HL Deb 05 May 1971 vol 318 cc422-4

6.3 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the National Insurance (Married Women) Amendment Regulations 1971, laid before the House on April 20, be approved. These draft Amendment Regulations aim to improve the conditions for flat-rate retirement pension for women whose marriages have been dissolved, either a marriage ended by divorce or a voidable marriage which has been annulled. A married woman need not pay flat-rate contributions; she can if she wishes rely on her husband's insurance for National Insurance benefits and in particular for retirement pension. Consequently, there have to be provisions to protect the woman's title to retirement pension if the marriage ends before she reaches the age of 60. The rate of pension depends on the yearly average of contributions paid over the person's insurance life—and an annual average of 50 weekly contributions paid or credited is necessary for a full pension.

The general principle is that protection is provided by the last husband's insurance. A widow can use her husband's contribution record instead of her own for the period of the marriage or for the whole period up to her husband's death; that is, both before and during the marriage, whichever gives her the better rate of pension. The divorced woman, however, can at present substitute her husband's insurance only for the period of the marriage and these draft Regulations extend that right so that she can use her former husband's insurance instead of her own both before and during the marriage, if this is to her advantage. This brings the rule into line with that for widows.

A particular instance where this change will be of advantage may help the House to grasp the point. A woman who has been widowed or divorced may marry again in her 40s or 50s and quickly find that she has made a mistake. If she then divorces her second husband, as the Regulations now stand she can, for retirement pension purposes, use her second husband's contribution record to cover only the short period of the second marriage; there may well be an extensive gap in her insurance record during her first marriage. The draft Regulations will allow her to use the second husband's insurance to improve her record for the whole period up to the end of the second marriage. The National Insurance Advisory Committee have examined and approved the draft Regulations. I also gladly acknowledge that this minor change was included in the White Paper on National Superannuation and Social Insurance put forward by the previous Government. An increased number of divorces are expected as a result of the Divorce Reform Act of 1970, and the change is made in that context. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft National Insurance (Married Women) Amendment Regulations 1971, laid before the House on April 20, be approved.—(Lord Aberdare.)


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, for explaining these Regulations which, when one reads the terms in which they are couched, one sees present some problems. I would congratulate the Government on the speed with which they have acted on the Report of the National Insurance Advisory Committee. This Report was presented in March; we are now only in May, and of course these Regulations will come into operation in June. I notice that this is as a result of the increased number of divorces expected, so in a sense it is rather a sad fact that we have to have legislation of this kind. But there is little doubt that this is an example of the humanitarian character of the Welfare State.

I would ask the noble Lord only one question. I understood him to state, and I understand the Regulations to prescribe, the yearly average contribution over the lifetime of the husband. This in fact is different from the widow's pension which appears to be based on the yearly contribution for the last three years before death. I do not expect an answer immediately, but perhaps this is something where, when we come to discuss pensions totally, we may find there is some slight anomaly which can be ironed out. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation.


My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for thanking me. I thought she was going to say, "the humanitarian character of the present Government".


I nearly did, my Lords.


My Lords, may I look into the point the noble Baroness raised and let her know?

On Question, Motion agreed to.