HL Deb 16 February 1960 vol 221 cc18-22

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Dundee, who is indisposed, I beg to move that these Regulations, which stand in his name on the Order Paper, be approved. These Regulations have nothing to do with the rates of pensions or the principle of the earnings rule. They are made under Section 2 of the National insurance Act, 1956, and are the instruments whereby Parliament may approve the raising of the limits of the disregarded earnings. These particular Regulations have been before the Special Orders Committee and received the assent of another place last night.

If your Lordships agree, these Regulations will raise the level of the disregarded earnings, from the present 60s. to 70s. in the case of retirement nensioners under the age of 70 for men and under the age of 65 for women and for widow pensioners. Those pensioners will now be able to earn £6 10s. 0d. before the pension is completely withdrawn at present, the figure is £6. In the case of widowed mothers, the Regulations raise the level of disregarded earnings from the present 80s. to 100s. A widowed mother will now be able to earn £8 net before her personal allowance of 50s. is completely withdrawn; whatever her earnings the more favourable child allowances for the widowed mother are paid in full: that is, 20s. each for the first two children, and 22s. each for any subsequent child, inclusive of the ordinary family allowances.

Those are the bare bones of these Regulations, but in order perhaps to forestall a question from the noble Lord, Lord Pethick-Lawrence (who, your Lordships may remember, last time the Regulations came forward, reminded us that he and his wife were more or less instrumental in getting the extra provisions for the widowed mothers) I should like to tell him that these Regulations will be in force on March 21, which is the earliest date they can be brought in.

I commend these Regulations to your Lordships, and, on behalf of my noble friend, I beg to move that they be approved.

Moved, That the National Insurance (Earnings) Regulations, 1960, be approved.—(Earl Bathurst.)

3.21 p.m.


My Lords, I should like briefly to ask the noble Earl two questions on points which it was not proper for me to pursue when this matter was considered by the Special Orders Committee. I am afraid that he has not already forestalled my two questions. First of all, I should like to ask the Government why they have not taken this opportunity of putting widows and widowed mothers—those who are widowed through the illness of their husbands, if I may so put it—in the same position as widows and widowed mothers whose widowhood has arisen as the result of an industrial accident. As the noble Earl is aware, if a man is killed as the result of an industrial accident his widow, whether or not she has dependent children, can earn as much as she is able to without any sort of deduction from her pension or the allowances of her children.

The noble Earl indicated that these Regulations are in line with the retention of the earnings rule or principle. That may well be the case. But the pension enjoyed by a woman who is widowed as the result of an industrial injury arises, in part at least, from the contributions which have been paid earlier by her husband and, as such, may be already re, garded as a serious breach of the earnings rule, and one of which I think people throughout the country would approve. But this is a serious anomaly. My first question, therefore, is why the opportunity has not been taken to remove this hardship and this anomaly altogether, whereby if a woman is widowed because her husband was killed down the pit she can earn as much as she likes without deduction, but if her husband has been run over by a bus, or killed in some other way, she is subject to this restriction.

The other anomaly is one which is actually increased by these Regulations. The noble Earl pointed out that these Regulations alter the position whereby at present a widow can earn up to 60s. before there begins any deduction from her pension, and a widowed mother can earn up to 80s. before deduction; and, of course, any allowances paid to her children are in addition to that. So that in some cases under the present circumstances the widowed mother may be able to earn as much as £4 or more before there is any deduction from her pension compared with the £3 which the widow without dependent children is able to earn. That is a most serious difference and one which, for the moment, I am not opposing. But under these Regulations the position of the widow is improved so that she can earn up to £3 10s. without deduction, and the widowed mother so that she can earn up to £5. At the moment the gap is 20s., the difference between the 60s. and the 80s., as between the widow and the widowed mother; but under these Regulations the gap is increased to 30s.—in other words, the relative disability of the childless widow is considerably increased. I should like to ask why that has been done.

I can see the justification, if the earnings limit is to be retained, for keeping the gap as it is now, but I can see no justification for adding an increased relative penalty, as it were, in the case of the ordinary widow, particularly having regard to the fact that many of them, though they do not have dependent children, do inherit after the death of their husbands other expenses in assisting their parents, parents-in-law and so on. It seems to me, therefore, that, whilst we all support this rather meagre improvement—that is the only way one can describe it—in the relaxation of the earnings limit, nevertheless the Government have made a retrograde step in increasing the gap between the widow and the widowed mother.

3.26 p.m.


My Lords, there is just one point that I should like to put to the noble Earl. Possibly I did not quite understand what he said, but my recollection from what he said is that the old people, the pensioners, will get the new increases at 70, for a man, and at 65 for a woman. My recollection is that once upon a time if you reached the age of 70 you could make as much as you wanted without deduction from your pension, and that the same applied to women at the age of 65. My recollection is that originally when you were 65 the money was deducted, but that when you got to 70 you could make as much as you wanted. I wonder whether that has been changed, and if so, why we could not go back to that comfortable state of affairs.

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps I may answer the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, first and then turn to the questions asked by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. In the case of male pensioners who reach the age of 70, and in the case of women 65, whatever they earn at that age, they are deemed to have retired. With regard to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, I fancy that he is still out of Order in raising these points, which these Regulations really do not affect at all. However, it is true that they carry on the differences—


My Lords, if I may just interrupt, I would point out that I took what I thought was the highest advice I could get—namely, from the noble Lord, the Lord Chairman of Committees.


My Lords, I am sure that noble Lord took the best advice in regard to everything. Nevertheless, these Regulations cannot do anything about the points which he has raised. It is agreed that they do carry on the difference in treatment between the widowed mother and the widow. This has been the practice of previous Governments, to give the widow with children the extra benefit. It has been the feeling of Members of your Lordships' House and of another place that if she is able to earn extra money she should not be discouraged from doing so. The ordinary widow, the widow without children, has probably fewer expenses than has the widow with children; I think that must be agreed by all your Lordships. It is agreed that it is not a complete solution, but at least it is a solution which allows the widow with children some extra concession.

With regard to the Service pension and the pension of the widow whose husband is killed in an industrial accident, these widows' pensions do not in fact come within the scope of pensions subject to the earnings rule. Again, it has been a tradition in the past that the Service widow and the "industrial accident" widow deserve something a little extra. Her Majesty's Government and preceding Governments have agreed that that is fair in order to meet their special circumstances. But I want to make it quite clear that these Regulations have no connection with those cases—they are purely for the purpose of raising the earnings limit in relation to National Insurance pensions.

On Question, Motion agreed to.