Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 7, line 28, after "shall" insert
for any period of interruption of employment".
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Mr. Brian O'Malley)
I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.
§ Mr. Speaker
With this, it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendment No. 2, in page 7, line 32, leave out from "year" to end of line and insertwhich includes or included the first day of entitlement to the pension in that period".
§ Mr. O'Malley
These are technical Government amendments to make it clear how invalidity pension is to be calculated.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Further Lords amendment agreed to.
Lords amendment: No. 3, in page 7, line 32, at end insert—
(2) Regulations may—
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Mr. Michael Meacher)
I beg to move, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment.
The amendment which was moved successfully in another place was intended 35 to enable regulations to be made allowing invalidity benefit to be paid in addition to the earnings of those performing light work, whether full time or part time. At the time that the amendment was moved, it was said to have the considerable advantage that the change mooted was consistent with modern ideas of work and rehabilitation, that it was non-controversial in that it was eminently reasonable, and that it had no implications for public expenditure and therefore in no way threatened the prerogatives of this House, unlike the purpose of a previous amendment.
If those arguments were true, I freely admit that there would be a great deal to be said for the amendment. However, I hope to be able to persuade the House that they are not.
It would, of course, be open to the Government, as a rather simpler way round the moving of the Government's amendment, to leave this Lords amendment on the statute book and simply not use the regulating-making power that it contains or, alternatively, the regulation-making power could have been construed in such a restrictive way as to prevent the implementation of the purpose of the amendment. I hope that it will be accepted that the Government have been right to choose the rather more difficult route, which is to seek to persuade the House of the undesirability of this amendment by discussing the principle of it.
I begin by making it clear that, although there are certain technicalities involved, the very simple principle that leads the Government to reject this amendment is that invalidity pension is dependent on the qualifying condition that the claimant is incapable of work and that to annex this to the situation that the claimant is capable of light work is to put together incompatible and mutually exclusive conditions. It is simply that basic principle which is the reason why we believe that this amendment should not be accepted.
I am aware that the analogy was drawn in another place with the retirement pension and the earnings rule which, of course, allows someone who is in receipt of a pension also to obtain earnings to a certain level at the same time. One of the difficulties is that we speak about 36 an invalidity pension which appears to give a superficial analogy with the retirement pension. However, the invalidity pension would be better termed "long-term sickness benefit". That would make it clear that it is not correct to seek an analogy with retirement pension because long-term sickness benefit is incompatible with the capacity for light work.
But, whatever view we may take about paying the old-age pension to people above a certain age, which is the effective result of abolishing the earnings rule, the payment of an automatic pension to everyone below a certain age has never been strongly advocated. Therefore, unless that view is taken, we need for people who are below pension age some means of deciding who gets the benefit and who does not. That simply is the basis of the criterion of incapacity for work.
As the result of having such a test, if the logic of the argument is accepted, I do not think that we should make it inoperable by making modifications which are totally inconsistent with it. That is the principle on which we base the rejection of this amendment.
However, there are one or two other relevant matters. First, it is a question of cost. It was said that this had no implications for public expenditure. This is not the case. If we take only those who are in sheltered employment and a very small proportion of those who are in open employment, it may be estimated that there are at least 20,000 disabled people who would fit into any reasonable definition of fitness only for light work. If we make the rather unrealistic assumption that each of these has only the current single person's rate of invalidity pension in addition to his earnings, the cost would be about £12 million in invalidity benefit for new beneficiaries. In Government social security terms £12 million is not an enormous sum, but it is an enormous sum in terms of the new constraints on public expenditure.
But even that probably underestimates what are likely to be the financial consequences if we accept this amendment. If an invalidity pensioner, who now gets as a married man with a wife and two children up to £30.70 a week and who from November will get £35.50 a week, were allowed to get in addition earnings from full-time work, it is reasonable to 37 suppose that the man working full time in sheltered employment and getting, say, £35 a week would also expect to have invalidity benefit in addition to his earnings from light work. Therefore, there is bound to be consequential further expenditure of a not insubstantial kind. But that breaches the simple principle that only individuals incapable of work should receive invalidity pension. The man working full time in sheltered employment cannot be considered incapable of work.
There is a third point of difficulty. I put the least emphasis on it, but it needs to be taken into account by the House. I refer to the problem of operating the benefit if the amendment were accepted. The basic evidence for invalidity benefit is the same basic evidence as is required for sickness benefit, which is a short-term counterpart of invalidity benefit, and that is a simple medical certificate from the general practitioner who has responsibility for the patient.
I am advised that those countries which pay to sick and disabled people benefits which are designed to co-exist with their earnings almost always require four to six, or more, foolscap pages of evidence. Therefore, there can be no doubt, though I do not regard this as a decisive consideration, that if we were to change the whole character of the benefit in the way suggested by the amendment it would have a considerable impact on the administrative system, and lead to considerable extra financial costs for administrative reasons.
So far I have been rather negative, but frank, in saying why we believe that the amendment should not be accepted. Turning to the aim of the amendment, I shall indicate the ways in which the Government believe that to a large degree we are already meeting it. I readily admit that the therapeutic earnings limit goes to only a small number of persons in specialised circumstances, but it has been extended outside the hospital system where it can be shown that the person has good cause, which normally means doctors' approval. It was raised as recently as April from £4.50 a week to £7. I accept that it is a strictly limited concept, and that the earnings figure is only one aspect, and not the most important, of measuring incapacity for work. It is not necessarily the sort of figure that 38 should go up at each uprating, but there can be difficulties if over a time it begins significantly to lose value. Therefore, I undertake—although without commitment as to the outcome—that we shall reconsider it before long and see whether a further increase would be appropriate.
Secondly, our House of Commons Paper last September on "Social Security Provision for Chronically Sick and Disabled People" promised consultations about the whole range of questions affecting the finances of the disabled earner. I am hopeful that we shall be able to announce a new initiative in this direction before long, designed, perhaps inevitably in present circumstances, primarily to explore how best to use existing resources. We are very much aware of the difficulties of the disabled earner, and are looking for new initiatives.
Thirdly, we are exploring the possibility of a small study of the effects of the present therapeutic earnings limit, This is a difficult area for research, but we believe that useful work on a limited scale may be possible.
To sum up, we disagree with the Lords amendment because it envisages radical changes which could not be adopted without a great deal more thought and examination of complex conditions. Those changes would bring into invalidity benefit many people not now entitled to it, and add several millions of pounds to present costs, without any rehabilitation gain. They would involve a substantial administrative task. But the basic reason is that the amendment would completely change the whole principle of invalidity pensions, by giving it to persons who are not incapable of work, in as much as the criterion that they are capable of light work at present precisely excludes, contrary to what was said in another place, their entitlement to invalidity benefit.
§ Mr. Norman Fowler (Sutton Coldfield)
This is not the first time we have debated the rule in question. The Minister has largely repeated what the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, said in the other place when the amendment was debated and agreed to by the Lords. It has caused concern both in this House and in the Lords, and most of all among the organisations representing the interests of disabled people, such as the Disablement Income Group, which has written to many hon. Members about the matter.
39 We are basically concerned here with the position of the invalidity pensioner, the man or woman not of retirement age who, because of some form of incapacity, is defined as incapable of work. Many such people will not be able to work at all, but some may, and for those who struggle to do something there is the therapeutic allowance, an amount which they can earn without losing their pensions.
There are two points to be made about the question. The first concerns the amount of the therapeutic allowance. In 1972 it was £4.50 a week. In April this year it was raised to £7. We have noted what the hon. Gentleman said about it, although, as a pledge of future action, it seemed to me to be somewhat short of a promise to do anything. Let us remember that the increase to £7 followed a Government defeat in the Lords, who voted for £13. The Government compromised with £7, and that is now the figure.
Secondly, if the pensioner earns 1p more than his £7 he loses the entire pension. There is no tapering arrangement. The man who earns £6 a week keeps his entire invalidity pension, while the man who earns £8 loses the entire pension. This position is therefore fundamentally different from that of the pensioner who can earn £20 a week without losing anything from his pension. It is also fundamentally different from the position of the man on supplementary benefit, who at least loses on a pound-for-pound basis. We are dealing not with an earnings rule but with an earnings stop.
That being so, in the case of the therapeutic allowance the Lords have performed another useful service. They have forced us to think again about the basis of the earnings stop rule. It is here that I find the views of the Disablement Income Group, and Peter Large in particular, crucially important. The group considers that there are two major situations in which the rule militates against the interests of the disabled. First, there is the situation of the man struck down by disability who, after a period, may be able to take up work again. It is likely that it will be a slow process, a process of rehabilitation which it is in the interest of the man and the country should be successful. It is often not possible to jump from the definition "incapable of 40 work" to the definition "fit for work". An employer may require that the man does only part-time work, in which the employer can develop confidence in the man and, perhaps more important, the disabled person can develop confidence in his own ability. In that kind of proposition the present rule acts as a disincentive and a discouragement to rehabilitation.
The other side of the coin is the case of a person in a deteriorating condition, such as multiple sclerosis, who may struggle on and work after the point has come when he should have slowed down. This point is put forcefully by the Disablement Income Group. If there were an earnings rule it is argued that he might be encouraged to slow up sooner and it would be in his own interests to do so.
From both points of view there is a strong case in favour of the Lords amendment. From the Government point of view it is of some relevance that this amendment does not place them under an obligation to spend extra money as at this moment. It is not obligatory upon them to take action at this point in time. In our social security debates we are coming to know it as a piece of structure legislation. It can have no effect until the Government activate it, and that will probably not be at once.
The Government cannot object to structure legislation because they are passing and introducing in this House a large amount of structure legislation. Therefore, if the Government want to oppose this measure, so be it. What they are opposing is the principle. What we are supporting is a measure that will act in the interests of disabled people. It is supported by powerful and strong voices, such as those of the Disablement Group. We shall support the Lords amendment.
§ Mr. David Price (Eastleigh)
I do not wish to detain the House for more than two minutes but this is an important point. I had a great deal of sympathy with the Under-Secretary when he explained the nature of the invalidity benefit. I disagree with him on the definition of "incapacity for work". It is around this phrase that the whole argument, following through all its stages, has flowed.
No one who supports their Lordships' amendment would disagree with the 41 Under-Secretary when he said that one must define fairly precisely what one means by "incapacity for work". The amendment uses the words "incapacity for normal full-time work". We would all agree that we would not wish to extend invalidity benefit, even to people who are in many cases apparently severely incapacitated. We ask the Under-Secretary to look at the situation, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) pointed out, from the point of view of the person who is heavily incapacitated but who has a certain propensity to do some work.
This is recognised in what the Under-Secretary has called the "therapeutic earnings allowance". It is not only therapeutic. Infinitely more important is the social integration aspect. Throughout the many debates we have had in this House and in Committee on how modern society should cope with our incapacitated colleagues we have decided that increasingly the aim should be to integrate them into society and that the cash, the aid and the care of society should not be to give them a comfortable existence in institutions and in disabled ghettos but to integrate them into the hurly-burly of ordinary life. In inviting the House to reject their Lordships' amendment, I do not believe that the Under-Secretary has addressed himself to this aspect. If we were to accept their Lordships' amendment, he would give recognition to this aspect without selling the Treasury brief.
Anyone who has been a Minister in a spending Department knows how severe at any moment in time Treasury instructions are to Ministers not to give any public money away. I sympathise with the Under-Secretary. However, if he accepts this amendment he need not, as of today, increase public expenditure by one penny. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of State and architect of the Bill will recognise that much of it is for 20 years hence and that it is right that we should pass legislation that is structurally correct even if, on the phasing of it, for economic reasons we have to be greatly restrained in how quickly it can be implemented. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman gives anything away in terms of public expenditure.
In summing up he made cooing noises that he was sympathetic to the £7 limit. He raised it from £4.50 to £7. Let us 42 put the £7 into its current context. That amount of £7 is only £1 more than the basic wage increase that the Government, in their White Paper, are allowing in these counter-inflationary days for one year for the mass of the community.
I beg the Under-Secretary to realise that those of us who believe that their Lordships are right do not expect the Government immediately to raise these allowances to large proportions. Nor do I accept the figures that he gave the House. I do not want to be unfair to him but I should like to see them written up. Possibly he would be kind enough to send me a note—I shall not press him to reply now—to explain how they are made up because, without detaining the House, I am sceptical about the assumptions on which they are based. It is not necessary to accept the view that there should be an open cheque for all handicapped workers in every sheltered employment in order to support their Lordships. The Under-Secretary was arguing as if that were the implication of their Lordships' amendment. I do not believe that it is.
The House, in the spirit of the Government in moving the Second Reading of the Bill—that it is a structural Bill preparing for the future—would be wise to support their Lordships.
§ Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)
I should like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Price) and my hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Cold-field (Mr. Fowler) in asking the House to retain the Lords amendment. I have the feeling that the Under-Secretary was a little hesitant in giving his support to his brief. From reading the Lords amendment we can see that all the powers are given to the Government to control, to any extent they wish, the degree of expenditure which the Government may wish to make.
In the debate on 12th March on the Social Security Benefits Bill, I and other hon. Members endeavoured to move an amendment to relieve disabled people of this harsh wages stop. We had a limit then of £4.50 for therapeutic earnings, and this was raised, during that debate, to £7 a week. We would all welcome a hint that this might be raised again some time in the future. In that event, the Government would not accept the principle that a definition of light work could 43 be arrived at so as to allow invalids who are incapable of normal full-time work but can perform light duties on one or two days a week to receive their invalidity pension at a reduced level. We suggested then that an earnings rule be applied in stages from £13 to £17 with a ceiling of the amount that could be deducted from the pension. The powers to propose that ceiling are in this Lords amendment. We ask that this should be introduced rather than having a 100 per cent. cut-off, which would occur if a disabled person earned even 1p or 2p more than £7 a week.
During that debate on 12th March 1 and other hon. Members presented several cases of people who were suffering from multiple sclerosis and other disabilities who had performed light secretarial or research work for a few hours and found themselves losing their entire invalidity allowance of £27 or £30 a week purely because their earnings had totalled £8 a week over that period. I can understand the Government's fears that there would be a breach of their rather precious definition of "total incapacity for work". However, the Lords amendment clearly gives the power to the Government to regulate and prescribe the limit of earnings and the amount of invalidity pension which would be affected.
I hope that we can all agree that the time has come for some intermediate definition of "partial" incapacity, just as is provided in the constant attendance allowance, which allows for attendance by "day or night" to be a qualification for the allowance. There can be no doubt that this rule is working very harshly. It affects those whom we would like to see brought back into some degree of integration with a normal working life and who would like to relieve the State of financial responsibility which they are placing upon the State.
It was stated in another place by Lord Crawshaw, who moved the amendment there, that if we were to help disabled people to get back into normal employment we would be saving the Exchequer money by ending supplementary benefit payments and by taking these people from the top rates of pensions. Apparently Lord Wells-Pestell, the Minister, had informed Lord Crawshaw by letter that the Government would prefer to handle 44 this problem by the use of regulations. This is just what the amendment seeks to do. There is no charge on the hard-pressed Treasury unless the Government introduce such a charge. Everything is left in the Minister's hands as to what improvements can be prescribed by these regulations, and when. Surely if workers at Jaguar can work four days a week and draw unemployment benefit on the fifth day, there is an indefensible case for a disabled person to work one day a week without losing his pension.
Speaking as secretary of the all-party Diseablement Group and as a member of DIG, I regret that the Secretary of State has asked the House to reject the amendment. I hope the House will show some regard for the desires of chronically disabled people to integrate more fully into normal life, and I hope that the Government recognise that in this amendment they have power to prescribe by regulations the amount to be allowed.
§ Mr. Robert Boscawen (Wells)
I wish to express my disappointment at the Government's failure to accept the Lords amendment. I believe it is as widely and as flexibly drawn as it possibly can be, to enable the Government to bring in the proper regulations to suit the situation.
In an earlier stage of the Bill I said that the Government should find a way of mitigating the effect of the earnings stop. It does not affect many people. The Under-Secretary of State said that it affected only a very small number of people, and I think that, although the number is small, this stop is a very important factor in their lives. Having experienced some of the effects of trying to get back to work after disablement, I know the effort and the strength of character required in order to do so.
I am therefore disappointed that, although the Government appear to have accepted the general principle behind the amendment, they are not prepared to do anything about it at this stage. I cannot understand why they have not studied the effects of the therapeutic earnings limit. This matter has been bandied about for some time. We have discussed it and we have expressed our strong feelings about it. The Department ought to study it and let us have more information about the effect of the therapeutic earnings limit as soon as possible.
45 If there is a Division, I shall support my hon. Friends, because I am fed up about the whole matter.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Tony Newton (Braintree)
I rise not as a frequent contributor to social security debates but as a fairly regular contributor to financial debates and frequently on the subject of assistance to the disabled and other similar matters.
I support the amendment and what my hon. Friends have said, not least because, having listened to the Under-Secretary, I was not at all sure whether he himself was convinced by his own argument. If he was, I can only say that he did not succeed in convincing me, and, indeed, I hope he has not succeeded in convincing himself either.
The Under-Secretary touched on an administrative argument, and I say this to him as fairly as I can. He touched on the argument lightly, so much so that it did not seem to me to be worth putting. He referred to the number of sheets of paper which might have to be filled in. There are many problems which have to be dealt with by filling in sheets of paper, for instance in connection with our complicated tax and social security system. If that argument had any real force we would have to sweep away a large part of our administrative system and throw it out of the window.
As to the question of cost, my hon. Friends have disposed of that with some ease. The amendment does not automatically involve any extra cost. It is clear from the amount of scope involved in regulation making in the amendment that the cost could be determined largely by the Government. In addition, we are all entitled to be very wary of figures for costs which are given in this kind of argument because so often when they are investigated we find that they have been worked out on a simplistic basis and that no account has been taken of the gain which would accrue to the gross domestic product as a result of the extra employment created or the extra tax revenue.
I am sorry that the Chancellor popped into the Chamber as though he were about to announce some great concession, and then popped out again. I should have liked to say this to him. It is high time that the Department of Health and Social 46 Security and the Treasury got together on some of these matters. Half the time their figures do not add up, and there is every sign that the people in one Department have not talked to people in the other Department. They come along with crude figures relating to the social security system, and we never get a proper sophisticated analysis of the effect of the measure. We do not need to take seriously the argument about the cost of this amendment.
Then we come to the ground on which the Minister based most of his case, the ground of principle. This ground disappears as soon as one contemplates the existence of the therapeutic earnings allowance. Either there is a principle that this is not paid to anybody who works at all, or there is not. By any dictionary definition of the word "principle", that argument falls straight away. Even if we accepted that there was a principle which the Minister was entitled to defend, I would say that I do not agree with a principle whereby a person who works at all loses the whole of the benefit.
The social effect of this situation, as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Price), can be very damaging indeed. I could hardly believe my ears when I thought I heard the Minister say that if the amendment were accepted, these rather theoretical costs that would arise would have no rehabilitative gain. I think I have got his words right—"no rehabilitative gain". One has only to talk to people in the Disablement Income Group or to read some of the things written by people concerned with these problems to know that their considered view is that this rule is actively preventing people from going back to work who would otherwise do so. It is causing them to become totally dependent and to make no real effort to get back into an ordinary working life. If we can do anything to mitigate that effect, it seems to me, contrary to what the Minister said, that there is a clear rehabilitative gain.
No doubt other hon. Members have also received comments from Mr. Peter Large, who has passed on a letter from Miss Diana Irish, the General Secretary of the Spinal Injuries Association. Mr. Large points out that a disabled man with a wife and two small children could be receiving an invalidity pension and 47 allowance totalling £30.70 a week—quite a substantial sum. If that man earns more than £7 a week he loses it all. To earn £8 a week he has to sacrifice £30.70.
Who in his right mind, when he becomes capable of earning £7 a week but not a great deal more, would bother to do so? The very altruistic might, and so might those who are very keen to get back to work. But if a person was only marginally interested or was in a "don't care" frame of mind, which is quite possible in these difficult circumstances, why should he bother to earn £12 or £15 a week if he will lose £30 a week? It is simple, straightforward madness that we should have a system that imposes this choice on him.
Diane Irish says in her letter that it is quite apparent that the current system,does take away from many disabled men and women any incentive to find any form of work".She particularly expresses her concern at the fact that younger disabled people, in their late teens for example, could quickly become accustomed to living on a fairly substantial sum of public money. There is little point in them making an effort to earn and to become independent because the system encourages them to turn in on themselves and not to seek ways of overcoming their difficulty and disability in order to play a part in society, as many, if they were given some slight encouragement, would wish to do.
These are important points that cannot be dismissed. One can see these situations occurring in families. They can sink into a closed, sheltered, cloistered life. There is no great purpose in trying to take part as much as possible in normal life because of these grave financial disincentives.
The Minister said the Government were looking for new initiatives to help the disabled, but he is now rejecting a new initiative. Why not accept it and see what he can do to make it work? I accept that this is a difficult problem, but if the Government accepted the amendment, they would not have to do anything. It would act as a prod and an embarrassment to them on the statute book and would be a constant reminder to get on with the initiatives the Minister was talking about as a matter of urgency. I can see every argument for the amendment 48 and I cannot see the harm which the Minister suggested it would cause. It would at least be a step in the direction of pressing the Minister and the Department to get on with the job of doing something about this difficult problem on which action is necessary.
§ Mr. Meacher
One of the factors in the debate has been that it would be perfectly harmless—this was referred to by the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton)—if the Government accepted the regulation-making powers in the amendment because they would not involve any immediate cost implications. To accept any Lords amendment purely because it was permissive when there was no intention by the Government to activate it, for the reasons of principle I have given, would be deceptive and very far from the honourable course. I dismiss the argument that we should accept the amendment because it has no immediate implications. We have to consider the issue of principle and whether it is appropriate that we should proceed in this way.
§ Mr. Norman Fowler
I assume the Minister would not disagree that every week his Department is passing structure legislation, which will not come into effect for some years. How does he distinguish between this legislation and the matter we are now discussing?
§ Mr. Meacher
Very simply. The structure legislation we pass is legislation with a structure that is appropriate, whereas this structure legislation, if it can be called that, is not appropriate for the reasons of principle I have already given.
I accept that there are issues about how we can provide further assistance, particularly for the long-term disabled, but this amendment is concerned with whether they should receive an invalidity pension on top of their earnings. An invalidity pension is given because a person is incapable of working, and it would be inappropriate for it to be added on top of earnings.
The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) put two arguments to which I should reply. He said that if we accepted the amendment it would help the person who was slowly working his way back and that it was not possible to move quickly from long-term sickness to 49 full employment. I accept that there is a period in which a person might be moving from one state to another, but the logic of the hon. Member's argument would presumably mean that if an able-bodied man was off work sick and gradually recovering, he would be entitled to some sickness benefit while performing certain light work before taking up his normal work again. That is a reductio ad absurdum, but we do not provide any such transitional benefit and it would be inappropriate to extend that concept into long-term benefits. They are basically the same kind of benefit.
The hon. Member's other argument concerned a person who might, for example, be suffering from disseminated sclerosis and might be able to retire from work more gradually. I accept that there is an issue here, and it is a matter on which such a person needs to be assisted. But if we accept the amendment, the hon. Gentleman has not answered the problem that it could apply to very many more people than those he is rightly trying to help. It would, for example, lead to pressure, which would be very difficult to resist, in the case of those people in full-time sheltered employment who are capable of only light work, but who in no sense could be construed as being in the same category as the long-term disabled. It would be very difficult to exclude them.
I have made clear that the Government intend to do more. The hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield made fun of my remarks, suggesting that they did not sound as if we were going to do anything, but that is a little rum coming from him. His party is pursuing an economic policy whose object, as far as we can see, is to cut public expenditure very much more than even this Government are considering. It ill becomes him to suggest that we are not considering ways, within very tight financial constraints, of moving forward. I did not want to mention this, but the hon. Gentleman tempted me. Since we came to office we have spent an extra £1,000 million in real benefits. It is unfair to say that we are not looking for ways in which we can assist these people within our very tight financial constraints.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Meacher
Yes. I mentioned three initiatives which we were prepared to consider. The first was whether the therapeutic earnings limit, which was raised as recently as April from £4.50 to £7, should be further increased. I am not making a commitment; I am merely saying that my right hon. Friend will consider this as a priority. However, I believe that this is an important area in which we can perhaps increasingly help the long-term disabled.
One of the difficulties with the therapeutic earnings limit is that there is a straight cut-off; there is no taper. It is appropriate to consider without commitment whether there should be a taper. There are difficulties about administrative rules because some people are always on the wrong side of them. It would be proper to consider whether there should be a phased decrease in the benefit.
§ Mr. David Price
The disabled do not fall into clear categories and, therefore, we can all agree on the principle of a taper. We have it in the earnings rule for the old. Why not have it for the disabled?
§ Mr. Meacher
I am trying to make it clear, although plainly I am having difficulty in doing so, that there is an in-between state. Some people clearly are much less disabled than others and they may be capable of light work. I accept that such people need to be assisted. Invalidity benefit is conceptually not the most appropriate benefit with which to operate. I am saying no more than that. However, I have to rely on the belief of hon. Members opposite in my sincerity when I say that we shall consider other means of positively meeting the point.
The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Price) spoke in terms of social integration. That is a principle which we and the Opposition entirely support. We want to bring the disabled much more closely into the mainstream of society. But turning invalidity benefit upside down is not the way to integrate the disabled into society—by, for example, comparing people on that benefit with £35.50 a week after November with people in sheltered employment. That is not the proper way to proceed.
The hon. Gentleman indicated that he believed that what is in the amendment 51 is structurally correct. I have indicated that in our view it is not. It is far more appropriate to consider other ways of solving the problem, particularly that with regard to the therapeutic earnings limit. The hon. Gentleman challenged me on the figures. I am prepared to write to him if he is still mystified after hearing what I have to say.
There is a substantial number of disabled people who are capable of light work. They are in sheltered employment, or in open employment or, in some cases, are receiving the social security benefits which are paid to people who are unemployed. The number depends on the precision of the definition, but there are well over 13,000 disabled people in sheltered employment, 60,000 unemployed registered disabled people and ½ million to 1 million disabled people in open employment. I have therefore very modestly taken only those in sheltered employment and only a small proportion of those in open employment in suggesting that the number involved is 20,000. On the assumption that they were merely receiving a current single person's invalidity pension on top of earnings—and that is bound to be an underestimate in many cases- the cost of the amendment would be £12 million.
The hon. Member for Braintree and others who have pooh-poohed the public expenditure implications are quite wrong. Clearly there are public expenditure implications. They may not be overriding implications, but they cannot be ignored.
The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) referred to a saving of public expenditure. There may be savings in supplementary benefits in some cases, but there are many people in receipt of invalidity pension at a level which will not lead to savings in supplementary benefits. As against his contention, one has to take into account what I would
§ regard as the minimum implications of public expenditure which I have mentioned.
§ We are not unmindful of the needs of this group of people, but because invalidity benefit is not the most appropriate benefit by which to proceed, I hope that on consideration the Opposition will not press the amendment to a Division. The amendment would totally breach the principle of invalidity benefit whereby we would be forced, or the Opposition would be forced if they were to succeed us, to provide substantial sums of public expenditure for groups which are not the main object of the amendment but would be bound to be included in it.
§ That is not the best way for social policy to proceed. I hope that hon. Members opposite will accept my statement that we intend positively, and I hope soon, to come forward with further initiatives which will be relevant to the group of people we are discussing.
§ Mr. Norman Fowler
The more I listened to the argument of the Under-Secretary of State, the more I found it difficult to understand. He has said that the Government are considering raising the therapeutic allowance and that they are considering the introduction of a tapering arrangement. Therefore, I do not understand why he cannot accept the amendment. I am unconvinced by the hon. Gentleman's speech. It is significant that he has not been supported by one hon. Member. Not one voice, apart from his own, has been raised in favour of the case he has put forward. Therefore, we shall press the matter to a vote.
§ Question put, That this House doth disagree with the Lords in the said amendment:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 247, Noes 222.55
|Division No. 317.]||AYES||[4.38 p.m.|
|Allaun, Frank||Benn, Rt Hon Anthony Wedgwood||Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)|
|Anderson, Donald||Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)||Buchan, Norman|
|Archer, Peter||Bidwell, Sydney||Buchanan, Richard|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Bishop, E. S.||Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston N)||Blenkinsop, Arthur||Campbell, Ian|
|Atkinson, Norman||Booth, Albert||Canavan, Dennis|
|Bagier, Gordon A. T.||Boothroyd, Miss Betty||Cant, R. B.|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur||Carmichael, Neil|
|Barnett, Rt Hon Joel (Heywood)||Boyden, James (Bish Auck)||Cartwright, John|
|Bates, Alt||Bradley, Tom||Castle, Rt Hon Barbara|
|Clemitson, Ivor||Hunter, Adam||Prescott, John|
|Cocks, Michael (Bristol S)||Irvine, Rt Hon Sir A. (Edge Hill)||Price, C. (Lewisham W)|
|Cohen, Stanley||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Coleman, Donald||Jackson, Colin (Brighouse)||Radice, Giles|
|Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Concannon, J. D.||Janner, Greville||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Conlan, Bernard||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Roberts, Gwilym (Cannock)|
|Cook, Robin F. (Edin C)||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Robertson, John (Paisley)|
|Corbett, Robin||Johnson, James (Hull West)||Rodgers, George (Chorley)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Johnson, Walter (Derby S)||Rooker, J. W.|
|Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Roper, John|
|Crawshaw, Richard||Judd, Frank||Sandelson, Neville|
|Crosland, Rt Hon Anthony||Kaufman, Gerald||Selby, Harry|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Kelley, Richard||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)|
|Cunningham, Dr J. (Whiteh)||Kerr, Russell||Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-u-Lyne)|
|Dalyell, Tam||Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Davidson, Arthur||Lamborn, Harry||Short, Rt Hon E. (Newcastle C)|
|Davies, Bryan (Enfield N)||Lamond, James||Short, Mrs Renée (Wolv NE)|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Latham, Arthur (Paddington)||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Lee, John||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Deakins, Eric||Lestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)||Sillars, James|
|Dean, Joseph (Leeds West)||Lever, Rt Hon Harold||Silverman, Julius|
|Delargy, Hugh||Lewis, Arthur (Newham N)||Skinner, Dennis|
|Dell, Rt Hon Edmund||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Small, William|
|Dempsey, James||Lipton, Marcus||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)|
|Dormand, J. D.||Loyden, Eddie||Snape, Peter|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Luard, Evan||Spearing, Nigel|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Lyon, Alexander (York)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Dunn, James A.||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)||Stallard, A. W.|
|Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth||McCartney, Hugh||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)|
|Eadie, Alex||MacFarquhar, Roderick||Stoddart, David|
|Edge, Geoff||Mackenzie, Gregor||Stott, Roger|
|Edwards, Robert (Wolv SE)||Maclennan, Robert||Strang, Gavin|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)||Strauss, Rt Hon G. R.|
|English, Michael||Madden, Max||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley|
|Ennals, David||Magee, Bryan||Swain, Thomas|
|Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||Mahon Simon||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Bolton W)|
|Evans, Ioan (Aberdare)||Mallalieu J. P. W.||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Marks, Kenneth||Tinn, James|
|Ewing, Harry (Stirling)||Marquand David||Tomlinson, John|
|Faulds, Andrew||Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole)||Tomney, Frank|
|Fitch, Alan (Wigan)||Mason, Rt Hon Roy||Torney, Tom|
|Flannery, Martin||Maynard, Miss Joan||Tuck, Raphael|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Meacher, Michael||Urwin, T. W.|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael||Mellish, Rt Hon Robert||Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.|
|Forrester, John||Mendelson, John||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)|
|Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Mikardo, Ian||Walden, Brian (B'ham, L'dyw'd)|
|Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Millan, Bruce||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Garrett, John (Norwich S)||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|George, Bruce||Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N)||Ward, Michael|
|Gilbert, Dr John||Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, lichen)||Watkins, David|
|Ginsburg, David||Molloy, William||Watkinson, John|
|Gould, Bryan||Moonman, Eric||Weitzman, David|
|Gourlay, Harry||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Graham, Ted||Moyle, Roland||White, Frank R. (Bury)|
|Grant, George (Morpeth)||Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||White, James (Pollok)|
|Grocott, Bruce||Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife)||Newens Stanley||Whitlock, William|
|Hardy, Peter||Ogden, Eric||Willey, Rt Hon Frederick|
|Harper, Joseph||O'Halloran, Michael||Williams, Alan (Swansea W)|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||O'Malley, Rt Hon Brian||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornch'ch)|
|Hatton, Frank||Orbach, Maurice||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Hayman, Mrs Helene||Orme Rt Hon Stanley||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Ovenden, John||Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)|
|Heffer, Eric S.||Owen, Dr David||Wilson, William (Coventry SE)|
|Hooley, Frank||Padley, Walter||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Horam, John||Palmer, Arthur||Woodall, Alec|
|Howell, Dennis (B'ham, Sm H)||Park, George||Wrigglesworth, Ian|
|Hoyle, Doug (Nelson)||Parry, Robert||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Huckfield, Les||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Peart, Rt Hon Fred||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hughes, Mark (Durham)||Pendry, Tom||Mr. John Ellis and|
|Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)||Perry, Ernest||Mr. James Hamilton.|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)||Phipps, Dr Colin|
|Adley, Robert||Berry, Hon Anthony||Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Biffen, John||Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent)|
|Arnold, Tom||Biggs-Davison, John||Braine, Sir Bernard|
|Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne)||Blaker, Peter||Brittan, Leon|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Body, Richard||Brotherton, Michael|
|Banks, Robert||Boscawen, Hon Robert||Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)|
|Bell, Ronald||Bottomley, Peter||Buchanan-Smith, Alick|
|Buck, Antony||James, David||Rathbone, Tim|
|Budgen, Nick||Jenkin, Rt Hon P. (Wanst'd & W'df'd)||Rees, Peter (Dover & Deal)|
|Bulmer, Esmond||Jessel, Toby||Rees-Davies, W. R.|
|Carlisle, Mark||Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)||Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)|
|Carr, Rt Hon Robert||Johnston, Russell (Inverness)||Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)|
|Carson, John||Jones, Arthur (Daventry)||Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon|
|Chalker, Mrs Lynda||Jopling, Michael||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Channon, Paul||Kimball, Marcus||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||King, Evelyn (South Dorset)||Rifkind, Malcolm|
|Clark, William (Croydon S)||King, Tom (Bridgwater)||Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey|
|Cockcroft, John||Kirk, Peter||Roberts, Wyn (Conway)|
|Cooke, Robert (Bristol W)||Knight, Mrs Jill||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Cope, John||Knox, David||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Corrie, John||Lamont, Norman||Rost, Peter (SE Derbyshire)|
|Costain, A. P.||Lane, David||Royle, Sir Anthony|
|Critchley, Julian||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Sainsbury, Tim|
|Davies, Rt Hon J. (Knutsford)||Lawrence, Ivan||St. John-Stevas, Norman|
|Dean, Paul (N. Somerset)||Lawson, Nigel||Scott, Nicholas|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Lester, Jim (Beeston)||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)|
|Durant, Tony||Luce, Richard||Shelton, William (Streatham)|
|Dykes, Hugh||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Shepherd, Colin|
|Eden, Rt Hon Sir John||McCrindle, Robert||Silvester, Fred|
|Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Macfarlane, Neil||Sims, Roger|
|Eyre, Reginald||MacGregor, John||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Fairbairn, Nicholas||McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury)||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Fairgrieve, Russell||McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)||Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)|
|Finsberg, Geoffrey||Madel, David||Smith, Dudley (Warwick)|
|Fletcher, Alex (Edinburgh N)||Marten, Neil||Speed, Keith|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Mates, Michael||Spence, John|
|Fookes, Miss Janet||Mather, Carol||Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)|
|Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd)||Maude, Angus||Sproat, Iain|
|Fox, Marcus||Maudling, Rt Hon Reginald||Stainton, Keith|
|Fry, Peter||Mawby, Ray||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Gardiner, George (Reigate)||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin||Stanley, John|
|Gilmour, Rt Hon Ian (Chesham)||Mayhew, Patrick||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Gilmour, Sir John (East Fife)||Meyer, Sir Anthony||Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)|
|Godber, Rt Hon Joseph||Miller, Hal (Bromsgrove)||Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)|
|Goodhew, Victor||Mills peter||Stokes, John|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Miscampbell, Norman||Stradling Thomas, J.|
|Gorst, John||Mitchell David (Basingstoke)||Taylor, R. (Croydon NW)|
|Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Moate Roger||Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)|
|Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Monro, Hector||Tebbit, Norman|
|Grant, Anthony (Harrow C)||Montgomery, Fergus||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Gray, Hamish||Moore, John (Croydon C)||Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret|
|Grist, Ian||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)||Thomas, Rt Hon p. (Hendon S)|
|Grylls, Michael||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Hall, Sir John||Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester)||Townsend, Cyril D.|
|Hall-Davis, A. G. F.||Mudd, David||Tugendhat, Christopher|
|Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Neave, Airey||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Nelson, Anthony||Viggers, Peter|
|Hannam, John||Neubert, Michael||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye)||Newton, Tony||Wakeham, John|
|Hastings, Stephen||Normanton, Tom||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek|
|Havers, Sir Michael||Nott, John||Wall, Patrick|
|Hawkins, Paul||Oppenheim, Mrs Sally||Warren, Kenneth|
|Hayhoe, Barney||Page, John (Harrow West)||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Heseltine, Michael||Page, Rt Hon P. Graham (Crosby)||Wells, John|
|Holland, Philip||Paisley, Rev Ian||Welsh, Andrew|
|Hordern, Peter||Parkinson, Cecil||Whitelaw, Rt Hon William|
|Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey||Pattie, Geoffrey||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Howell, David (Guildford)||Penhaligon, David||Winterton, Nicholas|
|Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)||Percival, Ian||Wood, Rt Hon Richard|
|Hunt, John||Peyton, Rt Hon John||Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)|
|Hurd, Douglas||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark||Price, David (Eastleigh)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Prior, Rt Hon James||Mr. Michael Roberts and|
|Irving, Charles (Cheltenham)||Pym, Rt Hon Francis||Mr. W. Benyon.|
§ Question accordingly agreed to.