HC Deb 08 May 1973 vol 856 cc390-413
Mr. Dean

I beg to move Amendment No. 4, in page 4, line 3, leave out 'and its Schedules'.

This is a technical amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Meacher

I beg to move Amendment No. 5, in page 5, line 27, leave out from 'pension' to end of line 31.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this it would be convenient to take the following amendments:

No. 163, in page 37, line 42, after 'Act', insert: 'increased by one-third of any category A retirement pension to which she would be entitled but for section 23(6) of this Act'. No. 161, in Schedule 4, page 142, line 14, leave out '(a) higher rate'.

No. 162, in page 142, column 2, leave out lines 15 to 18.

Mr. Meacher

This is an important amendment. It is concerned with the married woman's option given in the National Insurance Act 1948, for married women in employment to opt to depend entirely on their husband's insurance for the purpose of purchasing or obtaining sickness benefit, unemployment benefit, and retirement pension. All that a married woman in that situation would pay is a small contribution towards industrial injuries benefit.

We are concerned in abolishing the married woman's option by this amendment to take account of the sea change, no less, which has occurred in the position of women in society today, both in the way in which they see themselves and in the way in which they are increasingly regarded.

This seeks to take account of the fact that women no longer regard themselves or wish to be regarded as dependent on their husbands. It is a concept which has doubtless done us well in the past but is increasingly rejected by women, who increasingly assert, as all hon. Members know, their independence and desire for equality.

I would stress that this is in no sense a hysterical demand from the Women's Lib campaign It has been put forward at the highest level and in that I refer to the National Women's Commission which is located in the Cabinet Secretariat and is a bipartisan and very high-powered body. It is its considered opinion, which it has communicated to all hon. Members on the Committee and probably to a number of others as well, that the retention of the married women's option today is distinctly regressive.

These people take the view that in a society which has now implemented the Equal Pay Act or is in process of bringing it to fruition—although the Government did not take the option to get up to 90 per cent. of male earnings by the end of this year and we shall have to wait until the end of 1975—it is illogical that the married women's option is retained. Clearly, if one is to coincide with the final implementation of the Equal Pay Act, the logic is to remove the married woman's option.

The change is substantial in society. If one takes the inter-war period, it is true that women were dependent on their husbands. In 1931, for example, fewer than 500,000 married women were at work. In 1971 between 4 million and 5 million were at work, and that figure was almost certainly lower than it would otherwise have been because of the very high level of unemployment. Perhaps the normal figure today is substantially more than 5 million married women at work, earning and making a contribution to the family income which is in no sense pin money but is increasingly essential.

12.30 a.m.

Half the women at work are married. More than a third of the married women with children are in paid employment. That is a dramatically different situation from that which prevailed in the inter-war period and the first or second decade after the war.

Part of the reason for our belief that the married women's option should be abolished is that we must take account of the clear movement towards increas- ing independence and equality for women, the desire not to be dependent on another individual—at least, not financially. There is also the need to take account of the changes in the divorce laws which have recently been passed through the House. In addition, there is a series of specific reasons.

First, if the exemption were to continue, one result would be to put a greater burden on other contributors to produce a decent pension, as the ratio of workers and contributors on the one hand and dependants or pensioners on the other has been worsening. These are figures that the Government have accepted. The Under-Secretary frequently quoted them in Committee. In 1948 there were five or more workers per pensioner receiving a pension. The figure now is probably about 3⅔, and it is estimated to be little more than three by 1980. It would ease the situation considerably if the number of contributors were increased.

Secondly, it can always be said that, as long as we retain a flat-rate contribution, women, who are the lowest paid in our society by and large, would find it particularly difficult to meet it. But when we are changing first from a flat-rate contribution system, and more recently from a hybrid, partly flat-rate, partly earnings-related contribution system, to a wholly earnings-related contribution system, that considerably eases the situation for women, even if they remain among the lower paid. Therefore, another argument for retaining the option has disappeared.

Thirdly, compulsory national insurance for women would be fairer to employers, quite a number of whom now voluntarily pay sick benefit when the woman is not covered by national insurance. Clearly, it is unfair and unreasonable that some good employers should do that when others exercise the option not to do so.

Fourthly, it is undesirable that women should depend on their husbands' contributions, which could be avoided. All hon. Members will have had experience in their clinics of the woman who is a casualty of the belief that her husband was paying the full rate of contributions, only to find at a difficult point in the marriage that that was not so. That is an undesirable form of dependence. It is the retention of the dependency concept that is still very marked throughout the Bill. In so far as the divorce laws passed in 1970 begin to operate, it is undesirable that there should be that continued necessary dependence on husbands.

At the stage we have reached in our social security system, perhaps the most critical area of social security that is not now covered is marriage breakdown. One of the great needs is a resettlement allowance to enable a woman whose marriage has broken down to retain her independence without the necessity of claiming means-tested benefits. The number of unsupported mothers in receipts of supplementary benefits is between 250,000 and 300,000, and the figure is increasing. These women find it difficult to get out of the situation into which they have fallen. If we are to move towards a resettlement allowance, it would be far easier and more equitable to do so if married women were paying their full independent rate of contribution into the system.

When that suggestion was put to the Government in Committee there were various comments about it, and I propose to look briefly at some of the reasons for resisting the proposal.

The Under-Secretary said that no fewer than three-quarters of the 4½ million to 5 million married women in employment exercise the married woman's option, from which the hon. Gentleman drew the conclusion that that is something which they wish to retain and it is therefore not proper, in view of the large proportion in favour of the scheme, to do away with it. My answer is that that is not surprising when one remembers that married women get a much lower rate of unemployment benefit, sickness benefit and retirement pension. In those circumstances, a woman is not encouraged to stand on her own two feet.

I appreciate that women over 50 might reasonably be expected to be excluded from this sudden or abrupt ending of the married woman's option, and we are prepared to be flexible over this issue if, as a transitional arrangement, the Government feel that the scheme ought to be retained for women over 50. That might appeal to us as reasonable and proper.

In Committee the Under-Secretary asked how, if the married woman's option were done away with, cover would be provided for those married women who for reasons of their own do not go out to work. If all women were compelled to contribute it would be much easier, by raising the contribution for all—not by very much—to begin to move towards a home responsibility payment. That strikes me as an attractive means of dealing with the problem, but it would not be easy to carry it out unless all married women were making their full contribution to the social security system.

I believe that those are strong arguments for taking cognisance of the change that has occurred in society and for taking account of a whole series of reasons why it has become somewhat anachronistic to retain this dependency concept which may have served us well up to the last decade but is now increasingly seen to be more suitable for the past than for the future.

I turn to Amendments Nos. 161 and 162 which are concerned with the fact that married women who elect to contribute at the full rate receive a short-term benefit—either unemployment or sickness—at the lower rate of only £4.75 at current values, and not £6.75, which is the full rate. It immediately prompts one to ask how it can be justified that when married women decide to pay their full rate of contribution they still receive a reduced rate of benefit.

The Under-Secretary of State said in Committee that the rate of benefit was reduced and that a woman's allowance after marriage was not the same as a man's or a single woman's because the woman was not normally the breadwinner. If she were the breadwinner I appreciate that she would receive the full rate. That is precisely the point which we are making. Even if she is not the breadwinner, she nevertheless wishes to be independent and to retain her identity and financial autonomy. It is no answer to say that the woman's allowance after marriage is not the same as a man's or a single woman's. We are saying that it should be the same.

We have so far had no real answer why women, if they exercise the option to pay full contributions, should not receive the full rate of unemployment and sickness benefit. The extra yield, if the married woman's option were abolished, would be, according to the Under-Secretary of State, approximately £130 million. That includes £20 million of Exchequer supplement. Whilst we appreciate that that would not be sufficient to raise the pension by more than a small amount or to raise it all, it would, nevertheless, be enough to ensure that married women who paid full contributions would get the full rate of unemployment benefit, sickness benefit and widows benefit. If the married woman's option were not abolished—

Sir K. Joseph

The hon. Gentleman generally takes immense trouble to get his facts right, although sometimes we have to dispute them. However, he said that the married woman who opts to pay full contributions nevertheless receives lower unemployment and sickness benefits. That is correct. He also said—I think that it was a slip of the tongue—that married women receive lower retirement and, just now, lower widows' benefits. Those facts are not correct.

Mr. Meacher

I apologise if I said that. If I did so it was a slip of the tongue. We are concerned with short-term benefits. I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for putting the record right.

If the married woman's option were not abolished, we should be faced with several anomalies. Although these matters were raised briefly in Committee I do not think that they have been answered. First, women would lose for ever the contributions which they made before marriage or before they took up the option to contract out. That is one anomaly.

Secondly, married women who qualify on their husband's insurance cannot get a pension until their husband retires, unless, of course, they are five or more years younger than their husband. I believe it is correct that on average wives are less than five years younger than their husbands. That is an anomaly which affects a significant number of wives. The problem arises only because the retirement age for women was put five years earlier than for men so that wives would be available to look after their husbands when their husbands had retired. In other words, the dependency concept is retained which we now find so objectionable. I regret that a new clause was not accepted which would have enabled an equal date of retirement. The best way out of the problem is to do away with the married woman's option.

Thirdly, wives cannot compel their husbands to pay contributions. That is a serious anomaly in the minority of cases where the woman expects to be covered and then finds that she is not.

Lastly, if a married woman opts out she denies herself, as I have indicated, unemployment and sickness benefit. The crucial point is that her wage is certainly not one which can be readily lost. It is one that may well be crucial for the purpose of hire-purchase payments and mortgage payments. Of course, I entirely accept—I hope that I am not being too paternalistic—that a married woman is entitled to make that option at present. However, the consequences are often too little foreseen and it is left to others to pick up the results of the casualties.

12.45 a.m.

This is an important issue about which there is increasing feeling by women. This feeling is accentuated all the time and is growing stronger. It has taken root not just among women who can be dismissed as the hysterical fringe but in the citadels of status. One need not put it higher than that it is strongly felt by the National Women's Commission that the married women's option should be done away with.

It is not possible to provide full independence, full equality, full opportunities, for women in our society until they are ready—I believe that they are ready—to seize the opportunity to achieve that independence, and that, above all, must be a financial independence.

I strongly commend the amendment to the House. I hope that the Secretary of State will give it a favourable and constructive response, because we have not so far had a very convincing refutation of it.

Mrs. Castle

It is a great pity that this important issue has to be discussed at such a late hour. It is never easy, with a predominantly maculine audience, to get a warm and sympathetic response to an attempt to get those men to put themselves inside the minds and feelings of a woman's point of view, and certainly at nearly one o'clock in the morning the restiveness becomes even more apparent. Yet the amendment deals with the kernel of the argument about women's equality in pensions.

The amendment embodies a simple issue: are we prepared to give women what they are now demanding—namely, equal rights in return for equal responsibility? That is the simple demand that women are now making of the Government.

In the 30 years since the last war it is clear on every side that there has been a growing revolt among women. I ask the House for a moment to consider why. I suggest that one reason is that our social provision has not tallied or kept pace with the economic and psychological realities of the society in which we live today. In the past 30 years it has been an objective and irrefutable fact that women have been steadily moving towards equal responsibilities, but our social legislation has not been guaranteeing them equal rights.

This Bill, which is not due to come into operation until 1975 when the Equal Pay Act will be in full operation with all its added effects in changing the psychology of society, is intended to transform our social security provisions and attitudes of mind for decades ahead, and the Government have not only the chance, but, I suggest, the duty to use it to equate our social thinking with the objective realities in society. The tragedy is that they have thrown that chance away.

What the Government are proposing in the Bill is to perpetuate indefinitely the Beveridge principle of dependency, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) referred. This was the assumption, spelled out very clearly by Beveridge in the immediate post-war period, that most women would marry and that, having done so, they would become overwhelmingly dependent upon their husbands as the breadwinners, and that it followed naturally, therefore, that they should come under the husband's social security umbrella and not have a separate one of their own.

This principle has dominated our national insurance provisions until recent years. I accept that it was the principle in the Labour Government's legislation on national insurance in 1948. All of us accepted the Beveridge principles despite the profound changes that had taken place in women's rôle in society as a result of the war. But there is always a time lag in these things. So that has been the principle which has dominated our national insurance provisions—the concept of family cover financed by the husband's contribution, so that even when the married woman went out to work she should have the option not to contribute separately to the national insurance scheme. It is this principle which the Government are perpetuating in the Bill.

I ask the House, if it can make the imaginative effort in the inevitable stage of stateness and tiredness which we are all in at this hour of the night, to consider for a women how absurd it is that we should be proposing to start in 1975 a new era of social security provision based on that old and now obviously out-of-date principle.

Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)

I am at a bit of a loss. Will my right hon. Friend tell me the kind of women about whom she is talking? Are they working-class women who either work in industry or stay at home, or are they middle-class women who burn their bras? In practice, how far does my right hon. Friend assume that this concept of independence spreads throughout working-class people? I do not believe a word of what she is saying.

Mrs. Castle

I tremble to think what will happen to my hon. Friend when he next sets foot in any meeting of Labour women, either nationally or in his constituency. The people for whom I am speaking are the Women's Conference of the TUC, the women's organisations of the Labour Party and the National Joint Committee of Working Women's Organisations. If my hon. Friend were only a little closer in touch with them he would find—it has surprised me as, apparently, it has surprised him—how very passionately they are now pleading for this concept of the independent coverage of a woman in her own right when she goes out to work. They gave evidence to the Select Committee on the Tax Credit System only the other day. These representatives of working women's organisations in industry and in the home make the demand, very simply but emphatically, that women should be treated as separate individual entities and no longer purely as the dependants of a masculine brain.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West said, the reality of working-class life is that, increasingly, married women go out to work. My hon. Friend has given the figures again.

When we raised this issue in Committee, the Under-Secretary, with the most moving paternalism, the good old Victorian attitude, said that the idea of dependency in the social security system simply recognised a fact of life, that the husband would be the main breadwinner, and that … most married women, for a part of their lives, will be at home rearing children and, therefore, working at home."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E; 23rd January 1973; c. 221.] He was not telling me or my hon. Friends anything that we did not know. What we are saying to him is that it is he who is ignoring the new facts of life. Now it is the woman in society who, by the nature of things, most needs social security cover and yet who, on the principle of dependency, is left at the most vulnerable. Woman's rôle in the world has changed fundamentally since Beveridge.

I must repeat for the benefit of my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Loughlin) the figures given by my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West. Not only are women today a third of our labour force, but half the women at work are married women, and over one-third of married women with children are in paid employment.

What is more—this must be within the experience of every hon. Member— women's wages are not pin money. We are not talking about the flapper voter earning her cosmetics allowance, but about families in which the woman's wage is a vital contribution to domestic solvency. I am not talking only about the hire-purchase on the domestic equipment which can embellish life, but about the payment of the rent or the mortgage and and the food, gas and electricity bills. I represent a constituency in which most people could not live decently if there were not a tradition of married women going out to work. It is a two-wage society throughout Lancashire, as the hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) will endorse.

Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke (Darwen) indicated assent.

Mrs. Castle

In a working-class home, the chap who is a bus driver could not pay the rent if his wife were not a weaver. We are talking about a fundamental change in our society and about the realities of working class life.

Yet what we are doing by this apparent concession to women, this apparent tenderness to women, by giving married women at work the right to opt out of their obligations under the national insurance scheme, is giving the State the right to palm off on them inferior benefits. As my hon. Friend said, this is not only socially but economically intolerable.

When a married woman who goes out to work decides not to opt out, she is acting as a full citizen and deciding to earn her own pension. Many of them are proud in this respect. So many of them tell us in our surgeries, "I am insured in my own right." But when they have done that and paid through the nose for the privilege, they find that, when their work is interrupted by unemployment or sickness—when there is redundancy at the cotton mill and they are laid off, or when the fumes of the North-West give them their annual bout of bronchitis—they get unequal short-term benefits and their contribution to the domestic solvency is undermined. They deeply resent the fact that they get a poor return if they do not opt out. By that poor return they are discouraged from setting up their own separate contribution record. The Under-Secretary justifies the continuance of this inequality on the ground that of the many women, the vast majority of them married, who go out to work, three quarters of them prefer to contract out. Surely it is ridiculous to say that their reluctance to invest in a shady endowment policy is proof that it would be wrong to compel them to invest in a proper one.

1.0 a.m.

In arguing strongly against the continuance of the married woman's pension I am in the difficulty of having to do so in the context of the Bill. It is perhaps unwise advice to give to the women because they get such a poor return. But, of course, we want to alter the Bill fundamentally and some of our amendments would carry with them the introduction of full equality to short-term benefits for women as a start.

I would much prefer to be arguing this principle in the context of the Cross-man national superannuation scheme where women would have been given an equal deal in return for equal responsibilities. There would be no opting-out under the Labour Government's national superannuation scheme for the simple reason that we knew we were giving women the finest deal in any insurance system in the world. So we are in that circular argument, but I must dispose of one piece of hypocrisy by the Undersecretary in Committe. He nearly raised the civil rights issue. He seemed to suggest that we might have been undermining one of the basic freedoms of the individual in trying to take away the married woman's right to opt out. He became very solemn about our desire to abolish it. He said: They propose to introduce an element of compulsion where at the moment there is free choice. To sustain that argument one needs overwhelming reasons for making the change." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E, 23rd January 1973, c. 220.] The Government have not hesitated to introduce compulsion into the State reserve scheme. There is no opting out for married women. They will be compelled to contribute. If they are in an occupational pension scheme what on earth is the difference in principle?

Sir K. Joseph

I am following the right hon. Member's argument with great attention. As I understand it she wishes to remove from married women the dependent status. Does it follow that it is Opposition policy to remove the right to a dependant's benefit of the wife on her husband's pension? Is that part of the Labour Party's policy?

Mrs. Castle

It is a simple principle. Where the married woman goes out to work she has two new factors in her life. One is equal responsibility. She is a married woman at work and therefore she should be compelled to contribute on an equal basis with men. The other facet of her situation is that she has equal rights and therefore she gets an identical return to men. I propose that partly on the grounds of social justice. It is only right. She has gone out to work and is a wage earner. She should contribute according to her earnings. Everyone points out that with an earnings-related contribution it is easier and it is fair to compel women to pay contributions because those contributions will be graduated according to her earning capacity. But it is basically in the interests of women themselves because, unless and until they are made to shoulder their statutory responsibilities as contributors, they will always be robbed of their equal rights.

Sir K. Joseph

But is the right hon. Lady proposing that the dependency pension which a wife gets on her husband's pension will be abolished? She has not answered that.

Mrs. Castle

No, because in this situation I am dealing with the woman at work. Starting with that simple proposition, there are all sorts of ways in which we can move to provide for different situations in the home. There is the home responsibility payment, for example. Many other propositions are being put before us in the tax credit scheme. We are not in a position to talk about all the different facets of the social situations for which we have to provide in society. We are dealing with a national insurance Bill which says that a married woman who goes out to work shall have the right to opt out of paying contributions.

Pan passu with that, we have an insurance scheme which, under the cover of freedom of choice for the married women worker, saddles her with inferior benefits, and it will always do so unless it makes her shoulder equal responsibility. The women's organisations are trying to get this across to Members of Parliament and to society as a whole. It is a simple point which they have grasped, and they cling to it with passion, as representatives of the National Joint Council of Working Women's Organisations argued the other day before the Select Committee which is considering the tax credit scheme.

The Government have introduced this element of compulsion in the State reserve scheme. Why, then, perpetuate the married woman's option to contract out of payments under the basic scheme? There is no logic in the Government's attitude, and there are overwhelming reasons for making a change because the principle of dependency as embodied in the married woman's option does not meet the needs of present day society.

That was made even clearer by the passing of the Equal Pay Act. For years we had the argument against the extension of equal pay from the professional into the industrial grades. It was that the man is the main breadwinner, he has dependants, he has a wife and family, and he should earn more, even for the same work. It has taken us ever since the TUC first broached the principle of equal pay back in 1880— 90 years of argument—to get across to people that our wages system should not be a family cover system and, equally, that our pensions provision should not be made on that basis, either.

The Equal Pay Act breaches the principle of dependency. It says that people should be studied as individuals, treated on their merits and given their individual rights. Once we have that clear, we can adapt the rest of our social security provision round it. We may have to make far-reaching changes. The corollary of equal pay is that there should be equal treatment in all respects in employment. We are dealing with some inequalities in the Anti-Discrimination Bill and we should be dealing with others in this Bill. Part of that equal treatment must be the equal shouldering of responsibility.

In an effort to convince hon. Gentlemen on the Government benches what it is that women of all classes, all levels of society and all party political points of view are trying to say I will quote an extract from the document that was circulated to members of the Standing Committee by the Women's National Commission to which so much reference has been made, rightly, because it is the most representative women's organisation in the land. That is why the Govern- ment set it up and are helping to finance it. The commission set up a working party to study the Social Security Bill from the point of view of women's needs and sent us the following report by the committee on Clause 2: The committee regrets the White Paper's recommendation that employed married women should still be able to opt out of the basic pension scheme although we recognise that this view is not shared by all the commission's constituent organisations or by all members of the commission. We think this clause is regressive and consider that all working women should be treated equally. This will be of increasing importance with the implementation of the Equal Pay Act and we consider that ideally the new pension arrangements, which should cover all working women, should be phased in to coincide with the final implementation of the Equal Pay Act. Compulsory insurance of employed married women would be of financial benefit to the State basic scheme and would also be fairer to employers, many of whom now voluntarily pay a woman sickness benefit when she is not covered by insurance. In future, lack of such insurance could prove a disincentive to the employment of married women. We also consider it important that married women should not depend upon insurance cover provided by their husbands' contributions when this can be avoided. We anticipate that the importance of separate insurance cover will be seen to be vital as the effects of the new divorce laws become apparent. It is partly for this reason that some of the commission's constituent organisations have suggested that a date should be set after which no new opting out would be permitted except for women aged 50 years or over who entered employment thereafter. That last proposal is identical to that put forward by the National Joint Council of Working Women's Organisations and by the Labour Party's document on discrimination against women. The recommendation in that document is the same—that the existing option for women not to pay full national insurance contributions should cease at any rate for new entrants below the age of 50.

It is that simple, far-reaching principle that we press in the amendment, together with the consequential adjustments that would flow, of giving equal short-term benefits to women who contribute. That is a narrow objective within the confines of the Bill. It is all we can do within the Government's strategy but it is none the less important.

1.15 a.m.

Sir K. Joseph

I hope to deal seriously with the arguments put forward by the Opposition Front Bench and the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle).

I entirely accept that there have been huge economic and related social changes in the last few decades. It does not seem to me—nor, I believe, to many hon. Members on both sides of the House— that because there are large numbers of two-wage families we should necessarily infer that we should treat all married women in the same way. There is an infinite variety of changing conditions during the lives of the married women with whom we are dealing. There are different relationships in age between husband and wife; there are many married women who choose not to go out to paid work at all; there is a large majority of married women who choose to go out to paid work for part of their married lives, giving it up during child-rearing times, and perhaps at other times as well.

The fact that there is such a wide range of different circumstances makes it very civilised that the decision about how to contribute to social security benefits should rest with the individual married woman herself. That is the present position. The right hon. Lady accused my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State of being timid in considering the possibility of taking away married women's rights to opt whether to pay the full contributions or not. But surely it would be far worse if the Government were to take away from them the option that at the moment they enjoy.

The numerical position is that of the 5 million married women in paid employment at any time, about three quarters opt to pay no contributions for retirement pension and one quarter opt to pay full contributions. For that, they get the full retirement pension if they have served out other contributory conditions, but they do not get full unemployment and sickness benefit.

To take away the option from married women would be a very serious step for the Government to take, even when advised by such a formidable body as the Women's National Commission. I interrupted the right hon. Lady to ask what is the Opposition's policy about the pension that a wife can receive at the moment and will continue to receive under the Bill on her husband's contributions when she reaches the age of 60 if he has already retired. The right hon. Lady should have addressed her mind to this question. When a married woman assesses the choice before her, she knows that, without a contribution, she is going to be entitled to receive a benefit when she reaches the age of 60 if her husband has retired. It becomes imprudent, to say the least, for her to volunteer to pay substantial contributions when she may not know whether she will be long enough at paid work in terms of years and sufficiently frequently during any year at paid work to amass the contributions which would earn her a pension for her hard-won contributions in excess of that which she would have got for no contributions on her husband's pension rights.

Mr. O'MaUey

It is already the case that in the national insurance system that a married woman can achieve a full pension of £6.75 at current terms rather than the £4.15 she obtains from her husband if she has no contribution record. What we have proposed is that a woman who has only a partial record should benefit from that by receiving the pension which is payable in respect of her husband's contributions—currently at the rate of £4.15—and an addition for whatever period she works of one-third of the entitlement she has built up, which would mean that she could get for only a partial period of paid employment during her married life not the £4.15 contained in the Bill but a full pension in respect of her husband's contributions and a partial entitlement built up from her own contributions.

Sir K. Joseph

I must congratulate the hon. Member on moving in one breathless sentence and extremely meticulously an amendment which was not moved by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), but which is in his name. The hon. Member did it excellently, but he was inaccurate to this extent: that amendment would not give a married woman a full pension automatically. Nevertheless, the Opposition have to face that there are at the moment very large numbers of married women who choose not to go out to paid work, and as far as one can see ahead there will be such married women. How are they to be treated?

If the dependency benefit—that odious word; I must withdraw that—if the benefit she is now entitled to receive on her husband's contribution is abolished, what option is left for the married woman who chooses to stay at home and not go to work outside? I suggest that the right position is the one we have, that the married women should be left to decide for themselves in the light of their family situation and their vision of the future. To take away married women's options as the Opposition suggest, even with the qualification about not touching as a transitional phase the benefits of those over 50, would impose a very heavy extra cost on married women. Three quarters who now work who have opted not to pay contributions would have to pay the following extra contributions. A married women receiving £20 a week would have to pay an extra 85p a week. I do not know whether the Opposition have told married women about this level of contribution. A married woman receiving £32 a week would have to pay an extra 91p a week. I think that a sobering fact which the Opposition should bear in mind.

The right hon. Lady teased the Government with the fact that while we want to have the option in the basic scheme we give no option in the reserve pensions scheme. But in the reserve scheme the woman's contributions are invested for her own receipt. It is a funded scheme.

Mrs. Castle

The right hon. Gentleman may be talking about future benefits. Under the Crossman scheme a married woman would get future comparable benefits to make it worth her while. The right hon. Gentleman sees no difficulty in compelling a married woman to make that contribution which will be a burden to her now.

Sir K. Joseph

It is a very different thing from compelling a married woman to pay substantially for that which she gets already when, because her earning career is not long enough or regular enough, she may not receive any more for contributions than what she is entitled to for nothing now.

I turn to the last point in the Opposition case, on which I do not think the Government's ground is quite so strong.

Mr. Meacher

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves that point, earlier he indicated that, whether it is a majority or a minority, women when they collect the second pension will still be below the supplementary benefit line. He admitted that. He said there was a dramatic reduction in the number of women taken off supplementary benefit. That implies a significant minority who would still be in that position. Is the right hon. Gentleman compelling those women who contribute towards a second pension as a result of which they will get nothing more because of supplementary benefit? Is that true?

Sir K. Joseph

No. It is untrue, because the first pound of reserve pension will be disregarded for supplementary benefit. Who on earth can foretell what the relationship will be in a few years' time between the basic benefit and the supplementary benefit scale rates, particularly when we shall possibly have such changes as the tax credit scheme?

I turn to the valid observations made by the hon. Member for Oldham, West and the right hon. Member for Blackburn about short-term benefits. It is difficult to understand why, when a married woman who goes out to work chooses to pay the full contribution and comes to be unemployed or falls sick, she does not get the full benefit but receives instead the lower-rate benefit. Although this has been the case under successive Governments, I must say that I do not find it easy to justify. It is true that it reflects the mutuality between husband and wife by which the wife looks to the husband's income for support when she is in need. It is a mutuality which most hon. Members would applaud and would hope will continue.

The situation is not always something which is obvious to reason. Even if the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Lady are right in pointing the finger at this lower level of benefit when full contributions are paid, I cannot think that action on that narrow, but important, front would command a high priority from any Government facing the wide range of problems which always face Governments in this country. The position is less than perfect. I am not trying to evade the point.

I hope that, without doing injustice to the strongly-held arguments of the hon. Members, I have put to the House the arguments which perhaps they did not fully develop, naturally concentrating on their view of the case. I hope that they will not feel it necessary to press the amendment. If they do, I hope my hon. and right hon. Friends will vote firmly against it.

Mr. O'Malley

The right hon. Gentleman's speech was almost a masterpiece of obfuscation. He made the issues appear much more difficult than they are. Of course it is true that there is a multiplicity of circumstances in married households but I thought it was the job of Ministers and politicians to examine such problems carefully and then propose to the House universal remedies for them.

The right hon. Gentleman did none of these things. He said it was a complex problem. He accepted that there had been huge economic and social changes in the last decade, and then he promptly resolved to turn his back on such major changes.

I will tell the right hon. Gentleman why married women should be required to pay contributions and why the married women's option should be ended. He asked whether we had told the women of this country what we proposed and what the implications were. We did this in 1969. We faced the issue and found a great deal of acceptance in spite of the mischief of Conservative Members. We faced the women with the blunt facts.

The first fact is that to the extent that married women on reasonable incomes —let us bear in mind that we are talking about not the old flat-rate contribution but earnings-related contributions—do not make contributions into this "pay as you go" scheme which is a feature of the national insurance fund, so single women on low incomes and single women on higher incomes and lower-paid men who are the heads of households are required to bear proportionately bigger burdens in meeting the cost of retirement pensions at a time when the number of pensioners is increasing more rapidly than the number in the work force.

1.30 a.m.

The Secretary of State said that the decision should rest with the individual married woman, but one aspect of society which will continue under the terms of the Bill is that, particularly in old age, there will continue to be massive poverty among these women, many living on their own when their husbands die, and anything we can do to build up the entitlement of such women is worth doing.

In abolishing the married woman's option, one has to give the married woman additional benefits when she begins to pay contributions, and it is difficult to give adequate benefits because of the structure of the Bill, but we are proposing as much as possible within the structure.

First, we would take up the Secretary of State on the point about short-term benefits. He pointed out that three quarters of married women opt to pay no contribution for unemployment, sickness or retirement, but the reason is obvious: under the present system they get virtually nothing if they pay. So we are proposing that, just as married women should bear responsibility for paying into the pay-as-you-go national insurance benefit from which the present generation of retirement pensioners receive their income, so, accepting those equal obligations, they should have equal benefits and opportunities.

It is intolerable for the Secretary of State to say to married women who pay full contributions that they cannot take high priority with any Government. They are paying exactly the same contributions as men and single women in earnings-related contributions and are discriminated against. They are told: "You are married. It matters not that you have mortgage and hire purchase payments. You will get smaller benefits."

They are likely, under the present system, and under the system proposed in the Bill, to get no additional income in retirement at all. So, as I said in an intervention, the married woman who makes a partial contribution, even if it is only for two or three years, should draw her entitlement on her husband's contribution to retirement pension, currently at £4.15—that is one third of what they have accrued in their own contribution—so that when the married woman contributes at work she gets the same benefit, however limited the number of contributions.

The right hon. Gentleman closed by asking what option was open to women who did not go to work. The answer is that they continue to depend upon the contributions made by their husbands in national insurance, occupational pension or reserve pension schemes.

The married women who pay contributions should, we believe, in retirement, having made equal contributions and accepted equal obligations, get equal benefits. If this Government are not

prepared to do that, the next Labour Government will do what the women of this country are demanding. I recommend that we should vote on the amendment as an indication of our acute dissatisfaction with the policies of this Government.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 119. Noes 148.

Division No. 127.] AYES [1.34 a.m.]
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Galpern, Sir Myer Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen)
Ashton, Joe Gilbert, Dr. John Molloy, William
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Grant, George (Morpeth) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Bishop, E. S. Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Blenkinsop, Arthur Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Oakes, Gordon
Boardman, H. (Leigh) Hardy, Peter O'Halloran, Michael
Brown, Robert C. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne,W.) Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) O'Malley, Brian
Brown, Hugh D (G'gow, Provan) Horam, John Palmer, Arthur
Brown, Ronald(Shoreditch & F'bury) Hughes, Mark (Durham) Pavitt, Laurie
Buchan, Norman Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.) Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Hunter, Adam Perry, Ernest G.
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Janner, Greville Frescolt, John
Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.) John, Brynmor Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Cant, R. B. Johnson, James (K'stonon-Hull, W.) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Carmichael, Neil Jones Barry (Flint E) Roberts, Rt. Hn. Goronwy(Caernarvon)
Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles) Jones Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Robertson, John (Paisley)
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Jones, T.Alec (Rhondda W.) Roderick, Caerwyn E.(Brc'n & R'dnor)
Clark, David (Colne Valley) Judd, Frank Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Cohen, Stanley Kaufman Gerald Sllkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptlord)
Coleman, Donald Kinnock Neil Silverman, Julius
Concannon, J. D. Lamond, James Skinner, Dennis
Conlan, Bernard Lawson George Small, William
Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.) Leonard Dick Spearing, Nigel
Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven) Lestor, Miss Joan Spriggs, Leslie
Dalyell, Tarn Upton, Marcus strang, Gavin
Davidson, Arthur Loughlin Charles Thomas, Rt. Hn, George (Cardiff.W.)
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove) Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Tinn, James
Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Lyons, Edward (Bradlord, E.) Torney, Tom
Doig, Peter Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Varley, Eric G.
Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.) McBride, Neil Wainwright, Edwin
Duffy, A. E. P. McElhone, Frank Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Dunnett, Jack McGuire, Michael Watkins, David
Eadie, Alex Machin, George Wellbeloved, James
Edwards, William (Merioneth) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Ellis, Tom McNamara, J. Kevin Whitehead, Phillip
English, Michael Marks, Kenneth Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Ewlng, Harry Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Meacher, Michael
Foot, Michael Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Ford, Ben Mendelson, John Mr. James A. Dunn and
Forrester, John Millan, Bruce Mr. Joseph Harper.
Adley, Robert Carlisle, Mark Foster, Sir John
Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash) Chapman, Sydney Fowler, Norman
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher Fox, Marcus
Atkins, Humphrey Chichester-Clark, R. Fraser,Rt.Hn.Hugh(St'fford & Stone)
Awdry, Daniel Churchill, W. S. Fry, Peter
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Gibson-Watt, David
Balniel, Rt. Hn. Lord Cooke, Robert Goodhew victor
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Cordle John Gower, Raymond
Benyon Cormick, Patrick. Gower, Raymond
Berry, Hn. Anthony d'Avigdor-Goldsmith, Maj.-Gen.Jack Grant, Antony (Harrow, C.)
Biffen, John Dean, Paul Gray, Hamish
Biggs-Davison, John Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. Green Alan
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Digby, Simon Wingfleld Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)
Boscawen, Hn. Robert Dykes, Hugh Grylls, Michael
Bossom, Sir Clive Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Gummer, J. Selwyn
Bowden, Andrew Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.) Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley)
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Eyre, Reginald Hall, John (Wycombe)
Buchanan-Smith, Allck(Angus,N & M) Fisher, Nigel (Surblton) Hannam, John (Exeter)
Buck, Antony Flelcher-Cooke, Charles Havers, Michael
Campbell, Rt.Hn.G.(Moray & Nairn) Fortescue, Tim Hawkins, Paul
Hiley, Joseph Molyneaux, James Sproat, lain
Hordern, Peter Monks, Mrs. Connie Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)
Hornby, Richard Monro, Hector Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia Montgomery, Fergus Sluttaford, Dr. Tom
Hunt, John More, Jasper Sutcliffe, John
Hutchison, Michael Clark Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow, Calhcart)
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Morrison, Charles Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Mudd, David Tebbit, Norman
Joseph Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Neave, Airey Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Kaberry Sir Donald Oppenhelm, Mrs. Sally Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.) Tugendhat, Christopher
Kershaw Anthony Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby) Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
King Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Parkinson, Cecil Vickers, Dame Joan
King,' Tom (Bridgwater) Percival, Ian Waddington, David
Kinsey, J. R. Pink, R. Bonner Walder, David (Cllitheroe)
Knox David Price, David (Eastleigh) Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Lamo'nt, Norman Proudfoot Wilfred Wall, Patrick
Lane David Pym. Rt. Hn. Francis Ward, Dame Irene
Langtord-Holt, Sir John Raison, Timothy Weatherill, Bernard
MacArthur, Ian Redmond, Robert Wells, John (Maidstone)
McLaren, Martin Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.) Wiggin, Jerry
Macmlllan, Rt. Hn. Maurice (Farnham) Renfon, Rt. Hn. Sir David Wilkinson, John
McNair-Wilson, Michael Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon Winterton, Nicholas
McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N) Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Madel, David Host, Peter Woodnutt, Mark
Maude, Angus Royle, Anthony Worsley, Marcus
Mawby, Ray Russell, Sir Ronald Younger, Hn. George
Meyer, Sir Anthony Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Miscampbell, Norman Skeet, T. H. H. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mitchell, Lt.-Col.C.(Aberdeenshire,W) Soref, Harold Mr. Michael Jopling and
Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Speed, Keith Mr. Oscar Murton.

Question accordingly negatived.

Further consideration of the Bill, as amended, adjourned.—[Sir K. Joseph.]

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to be further considered this day.


Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Jopling.]

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