oppose, but we regret that the Bill is here, because we feel that it is wrong". The country has already decided on that attitude and I have no need to enlarge upon it.
Having given the Bill this enthusiastic welcome, I have one or two criticisms—I hope constructive criticisms—of the Bill's shortcomings. No doubt there will be an adequate explanation, but these matters should be mentioned. First, in Clause 1, we are told that a single person, man or woman, over 80, will receive a pension of £3 a week and that a married couple, when the husband is over 80, will receive £4 17s. a week. But where the wife is over 80 but not the husband, it appears that the couple will still receive only £3 a week. One wonders what is the logic of this discrimination. One could understand it if there were a contributory basis to this pension, where the main pensioner was the contributor and his wife was added because of the additional cost of living, but where there is no 1069 contributory basis it is difficult to understand. In respect of the few cases which must exist where the wife is over 80 but the husband is still below 80, I hope that the Minister will care to look at the matter again and perhaps deal with it either at a later stage or by regulation.
I should also like to mention the discrepancy between the new non-contributory pension and the basic rate of the contributory pension. I recognise the strength of my right hon. Friend's point about the need to maintain the same distinction between those who have contributed but not enough and those who have not contributed at all. He says that he has arrived at a figure which gives rought justice between those two classes of person, but in considering rough justice there are two points: first, most of the people who we are considering have never had the opportunity to contribute, although they wished to do so; second—a point already made—the basic pension, even for the contributor, contains a large element of grant, which I believe is £2 7s. a week for a single person and £5 a week for a married couple.
If we paid the full pension between now and death to this new class of pensioner, such people still would not receive as much by way of grant as does the contributory pensioner retired at the age of, say, 65. If one is talking in terms of rough justice, one would like to see an equivalence of grant being offered if at all possible. I ask that those two aspects be considered to ensure that this class of person receives full justice. We should like them to receive the full pension if possible.
My third point concerns the widow of a man who would be over 80 today had he lived. She gets no more than a promise, under Clause 1(1)(b) that regulations will be made. I should be grateful if the Under-Secretary would give the House some indication of what will be contained in those regulations and what provision will be made for a widow in this position. It should be appreciated that such widows are probably the most necessitous of all, because they belong to a generation in which it was rather the exception than the rule for a wife to go out to work. Therefore, such a woman is living on the savings of one earner only, savings which have quickly 1070 dwindled in value because of the galloping inflation which we have had.
I hope that careful consideration will be given to that class of widow, because, by her nature and her generation, she is a very proud person and the last person in the world who wants to ask for supplementary benefit. It is this class of widow who is suffering most. I have seen one or two examples in my constituency. One was a woman who has been a widow for 20 years and is now aged 70. Another has been a widow for a lesser period and is aged 75. Have both of those women to wait another 5 or 10 years respectively until they receive the pension, while the little savings that there were have been eaten into by inflation? Yet they are so proud that I have found it virtually impossible to persuade them to apply for social security. I ask the Under-Secretary to have the greatest sympathy for these women in framing the regulations.
The burial grant also applies to this type of widow, who is ineligible for a death grant when her husband dies. Also, it is a matter of anxiety for many of these people, who feel that they may otherwise go into a pauper's grave if the grant is not available to their next of kin. This plays upon the minds of many elderly people. I hope that it will be reviewed with sympathy.
My final point is on the question of taxation of these pensions. This relates to the other measures. It is a matter of bitter grievance that pensions should be lumped in with income from other sources in the way that it is today and subjected to taxation. There is an urgent need for a close look at the earnings rule and other income rules regarding pensions. I hope that the Government will be much more liberal in their attitude towards the earnings rule and will permit a great deal more to be earned from other sources before taxation begins to apply to these pensions or pensions of another kind.
In making these comments I have in no way wished to belittle or derogate the positive proposals contained in this Bill, which we on this side of the House welcome. What I have tried to do is to put forward one or two constructive criticisms which I hope are worthy of serious consideration. Knowing the sympathetic approach of my hon. and right hon. 1071 Friends, I feel sure that if they possibly can, they will try to meet us on these points.
§ 2.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Judd (Portsmouth, West)
I hesitate to intervene in this debate when we have had the benefit of so much expertise from both sides of the House. As always, it is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) and it is good to see him as active and as well-informed and concerned as ever, although a little sad to see him on that side of the House instead of in his proper place over here.
What has been impressive in the debate has been the moderation and tolerance with which the subject has been discussed, but that moderation and tolerance within the House must be contrasted, if we are to be honest, with the reactions of some people outside the House who are supposed to be benefiting from the legislation which we are trying to implement. The reactions of some of those intended to benefit has been far from moderate or tolerant. It has been extremely outspoken and critical.
It would be wrong not to bring the voice of those outside into this debate at least briefly. One point which must be emphasised is the reaction of those who describe the constant attendance allowance as at best a misnomer and at worst as downright provocative. They point out that there are 168 hours in a week and that to secure constant attendance in the London area or most other major centres of population for 48 hours would cost at least £20. To call £4 a constant attendance allowance in the face of bills of this order is understandably very upsetting for those faced with this agonising problem.
The difficulty here arises directly from the way in which the new Government have selected pieces from the comprehensive legislation proposed by the previous Administration and now find themselves confronted with all the consequential injustices which arise from taking only part of that solution. The previous Administration had in mind the introduction of the invalidity pension which would have more fully covered the needs and problems of the people about whom we are now concerned and would have regarded 1072 the so-called constant attendance allowance only as a minimum contribution to be seen in relation to that invalidity pension. We must take this problem seriously and I hope that all hon. Members concerned with this area of social policy will always be trying to find out how we can take a far more radical approach to the whole subject.
One of the things that has distressed me in my constituency work over the years has been the sort of predicament in which one sometimes finds, say, a skilled craftsman who could not only be earning for his family but making a useful contribution to the economy, faced with the problem of perhaps having to give up his employment and stay at home to look after a young invalided wife and family because that is the only way in which he can hope to make ends meet, since out of the earnings he gets at work, even as a skilled craftsman, it is impossible to employ the sort of assistance at home which would enable the family to keep going on a sound basis. This is a major problem which we must always bear in mind.
My other point concerns the constant theme of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite since the election about their dedication to the principle of one nation. In a rather paradoxical way their concern for this piece of legislation, although it has the support of this side of the House, illustrates the contradiction in their concept of one nation. Basically what they are saying is that those who are fortunately placed economically and socially, who are able to make adequate provision for themselves in the private sector, will be able to enjoy security in times of difficulty and personal tragedy, at a level which is to be totally denied those who in the course of their normal lives are unable to make such provision. This is clearly illustrated by the way in which they have selected this piece of legislation, sentimentally, but have rejected the Labour Government's concept of a comprehensive, far-reaching piece of social legislation which was directly intended to prevent the same sort of problems arising in future with which the Government are now trying to cope on a piecemeal and pragmatic basis.
The real sadness about the debate is that while, however sincerely, the Government may be trying to overcome one 1073 immediate difficulty, as a result of their rejection of the far-reaching, sound, comprehensive legislation proposed by the previous Administration they are making it absolutely inevitable that we shall be confronted with similar problems in future for which they will again try to find piecemeal, pragmatic solutions. This is the big contrast between the previous Government and the present Government—the refusal on the part of the new Government to look at social problems comprehensively and in a longterm perspective instead of only reacting to events and problems as they find them largely through this very failure to look far enough ahead.
If we are to advance slowly, if it is an advance, in terms of piecemeal legislation, trying to cope with what hon. Gentleman opposite referred to as specific pieces of social injustice where they exist, I hope that hon. Gentlemen concerned with this legislation will put pressure upon their hon. and right hon. colleagues in other Departments in order to bring home one other acute social injustice in pensions. I refer to the problems of the most elderly public service pensioner and to the widows of public service pensioners and the widows of Armed Services pensioners who died before 1950 and who are now denied in terms of their pension in private life the sort of reward that can be taken for granted by those who retired more recently or whose husbands died after 1950. The point is surely that if the Government are sincere in their approach to overcoming pieces of injustice within the context of existing legislation, there is an urgent problem here to which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen should direct the attention of their colleagues as quickly as possible.
§ 2.39 p.m.
§ Sir Brandon Rhys-Williams (Kensington, South)
At such a late hour in the afternoon I shall be very brief, but I wanted to snatch this opportunity of congratulating my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State upon his appointment. I know him to be a man of energy with a grasp of this subject which makes him ideally suited for his post. I know him too to be a man of accessibility even to philosophers concerned with the most recondite points of welfare state evolution 1074 which will I am sure make for a very happy relationship with his own backbenchers. I would like too to congratulate the Under-Secretary whose many victories in the 28 skirmishes on the previous Bill have picked him out for his appointment. I am delighted that a former member of my regiment will carry our colours.
It would be quite wrong, after the exceptional speeches that have been made by our maiden speakers in this debate, not to mention what they have contributed. In particular, I have been impressed by the compassion and grasp of detail which they have shown on both sides. It is an extremely happy augury for our debates in this Parliament on the Welfare State.
A number of points that I should like to have made may be better left for the Committee stage. This is an important Bill, not so much in the number of people who are affected by it but in its implications. Other speakers have made that same point, particularly the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). As I have often pointed out, the old National Insurance system is rotten, and inadequate for the nineteen seventies. The Bill represents another nail in its coffin, in that it introduces three new categories of beneficiary none of whom is made a beneficiary because of contributions to the old National Insurance scheme. We must look ahead, therefore, to the direction of advance which the Bill suggests will be adopted by the Government.
First of all, I feel that we are going from charity to a new form of insurance as the basis of entitlement; or perhaps, as a sociologist might say, from need to status. This is very much in line with Conservative thinking, because the Conservative Party values the self-respect of the individual, and insurance gives entitlement to benefit selectively according to circumstances, but not according to financial need.
In this Parliament we must concentrate on reducing as fast as possible the number of people who have to apply for supplementary benefits. We find that some four million of these people are at present obliged to submit to case work—or in other words, to a means test—in order to have enough income to live on. That is at least 10 times too many, and 1075 we must progress as fast as possible to reducing that disgraceful total to something more in line with the actual number who really need case work for the solution of their financial problems.
The Bill marks a stage in the transition away from stamps and contributions and all the rigmarole of the old system, and also a transition away from the means test as a basis of entitlement. It takes us a stage nearer to the establishment of the income tax as the only test of means which ultimately, I am certain, we shall see. I say briefly, but with the strongest possible emphasis, to my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Treasury Bench that they will not be able to make serious progress in the reform of the Welfare State until they integrate the contributions and the benefits which are obtainable through income tax and National Insurance.
We are speaking in a cloud of dust left behind by the collapse of the national superannuation juggernaut, but I think that lines of advance already begin to appear. I hope the fact that on this side we never liked that Bill, and it is now finished, will not give rise to acrimony or misinterpretation. In this regard, I was rather disappointed by the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman)—I am sorry that he is not in his place. He chose to suggest that there was some kind of financial interest behind Conservative policy on his Bill.
I had a small part, a very small part, in shaping the direction of Conservative policy in regard to the right hon. Gentleman's Bill, but it was sufficient for me to know that our reasons for opposing that Bill were those which we gave in Committee, which he rarely attended. If the right hon. Gentleman were to take the opportunity to read the proceedings of that Committee he would find out what the attitude of the Conservative Party genuinely was. I hope that he will not spoil our debates again by such insinuations.
I hope, indeed, that we may work together towards a consensus in this Parliament on the future of the Welfare State. We are all united as to the need to achieve the conquest of poverty, and we shall not be forgiven by posterity 1076 if we do not achieve that aim in the nineteen seventies.
§ 2.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
The Bill represents a little nibble at the problem of poverty, and to that extent it must be welcomed. I would, however, draw attention to a serious defect in our social security arrangements which I hope the Minister will be able to put right in Committee. I will quote just one or two cases to illustrate my point
The first is the case of a lady who was in hospital just two days too long. Because of that she had £2 stopped from her £5 pension. As I understand it, anyone under 65 can stay in hospital as long as necessary and pay nothing, but people too old to pay National Health Service contributions must pay for their keep after eight weeks. When I tell the House that this lady was 93, it will be agreed that such a case gives us cause to think.
I quote another case. In my constituency I have the very excellent King George VI Memorial Club, which serves the needs of old people and operates on the boundary between Camberwell and Lambeth. The warden of that club, a very excellent lady, has also brought to my attention the fact that when an old person has been in hospital for eight weeks £2 is stopped from the pension. The situation is reviewed every eight weeks, I know, but any supplementary benefit these old people may have is stopped the day they go into hospital. This is supposed to be for heating and lighting. If an old person enters a long-stay ward in a geriatric hospital, the pension book is taken away altogether and the pensioner is allowed approximately £1 a week for anything that might be needed.
I consider such action to be, on the whole, rather mean. One member of the club to which I refer is in hospital and his wife has to live on £2 a week less, although the cost of light and heat has not been reduced at all. She has the additional expense of 7s. a day for fares in order to visit her husband in hospital, plus the cost of any little extra amenities she can provide out of her own small income.
In this Bill we are providing, under certain conditions, an attendance allowance of £4 per week. At the same time, 1077 as I have shown, we are deducting £2 from the pockets of members of a very deserving section of the community—people over 65 who have to stay in hospital. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take this kind of case into account, and see whether it is not possible to bring that category within the scope of the Bill.
§ 2.49 p.m.
§ Mr. John E. Maginnis (Armagh)
At this hour of the day I do not intend to make the speech which I have written. First I congratulate my right hon. Friend who introduced the Bill so gracefully today. I think I am speaking for all categories of people mentioned in the Bill when I say how grateful all of them will be when it becomes law.
I sum it up in three words representing the three categories, faith, hope and charity. It will renew faith in human nature for the over-80s, give hope for the under-50 widow and, for the chronically disabled, it will mean that charity will at last begin at home. This debate has proved that hon. Members in all parts of the House this afternoon are united in trying to help the underprivileged in our community. Only when one faces the problems which confront the old people in our community, the under-50 widows and the chronically ill, can one really see their need.
I shall speak only about the under 50 widows. As the House will be aware, I intended to introduce a Private Member's Bill on this matter on 12th June. I did not have the privilege of doing so because of the election. I am delighted that this Measure is now receiving attention and will become law in the very near future. Here we have a category of people who probably married early in life. Their husbands paid their weekly contributions and then, when they were widowed at under 50 years of age, they got a certain amount for a few weeks but after that it dropped to 30s. They get an allowance for their children until school leaving age and if that is not sufficient they have to look for a job.
It is very difficult at present, especially in Northern Ireland, for the under-50 widow to find any type of employment which will bring in enough money for her to keep her house. If this Government did nothing else in this Session than to look after the under-50 widow, 1078 they would be doing a very good job. The whole country will welcome this Measure. I wish it every success and hope that it will be on the Statute Book on the earliest possible date.
§ 2.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Brian O'Malley (Rotherham)
This has been a debate in which congratulations have flowed thick and fast on both sides of the House. Hon. Members have congratulated other hon. Members and ex-hon. and right hon. Members. I can only say to new hon. Members that this will not last for very long.
Since we are in that kind of mood, I think it appropriate that congratulations should be offered during the early days of a new Parliament and perhaps I may be permitted, having caught the bug myself, to congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary on his appointment. He is certainly knowledgeable on the subject. He worked extremely hard in opposition and now he has the job and the same office which I had until only a few weeks ago. I congratulate him on that appointment. Similarly, because the hon. Member for Liverpool, Garston (Mr. Fortescue) and I, along with the Parliamentary Secretary, faced each other across the Dispatch Boxes and in Committee for many hours and months in the old Parliament, I also congratulate the hon. Member for Garston on his appointment. If we could not shut him up, at least his side has been able to do so. I extend to him in his new silent rôle all the compassion of which I am capable because, having been in that office for some years, I think he will need it.
We also congratulate the Parliamentary Secretary and the Secretary of State on bringing forward a Bill which in large part is a Bill which was conceived and drawn up by the previous Labour Government. The Bill, however, has been described as a very small Bill. I have to say to the Secretary of State that certainly today I would not be either ungenerous or ungrateful for this little mouse of a Bill, but he will realise that such generosity is perhaps not likely to last, particularly in view of the ominous suggestions we have that the present Conservative Administration are anxious to cut back hard on public expenditure. We hope very much that the new Secretary of State will fight for his corner very hard to see that there is no cut 1079 back on the expansion programme which is needed within the Department of Health and Social Security.
It is also my pleasant task—continuing the process of congratulations—briefly to congratulate hon. Members on both sides of the House who have made maiden speeches so competently and fluently, the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Fidler), the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) and my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), who returns a seat to the Labour Party which we believe we shall keep for many years. We particularly welcomed the contribution of my hon. Friend on this subject because we know of the considerable knowledge and expertise on the social services which he brings as the new Member for Oldham, West.
Turning to the Bill, there has been unanimous welcome in today's debate for the widowhood provisions and the attendance allowance provisions. As has been said, and graciously acknowledged by the Secretary of State, these two features of the Bill were features of the National Superannuation and Social Insurance Bill, which fell with the coming of the General Election. All of us who hold advice centres in our constituencies know that on so many occasions the younger woman, who is left widowed without children, in the present state of the law, often finds herself in real difficulty and with problems in picking up a career which she has left or indeed of finding any suitable employment.
It is always difficult to decide where to cut off in terms of age when a woman is widowed. I noted with interest the comments of the hon. Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink) when he suggested that there was a problem with younger widows between the ages of 35 and 40. We on this side approve of the sliding-scale formula which the Government are today bringing forward, because we believe that it is a much better alternative than a rigid line.
I would, however, say to the hon. Member that in considering the difficulty of establishing a point beyond which a woman without dependent relatives who is left widowed gets no pension, we 1080 have to take into account the attitude, for example, of the single woman of 40 who pays a full contribution and who is entitled to say, "If pensions are being given to women between the ages of 35 and 40, why should not I have a pension, too? Why should I contribute to that kind of pension?"
While we on this side agree that it is a difficult problem—and it is a fine point of judgment to draw a dividing line—we believe that the sliding scale adopted in the Bill is the right way to deal with the problem and will give broad justice, not only to those who are left widowed and who will benefit from Clause 2, but also to single women and contributors generally.
We also welcome the Clause because it will help many of the so-called 30s. widows, who for so many years, under a previous Conservative Administration, were left with a pension of only 10s. It was left to the Labour Administration when we came to power in 1964 to treble that pension. The position of many of those widows will be improved by the new sliding scale and we welcome it, just as we welcome the ending of the three-year rule in Clause 3, which was fully debated on the National Superannuation and Social Insurance Bill in the last Parliament.
I believe that the Secretary of State was right this morning when he said that the attendance allowance was the most important innovation in the Bill and that it was, perhaps, the first step in providing better treatment for the disabled. I think that both sides of the House would be right in regarding this as a beginning and an experiment, because anyone who looks at the complex problems of disability and the question of what kind of provision the State should make for types of disability will recognise that in the long term the provision of an attendance allowance of this kind for the severely disabled can, perhaps, be regarded only as a beginning.
A number of my hon. Friends have expressed the opinion that the level of £4 was not adequate. When the Labour Government were in office, we recognised that £4 provided some help but by no means met the whole financial problem that could arise. The figure of £4 specified in the Bill was the level proposed in 1081 the previous Bill dealing with superannuation, but since the Secretary of State has announced this morning that he hopes to bring in the new attendance allowance, not this year, not next year, but in 1972—and we understand the reasons for the delay—hon. Members on this side are entitled to point out that by the time this allowance is paid, it will certainly not, in real terms, be equal to £4 if £4 were being paid today. One therefore hopes that the Government will consider the possibility of increasing the amount of attendance allowance, if only marginally.
We on this side welcome the fact that the attendance allowance is not to be a contributory benefit. On this question the Government have come to the same conclusion as the previous Government. In the case of supplementary benefit, we think it right that the whole of the attendance allowance should be disregarded.
We are shocked and extremely disappointed to hear that there is a possibility that the attendance allowance of £4 a week could be taxable. We hope that the Secretary of State will go to the Treasury and fight hard to see that the Chancellor of the Exchequer does nothing of the kind. I believe that in saying this I have the support not only of my hon. Friends but of a number of hon. Members—perhaps most of them—on both sides of the House.
It is important that the Attendance Allowance Board should have among its members not only members of the medical profession, but social workers, too, because this is a social as well as a medical problem. I hope that we can have an assurance from the Under-Secretary on this part of the problem.
As to pensions for the over-80s, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), who opened the debate from this side of the House, has outlined our position. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman), the former Secretary of State, went on to point out that at a time of pressure on public resources, when we have a new Government who are talking about the need to cut the total level of public expenditure, at least a proportion of the money which is to be paid out in these Treasury grants—because that is what they are, rather than 1082 pensions—will go to some people who are in no need whatever.
We are entitled to ask the Secretary of State, since we have conflicting claims on public expenditure, what is to suffer as a result of this. I realise that it will year by year be a decreasing amount of expenditure, but I hope that there is no possibility of this amount of money being found by cutting down the total amount of money which is available to the Department of Health and Social Security. We on this side of the House believe that if we are to use an extra £7 million there are many ways in which it could be used.
The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), whom I of course congratulate for having brought forward the first of the Bills to deal with the problem of the non-pensioners over 80, said that the Labour Government had done nothing at all for these non-pensioners. The hon. Gentleman and the House know that this is not true. To begin with, the Secretary of State said this morning that at least a half of these non-pensioners over 80 are receiving supplementary benefit.
§ Mr. Neave
The hon. Member knows quite well that that is not the answer to the claim to a pension as of right. It never has been. What I was saying was that it was deplorable that the Opposition should say that the Conservative Government were being mean in paying the pension when the Labour Government had refused to pay these people any pension at all.
§ Mr. O'Malley
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, the Labour Government certainly had not refused financial help to the people over 80, because under the 1966 Act anyone in need or with an income below the scale rate was able to obtain some assistance, and the scale rates were substantially better than those which operated under National Assistance before the Labour Party took power in 1964. One of the features of the supplementary benefit system between 1966 and 1970 has been the very large increase in the number of people who have been going along to receive supplementary benefit.
§ Mr. O'Malley
The hon. Gentleman said the Labour Government had done nothing at all for these people. What I 1083 am pointing out is that that statement simply was not true. Those of us on this side of the House interested in the matter know that it is not only a question of cash, perhaps even for large numbers of very old people not mainly a question of cash, but perhaps mainly a question of care and of improving the provisions for people of that age.
It needs pointing out in this debate that during the period of the Labour Administration a great deal was done for the elderly and the elderly disabled in our community. During the last few years a quarter of the houses built by local authorities were built for the elderly. In 1965, 63,000, elderly people were in warden-supervised dwellings, and that number will have risen to 160,000 by the end of this year. The number of old people's homes has increased from 1,652 in 1964 to nearly 2,200 today. The Meals on Wheels Service, which is so important and such a lifeline to many old people who find it difficult to get out, was increased enormously, doubled in scale. The Home Help Service was increased and improved, as were the welfare provisions, by local authorities all over the country. And, of course, a large number of the people about whom the hon. Gentleman was understandably concerned certainly did benefit, and benefited quite considerably, by the rebate scheme which the Labour Government introduced, a scheme far in advance of anything which had existed before—for example, when the Secretary of State was Minister of Housing and Local Government in a previous Administration.
Turning to the proposals for this allowance to the non-pensioners in their 80s, the Secretary of State gave no explanation for the figure of £3. We shall certainly want to push him further on that. The hon. Member for Abingdon wanted to know how the figure was arrived at. In speaking of the amount that should be payable to very elderly people, he had previously said:I hope that the Minister will agree to pay these old people the full pension as of right … it is the least we can do."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 7th February. 1969; Vol. 777, c. 762.]I am sure that an Amendment to achieve that, if it were in order under the Money Resolution, would have the support of the hon. Member for Abingdon. The 1084 right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) said on a previous debate that he hoped that the deduction would be very small. It is not very small, it is from £5 to £3, a 40 per cent. reduction. The Minister of State, Defence, has previously said that there would probably be higher pensions for the over 80s; he did not say that there was any possibility of lower pensions for them. The Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary, in Committee, must justify the figure which has been set.
Once a Government decide to give favourable treatment to a specific group of people who have been excluded because they have taken no part in the contributory system, they are bound in morality to look at other groups of people who are partially excluded and to consider what provision should be made for them. In this category are people who have worked abroad for several years and consequently have small contribution records, people who were unable to pay the contributions in the early years after 1948 and people who withdrew their contributions because they did not cover the whole ten years.
The Chief Secretary of the Treasury on 7th February, 1969, said that help should be given to people who were receiving reduced pensions because of having made small financial contributions, and to late-entrants who took lump sums in lieu. We are entitled to ask the Conservative Government what they propose to do about these other groups.
The payment of death grant has been referred to and Treasury support has been given to the proposition. The new Minister of State at the Treasury in the debate on 7th February, 1969 wanted the death grant to be paid in respect of the very old. What is the Under-Secretary of State's reaction to this? Has this proposal been turned down, or is consideration being given to an Amendment to Clause 1 to ensure that people born before the relevant year and excluded from the post-1948 social security scheme will get a death grant?
We should try to place the Bill in the broader context of the Queen's Speech and of poverty and deprivation in old age. Although I am aware of the last sentence which always appears in the Queen's Speech to the effect that other Measures will be laid before the 1085 House, this Bill appears to be the only legislation on pensions to be introduced by the Department of Health and Social Security before the end of 1971. The Queen's Speech deals with a Session which presumably will end some time in July or October next year.
This is a patchwork Bill. The Government have dropped the comprehensive attack on poverty which was contained in our Superannuation Bill and although the present Bill deals with some aspects of the problem, it is far from comprehensive. The Bill is largely made up of the Labour Party's proposals and what has been included is welcome. But it is to be regretted that further important proposals which were in our Superannuation Bill could have been included in the present Bill but are not there. They were not a matter of party argument and we are entitled to ask why they have not been included.
It may be that the Under-Secretary will reply, "We wanted a short Bill so that we could pay pensions to the over-80s at the end of the year". The same argument does not apply to later Clauses of the Bill either on widows' pensions or on the attendance allowance. Although one recognises that the Government need to look at the proposals on earnings-related contributions and flat-rate benefits, there are some parts of the Crossman proposals which were not a matter of party political controversy and which could have been in the Bill. We very much regret this omission and we shall certainly attack any future Conservative Government proposals on earnings-related contributions which in return give only flat-rate benefits. We promise them a great deal of opposition if they bring these kinds of proposals before the House.
I should like to mention a number of other omissions from the Bill, which if included in this legislation would have been helpful to the people of the country. I thought that there was no disagreement between us that it was right that there should be a biennial review of retirement pensions which is a matter for which pensioners' organisations have argued for over many years. At least our Bill contained a guarantee that every two years there would be a review of retirement pensions which at the least would give inflation-proofing. Such a clause could have been included in the present Bill.
1086 The second omission is the concept of an invalidity pension or long-term earnings related sickness benefit. Of course the Bill helps a certain category of widows, but it does not deal with the general problem of poverty among widows at a time when about half of them receive supplementary benefit. What would have helped not only the widow who was sick but the long-term sick and disabled in the rest of the community would have been the introduction of provisions for earnings-related invalidity pensions.
The lump sum industrial death grant for widows was again not a matter for argument between the two sides of the House. Then there was the more generous earnings rule for wives of retired invalidity pensioners and the fact that at present under the law divorced women under 60 can have their retirement pensions calculated by taking over the ex-husband's contribution record merely for a period of marriage. By the provisions of our Bill she would have been able to take over his record before as well as during the marriage.
What I must raise lastly is the whole question of the swindle of the graduated pension scheme which the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) introduced. We were trying to make some amends for the appalling scheme which means that millions of workers find themselves in a situation whereby for each £7 10s. they get the enormous bargain of an undynamised 6d. addition to their pension.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that the scheme embodied in a 1959 Act was so bad can he explain why in 5½ years of untrammelled power he did not amend it?
§ Mr. O'Malley
The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that that is precisely what we were doing in a major exercise to reform the whole system. He knows that the previous Secretary of State dealt with this point this morning when he said that we did not deal with the problem piecemeal but had a major and comprehensive scheme to get rid of poverty and to give the people a decent pension scheme. I had understood that even the Conservative side of the House were not satisfied with the 1087 position about this graduated 6d. and that they agreed, when we discussed Clause 119 of the Bill, that it was right that this 6d. should be dynamised. How ludicrous it was and is that a man who earns a 6d. additional pension entitlement should draw the same undynamised un-inflation-proofed 6d. many years later. I hope that the Under-Secretary will have something to say about that.
To sum up, we welcome the most important proposals in the Bill but we have to draw some comparisons because we brought forward a major and comprehensive scheme designed to cope with the problem of poverty in sickness disability and old age. Whatever the hon. Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams) says, the then Opposition were a push-over for the insurance interests during the debates on the Crossman proposals. We had a major scheme to deal with the problem and we look forward to major proposals from the present Government. This Bill is helpful in some respects but we certainly expect much more. We laid our major scheme before the House, we want to know where is theirs and what they intend to do.
§ Mr. Neave
Dealing with the over-80s, the hon. Gentleman invited hon. Members on this side of the House to amend the Money Resolution, which would be out of order, so that these people could get a full pension. Is he now converted to the idea that people excluded in 1948 should receive a full pension, after the Government of which he was a member gave them no pension at all?
§ Mr. O'Malley
I know what can and cannot be done within a Money Resolution. What I said was that if the Money Resolution were in a state which made it possible to put forward an Amendment of that kind, I should be interested in the reaction of hon. Gentlemen opposite.
§ 3.24 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Mr. Paul Dean)
This debate has been in the best traditions of Friday debates on social security. It has been thoughtful and there have been contributions from both sides of the House full of knowledge and experience of these matters. I hope this augurs well for future debates 1088 on this subject during this Parliament. May I begin by thanking hon. Members on both sides for the kind reference they have made to my right hon. Friend and myself. I know that we shall do our best to live up to these tributes.
It is my pleasure as I make my maiden speech from this box to congratulate the three maiden speakers who have contributed so effectively to our debate today, namely my hon. Friend the Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Fidler), my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg) and the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher). They spoke with immense compassion and knowledge of the subject and we look forward to more contributions from them during the course of this Parliament. I also congratulate those of my hon. Friends who have pressed so hard for this Bill. I refer in particular to my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave). I think that the House would probably wish to call Clause 1 the "Airey Neave Clause".
The Bill shows clearly the Government's determination to improve the social services, especially to fill the gaps in the present services and provide additional help where it is most needed. I am glad that it has been welcomed in all parts of the House. The right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) said that the Opposition do not intend to oppose it, and we are grateful for that. However, I am sorry that he tended to damn it with rather faint praise. It comes rather ill from the Opposition Front Bench to criticise us for introducing this piecemeal Bill, as they call it, in three weeks, when it took right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite five and a half years to launch a boat which never saw harbour. I assure the House that my right hon. Friend has other plans and that they will be unfolded as soon as he is ready to unfold them.
§ Mr. Houghton
Since most of this Bill is scissors and paste, the hon. Gentleman must not claim too much credit for introducing it so quickly.
§ Mr. Dean
All that I am saying is that there is a great contrast between introducing three highly important Measures—admittedly two of them with the agreement of right hon. and hon. Gentlemen 1089 opposite—within three weeks, with all the preparatory work which has had to be done, and the five and a half years which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite took to produce a so-called radical reform which never got off the ground.
I come now to some of the points raised by hon. Members in the course of the debate. Time does not allow me to deal with them all. Any which I do not have time to cover I will deal with by writing to the hon. Members concerned, because I appreciate that the House wishes to deal with the Bill quickly and that hon. Members will need the information for the Committee stage.
I come first to those whom my right hon. Friend described as the "left outs"', the over-80s. Our provisions in this connection have had a warm welcome, especially from this side of the House. I was very glad to hear the welcome given to them by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams). It is always very good to have him on one's side in these matters.
I was asked why, in the Government's view, these people are in need. These "left-outs" from the National Insurance scheme are people who would not have wished to depend on the State in their retirement. They are people who had made their own provision, as they thought, and their wishes were recognised in the arrangements made at the time. These expectations have been falsified, largely by inflation. Some have come to terms with this and accepted supplementary pensions, as they were fully entitled to do. There are others who have not. Such people, all of them now very elderly, can hardly be expected to change their views. As a result, they suffer an erosion of their resources which bites deeper each year.
Compassion demands a once for all action in the only way acceptable to them. I reiterate, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) invited me to, that there is no stigma in applying for supplementary benefit on any person in the land. Nor do we accept that we are giving these pensions regardless of means or need. Those living wholly on mainly on supplementary pensions are already getting a non-contributory pension 1090 which will be increased in November. Those whose private resources are topped up by small supplementary pensions will gain the difference between their supplementary pension and the new pension. Those with large private resources—and admittedly there are some of them—will feel the bite of income tax, but those with inadequate resources who cannot bring themselves to ask for supplementary pension are likely to gain most. I think we can fairly claim that we are dealing here with real need.
My hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon asked about widows, and I am glad to assure him and the House that widows of men above the pension age in 1948 will be covered for the full £3 rate. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey (Mr. Rossi) asked about the wife who was qualified by age, but the husband who was not. I am glad to be able to say that she will qualify for the dependant rate of £1 17s.
The question was also asked, why £3? Here one has to consider the needs of these very old people on the one hand, and on the other the part pensioners and non-pensioners in the existing scheme, all of whom are younger. Those are the factors which we had to take into account in trying to get a fair balance and a fair figure.
I reiterate what my right hon. Friend said, that these new pensions will be uprated in the future when other benefits are increased, and I expect—though this is not a matter for the Government—that those local authorities and private concerns which give concessions to retirement pensioners on production of their order books will extend the concessions to this new group of pensioners.
The question of publicity was mentioned, in particular by my hon. Friends the Members for Abingdon, and Hampstead (Mr. Finsberg). We appreciate that the people dealt with by the Bill are very old, and we hope that everybody—including hon. Members—who knows of them will assist us in making contact with them. Equally, of course, we hope that the facts will be checked as best they can, because we do not want a large number of speculative claims which would merely choke the machine to the detriment of those whom we are trying to benefit. The essential facts in trying to sift these claims are 1091 that the man should be over 87 on 5th July of this year, and the woman over 82. We shall certainly try to make the leaflets and the claim forms as simple as we possibly can to facilitate the inevitable form filling that there must be.
The question of the death grant was raised by my hon. Friends the Members for Abingdon and Hornsey. Here I think we are dealing with a rather different situation from the pension. We shall consider carefully what has been said in this debate, but it would be wrong of me to hold out any hope with regard to death grant. To extend the provision of death grant to cover the death of these people would introduce entirely different considerations from the provision of a pension. For retirement pensioners there was the State scheme before 1948 to which the majority contributed, but there was also a minority who were not insured, and furthermore may not have had the opportunity of being insured under the State scheme. It is to this minority that we are now extending some pension provision. Death grant, however, was an entirely new benefit under the 1948 scheme. No grant was paid until 1949, that is until after one year's insurance, and only a half rate grant is paid to those within ten years of pensionable age in 1948. For all those over pensionable age in 1948 there was no State cover, and people of this generation were aware that they themselves would have to make provision for funeral expenses.
I turn, now, to the provision for widows, which I am glad has also been welcomed on both sides of the House today. Here again we have had to deal with a long-standing grievance and try to iron out the sharp disparity which exists at the moment between a widow with no dependent children who is one side of the age barrier of 50, and another who is on the wrong side. The intention is to help to deal with that sharp disparity.
I am glad to be able to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, South (Mr. Pink), who asked about the widowed mother's allowance and the woman who was under 40, that that allowances continues for as long as the young person is under 19 and resident with the widow. It does not normally 1092 finish at school leaving age. Few widows—well under 1,000 a year—will fail to qualify for at least the proposed scaled-down pension.
I now turn briefly to the attendance allowance, which, again, has been warmly welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House. Again, I am glad to pay tribute to the work done by the previous Administration in fashioning this. As a result of the debates that we had in the last Parliament we improved the proposals made, but in a real sense this is a bipartisan Measure, and it is nice to see the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley) still taking part in our debates. I know that we can expect from him efforts to improve our Bills in the same way as we tried to improve his in the last Parliament.
With this allowance we are making a significant advance by making additional cash provision for the most seriously disabled. I can assure the House that we realise that much more might be done, and that we shall be looking at various ways in which further help might be provided for the seriously ill and the disabled.
Hon. Members on both sides of the House—including my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter)—asked about the taxation position of these allowances. I can only reiterate what my right hon. Friend said in opening the debate, namely, that this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who will no doubt be considering the treatment that should be afforded to the attendance allowances in the light of the comments made from hon. Members on both sides of the House today.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames also asked how the £4 figure for the attendance allowance was arrived at. The basis of the rate is that it represents a valuable cash addition to the total income coming into the homes of severely disabled people, rather than being related to any specific criterion. In many cases—probably the majority—it will be paid in addition to the basic social security benefits—sickness benefit, retirement benefit, widow's benefit, or supplementary benefit. In other words, the amount cannot be considered in isolation, because it does not stand alone.
1093 A further point that I should make clear in view of the questions that I have been asked concerns supplementary benefit in relation to the attendance allowance. The allowance will be added to the requirements of supplementary benefit recipients, who will therefore benefit from it except in so far as their payments from the Supplementary Benefits Commission may already include a discretionary addition for attendance, in which case they will benefit to the extent that the allowance exceeds the amount of the discretionary allowance.
I hope that in the short time available to me I have been able to deal with most of the points that have been raised. I shall write to hon. Members on any points that I have not been able to deal with.
We are today commending to the House a Bill that in my judgment is a major advance on three immensely important fronts. It has been encouraging to find the warm welcome that it has had, generally speaking, from hon. Members on both sides of the House, and I hope that it will be only a short time before the House allows the Bill to proceed and we are able to get on with the work of putting it into action.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Fortescue.]
§ Committee upon Monday next.