HC Deb 09 May 1973 vol 856 cc572-97
Sir Brandon Rhys Williams (Kensington, South)

I beg to move Amendment No. 52, in page 61, line 20, at end insert: '(ii) shall, within ninety days of the passing of this Act, refer to the Committee for consideration and advice the question of what amendments are needed to the law relating to social security to meet the special needs of chronically sick and disabled persons (including categories of such persons not at present entitled to benefit under this Act), and notwithstanding any other provisions of this section shall lay the Committee's report before Parliament on or before 30th April 1974 or such later date as may be approved by resolution of each House of Parliament; and'. We have already had an interesting debate about disability. It would be inappropriate to take up too much of the time of the House in dealing with this relatively unimportant clause, which concerns the functions of the National Insurance Advisory Committee. It is dealt with in the Bill in Clause 47 and in Schedule 12.

The National Insurance Advisory Committee is competent to deal with problems arising under Part I of the Bill. That includes the whole of the national insurance scheme and, in particular, invalidity benefits, benefits for dependants and unemployment benefits, all of which are relevant in different ways to the question of disability. We need to study the two aspects of the ways in which we could assist the disabled. We should look at flat-rate benefits, which it might be advantageous to consider as continuous benefits under nation insurance. They are of the same character as the attendance allowance, which was brought in by this Government and the tax credits which are foreseen in the Government's Green Paper.

The problems that arise where flat-rate benefits are the appropriate benefit concern tax treatment—namely, whether they should be paid irrespective of income or whether they should in some way be related to a contribution record. The example of the attendance allowance is a good one in that it was decided that it should be paid in relation to the status of the person concerned, rather than the means of that person, his contributions record or liability for income tax.

The considerations which we must bear in mind in thinking of handicap allowances are those which concern people disabled from childhood and also the category of need to which the Disablement Income Group has drawn the attention of the House on a number of occasions— namely, the disabled housewife.

We should also consider another category of benefit for the disabled; namely, earnings-related benefits. They should be seen as more of an insurance character, to assist financial rehabilitation after the disaster of injury to somebody who set out as an able-bodied man or woman. The object of earnings-related benefits for disability is the maintenance of continuity of spending power.

My right hon. Friend, in the earlier debate, spoke of the force of the lobby that now exists outside and inside the House. It is true that right hon. and hon. Members are fully seized of the tragic problem of disability and the extent of the problem which is in our midst. It is undeniable that the mood of the House and of the country is that there should be rapid progress in bringing benefit to the disabled. In recent debates on the subject many hon. Members—and I include myself—have been somewhat at a loss to know precisely what to recommend should be done. That is because the subject is so vast and causes so much concern. The House needs facts and specific recommendations from expert analysts.

I should like to see answered the following questions. First, what is the target and what will it cost? Second, what are the numbers and how will they be assessed? Third, what has been done in other countries and what can be learnt from what other countries have done? There is a real need for a consultative document on disability. In such a document the Government could give the House, albeit tentatively, specific recommendations and guidance as to the ways in which the problem of disability could most fruitfully be tackled.

I recognise that there is a danger that a Green Paper might raise false hopes in view of the very large cost of dealing with disability in a way which the House would like. Therefore, we must be practical and consider what already exists. That is why this amendment is looking at the national insurance system, to see how it could be improved in the interests of the disabled.

I have done a little research into the functions of the advisory committee and its activities. It is dependent for its work on the problems that are referred to it by the Secretary of State. I put down a question a few weeks ago on this subject and my right hon. Friend kindly provided in the OFFICIAL REPORT a list of the subjects which the committee has considered since 1970. It constituted rather dull fare for such expert advisers. The committee included, until his recent death, Professor Titmuss. I had the pleasure of knowing him slightly. I recognise that to replace him will not be an easy matter.

Among the specific provisions in Schedule 12 concerning the advisory committee are that it should include at least one person with experience of work among the chronically sick and disabled. It seems to me that it would be particularly appropriate for the committee to turn its mind now to the problem of disability and come forward with a recommendation about the way in which national insurance could be improved to help the chronic sick and disabled.

The committee is empowered under Schedule 12(6) to appoint persons as advisers. This might well be the way in which, if it felt that it was not competent to tackle so broad a subject, it could bring in experts to constitute, as it were, a separate sub-committee to deal with the questions which the clause requires the Secretary of State to refer to the committee. I believe this amendment would be a small but useful step towards a specific reform in an important part of this huge subject.

Mr. Alec Jones

I support the amendment. As the hon. Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams) has said, it is supported by hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is necessary because the Bill, a major piece of legislation, contained nothing new for disabled people. Yet all of us genuinely believe that there is urgent need to improve the lot of the disabled—by whom we mean the disabled housewife, the person disabled early in life who never goes out to work, and the person who is disabled during his working life and is forced into premature retirement. This group of people believed that it was reasonable to expect something for them in a social security Bill.

But so far, to these people, their families, the organisations advocating improvements in disability cover, and to hon. Members, the Bill has been a disappointment. That is one of the reasons for this type of amendment. Unfortunately, we have to accept that we are not likely to get any immediate action written into the Bill. Therefore, we believe it necessary to have the detailed inquiry which the amendment refers to by April 1974. We should then have some report indicating the action needed to supply the needs of the chronic sick and disabled.

To many of us, the Bill provided a golden opportunity to do something for these people, but the opportunity was wasted. I believe that this amendment gives the Government a chance to retrieve something from the non-event of this Bill in the interests of the disabled people.

The right hon. Gentleman may feel that I am too harsh in my criticisms and that I might have been somewhat unfair. He may talk of the significant improvements, as well he might, in other ways and in other measures dealing with the chronic sick and disabled. I accept that there have been improvements in the treatment of the disabled. The Undersecretary of State and I crossed swords on this issue in Committee and have rehearsed the arguments on many occasions. There have undoubtedly been certain improvements, but the major improvements —invalidity benefit and the attendance allowance—first appeared in July 1961 in Cmnd. 4124. Since then there have been upratings and the attendance allowance has been extended. But the major steps forward which we have taken in recent years are now four years old. I believe that the country at large feels that it is now time for a further stride forward in our provision for the chronic sick and disabled.

7.30 p.m.

The amendment has been signed by a large number of hon. Members who are, in the main, supporters of the Disablement Income Group. We believe the amendment is necessary because the amendments which we put forward in Committee and which came from the DIG were rejected. The Government may say that they did not reject them completely. The Under-Secretary of State said that he was not excluding any of them. He said that he would listen to our point of view and consider the amendments. Unfortunately, he was unable to accept them. Now is the time for a little extra action and not words.

In Committee the Government rejected any amendment which sought partially or completely to implement the aim of the DIG for the creation of a national disability income. We made three types of approach. First, we sought to achieve some disability income for the disabled inside the basic scheme. We could get nowhere on that, despite all the words about "feeling our way forward" and "pushing the frontiers forward". We heard all that on so many occasions. I will not go over them again.

Secondly, we tried to do something inside the occupational pension scheme for the disabled. Our attention was drawn to the fact that other European countries are able inside their schemes to make some provision for a disability pension. On that occasion, despite some great sounds of support, we were told that this was not the place to do it and that it was unfair to place any additional obligation on the occupational pension scheme.

Thirdly, we came back to base one and tried to write some suitable provision into the State reserve scheme. Then we were told that with the 4 per cent. contribution demanded we should give first place, as it were, to personal pension and widows' cover. I felt sorry about that, because if we could have provided some sort of disability pension inside the State reserve scheme it could have acted as a base for the occupational pension scheme itself. Despite the fact that we achieved nothing, the amendments proved of value to all members of the Committee. They showed that there was considerable sympathy and understanding on both sides of the House for the disabled.

Certain difficulties in establishing such a disability pension came to light, and it is no use pretending that they do not exist. It was obvious that no occupational pension or State reserve scheme, for example, could provide cover for non-contributors. We were forced to consider the problems—and at some stage the House will have to answer it—that if we rigidly insist on a contributory system it means that there can never be any cover for the non-contributors—the housewife and the non-worker. This led us to the suggestion, which came from both sides, that the Government should publish, not today but in the near future, a Green Paper showing possible ways forward, analysing the problems and showing the various options available to us in coming to a decision.

Even inside the organisations working to establish a disability pension there are considerable differences of approach, but I believe that the longer the Government delay making some sort of announcement or showing the way forward the more these difficulties are likely to increase and not decrease. At the end of the day the House will have to make a political decision. We shall have to ask the general public: Are we, the fit people, prepared to pay to give a decent pension to the disabled and the chronically sick?

I do not seek to make a party political point. We know the thinking of the Conservatives, and I want to place on record the Labour Party's view. I quote from Labour's "Programme for Britain": The aim of a Socialist policy … must be to provide financial support as of right, even for those with no insurance qualifications…. Two types of benefit are therefore needed. First, the existing attendance allowance must be extended to provide better grading according to the degree of disability. Second, a benefit must be paid to all substantially disabled adults during normal working years, regardless of previous insurance record. Yesterday, the Secretary of State said that he was thinking about conducting a thorough review. I hope that the possibility of a thorough review will not be used as an excuse for delay.

I summarise my views and my reasons for supporting the amendment. First, there was bitter disappointment among disabled people that the Bill contained no provision for them. Secondly, there is a growing feeling almost of shame at what we have managed to achieve for our disabled people. Thirdly, there is a mounting determination in the House to do something.

The amendment is reasonable. It shows the way forward for the examination of possibilities. If this Government or the next Government will not act to help the disabled, back benchers on both sides will have to force them to do so.

Mr. Hugh Dykes (Harrow, East)

I apologise for having missed the initial remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams). I congratulate him on moving the amendment, and I shall not detain the House long in adding to the support that has been given from both sides of the House to the spirit of the amendment.

Although I am not an expert in the technicalities of this subject and have not participated in the previous stages of the Bill, I have a sense of disappointment that the Bill contains no formalised provisions for helping registered disabled persons. It is long overdue in the historical context of the social progress in helping particular classes of needy and of the ever-increasing urgent need to deal in a much more energetic, comprehensive and national way with the special needs of the disabled.

It is trite but none the less valid to say that many years ago people thought that universal education over the age of 12 was undesirable and even revolutionary and that a universal old-age pension was a curious concept, to say the least. We have made progress, and I believe that within a few years a national disability income scheme will be regarded as entirely automatic as well as by definition desirable. Whatever are the technicalities that have to be overcome and whatever the complexities, which are great, such a scheme will inexorably come, and it will be regarded as an automatic right, as are many other elements of social progress. The House should give an expression of opinion on that concept.

Without being presumptuous, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, South—who is an expert on this subject—that I am not espousing every word of his amendment. I support the spirit of the amendment. The way in which he seeks to approach his objective may not be the right way. There may be other ways of doing it. I am not sure that the framework of the committee is the most appropriate way of conducting the initial public examination.

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the great work he has done for the disabled and to his Department for its work behind the scenes.

It is easy for us to jump to glib conclusions about doing something immediately and saying that it will be easy. That is not true; it is an extremely complex subject. All I ask my right hon. Friend to do to-day is to take one step further and to say that the Government are proceeding along this road. In due course the House will come to regard this concept as necessary and anything less as inadequate.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)

I, too, am disappointed that the Government have not taken the opportunity to take another step forward in helping the disabled. As the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) said, ultimately we shall have a system of national disability income. The only question is how quickly it will come.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. David Price) and I recently attended a meeting of our local Disablement Income Group. We both expressed the view that a national disability income was coming. The inevitable question from the audience was: how soon will it come? We both scratched our heads and answered out of the air that we hoped it would be within five years. The audience were horrified and thought that it should come much sooner. Knowing how Governments have to work gradually to squeeze money out of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I should be reasonably happy to achieve a national disability income within five years.

We then told the audience that we did not want to stand still during the next five years and we asked what they thought should be the next priority. There was almost general agreement among the audience that the next step must be a special arrangement for disabled housewives. It was agreed that that was the most pressing problem.

In view of the extreme modesty of the amendment, I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to accept it. It provides for the National Insurance Advisory Committee to look at the whole problem and to put forward a report by 30th April 1974. I hope that the committee will consider the next steps forward and put them in order of priority until we reach our objective.

If we accept this amendment, many disabled people who are disappointed that there is nothing for them in the Bill will be given new hope. They will see that something is happening. It is very important for the disabled to know that people are thinking and caring about them—both Governments and Oppositions. If they come to realise that there is a body actively engaged in working out priorities and considering the next steps, by accepting the amendment this House will give them new hope.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Alec Jones) said that this was an issue on which back benchers on both sides of the House should assert themselves. We are not asking the Government to spend large sums of money which Ministers will not be able to get out of the Treasury. We are asking them to give a special job to the National Insurance Advisory Committee. It would not cost very much. If the Government advise the House to reject the amendment or some similar proposal, I hope that it will be pressed to a Division and supported by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides.

7.45 p.m.

Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)

I, too, support the amendment. I am impatient to see the culmination of the rapid progress which has been made by the present Government towards the introduction of a full disability allowance. I was very disappointed to find that the Bill did not contain provisions for an invalidity pension for people disabled before retirement age.

I appreciate the argument against using the Bill to introduce measures of this kind. However, I feel that the fullest possible investigation should be conducted into the plight of the disabled and handicapped who, through total or partial disability, cannot earn normal wages and canont face the extra charges for clothing and various equipment which they need because of their disability.

A tremendous amount of work for the disabled has been done by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in a very short time, with the attendance allowance and the invalidity benefits, which are of great help. But they do not assist the mass of handicapped people who try to manage their homes and their lives without falling back on to supplementary benefit. I have in mind especially disabled housewives, the partially disabled and the early retirements, quite apart from the lack of mobility which prevents disabled housewives from shopping around and the lower incomes which the disabled have to accept and which prevent them from enjoying the standard of life which they would like to have for their families. All these factors need quantifying and bringing into focus by experts, and the advisory committee is an ideal means of dealing with the problem.

I recall hearing my right hon. Friend addressing the Disablement Income Group conference back in June 1971. He spoke of the work being launched towards defining a strategy for the dis- abled. He made no false promises. But he undertook to carry out a study of European systems, and throughout his speech he underlined the awareness of the need for some kind of general disability allowance. I hope that we are now moving rapidly closer to this form of pension.

This amendment having been moved, I ask my right hon. Friend to give it sympathetic consideration. I hope he will accept it or at least that he will consider ways in which we can move to this last step in helping the disabled. I look forward to hearing my right hon. Friend say what he plans for the future. I urge him to accept the amendment.

Mr. Caerwyn E. Roderick (Brecon and Radnor)

I intervene only briefly, although there are many different sections of the disabled of whom I would like to speak, including disabled housewives. For example, in my view we ought to investigate what further use might be made of Remploy and how its services could be extended to help the disabled.

Instead, however, I shall concentrate my remarks on how the attendance allowance is working out in practice. There cannot be one hon. Member who has not received complaints from constituents about the inconsistencies in the payment of the allowance. People can see cases where the allowance is being made, and they cannot understand why they are not covered for children or other people whom they look after. General practitioners do a good job in trying to assess whether people qualify. But there are inconsistencies between one GP and another. They bring a judgment to cases that is not consistent throughout the country. It is not even consistent in the same area. The Secretary of State will say that there is recourse to appeal and that a second GP may be brought in. However, that second GP may practise in the same locality, and he may well be loth to contradict the opinion of the original doctor.

Then there are cases where people are disabled but where doctors may not very often be called upon to see them. They may not be ill in the sense that a doctor is required. I know of a mongol child who is seldom ill in the sense of requiring a doctor. But health visitors and social workers are constant visitors. I suggest that the advisory committee might well look at the possibility of bringing in these people to make assessments, in addition to doctors. They might be used to give advice. That is one aspect which the advisory committee might review.

These measures may well become necessary fairly soon in view of the accumulation of cases. The public is incredulous about the implementation of the allowance, and I cannot see any reason for delaying the matter. Most doctors will want to get all the assistance and advice they can have.

I urge the Secretary of State to accept the amendment, if only so that the advisory committee can look at this aspect.

Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)

When I first looked at the amendment I thought that the hon. Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams) had the full agreement of the Secretary of State to it. It is a rather mild amendment. I can only assume that the Government are afraid of something in it. However, I cannot find it.

The amendment says that due consideration shall be given to changes in the law. If we do not accept it, the hopes of many thousands of people will be shattered simply because they have looked forward to something extra coming out of the Bill.

We all know of people who are chronically sick or disabled. I have a constituent who, ever since he was first able to sit up as a baby, has only left his chair to be placed in bed. The Spastics Society, which is doing a wonderful job voluntarily—and every praise to it—is organising work on behalf of such people. However, that should be the duty of the Government.

My constituent is now in his 40s. He is employed, this having been organised by the Spastic Association, and gets 15p a day. He is away from home for between eight and 10 hours. The only income he gets, apart from the 15p a day, is supplementary benefit. There is no hope of his enjoying a reasonable standard of living. It is a credit to most of these people that they are so cheerful. They make me feel ashamed if I am a bit sad and sorrowful because of a little upset or a little pain here or there or because of some small calamity which may have occurred.

I get a little tired of being told by the Government that we are moving forward. That phrase comes from the Government side so often, as does the claim that they have made further progress than the previous Government. We must look at the problem as it is and not in terms of what has happened in the past. Let us look to the future. I know that the Secretary of State is kindly disposed to the purpose underlying the amendment, and I hope he will look upon it with favour and accept it. If he does not accept it, there will be sadness in the hearts of those people whom we profess and desire to look after and for whom we say we care.

Sir K. Joseph

Whatever may be the appearance to the contrary, it is far more enjoyable for Ministers to accept amendments than it is for them to resist them. The atmosphere improves and time is not spent in controversy. When there is an amendment which, as the hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Edwin Wainwright) has said, is as mild as this one and it has been so constructively moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams) it is a great shame that I have good reason to advise the House that it is not the right vehicle for progress. The disabled ought to be glad that their cause has been put so vigorously and so sensibly espoused by several Members in what has been a rapid debate. I refer to my hon. Friends the Members for Kensington, South, Harrow, East (Mr. Dykes) and Exeter (Mr. John Hannam) and the hon. Members for Rhondda, West (Mr. Alec Jones), Southampton, Itchen (Mr. R. C. Mitchell), Dearne Valley and Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Roderick). There could have been 10 or 20 times as many speeches from hon. Members with the same spirit and purpose. We have to deal with the amendment. The National Insurance Advisory Committee is a highly respected and extremely expert body that has done notable service to the country since it was set up, but it has never been given an immensely wide remit with political implications—I do not particularly mean party political implications—such as the amendment would hand to it. Nor has it been given the job to do something which is primarily the Government's duty.

In considering the disabled we are not dealing with some immensely expert field which needs prolonged study by a high-powered and specially chosen commission. We are dealing with a vast range of interrelated and overlapping problems affecting almost every aspect of government which the Government, given the mind, can sort out into a series of sensible priorities. This is what we have set in hand. If we passed the job of preparing policy to the advisory committee it would have to start from scratch whereas the Government started some time ago. Each Government inherit from their predecessor the work which is in hand—as we inherited the thinking on the attendance allowance.

However, I took an early opportunity to go before the DIG in April 1971 and make a speech modestly entitled "Notes towards the definition of a strategy towards the disabled". In that speech 1 said, among a number of other things, that we had then and there set in hand a whole range of studies necessary for the preparation of a policy and that we had laid on a visit to Europe in the light of the exposure by the DIG of the much better conditions for the disabled in some parts of Europe. Now it is two years later, and a few days ago I was again in front of the DIG, receiving a vigorous and slightly less warm reception than two years previously because of the rising tide of impatience, of which all hon. Members are aware.

8.0 p.m.

I can report that the visit to Europe has taken place, a study has been produced on the lessons to be learnt, and studies announced in 1971 are either complete or nearing completion. We have gained much experience from the implementation of the attendance allowance and the invalidity package, and we have set firmly in hand a comprehensive study of the priorities in our policy for the disabled. I was attracted by the speech of the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen in which he recognised that with the maximum good will there are competing claims on the economy and that there has to be a system of priorities both between the disabled and the other claimants and among the disabled themselves. That is the way that the Government are tackling the problem.

Mr. Meacher

The right hon. Gentleman has said that he had been at this job for two years whereas NIAC would be starting from scratch. He will have observed that the amendment commits NIAC to completing its review by 30th April 1974. Is he able to give an assurance that he will complete all of these studies by that date?

Sir K. Joseph

I am coming to that. Without any disrespect to my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, South—it is rather a matter for congratulation—he and other hon. Members have found an ingenious peg on which to hang a short debate on the disabled. I want to answer it without any disrespect to NIAC by explaining that that particular peg would not be a runner—if pegs can run.

Mr. Edmund Dell (Birkenhead)

These days pegs crawl.

Sir K. Joseph

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.

Before I deal with the main points I should point out to the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor that on an earlier amendment we discussed the very criticisms of the application of the attendance allowance that he raised. If he has particular cases in mind, would he be kind enough to write to me or the Undersecretary?

The substance of the proposal by my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, South was that if we could not accept the NIAC amendment the Government should announce that they would work towards a Green Paper. Having produced a mental handicap White Paper and having committed the Government to produce a mental illness White Paper, I am not averse to a policy on a Green Paper. I am not, however, convinced that it would be a sensible commitment to make at this point.

First of all, a Green Paper implies that we have sorted out a whole range of problems, whereas it may be quicker, and here I take up the point of the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), to define as quickly as we can those things which need priority in themselves and which we can do without damaging the middle-term strategy, rather than spending our efforts in defining a total strategy which will inevitably be to the disadvantage of more immediate action.

I understand the impatience. The very fact that benefits have been provided as historic novelties in this country has aroused the expectations and impatience which were previously suppressed. The Government have to face this impatience. In the interests of the disabled and of the Government it is important that we should try to take another step as soon as practical. That is desirable because we as a Government want to do it and because it fits in with the Government strategy of improving the social services.

I would rather commit myself to working as hard as the Government can on the survey with a view to producing priorities that can be offered to the disabled than commit myself to a comprehensive Green Paper. I hope that my hon. Friend feels that, despite my short speech, I have dealt with his amendment, even though I now ask him to withdraw it——

Mr. Alec Jones

Will the right hon. Gentleman deal with this aspect? It seems that many organisations like the DIG are appreciative of the small steps we are taking one at a time but that they, like me, are suspicious that without some broad statement about the ultimate end we shall not know where we are going or how soon we are to get there. There is the need for some broad strategy.

Sir K. Joseph

I understand that, although I think that broad strategies unfulfilled carry less conviction than a succession of fulfilled steps. I ask the House to appreciate that some of these matters which seem so relatively easy are extremely difficult when they are examined in detail. Even the DIG has its own internal differences about how to tackle various facets of the problem. Hon. Members are apt to forget that the elderly comprise by far the greatest proportion of the disabled. They involve some different considerations. The task the Government face in sorting out a consistent strategy which will allow successive, progressive implementation without intolerable unfairness as between one group of disabled and another is not something that can be achieved overnight. It is one to which the Government are deeply dedicated. I hope that my hon. Friend will not press his amendment.

Mrs. Castle

I have been listening to this debate in the confident assumption that any contribution from me would be superfluous. When I saw this amendment, which has rightly been described as modest, with such a phalanx of names of Conservative Members attached to it, I thought it was one of those signs with which we are familiar indicating that it had all been arranged. Conservative Members are not exactly notorious for rebellion, and I thought that this massive support, which if carried into the Division Lobby could defeat the Government, would not have been expressed on the Notice Paper unless there was some inner reassurance that the Government would accept the amendment.

Why not? It commits the Government to nothing but the production of information. I was totally astonished to hear the Secretary of State's reply. He apologised for its brevity. He need not have done that. Brevity is the soul of popularity in this House. He also laid astonishing claim to its sincerity. I do not know about Conservative Members, and I have certainly no intention of making a party political point as I thought that I was here merely as a claque to applaud the victory of Government back benchers, but as I listened to the right hon. Gentleman I felt mounting within me the feeling that this will not do. I say that recognising that there is validity in the right hon. Gentleman's argument that NIAC may not be the correct instrument for this survey and report. I could have accepted that as a substantial point had there been some alternative put forward. Everyone knows that the real crux of the amendment lies in the commitment to a date. Indeed, when one of the right hon. Gentleman's supporters said that he had heard him making a moving speech to the DIG annual conference in 1971, I felt that that was final proof of the need for this House to tie the right hon. Gentleman down to a date. After all, we are already in 1973 and he is still sympathetically thinking of all the difficulties about a strategy for the disabled, about a definition, and how we could latch them into a national insurance scheme. Yet today he says that it is premature to commit the Government to a report on this subject by April 1974.

I believe that I reflect the true feeling in this House when I say that we will not tolerate that continued lethargy. I am prepared to accept administrative difficulties and an argument about priorities, but the tabling of this amendment was an indication that hon. Members on both sides of the House want the creation of a disability income to be one of the priorities. If the right hon. Gentleman rejects a request even to produce a report in April 1974 on the ground that we must still think about our priorities, I suggest that he is rejecting this matter as a priority. I call on hon. Gentlemen opposite to recognise that basic fact.

I regret very much that hon. Gentlemen opposite did not help the Committee to make the Bill the commitment for a starting date. As has been pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, West (Mr. Alec Jones), who fought so hard for the disabled in Committee, we moved amendments put forward by the Disablement Income Group which, though not perfect, would have made a start. It would have begun to latch in the disabled to an earnings related benefit. That is what we tried to do. We tried to do it on the State reserve scheme and, above all, on the occupational pension scheme.

There has been talk about Europe. Recent examples were quoted in Committee. Switzerland, for instance, has introduced a mandatory occupational pension scheme, a condition of which is that it must create a disablement income for those who have to retire prematurely. We are talking about things which are happening every day of the week.

I am far less inclined to trust the gentle and smooth assurances given by the right hon. Gentleman when I recall an amendment that I moved in Committee. That, too, was so moderate that I was almost ashamed of it. It did not even demand that disability cover should be a condition of recognition for occupational pension schemes. It merely gave the Government power to fix that as a condition at a later date. But even that was too precipitate for the Government.

I wish that the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friend on the Front Bench would not chortle about a matter on which hon. Members on both sides of the House feel so genuinely and passionately.

Disabled people listening to this debate are waiting for a message of hope from this House. We have had no indication from the right hon. Gentleman that he has even accepted this matter as a principle that must be worked out. I do not underestimate the problems. There are difficulties in latching the disabled into a contributory scheme, but it can be done. The point is whether we want to try and whether, if it cannot be done in a contributory scheme, it can be done in some other scheme. For instance, the Opposition have worked out proposals for crediting into a national superannuation scheme that we would introduce pensioners who have not contributed. We would latch them in by credits because they have a need. We could do it for the disabled, too, in many ways.

We merely ask the right hon. Gentleman for a commitment to the principle and to a date on which he would report on how he would operate the principle Is it much to ask?

8.15 p.m.

I hope that, as a protest against the speech delivered by the right hon. Gentleman tonight, hon. Gentlemen opposite will stick by their amendment, imperfect as it is. I ask them not to be afraid. If the amendment is passed and NIAC is not the right vehicle, the right hon. Gentleman will find a better form of words in another place. Indeed, I will suggest a form of words that might satisfy him. We could have had a new clause—modest again, heaven knows!— which provided: The Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament on or before 30th April 1974 a report on what amendments are needed in the law relating to social security to meet the special need of chronically sick and disabled persons. That would give the right hon. Gentleman exactly what he has said he wants—the freedom to conduct his own survey through the medium that he thinks is the most appropriate and with the help of his experts. That bypasses NIAC.

I suggest that we should stand by the amendment which has had such massive and enthusiastic support from hon. Members on both sides of the House. Let us carry it. I believe that if we do we shall get the report in the way that we want it.

Mr. Meacher

The Secretary of State said that a series of quicker steps was better than a long-term study. The clear implication was that he knew in which direction those steps were being taken. He rejected a short-term survey to achieve quicker action while retaining his middle-term strategy. The right hon. Gentleman may talk about a strategy for the disabled, but we certainly have not got one. From the beginning we have had a series of tactical skirmishes and short-run advances, but there is no strategy.

One of the main reasons for referring the whole question of disability income to the NIAC is to jerk the Government towards producing a definite strategy. They have hailed the Bill as a monument, but it represents an exceptionally fragmented situation for the disabled.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) has so eloquently said, it is a gross anomaly that invalidity is not treated on a par with widowhood or retirement. There is to be an earnings-related supplement to sickness benefit paid for the first six months and an earnings-related supplement at retirement. But in the interval there is a big slump to the flat-rate level, which clearly has nothing to do with the question of need and certainly implies a great lack of strategy, apart from anything else.

The result is that one-third of the 400,000 invalidity pensioners who have received this benefit, of which the Government make so much, will still have to claim supplementary benefit, although this will be slightly reduced as a result of the larger than normal uprating of the invalidity allowance under the National Insurance and Supplementary Benefit Bill, but it will not be reduced by much.

The second reason why I support this modest amendment is that, although I do not believe it would have a great effect, it might somewhat speed the movement towards a national disability income in favour of which all hon. Members taking part in the debate have spoken strongly. This is so necessary at present because still far too many disabled persons in receipt of disablement benefit are forced on to the poverty line. The latest report says that 159,000 sick and disabled persons who are not getting national insurance benefit are forced to go on to supplementary benefit and 80,000 of them have been in receipt of supplementary benefit for five years. That is an intolerable situation and one which would not have lasted so long if there had been some strategy in Government action.

There is a clear lack of imagination in existing policies concerning the disabled. The hon. Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams) said that one of the results of the NIAC study would be a close look at policies in regard to the disabled in other countries, but it is not information that is lacking. The Secretary of State himself said that his Department has undertaken to look at the position in European countries which have produced a policy for the disabled in the EEC. Seven out of nine of those countries pay a partial benefit for partial inability to work, and that considerably assists rehabilitation. In this country we have no half-way house and we impose a wage stop which creates a strong disincentive for the disabled to return to work. The information is not unknown to the Secretary of State, but there is a lack of political will to act on the basis of the information.

It would be helpful to pass an amendment of this kind because there are wholesale anomalies of which the Government are perfectly well aware. Those disabled who are at work are favourably treated and get a disability pension on top of their national insurance benefit and an extended scale of attendance allowance. But there are others who have been disabled from childhood or in early life, and a married woman who is unemployed has to rely on her husband's insurance. All these are cinderellas in the disablement insurance world. The reason why I support the referral tonight is that, if a proper and full report were made and sufficient publicity were given it, I believe that the Government could no longer allow these problems and inequities to exist. We lack not information but political will and priorities.

The Government have given away £3,000 million in tax reliefs, one-sixth of which has gone to those with an income of £5,000 a year. We compare that with the £50 million a year for the 3 million disabled. That is a tiny fraction for a vast number of persons compared with the £400 million or £500 million given to the rich. The bipartisan goodwill approach towards the Government record on the disabled is thoroughly misplaced.

Sir K. Joseph

I must contradict the figures which the hon. Gentleman has used in case he takes my silence as meaning that I accept them. I think they are grossly inaccurate and should not be taken as in any way reflecting the facts.

Mr. Meacher

I am surprised at the right hon. Gentleman. The attendance allowance is certainly not giving the disabled more than £25 million to £50 million. The invalidity pension and allowance does not give as much as that. The total cannot be more than £50 million to £75 million a year. Before making that kind of retaliatory point, although I know it is embarrassing for him, the right hon. Gentleman should check his figures. They are as small as that, even though it is embarrassing to say so.

The right hon. Gentleman is unwise to reject the amendment, because I am sure he will appreciate that there is growing impatience among backbenchers on both sides of the House who recognise that the rate of progress, given the priorities of the Government towards doing more for the disabled, is extremely disappointing. Above all, there is a lack of commitment, albeit that the right hon. Gentleman is undertaking the studies in his Department, to completion of a definite objective. The reason why the right hon. Gentleman should accept the amendment is that until he does so he will be giving no evidence of commitment to an overall strategy for the disabled.

Sir B. Rhys Williams

I listened, as I always do, with the greatest interest, and indeed fascination, to the way in which the right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) developed her argument, for there is always so much truth in what she says. Sometimes there is more truth than can be good for her argument. Tonight she recommended the way in which my amendment might have been framed. It was, of course, better because it was much wider but it probably might not have been selected. Mine was a means, however, of getting a debate on this subject.

Mrs. Castle

I was not in any way casting aspersions on the drafting ability of the hon. Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams), but merely suggesting to the Secretary of State the way in which he could meet our point. Any Government amendment is always selected.

Sir B. Rhys Williams

It would be fruitful if we could follow the line of the amendment which the right hon. Lady drafted. She pointed out, also, that it is difficult to find a way of drafting a scheme which, while still a contributory scheme, can produce a disability income. If I had to define the long-term objective, I would say that it is to get a disability income. I am not certain that we could get it most quickly by seeking to build on national insurance, although I am sure that it could be improved to help the disabled. I believe that we shall get a disablement income through the tax credits scheme.

In my memorandum to the Select Committee on Tax Credits I suggested that a disablement income should be part of the tax credits scheme, but the Disablement Income Group has not done this. That I regret. I do not think the group's silence is due to its doubt about the desirability of such a proposal. I hope that the Department will be impressed by the speeches which have been made on this and other occasions in favour of a disablement income. I am increasingly getting the feeling that that is the sense of the House and that that is what we want.

8.30 p.m.

Would that be the recommendation that would follow from the setting up of a sub-committee, or if NIAC itself were to get down to considering the subject? In any case, I am not sure that it would be in order to make that recommendation. I am therefore prepared to accept my right hon. Friend's suggestion that the object was to secure another debate on the subject. It has been a useful and interesting debate. I regret that the right hon. Lady is looking so disgruntled, because her contribution was extremely useful, as were those of others who took part.

Every debate on this subject forces the machine forward by one ratchet. I am not sorry that we have had this discussion, and I am grateful to all who have taken part in it. I accept that the National Insurance Advisory Committee is not the ideal vehicle to help formulate the Government's long-term strategy. I shall seek the leave of the House to withdraw the amendment, but my right hon. Friend must take note that we shall return to the subject.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Hon. Members: No.

Question put,That the amendment be made: —

The House divided: Ayes 137, Noes 157.

Division No. 130.] AYES [8.30 p.m.
Armstrong, Ernest Ford, Bon Orme, Stanley
Ashton, Joe Fraser, John (Norwood) Oswald, Thomas
Atkinson, Norman Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury) Owen, Or. David (Plymouth, Sutton)
Barnes, Michael Grant, John D. (Islington, E.) Padley, Walter
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Palmer, Arthur
Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton) Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Pardoe, John
Beaney, Alan Hamling, William Parker, John (Dagenham)
Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Hardy, Peter Pendry, Tom
Bidwell, Sydney Harper, Joseph Radice, Giles
Bishop, E. S. Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Reed, D. (Sedgefield)
Booth, Albert Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith Roberts,Rt.Hn.Goronwy(Caernarvon)
Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland) Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Biadley, Tom Hughes, Mark (Durham) Rowlands, Ted
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Sandelson, Neville
Carmichael, Neil John, Brynmor Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield) Johnson, Waller (Derby, S.) Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Jones, Dan (Burnley) Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Clark, David (Colne Valley) jones.Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn(W.Ham,S.) Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Coleman, Donald Kaufman, Gerald Skinner, Dennis
Concannon, J. D. Kelley, Richard Spriggs, Leslie
Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.) Lamborn Harry Stallard, A. W.
Crawshaw, Richard Lamond, James Steel, David
Cronin, John Latham, Arthur Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael (Fulham)
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Lawson, George Strang, Gavin
Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.) Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven) Lomas, Kenneth Swain, Thomas
Daiyell, Tam McElhone, Frank Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Davidson, Arthur McGuire, Michael Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Davies, Denzil (Llanelly) Mackenzie, Gregor Tope, Graham
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Mackintosh, John P. Varley, Eric G.
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Maclennan, Robert Wainwright, Edwin
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey McNamara, J. Kevin Wallace, George
Delargy, Hugh Marks, Kenneth Watkins, David
Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Marquand, David Weitzman, David
Doig, Peter Meacher, Michael Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Dormand, J. D. Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Whitehead, Phillip
Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.) Mendelson, John whitlock, William
Douglas-Mann, Bruce Mikardo, Ian Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Duffy, A. E. P. Millan, Bruce Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Dunn, James A. Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen) Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Ewing, Harry Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Woof, Robert
Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E. Moyle, Roland
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) O'Malley, Brain TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Foot, Michael Orbach, Maurice Mr. Caerwyn E.Roderick.
Adley, Robert Chapman, Sydney Fletcher-Cooke, Charles
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Chichester-Clark, R. Fookes, Miss Janet
Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian Clark, William (Surrey, E.) Fortescue, Tim
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Fowler, Norman
Atkins, Humphrey Cockeram, Eric Fraser,Rt.Hn.Hugh(St'fford & Stone)
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Cooke, Robert Gardner, Edward
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Coombs, Derek Gibson-Watt, David
Bell, Ronald Cooper, A. E. Gilmour, Sir John (File, E.)
Benyon, W. Corfield, Rt. Hn. Sir Frederick Glyn, Dr. Alan
Bitten, John Cormack, Patrick Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.
Biggs-Davison, John Critchley, Julian Goodhew, Victor
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Dean, Paul Gower, Raymond
Body, Richard Dixon, Piers Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.)
Boscawen, Hn. Robert Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Gray, Hamish
Bowden, Andrew Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.) Green, Alan
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Eyre, Reginald Grieve, Percy
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Farr, John Grylls, Michael
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Fell, Anthony Gummer, J. Selwyn
Bryan, Sir Paul Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Gurden, Harold
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Fidler, Michael Hall, John (Wycombe)
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye) Mather, Carol Speed, Keith
Haselhurst, Alan Maude, Angus Spence, John
Hastings, Stephen Maxwell-Hyslop. R. J. Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)
Hawkins, Paul Meyer, Sir Anthony Stuttaford, Dr. Tom
Hayhoe, Barney Miscampbell, Norman Sutcliffe, John
Hiley, Joseph Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Taylor,Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)
Holland, Philip Molyneaux, James Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Hordern, Peter Monks, Mrs. Connie Taylor, Robert (Croydon, N.W.)
Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Tebbit, Norman
Howell, David (Guildford) Morrison, Charles Temple, John M.
Howell, Ralph (Norfolk, N.) Murton, Oscar Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Hunt, John Neave, Airey Trew, Peter
Hutchison, Michael Clark Nott, John Tugendhat, Christopher
James David Osborn, John Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.) Van Straubenzee, W. R.
Jessel, Toby Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby) Vaughan, Dr. Gerard
Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Page, John (Harrow, W.) Vickers, Dame Joan
Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Percival, Ian Waddington, David
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine Price, David (Eastleigh) Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Kimball, Marcus Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis Ward, Dame Irene
Knox, David Redmond, Robert Warren, Kenneth
Lamont, Norman Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.) Weatherill, Bernard
Lane, David Rees, Peter (Dover) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Langford-Holt, Sir John Ridley, Hn. Nicholas White, Roger (Gravesend)
Le Marchant, Spencer Ridsdale, Julian Wiggin, Jerry
Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Roberts, Wyn (Conway) Winterton, Nicholas
Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey) Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Loveridge, John Scott, Nicholas Woodhouse, Hn. Christopher
Luce, R. N. Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby) Worsley, Marcus
MacArthur, Ian Shelton, William (Clapham)
McCrindle, R. A. Shersby, Michael TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
McLaren, Martin Sinclair, Sir George Mr. Michael Jopling and
Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Skeet, T. H. H. Mr. Marcus Fox.
McNair-Wilson, Michael Soref, Harold

Question accordingly negatived.

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