HC Deb 21 April 1972 vol 835 cc962-6
The First Deputy Chairman

Does the hon. Member for Windsor (Dr. Glyn) wish to move any of his Amendments?

Dr. Glyn

No, Miss Harvie Anderson. I understand that they would be out of order.

The First Deputy Chairman

So be it.

Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Dr. Glyn

I had wished to move an Amendment, after the word "reduced", which would have had the effect of removing the earnings rule altogether. Having taken advice from the Chair, I understand that such an Amendment would negate the Bill. I thought that it might be possible to increase the figure of £4, wherever it occurs, to £10, but I understand that to do that would also considerably alter the substance of the Bill.

In view of what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said, namely, that he is looking at the whole of the earnings rule—he has not made a specific promise, but reading between the lines one understands that he intends to examine the provisions of the Clause and alter them to include other people as well —I decided not to move any of my Amendments.

But that in no way detracts from my view that the earnings rule must be considered in the near future and that, whatever the fate of the Bill, the Government must begin to think along the lines of the argument put forward today by hon. Members on both sides of the House, namely, that the earnings rule ought to be reviewed.

Because my Amendments would have been out of order, and would have been so ruled by you, Miss Harvie Anderson, and because the improvements which I wish to make have been covered by what my hon. Friend has said and his intention to consider including other categories of people, I thought it right not to move them. Had they been accepted they would have altered the substance of the Bill.

Whatever the outcome on the Bill may be, I hope that it is clear to the Government that strong views on the matter are held on these benches. We feel that, although the Government have done a great deal to help specific categories of people, we must now move into a new era and look at the whole matter afresh.

1.30 p.m.

The amount of money involved is not too great. My hon. Friend the Under-secretary of State was, I thought, very generous in giving the figure of £110 million and taking into account the effect of taxation at the same time. I think that the £80 million is by no means excessive. I take his point regarding the categories which have been left out of the Bill, and I am sure that the whole House is grateful to him for what he said. But one of the difficulties in introducing a Private Member's Bill is that one cannot think of everything.

Mr. Coombs

I fully understand the Minister's point about the wives of invalidity and retirement pensioners. An Amendment to deal with that could be moved in another place. It is estimated that the cost would be about £500,000, and I should be only too happy to co-operate to that end.

As my hon. Friend the Minister said, it is a simple and straightforward Bill. I do not think that I can at this stage usefully add to what I said earlier. The retirement pensioners covered by the Bill deserve our support, and I hope that it will have an uninterrupted passage.

Mr. J. Selwyn Gummer (Lewisham, West)

Although very much in favour of the principle of the Bill and of Clause 1, I do not consider that this is a suitable way of proceeding on a Measure of this kind, partly because of the almost total absence of members of the Opposition, who, I am sure, would strongly object if anyone criticised them for their lack of interest and concern for pensions and national insurance.

Mr. Leslie Huckfield (Nuneaton)

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has been about the building very long this morning. There is a fair number of Labour Members round the back.

Mr. Gummer

I imagine that it would be out of order were I to discuss what those Labour Members round the back were doing round the back, and I am not sure that I know where round the back is.

My object in intervening is to express my feeling that, on a Bill of this importance, about which people have thought hard up to this stage, it is a pity that we should resort to the present method of taking the Bill through, without opportunity for the proper discussion which should be given to it. We have our system in the House for discussing matters of importance, and I feel that it would be better to follow that through in the usual way.

My hon. Friend the Minister made several points of great interest, and he spoke of the priorities. Questions of priority require people to make up their minds on points of difficulty, and I am sorry that the Bill should have been proceeded with in this way, although I give it my personal support.

Mr. Coombs

With respect, although I apreciate my hon. Friend's support, I must point out that he was not here when I began my speech, and he did not hear the subsequent speeches of my hon. Friends.

Mr. Ernest G. Perry (Battersea, South)

He was round the back.

Mr. Coombs

The matter has been debated extensively, indeed exhaustively.

Mr. Gummer

Whether I was round the back or not is neither here nor there, and in any case, as I say, I am not sure that I know what it means. My objection is not to the admirable speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Coombs), which I shall have great pleasure in reading, and to whom I apologise for my absence at the time. My point is that the speeches which I did hear, and the comments arising out of what the Minister said, show that this is a matter of great importance which should be discussed at some length and on which hon. Members ought to have a chance to make Amendments to the Bill if they wish. That chance is not properly given by the procedure chosen today, and I can only say that I am sorry that it has been chosen.

Dr. Stuttaford

There is another principle at stake here, the principle of the rights of the private Member. He should have the power to introduce a Bill and, if the House approves it there and then, so much the better. Too often, the private Member is forgotten. Today, not only have we heard my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Mr. Coombs) clearly and forcefully expressing his view, but we have heard a good number of speeches from the back benches on this side, and, I have no doubt, we should have heard speeches from hon. Members opposite as well, if they had not been round the back, supporting the Bill.

In view of that overwhelming support for a Private Member's Bill, it seems to me wrong that there should be any objection at this stage. My hon. Friend the Member for Yardley has used a certain device to get his Bill through the House. I wish him the best of luck, and I hope that the Bill goes through unimpeded.

Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)

The hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. J. Selwyn Gummer) has got himself into some difficulty by his last-minute inter- vention in these proceedings. It ill befits him to talk of numbers. I count only eight hon. Members on the Government back benches. He knows that that is not a valid point to make on a Friday.

What matters is the importance of the argument. We are sitting here, not intervening, because we support the principle of the Bill and do not wish to impede progress.

Mr. J. Selwyn Gummer

It is quite reasonable for the right hon. Lady to make that point. But the record of our proceedings today will show that the speeches have come almost entirely from the Government side. It is a pity that we did not have the benefit of the views of hon. Members opposite on a subject of such importance as a change of this kind in our national insurance system. Even if it be a Friday, it is a pity that there are so few Members on the right hon. Lady's side.

Mrs. Castle

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman would be well advised, in his own interest, not to intervene further. He is only making matters worse. If he had been here, he would have known that the view of the Opposition was put from the Front Bench by my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley). Those who want to see the Bill reach the Statute Book would do better not to make any more speeches, the Second Reading having been carried and no Amendments having been moved to Clause 1, the essential Clause of the Bill. Let us get it through all its stages.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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