§ 3.46 p.m.
§ House again in Committee.
§ Debate on Amendment No. 3 resumed.
Although the Ministry may be very successful in searching out the possible recipients of these supplementary pensions, I do not think that they have done very much to disperse the slightly derogatory feeling there is in some quarters as to the acceptance of such supplementary pensions. Curiously enough, I saw an instance of this only to-day. The Church Assembly has been debating clergy widows' pensions. There is a class of clergy widows who are not entitled to a pension by virtue of the office of their late husbands, and many of them are not entitled to any National Insurance pensions either. A spokesman of the Church of England Pensions Board, which in all cases make up the incomes from all sources of clergy widows to a certain level, was able to assure the Assembly that none of these good ladies was in receipt of State assistance. That was received with cheers. That means, presumably, that many of them have refused the supplementary State pensions because they thought there was a derogatory element about them. The net financial result is that their income is made up to the standard rate from Church funds, which are charitable funds, so the State saves in that direction at the expense of the Church. I give this instance only because I think it is valuable to know that there is still a feeling against these supplementary pensions, in spite of what Ministers have said from both sides of this House and of another place for as many years as I can remember.
§ LORD POPPLEWELL
I am making this, my maiden speech to this Assembly, because since 1927, in the old Board of Guardians days and prior to being elected to another place in 1945, I have been actively associated with benefits 969 given to the poorer people. Having in mind the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, and the valuable services he rendered as Chairman of the National Assistance Board, I would add my voice to his request to the Government that, if they are not prepared to accept this Amendment as it is, they might at least give an assurance that the new Minister of Social Security will have the full right and power to do what is embraced in this Amendment.
We have all had experience—and Members in the other place will have had numerous constituents coming to them from time to time—of people who are very much on the borderline and rather dread going to the National Assistance Board. Therefore, if it is felt that under this Bill the new Ministry will have all the powers required to comply with this Amendment, and I hope the noble Lord will give us a full explanation to that effect. If not, I sincerely hope that he will give serious thought to embracing it in the Bill. I think it would be in accord with the mood and feeling of the people in the country to-day that people should look on this as a benefit as distinct from a charitable arrangement. I think the change that is taking place in the Ministry of National Insurance on the security position is an excellent one, and this would be in accord with the feeling that is now abroad in much of the country in regard to these new social developments.
§ 3.52 p.m.
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
I should like to congratulate the noble Lord on his maiden speech. It is not, I believe, customary to make a maiden speech in Committee, and no doubt some far more distinguished noble Lord will say better things about it, but I should like to say how interested I was to listen to the noble Lord's speech and to know what great experience he has. I wish to take up the words of my noble friend Lord Ilford from my own experience of local government. The work that is done by the officials of the National Assistance Board is first-class; they are most accessible and approachable, and immensely knowledgeable. Nevertheless, I have found in the country district where I work that it is often difficult to get people to make an approach direct to the National Assistance Board. They 970 may, for instance, live a long way away and may not be able to get there easily.
The object of this Amendment, which is to ensure that the onus of finding out who could receive benefit is on the Commission, and also the duty to consult with local authorities and voluntary organisations in regard to these people, is a great improvement. In a scattered area it is sometimes difficult to keep in touch with people if you are working from a centre. I think, it would be extremely valuable, particularly in rural areas, to have in the Bill that the obligation is on the Assistance Board to see that every agency that can be used for this purpose is so used. I do not think there is a great number of people who are entitled to this benefit and who are not discovered and do not receive the supplementary pension, but undoubtedly there are some, and we should very much like these people to be included. I hope the Government will see their way to accept this Amendment.
§ LORD MITCHISON
I rise, first of all, to add my congratulations and my welcome to an old friend who spoke from this side of the Committee a few moments ago. It was, I thought, an excellent maiden speech. It showed what one would expect from him—after all, some of us have known him for quite a long time—and that is an uncommonly warm heart and a great deal of sense in matters of this kind.
The second point I want to raise is this. It is not, as I read it, merely a duty to find out who is entitled to supplements (if I may use that word), but a duty to ensure that they receive them. It therefore puts on the Board a rather curious obligation to see that a man who does not want to draw his supplements must, nevertheless, receive them. Nobody is going to suggest for one moment that there should be any penalty on the Commission if they fail to thrust on to someone money he does not wish to receive. But this leads me to consider a little whether there is not a duty (again, not a duty for the breach of which one would impose any punishment) on some of the old folk who are entitled to these supplements to take them. This seems, at first sight, to be a very curious proposition, but I am not sure that it is. One has to remember that if people feel they are too proud or too shy to take these benefits, 971 it is more than likely that someone else—perhaps a member of the family, or, in the case the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, mentioned, a charity—will have to make good the money in one way or another, whether in cash or in kind.
I wonder whether it would not help the Commission and others concerned, if anything is going to be said about duty, if one put a nominal duty—and I say "nominal" because, I repeat, nobody would wish to attach any penalty to it—on some of these old folk to take what they are entitled to. I think it might make it easier to say to them: "Not only are you entitled to this, but Parliament takes the view that you ought to take it, and that, so far from its being a charity, you should have it." It is rather a preposterous sort of thing, when one first thinks of it, to thrust down someone's throat, as it were, money which he does not want to take. But the difficulty in these cases is so much the difficulty among the older people, quite frequently, of their not wishing to take charity. They may have some recollection of the old Poor Law, perhaps not so far as they themselves were concerned, but as others in their family were, in the past. It is so much a misunderstanding, and I cannot help feeling that there is a good enough case for stating in the Bill that there is a duty to the community to receive the benefit.
If one were called upon to justify this, I would do so by referring, as I did just now, to other members of the family, charities and other sources from which the deficiency might have to be made up. I hope that no one will think that I am being too hard on these people. It is really the direct opposite. I am trying to help, in a curious sort of way, in a difficulty which arises out of misunderstanding. I wonder whether it might be worth consideration. I say no more than that.
§ 3.59 p.m.
THE LORD BISHOP OF EXETER
I do not think we ought to take the last suggestion too seriously. I feel that it would be an unwarrantable interference with the private life of the individual to express in an Act of Parliament that anybody has a duty to receive anything. If a man likes to do without certain amenities or necessities in life, that, I should 972 have thought, is a matter for him and not for Parliament.
What I think the noble Lord has in mind is that the agents of this Commission should be instructed to bring to the notice of the persons entitled to these supplementary benefits (or whatever they are to be called) that there are moral reasons why they should accept them, and then to leave the choice entirely to them. But to insert into an Act of Parliament a duty, failure to perform which carries with it no sanction, seems to me to be quite meaningless. I should have thought myself that the right sort of words for this Amendment, if I may at this late stage suggest it, is that the Commission should have a duty to ensure, not that the persons entitled to supplements under this Bill receive them, but that they are offered them.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ LORD BOWLES
First of all, may I congratulate my noble friend Lord Popplewell on his maiden speech. It was the kind of speech we remember him making in the House of Commons, when he was allowed to do so: there he was a Whip. But he is not a Whip here. I am his Whip, so it is rather a nice change of jobs.
Before I come to reply to the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, I think the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter has to a large extent answered my noble friend Lord Mitchison. But I know what my noble friend means. We have been Members of Parliament, and we know, as my noble friend Lord Popplewell said, how many people who are entitled to these benefits seem very reluctant to draw them. I myself have said to the person in question, "I have paid for your supplementary pension as well as you, and it is a desire of the State"—I did not use the word "Parliament"—"and our wish that you should have what is your due". There is no shame attached to accepting a supplementary benefit, or any benefit under any Act of Parliament which gives the right to a person to this kind of benefit or pension, supplementary pension or National Assistance, or whatever it is. The two Houses of Parliament desire that people who are entitled to these things should use and exercise their rights to draw them.
973 Then there is the question of how to go about it. The noble Lord, Lord Ilford, spoke from more experience than anybody else of the work of the officers of the National Assistance Board. We have all praised those officers in our time, and I again express the Minister's and my gratitude to the officers for the work they do. We try in various ways to supplement the activities of the officers of the National Assistance Board. The Minister writes to doctors, nurses, home visitors and others, and in fact we do everything we possibly can. It is a shame that so many people seem not to have drawn these benefits.
This raises the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke. He talked about the widows of churchmen. I am not saying anything about them, because I know none, and I know nothing about the particular conference about which he was talking. Therefore, I am not saying a single word about the Church Commissioners or Church charitable organisations. I am quite certain that, in other walks of life, there are a number of people who spread the feeling that there is still a tinge of the old Poor Law about drawing these benefits. I am quite sure there are certain snobbish elements in this country who would frown on it and, if they could, would influence people in regard to drawing their dues under this kind of legislation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, talked about the difficulties in her area—which is a widespread one—of getting people to do all they possibly could to help. I was thinking about this during the week, and I still think—leaving out professional people such as doctors, nurses and midwives, and local authorities and voluntary organisations—that relatives of these old people could do a great deal. Could not a niece, nephew, brother, sister, or a grandchild say, "You are entitled to this. I will see that the form is filled up or that you are called upon by a National Assistance officer"? This will begin to bridge the gap between those people who draw benefits and those who do not know anything about it. As we know from experience, some refuse, and also, as the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, said, some people are helped from other charities and do not think that they should draw on what they regard as State charity. 974 We have come across people who, in view of the term National Assistance, dislike the word "Assistance". I have had many examples of this, and of people saying, "I am not taking assistance from anybody." That is the kind of remark one hears, and I have done my best to persuade people that they are taking up the wrong attitude. The word "assistance" is now going and, as we discussed last week, that may lead to an improvement in this difficulty.
The Amendment would make the Commission responsible for ensuring, so far as practicable, that people entitled to supplements actually received them, and to consult with Government Departments and other bodies with a view to securing proper provision of their individual needs which, no doubt, would include welfare needs. I hope the noble Lord will not mind if I say that he has been repeating, not necessarily all the arguments used in another place, but some of them, and therefore, to some extent, I have to go over the arguments again.
When the honourable friends of the noble Lord opposite put forward their Amendment on this subject in another place, they asked in terms for a welfare detection service of unlimited scope, extending to the whole population. There can be no doubt, as my right honourable friend the Minister said in her reply, that if the Commission was saddled with such a wide-ranging function it would only be able to perform it most inadequately. The noble Lord opposite has evidently taken that point, and the Amendment is now put forward in terms which seem to be much better and directed to a practical aim; as he said, it was narrowed considerably from the Amendment moved in another place. I say, "seem to be", for I am afraid that we cannot regard the Amendment as an acceptable statutory prescription for what we intend to do. I must go on to say that we do not regard it as either necessary or desirable to have any other statutory authority than we have already for doing what needs to be done.
The Amendment requires, first of all, that the Commission should, so far as possible, make sure that the people entitled to supplementary pensions in fact get them. But this is not really a matter one can legislate for. My noble friend thought it was possible, but again he 975 may think that to have been a wrong point of view. We cannot legislate for people to swallow the benefits in this way. One certainly could not, as the Amendment suggests, require a person to accept a supplementary pension if he did not want it. I would remind your Lordships that the Government do not propose only that the Ministry's officers should get in personal touch with all pensioners on retirement who do not specifically say that they do not want any help; it is hoped to follow this up at a later stage, in those cases where there is no need on retirement, to see whether those who did not want help in the first instance need it as they get older. These are practical measures which will do good and are within our capacity, and they require no further legislation beyond what is in this Bill. Indeed, much of the initiative in this matter must rest, not with the Commission, but with the Minister as the person responsible both for the overall administration and for the particular part of it—for instance, the retirement pension claim form which will be used for this purpose—and to lay the responsibility on the Commission would not meet the point.
This, of course, is where, I am sure, my right honourable friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance—or, as she will be, the Minister of Social Security—will be taking the very best possible advice to see that the claim forms are perfectly clear, and that the other benefits to which any particular person may be entitled are brought to that person's attention. Knowing her as I do and that she is so keen, I am sure we shall not be saying, in a few years, that there are 700,000 people not getting their dues. We want to get rid of this blot on this service. It is not so much a blot as a loophole, and a big loophole. All that will have gone when another few years have gone by.
Perhaps in this context I might add a word about old people without pensions. Your Lordships are probably aware that the difficulty here is that there is no central register of these people, and whatever provision is made for them one has to rely on publicity to prompt the claims. Fortunately, the whereabouts of a large number of them are known through the records of non-contributory old-age pen- 976 sions and National Assistance allowances. Altogether some 200,000 people without retirement pensions are known from this source and they will be automatically transferred to the new scheme. We must rely upon publicity and the widest practicable spread of information about the new pension to attract the others who may qualify, and I can assure your Lordships that my right honourable friend is giving serious consideration to this point.
In his speech last week the noble Lord asked about the number of people, and I said 56,000 would be on the staff. Of course, one cannot just take anybody on the staff of the Ministry of Social Security and assume that that person is fit to do the work. These people are fully occupied in their present work, and I can imagine that the number of people who would be employed to carry out the tasks that this Amendment would put upon the country would be quite impossible. As Members of both Houses of Parliament we total about 2,000 people, and I hope that in our daily lives we try to do something to help people who are not helping themselves sufficiently.
The Amendment further requires the Commission to consult with Government Departments, local authorities and voluntary bodies to ensure as far as is practicable that the individual needs of such people are met, and the noble Lord has made it clear that it is what can broadly be termed "health and welfare" needs he is concerned with here. Again, there is no dispute as to the objective. The Government have made it absolutely clear that they will continue and expand the "welfare detection" service which the National Assistance Board has built up over the years. They will continue it, in that the welfare needs of those claiming and receiving supplementary pensions will be investigated and referred by the local officers to the appropriate body. They will expand it in that, as I have already explained, the Minister, not the Commission, will be making arrangements under the machinery for dealing with claims to retirement pensions, for getting in personal touch with people who are not already getting supplementary pensions and perhaps are not entitled to them, but who nevertheless, to ease the burden of their daily life, may require some 977 service like a home help, chiropody services or "meals-on-wheels". And where the local officers come across such needs they will most certainly not be turning a blind eye to them simply because there is no supplementary pension entitlement, but will be getting in touch with the local authority or other body which can meet them.
The Amendment proposed by the noble Lord does not bite at all on this aspect of the administration. That it fails to do so is, I submit, illustrative of the pitfalls which await us if we try to provide in the Statute itself for what is essentially a matter of day-to-day local administration and procedure. I must therefore ask your Lordships to reject the Amendment.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
Possibly I I should say just a word. First, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, on making his maiden speech. I, too, made mine on an Amendment, and not only do I agree with almost every word he said this afternoon but also I welcome additions to the rather unorthodox band of people who started their speaking career in this House by speaking on an Amendment.
I was somewhat disappointed in the reply given by the noble Lord, Lord Bowles, to my noble friend. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, who said yesterday that we grow more and more conservative as we grow older. These people who are entitled to supplementary benefits are mostly extremely old, and therefore, as I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, they are extremely stuck in their own grooves. So I think that not even the exhortations of six hundred-odd Members of another place and the four hundred-odd Members of your Lordships' House who really take an interest in the proceedings and therefore might happen to read what the noble Lord, Lord Bowles, said, will persuade them that they are really entitled to these benefits.
I see the difficulty that was raised by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Exeter, and I wonder whether, instead of saying in paragraph (a):to ensure that persons entitled to supplements under this Act receive them;we could not put in some form of words like "should be encouraged to receive them". I think this would make it per- 978 fectly clear to the people concerned that Parliament considered that they ought to draw these benefits, and at the same time it would not absolutely force them to do so if they felt there was some real moral reason why they should not. Perhaps the noble Lord would consider some alternative form of words before the next stage of this Bill.
§ LORD MITCHISON
Since we are in Committee, I rise to reply shortly to what the right reverend Prelate regarded as an attempt to introduce an unwarranted interference with the liberty of the subject. I have always understood that we disapprove of suicide, and apparently it stands like this: you must not kill yourself, but you need not strive officiously to keep yourself alive. That is what it comes to in some of these cases. I respectfully agree with what was said: that it is awkward and clumsy to put into a Statute a duty which you do not propose to enforce. I think that was a bad suggestion, and I withdraw it in that form. But throughout to-day we have all been saying, and presumably we mean it, that it is desirable that these people should take this benefit, at any rate in the generality of cases; and I should have thought it might be possible, without using the unfortunate word "duty", to put in some declaration that it was desirable. I agree on this point with the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, that there should be some declaration that it was generally in the public interest.
It is not a point that one can draft on one's hind legs; it would need a little consideration, but it should be some form of words to intimate the general view that people ought to do this in the majority of cases. The difficulty is that these people think they ought not to take the money, and we think they ought to take the money. I am not saying there are no exceptions. I do not agree with the Amendment at all, because I think it puts the duty in the wrong form and is quite inappropriate, but I should like my noble friend to consider whether there is any possibility of putting some words in the Statute, or possibly of doing something by way of a circular, to convey to these people the impression and conclusion of both Houses of Parliament that, in general, they ought to take this money.
I do not think it is really an interference with their liberty at all, and I go 979 on the doctrine that you must interfere with people's liberty when what they are doing in exercise of their free choice may severely prejudice others. There can be little doubt that in a great many of these cases the refusal to accept what they are entitled to by way of benefit may seriously prejudice others, to wit, to take the simplest case, their family, who may have to carry a burden which it is not our intention that they should have to carry.
§ LORD BOWLES
I should just like to thank my noble friend and to assure him that we are going to do a lot more than just sending out leaflets.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
May I, from this Bench, add a tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell? His voice was particularly sweet and welcome since he was speaking in support of the Amendment.
There was no intention in anything I said to cast any reflection whatever on the work done by the officers of the National Assistance Board. I think that recognition has already been given, and perhaps this would be the occasion to give it again, to the work they do in seeking out need. Obviously that will continue. The question is: Who shall have the actual onus of responsibility? I am sorry the Government find they cannot accept this Amendment. I think they will agree that we have made serious efforts in the drafting of this Amendment to meet the points made in the other place. Some of the arguments made in the Government's reply were good, and we have tried to meet them.
It may be that the wording of the new clause as proposed is not perfect, but I hope, particularly in view of the rather wide amount of support from different parts of the House—the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, with his experience over ten years as Chairman of the National Assistance Board, the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell, the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, all speaking in support—that the Government will consider this point very seriously. If it cannot be done by Statute—and we will not press this Amendment—I would suggest that it might be done through the internal administration of the new Ministry of Social Security and the Commission itself, 980 so that a fairly clear-cut written instruction is passed down to the managers to do what they are already doing, and put upon them a positive obligation to seek out cases and not just to wait for people to come to them. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 4.22 p.m.
LORD DRUMALBYN moved, after subsection (2), to insert:
( ) Annual reports on the activities of the Commission in the exercise of their functions shall be made by the Commission to the Minister, and the Minister shall lay each Report of the Commission under this subsection before Parliament.
The noble Lord said: the noble Lord will recognise the parentage of this Amendment; it reproduces Section 2(4) of the National Assistance Act. The Commission are established with their own distinct functions; for example, Clause 2(1) says:
…there are hereby transferred to the Minister of Social Security
(b) as from the date appointed under this section, the functions of the National Assistance Board, except in so far as they are exercisable under the following provisions of this Act by the Commission appointed under section 3 of this Act.
So there is no doubt that the Commission have separate entity and separate legal responsibilities and functions. It seems logical, therefore, that they should report to the Minister on the exercise of those functions.
I appreciate that in certain instances at least, perhaps in all cases, the Commission will exercise their functions on behalf of the Minister. For example paragraph 6 of Schedule 4 says:
Any functions exercisable by the Commission under this Schedule shall be exercisable by them on behalf of the Minister and in accordance with any directions given by him".
Even in that case, however, there would seem to be a good case for their reporting to the Minister on the way in which they have exercised their functions; but certainly it looks as if they should report at least on the functions conferred on them by the Bill itself. I hope very much that the noble Lord will be able to accept this Amendment, so that the new Commission will make a report to the Minister, who will in due course lay
it before Parliament in much the same way as the present Minister of Pensions and National Insurance lays before Parliament the reports that she receives annually from the National Assistance Board. I beg to move.
Page 3, line 10, at end insert the said subsection.—(Lord Drumalbyn.)
§ LORD SORENSEN
This Amendment would require an annual report of their activities to be prepared by the Commission, submitted to the Minister, and laid by the Minister before Parliament. I want to assure the noble Lord I entirely appreciate his intention as expressed by him a moment ago. As the noble Lord has pointed out, his Amendment would put the Commission, in this matter of annual reports, in the same position as the National Assistance Board, who arc required by Section 3(4) of the National Assistance Act 1948 to make a report to the Minister, who, in turn, lays the report before Parliament.
I am sure there is no disagreement on the desirability of the purpose behind the Amendment; nor, indeed, about what has been said concerning the interest and relevance of the reports which the Board have produced over the years. They have given year by year a statistical and human report, which has been likened by the Economist to a "portrait of the poor", an eloquent and impressive description. I want to make quite clear that the absence of any reference in the Bill to annual reports by the Commission certainly does not imply that hereafter there will be available any less information, statistical or other, about the people with whom the Commission will be concerned. But the position is this. There is at present no statutory requirement that my right honourable friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance should provide an annual report to Parliament in relation to the National Insurance and Family Allowances schemes, although, of course, such a report is produced each year. The same is true of many other Government Departments who, though under no statutory obligation to do so, produce an annual report.
This being the position, it has not been thought necessary to provide in the Bill for the Minister of Social Security to make an annual report to Parliament. The Minister of Social Security will, in 982 fact, publish annual reports, as the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance has done, thereby following precedent, covering the whole field for which my right honourable friend will be responsible. This will embrace, naturally, such matters as National Insurance, war pensions, industrial injuries, family allowances and, now, non-contributory benefits. I can give the noble Lord the assurance, after consultation with the Minister, that the report of the activities of my right honourable friend's Department will include a report on the activities of the Commission, giving broadly the same kind of information which has till now been produced in the annual reports of the National Assistance Board. I hope that, with this assurance, the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Lotto DRUMALBYN
I am very grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said. At the same time, I am not wholly convinced. I naturally looked up the National Insurance Act and reminded myself that there is no provision in it requiring the Minister of National Insurance to make a report to Parliament; nevertheless, he does. But, just as a pure matter of form, where a Commission is established, admittedly under the authority of the Minister, and is given separate functions, if those separate functions here are not subject to his direction, it seems that the Minister has no power to direct the Commission to make a report to him on those functions. Therefore, it may not prove practicable.
We are all reasonable people. But it seems that, as a matter of Parliamentary propriety, the Bill should make provision for the Commission to make a report on those matters on which the Minister has no power to direct them to make a report to him. I do not propose to press the Amendment any further. I would just commend this thought to the noble Lord. Perhaps he could examine it further to see if there is any matter of Parliamentary or administrative propriety involved in this. Otherwise I am content. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ LORD SORENSEN
May I express my appreciation of the tone of the remarks of the noble Lord, and inform him that there is a point in what he has said which 983 perhaps has not been completely considered? We are most grateful to him for emphasising that. However, in view of the precedents and of public interest, I think there would at least be a moral obligation resting on the Minister to see that this report is produced. If there had been any omission in that respect, I am perfectly certain that there would have been strong criticisms raised both in this House and in another place. Be that as it may, I assure the noble Lord that I will see that this matter is again considered between now and Report stage, and although I cannot give any kind of guarantee, I am certain that his remarks and my own will be most carefully considered by the Minister.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 3 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
May I raise a point here, because I think your Lordships may like to have a little more explanation than has yet been forthcoming as to how the arrangements in Clause 3 are expected to work? May I draw your Lordships' attention to subsection (2), which says:The Minister shall make arrangements for securing that such of his officers and servants as may from time to time be requisite for the exercise of the Commission's functions are available to act as officers and servants of the Commission, and may make arrangements with any other Government department or with a local authority for the discharge of those functions by officers and servants of the department or authority.I am not clear how the whole administrative structure of the new Ministry is to work. It seems to be the case that the Commission has not even got a single secretary; it is simply a Commission. It is expected to operate with the staff of the Ministry of Social Security, lent to it in accordance with arrangements made from time to time with the Ministry. It is not clear that they are going to have a staff lent to them. It is not even clear that they are not going to be expected to work entirely with Ministry of Social Security personnel who will, on behalf of the Commission, be carrying out the functions of the Commission.
I do not know whether there is any parallel in government for an arrangement of this kind. It seems a somewhat strange arrangement. I repeat that, 984 so far as I can see, there is no provision whatever in this Bill for any employees of the Commission. There is no provision for, let us say, a separate accounting officer; and it seems that all the payments which result from the decisions of the Commission are to be met by the Minister and do not go through the Commission. This is a novel structure, so far as I know, in government, and I think the Committee would like to be satisfied that it is likely to be an efficient structure.
As I see it, the intention is that there should be one single administrative staff, and that the present employees of the National Assistance Board will be completely merged with the employees of the Ministry of National Insurance, locally and at the headquarters. Obviously, because the present staff of the National Assistance Board have special skills and have been carrying out special functions, it will normally be the case that they will be made available to act as officers and servants of the Commission. But are they to be officers and servants of the Commission? Are the Commissioners to be masters in their own house in this regard? I am not clear about the administrative structure that is envisaged, and I hope that the noble Lord will be able to tell your Lordships something about how the clause which deals with the constitution of the Commission and its functions is intended to operate.
§ LORD CHAMPION
I thought the clause was rather clear. But there it is; there is a difference between the noble Lord and myself. It provides for the establishment of a Supplementary Benefits Commission to carry out the duties imposed by the Bill, and it requires the Minister to make the necessary administrative arrangements, including, of course, the provision of staff and money, by the Minister, for them to perform their functions. So that here we have a clear duty placed upon the Minister to provide, for the use of the Commission, officers to carry out the will of the Commission in the duties that it is to perform. I should have thought this was clear.
Should there be the slightest doubt after an examination of what the noble Lord has said, we will, of course, look at it again. But, as we understand it, 985 the clause, and particularly subsection (2), requires the Minister to make available such of the Ministry staff as are necessary for the Commission to function. It also enables the Minister to arrange for the Commission's functions to be carried out by another Government Department, as the noble Lord said—for example, by officers of the Ministry of Labour dealing with unemployed persons. In some cases this may well be necessary. As the noble Lord knows quite well, a local authority in a remote area of the Scottish Highlands could perform such functions, because it would be somewhat fantastic to set up a body there when the local authority can do the work, and do it much more economically than could a specially created office in that particular place.
Subsection (3) enables the Commission to incur expenses with the Minister's approval. Such expenses will be deemed to be expenses of the Minister and, therefore, by virtue of Clause 1(2), they have to be paid out of the money voted by Parliament. I do not think there is the slightest doubt about this. The Commission will have provided for it officers; the Commission will have money provided for it to ensure that these officers are paid. So it will have a staff. Although provided by the Minister, it will be the sort of staff that I am sure will enable this Commission to function as satisfactorily, in my opinion, as did the old Assistance Board. I do not think there is the slightest doubt about this and I hope that the noble Lord will feel that what I have said has cleared a little of the doubt he has. However, I will do what I always do in this connection: I will study what the noble Lord has said and see whether, in regard to the Commission's powers in this connection, there is any difficulty to secure for itself adequate staff, with money to pay that staff, and to make sure that this staff should serve the Commission effectively.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I am most grateful for the noble Lord's assurances in this matter. I am sure he will appreciate that, given the merging of National Assistance and National Insurance staffs in the branches, there was at least reason for some doubt, as a prac- 986 tical matter, whether they were going to remain as one single set of employees or be divided into Commission employees and Ministry of Social Security employees, or, if you like, Ministry of Social Security employees and Ministry of Social Security employees made available, or lent, to the Commission. I think there is still doubt about this. There is still some doubt in my mind as to how this is going to work out in practice and whether it is going to be an efficient arrangement.
As to the question of the expenses, I understand from what the noble Lord has said that, in effect, there will not be a separate accounting officer for the Commission; that all the money will be accounted for by the Ministry itself and the branches at the various levels. I take it that that is the purpose and, where it says:any expenses incurred by the Commission with the approval of the Minister",it means this in the broadest terms, and merely gives general financial control by the Minister over the Commission. I can understand that, but I am still not quite satisfied as to the administration and its efficiency. Therefore I should be grateful if the noble Lord could make some reference to this matter, if he has an opportunity to do so, at a later stage.
§ LORD CHAMPION
I will look into this matter and if after I have had a word with him about it the noble Lord still feels that there is a doubt which I should clear up for the benefit of the House, I will take an opportunity to do so. Personally, I feel that there will be no difficulty about it. Indeed, in some cases all the Commission and the rest of the staff at the Ministry will not necessarily be in one office—it might not be possible to arrange this—and therefore there would be two offices until such time as eventually it was found possible, by the building of offices and so on, to get them under one roof. In that case they would operate separately as servants of the Minister or as servants of the Commission. I will carry out my undertaking which I have given to the noble Lord.
§ Clause 3 agreed to.987
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM moved, after Clause 3, to insert the following new clause:
§ Social Research
§ " . With a view to discovering and meeting need and to promoting the welfare of those in need it shall be the duty of the Minister and the Commission to initiate, arrange, conduct, co-ordinate and participate in social research and in the exercise of this function the Minister and the Commission, as the case may be, may enter into arrangements with any Government Department, local authority, university or voluntary organisation."
§ The noble Lord said: In introducing this Amendment, I would say that I feel there is little between noble Lords opposite and ourselves on the need for continuing and systematically organised social research. In the debate on Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Sorensen, will recall—and I hope the words are not going to embarrass him this afternoon—that he said he personally thought it was inherent in the nature of the scheme that there should be a social research unit, on the lines envisaged in this Amendment. I hope that the noble Lord's personal view has prevailed and that, in the official explanation which will be given this afternoon, the Government will be willing to accept this Amendment. I trust that he has been successful and persuasive.
§ It is unnecessary, in the circumstances, to spell out once again the case in any detail for a social research unit. At the moment there is no continuing research. What happens is that from time to time agitation builds up, and a survey is launched. This has happened twice, and perhaps I may give two recent examples. The Report to which reference has been made several times, in the debate last week and to-day, The Report on the Financial and Other Circumstances of Retirement Pensioners, was rightly described by the noble Lord, Lord Bowles, on Second Reading as" "a major social document of our time", and one that is "far from reassuring." This survey resulted from pressure for an inquiry on an Adjournment debate in another place on July 8, 1964, moved by a member of the Party to which noble Lords opposite belong. There was pressure and a survey was set up.
§ The second example of which I would remind your Lordships is the investigation into the circumstances of the 988 low wage-earners with large families which is being carried out at the moment. I do not believe that noble Lords opposite would deny that a major influence in the setting up of that investigation was the Report by Professors Abel-Smith and Townsend, The Poor and the Poorest, and the subsequent lobbying of the Prime Minister and others by the Child Poverty Action Group at the end of last year. So again there was agitation in a very good cause, and a survey was launched.
§ This sort of hand-to-mouth approach is extremely unsatisfactory, particularly in present conditions where the pattern of need and the shape of society are changing. It seems investigations are conducted only when people make such a fuss that it is embarrassing for the Government not to do anything about it. So what is needed—and this is the opportunity for it, when setting up a new Ministry—is a positive policy of seeking out and meeting need. I do not think that anyone would argue that it is a realistic approach just to follow on behind events. We believe that it should be the duty of the new Ministry to initiate research and to co-operate in research conducted by universities, local authorities and other bodies, and that it is only if this is done that the new Ministry will be able properly to fulfil its very important responsibilities.
I was struck by some words by one of the most distinguished of all students of welfare policy, Professor Richard Titmuss, in his foreword to one of the admirable series of Occasional Papers on Social Administration which have been published over the last few years under his editorship. Number 4, which bears the title The Economic Circumstances of Old People was a survey by the Department of Applied Economics at Cambridge, and what Professor Titmuss said was as follows:
Each generation if it wishes to order its affairs more by reason than by emotion has the duty of defining afresh what it means by poverty and need. To do so it must study society and patiently assemble the facts. So far as the economic circumstances of old people are concerned, the present generation has been somewhat tardy in recognising its responsibilities both to society and to the advancement of knowledge.
I hope that, as a result of this Amendment, the new Ministry will recognise and fulfil that responsibility.
After Clause 3, insert the said new clause.—(Lord Windlesham.)
§ LORD ILFORD
This new clause deals with a matter which is very much more novel in its character than many noble Lords are inclined to think. Research is done in Government Departments in varying degrees. In some Departments a good deal of research is essential, but in other Departments very little research indeed is done. There are to-day great Departments of Central Government which are directly responsible for the administration of a major social service. There is, of course, the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance; there is the National Assistance Board, and to a very large extent there is the Ministry of Health. That is a situation which did not exist before the war. The Departments of the Central Government were supervisory bodies; they did not themselves undertake the administration of major social services. The change came at the end of the war, when the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance was set up.
That development in our administrative machinery calls for a much wider engagement in research than has been thought necessary or practical in the past. It is not easy for any research to be undertaken in a Department where no research has ever been done. The necessary staff are not there, and the necessary experience is lacking. I am quite sure that it is a very necessary and essential thing that every Department of the Central Government which is directly responsible for the administration of a social service ought to have at its disposal means for conducting the research that is really essential for the success of the service which it has to administer. In the National Assistance Board we began a certain amount of research, and although, of course, we could not undertake research with the rapidity with which it was undertaken by the research students in the new universities, we did accomplish something.
For that reason, I hope that your Lordships are going to agree this afternoon to put this new clause into the Bill. I am quite certain that the success of the administration of these great services cannot be fully assured unless it is reinforced by research producing the sort 990 of results to which my noble friend referred, such as the report on the financial circumstances of elderly people which was published the other day. I believe that that sort of work is essential.
Of course, a good deal of research work is undertaken by the Central Office of Information. I do not desire to say any word which is disparaging of the Central Office of Information, as my experience of the work they do has certainly been most agreeable. But it is not right in principle that the research affecting a Department responsible for a major social service should be done outside that Department by an altogether different body. I am quite sure that successful research must necessarily be conducted inside the Department, and to some extent by officers who are concerned with the daily administration of the Department. For those reasons I would attach a good deal of importance to this new clause, and I hope that your Lordships will see fit to include it in the Bill.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ LORD SORENSEN
I am sure that whenever we hear the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, speak from his vast experience we are all of us inevitably impressed by what he says. But I noticed that in the course of his remarks he recognised that within the Board, as it at present exists, a great deal of research has taken place and is taking place.
§ LORD ILFORD
May I say, "a certain amount of research"? I would not say that the Board would ever be able to undertake all the research that we desire.
§ LORD SORENSEN
Whether my term of "a great deal" or "some amount" is right, I will leave on one side. A great deal of research has been undertaken, and the view that we are now taking arose out of that research as well as the cumulative effect of the experience of great chairmen of the Board like the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, and his very effective staff. So there is no dispute at all as to the need for research. The noble Lord opposite has drawn on the exploration and conclusions made by two very able and noted sociologists over the last few years. This objective study of facts, this attempt to find out the facts irrespective of our inclinations, is, of course, highly I desirable and a great many discoveries 991 have been made, some of them very disconcerting indeed, even though we now live in a Welfare State.
But the clause would place upon the Minister and the Commission wide-ranging duties in connection with social research, such as both noble Lords opposite desire. As well as engaging in social research, they would be required to take on an unlimited co-ordinating role irrespective of the Minister to whose sphere of action the research related, and would be empowered to enter into arrangements with other Government Departments, local authorities, universities and voluntary organisations.
The social research which is envisaged under this clause would be aimed at discovering and meeting need and promoting the welfare of those in need. The term "need" is not qualified in any way and could presumably include, for example, medical and dental needs which are not the responsibility of the Ministry of Social Security.
As the noble Lords will know, a new clause with broadly similar purposes was proposed when the Bill was being considered in Committee in another place. Although that proposed new clause does not now form part of the Bill which is before us, the Minister made it clear that she had no quarrel with the underlying purpose of the clause—quite the contrary—and that the need to undertake research into social problems was fully accepted by the Government; indeed, I am sure any Government would appreciate that necessity. I should like now to reiterate that such research is regarded by the Government as a matter of very great importance.
I must now turn to the clause proposed by the two noble Lords. The inclusion of a statutory requirement in the Bill cannot in itself do anything to further the ends which the noble Lords presumably had in mind in drafting the clause. The proposition that a better ascertainment of the facts will give a better direction to policy will, I am sure, command universal acceptance in this House. But the vigour and imagination with which research into social problems is undertaken must depend basically not on a statutory requirement, but on the vigour and imagination 992 displayed by the Minister and the Commission.
§ LORD ILFORD
I am sure that the noble Lord is not overlooking the need for statutory authority before this work can be undertaken.
§ LORD SORENSEN
Of course I appreciate that. We all do. But I have not quite finished, and perhaps part of the observation of the noble Lord will be covered by my supplementary remarks; if not, perhaps we can follow it up.
On a rather different note, it may be that one consideration which has weighed with the noble Lords is the fact that in both the National Insurance Act 1965, and the Industrial Injuries Act 1965, there is specific provision empowering the Minister to obtain statistics or arrange research. But this provision is for a technical reason to make it clear that payments for such purposes can be made out of the appropriate Insurance Fund. No such provision is required when the expenditure to be incurred will be carried on a Vote. The absence of a clause such as that now proposed does not in any way limit the Minister's powers to arrange for such research as may be desirable in relation to any of the responsibilities of the Ministry or the Commission.
As to the arrangements to be made for the actual undertaking of any particular research project, the Minister will not, if I may put it so, be acting in vacuo. Discussions will, of course, take place with other Government Departments and, where appropriate, with other bodies. It is obviously of the greatest importance that duplication and overlapping should be avoided. The setting up of the Social Science Research Council gives a clear indication of the Government's view in this matter. Their determination to use research as a tool in the framing of policy is well illustrated by this Bill itself, based as it is on a most extensive and thorough piece of research by officers of the new Ministry, and by the further decision to undertake a study of the circumstances of families with children, the field work for which has just been completed.
Although the Government resist this clause, I can give a firm assurance that research will be given a very high place in the priorities of both the Minister and the Commission.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
I wonder whether the noble Lord could just give me a reply to the specific question which I put. He has referred again to these two surveys both of which resulted from outside pressure, and when that outside pressure built up the surveys were launched, were admirably conducted, and were most useful. But the whole point of this Amendment, as the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, has said, is that there should be a continuing research unit within the new Ministry. Therefore, the last point that the noble Lord made does not seem to answer entirely the question I put in moving the Amendment.
§ LORD SORENSEN
I still fail to appreciate the point the noble Lord has put. Why should there not be this continuation, such as he desires? I see no difficulty in that respect at all. If he can enlighten me, I should be most grateful.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
What the noble Lord has said is that the Government cannot accept this Amendment, but they accept that research is of very great importance, and I think the words used by the noble Lord were that the new Ministry would initiate or carry out such research "as is desirable". This suggests that it will be done by the Central Office of Information, or by some outside body, with the build-up and the delays involved, rather than by a unit actually in the middle of the Ministry with the responsibility of looking at the whole field of social policy.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ LORD SIMEY
What the noble Lord the mover of this Amendment has just said, and what the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, said a minute or so ago, has now made it necessary for me to intervene, and in doing so I should make it plain to your Lordships that I am the head of a university department engaged in social research, in which work I am associated with my colleagues, Professor Titmuss, Professor Abel-Smith and Professor Townsend. When we legislate we must be extremely careful that we do not by accident deny people the opportunity of doing things.
I have been much perturbed on two scores. One is that a previous incarnation of mine as a practising lawyer has now been revived in my mind this after- 994 noon. I suffer from a great urge at this moment to go out of this Chamber and to go to a law library and lookup some law. Unfortunately, I have had to wait to take part in the debate, and have been unable to do that. I shall go to a law library at the earliest possible moment if this Amendment is passed; because the unfortunate thing is that, when you pass legislation empowering people to do this, that and the other, the people concerned get the powers, but what about other people, in exactly those situations, who have been doing these things for many years without any express powers? They then have to go to their legal advisers, the Law Officers of the Crown, and say, "Please, am I right in going on doing this?"
My department is now in receipt of grants from several Government Departments, and we are doing quite a lot of social research work. I should now like to see, if this Amendment is passed, whether those Departments have any power to commission that work. If not, I take it that it will have to stop, and that will be extremely embarrassing for us. Therefore, in the light of what the Minister has said, I trust we may not have to pass this Amendment this afternoon.
The second point is that the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, has said that we ought to have this research done within Ministries. Of course we need to have social research work done in Ministries, but I submit with great earnestness to the Committee that it is necessary to have this work done by people outside the Ministries as well; because, rightly or wrongly, nobody believes that the work done inside the Ministries is not done (shall I say?) without a little slant attached to it. I do not think that the work done by Professor Abel-Smith and Professor Townsend, which has been referred to several times this afternoon, was commissioned by Ministries. I think it was done entirely as a matter of private enterprise by individual universities, and I hope we shall continue to have such work done in the future.
Now we outside the Ministries have spent our time over the last, say, twenty years (speaking personally, that figure should be more than thirty) making submissions to Ministries that research work should be done by us with information and facilities supplied by those Ministries. In this matter, however, they have proved 995 to be remarkably timid, and frequently they have not been willing to give us the facilities we need. This debate has been a marvellous thing, so far as my Department is concerned, and also the other Departments that have been mentioned. To-morrow morning I shall send to my colleagues copies of the issue of the OFFICIAL REPORT containing the report of these debates, and my colleagues will act on the debate which has taken place in this Chamber this afternoon. We shall make further submissions to Ministries suggesting that more work of this kind should be done, and I think it will also be possible for us to make submissions that more grant-aid should be made available to us to make this research work possible.
In the past, the phrase frequently used inside Government Departments when research work was proposed (it was used inside one Government Department when I was a member of its staff during the war) was. "idle curiosity". I am completely wearied by the use of that expression, and I hope that, after this debate this afternoon by your Lordships' Committee, it will never be used again. I hope that we shall be able to demonstrate that we are public-spirited people, with a sense of responsibility, that we shall go ahead, that due note will he taken of the work we do and that action based upon the findings of our research work will be taken.
At the moment, there is a revolution going on in social research work dating from the appointment of the Social Science Research Council, and it should be possible for us to get grant-aid from that organisation—certainly, at the moment, so far as the employment of post-graduate students on social research is concerned. We hope that in the future that Council will have funds made available to it to enable research work of this kind to be facilitated. It will also be possible for us to go to the University Grants Committee, which is the source of most of the funds that my department uses on this work, and to finance research projects in that way.
In all these ways, I hope that enough work of this kind will be done; but I was overjoyed when the noble Lord, Lord Ilford, made the point that an 996 inadequate amount of research work is actually taking place now—and I should make it quite plain to noble Lords that I agree with him in that respect. My own view is that what he said was a very mild version of the truth. What we do not know in the matter of social research work in regard to poverty—in regard to the poverty of children, in regard to the poverty of the low wage-earners, and so on—is an enormous encyclopædic body of knowledge. I hope that we shall be able to remedy this lack of knowledge in the course of the years immediately ahead of us.
§ VISCOUNT ECCLES
May I just add a word in support of the new clause proposed by my noble friend Lord Ilford? No such clause was put into the 1944 Education Act, and one of the results was that it was practically impossible for the Minister to do anything about research. I think your Lordships' Committee will agree that there is almost no large section of the public services so deficient in research as education. Now why does a Minister need a clause of this kind? I am afraid that it is for a very down-to-earth reason: it is simply that, when he is arguing his departmental budget with the Treasury, and the Treasury are going through the sub-heads of the Estimates, if there are no statutory powers he is in a very weak position to get money out of the Treasury in order to do exactly what the noble Lord who last spoke wants—namely, to commission universities.
§ LORD SIMEY
Might I intervene to say that the Ministry of Education have in fact grant-aided my department to conduct a large scheme of research?
§ VISCOUNT ECCLES
Yes, but I think that if the noble Lord looks up the dates he will find that that was after a very long battle—a battle which would have been avoided if, in 1944, we had had some provision of this kind in the Education Act. That is all I am saying. It is one thing for Ministers to say—I may have said it myself in my time: "My intentions are perfectly good. I assure you that the Ministry will pay the greatest possible attention to this but I do not want it in the Bill." I am sure that I must have said that myself many times. The other thing is—and 997 the only reason I intervene is to say it from bitter experience—that when arguing one's Departmental Vote it matters very much whether one has statutory power or not.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I agree entirely with what my noble friend Lord Eccles has said; indeed, I think it accords with my experience. I should be very surprised if the Ministry, if left to themselves, were not wholly in favour of this clause. I do not think it would be the Ministry opposing it; it would be the Treasury. We want to get these powers into the Bill precisely to enable the Ministry to do this kind of continuous work for themselves, without necessarily having to wait for research staff from other departments to carry out that work; as has happened in the past. If they had their own research staff and were able to do outside field work themselves, this would help also in arranging surveys as a whole. I am sure that in this matter nobody wants to take the bread from the mouths of the universities, as the noble Lord, Lord Simey, suggested. I thought the Amendment made it clear that universities and the voluntary organisations would be brought into these arrangements. All one wants is that this kind of work should remain essentially within the control of the Ministry, so that they can carry out surveys, appropriately and timely, as and when they wish, and as and when they judge it to be necessary, without having to wait for outside organisations.
It is a fact, as my noble friend Lord Windlesham said, that surveys have been undertaken outside. Very often they were pilot surveys, of a very limited character. This has meant that the Ministry have been pressed—and, indeed, have desired—to carry out further surveys of a larger character. That is how we have the survey of financial and other circumstances of retirement pensioners. It is interesting that in this connection this particular phrase is used:Experience of interviewing persons about their incomes was also regarded as highly necessary as this is a subject on which it is particularly difficult to obtain accurate information. Detailed control of the field work was therefore placed in the hands of the regional offices of the National Assistance Board and special teams of interviewers were selected from among the staff of the Board and the Ministry.This is what we are asking for, this kind of survey, which can in many cases be 998 carried out only by the Ministry. We are asking that there should be the facilities, the powers and, indeed, the duty to carry out such surveys. The noble Lord, Lord Simey, spoke about this clause calling in question the powers of other people who carry out surveys simply because the clause does not give powers but places a duty on the Ministry and the Commission to carry out such surveys. "Powers" may be exclusive; but I do not think "duties" are exclusive in the same way. So I should not have thought that he would have needed to worry on that score.
I am certain that my noble friend is right: that there is a good reason for placing a duty on the Minister and Commission to do all these things—not necessarily to carry out or to co-ordinate themselves (although that may be appropriate in some cases), but to arrange with these other bodies, other Government Departments or voluntary organisations, for such inquiries to be held and to participate in them as necessary. This, I think, would give the noble Lord, Lord Simey, what he wants. It would give that co-operation from outside surveys and outside organisations and the Ministry and the Commission in carrying out these surveys. I hope the Minister will reconsider this Amendment. I think the new clause would be a valuable addition to the Bill. I do not know whether my noble friend wishes to press it. No doubt he has more to say. But I hope that the noble Lord the Minister will reconsider this between now and the next stage.
§ LORD CHAMPION
May I say that this Amendment is rather pushing at an open door. The intentions of the Ministry in this matter have been made clear by my noble friend. I must put one rather technical point in this connection. If we include these words in the Bill we may, as a result, cast doubt on the powers of other Departments who also undertake research and enter into agreements with other people for this specific purpose and who have no such powers governing them in an Act. This is a technical point worthy of consideration in this connection. The inclusion of these words might have precisely that effect.
There is one other thing. The noble Lord challenged my noble friend. 999 Though he is capable for answering for himself, and I wanted to intervene merely to make the technical point, I feel that, having regard to the weight of opinion brought to bear on this matter to-day by this Committee and the authority of those who engaged in it, we must look at this question again. But I am sure my noble friend will not give any firm commitment for including it, because we have to consider it in the wide range of legislation as a whole.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
All I should like to say is that we do appreciate what the noble Lord has just said, that this Amendment is pushing at an open door. What seems to be relevant to the technical point which the noble Lord has just raised, whether other Departments making grants might be put in a difficult position, is that this is a new Department of Government, and here is a considerable opportunity because new Departments are not set up by Statute every day. Here is an opportunity to create a new responsibility and, as my noble friend Lord Eccles, speaking from his enormous experience, said, to enable the new Ministry to perform more effectively the functions which it is to carry out. I think this clause would enable the Ministry to discharge its functions to the full; and the noble Lord, Lord Simey, and his friends will no doubt keep up the pressure to see that it does carry out its intentions. So, if this Amendment has produced nothing else, it has had the effect of encouraging professional social research workers in the universities to keep pressure on the new Ministry. With the assurance that I have been given, I should like to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 4 [Right to benefit]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 4 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ LORD TAYLOR OF MANSFIELD
Before leaving this clause, I should like to draw the Committee's attention to a point that I made during the Second Reading of this Bill. But, before doing that, may I, with so many other noble Lords, congratulate my noble friend Lord Popplewell on his maiden speech? 1000 For many years in the House of Commons he was a close associate of mine and I am sure that his timely reference to the type of case we are discussing this afternoon was well received by your Lordships. The point I made on Second Reading related to Clause 4, and the reference to:Every person in Great Britain on or over the age of 16.I have felt for a long time that the age should be 15. I have been preoccupied with the problem created by physically and mentally handicapped children.
Let us consider the case of a man who is at work and who has a child not sufficiently handicapped to go to a hospital or a school but sufficiently handicapped to be unable to receive any kind of instruction at all. I know that some physically and mentally handicapped children go to school and are allowed to stay until they are 16; many go to occupational centres, and their circumstances are different from those of children unable to go either to hospital or to school. Such children are a burden on their parents. The parents are financially responsible, and when the child reaches the age of 15 there is the gap of a year, from 15 to 16, during which, because of this age barrier, a child is unable to claim assistance in its own right. I have seen many such cases, and I hope, therefore, that, even at this late stage, it will not be too late for the Government to reconsider this point in the interest of those parents who have had to bear quite a substantial burden for so many years and who, under the proposed legislation, will have to continue to do so for a further year.
One other point I should like to make concerns the case of families where there is more than one child. When one of the children reaches the age of 15, the family allowance in respect of him stops, unless he is an apprentice, or receiving full-time instruction at school. I know of many cases where a family's income has been reduced because of that, and the parents have to wait a year before a physically or mentally handicapped child can apply to the National Assistance Board. I am quite sure that great hardship results from this condition. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Champion, will be able to say that the age at which a person 1001 may apply to the Ministry of Social Security will be 15 instead of 16.
§ LORD CHAMPION
It is true that Clause 4(1) of the Bill states that no person under 16 who has left school and is unemployed or sick will be able to claim benefit in his own right. The fundamental point which we have to consider, and which the Minister had to consider before presenting the Bill, is at what time does the child cease to be a liability of the parent. At what point does the parent cease to feel that he has a liability to maintain his child? This Bill follows the National Assistance Act by providing that the parent's responsibility should continue until the child is 16. The Minister does not think that the age should be lower. She has given the point very careful consideration. If my right honourable friend is correct, that the parent's responsibility should continue until the child is 16, it must follow that it would not be right for the child to be able to claim benefit at 15 in his or her own right.
I would not agree with the implication of my noble friend Lord Taylor of Mansfield that this creates a serious problem. As your Lordships may know, the same rule applies in respect of National Assistance, and the Government have no evidence that this rule has given rise to any real difficulty. If the head of the family is out of work or unable to work on account of sickness, the needs of a dependent child of whatever age are taken into account in assessing any assistance allowance which may then be payable, and this will also be the position for noncontributory benefit purposes. Where the head of the family is in employment, it is unlikely that he will experience serious difficulty in maintaining one of his children who has left school but remains wholly dependent on him until attaining the age of 16, as the parent will have recently been supporting the child while he was at school. A child cannot leave school at the earliest until the end of the term in which he reaches the age of 15, and where the parents have to continue to support a child, the need for that support cannot last for more than a few months.
Such figures as are available to the Ministry support my argument that this creates but a minor problem. The Ministry of Labour's figures of unemployed school leavers—that is, from the age 15 1002 to 18—who have not obtained jobs since leaving school show that the numbers decline rapidly after reaching a peak at the end of the summer term. In 1965 the figures fell from 38,753 in mid-August to 1,683 in mid-December. I give these figures, although they have no direct relationship to the point made by my noble friend about youngsters who will be forever incapable of work, because I thought the Committee is entitled to the information.
Finally, I must say that it is the declared intention of the Government to raise the school-leaving age to 16 in 1970, and this seems hardly the time—unless there were very pressing reasons—to reduce the minimum age for claiming benefit under this Bill to 15. I have sympathy with the circumstances so cogently set out by my noble friend, but there are limits to the amount that the State can do. Indeed, there are limits to the extent to which the State may take away the responsibility of the parent for the upbringing and care of his child. We believe that the age of 16 previously decided on is still appropriate, and I am sorry that I cannot give my noble friend very much hope that between now and Report stage we may be convinced otherwise, and be prepared to put down an Amendment along the lines he suggests.
§ Clause 4 agreed to.
§ Clause 5:
§ Determination of right to and amount of benefit.
(2) Regulations under this section may vary the provisions of Part II of the said Schedule 2, but not so as to reduce any amount specified therein.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
moved, in subsection (2), after "Part II" to insert "or Part III". The noble Lord said: This is a simple Amendment, the purpose of which is to make it possible to amend by regulations Part III of Schedule 2 as well as Part II. Part III deals with the calculation of resources and, in particular, with the disregards. There are a number of provisions in the Schedule which are unlikely to be altered very often. On the other hand, there are some which have to be altered from time to 1003 time. For example, I would mention two in paragraph 24 (f) and (g):(f) 7s. 6d. of any of the payments mentioned in sub-paragraph (2) of this paragraph;(g) 5s. 6d. of any of the payments mentioned in sub-paragraph (3) of this paragraph;It would seem that such provisions might reasonably be altered from time to time.
I know that experience has shown that the disregards are unlikely to be altered very often, but that is not a reason for not taking power to alter them, if necessary. I can testify to the handicaps and frustrations—in the past at any rate—of not being able to alter these when it seemed necessary to alter them, and the very fact that power to alter them has not been used shows that no Government are likely to be forced by pressure to make regulations. I should have thought that it would not do any harm to extend to Part III this power to make regulations, and it might well do good. Experience has shown that it would be relatively easy to resist pressure to make changes in the regulations. I would have thought that this power should remain, both for that reason and because it might be needed. I beg to move.
Page 3, line 39, after ("Part II") insert ("or Part III").—(Lord Drumalbyn.)
§ LORD BOWLES
Clause 5(2) enables the Minister, by regulations, which are subject to the Affirmative Resolution procedure, to vary the provisions of Part II of Schedule 2. Part II of this Schedule contains all the rules which will enable the Commission to determine the level of income requirements in each individual case, covering the rates of requirements themselves, the long-term addition and rent. The Minister will be given power by the Bill to vary these rules but not to decrease any of the amounts specified. In other words the Minister can prescribe higher levels of requirements or different levels for new categories, but cannot reduce any of the rates. The Amendment seeks to give the Minister exactly the same power to vary Part III of Schedule 2—that is, the rules for the calculation of resources.
The noble Lord has presented the case for the Amendment he proposes most persuasively, and his arguments in its favour cannot be lightly dismissed. On 1004 this particular issue—whether or not the Minister should have the power to vary the disregards, as well as the scale rates themselves, by regulation—it does not seem to me that there is any cut and dried answer available. There are merits on both sides, and the Government have had to weigh them carefully in the balance. In the Government's view, the balance of advantage lies in restricting the Minister's power to vary by regulations the rules governing assessment of need, to the rules in Part II of Schedule 2. I must explain to your Lordships why the Government have come to this conclusion.
The noble Lord has based his case on the fact that if the Amendment were accepted, the Minister would then have a more flexible instrument available. Periodically, though not of course on every occasion over the years that the rates of requirements might be raised, the disregards themselves could be improved, without the need for amending legislation. This is not a negligible consideration, of course, but I really do not think the noble Lord has given sufficient weight to the factors which must be put on the other side.
First, we are not now dealing with the National Assistance disregards, but with the entirely new structure of income and capital disregards set out in Part III of the Schedule. My noble friend Lord Sorensen devoted considerable time in the Second Reading debate to explaining the nature of these disregards, which dovetail into each other very closely—for instance, the provisions whereby more capital is to be ignored in the case of a person who has no income which falls to be disregarded than in the case of a person with, say, an occupational pension. It is not desirable, in the Government's view, that separate parts of this carefully balanced pattern should be varied without the most careful consideration being given to the effect of any particular change upon the structure as a whole.
Secondly, we must face the fact that there is simply no case for frequent changes in the rates of the disregards themselves. Over a period of 18 years, the National Assistance disregards were altered but once, in 1959. This was the only use made of the regulation-making power conferred by the Act of that year. The Government does not anticipate that 1005 there will be any stronger grounds in the future for frequent changes in the disregards in Schedule 2. And that being so, the arguments about legislative convenience do not carry so very much weight.
Thirdly—and most important of all—it is simply a fact that the matters dealt with in Part III of the Schedule are different in kind from those dealt with in Part II. Because Part III is concerned with disregards, it is selective in its effect. It creates a double standard whereby certain people, because of the way in which their resources are made up, will have the advantage of a higher total income than the majority. The Government are satisfied, and I think all noble Lords will agree, that despite this effect there is a case for preferential treatment for certain resources. As my noble friend said on the Second Reading, there are conflicting principles here, and the Government consider the new pattern of disregards represents as fair a balance between these principles as it is possible to achieve within our present resources. But this preferential treatment of some people, adds to cost, and must therefore mean that less is available for other purposes. It would be wrong, as the Government see it, to do anything in the future by way of enhancing this preference without giving Parliament the opportunity of considering the matter on the basis of amending the Statute itself.
It is on these grounds that the Government felt that they should not seek powers for the Minister to alter the disregards by a regulation, even though that regulation would be subject to the safeguards of Affirmative Resolutions. Accordingly, and although as I have said there are arguments cutting both ways, we do not feel that we can accept the noble Lord's Amendment.
§ LORD BROCKWAY
I rise on a point of information and clarification. Later I have an Amendment dealing with the costs of blind persons and those who are suffering from tuberculosis. They were given a special allowance in regulations under the 1948 and 1964 Acts. The point I am asking now is whether, under the provisions the Government are making now, it will still be possible to make special allowances to those whose costs are greater because of those disabilities.
§ LORD BOWLES
May I point out to my noble friend that I am not in charge of that particular Amendment, but I gather that the answer is, "Yes".
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I should like to thank the noble Lord for his answer. As he rightly says, this is a question of pros and cons, and they are fairly evenly balanced. I think that the arrangements for treating capital resources are so tidy that it is extremely unlikely that they will he altered for a long time to come. But I have had experience in the past—I could give your Lordships a particular case—of the other disregards in income. There was a case in which it would have been desirable to alter (it was a question of application, with which I will deal later; it is a complicated matter), and simply because of the doctrine that it was so difficult to deal with the matter by regulations—if you were going to alter anything in the disregards you would have to look at the whole Schedule—nothing was done about it. It is now being done in the Bill.
This really cuts both ways. All I am saying is that if the necessity to make an alteration is so great, if something goes wrong and it shows up that the disregards are not working as they were intended to work, because of movements of one kind and another—wages and so forth—then it would clearly be reasonable to make an alteration, in spite of the fact that you could not look at the whole field of disregards but would only be altering a particular point by regulations. I still feel that this would be desirable. I think it is a pity to withdraw a power that was conferred in 1959, when there is absolutely no evidence that it has been abused—quite the contrary; it was not used enough. However, I am not prepared to press this Amendment, and I beg leave to withdraw.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 5 agreed to.
§ Clause 6 [Medical requirements etc.]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 6 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I should like to ask the noble Lord a question on Clause 6. I wonder whether he would be good enough to say what the words "as may be appropriate", at the end 1007 of the clause, mean. Noble Lords will see that subsection (2) says:Benefit to meet the requirements mentioned in this section shall be such benefit or payment to or on behalf of the person receiving the appliances or services as may be appropriate.This is not comparable with any of the other language used in the Bill. It seems to be exceedingly vague, and perhaps the noble Lord can tell us what is intended.
§ LORD CHAMPION
I had some little doubt about this myself until I was told that the words "as may be appropriate" refer to the payment and not to the appliances or services. There will be some payments for appliances or services, and clearly the responsible officers must decide whether they are approved. There is no question about the appliances and services, but, rather, the words "as may be appropriate" relate back to the payment or payments. I do not think there is any doubt about this. I hurriedly made an inquiry after the noble Lord was kind enough to intimate to me that he proposed to ask this question. Having consulted about this, I feel that the words are clear and relate back to payment, and have no or little relation to the words "appliances or services".
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
This means, therefore, that the payment will be of the particular amount, and will not be a discretionary payment.
§ Clause 6 agreed to.
§ Clause 7 agreed to.
§ Clause 8 [Exclusion of persons in full-time employment]:
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
moved, in subsection (4), after "section 6" to insert: "or supplement under section—(Supplements to Family Allowances)". The noble Lord said: I regard this as an important Amendment. Its object is to empower the Minister by regulations to prescribe certain supplements to family allowances of those persons whose incomes fall short of the requirements prescribed in the Bill, whether or not those persons are in employment.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I think I am coming to the noble Lord's point. Lest anyone should question our right in this House to carry such an Amendment in a Division, let me say at once that I have no intention of trying to do so. I do not intend to press the Amendment to a Division, but I think that in a Bill which concerns need it is our right, and indeed our duty, to discuss the matter.
§ LORD BOWLES
That was not actually the point I had in mind, but I am grateful to the noble Lord for explaining it. What I had in mind was to suggest to the noble Lord that he might take this Amendment and Amendments Nos. 9 and 15 together because they seem to be on the same point.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
Yes, indeed. This Amendment, of course, is only a paving Amendment. The broad object of Clause 8 is to limit the scope of the Commission, just as that of the National Assistance Board is limited to persons not engaged in full-time work. So it excludes those whose incomes fall short of the requirements in the Bill if they are in remunerative full-time work. Then paragraph 5 of Schedule 2 provides for requirements to be "adjusted to normal earnings"; that is to say, a man's requirements when he is not working are deemed to be the same as when he was working, even though they fall short of the requirements laid down in the Bill. This so-called adjustment is commonly known as the wage-stop—and I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, in his place as I come to this Amendment.
As the noble Lord said, 15,000 or so are affected by this at present, a number which varies, I believe, as the total number of unemployed changes, but not necessarily in direct proportion. Most of us, I think, would agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Sorensen, said about this on Second Reading. The wage-stop, which provides an amount which a person not working is entitled to receive by way of National Assistance allowances and payments is limited to the amount which they would be earning if they were engaged in their normal occupation. As the noble Lord said at the time, it would be quite wrong that 1009 those who were not working should not be subject to this limitation, whereas those who were working would not be able to get any more than they would have been earning at the time. It would create a disparity between them.
The amount by which such people are docked by the wage-stop can be substantial. Under the Bill, according to my calculations the requirements of a man with a wife and five children, two between 11 and 15, and three between 5 and 10, and paying 35s. a week in rent and rates, would be assessed as £16 2s. a week. If his net earnings, including family allowances of £1 18s., were £14, he would get no more than that from the Ministry of Social Security under the Bill. His total net income, including family allowance, would still be £14, which would be two guineas less than his full requirements under the Bill. It is perhaps worth pointing out that if this man had had only three children his normal earnings would have been well above the requirements laid down in the Bill. It seems to follow that, generally speaking, the wage-stop catches mainly the large families. This seems clear enough without any inquiry.
The other aspect of this problem is that the wage-stop merely brings into the open the fact that many men and women who have large families and are working are not paid enough to keep them at the level thought proper under the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, suggests that the answer is to pay them all more. But there are families of twelve, and it cannot be reasonably suggested that all married men should be paid enough to keep a family of twelve. The answer, surely, lies in higher family allowances for the larger families. The Amendment enables the Minister to prescribe by regulations such supplements for family allowances. For instance, she might provide in the family allowance for a supplement of 5s. for the third child, 10s. for the fourth, and 15s. for the fifth and subsequent children. This is the sort of thing that could be done under the Amendment. How much is needed for each child will no doubt be indicated by the inquiry which is at present being conducted.
The supplements envisaged in the Amendment would be paid only to those whose earnings, plus normal family 1010 allowances, fell short of social security requirements. They would not necessarily make the earnings up to the requirements. One way of doing it, of course, would be by deficiency payments, but that would be verging on the experiment to which the noble Lord, Lord Mitchison, referred on Second Reading. On the other hand, the supplements would not be more than enough in any individual case to bring them up to the standard requirements. Clearly, this device would mean that the Commission would have to deal with an extra 200,000 to 300,000 cases—that is to say, it would add about 10 to 15 per cent. to their present case-load. That is formidable but, surely, not so formidable as to be totally impracticable.
What is the alternative? It is surely to pay higher family allowances without regard to income. This would be vastly more expensive, but it may, nevertheless, be the right solution—I do not know. Family allowances are very much higher, for example, in France. The question is, who is to pay for them? In France, the employer pays more for social security but less in wages. When I saw that the Government intended to increase the National Insurance stamp to pay for the selective employment tax I wondered whether they meant later to withdraw the selective employment tax and replace it by a social security payment towards family allowances, in this way accustoming employers to pay rather more on the National Insurance stamp in the future. But now it looks rather as though the selective employment tax is a forced loan to enable the Government to pay compensation to the owners of steel shares. So the net revenue from the selective employment tax is unlikely to be earmarked for higher social security payments.
This Amendment is designed to suggest to the Government a way in which they could provide supplements to people who are earning little and have to maintain large families and, at the same time, a way in which the Exchequer can mitigate the rigours of the wage-stop for those who are not working, are earning little when they are, and have large families. It will enable the Minister to take action as soon as she knows the results of the inquiry, without waiting in the legislative queue. I commend the Amendment for your Lordships' consideration, with very little hope that it 1011 will be accepted, though I believe it to be a subject worthy of the attention of the Committee. I beg to move.
Page 4, line 30, after ("section 6") insert the said words.—(Lord Drumalbyn.)
§ LORD SIMEY
I feel that there will be general agreement that the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, has made a most important point here. The difficulty that has beset us in the past, however, has been that it has been hard to find any secure way ahead having regard to the fact that, if we are not careful, the floodgates may be opened. There is one thing which I think we could do in the immediate future which might pave the way to the action which the noble Lord wants, and which he suggested to us. If we could provide the Child Poverty Action Group with the information it needs, particularly the statistical information, we might be able to work out the exact cost of a scheme which would alleviate quite substantially the poverty of the people we have in mind. May I therefore suggest—and I hope that the Minister who is to reply will accept the idea—that this information might be made available to my colleagues? I think that the work they have done so far has been most impressive, and I should like to see them carry it one stage further.
May I add that reflection has caused me to conclude that I did less than justice to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, in my remarks a few minutes ago. I am sorry to see that he is no longer in his place, but I think I ought to thank him publicly for the assistance he gave us in the research work in my Department, and to apologise to him for any seeming discourtesy this evening.
§ LORD MITCHISON
I hope that the Government will not accept this Amendment, for two reasons. I spoke about this matter at an earlier stage of the Bill, and I suggested that it would be a mistake to try to do what is denied by family allowances in connection with the number of children. But there is a second and, I think, more important point. When speaking about this matter earlier, I pointed out that there is a provision in subsection (2) of Clause 5 for following the provisions of Part II of Schedule 2 in which this particular adjustment 1012 occurs, but not so as to reduce any amount specified therein. That seems to me to be a very wide provision, and it would enable the Minister to do by regulation almost anything that can be imagined as suitable in this place. The Minister has said that she requires further information, and she is collecting it at the moment. I do not see how, in these circumstances, one can dispute a demand by a Minister to have time for collecting and applying further information, and I think it would be a great mistake if one tried to do so, particularly when there is a provision enabling her afterwards to act on that information. Therefore, I should have thought it would be a mistake to accept this Amendment, and that the right course would be to allow the Minister to collect the information she requires, and apply it as she thinks fit (there are no doubt provisions for questioning that, if necessary), and to use her powers under the subsection to which I have referred.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ LORD BOWLES
I am grateful to the noble Lord for taking these three Amendments together. It makes for neater debate, and will also air a serious and difficult subject, namely, the question which the noble Lord himself has raised. I realised, as the noble Lord did, the proposals in the Amendment fall out with the scope of the Money Resolutions, and therefore it would be inappropriate to pass this Amendment and meet with the rebuff in the House of Commons that it was a matter of privilege.
This new clause would empower my right honourable friend the Minister to make regulations for the payment of a supplement to family allowances to persons whose incomes are below the noncontributory benefit scale. The supplement would be payable whether the person was in full-time employment or not. The amount of the supplement would be laid down in the regulations, but it would not be paid at a reduced rate in cases where payment at the full rate would raise the total income above the noncontributory benefit scale. As drafted, the new clause would apparently exclude one-child families (for whom, of course, no allowance is payable under the Family Allowance Act), of whom there will be a number, though only a small minority 1013 of the total, with incomes below the noncontributory benefit scale.
The noble Lord is quite right when he says that the problem arises where there are a large number of children. Where there is only one child it perhaps does not arise anything like so often. Ministers have repeatedly expressed the Government's grave concern about poverty among low-income families with children. My right honourable friend, the Minister Without Portfolio, said in a debate on the Welfare State in another place on February 23 of this year:We are now engaged on an urgent study of the whole problem, and have been for a long time. The study goes far beyond family allowances, and takes account of all forms of family support, including educational maintenance grant…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, Vol. 725 (No. 54) col. 432; 23/2/66.]My noble friend Lord Mitchison might notice that it is not only family allowances that my right honourable friend is considering, but also educational maintenance grants, school meals and welfare milk, and it may therefore be more in kind than in cash. Replying to the debate on a similar new clause in another place on June 13 my right honourable friend the Minister said:We have been doing a great deal of work trying to find ways and means of finding an equitable solution to this problem, and this work is going on at the present time."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, (Commons) Vol. 729 (No. 31), col. 1162, 13/6/66.]As my noble friend Lord Mitchison said, the Ministry is at present carrying out a survey of family circumstances based on a nation-wide representative sample of about 2,750 families receiving family allowances. The interviewing of these families took place last week and the week before, so it is now over, and the processing of the information will be treated as a matter of urgency, though it is not yet possible to say when the results will be available, or when the Government may be ready to bring forward proposals.
A number of possible solutions to the problem of family poverty have been put forward. As my right honourable friend the Minister stated on 13th June:…until the results of the survey are available, and the Government have completed their study of the whole question of how best to relieve child poverty, it would be wrong to decide on, or indeed to rule out, any particular solution." [col. 1162.]1014 The kind of solution proposed in this clause, however, poses problems which, while not necessarily insoluble, are extremely awkward. Apart from the purely administrative difficulties of ascertaining earnings which may vary from week to week, there is the problem of incentives. Many families would be placed in the position that any increase in earnings would result in a reduction of the supplement.
It might be suggested that, even if the best way of helping the low earner with a family cannot yet be decided, it could prove useful to take the power given in the new clause; but in the view of the Government it would in any case be wrong to introduce a radical and expensive new departure of this kind by regulations. When the Government are ready with proposals for relieving child poverty, those proposals will be presented to Parliament in the usual and proper way, with full opportunities for discussion and amendment of any legislative measures required. I am not going to give any figures at all, but the increase in family allowances would be tremendously expensive. I had better not mention any figures but I expect the noble Lord knows as well as I do.
The cost of the new scheme would depend upon the rates of supplement prescribed by the regulations. If the rates were high enough to bring the incomes of the great majority of poor families up to the non-contributory benefit scale, the cost would probably not be less than £20 million a year, and possibly nearer £30 million if all those eligible claimed. The information derived from the survey of family circumstances should enable more precise costings to be made than is now possible.
My noble friend Lord Simey made a suggestion which I am sure my right honourable friend will be pleased to take into consideration. I do not think there is any point in giving an answer to the two smaller Amendments, but if the noble Lord would like to know the answer I could give it. Otherwise I feel, in all the circumstances that I have mentioned, that I must ask your Lordships to reject the Amendment.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I am obliged to the noble Lord. I think that what your Lordships would mainly like to 1015 know is that, in view of the obvious importance of this matter, steps to put it right will not be long deferred once the results of the inquiry are known and have been analysed and it has been possible to reach conclusions about them. It is obviously unfortunate, when a Bill of this character is introduced which affects the neediest in the land, that this particular gap should be left; and I can only express the hope, which I am sure all noble Lords will share, that means will be found to fill it at the earliest possible moment.
§ LORD BOWLES
Without actually recalling the words I used, I think the House will remember that I said that the Minister is pressing on with this with the greatest urgency. There is such a recognised anomaly and injustice that I am quite sure Parliamentary pressure will be such that as soon as proposals have been drafted the Government will treat it as a matter of urgency.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
May I ask whether it is the intention to publish the results of the inquiry as soon as they can be made available, or not until after the Government have made up their minds?
§ LORD BOWLES
I think I said that the analysis of the results will be made and the Government will then be in a position to know what to do. I am not in a position to commit the Government, but I should think, being broad-minded, that my right honourable friend the Minister without Portfolio and my right honourable friend the Minister of National Insurance might publish it in the form of a White Paper and have a national debate on it. I do not know, but it is an idea that occurred to me while the noble Lord was speaking.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I am obliged to the noble Lord for the information he has given and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 8 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD TAYLOR OF MANSFIELD
I wonder if my noble friend could enlighten me on subsection (2). I know that this is a regulation-making clause, and I think I know what it means; but 1016 I am not absolutely certain. I am of the opinion that it refers to the man who has ceased to be in full-time employment or to the man who has recovered from sickness and has gone back to work. The position as I know it is this: that in most industries a person has to work two weeks before he receives his first week's wages, and of course, of necessity, he has to go to the National Assistance Board to tide him over until the end of the second week, when he draws one week's wages.
I should like to ask my noble friend whether, in the regulations it is proposed to make, it will be laid down that this man who has now gone back to full-time employment will be able to receive benefit under this particular subsection until he is paid his first wages after recommencing work, having been off work either through unemployment or through sickness. It has been my experience that many men have had to go to the employer for what we call a "sub". They have worked a full week, they might be given half a week's wages, and then at the end of the second week they have been given the other half. So that for two weeks the man and his family have had to live on one week's wages. If my noble friend could enlighten me on that point I should be grateful.
§ LORD CHAMPION
Subsection (2) of this clause to which my noble friend refers enables the Minister to make regulations deferring the application of subsection (1) for a period, thus enabling benefit to be paid for a time after the claimant has started full-time paid work, to cover his requirements until his first pay-day. Paragraph 22 of the Schedule to the Administration of Assistance Regulations prescribes a period of one week. This has been found sufficient in practice, and it is envisaged that a similar provision will be made in the new regulations. If the prescribed period expires before the person has received his wages the Commission will have power, in an urgent case under Clause 13, to award benefit in order to prevent hardship. This point, I think, is of tremendous importance. It is true they had it under the old National Assistance Act, as I understand it, and it has been administered with sympathy by the National Assistance Board. We take my noble friend's point, and I think the 1017 answer I have given will assure him that the regulations will in fact cover the point.
§ Clause 8 agreed to.
§ Clause 9 agreed to.
§ Clause 10:
§ Persons affected by trade disputes
§ 10.—(1) Subject to subsection (2) of this section, where by reason of a stoppage of work due to a trade dispute at his place of employment a person is without employment for any period during which the stoppage continues and he has not during that stoppage become bona fide employed elsewhere in the occupation which he usually follows or become regularly engaged in some other occupation, his requirements for that period shall be disregarded for the purposes of benefit except so far as they include the requirement to provide for any other person.
§ 6.11 p.m.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I do not understand what the word bona fide means in this clause. What is bona fide and what is mala fide? Perhaps the noble Lord can enlighten us. I beg to move.
Page 5, line 5, leave out ("bona fide").—(Lord Drurnalbyn.)
§ LORD SORENSEN
I take it that bona fide is a synonym for genuine, but I am sure that this is a quite inadequate answer to the noble Lord and therefore I put these observations to him. A person involved in a trade dispute is disqualified under Clause 10 from receiving benefit unless he becomes "bona fide employed elsewhere" in his own occupation or some other occupation. This Amendment would alter the qualification words "bona fide employed elsewhere" to read simply "employed elsewhere". I am afraid this is an Amendment which the Government are not able to accept. The present wording in Clause 10 on this point follows the wording of Section 9(3) of the National Assistance Act 1948. Of course, that would not in itself be good cause for rejecting the Amendment: many provisions of the National Assistance Act have been amended by this Bill. But I make the point to emphasise that we have introduced nothing novel in the wording of this clause about the disqualification of the striker.
Both this clause and the equivalent section in the National Assistance Act 1018 are closely related to the National Insurance provisions. The term "trade dispute" is defined in Clause 36 of the Bill as having the same meaning as in Section 22 of the National Insurance Act 1965, and the phrase in Clause 10 which the noble Lord wishes to amend is in identical terms with that of Section 22 of the National Insurance Act, where the words "bona fide employed elsewhere" also appear. It will be seen also that Clause 18(2) of the Bill, which deals with appeals by a claimant against a decision that he is involved in a trade dispute, provides that such appeals are to be referred to the local National Insurance tribunal. The noble Lord will, I am sure, appreciate how important it is that there should be this close link between the contributory and the non-contributory schemes on this matter. Obvious difficulty could arise if, in the same case, where a man claimed he was not involved in a trade dispute and the question of whether or not he had become employed elsewhere was in issue, there were two different definitions to be considered—"bona fide employed" for unemployment benefit, and simply "employed" for non-contributory benefit.
I recognise that this does not directly answer the noble Lord's question as to what is the significance of the words "bona fide". I am advised that in fact they date back to the original National Insurance Act 1911, and that their purpose is to emphasise that it is only where a man has genuinely taken up other employment that he is, if he later becomes unemployed, to be regarded as no longer involved in the trade dispute. In other words, the intention of the words is to prevent a person from getting round the trade dispute disqualification by a subterfuge.
That may or may not satisfy the noble Lord. But he will, I think, appreciate that, unless we were to think of amending the corresponding National Insurance provision, we could not possibly agree to this Amendment. Noble Lords will not need me to tell them that consideration of the National Insurance Act is not our present purpose. More important, I ought to remind your Lordships that the trade dispute disqualification in the National Insurance Act 1965 is one of the matters under consideration by the Royal Commission on Trade Union and Employers' 1019 Organisations. So far, therefore, as concerns the wider issues raised by this Amendment, which indeed are implicit in it, these must of course defer to the Royal Commission's consideration of the problem as a whole. For these reasons I must, therefore, ask the Committee to reject the Amendment.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I will certainly not press the Amendment in view of the very cogent reply the noble Lord has given. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 10 agreed to.
§ Clauses 11 to 17 agreed to.
§ Clause 18:
§ 18.—(1) A person claiming or in receipt of benefit may appeal to the Appeal Tribunal against any determination of the Commission, or a refusal by the Commission to review a determination, with respect to any of the following matters:—
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
It may be for the convenience of your Lordships if we took this Amendment and the next Amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bowles, together, if he is willing. The purpose of this Amendment is to ensure that an appeal may be made to the Tribunal where a man goes to a re-establishment centre or some comparable centre run by a voluntary organisation, against decisions on the payments to be made to meet his personal requirements or the requirements of his family. This does not seem to be covered by the Bill as it stands at the present time, and it seems to me obvious that it should be. I beg to move.
§ Amendment moved—
Page 8, line 33, at end insert—
( ) the provision of or failure to provide any payments for meeting a person's personal requirements or the requirements of any dependant of his under section 12 (3);".—(Lord Drumalbyn.)
§ LORD BOWLES
The Amendment provides for a specific right of appeal to the Appeal Tribunal by a person who is being maintained in a re-establishment centre against any decision as to the amount of payments he receives for his personal requirements or for those of his dependants. The noble Lord, Lord 1020 Drumalbyn, has explained the purpose of the Amendment, and as he is aware, the Government accept that an Amendment to achieve that purpose is desirable. As the Bill now stands it is open to doubt whether a payment made under Clause 12, subsection (3), is a payment of benefit. It follows from this that it is also open to doubt not only whether the individual has a right of appeal against the Commission's decision on the amount of any payment, because Clause 18(1)(a) speaks of appeals being against the right to or amount of any benefit, but also whether such payments are benefit for other purposes. For instance, exemption from stamp duty under Clause 19, and the provisions about inalienability in Clause 20, are written in terms of benefit.
Because of these wider implications it is necessary that any Amendment should cover not only the appeal point but the more general one of treating payment under Clause 12, subsection (3), as benefit for all purposes. The noble Lord knows from the Order Paper that I am moving a relevant Amendment later. In fact, as soon as the noble Lord withdraws his Amendment I will move mine.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
In view of what the noble Lord has said, I thank him and beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 18 agreed to.
§ Clauses 19 to 32 agreed to.
§ Clause 33 [Legal proceedings]:
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether Clause 33 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
In regard to this clause I want merely to ask why there is a difference between the procedure in England and Wales as compared with that in Scotland: why it is that there is no limit of time in regard to the commission of the offence before proceedings can be brought in the case of Scotland.
§ LORD BOWLES
The noble Lord will realise that we on this side of the Committee have divided our labours. My noble friend Lord Champion has gone to get some information, and no doubt in due course he will communicate it to the noble Lord.
§ Clause 33 agreed to.
§ Clauses 34 and 35 agreed to.
§ Clause 36:
36.—(1) In this Act—
benefit", except where the context otherwise requires, means benefit under this Act;
LORD BOWLES moved to add to the interpretation of "benefit":
and includes any payments under Section 12(3) of this Act".
§ The noble Lord said: This is a Government Amendment to put it beyond doubt that payments made under Clause 12(3) to men in re-establishment centres for their personal requirements, or for their dependants' requirements, are payments of benefit. The Amendment meets the point made by Lord Drumalbyn in his proposed Amendment to Clause 18. This Amendment includes payments made under Clause 12(3) to men in re-establishment centres, either for their own personal requirements or for the requirements of their dependants, within the definition of the word "benefit". This puts it beyond doubt that the individual has a right of appeal against the Commission's decision as to whether or not such payments should be made, and against the amount of any such payments, and therefore covers the very relevant point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, to whom we are grateful.
§ I believe that the Minister has personally communicated with the noble Lord and said how grateful the Ministry and she are to him for raising this point. It also ensures that such payments are treated as benefit for all other purposes of the Bill. I beg to move.
Page 17, line 36. at end insert the said words.—(Lord Bowles.)
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I should like to thank the noble Lord for the Amendment that he has moved, and also to thank the Department for having written to me to let me know that an Amendment was being put down.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.1022
§ Clause 36, as amended, agreed to.
§ Clauses 37 to 39, agreed to.
§ Clause 40 [Short title, commencement and extent]:
LORD SORENSEN moved to leave out subsection (2) and insert:
(2) The provisions of this Act shall come into operation as follows, that is to say,—
§ The noble Lord said: This is a Government Amendment, the purpose of which is to enable the parallel legislation to this Bill which is now before the Parliament of Northern Ireland to be passed as soon as the Bill now before your Lordships receives the Royal Assent. As your Lordships will know, in social security matters the Northern Ireland legislation has closely followed that of the Westminster Parliament and there is now before the Parliament of Northern Ireland a Bill entitled the "Supplementary Benefits etc. Bill (Northern Ireland)". The Northern Ireland Bill will not establish a Ministry of Social Security for Northern Ireland because a composite Department already exists there. But so far as concerns the new benefits and the Commission the Northern Ireland Bill is in most material respects the same, both in form and content, as the Bill now before this Committee.
§ Your Lordships will appreciate that the Northern Ireland Parliament cannot complete its legislation until the Westminster Parliament has given it the necessary powers under head (c) of Clause 38. This Amendment will give those powers at the earliest possible date by bringing Clause 38 into force on Royal Assent without waiting for the Commencement Order which the Bill at present provides for. This is the only change effected by the Amendment to subsection (2) of Clause 40. For clarity, however, the whole of subsection (2) is replaced and its component parts broken down into the three heads (a), (b) and (c), but there 1023 is no other change of substance. This is a technical matter and I assume that there is not likely to be any serious disputation on it. I beg to move.
Page 19, line 18, leave out subsection (2) and insert the new subsection.—(Lord Sorensen.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause 40, as amended, agreed to.
§ Schedule 1 agreed to.
§ Schedule 2 [Provisions for determining right to and amount of benefit]:
§ 6.26 p.m.
LORD BOWLES moved, after paragraph 2, to insert:
( ) Where the person claiming or in receipt of benefit is entitled to such other payments as may be specified for the purposes of this paragraph by regulations made by the Minister, the preceding provisions of this paragraph shall, in such circumstances as may be specified in the regulations, have effect as if sub-paragraph (1) were omitted and for the references in sub-paragraph (2) to the amount of any benefit there were substituted references to the aggregate of that amount and of the amount of the payments so specified.
§ The noble Lord said: This is the Government Amendment to the rule in paragraph 2 governing the actual amount payable after the calculation of resources and requirements has been completed, to which I referred during our Second Reading debate. The effect of the Amendment is that where a person is entitled to both non-contributory benefit and some other payment specified by the Minister, regulations may provide that it is the aggregate of the two payments which is to be rounded to the nearest shilling and not simply the noncontributory benefit itself. This Amendment is required particularly for dealing with those cases where a supplementary allowance will be made to unemployed persons registering at the employment exchange.
§ As your Lordships may know, the situation at present in these cases is that unemployment benefit and National Assistance are normally paid together at the employment exchange as one sum. This is obviously sensible, but the system does not work as smoothly as it could because during the early weeks of un- 1024 employment it often happens that there is a change, or a succession of changes, in the amount of unemployment benefit—because, for example, of the effect of waiting days and supplementary claims for dependants. When the amount of unemployment benefit changes like this, the National Assistance allowance (and, in due course, the supplementary allowance to be paid under this Bill) has to be adjusted so as to continue to meet the man's requirements. As paragraph 2 stands, however, and indeed under the present National Assistance rules, the effect of such changes could be that a person's total payment—that is, from National Assistance or non-contributory benefit and unemployment benefit together—went up or down by up to 6d., although there had been no change at all in his circumstances. This can, of course, be irritating to the claimant, to say the least. Perhaps I may quote a hypothetical example to show what I mean.
§ A man's total requirements are, say, £9 19s. 8d. a week. If he has no unemployment benefit due, he receives a supplementary allowance of £10, the 8d. being rounded up to the nearest shilling. Benefit then becomes due at, say, £6 19s. 6d. the next week, and is deducted from his requirements of £9 19s. 8d., leaving a balance due of £3 0s. 2d. But, under paragraph 2, this would then be rounded down to £3, and the total payment the man received that week would therefore be not £10 but £9 19s. 6d. So he has lost 6d. The Amendment will enable this anomaly to be avoided by permitting the rounding rule to be applied to the total of both contributory benefit and non-contributory benefit. In the example I quoted the man would receive £10 in the second week, just as he had received £10 in the first week. Your Lordships will see that where this rule is applied sub-paragraph (1), of paragraph 2, which prescribes that the minimum payment is to be 2s., does not apply. This is simply because the situation in which the total of insurance benefit and non-contributory benefit was less than 2s. could not in practice arise.
§ Your Lordships will see that the Amendment has been drafted in terms which do not relate it specifically to the problem of the man with changing rates of unemployment benefit. It has deliberately been put in terms which will 1025 enable the Minister to apply it in other situations of the kind which may arise when non-contributory and contributory benefits are paid as one sum. We already know that it is intended to pay retirement pensions and supplementary pensions together in due course. I beg to move.
Page 21, line 9, at end insert the said subparagraph.—(Lord Bowles.)
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
We welcome this Amendment as a move in the right direction, particularly since it follows on a discussion initiated on the Committee stage in another place by my honourable friends. Nevertheless, it is still a matter for regret that the organisation of the new Ministry of Social Security will not be sufficiently sophisticated to pay people what they are actually entitled to. The practice of rounding off, although now applied, quite correctly, in this Amendment to the combined figure rather than to the single amount, shows something of an old-fashioned attitude towards accounting. With computers a unit is a unit, it does not matter whether it is 2s. 0d. or 5s. 7d. Clearing-banks can make millions of payments, and do so every day, to the nearest penny. Wages and salaries paid by employers are paid to the nearest penny; or, if there is any rounding off, it is always rounded "up", never rounded "down".
As to small amounts of under two shillings, I should regard the description of "negligible payments" or "negligible amounts" in the Bill as rather unfortunate wording to use from the point of view of some of the people who are awarded these sums. The right honourable lady, the Minister, in another place said that these small awards of ls. 0d. and up to 2s. 0d. caused resentment. One can understand that might be the case. But if so, why make awards of very small amounts and then refuse to pay them because of a rule of administrative convenience? It seems an odd way round the problem. Therefore, while welcoming this Amendment, we hope that the Government will watch these two practices of rounding off and negligible payments and see whether improved administrative methods do not make it possible to eliminate them and in the future pay people what they are entitled to, to the penny.
§ LORD BOWLES
I would thank the noble Lord for what he has said. I am sure my right honourable friend will read his speech with interest to-morrow.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
moved, in paragraph 10, after the second "persons", to insert:or any other persons incapacitated by any such disease or disability as the Minister may from time to time prescribe by order".
§ The noble Lord said: With your Lordships' permission, I suggest that Amendments Nos. 17, 18 and 19 should be discussed at the same time as Amendment No. 16. The purpose of these Amendments is to enable the Minister to prescribe diseases or disabilities so that those incapacitated by them should be entitled to the higher level of requirements on the same terms as the blind. This procedure will be much the same as applies in the case of industrial diseases under the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, although rather less complicated.
§ The general principle implied by the Amendment is that those whose disabilities by their nature involve the need for special care in the person's own home should receive a higher level of benefit. I do not propose to give examples as I do not wish to pre-judge the diseases and disabilities which the Minister may consider warrant this special treatment. We can all think of cases which might well qualify. On Second Reading I expressed disappointment that there was nothing in the Bill which dealt specially with the chronic sick. I am well aware of the difficulty of definition, but it seems reasonably clear that there are diseases which are, at least in the present state of medical knowledge, incurable, diseases which are known to grow progressively worse and which may require a high degree of home attention. This is in the nature of a constant attendance allowance, and is rather different from the proposal in line 23 which is designed merely to deal with the period between the time when earnings-related benefit ceases and the time when 1027 the supplementary allowance for persons who have been out of the employment field for two years begins. This sets the requirements at the same rate as for the blind, which is, as I understand it, 15s. 6d. higher than the supplementary allowance and £1 4s. 6d. higher than the basic requirements. I think this is a power which the Minister might well wish to use. Of course, the Amendment does not make it mandatory for the Minister to use such a power, but, as I have said, one can think of many cases where it might well be justified, and I would suggest that this would be a power which it would be worth while for the Minister to take. I beg to move.
Page 23, line 3, at end insert the said words.—(Lord Drumalbyn.)
§ LORD SORENSEN
Amendments Nos. 17, 18 and 19 are consequential on No. 16, as the noble Lord says, and my remarks are addressed in particular to No. 16. Some of my remarks will have a certain relevance to the Amendment to be moved by the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, though I shall speak more fully to that Amendment later on.
Paragraph 10 of the Schedule lays down higher rates for the normal weekly requirements of blind persons. The Amendment would permit the Minister, by regulations, to extend these special rates to such other persons suffering from diseases or disabilities as the regulations prescribed. I am afraid that the Government cannot accept this Amendment. With one exception—which is the category of blind persons—the Government are convinced that there should be under the Bill no preferential rates for different classes of beneficiaries apart from the necessary distinctions based on household status and children's ages. The Bill confers a preference only on one group, the blind. The blind have traditionally been given this kind of preference, first in the Blind Domiciliary Assistance paid by Public Assistance Authorities, and in the field of non-contributory pensions (under the Old Age Pensions Act 1936), and later by means of the special scales of allowances under the National Assistance scheme. This preference has been retained because it is the Government's view that the special needs of blindness do not vary 1028 much individually, and that the common needs of blind people can be easily recognised, and can best be provided for by means of a special rate common to all blind people.
To extend the special provision to other classes entitled to non-contributory benefit would immediately lead to difficulty and the drawing of distinctions between cases; and this, whatever the noble Lord opposite may say, must in practice be invidious and cause much discontent. This is why my right honourable friend the Minister resisted the Amendments put forward, when the Bill was considered in Committee in another place, to give the preference to certain categories of disabled person. The noble Lords who have put down these Amendments must I think have been impressed by the arguments my right honourable friend then used and possibly have decided that drawing distinctions and defining the other preferred categories is too much for them. Instead, the Amendment takes refuge in the not unfamiliar device of passing the problem back to the Minister, who is to be given a free hand in the matter so that she can by order define the relevant categories. (There is, of course, a more vulgar phrase or synonym than the words I have mentioned.) This is a power which my right honourable friend does not need (because she already has the power under Clause 5, subsection (2), to vary the provisions of Part II of this Schedule) and a power she could not use without producing exactly the same problems of definition and of invidious distinctions as I have already mentioned.
No one would for a moment deny that there are many other groups of disabled people, and people suffering from serious diseases, who deserve the utmost consideration. There is nothing between the noble Lord and myself so far as this goes. But is the right answer in such cases to provide that the same special scale rates as for the blind shall apply? The Government are sure that it is not, simply because the special needs of such people can vary so very widely from one individual to another. What is required is not a special scale but individual attention to ensure that the amount allowed on top of the basic scale rate including, in long-term cases, the 9s. addition, is adequate to meet whatever special needs there may be. Under paragraph 4 of the Schedule, 1029 the Commission will have just those powers. That is one reason for giving them. And there is no limit to the amount which can be provided by way of discretionary allowances.
In the really sad case of chronic illness or crippling disablement where there are substantial expenses as a result, the Commission will be able to make completely adequate provision, as indeed the National Assistance Board have done in the past. It may interest your Lordships to know in this connection that last December the Board were making discretionary additions of over £1 a week in no fewer than 71,000 cases. Many of these will be in the kind of case and for the kind of expense which the noble Lord has in mind, and we are sure that this discretionary provision by the Commission in the individual case is much better than prescribing a fixed sum for categories of cases which must, in the end, be arbitrarily defined. I must, therefore, ask your Lordships to reject the Amendment.
§ LORD BROCKWAY
Without wishing to anticipate the Amendment which I have on the Order Paper, may I ask my noble friend this question? He has stated that this special allowance has been limited to the blind. Is it not the case that, both in the 1948 Act and in the 1964 Act, this special allowance was also provided for people suffering from tuberculosis? If that is the case, what is the reason for not including such persons within the provisions of this Bill?
§ LORD SORENSEN
I think my noble friend is correct in regard to tuberculosis, and if I erred in not making that clear certainly I take the blame for it. But obviously the arguments that I have adduced to-day apply both to those categories and to other categories. It is felt that it is better to leave it to the Commission generously to exercise their powers, rather than to lay down scales in the way that has been suggested, which I think is open to very serious objection.
§ LORD SOMERS
I have listened very carefully to the noble Lord, but I am still puzzled as to why exactly blindness has been chosen as the one disability to receive consideration. There are many other even more disabling disabilities. There are polio and other muscular diseases; there is rheumatoid arthritis which is progressive. There are those 1030 who, either in the course of their work or in the service of their country, have lost both arms or both legs. Surely there are other cases worse than blindness.
§ LORD SORENSEN
All I would say in reply to the noble Lord who has just spoken is that it was precisely the points that he himself expressed that were in the mind of the Minister. That is why it is felt that the exercise of the powers of the Commission is likely to be much more intimate and personal, and able to assist the various categories of disabilities, than would be the case if we laid down scales for any particular class of case.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I should like to thank the noble Lord again for the full explanation of the Government's point of view which he has given in this case. Perhaps he was, uncharacteristically, rather ungenerous in saying that we were merely "passing the buck" in this case.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
But I think he would recognise that we are not expert in judging the kind of cases which might be caught by this, and we thought it right that the matter should be left—in the same way as it is left under the Industrial Injuries Act—to expert assessment. To the extent—and I am quite prepared to take the noble Lord's assurance on this—that the special needs are met, there will be very much less need for the kind of provision which this Amendment proposes.
I was a little concerned that the noble Lord was only talking in terms of the special needs—and special needs would still exist despite this provision—of cases of this kind. I should have thought that some needed much more special assistance than the £1 mentioned. The noble Lord was talking about a figure of 71,000. I do not know whether he is able to give us any idea of the highest amounts which the National Assistance Board grants by way of special allowances. This would give us some idea of what is required in the most difficult cases. It is a little difficult to argue this without such information, and I quite understand that the problem has not been analysed out in this way. In view of what the noble Lord has said, we have no option but to rely on the good judgment of the new Commission—as I 1031 think we can well do—as we have done in the case of the National Assistance Board.
As my noble friend Lord Somers has said, it is a little difficult to justify in human terms the selection of one particular category. One is bound to observe that the noble Lord really relied on the administrative argument for doing so; that here were people who, viewed in industrial injuries terms, are by definition 100 per cent. disabled, who can therefore be treated separately; that blindness is blindness within the definition, and that is that, with a few gradations. That argument one must accept, but there is also the human argument and one is bound to agree that blindness is not necessarily the worst and most difficult affliction. If one measures them out in terms of human handicap and suffering, one finds that there are others much worse. This was the point of the Amendment. But if what we ask is administratively impossible, then one must accept that. I only hope that in due course something more positive can be done for the chronic sick. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 6.50 p.m.
LORD WINDLESHAM moved to add to paragraph 11 ("Persons in receipt of supplementary pension"):
(b) Additional requirements of person eligible for supplementary pension, being a person aged 75 or more… …14s. 0d.
§ The noble Lord said: It is late, but I think that this is one of the most important aspects of the Bill to which we would seek to draw the attention of the noble Lords opposite, and I should therefore like to go through the argument in a little more detail, as we did not have an opportunity to do so on Second Reading. We have suggested, as noble Lords will see, the single age of 75 for both men and women rather than what had previously been debated—that is ten years after retirement age, which would have meant 70 for women and 75 for men. This is to make a further higher level of additional supplementary payment easier to administer, and also to reduce the cost to the Treasury; because, as noble Lords opposite will know, there is a very large category of women between the ages of 70 and 75. 1032 So the proposal is that after the age of 75 both men and women should receive, as of right, an additional payment of 5s., which would increase the 9s. addition to a total of 14s.
§ When we discussed this point on Second Reading the noble Lord, Lord Sorensen, replying for the Government, questioned a proposition that I, speaking immediately before him, put forward—namely, that needs increased with age. I was speaking in general terms. I believe that in general terms and in lay language, that proposition is true; but it is only true if the word "needs" is not too narrowly defined. I think it is therefore something of an over-simplification, and I should like to present a rather more refined argument to the noble Lord now. The proposition should be rephrased as follows: the balance between total financial requirements and total resources of old people becomes less favourable as age increases.
§ It is possible to point to strong evidence that this is so. The Tables on page 10 and on page 12 of the Report on the Financial and Other Circumstances of Retirement Pensioners show, in Table II.2 on page 10, that total income decreases sharply with age. On page 12, Table II.4 shows that approximately one-third of all old people over 75 have no income from any source other than retirement pensions or supplementary assistance. These people are, therefore, less well off than they were in their early retirement, because they no longer have any savings or other sources of income. When we come to look, as the survey does, at net available resources of retirement pensioners, which means the income reckonable for National Assistance purposes, and when we examine that in relation to their needs—and here is the narrow use of the word "need", meaning assessed requirements by the Board, which is not the same thing, of course, generally speaking, as overall total requirements—we see from page 23 of the Report that needs exceed net available resources by an increasing amount as pensioners get older.
§ Here, I would refer noble Lords to Table III.4(2). In passing, I might comment that it is unfortunate that in printing these Tables some rather simpler titling could not have been found than, "Table III.4(2)". If these had been 1033 numbered from 1 to, say, 120,from start to finish, we should have had a rather easier job when referring to them. On page 23, the Report concludes that younger pensioners are better off on the whole; and later Tables in the same Report show that the state of health decreases with age; that older retirement pensioners after 75 are more chair-bound and are more bedridden. The Tables on pages 65 to 67 establish this as a trend.
§ Therefore, it can be argued that if "needs" are looked at from the point of view of the total resources of older retirement pensioners, and from the point of view of the state of health of older retirement pensioners, and the lack of mobility and decreasing convenience, there is a strong argument for the over-75s receiving a higher rate of addition, as of right, without any further qualifying test of means. It is worth noting that in the Report by the Cambridge Department of Applied Economics, to which I referred a little earlier, The Economic Circumstances of Old People, by Dorothy Cole with John Utting, the authors concluded there was a case for higher pensions over 70 and proposed an increase. This appears at pages 105 and 106. So I hope that the Government will agree that if the case is argued from the point of view of total resources and state of health and convenience (which, after all, are the factors that matter: the condition in which the old person is living), rather than from the much narrower standpoint of needs in the sense of assessed requirements in accordance with the practice and rules of the National Assistance Board—or the Commission in the future—there is something which should be seriously considered here as a matter requiring the attention of the Government in setting up this new Ministry.
§ There is one final point. I accept that the requirements of the very old are extremely difficult to quantify in money terms, which is of course what this Amendment seeks to do, because there are a number of things—visits to relatives, people coming in to see old people in their own homes—which may be just as important in the lives of people over 75, who are often very lonely. But the argument can be maintained that from the point of view of resources an addition as of right—extending the Government's 1034 own argument for the 9s. addition—up to a higher level of 14s. at 75, would be an opportunity to allow the very old to spend the last years of their lives in dignity and in comfort. I beg to move.
Page 23, line 17, at end insert the said paragraph.—(Lord Windlesham.)
§ 6.57 p.m.
§ LORD BOWLES
We have listened to a most interesting speech from the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, and I am sure we shall all read it very carefully in the morning. Paragraph 11 of the Schedule provides for a long-term addition of 9s. a week to the requirements of those eligible for supplementary pensions—that is, for people of pension age. The Amendment would increase this addition to 14s. a week where the claimant was aged 75 or over. I had better say straight away that the Government are unable to accept this Amendment. The noble Lord opposite has put his case very ably, but unfortunately it is based on a false premise.
His argument, in essence, has been that the older pensioner, the person aged 75 or over, has greater special needs than the younger pensioner. If this were true of these pensioners as a whole, and as an identifiable group, there might be a case for the Amendment; because, as I explained on Second Reading, the purpose of the long-term addition is to cover the great bulk of the special needs now met by discretionary allowances under National Assistance. But as my noble friend Lord Sorensen pointed out to your Lordships last week, there is no evidence at all that this is the case.
The noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, made the point on Second Reading that a higher percentage of retirement pensioners who are receiving discretionary grants from the National Assistance Board are in the higher age groups above 70 or 75. Certainly a high proportion are the older pensioners, but the evidence does not suggest that they have higher special needs—I emphasise those words, "higher special needs". This is the real point. Indeed, among retirement pensioners receiving discretionary additions the proportion receiving substantial additions of more than 10s. a week is lower than it is among persons in receipt of National Assistance to supplement their sickness benefit.
1035 As my noble friend mentioned on Second Reading, what is known is that, for example, among non-contributory old age pensioners getting assistance, all of whom are now at least 74 years old, the average addition is well below the 9s. to be provided for by way of a long-term addition under the Bill. It is also known from a small sample of cases that as regards the proportion of pensioners getting additions there is nothing specially significant about the age of 75. In each of the five-year age ranges either side of 75, about three-quarters are getting discretionary additions.
I submit that the conclusion which must be drawn from such evidence is that the long-term addition does not need to be at any higher rate for the over-75s as a whole than for the younger pensioners or the chronic sick. Of course, it is true that some of them will need extra help over and above the 9s., on the ground of ill health, just as some younger pensioners will require such help. The Bill enables the Commission to make such discretionary allowances for this purpose where they are needed and to do this when the need arises, whatever the age. There is therefore no question of any special needs which the individual older pensioner may have being inadequately dealt with.
The Government's case against this Amendment is that it fails on merit, and I would not therefore argue against it on grounds of cost. But the Committee should be aware that it would, in fact, cost some £6½ million in a full year. No responsible Government can undertake unlimited financial commitments. Resources have to be allocated with a sense of priority, and it follows that to give an extra £6½ million here would be denying it elsewhere. The proposal for a long-term addition of 9s. on top of a basic level of income requirements of £4 1s. 0d. a week for a single householder and £6 13s. 0d. for a married couple is well balanced. To go further than this for the very old would upset this balance and would really be wrong, because it could not be justified as equitable. I must ask the Committee to reject this Amendment.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
There is one point I should like to raise with the 1036 Minister, and I think this is possibly the appropriate time to do it. I think the Committee has welcomed the idea of fixing higher requirements for those of pensionable age with the 9s. addition. It seems to me that everything has its advantages and disadvantages; this, obviously, has great advantages in saving administrative costs as well as embarrassment and trouble to the individual pensioner in having his individual needs up to that level examined. The trouble is that pensioners may be likely to assume that they have already had their special needs examined within this 9s. and will not get any more, and they will be likely not to apply when further special needs arise. I do not know how you get over this, except, again, by full information; and this may prove a little difficult. It may well happen that somebody who is receiving 9s. (and who would, let us say, have received only 5s., if his special needs had been examined) will have a further need arise which would perhaps amount to 10s. or 15s., and will not think of applying for assistance to meet that future additional need.
One of the reasons why our Amendment appeals to me is because it would ease this particular problem in the case of the very old. I can see this happening more often in the case of the old. In the nature of the case, it is probably very difficult to get evidence of this; but one can see it happening more often in the case of old than of younger people. With younger people, where there are higher special needs they are pretty constant and run on for some time. This may not be so with the older people, who may have constant basic needs and discretionary needs from time to time which ought to be met. This is a problem which needs consideration. I should have thought that the Amendment proposed would help in the case of older people, although I can see the force of the noble Lord's argument. But perhaps he will be good enough to have this point looked at and let us know the answer in some form or another.
§ LORD BOWLES
I thank the noble Lord. It is a very interesting though difficult problem. As I said, I shall read the whole of this debate to-morrow. I am sure that the Minister and her advisers in the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance will do the same. I 1037 shall consider in what way I can communicate my answer to the House, because it might be something to raise on Third Reading. I am sure that the noble Lord would not want to have this in secret. Probably the best way is to make some reference on Third Reading. In the light of this, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, will withdraw his Amendment.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
I would not wish to press this Amendment, in the light of what the noble Lord has said. I must, however, confess to some disappointment, because the noble Lord replied in detail to my Second Reading speech and did not, in fact, follow the reasoning I have just advanced to the Committee. It is possible to rebut the Amendment flatly on the basis of "needs". The noble Lord based his reply on the argument I previously advanced on Second Reading. He says the needs of retirement pensioners do not increase by age, if measured by the amount of discretionary additions paid by the National Assistance Board. The whole point I am making is that "needs" are a very narrow definition of what people actually want in their lives. Needs are only the assessed requirements according to the rules of the Board. The argument must be presented at the level of total resources; and the decline in total resources which can be shown. I have been at some pains to deploy these arguments. The Government's own Report shows that total resources decline as age increases. These are not assessable needs. My ground has therefore changed to that extent.
§ LORD BOWLES
I started my speech by saying how interesting I thought the noble Lord's speech, and that I would read it very carefully because he raised one or two points that were, I confess, new to me. But in view of what he has said perhaps we can now proceed with the next Amendment.
§ LORD WINDLESHAM
Perhaps we could come back to this on the Report stage. I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 7.8 p.m.
LORD DRUMALBYN moved, in paragraph 12, at beginning of sub-paragraph (b), to insert:
except in the case of such classes of persons and subject to such rules as the Minister may from time to time prescribe by regulations.
§ The noble Lord said: This Amendment is one to which I have already referred. Paragraph 12 of Schedule 2 provides that the additional requirements of people in receipt of supplementary allowances at the rate of 9s. are payable only where that person has been receiving the supplementary allowance for a continuous period of at least two years and he has not been in the employment field during that period. It seems to me that there could be cases where a man appeared to be eligible to re-enter the employment field, and was perhaps registered in the disabled persons' register, but did not get a job or was not fit enough to take a job, and then he got worse and did not get a job at all. This can arise for a person with sclerosis, which is progressive. Someone can be disabled with it and lose his job. Then the disease seems to go; but after a time it appears to get better and he is on the verge of getting another job when he has another attack which makes him worse so that he may not get another job at all.
§ This is the kind of case I had in mind which might be a special case. Therefore, the purpose of the Amendment is to allow the Minister to designate classes of persons and make rules in relation to them to whom the conditions in paragraph 12 will not necessarily apply. In other words, although they have entered the employment field, in certain cases they would still be entitled to supplementary allowances within the two years. I beg to move.
Page 23, line 23, at beginning insert the said new words.—(Lord Drumalbyn.)
§ LORD SORENSEN
I appreciate the genuine concern of the noble Lord for this category of sufferers. May I formally interpret, as I see it, this Amendment, for the purposes of the record, before passing on to other observations?
The effect of this Amendment would be to enable the Minister, by regulations, to prescribe that in certain classes of cases the fact that a person had been required to register for employment as a condition of receiving a supplementary allowance should not be a bar to his receiving 1039 the benefit of the long-term addition at the end of two years. That is more or less a prosaic paraphrase of what the noble Lord said.
The noble Lord has cited instances where it would be inequitable if a person was denied the benefit of the long-term addition simply because during a long period of sickness in receipt of a supplementary allowance he had, for a short period in the past two years, been required to register for employment. These are the facts with which we are familiar and on which there is major agreement. We entirely agree that there will be circumstances where the rule in paragraph 12, which does not itself permit of any exceptions, would apparently result in some hard cases. The noble Lord's intention is to deal with these circumstances by giving the Minister power to modify the rule where it seems proper to do so in order to avoid anomalies or unreasonable result. It seems to me that the Minister already has the power to do just this by the power conferred under Clause 5, subsection (2) to vary the provisions of Part II of Schedule 2, and the noble Lord's Amendment is, therefore, superfluous. But since it is not at present the intention to exercise this power on the lines desired by the noble Lord, I will go on, if I may, to deal with the substance of his argument.
We were aware of these possible situations and had decided that further rules on the lines proposed in the Amendment were simply not the best way of dealing with them. It is, first of all, unnecessary for the practical purposes of administration to have a power of the kind which the noble Lord proposes. This is because the Bill already has a provision whereby, not the Minister but the Commission, as the authority responsible for determining the amount of benefit to be paid, can award benefit at an amount exceeding that which is calculated under the other provisions in Schedule 2 where there are exceptional circumstances, so as to take account of these circumstances. I am, of course, referring to the provision in paragraph 4 of the Schedule.
The important question to ask, therefore, is whether the modification of the rules to deal with these cases is best done by the Minister laying down further rules on the matter in regulations, or whether 1040 it should be left to the Commission. We are quite clear on this. However detailed these regulations were, there would always be some case not covered, and the Commission would have to deal with that by its powers under paragraph 4 of the Schedule. It has that flexibility. Since the Commission is responsible under this Bill for dealing with exceptional situations of all kinds under its general discretionary powers, it seems right to leave them to deal with all of these particular situations as well. It is for these reasons that the Government do not consider the Amendment to be either necessary or desirable.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I am grateful to the noble Lord. There is obviously an argument for some degree of uniformity, even though you cannot get complete uniformity. Nevertheless, I am quite happy with the noble Lord's reply, and I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 7.16 p.m.
LORD BROCKWAY moved at end of paragraph 12, to insert:
( ) Additional requirements of blind persons and persons who have suffered a loss of income in order to undergo treatment for tuberculosis of the respiratory system shall be the special scale rates provided by the National Assistance (Determination of Need) Regulations 1948 as amended by the National Assistance (Determination of Need) Amendment Regulations 1964 increased proportionately to the cost of living since 1948.
§ The noble Lord said: The object of this Amendment is to secure that blind persons and persons suffering from tuberculosis who had the benefit of the special scale under the 1948 and 1964 Acts shall to-day receive allowances proportionate to the increase in the cost of living since those times. Certainly in the case of the blind, and I am not sure, but I think also in the case of those suffering from tuberculosis, the scale decided in 1948 was 15s. a week. That sum over eighteen years has been increased by only 9s. 6d. Had it been increased according to the rise in the cost of living it would now be at 28s. 6d., because the cost of living within that period has increased by 90 per cent. Under this Bill the "disregards" have been raised in their payments by £1, and we all welcome that. In 1948 they received 10s. 6d., so that their payment has been advanced by the increased cost of living. I submit that if this is accepted in the case of the "disregards", why not 1041 the blind and those who are suffering from tuberculosis?
§ I raised this matter more than once in the House of Commons, as my colleagues will remember. That is why I am raising it again to-day. I raised it because I was in very close touch with blind persons in my constituency when I was a Member of Parliament. From them I learned about the difficulties from which the blind suffer because of their disability. I knew of a blind couple who were unable to do the repairs and decorations in their house which would normally be done by a couple with sight. They had to meet the cost of employing others to do it. I remember a blind woman who was unable to mend or repair damage to her husband's garments. Others had to do it. I was interested to find, too, that, because they are blind, they are kicking out the toes of their shoes in ordinary walking more rapidly than the person with sight. I am glad to say that many local authorities have now given concessions to the blind upon their buses, but some have not. And I am pleading that the allowance that is made to the blind under this Bill and under the regulations which will later be introduced shall represent the increased cost of living which they have to bear.
§ My Amendment also refers to persons undergoing treatment for tuberculosis of the respiratory system. I include this because they were also in the special scale in the 1948 and 1964 Acts. I want to say frankly, arising from the discussions on previous Amendments, that I regret the fact that others who are suffering from incurable diseases—it may be polio; it may be sclerosis—are not included within the terms of this Bill equally with those suffering from tuberculosis, for nearly all the reasons which I have put forward for increasing, in proportion to the cost of living, the allowances of the blind apply also to them.
§ I ask my noble friend who will reply, first, whether he will consider this question again before Report stage and Third Reading to be able then to make a definite answer on this matter; and, secondly, since these scales were provided under regulations under the 1948 and 1964 Acts, whether he can give us a promise to-night that under the new Act there will be regulations which will allow blind persons to have an allowance to-day 1042 proportionate to the increase in the cost of living, and whether that also will be extended to tubercular patients? I beg to move.
Page 23, line 25, at end insert the said sub-paragraph.—(Lord Brockway.)
§ LORD SORENSEN
We are all grateful, I am sure, to my noble friend Lord Brockway for raising this question. Like him, I am a one-time Member of Parliament in the Lower House and became acquainted with many categories of sufferers in my constituency, as my noble friend did in his own. Before I pass on, may I say that I thoroughly agree with the noble Lord who said that, grievous as is the disability of blindness, there are other categories of sufferers in which the suffering and limitations of those who are afflicted are as serious as those of the blind. Be that as it may, the intention of this Amendment is to increase the differentials between the higher rates of requirements for blind persons and the other rates so as to compensate for rises in the cost of living; and to continue the higher rate for certain tuberculous persons which exists under National Assistance but is not provided for in the Bill at present.
My noble friend, in moving the Amendment, made a characteristically eloquent appeal to us to do more for the blind and tuberculous. The basis of his case for the blind was that the margin by which the National Assistance blind scale rate exceeds the normal scale rate is at present 24s. 6d. for a single householder, that it remains at 24s. 6d. in the Bill, and that it ought to be higher because in the years since 1948 it has gone up by only 9s. 6d., from 15s. to 24s. 6d., which is less than the increase in the cost of living. I personally can give no promise to my noble friend, but I am perfectly certain that his plea will be noted by the Minister herself. I will see that this is brought to her attention, though I am sure that she reads avidly all the remarks made in your Lordships' House on this Bill, of which she was in charge in another place.
It is true that in money terms the blind are receiving the same increase in their scale rate as sighted persons, and that the differential between the blind and the ordinary rates is not being in- 1043 creased, creased, though there is still a differential. I can assure my noble friend that the Government gave very full consideration to this difficult question, but we decided against increasing the differential for these reasons. I am sure that my noble friend will carefully consider these reasons between now and Report stage. First, the fact that there is a differential is historical in origin. It originally preserved the preferential blind domiciliary assistance rate paid by Public Assistance authorities. It has been retained until now, and will be retained, because of sympathy with the general disability of blind people, but in fact the Commission would in any case have ample discretionary powers to deal with the individual special expenses of this relatively small group in just the same way as they can deal with the special expenses of other groups of disabled people. Secondly, the blind who are over pension age, or who have been receiving assistance or non-contributory benefit for two years, will qualify, like others, for the new long-term addition of 9s. a week. This addition is to replace small discretionary allowances. But the important point here is that the differential of 24s. 6d. is itself for special expenses arising out of blindness, so that the blind will continue to be at a very considerable advantage. Most of them will gain the full 9s., in addition to the basic increase, because they do not have any discretionary allowances at present to be set against the long-term addition. Perhaps I should also remind your Lordships that blind householders who have non-dependants living with them will retain the advantage they at present have over sighted persons in that their rent allowance will never be reduced by the non-dependant's share of the rent—regardless of how much the non-dependant may be earning. This is a very important factor.
All told, therefore, the Government consider that the blind have been treated very fairly under the provisions of the Bill, and that it would not be justifiable to increase the preference they receive over the sighted person. Of course the blind often have special expenses, as my noble friend has pointed out. But the 24s. 6d. provided for this purpose, together with the long-term addition of 9s., 1044 which will be payable in the great majority of cases, gives a margin of no less than 33s. 6d. a week for this purpose. Even in these days this is a considerable sum, and in what must be the minority of cases where 33s. 6d. a week extra is not enough, the Commission will be able to make extra provision on top of this sum for the balance of any special expenses.
Though my noble friend, quite naturally, concentrated upon the position of the blind, his Amendment would also continue, in effect, the special rate for certain persons suffering from respiratory tuberculosis which exists under National Assistance. I should, therefore, explain why the Government have decided not to retain the special rate for the tuberculous in the new scheme. There are three reasons.
First, the number of tuberculous persons receiving the special assistance rate has steadily declined as the incidence of the disease has declined. From a peak of 36,000 in 1952 and 1953, the number has dropped every year and at the end of 1965 stood at only 7,000—an amazing and encouraging decline—of whom only about 1,000 had applied for assistance during the previous twelve months. Secondly, because of the comparative rarity of the disease, there is now no call for a special incentive to encourage people to give up work in order to take treatment which, some of your Lordships will recall, was the reason why the special scale was introduced in the first place in the 1940s. Thirdly, it is by no means the case nowadays that all those who have the disease need something expensive by way of special diet and, in so far as they do, the Commission will be able to use their discretionary powers, in consultation with local chest clinics, to ensure that the rates are increased to provide all that is required in exceptional cases.
I should perhaps add that the 7,000 cases now receiving the special higher rate will, of course, not suffer a reduction in their total income from the loss of the differential, but will be protected by the transitional provision contained in paragraph 4 of Schedule 7 to the Bill. I hope I have not detained your Lordships too long with my explanation, but the issues very properly raised by my noble friend are important ones which deserve a full reply. After what I have 1045 had to say, however, my noble friend will not be surprised that I have to tell him that the Government are not able to accept his Amendment.
§ LORD BROCKWAY
My noble friend has not convinced me, but at least he has given me the assurance that the Minister will consider the points I have raised. I have great confidence in her, and therefore I withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ On Question, Whether Schedule 2, as amended, shall stand part of the Bill?
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I apologise for detaining your Lordships further on this Schedule, but there are two points I should like to make. First of all, I am glad to see the provision in paragraph 24(1)(a), which seems to me to require explicitly any income from wounds and disability pensions, or any part of retirement pay of ex-Service men and women or members of the nursing services, to be disregarded up to 40s. It has been the practice for the National Assistance Board to disregard such payments, I am not certain up to what level, but I think up to 30s.; but as there was no mandatory provision in the National Assistance Act some local authorities did not feel bound to disregard them when assessing contributions of war pensioners residing in Part III accommodation. In view of this provision, taken in conjunction with Section 22(5) of the National Assistance Act 1948, may I ask the noble Lord to confirm that local authorities will now have to do this? This is, after all, an award to compensate for loss and suffering, and is not quite on the same basis as most of the other provisions in the disregards.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I am afraid that I never know what these headings are called. It is paragraph 24(1)(a), and it says:Any retired pay or pension to which section 380(1) of the Income Tax Act 1952 applies…I think I have correctly interpreted what that subsection relates to. I am glad to see this. Incidentally, it illustrates one good reason for allowing the regulation 1046 making power to remain for changing the resources.
I should now like to turn to another point. Section 22(5) of the National Assistance Act means, as I understand it, that the new disregards of capital resources will apply in the case of residence in Part III accommodation as they do for old folk who are living on their own or with relatives, and so on. I need not remind your Lordships of the provisions of Section 21(1) of the National Assistance Act. The noble Lord will know that the County Councils Association and the Association of Counties of Cities in Scotland are worried about the effect of Part III of this Schedule on their receipts from residents of Part III accommodation. They doubt whether, in view of the changes made in Part III, Section 22 of the National Assistance Act is any longer appropriate. They believe that it would be proper to prescribe special rules for income and capital disregards for such residents. Perhaps I should say to the noble Lord that Section 22 in effect provides that local authorities should work on the same disregards in assessing contributions to Part III accommodation as the National Assistance Board work on.
The standard charges are fixed by local authorities for such accommodation. I do not know what they run at, but it has been suggested that many of them are around £8 per week and, of course, the residents are liable to pay them if they can afford them. The retirement pensioner without other resources will normally hand his weekly pension to the superintendent and will receive a weekly sum, fixed by the Minstry of Health or by the Secretary of State for Scotland, for personal needs. I believe this is the procedure. If the retirement pensioner has other income, he will be expected to pay the remainder of the charge, subject to the normal income disregards and to paragraph 22 of the Schedule, which deals with the treatment of capital.
The Association point out that in a letter dated June, 1963, the Ministry of Health recognised the principle that:the circumstances of people living at home and people in residential accommodation are not comparable, since the former have to pay for everything they need out of their own resources, whereas the latter have everything found for them, are normally heavily subsidised and receive pocket money as well.1047 Indeed, nobody in their senses could fail to recognise this fact. However, although no doubt all the Ministers concerned—and there are several—do recognise it, their recognition is not reflected in the Schedule.
As things are at present, a resident can be called on to contribute to his upkeep in Part III accommodation out of any capital resources he has in excess of £600. To keep his £600 intact he might have to pay 10s. a week out of his pocket money. But he could keep it intact. Under the new provisions, assuming that his money is invested, he will pay little or nothing. Nobody complains about that. But now, if his capital is £1,000 (and this is assuming still £600), he will only have to pay £1 over and above his pension for his maintenance, and he will not have to pay for his full keep of £8 a week unless his capital exceeds £1,600.
Considering that for old people in Part III accommodation the rainy day has come and they are well and truly sheltered, I think there seems little point in not encouraging them to be self-supporting up to the point where their capital has fallen to £800: in other words, they could always keep the £800 intact. It is no doubt very nice for their heirs and assigns, but it is, after all, at the expense of the ratepayer. As the Bill stands, they cannot even be self-supporting if they want to be. The local authority must apply the disregards; it has no option.
I recognise that this is a very delicate matter, but it surely is odd to treat old people who have to fend for themselves in exactly the same way as old people for whom everything is provided and everything done. It seems to me that when the National Assistance Act was drawn up, the Government, in determining the disregards of capital resources, had their minds fixed particularly on those living in Part III accommodation. This time the Government have had their minds fixed rather on the rest of the old folks, and I think that for them the provisions are sound, sensible and indeed sensitive. I am not quite so sure that, for people in Part III accommodation, they are in fact sound. Of course, I do not underestimate the difficulty of differentiating between these two cases. 1048 Politically, it may be invidious to do so; politically it may even be invidious to suggest that it be considered, as I am now doing. But what is politically invidious may nevertheless be right and fair.
I am not yet convinced that it would be fair to those who fend for themselves to be treated in the matter of capital resources in the same way as those who are fully provided for. Nor am I yet convinced that those who manifestly can afford to pay for their own maintenance should have up to half of their maintenance paid for by the ratepayers, as seems would be the case under the new provisions. By all means let them keep their £800 nest-egg intact. There can be no doubt that for the local authorities to apply the capital disregards under the Bill to these people would be both expensive and administratively cumbersome. I am quite prepared to listen to the case for doing so, and for accepting it if it is convincing. All I ask is that the matter should be considered. I think that this is a very difficult case. It is a case which one is obliged to present so that we can hear the Government's view upon it. It is a case which has been exercising the county councils who are responsible for the provision of Part III accommodation, and I hope the noble Lord will be good enough to deal with it.
§ LORD CHAMPION
This is a somewhat difficult point, and we recognise this straightaway. Schedule 6, paragraph 6(2), of the Bill amends Section 22(5) of the National Assistance Act 1948 to provide that in future local authorities will apply the new rules for the treatment of resources proposed in Part III of Schedule 2 of the Bill in place of the rules in Schedule 2 of the 1948 Act.
The effect of the change has been described to us by the noble Lord. For example, the effect of the change is that by the discontinuance of the fixed limit of capital imposed by the 1948 Act the local authorities will recover less by way of charges from some residents. The overall additional cost involved for local authorities has been estimated at £1 million. I am not sure whether the noble Lord gave that figure, but that is the estimate I have, although part of this would be recoverable from the Exchequer by the local authorities. Just about half of that sum would be recoverable, but it 1049 would still leave the local authorities to find £500,000. This is very considerable.
The Ministers concerned thought it necessary to advise the local authorities of the changes to be proposed in the Bill, and this was done at the earliest possible moment, as was right. It was done in January of this year. There were two meetings of officials with representatives of the associations whose views were subsequently put to the Minister of Health. I may say that not all the local authority associations were prepared to apply the new rules in full. At least two were, but the majority felt that there were some points they had to put to the Minister in this connection. There were started negotiations, exchanges of letters, and so on.
This eventually resulted in the Minister of Health's meeting representatives of the Association of Municipal Corporations and the County Councils Association, on May 25. He then took the view that he would not be justified in altering the principle that had been firmly established by the National Assistance Act, namely, that the same basis of calculating resources should be applied to residents in assessing charges as applies to others in assessing cash allowances, and asked the Associations to accept that the right course was not to try, in this Bill, to introduce new principles. He made it clear to the Associations that, although he had considered their arguments carefully, he could not hold out any hope of a change in the Government's attitude. So we were aware of the view of the local authority associations and their reservations in this matter.
As I have said, what the Bill does is to maintain the present identity in the assessment rules for those persons living in their own homes and those in residential accommodation provided by local authorities under their powers, and I am advised that it would have been outside the scope of this Bill to have done anything else. Whether it would be desirable to have divorced the two sets of assessment rules is a matter primarily for my right honourable friends the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland. As I have mentioned, the Minister of Health has received a deputation from the Associations on this matter. His firm view is that he would not be 1050 justified in altering the principle that was so firmly established in the 1948 Act—that is, that the same basis of calculating resources should be applied to residents in assessing charges as applies to persons living at home in assessing cash benefits. In our view, it would be quite wrong, when we are liberalising the disregards in the new scheme mainly for the benefit of old people, to introduce a new principle of different disregards for people in residential accommodation which would be less generous than for those living at home.
I can quite see the noble Lord's point of view; I can understand it. I can understand the local authority's point of view. But the Minister, as I said, has carefully considered this matter, and thinks it would be quite wrong in this Bill, or by some other immediate means which he would have to take, to be less generous than is the present position in relation to this matter. I hope the noble Lord will accept this explanation, because careful consideration has been given to the point on representations from the responsible associations.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I am grateful to the noble Lord for setting out the reasons why the Government have reached this decision, and I fully understand them. Perhaps he put rather a different interpretation on what I said when he remarked that these were my views. I thought I had made it clear that these are the views that were put forward to me by the county councils. I felt there was a great deal in them, and I think the noble Lord agrees. I thought I should therefore ventilate them and request that the Government should keep this matter under examination. Obviously, it is quite impossible to do anything, even if the Government wish to do so. It would be virtually impossible to do so at this stage, because it would require very complicated Amendments indeed. At the same time, I know that the county councils would wish their point of view to be brought to the attention of the Government. I think it would be only right, when a charge of this kind is made—and I think I have interpreted what has really happened correctly. I believe that in 1948 the Government were necessarily thinking largely in terms of the capital resources of those in Part III accommodation, and that is why there is 1051 the cut-off which, I say with respect, should never have existed, at any rate for people outside. It may have been appropriate in accommodation. I think it would be desirable to keep this subject under careful consideration. It may be that some compromise will be appropriate in these circumstances. I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said.
§ LORD CHAMPION
There is one further thing I should have said. The noble Lord asked a question on a clause when I was not here to reply to it. I was called out, and I sincerely apologise for the fact that I was unable to be in my place at that moment to reply. I will, of course, look at what he said and communicate with the noble Lord. I ought to have made that apology at the beginning of my last speech.
§ LORD DRUMALBYN
I am obliged to the noble Lord. I assure him that I did not put the question only to find him out.
§ Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.
§ Remaining Schedules agreed to.
§ House resumed: Bill reported with Amendments.