HC Deb 18 November 1970 vol 806 cc1337-40
Mr. McNamara

I beg to move Amendment No. 40, in page 2, line 31, leave out from 'shall' to 'and' in line 32 and insert: 'be made in such manner as regulations may provide'.

The Deputy Chairman (Miss Harvie Anderson)

With this Amendment we can also take Amendment No. 41, in page 2, line 33, leave out 'be receivable by either of them' and insert: 'except in such cases as may otherwise be provided by regulations be receivable by the woman'.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. McNamara

This is a brief probing Amendment. The nearest comparison that we have to the type of assistance to be given by the Bill is family allowance. Family allowances are made to the mother. The mother may assign another person to pick them up. I can scarcely ever recall my wife collecting them; she usually leaves that to me.

The Secretary of State suggests that the application should be made by both parties jointly and that the payment should be made to either. To a certain extent, I appreciate some of the reasons for that. Obviously there may be circumstances where a husband is keeping his wife on short commons when she does not know what his true income is. There might be an occasion when both are working and they do not know what each other's income is.

There may well be an important case which I should like the Under-Secretary to consider, when the pride of the man might be such that he feels that because he is in full-time occupation, his wage should be sufficient to keep his wife and children. In such circumstance, in what otherwise is a normal, happy family with a contented domestic background, he might put tremendous difficulties upon his wife because he is not prepared to go through a means test. But she, being a woman, and perhaps more realistic, finding it very difficult to make ends meet, would be prepared to do so.

These Amendments are to meet that type of situation. If the husband and wife are living jointly and one refuses to make the application, the wife should be able to do so.

In certain circumstances, it could create some domestic disharmony if a husband were not paying what he could well afford for the support of his wife and children. It might bring him up to recognise properly what his responsibilities were. But if he were too proud, it should at least be at the discretion of the wife to make application.

The second point is concerned with to whom the payment shall be made. Under the Bill the moneys will be receivable by either. For some of the reasons I indicated earlier, I should prefer the money to be paid to the wife at the first instance, with the wife able, as she is with the family allowance, to name an assignee to pick up the money for her. There are situations where that might be in the interests of the children and of the family living in poverty. This is the sort of situation with which we are concerned where it would be better for the wife to have the money first.

Briefly, the object of these two Amendments is simple. Could we not make the set-up more or less parallel with the family allowance arrangement?

Mr. Dean

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara) for drawing attention to another valuable consideration. He said that the Amendment was a probing Amendment to discover the Government's intentions about joint applications. The Bill says that there should be joint application except when the regulations provide otherwise.

We envisage that joint application would not be appropriate in, for example, one-parent families. There would be some difficulty in his proposal about two-parent families if a husband were not prepared to disclose his earnings—the earnings on which the basis of the supplement is calculated. I am a little doubtful about whether his suggestion would be practicable when two parents were involved.

Mr. McNamara

In order to save time, I did not elaborate the argument, but there may be families when two people are living together and are not husband and wife, when that particular legal bond does not exist. The man might be acting quite irresponsibly towards the household, but if he is brought up to see the problems, may act properly. I want the Government to keep that situation in mind.

Mr. Dean

Certainly. The hon. Gentleman is envisaging circumstances in which there may well be two FIS allowances due in a household, in which case one would need to know the income of each of the two people. We have the power to deal with that in the regulations. I undertake to look carefully at the point he has made to see whether it is necessary to cover it, or to see whether it is practicable to cover it, in which case it will be covered in the regulations.

Secondly, he discussed to whom the payments should be made. I understood what he had to say about family allowances normally being paid to the mother, and one assumes that in a normal two-parent household, this scheme would have that sort of arrangement. However, there may be instances where a practical objection would arise in that the family income supplement, unlike family allowances, might be paid to couples who were not married and when the woman was not the mother of the children. To do as the hon. Member suggests in all cases would therefore create difficulties.

However, we have very much in mind the general spirit of what the hon. Member wishes to achieve. It may not be possible to meet every case because of the practical difficulties which I have mentioned. However, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel that this short debate has been useful.

Mr. McNamara

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for what he has said and, in the circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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