HC Deb 17 June 1971 vol 819 cc818-36
Mr. Dean

I beg to move Amendment No. 5, in page 27, line 34, at end insert: 3.—(1) An order of the Secretary of State under section 26 of the Fire Services Act 1947 varying a scheme for the time being in force under that section and made before the expiration of six months beginning with the date of the passing of this Act may include provisions relating to pensions payable to persons who have been members of a fire brigade but have ceased to be so before the date when the order comes into operation, if the order states that those provisions are made in consequence of section 3 of this Act or section 13A of the Industrial Injuries Act. (2) Notwithstanding anything in section 3 of the Police Pensions Act 1948, regulations made under section I of that Act before the expiration of six months beginning with the date of the passing of this Act may include provisions relating to pensions payable to persons who have been members of a police force but have ceased to be so before the date when the regulations come into opera-lion, if the regulations state that those provisions are made in consequence of section 3 of this Act or section 13A of the Industrial Injuries Act. The need for this Amendment arises because of the change brought about by Clause 3, which substitutes invalidity benefit for sickness benefit after 168 days of incapacity for work. The Police Pensions Scheme provides for ordinary pensions related to length of service on retirement due to ill health and for supplemental pensions on retirement resulting from injury received in the execution of duty. Sickness benefit is at the moment taken into account in calculating the supplemental pension. Similar provision is made in the Fire Services Scheme.

This Amendment will give power to take the new invalidity benefit into account where necessary after sickness benefit ceases. I understand that the precise way to do this will be determined after consultation with the Police Council for the United Kingdom and the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council, and the resulting amending regulations or scheme will be laid before the House. In other words, the Amendment in no way prejudges the outcome of the matter. It merely gives power to make changes should it be decided, after due consultation, that changes should be made. In the event of them being made, regulations will be laid before the House.

Mr. Alfred Morris

I made detailed representations yesterday to the Under-Secretary of State on behalf of the Police Federation. The hon. Gentleman has a copy of the papers prepared by the Federation on what it regards as an extremely important Amendment.

I am anxious to secure on the Federation's behalf a categorical assurance that the policeman or policewoman will not be disadvantaged in any way by this Amendment. There is apprehension that the existing entitlements of policemen and policewomen may be abated to the value of the new benefits. It is even feared that it may be proposed to deny policemen and policewomen of the benefit of the modest new invalidity allowance. The invalidity allowance, if still in payment at the State retirement age, is to continue as a lifelong benefit. It is this factor especially which is of significance in considering the possibility of abatement.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to confirm that it is not his intention that there should be any abatement in consequence of the new benefits. I am sure that he would agree that policemen and policewomen and others affected by this Amendment are as much entitled to these benefits as any other section of the community.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Like the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris), I am a little apprehensive about this Amendment. I know that in the past there has been a tendency, when general social security improvements have been made, to make corresponding abatements in certain types of public service pensions. As I read the Amendment, though its effect would not be to make such abatement mandatory, it might make it possible.

I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said that were anything of this sort to be done regulations would have to be laid, presumably by the Home Secretary. But when that happens, even if a prayer is tabled, subject to the negative procedure, I assume, sometimes the House is faced with the difficulty of having to annul regulations which are in themselves beneficial or allow to go through a provision within those regulations which is not helpful.

12.30 a.m.

Many of us would be disturbed if we denied to the police or the fire brigades additional benefits from the invalidity provisions such as are being given to other citizens. After all where other citizens are eligible for the invalidity provision there could clearly be no case for an abatement because of other sources of income. If the fact that someone drew his benefit as a former policeman or fireman meant that he would suffer and not get the same advantage of the very good invalidity provisions as the rest of the population, then this would not only be unfair but, particularly at this moment, it would be wrong.

Even at this late hour, or perhaps particularly at this late hour, I would point out that the police on duty are being exposed to a greater degree than at any time in the past to the danger of serious personal injury. If there were to be any question of depriving them of extra benefit which other people are obtaining, then my hon. Friend would find that criticism would not be confined to the other side of the House.

Dame Irene Ward

I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has raised this issue. I believe I am right in saying that this is the first time that the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) has spoken as the newly-appointed adviser to the Police Federation—

Mr. Alfred Morris indicated assent.

Dame Irene Ward

If so, I would like to congratulate him and hope that he has great success, particularly on this issue.

I support everything said by my right hon. Friend. I have no fear at all but that the Under-Secretary and the Department of Health and Social Security will be only too anxious to protect the interests of the police and the fire service. I am not nearly so happy about the Home Office, which is the Department concerned.

I may be out of order to refer to a battle which a great many of my hon. Friends are at present waging with the Home Office about certain things that we want put right. I understand that at the moment we are not winning our case because of Home Office objections and, therefore, I am not favourably inclined towards the Home Office. I like to win battles, and I am certain that in due course we shall win this one. I would be very apprehensive about any matter coming under the jurisdiction of the Home Office.

Although I am not competent to comment on this matter, I hope that my hon. Friend will be very careful to protect the interests of the police and the fire service so far as his Department is concerned. Sometimes the best way to win a battle is to have one Department on one's side. I hope that everything that can be done for the police and fire service will be done.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

It is perhaps of significance that both sides of the House have shown considerable concern about this Amendment. Although I agree that the Under-Secretary would be the last person to bring in any legislation that would discriminate against the police or the fire service, it is right that the House should be concerned about giving powers of this kind which can, as the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) said, sometimes pass below the horizon of the House's scrutiny in such a way that something becomes law which Parliament never really intended.

My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris), who keeps a close and careful eye on police matters in the light of his new appointment—although it is fair to say he did so before—has raised an important point. The police service and the fire service are two particularly vulnerable services. The number of fires is continually increasing, as is the proportion of serious fires caused by chemical and other means. I am sure the whole House will not be averse to these two services, which are peculiarly in the eye of the storm, having a slight extra advantage. It is extremely important that firemen should go on responding to calls, and that policemen should be unarmed in all circumstances. If we ask them to undergo hazards in the public interest, it is right that we should perhaps more than generously compensate them.

Mr. Dean

I naturally cannot prejudge the discussions which will take place on this matter. This will happen throughout the whole of the public service, but the paving Amendment is required for the police and the fire service, whereas it is not required for the other public services. I assure the whole House that the Home Secretary appreciates the special nature of the improvements for the long-term sick, and is satisfied that there is a good case for not abating the supplemental police and fire service pensions by the amount of the invalidity allowance or the corresponding increase of unemployability supplement under the Industrial Injuries Scheme.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

12.38 a.m.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

The Bill is very much a curate's egg from the point of view of the Opposition. In Committee we did not question that it contained some good things, but we made it clear that in many respects it did not go far enough and was unconvincing. We accept without reserve that the increase in the earnings of wives of invalidity pensioners and widows is entirely good, as is the increase in earnings allowed to retirement pensions, although it is fair to say that we were moving in the same direction. We say immediately that the introduction of the invalidity allowance and the replacement of sickness benefit by long-term invalidity benefit is good.

It will be recognised by the House that in the areas where the Bill marks a move forward, that move forward is as yet inadequate. It was frequently indicated from both sides in Committee to the Under-Secretary of State—who readily accepted it—that the Bill marked at best the earliest stages in major reforms in social security which are not in dispute between the two sides.

I accept that the Bill has taken a tentative step forward towards a disablement income. It is encouraging that the Under-Secretary said in Committee on 13th May that he believed that the disabled housewife should be one of the first group brought within any extension of the proposed invalidity allowance. He also indicated to the Committee that he believed there was a case for extending the better arrangements made for dependants to this group.

We were glad that the hon. Gentleman said that in his view there should be an extension of the attendance allowance at an early stage to take in those who need constant daily care but do not satisfy the stringent conditions that apply to those who need constant day-and-night care.

We were pleased that the hon. Gentleman indicated that broadly speaking it would be right to level up invalidity allowances as between people in different age groups. We were also pleased that he suggested that the argument for a higher dependants' allowance for children might shortly be applied more widely than to widows, to cover deserted wives and separated wives, about whom the Committee expressed considerable con- cern. If the Government are in office that long, we shall look forward to the next stages of all these matters which were foreshadowed during the Committee stage.

The hon. Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams) said he thought the Opposition had been involved in a purely political exercise on this Bill. I suggest that he cannot have seen that only two days ago the National Council of Labour, which represents trade unions, the Co-operative Movement and the Labour Party, issued a statement that it fully accepts its full share of responsibility for an annual increase in pensions involving, as it might well do, a further increase in contributions for its members. I would not wish the hon. Gentleman to think that we were engaged in playing politics. That would be unfair to old-age pensioners. It is fitting to put on record that the trade union section of the Labour Party has indicated its responsibilities in this matter.

We are in no way moving away from our strong objections to a system that combines earnings-related contributions with flat-rate benefit. One of the most trenchant remarks on this matter was made on Second Reading by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), who is the most experienced Member in the House in this field, when he expressed grave doubts about a system which broke the link between contributions and the benefits associated with them. There is no doubt that this Bill does exactly that in a number of respects, one of which has now been put right by the deletion of Clause 7, which is concerned with the removal of the right to unemployment benefit for certain sections of the community. The Committee thought that this was taking principle too far and corrected this matter, with the considerable approval of a large number of "white collar" unions, professional groups and others.

The central principle in the Bill which still remains, and which we reject, is the link between earnings-related contributions with a flat-rate contribution which is not inflation-proof. We have seen this happen under more than one Government. We in no way resile from our belief that the system must be made comparable and inflation-proof on both sides. Lastly, we are not looking forward to hearing but expecting with a certain amount of grim anticipation what the Under-Secretary will say, no doubt after the Recess, about that extraordinary group of adopted children of the Conservative Party—the new policy for occupational pension schemes. I hope that not too many of those children will be too seriously handicapped. We shall want to make certain that those who are being asked to accept alternatives to the State scheme—albeit a State scheme which in our view has been seriously weakened in its central policies by the Bill—have at least as good conditions of preservation, as good conditions concerning their widows, and as good conditions concerning their possibility of transfer as exist in the State scheme. Anything less would be a deception on the public.

12.46 a.m.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenfer

As King Henry VIII used to remark to his wives, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I shall not keep you long. But this is too important a Bill, even at this late hour, to be given a perfunctory Third Reading. I observe, in parenthesis, that the fact that we are debating it as this hour is, as I made clear during Business questions yesterday, no wish of mine.

This is a Bill of major importance. On the benefit side it does two important things. First, it provides for the biggest increases in money terms and the biggest additional expenditure since the National Insurance scheme was introduced. We can argue, we have argued, and no doubt we shall continue to argue about the amount, but it involves a massive transfer of purchasing power from the working generation to the retired generation; and I think we all welcome it as such.

Secondly, it makes a start with developments in selective extra benefits, A good deal of nonsense is talked about selectivity in our social security system, but the kind of selectivity which the Bill embodies, and which I think is sensible, is selectivity by category. It provides extra benefit for two particular categories whose needs are beyond dispute: the chronic and long-term sick and the very old retirement pensioner. No one on either side of the House regards it as providing a final solution to the needs of those categories, but, by breaking away from the previous pattern and by boldly making extra selective provision for these categories, the Bill makes an excellent start, on which I am sure my right hon. Friend will build further as the years pass. As such, I welcome it enormously.

Like the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) and many hon. Members on both sides of the House, I have less enthusiasm for the particular system devised for the contributions. I am not wholly happy, as I made clear on Second Reading—I will not weary the House by repeating what I said—about the use solely of graduated contributions for the purpose of financing a substantial increase in flat-rate benefits. This is an important matter not only for the Bill, which is about to leave us, but for my right hon. Friend's consideration of the major Measure which we shall presumably hear something about before the year is ended. I hope that my right hon. Friend will hesitate before going much further on this road.

Having made that reservation, I go on to say that this in many ways a splendid Bill. It is a much better Bill, particularly in one respect, than it was when it was introduced. The hon. Lady referred to the late unlamented Clause 7. Most of us criticised that Clause on Second Reading as involving a serious breach of the principle that National Insurance benefits are paid as a right in return for contributions paid and without means test. That has been a basic principle of National Insurance since Beveridge. One acknowledges that my right hon. Friend still has certain of the practical problems to deal with, but I am profoundly glad that with the assistance of those hon. Members on both sides of the House who served on the Standing Committee, to whom we all ought to be grateful, that blot has been removed from the Bill.

This is a splendid Bill. I hope that it will soon be on the way to the end of the corridor, and via another place to the Statute Book, where, however much we may argue about its details, it will do a considerable amount to give needed help and comfort to the largest section of our community which really needs it, and as such it will go with the blessing of both sides of the House.

12.51 a.m.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

I should like to make a brief intervention to refer to some of the principles and provisions in the Bill, and to refer in particular to the invalidity pension and the constant attendance allowance.

I think that perhaps the most significant words spoken throughout the debate on the Bill were those of the Under-Secretary of State when he said in Committee that the House should recognise how much was achieved in the Bill. That is fine. We should all recognise how much has been achieved in the Bill, provided that we recognise also that it achieves nothing that merits extravagant party political propaganda.

There is a grave danger that hon. Gentlemen opposite will fall into the trap of trying to sell the provisions of the Bill in a rather extravagant way because in recent months every time disablement has been mentioned, inside or outside the House, a Government spokesman has stood up and boasted about the invalidity pension and the constant attendance allowance. It is a grave mistake to oversell the provisions of the Bill. They do not warrant the extravagant build-up that is constantly being given to them by Government spokesmen.

By adopting that course, the Government are tempting my hon. Friends to look even more closely at these provisions. Instead of congratulating the Government, as we would all like to do, on this limited step forward, my hon. Friends are driven into making a close examination of the provisions, and when the Bill is carefully scrutinised, as it has been in Committee by my right hon. Friend and hon. Friends, it is seen as only a limited step forward.

One of the demerits of the proposals for an invalidity pension is that, if anything, they tend to obscure rather than illustrate the predicament of the disabled housewife. It is a real pity that this section of the community, whom we all want to help, is not assisted. I know that in Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) and my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) pressed this issue very strongly. But the Government were unable to accommodate them.

Because this is Third Reading, I cannot go into too much detail about something which is not in the Bill, but the disabled housewife is not provided for directly in the Bill, although indirectly there is some provision in the constant attendance allowance. The invalidity pension should highlight the predicament of the disabled housewife rather than obscure it. I hope that the point is taken by the Government, that the next step must be adequate provision for the disabled housewife.

The other shortcoming of the invalidity pension is that it is in three parts. I do not think that it would be challenged by the Government that the third category, those receiving the 30p, is probably the largest category and that the incidence of disablement falls most heavily in this category. Although it is an advance, 30p is by no means a lavish endowment. This is a further reason for the House to recognise the limitations of these measures.

The Bill increases the constant attendance allowance. The Government will insist that it be paid only to those people who require attendance day and night. This is a disgraceful and lamentable restriction on the disabled people who will receive this allowance. The number of people who will benefit under this unjustified limitation is a meagre 25,000, whereas, if the day and night provision were to be removed and all those severely disabled who require constant attendance during the day were included, 150,000 people would receive the allowance. I hope that the Government will bear in mind after the Bill is passed that the widening of the scope of constant attendance is a vital necessity in order to provide for the severely disabled who are so badly in need.

I apologise for taking so much time at this late hour, but I am anxious that we should recognise what has been done by the Government in this Bill. This limited step forward is welcome. At the risk of repeating myself, I would say that the provisions are not only modest but meagre and should be recognised as such. So, while giving these provisions a warm welcome, we must be realistic and recognise that this small step forward must be a springboard on which we must build for the future. I would conclude with a further quotation from the Under-Secretary, who also spoke in Committee. He said that this Bill is only a beginning. I would end on that note, by expressing the hope that that beginning will be added to in future Bills.

1.0 a.m.

Sir B. Rhys Williams

I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend on having brought forward what my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) described as a splendid Bill. It is undoubtedly the most important piece of legislation to have been introduced on the whole question of the relationship between the individual and the community since my right hon. Friend's great Measure of 1959.

My right hon. Friend's Measure introduced the concept of earnings-related benefits, while this Bill introduces earnings-related contributions. The House knows that I welcome this particularly, as the first step towards a comprehensive reform of the relationship between the individual and the State which I recommend. However, I realise that my right hon. Friend regrets this change because it says goodbye to the finely calculated mathematical basis of the National Insurance Scheme. I am convinced, nevertheless, that we must indeed say goodbye to that basis, rather in the way that we had to say goodbye to Newton's physics and move on to a more complex system.

I suggest that the hon Lady the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) went too far in her opposition to the concept of earnings-related contributions and flat-rate benefits. I hope that on another occasion she will give a fuller explanation of her views of the nature of the obligation to contribute and the nature of the entitlement to benefit, particularly as the changes proposed in the Bill are in line with the thinking of many of her hon. Friends and other students of national insurance.

Two main problems have been raised in the deliberations on the Bill, and my hon. Friend will no doubt be considering them. One is the whole question of the treatment of the disabled. I support the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) in his call for the Government to consider a disability pension.

The problem which remains as a result of the Amendments accepted tonight and our discussion in Committee is that of the age of retirement. Although women normally live longer than men, they retire, under the National Insurance Scheme, at 60, while men retire at 65. I have expressed my view on this subject sufficiently in the past not to have to repeat the arguments now. It is a remaining problem in National Insurance that the span of working life of every individual is a personal matter for himself and it is not possible to lay down a rule that retirement should happen at a certain age without resulting in a degree of inhumanity.

The Prudential Assurance Company has recently announced an optional scheme for retirement for its staff at the age of 50. This is an important and progressive step forward by a company which has as great a knowledge of the whole sphere of retirement as any company in the world. If this is what is being done in the private sector, it cannot be long before there will be pressure for the State scheme to become more flexible over the age of retirement.

It is possible for a private company to modify its rate of benefit, and under the new Prudential scheme a person who retires at 50 will qualify for half pay. It would be difficult to justify introducing a concept of half-pay in the National Insurance Scheme, particularly when the majority of hon. Members agree that the present full pensions are not enough. However, I hope that the Government, and particularly the Department of Employment, will bear this matter in mind, for it is a subject which is bound to be raised in the remaining years of this Parliament.

1.5 a.m.

Mr. Pavitt

Each contribution to this debate has, while expressing thanks for the provisions of the Bill, regarded this as a first instalment—as a sort of payment on account for a number of steps that the Government will shortly be taking in this sphere.

I begin by emphasising the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) about the need for adequate disability income, and I am sure that when the Secretary of State meets representatives of the Disablement Income Group at Church House next Wednesday many of the arguments which have been adduced tonight will be repeated to him with equal clarity.

I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams) because the House recognises that he is an expert on these matters and he does his homework. That was useful to both sides of the Committee, and when the hon. Gentleman spoke he invariably made a meaty contribution. It was a good Committee and I pay tribute to the Members who served on it.

The Under-Secretary was extremely good in piloting the Bill. He was very kind and gentle. One of the most amazing aspects of his political prowess was that he gave us absolutely nothing on the Bill at any time. He was polite and kind, but on each of the Amendments he was able to give precisely nothing at the end of the day.

Therefore, it is a great tribute to the Conservative Party—it is about the only one I could pay over the last 12 months—that on Clause 7 a number of hon. Gentlemen opposite could see what was wrong with it and had the courage to do something about it. They were not being awkward with the Under-Secretary. There is no glory or laurel to be obtained by being the martyr of one's party. I have rebelled against my party. No one glories in it or likes it. But there are times when the arguments presented are such that, although one does not vote against one's Government, the only thing to do is to abstain. Therefore, I congratulate those hon. Gentlemen opposite not only for the fact that we got rid of Clause 7 but for the way in which they did it. It was not awkward, unkind or unfair to the Under-Secretary, who nevertheless did not break. If all politics was done in this way, it would be a much easier House.

Finally, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams). For many of us this is a difficult, complex and complicated subject, and one with many intricacies. Many of us have to do our homework twice to be au fait with what is being said. My hon. Friend took not just the brunt of the arguments but often most of them.

A number of the Clauses followed in many ways the Bill that my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythen-shawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) was able to get through the House in the last Session—the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act—and we found ourselves leaning on his expertise.

We owe a great debt to my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin. It was one of the most pleasing Committees on which I have sat, having been one of the full-time member*. Not being a lawyer or a company director, for the last 12 years I have sat on most of the morning Committees. It was pleasing for the way in which it worked. I pay tribute to its Chairman, the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Jennings).

1.10 a.m.

Mr. Alfred Morris

It falls to me to say the final word from the Opposition benches. While it is eminently proper that we should have a Third Reading debate, I shall be very brief.

I share with my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) a deep admiration for the way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) has led for the Opposition throughout the proceedings on the Bill. Both on the Floor of the House and in Committee, our proceedings have been extremely good tempered. The Committee stage was constructive, but we affected too few changes in the Bill. Nevertheless, we on this side are indebted to the courage of hon. Members opposite for the Amendments that were secured in Committee.

The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) has said again that the Bill represents a major redistribution of wealth from those at work to those who are retired. I profoundly disagree with the right hon. Gentleman. Improvements in pensions fall well behind improvements in industrial earnings. This means that in relative terms those who depend on the retirement pension are increasingly worse off. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will reflect more on the meaning of this for the millions of elderly people who have to depend on the retirement pension. The hon. Member for Leicester, South-West (Mr. Tom Boardman) said that the House is not divided about its aims. The main difference between the two sides is that we on this side have made proposals and have a policy for improving the relative standard of living of all retirement pensioners and others in special need. The Tories did not know whether to support or oppose that policy. The country wants to know the Government's long-term policy for improving the standard of living of elderly people in relative terms. That is the major difference between the parties.

There is now a strong case for compiling a special cost of living index for pensions. We have argued recently that there should be an annual review of pensions. Together with that, a special weighting should be given, in view of the demonstrable fact that elderly people must spend much more of their income on essentials, particularly on food. Far too many elderly people live on an economic razor edge. All of us could do with showing much more concern for the undoubted suffering among many elderly people.

I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) that we must take a realistic view of the proposals in the Bill which will benefit the severely disabled. I know that the Minister accepts that far too few severely disabled people will benefit from the constant attendance allowance. This is true also of the invalidity allowance. The great majority of severely disabled people will not receive either the constant attendance allowance or the invalidity allowance. The hon. Gentleman appreciates that we on this side feel strongly that the invalidity allowance should have been of a uniform amount. The incidence of severe disablement increases with age, yet entitlement to the invalidity allowance decreases with age.

I accept that the introduction of the invalidity allowance is a very important beginning. The Under-Secretary has shown himself responsive to arguments which have been put to him in debates on these provisions. He is well respected by the Disablement Income Group and by other organisations working to help those who are severely disabled. The hon. Gentleman will have help from those of us on this side who take a special interest in the problems of severely disabled people if he pushes along the road towards a completely new financial deal for the disabled. As I said in Committee, we need a completely new strategy for disablement income. There is now insistent pressure from outside Parliament, not least from the Disablement Income Group, for new thinking in this sphere. We have had further hard-fought campaigns in the statistics war. Naturally, it is my prejudice to believe we had the best of the argument. Nevertheless we must all accept that the bandying of statistics is no longer enough. It is expected of us by the country as a whole that we lift the status of the severely disabled.

I hope that the Minister in his reply will be able to encourage us to think that the Bill is only a beginning and that we can expect further major improvements in the years ahead.

1.16 a.m.

Mr. Alec Jones

I had not originally intended to take part in this debate, but when I heard my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) state that he was going to have the last word from this side on this important Bill, with my hostility to Front Benches in general and Government Front Benches in particular, I decided that I could not allow him to get away with that. Certainly I welcome all the improvements this Bill, particularly the normal improvements to sickness and unemployment benefit and things of that sort. Unemployment benefit becomes more and more important as the year goes by, and by this time next year we shall probably have created a record in the number of people receiving it. Similarly I welcome all the innovations, particularly the invalidity pension. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wythenshawe, I feel that could not justify supporting the age of onset concept. It seemed to me to suggest that the older one was while receiving an invalidity pension the less one would receive to meet the specific needs caused by the disability.

It would be churlish of me not to thank the Minister and the Government for the contents of Clause 8. It certainly gave me an opportunity of moving an Amendment which otherwise I might not have had and it also enabled the Minister to indicate his sympathy towards the sort of problem mentioned. I suppose most of us regard this Bill as Oliver Twist regarded some of the food he was given: we welcome it but we would like a lot more.

1.18 a.m.

Mr. Ernie Money (Ipswich)

Would the Minister consider one further class of disabled person not so far mentioned during the deliberations on the Bill?

A great deal has been rightly said about the steps the Bill takes, by the constant attendance allowance, towards looking after the position of the severely disabled. But the partially disabled who have to depend upon the services given to them by their neighbours as an act of charity are in a particularly invideous position. The inclusion of a small sum which would enable them to pay for those services—perhaps helping them to dress, and so on—could make all the difference between their being able to accept such services instead of feeling that they could not accept them as acts of charity.

I hope that, as we come to look more closely at the position of disabled people, we shall find it possible to include some form of attendance allowance as of right for that purpose.

1.20 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Paul Dean)

There have been some reservations, which I understand, but I am grateful for the general welcome to the Bill from both sides of the House, and I am grateful, also, for the extremely helpful debates which we have had both here and in Committee. Although there have been differences of view on some matters, there is a real bipartisan approach to some important aspects of the Bill, notably the provisions regarding chronic sickness and disability. The contributions from hon. Members on both sides will be of real value to us in planning our future policy.

I reiterate, as I have been asked to do, that we regard this step in disability legislation as no more than a first step, and it will be followed by further measures.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the staff of our local social security offices—

Hon. Members

Hear, hear.

Mr. Dean

—on whose hard work we invariably rely each time we decide to improve benefits. This year, they have the huge task of dealing with the improvements in pensions and allowances as well as an exceptional volume of extra work in conditions of unprecedented difficulty caused by the postal strike and the process of clearing up after it. In addition, the staff are coping well with the welcome spate of new claims resulting from the take-up campaign, the new pensions for the over-80s, the family income supplement and the attendance allowance for the severely disabled.

It is all the more regrettable that from time to time they should have to endure ill-informed and unjustified criticism of the way in which they discharge their complex and often delicate duties.

The Bill will benefit about 10½ million people, to the extent of £570 million. It provides for the biggest increase ever in cash terms in the rate of benefits. I say that in no spirit of boasting, because the Government realise that price rises hit pensioners hardest and they have for that reason responded with this biggest-ever increase which will more than restore the value of the pensions and other benefits.

I am glad, also, that a welcome has been given to the selective increases over and above that. We regard this as a key feature which marks out the pattern for the future—additional help for special groups so that priority needs can be met by priority action. I have in mind here, in particular, help for the very elderly, those aged 80 and over, and the provision which we make in respect of chronic sickness and disability.

The Bill marks the climax of the Government's first year's work for pensioners and those in need. I hope that the House will feel as we do, that it combines compassion, realism and prompt action.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.