HL Deb 21 July 1970 vol 311 cc888-910

5.51 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Your Lordships are already acquainted with the main proposals of the Bill, to which I referred during the debate on the Address. These are briefly the provision of some pension to those who because of their age could not be insured under the National Insurance Scheme when it was introduced in 1948, better provision for women widowed between the ages of 40 and 50 and the provision of an attendance allowance for the very severely disabled.

The total number of people who will benefit under the various provisions of this Bill will be about 250,000. Its provisions amending the conditions for the widow's pension and making attendance allowance payable to those who are very severely disabled substantially correspond to clauses of the National Superannuation and Social Insurance Bill introduced in another place last Session. So I commend the Bill to your Lordships with every confidence that it will secure a welcome.

The first proposal in the Bill is to provide a pension under the National Insurance Act, without regard to resources, for the elderly non-pensioners I have mentioned. Its principal feature is that it provides pensions for all those who on July 5, 1948, were over pensionable age—that is to say, who were then aged 65 or over, if they were men, and 60 or over if they were women. Now, of course, these people will be aged over 87 if they are men and 82 if they are women. The pensions are subject only to a further simple residence condition which will be set out in regulations. Secondly, provision will be made for the wives and widows of men who are in this age group, including the widows of such men who have died since July 5, 1948. The pensions to be paid under this provision will be at the rate of £3 a week for the principal rate and £1 17s. a week for a married woman, making £4 17s. a week for a married couple. Widows will receive the £3 rate.

Similar proposals have been made in another place and in this House on many previous occasions by supporters of the Government. I would mention in particular my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross, who introduced a Bill to this effect in 1965. These proposals have been resisted in the past principally because to pay retirement pensions without regard to resources to people who have not paid a penny in contributions was held to be a breach of the contributory principle of National Insurance. We have come to see the matter differently. As the years have passed, the unenviable distinction of not having a retirement pension, and, what is more, never having had an opportunity to enter any State scheme, has grown more and more invidious; and at the same time the course of inflation has made the lack of a pension increasingly serious for those living on occupational or private pensions and other fixed incomes. These human aspects of the situation in the view of the Government have acquired such importance as to outweigh the narrower arguments of principle. The essential fact is that most of these very elderly non-pensioners were, through no fault of their own, denied the opportunity to contribute to the pre-1948 schemes.

Some of your Lordships may be disappointed that the Bill provides for pension at a rate lower than the full standard rate National Insurance retirement pension of £5. The Government recognise the importance of providing a pension for these people which should be universally accepted as fair. On the one hand, there are the great body of pensioners, over 7 million of them, many of whom have contributed to the old pre-1948 schemes and to the present scheme for thirty or forty years. On the other hand we have the non-pensioners who have not during their working lives been subject to the regular weekly levy of contributions from their income. The Government believe that in fixing the amount at £3 they have struck a fair balance between the legitimate interests of both sides.

As noble Lords will be aware, we are pressing this Bill through all its stages with the utmost urgency in order that it may receive the Royal Assent before the Recess. We are determined to get these pensions for the very elderly paid just as quickly as we can. We shall need about three months to secure claims and make awards, and we aim to pay these pensions in the week beginning November 2, 1970, when supplementary benefit rates are due to rise. We shall ourselves identify those on supplementary pensions, and we intend to advertise for the remainder. But these are very elderly people, who may not see the advertisements or respond to them. May I appeal to noble Lords to let me know of anyone who they think may benefit, and we will look into the case?

I turn now to the clauses dealing with changes in the conditions for widows' pensions. Under the present conditions a woman who is widowed when over 50 qualifies for a pension of £5 a week; if she is under that age and has no children she does not qualify for a widow's pension at all. This sharp difference in treatment, due perhaps to a day's difference in the date of the husband's death, has been much criticised and there has been some general desire for some better arrangement. The proposals we are putting forward are the same as those which the previous Government had devised. I gladly acknowledge our debt to them.

Any woman widowed between 40 and 50 will be eligible for a pension; the rate of the pension will depend on her age; at the time she is widowed: it will be £4 13s. 0d. if she is 49, ranging to £1 10s. 0d. if she is 40. For those widows who qualify for widowed mother's allowance the pension rate will depend on her age when the allowance comes to an end. As a widow may draw this allowance so long as she has at home a son or daughter under 19, it will be very rare for a widowed mother to fail to qualify for a pension.

These new conditions will come into force next April—April, 1971—and will then apply immediately to about 100,000 women who are already widows and have previously failed to qualify for pension because of the age rule. This is in Clause 2. The following clause deals with a rather smaller point—the rule which at present prevents a woman widowed at over 50 from qualifying for a pension if her marriage has lasted less than three years. This rule is being repealed, and here again widows who have in the past failed to qualify for pension will now qualify. I am sure that both these changes will be generally welcomed as a sensible way of dealing with longstanding grievances.

My Lords, I now turn to the other major provision in the Bill, one in which I know many of your Lordships take a particularly close interest. This is the new attendance allowance for the most severely disabled in the community. The need for such an allowance over and above the other benefits available to disabled people—sickness benefit, retirement pension or widow's benefit, and, where appropriate, supplementary benefit—has been increasingly recognised in recent years; and we are well aware of the work done in this connection by Mrs. Ann Armstrong, of the Responaut, and by the late Megan du Boisson and her colleagues of the Disablement Income Group. This proposal, too, owes its origin to the previous Government's National Superannuation and Social Insurance Bill, and I am glad to pay tribute to the work they did for it.

The present Bill provides (in Clause 4) that the attendance allowance will be payable at £4 a week to those who are in need of attention by day and by night, or who need continuous supervision. The allowance is not intended to cover short-term illnesses, however, and, in order to limit it to those who are likely to be disabled over a long period, the Bill provides that the allowance will not become payable until a disabled person has needed attendance to the extent defined for six months. The allowance will be payable subject to conditions as to residence in Great Britain which are to be laid down in regulations. The disabled housewife will qualify for the allowance. I am glad to be able to tell your Lordships that in the present circumstances the allowance will not be taxable.

Clause 5 provides for the setting up of an Attendance Allowance Board, which will decide whether a particular applicant satisfies the conditions relating to the need for attendance. The Board will not only give decisions on the need for attendance, but be able to review those decisions—for example, in the case where someone's condition has grown worse or where, perhaps, there has been a mistake. There will be no right of appeal against the Board's decisions on questions of fact or medical judgment, but there will be a right of appeal to a National Insurance Commissioner on any question of law. The Board will not, of course, be able to deal individually with all the claims which are likely to be made, and it will therefore have the power to delegate its duties to medical practitioners throughout the country. These medical practitioners will be working under directions given by the Board. The Board will also have a further function: to advise my right honourable friend on the operation of the provisions relating to attendance allowance in general.

From what I have said, your Lordships will see that the role of the Board in the administration of the allowance will be a most important one, and we have given very careful thought to its composition. The Bill provides in Clause 5(2) that it should consist of a chairman and between four and nine other members appointed by my right honourable friend. All but two of these members must be doctors, and it is our intention to secure for service on the Board those with the very highest medical qualifications and experience in relevant fields. We intend that there shall be two members who are not doctors; and we intend, in the process of assembling the membership of the Board, to consult with all the appropriate bodies. There are in addition powers under Clause 5(3) for my right honourable friend to appoint additional members to the Board, either medical or non-medical, to join in the more general advisory work of the Board.

We expect up to 50,000 people to benefit from this allowance (including perhaps about 10,000 children) at a cost to the Exchequer in a full year of £10 million. In the words of my honourable friend Mr. Dean in the other place: With this allowance we are making a significant advance by making additional cash provision for the most seriously disabled. I can assure the House that we realise that much more might be done, and that we shall be looking at various ways in which further help might be provided for the seriously ill and the disabled."—[OFFICIAI. RFFORT, Commons. 10/7/70; col. 1092.] My Lords, we believe that this Bill in its three separate provisions will go some way towards our objective of concentrating our resources on those members of the community whose need is greatest. I confidently commend the Bill to the House, and beg to move that it be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Aberdare.)

6.3 p.m.


My Lords, this Bill will do some good to a number of groups of people in difficult circumstances. It is in that sense a Bill to be welcomed, and my noble friends and I certainly wish to facilitate its progress through the House. At the same time, it must be said that it is clear that it merely touches the fringe of some of the problems of poverty and deprivation. Seen in the full setting, it is a useful but limited measure. The background, of course—and the noble Lord has to some extent touched upon this—is the scrapping of the substantial and comprehensive scheme put forward by the preceding Government in the National Superannuation and Social Insurance Bill. That was a bold, comprehensive measure and there is no indication of any similar comprehensive approach in sight. The measure before us today is indeed the only one of this character to which reference was made in the gracious Speech. I am rather of a mind with the writer of an article in The Times of July 7, who said: But there is a quite a possibility that it"— this Bill— may have to stand for some time in splendid isolation as legislative testimony to the Tory social conscience. It therefore merits a little examination in some of its respects.

As the noble Lord has clearly and truly said, much of the Bill before us is quarried from the larger measure to which I have made reference; indeed, two of the three main proposals come from that source. The first to which I should like to refer is the provision for payment of pensions to widows who become bereaved between age 40 and 50. That is a proposal which on this side of the House we welcome and endorse. We welcome, too, so far as it goes, the proposal for the £4 attendance allowance. However, while taken from the legislative proposals of the preceding Government, it has been taken somewhat out of its context, because in those more comprehensive proposals it was seen as related to proposals for an invalidity pension. I should be grateful if the noble Lord could indicate whether the Government intended to move towards a longer-term earnings-related sickness benefit provision. We on this side regard this as a vital part of any proposals to deal adequately with the long-term sick and with the disabled.

It would be valuable to know what the intentions of the Government are for those persons who exceed the 28 weeks for which earning- related sickness benefits continue to be payable. It is welcome news that the £4 attendance allowance is not to be taxable, but a perusal of the proceeding upon this Bill in another place left in my mind, at any rate, the unhappy anxiety that it might well be that some of the most distressing cases in which this attendance allowance will be payable will in fact find themselves little or no better off as a result of the present Bill. For it appears that there will be examples of Supplementary Benefits discretionary payments being reduced or offset against the attendance allowance. It would be a very unhappy situation if it proved that families who are mainly or entirely dependent upon payments from the Supplementary Benefits Commission, and who fall within the very exacting conditions sot out in the appropriate part of this Bill, found themselves at the end of the day no better off, despite the Bill, because the statutory attendance allowance was offset against a Supplementary Benefits Commission payment of a similar sum. I should be grateful if the noble Lord would look sympathetically into this point. I am not pressing him for an answer or to pronounce upon it in the House to-day, because I appreciate the difficulties involved, but I should be glad if he could give us an assurance that he will look into this point. Possibly he can let me know by correspondence or in some other way the outcome of his examination.

The last point to which I should like to make reference in connection with the attendance allowance for disabled persons is the composition of the Attendance Allowance Board. This was the subject of a good deal of discussion in another place, where an opinion was strongly expressed that there ought to be assured provision for the appointment of one, at least, disabled person to the membership of the Board. It was not felt possible by the Government to meet this proposal in the way in which it was put forward elsewhere; and I noticed very carefully what the noble Lord, in introducing the Bill, said on the composition of the Board. I doubt whether he will find himself able to go beyond what he has said on this point, but I would ask him to take note that there is sympathy in this House as well as in another place for the view that there should be at least one member of the Attendance Allowance Board who is himself, or herself, a disabled person.

I come last to the clause at the beginning of the Bill, which does not come from the proposals of the previous Government. This is the clause which deals with the position of those who were too old to become contributors under the 1948 National Insurance scheme. The supporters of the Government in another place repeatedly made it clear that this provision had its place in the Bill because it was in fulfilment of an election pledge contained in the Conservative Party Manifesto. In some ways it is a strange provision. It is, first of all, a once-for-all provision. As the noble Lord said, it is confined, for all practical purposes, to men over the age of 87 and to women over the age of 82, although there may be a small number of slightly younger women who, either as wives or widows of men having a claim under the Bill, would themselves qualify. But substantially the benefits are confined to those men over 87 and to women over 82.

As the noble Lord said, they are to receive a modified sum. It is not the National Insurance retirement pension at the full rate, but at a modified rate. I was a little surprised to hear the noble Lord conclude his presentation of the Bill by saying that it embodied the principle of seeking to concentrate resources where need was greatest, because it is a striking feature of this clause that it makes provision for giving the modified pension without any relationship to need or to circumstances. Indeed, I think it is clear that there will be people who will be entitled to claim this £3 pension who are in prosperous circumstances and who will be liable to pay tax upon the pension if they claim it.

On the other hand, it appears, from what has been said in another place, that of the approximately 100,000 people who will benefit from this provision, some 50,000, I think I am right in saying, are at present substantially or entirely dependent upon payments from the Supplementary Benefits Board. These 50,000 people, amounting to one half of those who will benefit under Clause 1, will in fact not be one penny better off, because the £3 which they will be receiving under Clause 1 of the Bill will be offset entirely against the payments which they receive from the Supplementary Benefits Board. Indeed, I think the £14 million which it is estimated Clause 1 will cost is reduced to £7 million by the saving which will be effected in Supplementary Pension payments, although if this Bill comes into operation, as is proposed, on the same date as the improvements in the scales of Supplementary Benefits put into operation by the preceding Government they will be receiving the improvement on their income on that date not as a result of the present Bill but as a result of the improvements in the Supplementary Benefits scales specified by the preceding Government.

I think all those who have examined the circumstances of elderly people in difficult financial positions would agree that a sum of £15 million, or even of £7 million, could be better laid out and could produce a greater and more substantial social benefit if it were distributed in other ways. Therefore I am surprised that the noble Lord should have related the particular set of proposals before us, in which Clause 1 is so prominent, to the idea of concentrating resources where the need is greatest. But since this proposal is so substantially dependent upon an Election pledge I think it is proper to draw attention to the terms of that pledge. As embodied in the Conservative Party Manifesto the pledge reads as follows: The next Conservative Government will take urgent action to give some pension as of right to the over-80s who now get no retirement pension at all. Now, my Lords, there is a substantial gap between that passage in the Conservative Party Manifesto and what is actually proposed in the present Bill. Earlier this afternoon the noble Lord was kind enough to reply to a Question which I put down and which asked for the figures in this regard. The Answer he gave indicated that according to the estimates of the Government there are 130,000 people who are over the age of 80 and who do not receive retirement pensions under the National Insurance scheme. Of those 130,000 approximately 100,000 stand to benefit from the present proposals. Since election pledges have been quoted so frequently in this connection I am bound to ask the noble Lord what the intentions of the Government are about- the 30,000 over-80s who are not covered by Clause 1 of the present Bill. Was the wording of the Conservative Manifesto slipshod? Was it the intention when the Manifesto was drafted to carry out some measure which the Government have now abandoned? Whatever the explanation, there is a gap, and a substantial gap—30,000 out of 130,000—between the pledge and the performance; and I hope that when the noble Lord replies he will address himself to that and will explain why there is such a gap. It would have been perfectly simple, either in the Conservative Manifesto or elsewhere, but certainly in the Manifesto, to have made quite clear what the intentions were. The intention now before us is of a once-for-all operation covering not the over-80s but in the case of men the over-87s and in the case of women the over-82s.

I am sorry to give such a grudging welcome to this Bill, especially having regard to the somewhat extravagant pride which was expressed in it by supporters of the Government in another place. My comments do not arise from any desire to be grudging for its own sake: they arise from the facts, from the relationship of the present Bill to the needs. I am sure that I can speak for all my noble friends on this side of the House when I say that when the Government bring forward—if they do bring forward—measures which are bolder in scope and which more truly seem to be addressed to the extensive needs, then they will receive a warmer and more cordial welcome from this side of the House.

6.20 p.m.


My Lords, I should like briefly to say a few words about the Bill the noble Lord has introduced. I think it is quite a good and useful little measure, but, like the noble Lord who has just spoken, I do not think it really goes a very long way. But it certainly may make life more comfortable for the diminishing number of people over 87 and 82 who will be affected, and at the same time give them some comfort to feel that they are no longer cut off from the mainstream of pensions, as they have been before.

There are one or two questions I should like to raise. First, do the Government know what is the number of people not receiving pensions now—that is, those to whom the Bill refers who are over 87 or 82 at present drawing supplementary benefits? Further, to what extent is that supplementary benefit likely to be reduced by the pension they are going to gel now, which will mean that they will really be no better off, but merely getting their money from a different pocket?

There is another question, although it may not be one for the Government to answer; it may be for the local authorities. A certain number of these elderly people own their houses and therefore pay rates on them. Quite a number, I believe, have been given a rate rebate because they receive no pension. If they get their little pension, will the local authorities be encouraged not to cancel their rate rebates? If they take away the rebate many of the old ladies and gentlemen will not be any better off than before. These are, I think, rather carping criticisms to make, but I think they are quite fair questions to put on a Bill like this.

I should like to say a few words about the attendance allowance of £4 a week. That will be of considerable value in the care of some of the elderly people in the community who are disabled but who are not really bad enough to need communal or institutional living. Some relative or friend may be prepared to look after them for a comparatively small sum, so I think that again is quite a reasonable proposition to make. The noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith, asked about those getting supplementary benefits. I should like to repeat that question from these Benches, because one can still see that what appears to be a generous and kind gesture may be whittled away by some administrative procedure. I trust that this allowance of £4 a week will enable certain numbers of people not to be pressed into residential accommodation, which is in extremely short supply, when they would rather be in their own homes.

I was not quite sure that I agreed with the noble Lord. Lord Delacourt-Smith, when he said that somebody on the Board should be a disabled person. I do not think that that is really necessary. For people to understand disability they do not actually need to be disabled themselves. Disability varies. People who are disabled in one way may not be so sympathetic to those disabled in another way, because they may have been led to think that their disablement was the main kind.

Attendance allowance is something I have been advocating for a very long time. I think I have mentioned it in your Lordships' House before. Once when I brought it up—I forget where and when—I was told that it was quite an impracticable thing to do because it would mean establishing a large inspectorate to go round to see that money was not being misspent. I am pleased to see that better feelings have prevailed and we are not now worried about that. I can assure the noble Lord that we shall do all we can to ensure that this Bill gets a speedy passage and becomes law before the House rises for the Summer Recess.

6.27 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to start by congratulating the Government upon implementing their pledge so quickly. Speed was of course of the essence, because every day the number of people likely to benefit from Clause 1 is being reduced by what is sometimes called "wastage". I congratulate the Government most sincerely on acting so quickly. I listened with very great interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith, had to say. I think that he put the case very fairly indeed, but there is another aspect of the matter.

Perhaps I might remind your Lordships that my noble friend Lord Colville and I were associated in bringing forward, on May 13, 1965, a Bill which was directed in very much the same direction as Clause 1 of the Bill now before your Lordships. It was different in one or two respects. For one thing, of course, we had to draft the Bill in a form which would make the payments from the National Insurance Fund; otherwise we could not have brought it in at all. We recognised the disadvantages of this, because, as was said at the time, with some justification, payments out of the National Insurance Fund should plainly be made only to those who have made contributions into it. However, we had no option.

In comparison with what we introduced, which was for a half-pension, this Bill is slightly more generous; the rate represents three-fifths or thereabouts. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith, quite correctly said, it does not go quite so far; it does not cover such a large proportion of the over-80s. I venture to think that as time goes on we shall find ourselves obliged to cover the residue as well—and for this reason I believe that what people are rather apt to overlook is that the legislation of the years from 1946 to 1948 covered everybody who was in employment at the time and who was under 65, if a man, or under 60 if a woman. For those who were not covered there was the National Assistance Act 1968.

The effect of that, of course, has been that those who had recourse to the National Assistance Act, in whole or in part, for their income have had, in whole or in part, their income adjusted from time to time to changes in the cost of living; and, indeed, to take account also of rises in the standard of living; whereas those who fell above what is now the supplementary benefit levels, and still do, have not had any adjustment at all. They have been the victims all the time of inflation; they have seen their fixed incomes going down and down. During the 1950s a good many, no doubt, were able to get by because they owned their own houses, or because they were in rent-restricted houses or for some reason of the kind. But when the 1960s came this was plainly no longer possible, and I think that Mr. Airey Neave was right to make it quite clear that hardship is not just a matter of pounds, shillings and pence. Human hardship is a relative thing: it cannot be measured only in pounds, shillings and pence.

Many of these people have been suffering real hardship; over this long period of years their incomes and their standards of life have been progressively reduced. Of course rate-rebate schemes have been introduced. These have helped. But it seems that this is a belated act of justice, because it is true to say that the architects of the 1946 to 1948 legislation did not foresee this continuous increase in costs. Indeed, although it is almost incredible to look back at it, at the time the Minister specifically said, and no doubt wholly believed, that it was the intention of the Government to peg the cost of living at 31 per cent. over the 1939 level. Of course this has proved utterly impossible. But this was the basis on which these people were left out of the National Insurance Scheme, and as time has gone by this state of affairs has become progressively less justifiable. I am glad that at least those who survive will get some benefit.

As has been said, not all will get benefit; and it can well be argued, as I have no doubt that my noble friend will argue, that those who were a little under the age of 65, for men, or 60, for women, and therefore had to contribute to the National Insurance Scheme until they retired, were then given the option either to get back their contributions or to go on contributing for the rest of the ten-year period. Those who were due to reach retirement age in a year or so would in many cases find difficulty in making a contribution for nine, eight, or seven years—indeed, some could not afford to do so at all. So I think it was justifiable to regard this as a wholly reasonable miscalculation: they had been led to believe that the cost of living would be held, and their choice was made on that basis. While this is a very good start, I think that within a year or two we shall come to the point where we shall have to disregard the fact that they were given the option at that time and we shall have to recognise that they made a miscalculation which was wholly reasonable and that they should therefore not be excluded altogether.

If I may turn for a moment to Clause 2, which deals with widows, there is a small question that I should like to put. Perhaps my noble friend will confirm my understanding that it is intended to introduce this provision, which I entirely welcome, on April 1 of next year. Obviously, some women below the age of 50 will be widowed in the next three months. For such widows there will be a gap between the ending of the widow's grant and the commencement of the widow's pension. I wonder whether it would be possible to make a small amendment to cover this transitional period for this comparatively small number of women, so that there will in fact be no gap at all in their case. In other words, all I am suggesting is that the Bill should actually come into operation from the date of enactment even though the payments do not, and cannot, start until April 1.

On Clause 3, I welcome the scrapping of the three-year marriage qualification. But I suspect that here again within the next two years one may have to look at the question of a discretionary right not to allow a pension in the case of flagrant abuse, where a man under 65 marries and dies shortly afterwards. I suspect that this may happen. I say no more than that. But if it is right to do it for the over-65s, I think it may also be found to be right for the under-65s, too, in the particular circumstances.

The attendance allowance clause was described by my right honourable friend in another place, Sir Keith Joseph, as the most important part of the Bill. He said that it is: the most important innovation of all"; and he went on to describe it as: the first step in a better treatment of the disabled."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons; 10/7/70; col. 1012.] I greatly welcome the first step, and I very much welcome it as a first step. I noted with pleasure what the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was able to say in Committee (col. 1593), that this payment would be entirely exempt from tax. The word "entirely" is my own word; he said "exempt from tax". I have put in the word "entirely", and I should like my noble friend this evening to confirm that that is so. I take the point that has been made here about the reduction of supplementary benefit payment. My noble friend the Minister dealt with this point in his opening speech for he said: We shall treat this £4 as an additional requirement under the supplementary benefit scheme, and the necessary regulations will be laid. Therefore, in effect, the £4, or the equivalent figures for children, will be disregarded. I hope that goes all the way to meet the noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith; but, again, perhaps my noble friend will confirm this.

Lastly, we on this side, and I hope those on the other side as well, willingly accede to the Government's request for further time to consider what they are going to do in the long-term treatment of chronic disability or disablement. I regard the establishment of the Attendance Board as likely to provide the necessary experience and the basic machinery for dealing with the assessment of long-term disablement, which has always been regarded as a most difficult question of administration in this connection. I hope that before long a scheme will be worked out.

Some noble Lords may remember that, at the time when the 1966 Act in regard to wage-related unemployment and sickness benefit was introduced, I regretted that it did not include wage-related sickness benefit on a long-term as well as on a short-term basis. I think that that could quite easily have been done, and still could be done, and that it might well be the best and simplest way in which to do it. But, whatever scheme is worked out, I welcome this Bill as a first step towards the inauguration of a long-term disablement scheme which the whole House wishes to see. I wish the Government God-speed in finding a solution to this most difficult but most important problem.

6.39 p.m.


My Lords, having put my name down to speak in this debate, I had considerable hesitation in deciding whether or not to cross it off. I nearly did; and I wish to say only a few words. The reason why I am speaking is in order to give a rather warmer and, I think, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith, less "grudging" welcome from this side of the House to the Bill than has yet been given. I say that on two grounds: first, the intention of the Bill, which as I understand it is to look after, or rather help, a part of the population who are least able to look after themselves; and secondly on what I should call logical grounds, for, as I understand it, it is to give old age pensions to persons who are debarred from receiving them by being too old. That is a very general summary of my views why this Bill should be supported.

I understand that it has been attacked on two grounds which I find difficult to reconcile. One is that it does not go far or fast enough, and the other is that it goes too fast and too far. When, six years ago, we were discussing this question in this House on two occasions—one has been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, when the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, produced a Bill—the general consensus on what was then the Government side was that his proposals were intolerable because of the "contributory principle": that you must not give pensions to anyone who had not contributed. I understand that a considerable part of all pensions is in fact now paid out of grant; I believe something like £2 7s. 0d. a week for men and something like £5 out of a married couple's pension. I will not go into that now, but that was one point.

It seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, is now being criticised for not offering to pay out larger pensions. I would only say that on the principle of half a loaf being better than no bread, if the figures that he has given are correct and that out of 130,000 people some 100,000 are going to benefit, then I should say that ten-thirteenths of a loaf is considerably better than none. And here I should like to emphasise a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn: that this is trying to do justice to a minority who are a diminishing minority. If there were, as it is said, 250,000 of these elderly people not in receipt of pensions alive six years ago and there are only 100,000 alive now, if we waited another six years for some scheme however admirably intentioned, these people, if my calculations are correct, would be not a minority but a minus minority; there would be none left at all, and therefore they would not benefit.

I have confined what I have said entirely to one section of the Bill. I will not say anything about the widows, the fatherless and the disabled persons, partly because I feel I have a slight interest here owing to being disabled to some extent by having to speak from a Bench which is not my Party Bench but which has a microphone. I do not want to make a Party speech, but in view of what was said in another place about which of the two large Parties had "lifted" from the other Party—the word "lifted" was used and accusations of "pulling a fast one"—I would say that neither of those Parties has a better record than the Liberal Party, which prides itself on self-righteousness and, I think I can say, produced a Question on this subject in this House before any other Party. I think it is true to say that of the many great services which the last Government did to this country, genuine services, perhaps the least serviceable was postponing by tactics—frankly, Party tactics—a Bill of this nature from coming through for six years. I think the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, in returning that particular service (1 do not know if my metaphor is correct, or whether there is any such crime as "pulling a fast one" in tennis) has "laid down a chase" which is difficult to beat. I hope nothing will be done to prevent him from getting this Bill through as quickly as possible, before it is too late; and I wish him every success in his attempts to do so.

6.45 p.m.


My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House for more than a moment, but in view of my sponsorship of the Alfred Morris Bill in this House earlier in the summer I felt it would be discourteous if I did not say just one word of welcome—even if a slightly qualified welcome—for the present Bill. However, my courteous intention was nearly not fulfilled in the event because, owing to unforeseen circumstances, I did not arrive in time as the business came on rather early and I did not hear the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, nor the speech, except for the last few moments, of the noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith.

I am talking of the Bill from the disablement angle alone, and I was intending to offer a warm welcome for it, so far as it goes, but to express my regret that in certain respects it was defective. However, I gather that the kind of point that I had in mind to make was made, I am sure more effectively, by the noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith; and if anybody wishes to read these points fully developed with the authority of the master, they need only turn to a speech, or speeches, made by Mr. Alfred Morris in the last week or two in another place. Therefore I do not intend to detain the House by labouring these criticisms. I will simply say now that any step to help the disabled must be welcomed by all who care for them. I understood the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, to say, apparently quoting the Minister, that what is contained in this Bill is the first step taken towards helping the disabled. I could hardly believe my ears, but that is what I heard him say. He possibly omitted to notice that there was a Bill to help them of a much greater magnitude in the summer.


My Lords, if the noble Earl would allow me to intervene, I was talking of financial steps rather than aid in kind, which the Bill of Mr. Alfred Morris provided.


My Lords, I am glad to have been able to elicit that interpretation from the noble Lord. I am sure that that is what he had in mind. Therefore, this step, a small step in itself, should be welcomed by all of us, and I join in saying that we are grateful to the Government. We hope that they will do much better than this in the future, but let us give them credit for what they are doing now.

6.47 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to make one short point only, and if it was covered in the opening speeches I apologise for the same reason as the noble Earl, Lord Longford, apologised, in that unfortunately I arrived too late to hear the opening speeches. In welcoming the attendance allowance in Clause 4, I am going to put in a plea that the regulations should consider the circumstances not only of the severely disabled persons but also of the Christian and devoted people who are likely to be looking after them. We all know of cases where daughters and nieces, generally of elderly people, have given up their jobs because they feel it is their Christian duty to look after elderly relations whose lot would otherwise be miserable, and they may find at the end of the day that instead of being credited with contributions such as they would have paid if they had remained in their employment they are, in fact, the possessors of such a truncated insurance record that their pension at the end of the day is negligible. I believe that there are circumstances where some such people can be credited with contributions, but there must be other persons who never had an insurance record and to whom, therefore, it is difficult to give the appropriate credits. They may not be numerous, but they are devoted people who are serving their fellow creatures and we should not overlook their particular needs.

6.49 p.m.


My Lords, I am very grateful to all of your Lordships who have given a welcome to this Bill, albeit some, in their own words, a somewhat grudging one. I think it is hard to expect the Government to have moved very much quicker in dealing with the whole problem of poverty and deprivation, and though in many respects it may be true that this is a limited measure, I hope that all your Lordships will agree that it does its best, in the very short time that has been available to us, to meet certain real needs. A number of points have been raised and it has really been quite a baptism of fire for me. I shall do my best to answer some of them and I hope I shall be able to answer the others in writing.

The noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith, took us to task over the term "over-80s" in the Election Manifesto. Of course a good deal of water has flowed under the bridge since this issue was first raised in 1965, when the people concerned were aged 82 in the case of men and 77 in the case of women, and the term "over-80s" came to refer precisely to them. But, as the noble Lord well understands, the distinction is made at this point on the basis that if you are going to ignore the contributory principle, it is perhaps fairest that those should be considered who had no choice about contributing to the new scheme. They are the 100,000 whom we are hoping to help with this pension, but I agree that there are the 30,000 mentioned in my earlier reply to the noble Lord who are not covered by this scheme. I also take the point made by my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn, about those who perhaps decided not to come into the scheme as late entrants. It may very well be that, in looking at the whole of the field of those in need as we are urgently doing, we shall need to make further provision for them.

The noble Lord, Lord Delacourt-Smith, also asked me about supplementary benefit. This is a rather complicated matter and depends on exactly what amount of supplementary benefit the person concerned may be getting. It is true that people who live entirely on supplementary pensions will get no more, but those whose own resources are "topped-up" will gain the difference between the new pension and their supplementary pension. The noble Lord also asked me about attendance allowance and supplementary benefit. In the case of a disabled person or a claimant, one of whose dependants becomes entitled to attendance allowance, his level of requirement under the Ministry of Social Security Act will be increased to match the level of the allowance. This arrangement will cover the disabled child of a claimant as well as a disabled adult dependant, and will ensure that the basic level of supplementary benefit is not reduced by the amount of attendance allowance. Where the Supplementary Benefits Commission have allowed a discretionary addition to benefit to meet social need, this will be taken into account in awarding such addition for needs of the kind that the attendance allowance is meant to meet.


My Lords, I trust that, notwithstanding what the noble Lord has said, he will look further into this because, if I understood him correctly, it means that some of the cases which are hardest of all, where the families are entirely dependent upon payments from the Supplementary Benefits Commission and have been receiving discretionary payments which have taken account of the attendance need, are likely to find that they do not gain the full benefit of the £4. I should be grateful if the noble Lord could give an assurance that he will look sympathetically into this matter to make sure that the situation is as good as it can possibly be made, by appropriate examination of the regulations for supplementary benefit.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord and I give him the assurance that I will certainly look into that matter. I think the last point that he raised, which was also raised by the noble Earl, Lord Longford, was on the make-up of the Attendance Allowance Board As I said, it is certainly our intention to have nonmedical members as well as medical members of the Board. One field that springs to mind in this instance is nursing. We also want to ensure that between them both medical and non-medical members represent not only the eminent medical qualifications to which I referred, but also, almost by definition, appropriate experience of work among, and of the needs of, the chronically sick and disabled. This is clearly right if the Board is going to command the respect and gain the confidence of those for whom it is working. My right honourable friend will wish to be able to give very careful consideration to the membership of the Board after the necessary advice and consultation, and in the process of consultation he will wish to include organisations representative of disabled persons. I hope that that is reassuring to noble Lords opposite.


My Lords, speaking for myself—I cannot speak for the Front Bench—I know it is too late to pursue this point now, but I still cannot understand why the same kind of words that were used in the earlier Bill, the Alf Morris Bill, about the representation of the disabled, could not be used in this case. I am bound to say that what the noble Lord said helps a little, because it may be that the result has been achieved in an indirect way, when the obvious way has been rejected.


My Lords, I have gone as far as I possibly can to help the noble Earl. My right honourable friend must retain flexibility and discretion, and must not be committed to including a chronically sick or disabled person as a member of the Board if that should seem to him, in the light of all the circumstances, not to be the best choice. The test must always be appropriate qualifications and suitability.

The noble Lord, Lord Amulree, who asked about the 50,000 potential beneficiaries who are on supplementary benefit at the moment, I have answered as best I can. How they come out under the Bill will depend on the amount of supplementary benefit that they are receiving at the moment. On his other point, rent rebates will be affected where incomes are brought above the appropriate levels and, as he knows, this is in line with the normal retirement pension practice.

I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn, who gave the warmest welcome to the Bill. No one knows more about this subject than he does. He asked me a question about these widows whose allowance would end, and thought that there might be a gap before they had their new pension. There will be some widows whose short term widow's allowance will end during the next few months, before these provisions come into effect. But all widows, however long ago they were widowed, will be brought into benefit at the appropriate rate on April 1, 1971. They will have to wait a month or two, but they will come into benefit at the appropriate rate on April 1 next year. As regards the question of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, I should like to answer him afterwards, if I may.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.