HC Deb 02 May 1984 vol 59 cc461-75 'The following amendments are hereby made to section 36 of the Social Security Act 1975
  1. (a) In subsection (2) the words "and a woman" to "normal household duties" are repealed.
  2. (b) In subsection (7), the words "as incapable of performing normal household duties" are repealed'.'.—[Mr. Alfred Morris.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)

With this we may take the following amendments: No. 21, in page 12,line 3, leave out clause 6.

No. 22, in clause 6, page 12, line 6, leave out from 'person' to end of line 14 on page 14 and insert

'shall be entitled to a non-contributory invalidity pension for any day on which he is incapable of work, if he has been so incapable for a period of not less than 196 consecutive days ending immediately before that day.

(2) A person shall not be entitled to such a pension if he is under the age of 16 or receiving full-time education.

(3) A person shall not be entitled to such a pension unless he satisfies prescribed conditions as to residence or presence in Great Britain, provided that the prescribed period of residence or presence shall not be greater than 26 weeks.

(4) Subject to subsection (5) below, a person who has attained pensionable age shall not be entitled to a pension under this section unless he was so entitled (or is treated by regulations as having been so entitled) immediately before attaining that age.

(5) Regulations may make provision whereby a person who has attained retireing age (meaning 70 in the case of a man and 65 in the case of a woman) and was entitled to a pension under this section immediately before attaining that age continues to be so entitled notwithstanding that he is not incapable of work or no longer satisfies the requirements of subsection (1) above as to the period for which a person must have been incapable of work.

(6) Regulations may make provision whereby, in the case of a person who has previously been entitled to a pension under this section, the requirements of subsection (1) above as to the period for which a person must have been incapable of work may be satisfied by reference to a period not ending immediately before the day there mentioned, or not consisting of consecutive days.

(7) Regulations may prescribe the circumstances in which a person is or is not to be treated for the purposes of this section as incapable of work, or is receiving full-time education.

(8) A pension under this section shall be payable at the weekly rate specified in relation thereto in Schedule 4, Part III, paragraph 2.

(9) Regulations may provide for disqualifying a person for receiving non-contributory invalidity pension for such period not exceeding six weeks as may be determined in accordance with sections 97 to 104 of this Act if—

  1. (a) he has become incapable of work through his own misconduct; or
  2. (b) he fails without good cause to attend for, or to submit himself to, such medical or other examination or treatment as may be required in accordance with the regulations, or to observe any prescribed rules of behaviour.'.
No. 108, in schedule 7, page 49, line 32, column 3, at end add —

'In section 36(2) the words "and a woman" to "normal household duties". In section 36(7) the words "as incapable of performing normal household duties".'.

Mr. Morris

The new clause and the amendments may seem to go for overkill in that there is some duplication in what we propose. At the same time, they go wider than the debate on the proposed severe disablement allowance. Indeed, one of them deals — the matter is not unimportant — with the residential qualification for payment of the non-contributory invalidity pension.

However, the Minister is aware of the problems of Opposition spokespersons in seeking to make sure, before anything can be known of the selection of amendments, that issues of importance to the people for whom they speak are dealt with as fully as possible.

In the interests of clarity, I must briefly give the House our view of clause 6. Like all the main organisations of disabled people, we are strongly against the proposed severe disablement allowance. By our new clause and the amendments, we seek to give effect to our pledge in the 1983 general election to end the household duties test and to pay the non-contributory invalidity pension to disabled married women on the single test of incapacity for work.

It is often said that Labour suffered at the general election last June because of the extent of its commitments to new and very much higher public expenditure, not least our pledges to introduce a new and comprehensive income scheme for disabled people, to make mobility allowance more widely available, and to end the household duties test. The electorate was repeatedly told by the Prime Minister that, if we were elected, public spending would go through the roof. Now it is said by her underlings at the DHSS, in an effort to divert attention from their punitive cuts in spending, that our commitments would not have been kept.

In fact, our commitments to disabled people were honestly made and, as can be seen in the record of the last Labour Government when spending on cash benefits for disabled people was increased by £1,100 million, they would have been fully honoured. We introduced four new cash benefits for disabled people and their families which, including the housewives non-contributory invalidity pension, were widely welcomed at their inception, because they were about giving help for the first time ever to large numbers of disabled people.

They involved the Labour Government in much higher spending in this area than had been attempted by any previous Government. Moreover, we freely consulted with disabled people and their organisations about all our new benefits, and in particular about the scope and purpose of HNCIP. That cannot be said of the proposal for a severe disablement allowance in clause 6. Indeed, the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation said that it was "astounded" to learn of the Government's proposal and added:

The rush straight into legislation indicates that the Government want as little light as possible to be shed on their sleight of hand". That was a serious charge against a Government, who promised again and again that there would be full consultation with the disabled and their organisations about the outcome of the review of the househould duties test. Ministers now talk as if they make the case for the proposed severe disablement allowance simply by criticising the household duties test, but to criticise that test is not to justify the severe disablement allowance. There are some stern critics of the household duties test who would much prefer that test to continue than to see the proposed severe disablement allowance introduced. What they seek, as the Labour party did at the general election and as the Opposition seek now in the new clause and amendments, is to end the household duties test by making incapacity for work the only test for payment of the non-contributory invalidity pension.

In a message that I have had from the Disablement Income Group, whose knowledge and opinions are deeply respected on both sides of the House, it is put to me that rather than support clause 6

it would probably be better to retain the existing test. The Spastics Society sees the Government's proposal as one that will now discriminate between different groups of people on grounds of percentage loss of faculty, age at start of claim, 'deserving' and 'undeserving' disabilities and, certainly still, against married women. The Disability Alliance, speaking for more than 80 organisations, of and for disabled people, has described it as a mean and shabby measure". It regards the new all-or-nothing 80 per cent. test of disability as harsh and inhuman". The legal and parliamentary committee of the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation is wholly convinced that if introduced the new benefit will prove a disaster". They are just some of the angry comments made to me about clause 6, the opposition to which is both fierce and widespread. In fact, I know of no authentic spokesperson for the disabled who has welcomed what the Minister is proposing. If the Minister can quote just one representative of the disabled who supports the clause, no doubt he will say so in his reply.

Mr. Robert N. Wareing (Liverpool, West Derby)

Will my right hon. Friend suggest that the Minister should give a firm reply to the question that my right hon. Friend asked on 18 January about the publicity that would be given about those who should be claiming NCIP and HNCIP? On that occasion the Minister promised that he would write individually to all those on supplementary benefit who had an underlying title to HNCIP and NCIP. I suggest that my right hon. Friend deserves an answer to the question "How many individuals has the Minister written to, what has been the response and how did the Minister decide how many people to write to?"

Mr. Morris

My hon. Friend raises an important point. I hope that the Minister will say when he comes to reply just what has taken place since 18 January further to the parliamentary reply that he gave me on that date.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State made great play on Second Reading with the preserved rights of women who, while now qualifying for HNCIP, will not qualify for the severe disablement allowance on the test proposed in the Bill. On the Government's own admission, there are 16,000 disabled married women who have qualified and are receiving HNCIP who do not qualify for the severe disablement allowance and who will receive it only as a preserved right. That means that before long there will be disabled married women in every locality whose circumstances are identical, some receiving the new benefit and others not. Yet this is a Government who promised a coherent system of cash benefits for the disabled. I shall quote the exact words of a reply from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary on 24 November 1983. He said:

Our long-term aim is to work towards a more coherent system of cash benefits for the disabled.—[Official Report, 24 November 1983; Vol. 49, c. 286.] The proposal in clause 6, the fine print of which very few people as yet understand, runs wholly counter to that commitment.

It is easy now to forget that 10 years ago many people believed that a household duties test was fairer to married women who had never worked than was the straight test of incapacity for work. As the Under-Secretary will recall, there was no challenge in the House to the original regulations for HNCIP—they were never even debated. To his credit the hon. Gentleman was then, as he had been for years past, an active member of the all-party disablement group in the House, with whom—as he knows—I consulted closely about the introduction of HNCIP.

The household duties test was an incapacity test for an incapacity benefit. As we shall seek to show on a later amendment, a percentage disability test is wholly irrelevant to an incapacity benefit. If people are incapable of earning an income, they deserve invalidity benefit. 'To categorise them according to disability is no more logical than to deprive people of benefit because of the colour of their hair.

Ministers have been chucking figures at right hon. and hon. Members in Committee and in parliamentary replies that beg more questions than they answer. On their own admission, their figures are largely guesswork—many of them do not appear to be even good guesswork. At present 50,000 people receive HNCIP and 240,000 married women are incapable of work and would gain immediate benefit from the abolition of the household duties test. The gross cost of abolishing the household duties test is thus in the region of £255 million, although Ministers somehow make it £275 million.

In one of his wilder guesstimates on 15 February, the Minister of State said that savings on supplementary benefit would be only £15 million, on housing benefit £3 million and that on family income supplement they would be negligible. In a subsequent letter to me, the Minister stated that his estimates were based on the assumption that a similar proportion of the married couples affected would be receiving each of the three benefits as is the case for married couples of working age population. Only 6 per cent. of married couples of working age are on supplementary benefit and 8 per cent. on standard housing benefit. Those are the figures he applies to the 240,000 families that include a married woman who is incapable of work. If the Minister had bothered to look at a reply his ministerial colleague gave me two days earlier, he would have seen that 10 per cent. of women now receiving HNCIP are in households in receipt of supplementary benefit. He was, therefore, 4 per cent. out in one assumption alone.

As we all know, most families now look to two incomes for as long as possible and many, unfortunately, are dependent on only the wife's income. All those families should, of course, be excluded from comparison when considering the supplementary benefit entitlement of a family where, by definition, the wife is incapable of work. The husband of a disabled woman is also likely to have such restrictions on his income as inability to work overtime because of his family commitments. The Minister should go back to his statisticians and ask them to try again.

There has been confusion also about the Government's estimates for losers and gainers. The SDA quite clearly discriminates against some disabled people who are not married women. Yet the Government have absolutely no information about those who, from November this year, they propose to deprive of entitlement to benefit. We shall be returning to this on a later amendment. Meanwhile, I hope that it will be agreed on both sides of the House that the current lack of information on so sensitive an issue is disgraceful.

11.45 pm

As I said, there are 50,000 current beneficiaries of HNCIP, all of whom will have a preserved right to the severe disablement allowance. Of that total, 16,000 would not be able to pass the 80 per cent. disability test; but we are informed that a further 20,000 to 21,000—the figure changes from time to time—will pass the 80 per cent. test. This accounts for what we are told will be an initial increase in expenditure of about £20 million. We are told, further, that in each subsequent year, 4,500 married women will qualify for SDA, whereas only 4,000 would have qualified for HNCIP.

It is this assumed increase of 500 beneficiaries a year which leads the Government to claim that SDA is a marginal improvement. What the Government have failed to make clear, among other gaps in our information, is the way in which it has been arbitrarily decided to shift benefit from one group of people to another. From the figures quoted, I calculate that out of every 400 married women incapable of work, 300 would pass neither test, that only 47 would pass both tests, that 22 would pass the household duties test but fail the 80 per cent. test and that 31 would pass the 80 per cent. test but not the household duties test.

The assumed increase of 500 successful applicants a year conceals, therefore, 1,280 married women who will be deprived each year of a cash benefit to which they would have been entitled under the present law. Moreover, they are people who are incapable both of work and of looking after their homes and families.

Ministers' statistics about clause 6 of the Bill have been aptly described as round figures from square holes. To end my review of them on a lighter note, it appears that the Government expect wedding bells to be ringing all over the country following the introduction of the severe disablement allowance. Comparing figures in two replies, it appears that each year some 500 married women under the age of 20 will receive SDA, whereas none is currently receiving HNCIP. This is said to reflect the fact, according to the Minister, that for the married woman incapacitated before age 20 the conditions for SDA will be easier to satisfy than those for NCIP". Strictly on the figures that the Minister has given, all the extra 500 successful claimants will be under 20, which is palpably absurd and makes his basic assumption seem ludicrous.

To sum up, the Government have created a test that is less justifiable than the one that it is to replace. It will, as the Spastics Society says, discriminate against married women. At the same time, we are told nothing about the people who will be deprived of entitlement to benefit.

Oscar Wilde, returning from the first night of one of his plays, said that the play was a great success but that the audience was a failure. That seems to be the Government's attitude to clause 6; they see their proposal as a great success and its legion of critics, including all the major organisations of and for disabled people, as failures. I hope that the House will reject that view by supporting our new clause and amendments.

Mr. Wareing

There are a number of unanswered questions from the Committee stage. There was a strong feeling among the protectors of the mentally handicapped, for example, in the Spastics Society, that those people who are cerebrally palsied would fail to receive real benefit from the Bill. At the time the Minister attempted to reassure hon. Members by saying that cerebral palsy was a congenital disease and that, therefore, anyone so afflicted would receive benefit well before the age of 20.

In a recent document the Spastics Society has pointed out that a cerebrally palsied person is not necessarily incapable of work, that some such people have been employed before the age of 20 and that it is after that, when they are in the older age groups, that unemployment hits many of them and the real problem arises. The Minister must address himself to that problem.

Mr. Newton

The hon. Gentleman has just said that it is at a later age that unemployment hits. If the person is unemployed, none of this applies. It is an incapacity for work benefit and not unemployment benefit. Does he mean that they are capable of work at the earlier age and then become incapable of work?

Mr. Wareing

Indeed; that is the point I was attempting to make. There was an implicit assumption by the Minister in Committee that cerebrally palsied people are ipso facto incapable of work. I am arguing that that is not always the case and that some of them have been employed and have become unemployed later as a result of their incapacity.

People with no record or an inadequate record of contributions to qualify for invalidity pension are overwhelmingly women. Married women will suffer more than any other group on the introduction of the severe disablement allowance. I am not sure that the SDA is not in conflict with a recent European directive in relation to sex discrimination.

I am also dissatisfied with the 80 per cent. disablement condition. In Committee the Under-Secretary of State suggested that there would be a rounding-up and that to qualify for SDA the percentage of 76 would be rounded up to 80. I have not yet had a satisfactory answer to the point I made in Committee about people in receipt of benefit under the industrial injuries legislation. In the period October 1980 to September 1981, of 6,020 persons who were in receipt of benefit under the industrial injuries provisions, only 210 were designated as 80 per cent., 90 per cent. or 100 per cent. disabled. In other words, only 3 per cent. of the people who claimed that benefit would have qualified for benefit had there been a cut-off point of 80 per cent.

I should like to be assured that more than 3 per cent. of disabled people are likely to benefit from the introduction of this arbitrary cut-off point.

We are all pleased that Ministers propose to abolish the household duties test. I am sure that the Parliamentary Under-Secretary will repeat the arguments used in Committee, that there is a financial reason for the severe disablement allowance test. He admitted that it is an attempt to limit the cost of the benefit. He said that that also applied to the household duties test, but he criticised members of the last Labour Government for failing to abolish the household duties test.

I am not one to make excuses for everything that the last Labour Government did. I believe that the household duties test involves a high degree of sex discrimination. The Minister will argue that the financial constraints on the Labour Government were exactly the same as those on the present Conservative Government, but I believe that there is a great difference between 1975 and today.

In 1975 wide consultation took place. All the organisations concerned had the opportunity to express their views on the proposed legislation. Opposition Members—for example, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker)—were able to express their views.

The culmination of a campaign which began in 1967 when the Disablement Income Group was founded by Megan de Boisson was when the Government introduced a disablement income, especially for housewives, or married women.

In Committee on 23 February 1984, the Minister said that nobody opposed the household duties test because at least it was a move from housewives not receiving the allowance. In 1975 that was a progressive move in the right direction. It was supported by every organisation connected with disabled people. Not even the then Opposition were prepared to oppose it. I challenge the Minister to name one organisation that favours the current proposal.

The Government have promised consultation on at least two occasions. On 13 July 1982 the hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Sir H. Rossi), then a Minister, promised a review of the household duties test and said that the Government would organise consultations. A year earlier, the hon. Member for Wallasey said that any proposals would be put to a vote in the House if the House so desired. This is yet another example of the Government breaking their promise to the disabled. Indeed, disabled people had great hopes of the present Under-Secretary of State because he was regarded, in Opposition, as a liberal and, dare I say it, wet member of the Conservative party. Had he had his way, even Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean would have qualified for mobility allowances, but he seems to have changed his colours, since he owes his position to the most Scrooge-like Prime Minister that the country has had the misfortune to be governed by since the end of the second world war.

12 midnight

The reason for the SDA is not that it should help the disabled but that it should assist the Chancellor of the Exchequer in pursuing his stringent monetarist policies. The third difference between 1975 and now is that in 1975 the Labour Government were increasing cash benefits from £474 million when they took office in 1974 to £1,584 million when they left office in 1979. During that period expenditure on services to the disabled trebled. To use the words of the Prime Minister at Question Time last week, "Match that!"

We should also remember the oil price crisis of 1975. It could be said—I would not say legitimately, but with stronger force than we have heard today — that the Labour Government had to watch expenditure carefully because of that crisis and the inflation which hit all the developed industrial nations. But it is different today because of the North sea oil bonanza. That was before we had a Tory Government, whose first act was to abandon exchange controls and ensure that £10 billion of Britain's wealth, produced by British people, poured out into cheap labour markets all over the world. It was before we were committed to spending £17 billion a year to keep 3.5 million of our fellow citizens unemployed.

There is no reason why, at a time when £57 million can be spent on a few households in the Falkland Islands, £255 million — or, if the Government's figures are right, which they are usually not, £275 rnillion—could not be found to meet the cost of abandoning the household duties test. The time is right. The Government can afford it, and it would be a great benefit to thousands of disabled people. The disabled have nothing for which to thank the Government, because the Minister persists in pursuing a policy of placating the Prime Minister rather than acting as he should and defending the rights of the disabled. I have no great hope of this happening, but I trust that the Minister will reconsider clause 6 and see his way clear to accepting at least some of the Opposition amendments.

Mr. Kirkwood

It is our view that the Government have missed another marvellous opportunity to move towards a comprehensive benefit system for disabled people. The changes the Government have introduced will result in an even more complicated benefit system. It is not a comprehensive scheme. That can be seen clearly from the representations made by organisations such as the Spastics Society which argues clearly, and it has convinced me, that the new system will not take proper account of people with diseases such as cerebral palsy. The use of the industrial injury scale and the loss of faculty test will discriminate against them. The society convinced me that by using the test which was set up for industrial injuries, and which has served reasonably well in the past, it is possible to have a 100 per cent. disability and yet still be capable of work while with some diseases it is possible to have a 60 per cent. incapacity and be completely incapable of work.

Another criticism that I would make is about the level of the age cut-off—the incapacity commencing before the age of 20. I should like the Government to consider extending the age limit to 25. If I remember correctly, in Committee the Minister said that that would cost £10 million. That is a large sum of money but it is a small price to pay when one realises that the YTS limits have been extended to the age of 21 and can last for 18 months. It would be a worthwhile change.

The 80 per cent. test is a harsh way to implement the system. It is clear from the way that the Government have introduced it that it is a simple way of limiting the cost. I do not deride that justification, but the 80 per cent. level is high and, as we heard earlier, will leave out some of the people who at present are within the scope of the benefit.

The elements of discrimination contained in the proposals we are discussing worry me most. EEC directive 7/79 article 4.1 on equal treatment makes it clear that the principles set out by the European Commission about the scope of the schemes and the conditions of access are breached by the proposals. I understand the difficulties that the usual channels have when time-tabling these debates, but it is difficult when subjects such as this come on in the middle of the night. I feel constrained by time when discussing these important and urgent proposals. The proposals will be too complicated to understand and I hope the Government will consider seriously the comments that have been made by the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) and others. I hope that the Minister will study the operation of the scheme and be prepared to return and change it if we can show him that some of the fears we raised in Committee and this evening are proven.

Mr. Wigley

Although the Under-Secretary has been asked numerous questions in Committee about the way in which parts of this section of the Bill will work, more questions remain than have been answered. The scheme will be difficult to operate because of the cut offs. There is a problem wherever the line is drawn. Someone with a 79 per cent. incapacity falls below the line and someone with 81 per cent. is above it.

I have seen many examples in industry of people suffering from pneumoconiosis. There is great difficulty in defining the percentage of disability. Time after time one hears someone complain that he feels hard done by because John Jones over there is defined as 100 per cent. disabled, but is walking around and doing a job, while that person is only 20 per cent. disabled, yet is incapable of doing a job. Many people are I know perhaps only 20 per cent. incapacitated according to the industrial definition, but are incapable of holding down a job by the nature of their incapacity. Others are 100 per cent. disabled, but can do jobs.

Only this week a well-known policeman in my town of Caernarfon, Arthur Rowlands — blinded by shotgun wounds 20 or 30 years ago—retired. Although he lost his sight in that accident, he held down his job on the switchboard in the local police station very well.

Such cases make it very difficult to implement the measure. There will be a feeling that people are being cut out on an arbitrary basis. There are also difficulties in clause 6(5), which refers to loss of physical and mental faculties. I am glad that mental disability is included, but there will be difficulties in making the 80 per cent. assessment. With regard to the age cut-off at the lower end, a contemporary of mine who suffered a chemical change in the brain when he was about 20 would have been cut out by these rules, when he should have been included in the scope of the Bill.

I am not deriding the half step that has been taken, although I believe that the situation of women is still unsatisfactory. Implicit discrimination is still there. The only way to overcome that is by a comprehensive scheme. I realise what the cost would be and that it is an ambitious thing to do, but sometime we must grasp the nettle. If we do not, when we have the benefit from North sea oil and so on, when will we ever be able to do so? The Government must seriously consider that, simplify the structure and get universal benefit for disabled people, with the implicit cost of that, which should be grasped. It should be a step forward towards a fairer society for the handicapped.

Mr. Newton

I hope that the House will understand if I do not attempt to take up the comments that have been made to the extent of re-running a whole Second Reading speech in defence of the benefit. However, I shall try to pick up specific points as briefly and reasonably as possible.

No one listening to the debate in the past half hour would believe that the House is discussing a proposal to spend an additional £20 million to provide benefit for an additional 20,000 people in the short term, mainly married women excluded by the household duties test —although, as I have made clear to the House on several occasions, that number will fall to a lower net figure over quite a long period ahead.

I note what was said about consultation. I can only repeat what I said in Committee, that once we received the report of the official study of the household duties test, if we had delayed for a lengthy, formal, conventional consultation process, we would not have been able to bring the proposal before the House for at least a year, possibly longer, for an additional £20 million to an additional 20,000 people. It might have been longer because I cannot guarantee that there will be a social security Bill next year.

The process of discussion of the Bill in Committee and the representations made by outside organisations have been helpful to us. I naturally regret that it was not possible to have amore extended process, but I would still prefer to get my £20 million, Scrooge-like though I am accused of being, to the proposed beneficiaries as soon as possible.

I shall look carefully at what the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Moms) said about statistics. However, as I have made clear throughout the discussion, we accept that the statistical basis of the proposals is imperfect, as is the basis of almost all disability statistics. That is one reason why I was pleased that, in announcing a variety of social security reviews a few weeks ago, the Secretary of State also announced that we have decided to go ahead with the first full-scale survey of disabled people in this country for well over 15 years. It will be the first full-scale survey since the Amelia Harris survey, which itself was not comprehensive. For instance, it did not cover those in residential institutions. The survey will improve our information base.

12.15 am

Of course we accept that, in an uncertain world and on a difficult statistical base, there is the possibility of error. We shall carefully monitor the early stages of the benefit, with a view to reconsidering our position—I can make no grander promise than that—if we have made any significant mistakes.

I do not want to say too much about the household duties test. I should, however, like to apologise to the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe for having said something ungenerous about him in this context during Question Time some six or eight weeks ago. I accept that he acted in good faith and on extensive consultation. However, if the household duties test was the result of extensive consultation, the general view of it suggests that it is not the world's greatest advertisement for consultation. Every single criticism of severe disablement allowance that has been made tonight could be made even more severely of the existing benefit and the position within it of the household duties test.

I understand the frustration arising from the fact that the Government have not been able to produce a proposal to spend nearly £300 million simply to abolish the household duties test. People will have their own views about whether we should or should not have done so. In our judgment, we could not do so at the present time. Once it has been accepted that we did not feel able to find that amount of money for that purpose at this time, Opposition Members are underestimating the extent to which what we have suggested represents a potential improvement in the benefit system and a step in the direction in which we all want to move.

An element of discrimination—if one wishes to use that word — remains, but we are replacing naked discrimination against married women on the grounds of their sex and marital status by a much more rational allocation of scarce resources first to those who are congenitally handicapped or become disabled very early in life and never have an opportunity to build up a contribution record and qualify for contributory benefits, and distribution of the remaining resources on the grounds of the severity of the disability rather than according to whether the potential beneficiary happens to be a married woman. That is a step forward for rationality. At this moment, 750 women lose non-contributory invalidity pension every year simply by getting married. No one could say that that is a sensible and rational state of affairs.

I take up a point made by the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) and some of the comments of the right hon. Gentleman and others. In the longer run, it is crystal clear to me that any progress towards a comprehensive disability benefit system—whether in the form of a general disablement income, a disablement costs allowance or some combination of the two—will depend on the development of some viable system of measuring percentage degrees of disability.

I do not say that in no conceivable world could there be a better basis on which to start than our experience in industrial injuries and war pensions. I say only that no one has yet had any better ideas. Even Peter Large of the Disablement Income Group, in a document that I quoted in Committee, appeared to accept that, so far as he can judge at present, the industrial injuries approach would be a necessary starting point.

I remind the House that the Social Security Advisory Committee in its letter to me dated 16 February said of our proposals:

We are aware that there has been long experience of the use of this test for industrial injuries and war pensions purposes, and if"— I acknowledge the "if'— it can successfully be applied to the kind of civilian disablement most likely to be encountered in NCIP/HNCIP, we would regard SDA and the loss of faculty test as a potentially important building block in the development of a comprehensive benefit system. That is a reasonable view and, based on that and what has been said by other organisations, it is reasonable for me to claim that, far from being a retrograde step, this is an important partial step in our general longer-term policy of seeking to bring greater coherence to this area, which I do not believe is possible without effective percentage measurement.

The hon. Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) referred to views that he had received from the Spastics Society. My only comment is that anyone incapable of work because of cerebral palsy or indeed any other affliction before the age of 20 is not involved in the 80 per cent. test. Such a person simply has to be incapable of work to receive SDA. The hon. Gentleman asked about people who were not incapable of work by 20 but who actually worked then and became incapable of work later. If they were working, they would have been paying contributions and would normally be expected to qualify for contributory invalidity pension. This whole argument would thus pass them by, as it concerns non-contributory invalidity pension.

That might not be true in every case. There might be married women who had decided not to make contributions and deliberately opted out of the contributory benefit system. That is a decision that we have to accept. If there is any covert discrimination, as the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) suggested, it may be the fact that we still allow married women to opt out of paying full national insurance contributions. The Labour Government took the decision to maintain that right for those who already had it and in certain circumstances in the future. Having said that, however, I shall go no further down that track.

On the question that the hon. Member for West Derby raised about information, in the next few months local officers will be writing to some 75,000 people in receipt of supplementary benefit inviting them to claim noncontributory invalidity pension. The exercise has already started but so far I have no details of the response. The 75,000 involved are those drawing supplementary benefit on the basis of incapacity for work.

The hon. Member for Caernarfon will allow me to make a small factual correction. In the industrial injuries type of assessment, anything above 75 per cent. would be rounded up to 80 per cent., so his argument about the 79 per cent. was technically incorrect. The hon. Gentleman acknowledged that there were considerable borderline problems. There are difficulties in deciding whether a person is incapable of work, let alone the degree of disability involved.

If we allow ourselves to be defeated by those problems rather than trying to meet them, with regard to both physical and mental incapacity, we may as well give up altogether. We certainly should not have mobility allowance if anyone was bothered about borderline problems. The same applies to various other benefits. I am not a defeatist. I believe that we can develop the industrial injuries type of approach with the experience that we already have, and bringing in new experience to make this a useful step forward—not so big a step as I should like in an ideal world, but a worthwhile step, bringing £20 million more to 20,000 more people in the near future.

Mrs. Beckett

I shall try not to detain the House long. The Minister seemed a little hurt that people did not recognise his generosity—[Interruption.]I am sorry if the Minister is offended, but that is how it appeared to us. People are not applauding too loudly because, if the figures given by my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris) were correct, the Minister will not be giving away £20 million. Moreover, he is taking money away from those who currently have child dependency additions to long-term benefit. The Government are not, therefore, handing out any new money, but are taking it from those who are now dependent on invalidity benefits of one sort or another, and handing it to another group. They cannot expect much applause for that.

I suppose that the Minister appreciates the criticisms that have been made, but he has not met them. The basis of the criticisms is that the scheme is unjust and unworkable. It is unjust, because it has an arbitrary qualifying age. Later, there will be two tests. Clearly many people will fail them, and if they do so, they will lose all benefit, although I recognise that there is a borderline on either side of the 80 per cent. Almost all those with experience consider the scheme unworkable. I know that the Minister spoke optimistically of building on the industrial injuries experience. He referred, as others have to those with cerebral palsy. I am not sure, however, that he was correct in his comments. For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Mr. Wareing) pointed out that the Spastics Society had drawn attention to the fact that many of those with cerebral palsy become incapable of work later in life. The Minister said that if they had ever worked, they would have made contributions. But they may become incapable of work at a point at which their contributions no longer entitled them to benefits because of the period of time involved.

As the society has pointed out, those with that disability seem to suffer. It even goes so far as to say that it is very rare to find two sufferers with the same combination of handicap. So it is hard to see how on earth one is to build up a body of evidence in percentage terms. The principal of one of the further education colleges that has students with cerebral palsy has pointed out that about 90 per cent. of his students will not get jobs, and that fewer than 50 per cent. of them will qualify for SDA, because they will study beyond the age of 20, and will fail the other tests imposed.

The Minister referred in passing to mental health, but he did not really deal with it. Like other hon. Members, I have had some most disturbing correspondence from MIND. It makes several very alarming points. First, it points out that the age test at 20, the whole approach to the allowance, and even its name, constitute a significant disincentive to the mentally handicapped when it comes to making any attempt to take up work. Secondly, MIND points out that symptoms are often recurrent or varying and circumstances may change. Trying to meet the two tests under such circumstances would be a nightmare for anyone.

Rather than being discouraged by such things, some schizophrenics seem to suffer delusions of grandeur, by which I mean that they imagine themselves to be capable of doing all sorts of things, which, in reality they cannot do. Frequently, schizophrenics may decide that they are capable of work and may give up all their benfit rights. They may go out and try to find jobs which those concerned know that they will soon leave. Again, the thought of such people going to and fro is quite worrying.

Perhaps most of all, MIND is concerned about the loss of the therapeutic earnings concession. Unless it escaped me, there has been no reference to that in the debate. MIND points out that 96 per cent. of those who incur severe mental illness find that illness occurring after the age of 20. It stresses the enormous difficulties of assessing mental handicap in the way set out in the Bill and draws attention to other potential ways of assessing it under the Mental Health Acts. Will the Minister tell us whether the Government have considered or are prepared to consider some movement in that area? MIND says that 81,500 of the mentally ill are receiving non-contributory invalidity pension and is most concerned at what will happen to many of those people under the Bill's proposals.

12.30 am

On several occasions there has been reference in debates in Committee and outside to the fact that those who now enjoy NCIP will be able to carry it over and will continue to be entitled to the allowance in the future. But we should be aware as hon. Members and as a House, that it is not necessarily an entitlement in perpetuity; that the people who will carry over the entitlement when the Bill becomes law will, as in every other circumstance where benefit is involved, be subject to review, and that it may well be the case that some of those who are reviewed and get NCIP now will, when we come to review them in terms of SDA in the future, begin to lose benefit. That is perhaps another of the reasons why the organisations of the disabled are not as grateful to the Minister as he seems to think they should be.

We should now be making progress towards a more comparable side-by-side contributory and noncontributory benefit, and towards a system that can be built on in the future. Unfortunately, along with almost all the organisations of the disabled, we do not see the proposals as such a system, therefore we shall be voting for the new clause and against the proposals.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 32, Noes 129.

Division No. 274] [12.28 am
Beckett, Mrs Margaret Marek, Dr John
Bermingham, Gerald Meacher, Michael
Bruce, Malcolm Meadowcroft, Michael
Campbell-Savours, Dale Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Carlile, Alexander (Montg'y) Nellist, David
Cocks, Rt Hon M. (Bristol S.) Penhaligon, David
Corbyn, Jeremy Pike, Peter
Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'ge H'l) Skinner, Dennis
Dobson, Frank Steel, Rt Hon David
Dubs, Alfred Wallace, James
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Wareing, Robert
Fisher, Mark Wigley, Dafydd
Freud, Clement Williams, Rt Hon A.
Harman, Ms Harriet Winnick, David
Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Kennedy, Charles Tellers for the Ayes:
Kirkwood, Archibald Mr. Norman Hogg and
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Mr. Frank Haynes.
Alexander, Richard Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Mayhew, Sir Patrick
Amess, David Meyer, Sir Anthony
Ancram, Michael Miller, Hal (B'grove)
Ashby, David Mills, lain (Meriden)
Aspinwall, Jack Mitchell, David (NW Hants)
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Moynihan, Hon C.
Batiste, Spencer Murphy, Christopher
Bellingham, Henry Newton, Tony
Bendell, Vivian Nicholls, Patrick
Benyon, William Norris, Steven
Biffen, Rt Hon John Onslow, Cranley
Boscawen, Hon Robert Osborn, Sir John
Boyson, Dr Rhodes Ottaway, Richard
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Page, Richard (Herts SW)
Bright, Graham Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Brinton, Tim Powell, William (Corby)
Brooke, Hon Peter Powley, John
Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thpes) Proctor, K. Harvey
Burt, Alistair Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Butterfill, John Robinson, Mark (N'port W)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Rowe, Andrew
Chapman, Sydney Sackville, Hon Thomas
Chope, Christopher Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Shelton, William (Streatham)
Colvin, Michael Sims, Roger
Conway, Derek Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Coombs, Simon Soames, Hon Nicholas
Cope, John Speed, Keith
Couchman, James Speller, Tony
Cranborne, Viscount Spencer, Derek
Currie, Mrs Edwina Squire, Robin
Dorrell, Stephen Stanbrook, Ivor
Dover, Den Stern, Michael
Dunn, Robert Stevens, Lewis (Nuneaton)
Evennett, David Stevens, Martin (Fulham)
Fallon, Michael Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Forth, Eric Stradling Thomas, J.
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Gale, Roger Thompson, Donald (Calder V)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Thompson, Patrick (N'ich N)
Goodhart, Sir Philip Thorne, Neil (llford S)
Goodlad, Alastair Thurnham, Peter
Grant, Sir Anthony Tracey, Richard
Gummer, John Selwyn Twinn, Dr Ian
Hayhoe, Barney van Straubenzee, Sir W.
Hickmet, Richard Viggers, Peter
Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm) Waddington,Dacid
Holt, Richard Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Howarth, Gerald (Cannock) Walden, George
Jackson, Robert Waller, Gary
Knight, Mrs Jill (Edgbaston) Wardle, C. (Bexhill)
Lester, Jim Wheeler, John
Lilley, Peter Whitfield, John
Lloyd, Ian (Havant) Wilkinson, John
Lloyd, Peter, (Fareham) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Lord, Michael Winterton, Nicholas
Lyell, Nicholas Wolfson, Mark
Macfarlane, Neil Wood, Timothy
MacGregor, John Woodcock, Michael
Maclean, David John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Major, John
Malins, Humfrey Tellers for the Noes:
Mates,Micheal Mr. Micheal Neubert and
Mather, Carol Mr.Archie Hamilton.
Maude, Hon Francis

Question accordingly negatived.

Forward to