HL Deb 30 June 1937 vol 105 cc900-9

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Viscount Gage.)

On Question, Bill read 3a.

Clause 1:

General provisions as to persons entitled to become special voluntary contributors.

1.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this Act, a person, not being a person mentioned in the First Schedule to this Act, shall, if he gives notice in that behalf in the prescribed manner and if he fulfils the requirements hereinafter mentioned, thereupon become insured for the purposes of the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, 1936 (in this Act referred to as "the principal Act"), as a voluntary contributor thereunder, and pensions shall become payable in respect of his insurance accordingly.

The said requirements are as follows, that is to say:

  1. (a) in the case of a person who gives notice as aforesaid not later than twelve months after the commencement of this Act (in this Act referred to as an "initial entrant"), that he was under the age of fifty-five at the commencement of this Act;
  2. (b) in the case of a person who is not an initial entrant, that he is at the date of his notice under the age of forty; and
  3. (c) in the case of any person, whether an initial entrant or not—
    1. (i) that he is resident in Great Britain at the date of the notice and has been so resident for a period of not less than ten years immediately before that date; and
    2. (ii) that he has a total income not exceeding four hundred pounds a year in the case of a man, or two hundred and fifty pounds a year in the case of a woman, of which not more than two hundred pounds a year in the case of a man, or one hundred and twenty-five pounds a year in the case of a woman, is unearned income.

LORD BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH moved to insert in subsection (1), after paragraph (b):

  1. "(c) in the case of any person being an initial entrant, and in the case of a man who is not an initial entrant, that he has a total income not exceeding four hundred pounds a year of which not more than two hundred pounds a year is unearned income;
  2. (d) in the case of a woman who is not an initial entrant that she has a total income not exceeding two hundred and fifty pounds a year of which not more than one hundred and twenty-five pounds a year is unearned income; and"
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the two Amendments on the Paper in my name both have reference to the same matter, and it will not be necessary for me to trouble your Lordships with more than one explanation. You will recollect that the question of the diversity of income limit between men and women has been referred to both on the occasion of the Second Reading and in Committee on the Bill, and that on the Committee stage an Amendment was moved which would have removed the difference, and rendered it possible for women with incomes of over £250, and up to £400 a year, equally with men, to have the advantage of the benefits of this Bill. The circumstances have been referred to on both stages of the Bill and I do not think it is necessary for me to do more than remind your Lordships quite briefly of what it is that we seek to achieve through this Amendment, which is a mere shadow of the Amendment which was moved on the Committee stage.

I need only remind your Lordships in a word that the people whom this Bill will benefit are in the main the small shopkeepers—in the case of women, newsagents, confectioners, boot and shoe shopkeepers, and so on—also a large class of professional and salaried women, including women doctors and people like the women house property managers and many others. In the Committee stage the Government were unable to accept the view that these women should be admitted to the full benefits of the Bill. The main thing which we seek to achieve is, of course, that they should be given the same facilities for making provision for their old age as the men of similar incomes. The Amendment to-day is directed to a much narrower object. It has always been admitted that there would be many hard cases excluded by the present form of the Bill. The Amendment to-day relinquishes of course, as we must after the decision of your Lordships' House, any attempt to secure the recognition of the principle, which has hitherto always been maintained inviolate, of equality of treatment of men and women in the national health insurance scheme. And it is because this Amendment is so much smaller and directed to the rectification of a particular class of hardship, that I venture to hope the Government will no longer harden their hearts, but make this very small concession.

Under this Amendment if it were put in the Bill only those women with incomes of over £250 a year and under £400 would be admitted to the benefits of the Bill who were what are called initial entrants. That is to say, entry to the scheme would be granted to women up to the age of fifty-five, as in the case of men, during the first year, but also up to the income limit of £400. There is already, as your Lordships know, the very excellent and very generous provision in the Bill that for the first year of entry the age limit is fifty-five and not forty. This Amendment seeks to make the income limit for women in the first year £400, and not £250. It would have this great advantage, that it would include within the scope of the Bill a large group of the hard cases, to which I have referred on previous stages of the Bill; that is, the women aged to-day, we will say from forty to fifty, who came into employment in the War. They represent a large number of the women who, when their husbands and brothers and fathers went to the front, buckled to and really carried on the economic and agricultural life of the country.

It is unnecessary to emphasise to your Lordships the obligation under which the country lies to the women who, in the familiar phrase, kept the home fires burning during that time, and every one who saw the rally of ex-Servicemen in Hyde Park a few days ago must have felt that we were right to continue to keep alive the memory of what we owe to all those who did their share at that time. I submit to your Lordships that these women have just as great a claim on your Lordships' generosity as the ex-Servicemen who went to the front, and by accepting this Amendment the Government would, I think, do a great deal to meet the plea of hard cases, because, within we will say twenty or twenty-five years, the women concerned will have passed on. Then the younger women coming on will have had a chance to come in under the Bill through being eligible owing to their incomes being under £250. It would undoubtedly do much to relieve the sense of grievance from which women, I think legitimately, suffer to-day.

On the occasion of the Committee stage I asked the Government what inquiry they had made as to the number of hard cases and as to the number of women who had dependants, and I would remind your Lordships that the point about dependants is that if a woman has during her twenties or thirties to support dependants, such as aged relatives, it impairs her capacity to provide for her own old age. The Leader of the House, with that charm which beguiles those who have the misfortune to disagree with him, frankly said that no inquiry whatever had been made. He indicated that he did not think any inquiry was of any use. I am bound to say I thought that an astonishing stand to take. We bring forward cases of hardship, we ask what inquiry has been made, and we are told that no inquiry is of any use. I think the boot ought to be on the other foot. We can prove hard cases and, as this is a Bill admittedly to meet hard cases—the Government Actuary says that a very small proportion, perhaps 25 per cent. of the eligibles will go in—we think the Government ought to be ready to concede this small Amendment. I venture to hope that the Government will, even at this late stage, be willing to make a concession to what is a very strong feeling in the country, and be ready to accept this Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 14, at end insert the said paragraphs.—(Lord Balfour of Burleigh.)


My Lords, I just want to say on behalf of my noble friends that we think this is a good Amendment in all the circumstances, and we hope the Government will accept it. If necessary, we are prepared to support the noble Lord.


My Lords, my noble friend has moved a modified edition of the same Amendment as he moved in Committee, and I am afraid I must give a modified edition of the answer that I gave then. I do not want to repeat my arguments, but I might perhaps stress one point. We have heard a great deal in these discussions about hard cases, and, although I do not blame the noble Lord for that, I really believe that if anybody had listened to these debates without having read the Bill, he might have imagined that we were doing something in this measure to inflict certain hardships on women from which they had never suffered before. Of course the exact reverse is the case. The hard cases exist already, and what we are doing in this Bill is something to relieve those hard case. I understand from the noble Lord's argument that if a woman has to spend a lot of money in her early age in supporting elderly relatives she may not have sufficient to provide for her own old age. We are, anyhow, providing for the most deserving and the poorest cases, and we are doing this for the first time.

I think it is quits natural when there is a good offer going, as this is, and particularly the provisions for the initial entrants—I thought the noble Lord perhaps rather minimised the amount of the Government contributions in respect of this initial entry scheme—that somebody should want to extend the scope of the Bill and take in a few more people. It is quite natural that somebody should say that we have drawn the line too low. Nevertheless, I do not believe that that is the real explanation of this agitation against this part of the Bill. I cannot help feeling that if this had been a simple scheme to provide old age pensions for both men and women up to the income limit of £250 we should not have heard anything like so much about these hard cases as we have. As we know, the real explanation is that there is this idea that men are getting out of this scheme more than women, and I have devoted considerable time to trying to show that that is really not a true comparison. I do not intend to repeat those arguments to-day.

I realise that I failed to convince my noble friend, and I realise too that he has put forward a counter-proposal. It seems to me that the counter-proposal really amounts to this, that because some women have dependants therefore all women must be admitted to this scheme on exactly the same terms as the men, but at half the contribution price. That is the effect of the Amendments which have been put down. I fail to see why that distinction should be drawn, but I am not entirely surprised because it is not an easy matter to devise an Amendment within the structure of this Bill which combines real equality with the obvious appearance of equality. That does not mean that the Government wish to shut the door finally to any possibility of advance. We think we have covered the vast majority of these women who have a real claim for State assistance. My noble friend does not. I would suggest this to him, that he should try it out, and if after a reasonable time it is found that my noble friend is right, well, there is no greater finality about this Bill than about any of its predecessors.

I would remind my noble friend that there has been a considerable advance in insurance in recent years. In fact I am quite prepared to give an undertaking on that point to my noble friend in these words: "As the Minister of Health stated in another place, he regards this measure as filling a further gap in our national social insurance scheme. Whilst emphasising the magnitude of that scheme, he added that he would be one of the first to desire to see a good many gaps filled. This view was also taken by my noble friend the Leader of the House during discussion at the Committee stage of the noble Lord's Amendment. In these circumstances it is clear that from time to time the Government of the day will review the working of the scheme in order to decide whether any further advance could be made and if so what direction it should take. This would obviously involve the weighing up of the claims which have been made by various classes of persons that the benefits conferred by one or other of the existing pensions schemes should be extended to them, and I can assure the noble Lord that in any such review the claims of the women with others will be sympathetically considered."

My noble friend is well aware of the restrained tone of Departmental statements, and I also know well that my noble friend is just as capable of making the most of these statements as any other member of your Lordships' House. I would therefore respectfully suggest to him that his apprehensions—and I am sure we all respect his apprehensions about this Bill—might be more effectively met by doing as I suggest, and waiting to see how the Bill does actually turn out in practice, than by pressing on with his Amendment. After all, it is only a limited edition of the same Amendment as he moved the other day, but it is limited to that part of the Government's proposals which involve the maximum expense to the Government It would extend the Government's liability, and therefore it would be bound to raise opposition in another place. Finally, as I have said, I do not believe it would produce the equality my noble friend desires. It is not for me to dictate the course of action which my noble friend should take, and I must leave it to him to decide.


My Lords, I do not wish to repeat the arguments I briefly addressed to your Lordships on the Committee stage. I would not have risen except for one passage in my noble friend's speech. He said that what we really contended was that it was wrong to make a discrimination between men and women, and that if the limit had been made £250 for both of them the greater part of our argument would have been destroyed. He is perfectly right, at least as far as I am concerned. I look back now for more years than I like to think on the great controversy which has occurred in this country by reason of the demand of women for equality before the law with men. It goes back to more than a generation, a great deal more than a generation. That has been their contention. It so happened that I was attending a meeting of women last night, when we were talking about the old times, and they said: "It is perfectly true it was not a question of whether we were going to gain very much by the franchise. What we resented was the treatment of women on a different footing from men."

That is what they resent, and I think properly resent. Although this is a small matter relatively, they feel that at this stage of our history for a Government with an immense majority behind them and enormous power, and therefore able to do exactly as they like, to put forward a Bill which is still on the principle that women are not to be treated on the same footing as men, is a very unfortunate decision. That is really the whole difficulty and the whole trouble between us. I do not know whether my noble friend is going to divide the House or not, but if he does so I shall feel bound to support him in order to express my deep regret that the Government have taken this line, which I am satisfied has no serious backing behind it in point of policy and which will create a considerable amount of dissatisfaction and uneasiness on the part of a great many women who are among the best citizens of the country.


My Lords, on the last occasion the noble Marquess, Lord Crewe, who leads this group, supported Lord Balfour's proposal. We all support the compromise suggestion which has been made to-day. It indicates a more favourable attitude towards women than the Government have been prepared to adopt hitherto, and I hope the compromise arrangement will be accepted as a reasonable one.


By leave of the House, may I add one point? There seems to be some misconception. The whole structure of the Bill is devised to meet different insurance liabilities. I have made that point several times. It is not a simple old age scheme. It saddles the man with responsibility for family insurance, and, as I said on Second Reading and also in Committee, it is not a question of equality, it is a question of difference of treatment. I do not think I can usefully add to the speeches I have already made on more than one occasion.


My Lords, I am of course ready to admit that men and women have different responsibilities. This is amply provided for in the general structure of the Bill. The man's contribution is at the rate of 1s. 3d. and the woman's very much less. The woman has only her own age to provide for and, in the case of children, if she is the wife of an uninsured man or a widow with children, she has her children to provide for, but her contributions are very much less. It is a question of allowing women with similar responsibilities similar rights. It is beyond contradiction that a woman in the same position as a man—there may be few of them, but the woman with the same responsibilities as a man does not get the privilege a man has. The noble Viscount has said that in order to create fairness in this matter you have got to put the women on a different basis. That was the argument used in Roman days. The Romans used to say that, in order to create equality, you had to treat women unfairly. I thought we had advanced since the days of the Romans, but apparently the noble Viscount does not think so.

Do not let us be frightened by the bogey of expense. It is estimated by the Government Actuary that 100,000 women out of 500,000 eligible will come into the scheme and that the cost to the Exchequer will be £4,000,000 and the capital sum is equivalent to an equalised annual charge of £1,200,000 over a term of thirty years. The Actuary says the number of women eligible to join cannot be assessed with any attempt at precision. If we assume that this will increase the number by 10 per cent. it only means an addition of £20,000 a year for thirty years, and that really is not a reason for refusing what is elementary justice. In view

Bill passed.