HL Deb 24 July 1957 vol 205 cc97-100

3.15 p.m.


My Lords, these regulations carry out recommendations made by the National Insurance Advisory Committee relating principally to the position of women whose marriages end in divorce. They are a little complex in nature, but I will do my best to be brief as well, as clear. When a woman who has been insured marries, she is allowed to choose whether she will go on paying contributions or not. Women who were married before July, 1948, when the present Insurance Scheme came into force, and were not then insured, have not been allowed to pay contributions even if they wished to do so, unless, of course, they took up employment of their own. Most married women, therefore, do not pay contributions. If they are widowed, then they get widow's benefit on their husband's insurance. In any case, when they reach the age of sixty as widows and claim a retirement pension on their own insurance records, they are allowed to take over their husband's records to fill up the gap in their own records for the time that they were not contributing as married women.

Up to now, women whose marriages have ended in divorce have not been able to get any such advantage from their husbands' records, although at the time when they got married and chose not to pay contributions, or were not allowed to pay them, they naturally would not have expected that their marriages would end in that way. The Advisory Committee concluded that the right course is to allow a woman whose marriage has ended in divorce to use her husband's contribution record for her own contribution record for the years of marriage, as long as it is to her advantage to do so. These regulations, therefore, enable the divorced woman, when she reaches pension age, if she has not remarried and if she wishes to claim a retirement pension on her own insurance record, to take over for the contribution years which fall within the period of her marriage her husband's yearly average of contributions up to the date of the termination of that marriage. There is, further, a special provision made for women whose marriages end in divorce when they are over sixty years of age. They would not usually be able to get a retirement pension on their own insurance record, and so they will be permitted to get a pension on their husband's record as if he had died at the date when the marriage came to an end.

Another point arose about the position of women who take up work shortly before their marriages come to an end. That is most likely to happen in the case of women whose marriages end in divorce and who, foreseeing that they will have to fend for themselves, start work before the decree is made absolute. Under the present rules, women who have chosen not to pay contributions during marriage can get special credits to help them for unemployment or sickness benefit when they have paid twenty-six contributions in employment after the termination of their marriages. If. however, they had started work before the marriage came to an end, and had begun to pay contributions, they get no benefit under this rule. The new regulations for which I am seeking your Lordships' approval make a concession in that the twenty-six qualifying, contributions may be counted as from the twenty-sixth week before the termination of the marriage, and women will no longer be excluded from this concession because they were paying contributions on resumption of work before the official date of the termination of the marriage. This will allow women, in effect, to start work and to qualify for benefit, if they fall sick or become unemployed, at an earlier date than is at present the case.

This concession will apply also to widows, though l think that, in practice, they are not so likely to feel the need of it because in most cases they will get the benefit of the special rules which allow widows, if they cease to receive widow's benefit, to be treated as eligible for unemployment or sickness benefit without paying any qualifying contributions. But there may be a small handful of widows who do not qualify for widow's benefit. probably because their husbands have not paid the necessary minimum of 156 contributions, and they will be able to benefit in the same way under this regulation.

A further provision which affects a woman whose marriage has ended in divorce is that, when she dies, in calculating her contribution record for the purpose of death grant, her ex-husband's record may be used in a similar way. For all these purposes, women whose marriages end by decree of presumption of death and dissolution of marriage will be treated in the same way as women whose marriages have ended in divorce, except that if the date of the husband's death can be ascertained the woman may be eligible for widow's benefit, which, of course, will probably be to her advantage. My right honourable friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance will also be making regulations shortly, under powers conferred by the amending Act which was passed in June this year, whereby marriages which are terminated by decree of annulment will also be treated for these purposes in the same way as marriages ending in divorce.

There is also provision in these regulations to help women whose husbands were killed in the war or in industrial accidents, and who are receiving a war widow's pension or widow's pension under the industrial injuries provisions at a higher rate than the main widow's benefits they would otherwise receive under the main National Insurance scheme. It is provided that, if they lose those pensions by reason of re-marriage when they are over sixty, they shall be eligible for retirement pensions on their own insurance in the same way as they would have been if they had been receiving widow's benefit under the main scheme. I think that is all I need say. I hope that the regulations are clear. I commend them to your Lordships, and beg to move that they be approved.

Moved, That the Draft National Insurance (Married Women) Amendment Regulations, 1957, reported from the Special Orders Committee on the 10th of July, be approved.—(Lord Chesham.)

3.25 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that we are all greatly obliged to the noble Lord for the care with which he has submitted the explanation of these regulations to the House. They are certainly not very easy to follow in all the details that will have to be looked into by almost every separate applicant. On the other hand, as my noble friend Lord Lawson was saying to me just now, the explanation will get rid of many of the difficulties experienced by Members of Parliament and the like, who in the past have had long discussions trying to explain to would-be applicants for benefit why they cannot have it. There have been an enormous number of difficulties. I think the Government are to be congratulated on accepting the recommendations of the Pensions Department and on putting these matters forward so that there will be an end to some of these difficulties.

A passing thought is that whilst I suppose most of us would commend the Regulations, and approve the extension of benefits to women whose marriages have ended in divorce or annulment, there may be some people who will think that it will assist a little in bringing marriages to an end by divorce and annulment. Nevertheless, I think that, on the whole, it will bring a great deal more justice to many of the people who in the past have been debarred from what would be quite reasonable participation in these benefits. I hope that the regulations will be successful in their administration.


My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Viscount for the things he has said. At this stage, I will say merely that I do not think there is a very high risk of a sharp rise in the divorce rate due to these regulations. I agree with him that it is only right and proper that these small anomalies should be put right.

On Question, Motion agreed to.