§ 7.30 p.m.
§ No. 6, in page 1, line 9, leave out paragraph (b).
§ No. 9, in page 1, line 16, leave out 'paragraphs' and insert 'paragraph'.
§ No. 64, in Clause 17, page 7, line 21, leave out from 'Act' to end of line 24.
§ Mrs. Williams
The purpose of this group of Amendments is to explore precisely what the Government have in mind in the way in which the Bill defines "family". The fundamental purpose is to try to express the concept of a family in a way which will as far as possible meet the practical shape of families with low incomes which are in considerable need and which the Bill is intended to help.
1119 On Second Reading the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Social Services said:A household is one with children. A grandmother living with a son who himself has children would not be within the scope of the Bill. The son with children might be. I think that that is the position, but I would like to reserve judgment on it. We shall have to define carefully in Committee and in subsequent regulations exactly who is included."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th November, 1970: Vol. 806, c. 224.]The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that it is both one of the duties and one of the purposes of the Opposition to try to establish as many facts as they can while the Bill is passing through Committee and Report stages instead of leaving them to regulations. We therefore wish, with the right hon. Gentleman's co-operation—which I am sure we shall get—to try to find out at each stage precisely what the Government have in mind. Some of the Amendments have been put down because we genuinely believe that they will improve the Bill, little affection as we have for the Bill.
I turn first to the first part of Clause 1 which deals with which members of a household a family shall consist of. For this purpose I will take the Chairman's guidance that the words "consist of" need not be exclusive of all other possible members of the family. Clause 1(1)(a) reads:one man or single woman engaged, and normally engaged, in remunerative full-time work;The effect of the Amendment would be to remove the word "single", so that a woman who was the main breadwinner of the household would be entitled, even if she were living with her husband or with some other man as her husband, to receive family income supplement.
I will later go into the details why we think this is important and relevant to modern conditions. Before doing so, I will explore the reasons behind the Government's thought in wishing to define the woman in paragraph (b) as being either the wife or a woman living as a wife with the head of the household. This brings me to a point which was raised in Second Reading—as we call it in shorthand, "the grandmother Clause". We have in mind here impoverished families consisting of many children where female relatives may be called in to 1120 become part of the family and may take the main responsibility for the upbringing of the children. A man who is widowed or deserted by his wife will frequently bring another female relative into the household to bring up his children.
I appreciate that there is no separate allowance for the wife, and that, therefore, the grandmother replacing the wife or mother would not herself be entitled to a special allowance. But the point which we are concerned to make is that the responsibility for the children in such a family—and such families are by no means uncommon—rests with both the man and the other female relative, his mother, sister, aunt or whoever it may be. In addition, this female relative may in certain circumstances become for the purposes of the Bill and for the maintenance of the children the head of the household. We are anxious not to draw the definitions as narrowly as the Bill does.
The right hon. Gentleman will know that the word "nan" or "nanny" means something different among families who are not rich enough to employ someone in that capacity. It usually means grandmother, because the grandmother is an integral part of the family.
I refer to Clause 8(2) simply because it is germane to our understanding of the words "consist of". Clause 8(2), which states the requirements to be taken into account for payment of family income supplement, uses the phrase:any person included in the family".Although there may be no intended distinction here, we are a little concerned whether Clause 8(2) goes wider than Clause 1(1) in respect of those it includes in the family. We therefore ask for a de facto definition of "family" instead of the narrow definition in the Bill.
My next point, which is of considerable concern to us on this side of the Committee, is about the woman who is in practice the head of the household—by "in practice" I mean in terms of her income—even though she may be living with her husband. We have in mind a man who is unable to go out to work and who may not be able to draw full sickness or unemployment benefit—for instance, a man with a recurring illness such as asthma—where it may be in the interests of the family that the wife rather 1121 than the husband should go out to work. We have in mind also a father who, owing to a disability, may get a small disability pension—perhaps in respect of an industrial disease—but who in practice will be able to earn less than his wife should she go out to work in his place.
We do not believe that the Government would wish to produce a major disincentive to a wife going out to work if she would prefer her family to be sustained by her earnings rather than by supplementary benefit. If that is the choice the wife makes, we wish to explore further the restrictive meaning of Clause 1(1)(a) which, as defined in paragraph (b), makes it quite clear that where a woman is married and living with her husband he must be regarded in all situations as the breadwinner, so that the wife cannot draw a family income supplement.
Another situation is that in which a man for a substantial period has been unable to obtain employment—that is not an unfamiliar situation in part of the North-East and Scotland—and in which his wife might well be able to get employment. In some parts of the country where basic industries are running down, collieries and steel mills, which are largely employers of men, are replaced all too frequently, and perhaps unfortunately, by industries which employ female rather than male labour. This is a situation of which we are likely to see more rather than less in the future.
If it is true to say that this country does 10 years later what the United States does—I hope that that is not true—then the example I am about to give will become a still more familiar situation This is where the husband is a student and where his parents' income in sufficiently high for him not to be entitled to more than a basic grant of £50 a year, but where his parents fail to pay their share of the student grant. In that situation, the wife is frequently the main breadwinner and the husband cannot draw supplementary benefit because it is no responsibility of the Commission that the parents fail on their side of the commitment to pay the grant. Nevertheless, this type of family, where there are often children nowadays, will be excluded from the Bill even though the wife might herself be endeavouring to keep her family 1122 by working up to 30 or more hours a week.
I remind the right hon. Gentleman of what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said when he originally described the Family Income Supplements Bill, on 27th October:This will be additional to existing family benefits, and will be paid to poor families with children where the wage earner is in full-time work, using a simple test of income."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th October, 1970; Vol. 805, c. 45.]I repeat the words "the wage earner". From our point of view that would have been a more satisfactory definition than the one which appears in the Bill.
We now have, because of the kindness of the then Government, the Supplementary Benefit Code which is the handbook of guidance to supplementary benefit officers. One case specifically raised in the handbook is that of a woman who is living with a man as his common law wife where the man refuses to maintain the children or some of them because he believes they are not his children. This is a sufficiently frequent situation for the supplementary benefit handbook to deal with it as a category of cases, although, fortunately, not a very common category. I am not clear from Clause 1(1) whether, if a man is living as husband with a woman and refuses to maintain the children, the wife is entitled to make a claim for those children and to draw family income supplements on the basis of the man's wage. If the man were working and living with her, it is by no means clear that she would under the present rules be entitled to draw supplementary benefit.
Will the right hon. Gentleman say a little more about the point raised in Second Reading about grandparents, not themselves retired, who are standing in loco parentis to grandchildren? Would grandparents having responsibility for the children be entitled to draw family income supplement, as the children would be their responsibility and not the responsibility of their parents? It frequently happens that a young unmarried mother will place her child or children in the care of her parents. In some cases it will be even believed in the neighbourhood that the children are the children of her parents. It is important that we should establish in that situation whether the grandparents have the right to call 1123 upon the Bill, since they may be in receipt of a very small income.
§ The Secretary of State for Social Services (Sir Keith Joseph)
Will the hon. Lady guide me on that hypothesis? Is she suggesting that where the children are placed with the grandparents, the mother of the children is not living in the same household but elsewhere?
§ Mrs. Williams
I think the right hon. Gentleman at an earlier stage dealt with the hypothesis that the mother was living with her parents. No, I am taking this a stage further to an all-too-common situation in which the grandparents have to step in as parents in respect of their daughter's children. The ease of definition is crucial here. It is most painful for a young unmarried mother to make her personal situation clear in filling in forms and then for it to become known what is the true situation.
§ Amendment No. 9 eliminates Clause 1(1)(b). The purpose of eliminating this paragraph was to deal with the widening of the definition of female dependants. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman in his reply to these Amendments will recognise that this was our intention. It was not our intention in removing paragraph (b) to exclude the wife as well as all other female relatives from benefit.
§ 7.45 p.m.
I come to the final Amendment, No. 64, which removes the definition of "single woman" used in the Bill. If we were to knock out the word "single", this definition would no longer be required. The definition is wide, unless the right hon. Gentleman has some particular limitation in mind, since it reads:
'single woman' means any woman other than one who is a member of the same household as a man to whom she is married or with whom she is living as his wife.
§ Perhaps only a lawyer could understand why the word "single" is so used. I suppose that, in common parlance, "single" is often used of a spinster or unmarried woman. Therefore, we suggest the removal of this definition because we want to widen the whole concept of the female member of the family.
§ I should like to raise one matter which is not related to this last Amendment and that is the question of cohabitation. The Bill deals with a woman married 1124 to the head of the household or a woman who lives with him as his wife. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman has considered the extremely difficult case law that has been built up by the Supplementary Benefits Commission about what constitutes a common law marriage or a common law wife. It would be helpful if he could say a little more about whether he is to base the definition of a woman who is living with a man as his wife while not married to him on the same sort of criteria as those used by the Commission. These criteria are many and vary from sharing an income to sharing a bed, and it would be helpful if we could have some idea of what the right hon. Gentleman has in mind.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I am grateful that I did not have to submit to immediate written examination in regard to all the hon. Lady's technical but justified questions. First, I would make clear that the Government have no intention whatever of taking merely technical objections. If there are any technical objections to inhibit any Amendment that should be made on merit, then the Government will undertake to introduce the necessary facilitating Amendment at a later stage in the Bill. The Opposition need have no fear that we shall take merely technical Amendments to stop anything of substance.
Before considering the hon. Lady's questions, we need to bear in mind the purpose of this limited piece of legislation. It is to help a family that is not entitled to supplementary benefit to improve its income where its income at the moment is below supplementary benefit level. Therefore, I shall be answering the hon. Lady, and perhaps a number of other hon. Members during the discussion, on a number of occasions with the answer that in the particular hypothesis mentioned the family or household will be entitled to draw supplementary benefit which, ipso facto, will be better than family income supplement.
I will now go through the postulates of the hon. Lady and try to explain the position in regard to each. The first hypothesis was that the woman is the main breadwinner of the family. She may be in this situation for a number of reasons, either because there is no male vacancy for the man or because the man is recurrently ill and cannot maintain 1125 a job, or because the man is sick, or because he is disabled. For any one of these reasons, the family is entitled to supplementary benefit. Where the man is not in work, his family and household are entitled to supplementary benefit. If the woman living with him, or the woman who is his wife, is contributing income from earnings, or from gifts from her own family, or from any other source of income to the household, then, under the Supplementary Benefit Rules, only £2 of that income is disregarded.
Hon. Members may criticise the amount of the disregard, but that is not central to the question we are now considering. Therefore, on the first hypothesis put by the hon. Lady, the answer is, as I warned it would be on a number of occasions, that the particular family where the woman is the wage earner is entitled to supplementary benefit. We can imagine a situation in which the woman was earning so well that it was worth the while of the household not to apply for supplementary benefit, but we are not in the realms of earnings in dealing with the families covered by the Bill.
The hon. Lady went on to a sub-hypothesis, namely, where the wife or woman was earning because the man was not well enough to earn adequately. Here we have to look at two alternatives: either the man is not earning adequately because, for one reason or another, he is not working full time and, in that case, the family is entitled to supplementary benefit; or he is working full time for such low earnings that he is entitled to family income supplement. I think that I have covered all the alternatives under that hypothesis.
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams
The right hon. Gentleman is being very helpful, but before he moves on may I put this hypothesis? Let us take the case of a woman whose husband is, to some extent, mentally handicapped and the only kind of work he can do is unskilled—
§ Mrs. Williams
Full time. Let us take it that he could earn only £9 a week in his occupation and that the woman could earn £12 at a similar occupation. Because of the limitation of £3, if the family consisted 1126 of several children it might well be better off if the woman went out to work, earned £12 and was able to claim the full amount of £3—the whole amount to which she was entitled—rather than that the man should go out to work for £9 a week and so be able to claim £5 but, because of the limitation, would only be entitled to £3. There are tens of thousands of people who are to some extent mentally handicapped and limited in the jobs which they can do. A number are bound to be married to a woman who might be able to earn more.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I think I must take time to look at that example, and I will look at it. But in the length and breadth of the country I do not think that there are many men, whatever their defects of nature, who are in what is called full-time work earning that order of gross income. I will look at the matter and, if there is a case, I will see whether anything can be done about it.
The hon. Lady put a group of hypotheses connected with the presence of a grandmother or a Nan of some sort in the household. It might be a sister or aunt who is taking the place of the woman or mother in bringing up the children. We have to assume one of two alternatives: either that the replacement woman—the Nan—has an income or that she has not. If she has an income, then her income has to be taken into account in measuring family income against the make-up level. Therefore, although the hon. Lady does not mean to harm the family by taking account of that income, it would be reducing the chance of that family to qualify for family income supplement. But if the Nan does not have an income and the man is doing the earning, then the family is entitled to family income supplement. If the man is not doing the earning, then the household is entitled to supplementary benefit. So that in that group of hypotheses there has not been shown to be any need for change.
To clear up any doubt, if we contemplate a household in which a Nan has children of her own and joins up her household with that of the father and his children, we might well get a situation in which the same household contained two families, each entitled on its own to family income supplement. I think that I am on sound ground there.
1127 Now we come to the much harder cases. I have only covered the easy ones the hon. Lady put to me. She asked me what would happen if a common law wife were living with a man who disowned care of the wife's children because he believed they were not his. The hon. Lady can be completely comforted that the Bill meets the point because Clause 1(1)(c) provides that family income supplement is payable to a family where the children are the responsibility of either the father or the mother. Therefore, that particular case is covered by the drafting of the Bill.
I was then asked by the hon. Lady what would happen if the mother, as must often happen, placed her child or children with her parents and did not reside in the household. We then have to take three different hypotheses. One is that the parents have income of their own, in which case with or without the help of the mother—who has presumably deposited the children so that she may earn—they are assumed to be able to look after the children, or that they do not have income, or enough income, in which case they are entitled to supplementary benefit—
§ Sir K. Joseph
Then they are not entitled to supplementary benefit because they are working full time. They are not entitled to family income supplement because they are not the parents. There the hon. Lady scores 15—love, and I will take the case away and look at it. Indeed, I undertake to look at it and, if necessary, I will put down an Amendment. If I find her case is not covered, I do not undertake necessarily to amend the Bill because we have to assume that the mother will have freed her hands in order to earn by placing the children with her parents. We may have to assume, because of considerations which have to be taken into account, that it would be right to let the mother contribute to the household. But I undertake to look at that alternative and either to account to the House for why I have not put down an Amendment, or to put down an Amendment.
§ Mr. Kevin McNamara (Kingston upon Hull, North)
We are grateful for what 1128 the right hon. Gentleman has said, but there is one other alternative, and that is where the child is deposited with the grandparents and the mother leaves the child and no more is heard of her. This could be a real cause of trouble.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Sir K. Joseph
That is no problem if the grandparents are not working. Either they have income over and above supplementary benefit level or they are entitled to supplementary benefit. It is only if they are earning that a problem arises. I think that that case is outside the purpose, as conceived, of the Family Income Supplements Bill. However, I will look into it.
I now come to the most difficult of the cases put forward by the hon. Member for Hitchin—the student. I shall have to look at this point, too. Normally, my reaction would be that the student will not be within the purposes of the Bill, because a child, within the purposes of the Bill is up to the age of 16 or over that age if still in secondary school full-time. But "student" implies that the child is over that age. However, to make sure that I am not missing a point, I will also look into that case.
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams
I should like to make the position a little clearer. I was not raising the point about the student as a child. I was concerned about the adult student who may have children and, because of the present arrangements of the student grant system, cannot draw supplementary benefit, but may not be in receipt of the grant which he is meant to have because it assumes a parental contribution which is not paid. This is not an attempt to split hairs. Many thousands of people come into this category. It therefore raises again the question of the earning wife.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I cannot undertake to do more than look at it. I know that the hon. Lady is not trying to split hairs. I cannot give an undertaking that, when I say I will look at something, there will be an Amendment. However, I will either put down an Amendment or account to the House for not putting down an Amendment.
For these reasons, I do not think that the hon. Lady, for all her care in probing different alternatives, has made out a 1129 case for a change in drafting of the Bill. I shall certainly look at the points which I have not wholly satisfactorily been able to answer. I hope that the hon. Lady has got some satisfaction from what I have said.
I am advised that Amendment No. 8 meets the case of the earning grandparent where the mother is outside the household.
§ Sir K. Joseph
If that Amendment is called, I shall be able to advise the Committee that, subject to one or two points, it is wise to accept it. Therefore, I can reassure the Committee on the earning grandparent hypothesis.
§ Mrs. Williams
In the light of what the right hon. Gentleman has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment. However, I do so on the understanding that the right hon. Gentleman will look into the points which we have raised and will endeavour to meet them, if he feels it is possible to do so, by Amendments on Report.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Myer Galpern)
With this Amendment I suggest that it will be convenient to take Amendment No. 4 in, page 1, line 8, after 'work', insert:'or, where it can be proved that no full-time work is possible, part-time work';Amendment No. 5, in page 1, line 8, after 'work', insert 'such as to provide the substantial support of the family'; and Amendment No. 50, in Clause 11, page 4, line 20, leave out 'full-time'.
§ Mr. O'Malley
I am sure that the Secretary of State will be pleased to hear that I do not think that he will be faced with the complex type of problems raised on the previous Amendment by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams).
As the Bill stands, a man or a single woman is entitled to claim the family income supplement only if he or she isin remunerative full-time work".1130 This is largely put down as a probing Amendment to inquire into the thinking of the Government on the interpretation of the wordsin remunerative full-time work".We were given an explanation how the Government intended to interpret those words in a Written Answer on Friday, 13th November, when the Secretary of State said:The general rule I propose is that a person will be treated as being in remunerative full-time work if he normally works for 30 hours or more per week."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1970; Vol. 806, c. 284.]This gives some of the information for which we would otherwise have been asking during the debate on this Amendment. But a number of further questions arise which I should like to put to the right hon. Gentleman.
First, I should like to consider carefully what was said in that Answer. I do not want to split hairs, but obviously we would like to be clear about the explanation given in that reply. The right hon. Gentleman began,The general rule I propose".Will he tell us what kind of exceptions from that general rule he is already envisaging in regulations?
The right hon. Gentleman goes on,… I propose … that a person will be treated as being in remunerative full-time work if he normally works for 30 hours or more per week.Presumably that applies whether it is a man or a woman. In the face of that general definition one has to inquire about three types of person.
First, casual workers. The right hon. Gentleman gave some extra information in Written Answers to Questions, again on Friday 13th November, where he explains that in the vast majority of cases one will be taking into account average earnings of persons either over five weeks or two months. The right hon. Gentleman then says something about casual earnings and seasonal work. It would be helpful if he could tell us more about the Government's thinking on that aspect.
Secondly, what is the position of the woman who takes in work? I realise that the number of women who are either willing to become, or forced into becoming, for example, seamstresses in their 1131 own homes is much lower than would be found 20 years ago, and particularly half a century ago. Nevertheless, there must be a number of women in that position whose working hours will vary according to the amount of work which is brought in on individual orders or requests. How will the 30 hours definition affect them?
Thirdly, what about the man or woman, the head of a household, who does not receive a wage for a number of hours per week, but draws his or her income from fees—for example, an actor or, for that matter, a widowed actress? The right hon. Gentleman laughs. This is one of the troubles of bringing in a Bill of this kind. We are bound to get this kind of complication. There could be cases of people working probably for 30 or more hours per week for part of the year, but who, during the period on which the assessment will be made, will have been working substantially less than 30 hours per week, and yet, despite that, may have an income in tens of pounds—the kind of income of people who will be affected by the Bill.
I said that the Amendment was primarily intended as a probing Amendment, but there was an additional reason. We and the right hon. Gentleman are anxious to keep the scheme as flexible as possible in the interests of the claimants. We should be concerned particularly, because of this definition, with the position of a widow, perhaps the only adult in the house, with a number of children. If it is possible, such women should be given a choice of the source of their income from the State.
Under the Bill, a woman working for 20–25 hours a week with an income of £8 10s. and with children is entitled to supplementary benefit. We would not want the Amendment to produce a situation in which we would be denying a woman the more generous benefit which she can receive at present from the Supplementary Benefits Commission. If one takes into account the views of some outside organisations and our own experience in our advice bureaux in our constituencies, one realises that there are women who should, and are entitled to, apply for supplementary benefit, but who refuse to do so. One case which springs to my mind is that of one of my constituents, an unmarried mother, who was 1132 quite unwilling to go to the local D.H.S.S. office. She did not want anyone to know about her position. Yet all she could do was part time work.
The F.I.S. is singularly a means-tested benefit, and some individuals would have the same objections to applying for it as they do about supplementary benefit. But there is one substantial difference—that the F.I.S. is to be a payment from a central department rather than one from a local authority.
I would not want to make too much of this. There is nothing between us here. We recognise that some people will not apply for supplementary benefit. If we can do something for them under this kind of Bill, obviously we want to do it. So the Amendment could help some people like the unmarried mother I mentioned, who might be prepared to accept an option different to supplementary benefit—the family income supplement—if it were open to them.
There is a question of inducement or disincentive to work either more or less than the stipulated number of hours. Since the level of supplementary benefits, with all their disregards, is higher than the income provided under the Bill, there is every inducement for the woman who, for example, is at present working over 30 hours a week, to reduce them to 25 or even 20 hours. There is always a danger of collusive reduction of hours.
The Amendment would provide more flexibility in administration. We would not be tied to the 30-hour rule, which would mean that there would be options open to these women. Of course one option is better than the other, but it does not necessarily mean that, because of the nature of the options, women would not be prepared to accept one rather than the other, even though, in many circumstances, it would be less attractive.
Therefore, I put forward the Amendment with no hard views about it. We should try to look at some of the problems raised by the scheme to see how we can help the people who can be helped and who presently will not be helped. I have also raised a number of general questions, but the important thing is that, wherever we can give an option, particularly when it affects the inclination 1133 of women in circumstances that I have described to work or not to work, or to work one number of hours rather than another, flexibility must be considered. If the Amendment does not do it, we should consider making it more flexible than it appears to be under the 30-hour rule, to give the most help to the people we are all concerned to help.
§ Mr. Kinsey
My right hon. Friend is being very generous in the way that he led us into the debate and answered the first set of Amendments. In my maiden speech, I asked that consideration be given to widows or people in business left in this position. Going out to business is just as much work. I know that this would put a strain on my right hon. Friend in the matter of interpretation, but if he could at least consider it, I should be obliged. This is as much work as what the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley) said about people who take in work. Clarification here would be very helpful.
§ Mr. Loughlin
Mine was rather a facetious remark, and followed naturally upon what my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley) said and a couple of smiles that the Secretary of State and I exchanged. I know that he was only too eager to deal with the examples which my hon. Friend put to him and I thought of one which is bound to floor him on the question of part-time work. I thought of a struggling artist who was doing nude studies and could afford to hire the girl for only 29 hours a week. Would he come into the definition of full-time work?
§ The Temporary Chairman
I apologise to the hon. Gentleman if his remark misfired, but I do not think that we should go into the question of nudes here this evening.
§ Mr. Hugh D. Brown (Glasgow, Provan)
That may be a bit more interesting, but we have a job of work to do tonight. Could I ask the right hon. Gentleman to give us some greater detail? 1134 I have read his Written Answer in c. 284 about 30 hours but that does not satisfy me. On Second Reading I gave an example of the generous and sympathetic treatment extended by the S.B.C. at the moment. This applies when anything less than full-time work is regarded as part-time work. If someone is in a job for which the working hours would normally be 40 hours and it by collusion, and there is nothing wrong with that, the figure is reduced to 30 hours a week, that is accepted as part time employment.
Assuming a man or woman was accepted by the S.B.C. as being in part-time work but was doing more than 30 hours a week would they still be given the favourable treatment which they would get from the S.B.C. because £2 of their earnings could be disregarded? They would be better off than under this miserable Bill. Will they get the choice or will there be further regulations imposed on the S.B.C. to create a limiting effect?
§ Mr. O'Malley
My hon. Friend will wish to bear in mind, and perhaps the Secretary of State would note, that in the Supplementary Benefits Commission handbook published a few months ago by the previous Government, in paragraph 2 under "Exclusions From Benefit (Persons In Full Time Work)" we are told:A person is considered to be in remunerative full time work if he works the recognised week in his trade or employment.This is the definition given in the handbook and it gives emphasis to the question of my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Brown
This is a most important part of the Bill. We certainly want to get it clear. It seems that there is a possibility of the Secretary of State having to give a directive to the S.B.C. about whether a person should have a choice. Can an individual elect for a particular category under which he shall be treated? I want a categoric assurance about that.
I am extremely worried about how people will get precise information about this. Will there be a central office for assessment? What about advice and information? It is not so much the question of adjudication because that has always been remote, but rather a matter of the availability of staff to advise an applicant whether he would be better taking advantage of one procedure or 1135 the other. There will be the possibility of many more staff being required. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will say whether offices will remain open for at least one evening to give advice.
§ Mr. McNamara
When we are talking about self-employed people the definition of remunerative full time employment comes in. I am thinking of share fishermen, window cleaners, persons who take in typing and so on. How will this fit into the 30 hours?
§ Sir K. Joseph
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley) and other hon. Members who have spoken. I will try to answer the points which they raised. Hon. Members will sympathise with the intention of the Government to keep this scheme as simple as possible and my answers will have that purpose in mind. I was asked whether my reply to the Question published in HANSARD on Friday in terms of the general test I envisage, that anything over 30 hours a week would be intended as full time for the purposes of the Bill, implied that there were exceptions in my mind. The answer is that I have it in my mind at present that there will be no exceptions but I am very open to considering exceptions if during the debate or the next few months exceptions are shown to be necessary.
The second question relates to the degree of sharpness of the 30-hour rule. The Government desire that this shall be a very sharp division, and that those who work for 30 hours or more in a week shall be considered to be in full-time work and therefore entitled to family income supplement while those who work for less than 30 hours a week should not be entitled to the supplement but should be entitled to supplementary benefit.
That leads me to the third question put by the hon. Member for Rotherham and the hon. Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown) about those who are hovering just above or below. The supplementary benefit treatment is much better than the family income supplement treatment. This is because there are disregards, rent is paid—and for various other reasons. Despite that there may be people who, because they want to work, for psychological reasons, the company or any other reason that 1136 seems good to them, would rather have family income supplement than supplementary benefit.
It is our intention that individuals shall be able to exercise their choice by adjusting their hours. It is our intention, by means of a leaflet in the first place and by means of advice if the leaflet does not suffice, to advise people what is in their best interests. The result may be that a woman who is now doing 32 hours a week may be advised to do three or four hours a week fewer and so become entitled to supplementary benefit. On the other hand, someone working for fewer than 30 hours a week may be advised to try to work, if it is available, for longer to become entitled to family income supplement. The answer to the hon. Member for Provan is that advice will be available at any of the social security offices.
My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Kinsey) asked about widows. Widows are in themselves eligible, but such is the benefit available to those widows bringing up children that the family concerned will rarely be eligible for the family income supplement. They are eligible if their family income is less than the make-up level.
§ Sir K. Joseph
That leads me to the next point, the difficult complex of people ranging from window cleaners to actors, painters or anyone in private business, including the woman mentioned by the hon. Member for Rotherham who takes in work in her own home. These people are in business; in one form or another they are private entrepreneurs. We shall need, as the Supplementary Benefits Commission needs, to define how to measure their income. There will need to be a separate set of regulations for people in private business on their own account.
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
Is it also proposed that there shall be regulations defining how the time spent by these people is to be measured? Is a lady who takes in washing to mark off on a sheet every half-hour she spends before returning to cooking the lunch?
§ Sir K. Joseph
I may have misled the House slightly in what I said. The test is not employment as such but work. If 1137 someone like the window cleaner is at work on his own account for more than 30 hours a week, then he will be entitled to family income supplement. There are some forms of work the earnings from which take the form of profits rather than wages. Those forms of work where there is expenditure laid out before a person can get anything for himself from the receipts are in the form of a business and will be covered by regulations.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. McNamara
The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that this is a very difficult line he is now trying to draw between, for example, a window cleaner and a person who takes in typing or washing and measures profit against loss. How do we measure time in this context? For example, I would imagine that a window cleaner in Lerwick in winter has very little opportunity to pursue his trade but more opportunity than most people during the summer. These are problems for these people who want to preserve their independence but who by doing so are putting themselves in a very precarious position financially.
§ Sir K. Joseph
We must not be too daunted, because all these problems have been successfully surmounted by the Supplementary Benefits Commission, which must make some assessment of household income for people not in full-time work. The Commission—not referred to in the Bill—is our agent and we shall seek its advice on the definition of earnings or about the business element for the purposes of working the Bill.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying, then, that the expression "remunerative full-time work" will be defined in different ways for different classes of people? If he is saying that, that was not how I read the regulation-making power in Clause 11. I may be wrong, but I thought that that was intended to prescribe a single test of what was meant by "remunerative full-time work". Can the right hon. Gentleman help on this?
§ Sir K. Joseph:
I do not think that I have grasped the question. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will put it to me again. I do not see the problem.
§ Mr. Silkin
I am sorry that I have not made myself clear, but I am sure 1138 that it is my fault. As I understood what the right hon. Gentleman was saying, it was that he would be taking account of the fact that different people have different systems of earning their money—the window cleaner being one, the artist being another, and the person doing what one might call an ordinary job in excess of 30 hours a week being a third, and that he would cater for all these different situations. I was asking the right hon. Gentleman how he proposed to cater for these different situations within the scope of the Bill as it stands; because, as I read it, it looks as though there is to be, and can be, only a single definition of "remunerative full-time work".
§ Sir K. Joseph:
I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman. The short answer to his question lies in Amendment No. 68, by which I shall propose:Regulations may make different provision for different classes of case and otherwise for different circumstances.I will seek to answer the last of the questions put to me. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) raised a question about hours. Normally we shall rely upon a statement both for hours and earnings from the claimant. Only where we have reason to fear abuse shall we check on that statement.
I understand that these are probing Amendments and are intended to test the effectiveness of the full-time work requirement. I hope that I have been able to satisfy the Committee that there is no grey area here, that more than 30 hours work a week will qualify a family that is eligible because its income is below the make-up level to family income supplement and that less than 30 hours remunerative work a week will qualify a family for supplementary benefit.
§ Mr. Loughlin
I took these to be probing Amendments which were of no great consequence until my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown) raised the question of the definition of the amount of work necessary to be done by anybody to get supplementary benefits. I had a clear idea that it was 36 hours a week, but it appears from the definition quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley) that it is a much looser definition.
1139 If the right hon. Gentleman introduces a definition of 30 hours a week, he will exclude a substantial number of people who are at present working more than 30 hours and receiving supplementary benefit, which is far more beneficial to them than will be the family income supplement. I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman has considered this. If we are thinking in terms of improving the lot of the very poor, it is important not to include in the Bill a definition that worsens their lot, because some people may be excluded from Supplementary Benefits Commission benefits because of such a definition. Will the Secretary of State examine this question closely, lest in putting in the 30 hours definition in the Bill and the Regulations he excludes some people from supplementary benefits and thereby disadvantages them?
§ Sir K. Joseph:
The Supplementary Benefits Commission has a certain flexibility because, as the hon. Member for Rotherham made clear, the test of full-time work or lack of full-time work is a question of the practice of each individual trade. There are two parallel and inter-acting tests. There is full-time or not full-time, according to the practice of the trade and there is the 30-hour rule. Some families may receive supplementary benefit, although the wage earner is working more than 30 hours a week, because it is the practice of the trade to expect many more hours per week to qualify for full-time.
So there is a desirable flexibility here which I know that the hon. Gentleman would be the last to wish to disturb. A family will be able to choose supplementary benefit for family income supplement according to which suits it best. And there will be advice available.
I return to the original purpose of the group of Amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Rotherham. He was trying to test the validity of the full-time work test. I hope that he will be satisfied that we have put into the Bill a test, or we propose through regulations to put in a test, which ties in well with the real-life needs of the families whom we are trying to help, by giving them their supplementary benefit alternative, while leaving a desirable flexibility. In these circumstances I hope that 1140 the hon. Gentleman will not press that group of Amendments.
§ Mr. O'Malley
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the information which he has given and for the explanations he made. He said that he would look at the question of any exceptions, and that if it should prove necessary, at this time or in the coming months, he would certainly act on the matter. Secondly, the right hon. Gentleman explained that a separate set of regulations would be necessary for what I should call peculiar categories of persons. He said that they would all be treated as though they were in business, and what one would be looking at would be profits rather than gross weekly earnings. All kinds of difficulties can arise there. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman will not be able to deal with it even as simply as that. He talks about people being in business. Some of the people in the kind of category we are envisaging could well be on contract of service rather than contract for services.
The right hon. Gentleman, in the rather friendly way in which he sometimes begins, smiled and said that the Government wanted to keep the Bill as simple as possible and he was sure that he had the sympathy of the Committee. I can assure him most warmly that he does not have the sympathy of this side of the Committee. If public money is being disbursed, be it through the social security or the tax system, if the degree of simplicity some believe desirable is achieved, simplicity itself is apt to produce many inequities between one person and another, and between one group and another. This is the Government's difficulty with the Bill. Increasingly and remorselessly, as the new scheme begins to operate, any Government operating it will find themselves pressed into changes leading to increasing complication. That is one of the great disadvantages of the scheme.
I should like to make two other comments on the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman. First, he made it clear that if anyone were working for over 30 hours a week there would be an F.I.S. entitlement. He said that there would be no grey area. There is one question which I do not think the right hon. Gentleman answered. If he did I missed it, and I apologise.
1141 Let us take a case such as that envisaged by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown), where quite legitimately under the rules of the Supplementary Benefits Commission a person is working for, say, 34 or 35 hours a week and the family unit is receiving supplementary benefit. There will then be an entitlement to F.I.S. What I think the right hon. Gentleman has not made plain is whether in those circumstances the individual family will have the option to remain on supplementary benefit if it is more advantageous. May we have an assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that anything that is not part-time, for supplementary benefit purposes, will be treated as full-time for F.I.S. purposes?
§ Sir K. Joseph:
Yes, indeed, but the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is scarcely conceivable that F.I.S. will be more financially attractive.
§ Mr. O'Malley
Yes, certainly. It was from the other point of view that I was primarily concerned. I do not want to see people put off supplementary benefit when under the existing rules of the Supplementary Benefits Commission they could remain on it.
Can the right hon. Gentleman assure us that when a man starts work after a long period out of work, he will not be told "You are not normally in full-time work", even if it is clear that he intends to continue in work?
The right hon. Gentleman said that people would have a choice. The choice would be that of adjusting their hours of work. The right hon. Gentleman said—and this is a comment on the scheme, but I shall go no further than noting it—that people would be advised by the Government, "You should not work these hours. You should work less." That conies rather curiously from a party with a history of the kind of comments that used to be made to me about scrounging and people who did not want to work when I used to answer Questions from that Dispatch Box.
In view of the assurances which the right hon. Gentleman has given so far, and bearing in mind the weaknesses inherent in the scheme—
§ Sir K. Joseph:
I think that the hon. Gentleman is coming to the end of what he wants to say. Before he does that, I want to deal with the inference that he just drew. It is true that my Department might advise a household to reduce its hours of work by two or three, or something of that order, to qualify for supplementary benefit. The sort of household that I have in mind—and I think that the Committee will be sympathetic to this view—is where a woman is struggling desperately to bring up children by her own work. She is having a hard time of it, and does not realise that supplementary benefits would enable her to bring up those children better. In those circumstances, I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee would wish that woman to be given proper advice. That is the sort of case that I had in mind, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way and enabling me to explain it to the Committee.
§ Mr. O'Malley
I am sure that there is no difference between the two sides of the Committee when it comes to a case such as that but, without enlarging on the matter, because we have taken a long time over these Amendments, I think that it goes further than that.
There is one question which the right hon. Gentleman has not answered. In view of the assurances and the information that the right hon. Gentleman has given the Committee, I shall, on receipt of a satisfactory answer to that question, ask the leave of the Committee to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Mr. Hugh D. Brown
Whether he appreciates it or not, the right hon. Gentleman is getting into difficulties, and we are beginning to see the folly of the usual channels having decided to take the Bill in a Committee of the whole House. Everyone is apologising for detaining the Committee. In Committee upstairs we have no such inhibitions.
The right hon. Gentleman must be specific about what he means. He referred to the freedom of choice. He will have to issue regulations, and there will be a code of instructions to the staff telling them how claimants should be dealt with. Will there be advice about the 1143 rights of claimants, and about the best way of dealing with their financial circumstances? Or will the regulations apply only to the type of woman to whom the right hon. Gentleman referred; to someone who is in financial difficulties?
Is the right hon. Gentleman saying that this advice will be extended to people in whole-time work under the normal circumstances that apply today? I have in mind the low-paid wage earner. Will it be the Department's intention to say to such a man, "You would be better off in part-time work and receiving supplementary benefits"? The right hon. Gentleman must be specific about this, otherwise he will run into difficulties.
The right hon. Gentleman has not told us whether local staff will be available to give guidance on the many detailed questions that will be asked. Has that been taken into account in his reckoning of the staff that will be needed?
§ Mr. McNamara
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Provan (Mr. Hugh D. Brown) is referring to a most important matter. There is added to it the equally important question of how the wage stop would operate in this situation. Where is the wage stop to come into operation when a person who has been working goes on to supplementary benefit? The F.I.S. is meant to meet the problem of people with low incomes, but what happens when the wage stop operates? This is one of the difficulties into which the right hon. Gentleman has brought himself by introducing such a scheme.
§ Sir K. Joseph:
The Committee should be reminded of the minute number of very seriously poor families with whom we are dealing. The total number of families estimated by my Department to be eligible for family income supplement, on last April's earning figures—and the number will be very different by the time the Bill comes into operation—is 110,000. This number is made up of people who are struggling to bring up children and who have very low incomes. No one in the Committee or in the country would grudge them advice enabling them to increase the income with which to bring up their children. If they are on the borderline between part-time and full-time work, of course my Department will 1144 help them to increase their income by making the right choice.
Many of them have the strongest motivation to work because, as we know, they are in work despite their full earnings being less than they could get out of work if they could, as, alas, some people manage to do, contrive to appear unemployed or sick. These people are highly motivated. In most cases we do not have to worry about their motivation. They are proving in the clearest possible way their desire to work. If it is a question of enabling them to receive more from supplementary benefit by abating their work for two hours a week, who in the Committee would grudge them?
We are dealing with the poorest of the poor and, mercifully, a very small number. Although we are seeking power by regulation to alter the make-up level, because of the movement of earnings and prices in the meanwhile, when the Bill comes into operation there may be substantially fewer still in this position. I give the House the categorical assurance that advice will be given to this very small number.
I was asked by the hon. Member for Rotherham what would happen if a person who in the past had been doing part-time work, after a period out of employment, took on a full-time job and claimed family income supplement. The hon. Gentleman asked whether his part-time past would inhibit his full-time present.
§ Mr. O'Malley
I was asking not only about the man who had started full-time work after a long period of part-time work, but about the man who started work after a long period out of work altogether.
§ Sir K. Joseph:
The test will be the number of hours he works and whether those hours exceed 30, or, if there is a practice of the trade laving down what is full-time work, exceed that trade test. That is all that the Supplementary Benefits Commission, under the regulations which we propose, will look at. It will look at the immediate past and the present, not the distant past.
§ Mr. O'Malley
I think that we can clear up this point. It appears to me that there is no difficulty. Let us assume that a man has been unemployed for a considerable time and has been in receipt 1145 of supplementary benefit. He then attains a full-time job. Presumably, if he is to look after his interests and follow the advertisements by the Ministry, on the first day he starts full-time work he will be entitled to go to the Commission's office and put in an immediate claim for family income supplement, even though he did not have a record of full-time work during the previous assessment period. If that were not the case, the right hon. Gentleman will see that the man could be on a very low income for live or six weeks and by the time the payment was made he could have gone a couple of months without receiving any F.I.S.
§ Sir K. Joseph:
The man will not be able to get it on the first day he takes a full-time job. He will probably have had to work for a week to give evidence of the hours of work in that job. But he would not have to wait for many weeks unless there were a question of the evidence of the hours of work. If they fluctuate from week to week, so that one week he works 50 hours but the next he works five, to take an extreme example, he will need evidence of a series of weeks. If he were in full-time work which produced less than the make-up level, he would be able to go to the office after one or two weeks and show evidence of his earnings and hours of work and qualify for FIS.
The hon. Gentleman looks sceptically at me. We shall need evidence of the earnings and of the hours of work, and there will need to be enough evidence from the individual claimant. Only if the claimant for any reason arouses suspicion shall we check on his earnings or his hours of work.
I must correct one misapprehension which I may have caused the House. I have talked of families having a choice between supplementary benefit and family income supplement where the hours of work hover around the full-time test level. I must make it plain that a male wage-earner is not entitled to supplementary benefit if he is doing part-time work unless there is no full-time work available. I take it that that is common ground on both sides of the Committee. The choice of supplementary benefit or family income supplement will be pre-eminently for the single woman bringing up children. For her F.I.S. will normally be needed, but not 1146 for the male wage-earner, though there may be the exceptional case, where there is no full-time work available, where it may also be suitable for him.
I hope that I have answered the hon. Gentleman's question.
§ Mr. O'Malley
We have had a fairly useful discussion. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Archer
I beg to move Amendment No. 7, in page 1, line 10, leave out'to whom he is married or who lives with him as his wife' and insert 'who relies upon him wholly or partly for her support'.The Amendment raises a problem akin to those raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) on the first Amendment. I should say at once that I am grateful to the Secretary of State for his very clear exposition of the position there. Certainly, he succeeded in dispelling some of the anxieties in my mind.
The Amendment relates to an anxiety which affects perhaps only a limited number of people, but it raises an important question of principle. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned various situations when replying on the first Amendment. This Amendment concerns the situation of the man in full-time employment with a woman living with him—if I might use those words neutrally and platonically—who either has no income or is earning less than the amount he would receive in respect of her under the Bill.
I see at once that whatever happens in that situation the family as such is not deprived of provision under the Bill. The danger is that it will be deprived of a payment in respect of that woman in certain circumstances, and that is why I question the right hon. Gentleman on the precise meaning he attaches to the words in the Clauseto whom he is married or who lives with him as his wifeTwo quite separate problems are raised by those words. My first reaction when I read them was that as the right hon. Gentleman had chosen a framework which rests squarely on the concept of subsistence that concept brought with it, 1147 as it inevitably does, the doctrine of the deserving poor, a doctrine with a very long ancestry. It means, as I understand it, that for the poor the penalty for immorality is deprivation: what the rich do is their own business; what the poor do is the business of their betters.
I am not sure even now that my first reaction was wholly inaccurate. I am still puzzled about what exactly the phraseas his wifeentails. Certainly the right hon. Gentleman appears to have been rather more broadminded than some of his predecessors. Apparently, the family is not required to show its marriage lines. The couple do not need to have attended before a priest.
But we wonder whether the insurance officer is not invited to exercise his ingenuity. Our apprehensions are not entirely set at rest by the rather conflicting criteria which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin said, have been applied in the converse situation where it is a woman who has applied previously for supplementary benefit and the question has arisen as to whether they are cohabiting.
Presumably these words impart some sort of stable union. One assumes that the woman will not be included in the family in the first week in which she begins to live at the address. One wonders whether she is expected to assume the name of the man with whom she is living. If she insists on retaining her own name, can she be said to be living with him as his wife?
The first purpose of the Amendment, therefore, is to ensure that, as far as possible, the right hon. Gentleman is not setting up as a judge of morality. In my submission, he seems to have raised two converse problems at the same time, because one is further concerned with the situation where there is no question of a woman living as a man's wife; for example, the grandmother situation.
Perhaps a lady has come to live under the same roof purely to help look after the children and does not want sexual relations with the man. She may not wish to use his name but prefer to refer to herself as his housekeeper, because that is what she actually is. As I understand 1148 it, there is a danger that she will be told that she is not included in the family because she is not living in sin.
I understood that the right hon. Gentleman responded earlier to the effect that there is no real problem here because she could apply for supplementary benefit, and certainly in many instances she would be entitled to do so. However, one wonders what will be the position if, for example, she is in employment but is earning less than a family would receive under the Bill in respect of her presence in the house.
A more serious situation is that referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara)—of a lady who, for some reason, just does not want to apply for supplementary benefit and who regards it as a humiliation to do so. In these circumstances it seems that the family will be subjected to two quite separate series of means tests. One can imagine a situation where the lady concerned would rather be provided for under the Bill than make a separate application for supplementary benefit, even if, financially, that means a little sacrifice.
The right hon. Gentleman said that, as far as possible, his intention is to give people a choice as to which of these provisions shall apply to them. It seems that the only way a lady in this position could exercise that choice is to begin to have illicit sexual relations with the man when previously she had no intention of doing so.
One is reluctant to see the right hon. Gentleman turn himself into a judge of morality. One is even more reluctant to see him offering a positive bonus for immorality. Would it not be better, for the purposes of the Bill, to eliminate the words which it is sought to delete and to substitute the words in the Amendment?
§ Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)
I support the Amendment which was so ably moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer). I not only endorse his remarks but stress that the Amendment could have a somewhat wider application when one considers the many different types of people who could be affected by this provision.
1149 As the Measure is called the Family Income Supplements Bill, it is of crucial importance that the definition of a family, for the purposes of the supplement, is not only clear to lawyers but is crystal-clear to those who will be directly affected by it. We have had experience of the reluctance of people to claim entitlement and I therefore appeal to the Minister to remove any possible doubt that might exist in people's minds about their entitlement to this benefit.
It seems that as "a family" is defined in the Bill as it stands, there could be doubt in the case of a union comprising a father, his children and the man's mother; in other words, the case where the grandmother comes in to look after the children—a desirable development, one might think. The Minister will readily concede that she may be below pensionable age. She could be well able to look after the children and thereby perform a valuable rôle, not only for the children's upbringing but in enabling the man to pursue his work and not have to stay at home to look after his children and draw extra benefit from the State.
The grandmother who performs this rôle should not feel that she is in any way inhibiting any claim that the family might have to this supplement. It is important, therefore, that she feels that she is of complete benefit to the family and is in no way detrimental to it.
The Amendment is of the utmost importance in the context of defining "a family" because there can be many instances of women being a part of the family in a social sense, so enabling the family to remain a viable unit. I will not weary the Committee by detailing examples of this. Hon. Members will readily call to mind cases where children might have to be taken into care unless arrangements of this kind are made.
Let us remember all the time that, in the vast majority of cases, the man is unable to pay the market wage for a woman to come in to look after his children. I hope, therefore, that the Amendment will be accepted.
§ Sir K. Joseph:
I hope that I shall not be marked out of 100 for this examination. I shall try to pass this latest set of tests.
I can reassure the hon. Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter 1150 Archer). The inwardness of the Bill on this issue can be seen from Clause 2. The make-up level—that is, £15 for the family with one child and £2 more for each additional child—does not vary whether there is one parent or two parents. Whether or not the man comes within paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (1) makes no difference to the makeup level.
If the woman is a sister or a mother with no money of her own she is entitled to supplementary benefit if she has no earnings and there is no job available. If she is eligible for work she must get work if it is available. But if she has no work because it is not available she is entitled to supplementary benefit. If she does not seek work in order to look after the children of the household she is treated financially as if she were the woman—and here I refer to subsection (1)(b)—to whom the fatheris married or who lives with him as his wifebecause the make-up level under Clause 2(1) is identical whether there is one parent or two parents.
I hope that I have shown that there is no need for the Amendment because whether or not the woman helping the man to look after the children is living with him as his wife or is his wife, or is living with him but not as his wife, the family income supplement will be the same.
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams
I should like to take up two points with the right hon. Gentleman. First, he frequently uses the term "the make-up level". That can be very misleading, because it is not the make-up level which is half the difference between the prescribed amendment and the income of the family. I urge the right hon. Gentleman not to use the phrase "make-up level".
§ Sir K. Joseph:
The hon. Lady is quite right. I shall substitute for "make-up level" the phrase "the prescribed amount". It is the prescribed amount which is the same whether one parent or two parents are concerned with the children.
§ Mrs. Williams
Secondly, if what the right hon. Gentleman says is true—and I accept that it is—none of us can understand why the Government have attempted in subsection (1)(b) to interpret 1151 "woman" as being a wife or a person living with a man as his wife. If I am a mother living with my son, and if I have no other income, two problems arise. First, I do not believe that I am covered because of the way in which the Bill is drafted, and, secondly, I can be put in an embarrassing position if I am not married to the man but am living with him as housekeeper in total celibacy. This will be basic to a misunderstanding of the Bill by the people whom the right hon. Gentleman is trying to help.
I am also concerned about the woman who would not, and should not for the good and welfare of the family, seek a job as under the supplementary benefit provisions it would be said that she must if she is not of pensionable age and is not ill, but should be permitted to live with the family and look after the children at a considerable saving to the State in terms of the cost of the care. I should like the right hon. Gentleman to deal with those points.
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Kinsey
If we accept the Amendment, are we not in danger of worsening the position? As the Bill stands these people can be regarded as two families. If, as is suggested, they are one part of the family, they could be in a worse position.
§ Mr. Peter Archer
I suspect that I must have been more than usually incoherent in introducing the Amendment. I realise the difficulty of the right hon. Gentleman who is trying to deal with several matters substantially at the same time, but the explanation which he has given is one I conceded when I introduced the Amendment.
We fully understand that the lady concerned, if she places herself in that position, will probably be entitled to apply for supplementary benefit, but there are two difficulties which my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) has just repeated. There is the additional difficulty which cannot be emphasised too much, that this family will now be subjected to two separate series of means tests, which is for them a real privation. It means, too, that the lady concerned, who otherwise would remain entirely clear of what she might regard as an embarrassing inquiry, has to submit to a separate inquiry and answer questions 1152 about how much the man allows her, what she contributes and what financial arrangements pass between them. If the purpose is to provide for a family, how much better to allow the means of the family to be inquired into once, in one inquiry. Will the right hon. Gentleman direct his mind to this situation?
§ Sir K. Joseph:
Yes, I have been persuaded that there is something to look at here in the drafting, but I hope hon. Members have been persuaded that, in substance, the family income supplement goes to the household where there is one parent or one parent plus a substitute parent.
What I have to look at is the point made by hon. Members that there may be a discouragement to a household where there is not a common law wife or wife to regard itself as eligible for family income supplement. I suspect that there is no substance to deal with, but a presentational point in the drafting. I will look again at this, subject to the condition which I made earlier, that I undertake either to account for no Amendment or to put down an Amendment. With that undertaking I hope that hon. Members will be satisfied.
§ Mr. Booth
I am grateful for the undertaking that has been given and for what appears to be a realisation that the drafting of the Bill could defeat what has been explained as the purpose of the Bill.
May I put one clear case to the Minister just to emphasise the point? A grandmother who is looking after the children of her son who is a widower may have no claim to unemployment benefit because she does not seek employment and regards herself as fully employed in looking after her son's house and children. Neither has she any claim to supplementary benefit because she is held to be a dependant of her son. This is by no means a rare case. Many women aged between 50 and 55 have no pension entitlement and do not claim unemployment or supplementary benefit.
§ Sir K. Joseph:
I think I can satisfy the hon. Gentleman and modify something which I said earlier. If a grandmother, a sister or a relative comes into a household to enable a man to go on working by helping to look after his children, she would be entitled to claim 1153 supplementary benefit, because the Supplementary Benefits Commission would not in such circumstances insist on her registering for work. It all depends upon the position of the man.
If he can continue at work only because of the help of a sister, mother or cousin in looking after his children, the Supplementary Benefits Commission would not insist upon that substitute mother registering for outside work, and she would therefore be entitled to supplementary benefit. It is to that extent important to exclude her from the family as defined by the Bill, otherwise her supplementary benefit must be taken into account in measuring the family income and we thus would diminish the family income supplement going to the family.
We are in fairly complicated waters, and I believe the Committee would be wise to let me look at the matter in the light of what has been said.
§ Mr. Peter Archer
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman's undertaking. I believe that he has grasped our points and we his. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Joel Barnett (Heywood and Royton)
I beg to move Amendment No. 8, in line 13, to leave out 'have to be' and insert 'are'.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Sir Myer Galpern)
I suggest that with Amendment No. 8 it would be convenient to take Amendment No. 51, in Clause 11, page 4, line 22, to leave out 'having, or as not having, to provide' and insert 'providing', and Government Amendment No. 67.
§ Mr. Barnett
Yes, Sir Myer. I hope that the Government will be prepared to accept Amendment No. 8 because the Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security on 10th November, in column 327 of HANSARD, made clear that this Amendment, though perhaps its wording its not exactly right, seeks to do precisely what the Government seek to do. It cannot be the Government's wish to have a situation in which a child who is being cared for should be excluded. Therefore, since the Government have down Amendment 67 on this matter it 1154 would appear to indicate that they would be prepared to accept Amendment 8.
§ Sir K. Joseph:
I do not want to give the hon. Member for Heywood and Royton (Mr. Barnett) the impression that every time he comes to the Box on a social security Bill his Amendment will at once be accepted, but since this is a useful Amendment the Government would advise the Committee to accept it. It meets the case made earlier in which a mother arranges to leave one of her children with, for instance, its grandparents. The grandparents would then be providing for the children and should be entitled to family income supplement if they qualify in other ways. The consequential Amendment by the Opposition, Amendment 51, fails for purely technical reasons, and I hope that it will be withdrawn. Government Amendment No. 67 carries out the consequential job and will be moved later.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Question proposed, That Clause 1, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin
I make no apology for saying a few words on the Question, That the Clause stand part, despite the fact that we have had a series of useful and important debates on the various Amendments. This is a fundamental Clause in the Bill. It is the definition of the family around which the whole thing centres.
In the course of the debate a number of points have emerged which ought to be brought out. The first point of principle, upon which the Committee ought to be clear, concerns the observations made on a number of occasions by the right hon. Gentleman—I agree that he modified them on one or two occasions as well—when he said that it would be a matter of choice for a family which may fall within the provisions of the Bill whether what I might call the breadwinner should work less and take advantage of supplementary benefit or should work more hours and take advantage of the provisions of the Bill. I use the word "he". It may be "she". However, in certain cases it may be "he".
I accept that there is the kind of case, to which the right hon. Gentleman drew the attention of the Committee, of the 1155 woman who should be at home looking after her children rather than going out to work. That is a point about which we on this side feel very strongly. But, leaving that kind of case aside, it sounds an odd philosophy coming from the benches opposite that people should be in a position to choose whether they should get more money for working less or get less money for working more. If that is the philosophy behind the Bill, it should be made absolutely clear so that the public has no doubt about it.
Because of the way in which those who drafted the Clause set about their work and, indeed, probably because of the difficulties that they had in trying to bring the Clause within the series of situations which they envisage, there are all kinds of misnomers and terms which do not mean what they say. The debate has concentrated on several of these points. For example, the single woman, who is an essential element in sub-paragraph 1(a), is defined later… any woman other than one who is a member of the same household as a man to whom she is married or with whom she is living as his wife.No ordinary person would say that that is the proper meaning of "single woman". It seems that the term has been used to fit into the drafting of the Clause, notwithstanding that it means something quite different.
Again, in the same part of the Clause, we have the expression "full-time work". We now know from what the right hon. Gentleman told us that "full-time work" does not necessarily mean full-time work. Indeed, it can mean something substantially less than full-time work. Having regard to the examples which my hon. Friends have brought to the attention of the right hon. Gentleman, he tells us that there will be different regulations governing different cases and that in some of those cases "full-time work" may mean nothing like what one would regard as full-time work.
The wording in paragraph (b) has attracted a good deal of criticism. Since we are trying to cater for the situation of the wage earner, the bread winner, who is a substantial supporter of his family, why does the Clause use 1156 totally different language? I am not seeking to make technical or semantic points, but if the right hon. Gentleman, when he considers the Clause again, as he has promised, could try to see that words mean what they say and not something different, it will not only be much easier for the ordinary man and even the lawyer to understand: it will also be an encouragement and avoid a disincentive to people to take advantage of the Bill who might otherwise feel that they could not possibly qualify.
The right hon. Gentleman has more than once referred to the fact that, in a single household, there may be more than one family. That may be so, but what might be regarded as two families could exist in what ordinary people would understand as a single family. This could happen if the sister were working or on supplementary benefit and was spending part of her time looking after the children, while the wife or the woman who lives with a man as his wife is spending part of her time looking after the children. From one point of view, the sister could be considered a separate family, but to the ordinary person, she would be part of the family as a whole. I should like wording which makes it clear how this division into more than one family within the same household will be accomplished.
My hon. Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer) mentioned the expression… married or who lives with him as his wife".A person may be married and living in the same household yet not living with the man as his wife, and a person who is not married may live with a man as his wife, while a woman who has been living with him as his wife might be so no longer although still a part of the same household.
All of these are situations met in practice and it seems that the wording of the Clause, no doubt because of the haste with which this matter has clearly been dealt, does not clearly cater for all these distinctions. I hope that when the right hon. Gentleman gives his further attention to it he will look carefully at all these points and if necessary come back with a complete redraft of the Clause, rather than tinkering around with parts of it.
§ Mr. Ronald King Murray (Edinburgh, Leith)
I should like to echo the remarks of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) and to add one or two comments in the same vein. We have departed far from the ordinary English meaning of the word "family" If we look at Clause 17 where "child" and "family" are defined we see that a child is defined in terms which do not imply or connote any relationship whatever to the person defined in subsection (1)(a). Equally, "family" is defined as having the meaning assigned to it by Clause 1(1). That does not imply or connote any relationship between the persons concerned. We are far from the ordinary meaning of "family".
I should like to throw out a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman and I put it no higher than that, because the implications would have to be worked out in much more detail than I have been able to do. I would suggest that the word "household" should be substituted for the word "family". That might meet some of the difficulties. It would give the added advantage that instead of calling it F.I.S. we could call it H.I.S. I am grateful to the Government for their alacrity in accepting the Amendment relating to the words "have to be provided for". Had that Amendment not been accepted I should have pressed very strongly upon the Committee that the wording of the Clause did not take account of the difference between Scots law and English law.
§ The Temporary Chairman
Order. Despite the fact that that strikes a chord in my heart, I must draw the attention of the hon. and learned Member to the fact that we have accepted that Amendment.
§ Sir K. Joseph:
I ought to offer to learn by heart the entire debate that has taken place so that I may cogitate upon the statements I made and later slightly modified during this interesting discussion. I have undertaken to look at all the points made to see whether there is any lesson for us in the drafting of the Clause before the next stage of the Bill. I asked hon. Members to recognise that one of the advantages of the Bill will be that if we are successful, as we are determined 1158 to be, in reaching the vast majority of the families on very low earnings, then we shall for the first time know very much more about them than we do now.
The only comfort I can give to hon. Members after this debate is that every alternative that has been put forward, and an infinite number more, is already known to the Supplementary Benefits Commission through handling its normal work load. It will not find it nearly as daunting as some of us to decide in which category an individual family comes.
I have to answer one or two points raised by the hon. and learned Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin) who teased me, understandably, with making a virtue of the flexibility that will in some circumstances allow a family to choose between family income supplement and supplementary benefit. I should have qualified rather more what I said. Let me put it once again to hon. Members. There will be individual families, or to adopt the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh Leith (Mr. Murray), households, where a single person, generally a single woman but sometimes a man on his own, is struggling to bring up children and is perhaps, misguidedly, in full-time work when it might be better for those children if in these rare cases the number of hours were reduced and supplementary benefit drawn.
That is the sort of flexibility we want, to protect the children of those low-earning households. I am therefore introducing this at a late stage to help the man very occasionally entirely on his own, without a sister, mother, friend, wife or common law wife to bring up the children. If in the other case put by the hon. and learned Gentleman a sister, or some other relative with children of her own, were to join the man's household and that person were to work, then there would be two families in the household entitled to family income supplement. There are an infinite number of possibilities, many raised in the debate, and I have undertaken to look at them. I have given two particularly firm commitments on two of the points raised and I hope that with this assurance the Committee will accept that Clause.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.