HL Deb 12 June 1973 vol 343 cc562-619

4.6 p.m.

House again in Committee.


I should like strongly to support the Amendment put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for two main reasons. One is the purely logical argument that women and women's organisations cannot ask for equality of treatment and continue to ask for exemption from particular responsibilities. This longstanding exemption, which has allowed married women workers to contract out from paying their contribution to social security, seems a slightly unjustifiable privilege. The second, and perhaps more important or equally important, reason why I hope that the Government will accept the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, is that it does something—not enough in my view, but something—to correct the unfortunately old-fashioned approach of this Bill, in that the Bill continues the practice by which many women depend for their benefits under social security on contributions paid by their husbands.

Many of us were hoping that we should quickly move to the time when every woman would be insured in her own right and, by paying contributions, accumulate benefits in her own right, irrespective of her marital status. In my view it is regrettable that this Bill does not introduce that principle. We should get rid of the provision whereby, misguidedly and with a short-term view of their advantages, married women workers continue to rely on their husbands' contributions for benefit and therefore, as the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has pointed out, put themselves at risk in the event of a divorce or other circumstances in which they are unable to benefit from those contributions. Also by so doing they accumulate far smaller benefits than they would be able to obtain otherwise. If this change means that we go further in the direction of individual women accumulating their own benefits as of right, we shall have moved some way in the direction in which sooner or later we shall have to go.


I raised this point on Second Reading and I do not want to be guilty of tedious repetition. but I do want to press the Minister on the subject. In a sense we are asking for emancipation for the married woman in respect of insurance. Years ago, as far back as 1911, when the Insurance Act of that year was introduced, only men were insured—I am talking about health insurance—because it was regarded as a man's duty to support his wife in the event of something occurring, such as ill-health, or any other hazard with which she might be faced. Times have changed. To begin with, the married woman can no longer regard marriage as a form of financial security. The new Divorce Bill is the strongest argument for accepting this Amendment. The most loving and devoted wife can be divorced after two years by consent, and after five years, despite the fact that she wishes the marriage to continue. Therefore to introduce legislation which makes this woman dependent on her husband is sheer nonsense.

It can be said that it is a question of option: that if she wants to be fully insured, covered for unemployment and health, then she makes her contributions. But may I once more summon up a picture of the home where this woman is considering whether she will pay the smaller or the larger sum? There will be the children to consider and the husband—he may be good or bad; a drinker perhaps, or a gambler—and there are certain pressures on her. The point is that at this period she is young and healthy. When people are young and healthy they do not envisage the time when they will be sick; and a married woman today does not envisage the time when she will be divorced. Therefore she usually will opt for the smaller amount. "I do not want to pay the larger amount", she says—and thereby opts wrongly. The pressures on her are such that often she will be more likely to want to contribute the smaller amount than the larger. I put it to the noble Lord that this is the time when this particular woman must be protected; she must be protected against her better self—and nobody but Parliament can do it.

It is not only a question of herself; she may have a husband who brings pres sure on her and who says that more money will be brought into the family if she does not opt for the larger amount. This is therefore a matter of some great importance. I have been sitting on a Select Committee on Discrimination for a year and the women of the country being very much concerned with sex discrimination it seems to me very curious that a Bill should be before the House which discriminates against the married woman.

4.23 p.m.


Under attack from all sides on this question of the married woman, I am beginning to feel quite old-fashioned; but I cannot say that I agree with the Amendment. The fact is that we are not changing anything in this Bill. The married women's option exists at present and about threequarters of the 5 million employed married women who earn enough to be liable to pay contributions exercise their right to opt out and elect not to pay contributions, preferring to rely on their husband's earnings. But more important than that, perhaps, is that many of them do not expect to go out to work for sufficient years to obtain a more valuable pension on their own contributions than they could earn under the present scheme on their husband's contributions.

I acknowledge that, as the noble Lord said, there are many more married women at work now; but despite that, at any one time the majority of married women are not in gainful employment. If they wished to earn a pension which equals that which they could receive under their husbands' contributions, they would have to contribute for something over half of their working lives. This is not yet the typical way in which married women behave. In the typical case, the wife continues to work after marriage and continues to contribute. When a family arrives, she qualifies for maternity allowance because of her contributions and then, in order to bring up the children, she either gives up work or, if she returns to work (often as a part-time worker), she prefers to opt out of further contributions.

If women are tending to go out to work for more of their married lives and to earn higher wages—which is what is happening—the prospect of personal benefits and pensions will become more attractive and the existence of the option leaves those women free to adapt to that trend while leaving others free to rely on their husbands' insurance. But the time is not in prospect, I suggest, when it will be the normal pattern for a wife to go out to full-time work for most of her life. Only if that time came would the option be unnecessary.

Those who advocate the abolition of the married women's option seem to assume conditions in which the normal role of a married woman is as an equal life-long contributor to the family budget. In those families for which this is true no doubt the wife will not wish to exercise the option; she will prefer to make her contributions and will look forward to a life where she is working and contributing to the family budget. She will contribute to her own pension. But for the majority of women this is not true, and the continuance of the option is, we believe, fair to the women concerned and to the general body of contributors. I know that the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, rightly say that all the women's organisations are in favour of the abolition of the option; but it is not my view that the decision to abolish this option would be welcomed by the great majority of married women.

The decision we have taken to continue the option in the basic scheme we believe to be based on the realities of the situation. The noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, speaks of this as the "emancipation" of the married woman, but I do not believe it is "emancipation" if all the married women and widows who are at present exercising their option not to contribute are to be forced to pay considerably more in basic scheme contributions because the option has been abolished at all levels. On earnings of £10 a week they would have to pay another 47p a week; on £20, another 85p; on £32, another 91p—and that was the figure the noble Lord quoted —and on £48, another £1.01. It is not a good investment. If that woman does not work a sufficient number of years to earn a pension higher than she would get anyway on her husband's contribution, it is not a good investment. She would be paying a lot of money in contributions which she would not get back; she may get back the same amount by relying on her husband's contributions.


Can the noble Lord tell me why, for the benefit of married women who do not today opt out, he does not publish all the facts that he has mentioned in the leaflet that his Department issues for the information of married women who work?


I should like to have a look at that.


It is in the noble Lord's documents.


I have not got it in my head. I should need to study this.


I should like to ask the noble Lord one question. I appreciate that he spoke from his heart and said that he was old-fashioned. That was his heart speaking. Now the brief is speaking. It is not only organisations of middle-class women who want this done. It is the working class organisations, which are pretty comprehensive, who have asked for it to be done. Surely the noble Lord cannot say that they know nothing about what the working-class woman wants.


No. But I believe that many working class women do not understand what their organisations are saying on their behalf. I think that a number of these people do not realise that what is being proposed by this Amendment is that they would be asked to contribute substantial extra sums of money. In fact, I am surprised that noble Lords opposite should wish to impose this extra burden on women and widows, when at present they are free to make their own decision whether to contribute in full and earn their own benefits or to pay a lesser contribution and rely on their husband's insurance.

The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, mentioned the widow's benefit. If a woman opts out, her position if her husband dies will be exactly the same as if she had opted in; that is, in most cases she gets a widow's benefit which becomes a retirement pension, and her position is protected by credited contributions while she is a widow; or she does not get a widow's benefit and she has to start paying contributions, but in this case the blank years of the marriage are filled in by the husband's record regardless of whether she opted out. So that in most cases it pays her to opt out, which is why—and this covers the point made by the noble Lord—the Department's literature reads that way, and why at least three-quarters of women exercise their option and do not contribute.

That is the situation, as we see it. We believe that this option is still a valuable option. When I say that I am old-fashioned, I think there are still a number of women who are as old-fashioned as I am and continue to want to use this option. I do not believe that they all want to pay these large extra contributions when, as things stand, they have very good benefits which they can receive.


Would it not be fair, while the noble Lord is pointing out the relative amount the woman will get as pension, to mention that the woman who pays contributions also draws sick pay and unemployment money, which can be a very valuable addition to the family income and to her income? It is not merely a question of whether she gets the pension. It is these other benefits which are important to her.


I agree with that, but the fact remains that three-quarters of the women do not wish to pay the contribution for that reason.


I know the noble Lord said that he is old-fashioned. I go a little further and say that this Bill is antiquated and goes back even further than Victorian times in its concept. The noble Lord says that the Bill does not change anything. There is no particular virtue in that. This is going to be legislation for the 21st century, and we are living in a rapidly changing society. It seems that the Government do not understand the situation. I work with married women. I am General Secretary of a women's organisation, and I can tell the noble Lord that we are thoroughly democratic, because the ideas come from the bottom and not from the top: they submit these resolutions and we discuss them fully. You cannot fool women on finance. If we had a woman Chancellor of the Exchequer, I can assure your Lordships that the country would be in much better shape. You cannot fool women over finance; they work out everything.

To say that the married woman who opts out is typical because she remains at home, or because she works for a short time, may be true now but it certainly will not be true in twenty years' time. For the first time in history the young married woman can control the number of children she will have and when she will have them. So at 30 years of age she may well come back on to the labour market and put in all those years of working life. This is why we are concerned that the whole of this legislation refers all the time to single men, single women and married women with dependants, whereas there are single men and single women who have dependants, and the dependency of the children may be shared by the man and wife, and, indeed, may be the sole responsibility of the woman. The whole concept of this is totally out of date.

The noble Lord made great play of the fact that many women exercise the option. This is true. As I said to the noble Lord before, they have worked out that it is not only the retirement pension that is involved. If you pay the full stamp, you get only the same benefits as you get through your husband's payment, so the women say: "What is the point of paying it?". But if they knew, as the noble Baroness has said, that when they were unemployed they would get unemployment benefit, or when they were sick they would get sickness benefit, obviously they would be prepared to pay the full stamp. It is not a very large sum, I should have thought, and is a very good investment. This again has to be considered. If the option is taken up, it is because the benefits are not paid out.

I would make an appeal to the Government to look at this not through the eyes of what is happening now, but what is going to happen in 20 to 25 years' time: because this is what this legislation is all about. I studied the Beveridge Plan, and I looked at the principle behind it. That principle is quite a simple one. You are either an earner or you are not earning because you are sick or handicapped, or because you are elderly or unemployed, or because your breadwinner has gone. That concept has changed. I know of cases where both the man and wife earn the same salaries. We are rapidly moving to the situation where the woman will earn more than the man, because that is what equal pay will mean. So we have moved away from the old idea that the wife is dependent—and that is the word used in the Bill. I am certain that we are right about this, and I am sure the noble Lord will do the Government a service if he recognises the force of the argument.


This has been an odd debate to listen to. My noble friend has been accused of being old-fashioned, but he has not seemed to me to quail much under that.


The noble Lord said it.


He has been be-laboured by noble Baronesses opposite in a very formidable way. What has he been belaboured for? It is for continuing an option that is available. That seems to me to be a very odd thing to be belaboured for. If my noble friend had been proposing to remove an option, I could understand him being belaboured. I must say that in this debate, old-fashioned or not, my sympathies are with my noble friend.


I can well understand why the noble Viscount needs to give sympathy to his old-fashioned, fuddy-duddy noble friend.




That is a word of affection, not abuse.


The noble Lord said he was old-fashioned.


The noble Lord has made an extraordinary speech. What he told your Lordships was that married women who work and who pay their contributions to the scheme are a lot of idiots, because the contributions they make are not right in comparison with the benefits that they receive. I think that is one of the most extraordinary statements that I have ever heard from any Minister in your Lordships' House.

To deal with Lord Amory's point, of course when there is an option not to make a contribution, a lot of people exercise that option. Supposing we were to say, "When you start work at 18 you do not need to make a contribution towards your old-age pension until you are 25; you could if you wish, but you have the option not to", I wonder how many young men and women would in fact make a contribution? But we all know that in terms of the Scheme, in order that the benefits have at least some recognition of general standards, all need to make a contribution, and opting out cannot be permitted. That is why I sought in my speech to indicate not only the disadvantages—and I do recognise the disadvantages of removing the option—but also the benefits that will arise for a married women if she makes her own contributions to the scheme. I do not share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare. Like my noble friends. I believe that in 15 or 20 years' time this will become the law of the land. I have no doubt at all about that. I suspect that the Government do not want to move. It may be too close to what Dick Crossman recommended in his own White Paper of 1969, or it may be the fear of meeting married women who might lose the option. But this is not government. The Government have a duty to ensure that women should be protected and should get the fullest possible benefits, not only when they retire but during the period when they are working.

I intended to have this debate and then to withdraw the Amendment, but in the light of the extraordinary speech which has been made—I say that not because it was old-fashioned but because of its general approach to this subject—I am going to ask the House to register a Vote.


Before the noble Lord does so, I must say that he has entirely misrepresented me, and I must put the Record straight. So far as contributions are concerned, there are many women who see the advantage of contributing throughout their lives and earning a corresponding pension at the end of it and also of receiving sickness and unemployment benefit. I never denied that, but I said that there were others who preferred to exercise their option and rely on their husbands' insurance. It may very well he that in 20 or 25 years' time things will be different but they are not different at the moment. If the noble Lord thinks I am fuddy-duddy, I think he is fuddle-headed, because there are still a great many women who like to exercise

Resloved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.

this option; and we do not intend to take it away from them.

4.33 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 7) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 67; Not Contents, 92.

Addison, V. Garnsworthy, L. Seear, B.
Airedale, L. Hale, L. Segal, L.
Amherst, E. Henderson, L. Serota, B.
Annan, L. Hoy, L. Shackleton, L.
Archibald, L. Hughes, L. Shepherd, L.
Arwyn, L. Kennet, L. Shinwell, L.
Bacon, B. Killearn, L. Slater, L.
Bernstein, L. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. [Teller.] Snow, L.
Beswick, L Southwark, Bp.
Blackett, L. McLeavy, L. Stamp, L.
Blyton, L. Maelor, L. Stow Hill, L.
Brockway, L. Meston, L. Summerskill, B.
Burntwood, L. Milford, L. Swaythling, L.
Champion, L. Norwich, V. Taylor of Mansfield, L.
Chorley, L. Nunbournholme, L. Wade, L.
Clifford of Chudleigh, L. Ogmore, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Peddie, L. White, B.
Diamond, L. Phillips, B. [Teller.] Williamson, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Platt, L. Wise, L.
Douglas of Barloch, L. Raglan, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Douclass of Cleveland. L. Rhodes, L. Wright of Ashton under Lyne, L.
Evans of Hungershall, L. Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
Gaitskell, B. Sainsbury, L. Wynne-Jones, L.
Aberdare, L. Ferrier, L. Monck, V.
Amory, V. Fortescue, E. Monckton of Brenchley, V.
Auckland, L. Fraser of Lonsdale, L. Mottistone, L.
Balfour, E. Gage, V. Mowbray and Stourton, L. [Teller.]
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Gowrie, E.
Berkeley, B. Greenway, L. Moyne, L.
Bethel], L. Grenfell, L. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Gridley, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, B. Grimston of Westbury, L. Porritt, L.
Cawley, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.) Rankeillour, L.
Clwyd, L. Redcliffe-Maud, L.
Conesford, L. Hanworth, V. Redesdale, L.
Courtown, E. Harvey of Prestbury L. Reigate, L.
Craigavon, V. Hawke, L. Roberthall, L.
Crathorne, L. Hertford, M. Rowallan, L.
Crawshaw, L. Hurcombe, L. St. Aldwyn, E.
Cromartie, E. Hylton-Foster, B. St. Helens, L.
Cromer, E. Ironside, L. Sandford, L.
Daventry, V. Kindersley, L. Sempill, Ly.
Davidson, V. Kinloss, Ly. Somers. L.
de Clifford, L. Lauderdale, E. Strathclyde, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Strathspey, L.
Derwent, L. Dudley, Long, V. Templemore, L.
Dundonald, E. Lonsdale. E. Thomas, L.
Eccles, V. Lothian, M. Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, B.
Elliot of Harwood, Loudoun, C. Vernon. L.
Emmet of Amberley, B. Lucas of Chilworth, L. Vivian, L.
Exeter, M. Lvell, L. Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Falkland, V. Mar, E. Wolverton, L.
Falmouth, V. Merrivale, L. Yarborough, E.
Ferrers, E. Milverton, L. Young, B.

4.42 p.m.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 [Class 2 contributions]:


My Lords, I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 8A, 8B, 8C and 10A together. These are drafting Amendments which simplify the wording of the provision in question. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 6, line 6, leave out from first ("the") to ("or") in line 7 and insert ("appointed day")—(Lord A berdare.)

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 4 [Class 3 contributions]:


My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 8B.

Amendment moved— Page 7, line 1, leave out ("in that Chapter II") and insert ("basic scheme benefit")—(Lord Aberdare.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


I beg to move Amendment No. 8C.

Amendment moved— Page 7, line 3, leave out ("in that Chapter") and insert ("of this Act")—(Lord Aberdare.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Supplementary provisions relating to contributions of Classes 1, 2 and 3]:


This Amendment is to give more flexibility in the reallocation of contributions which have been wrongly paid. The object is to reduce administrative costs by avoiding, in cases where one kind of contribution should not have been paid and another kind has still to be paid, the need for separate refund and compliance action. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 135, line 49, at end insert— ("or as paid (wholly or in part) in discharge of a liability for reserve scheme contributions or a reserve scheme premium; (ff) without prejudice to sub-paragraph (f) above, for enabling the whole or part of any payment of Class 2 contributions to be treated as a payment of secondary class 1 contributions;")—(The Earl of Gowrie.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 5 [Class 4 contributions]:


I am happy to say that this is a formal Amendment. It is a drafting Amendment to correct a reference to an income tax year. The words "income tax" are not needed because the term "year" is defined in Clause 2(1).

Amendment moved— Page 8, line 40, leave out ("an income tax") and insert ("a").—(The Earl of Gowrie.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 5, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clauses 6 to 8 agreed to.

Clause 9 [Descriptions of benefits; the earnings factor; crediting of contributions]:


This Amendment goes with Amendment Nos. 8A, 8B and 8C. I beg to move Amendment No. 10A.

Amendment moved— Page 13, line 40, leave out ("Benefits under this Part of this Act") and insert ("Basic scheme benefits")—(Lord Aberdare.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

LORD SHEPHERD moved Amendment No. 11: Page 14, line 10, after ("grant") insert ("payable without regard to contributions

The noble Lord said: On behalf of my noble friend Lady Phillips, I beg to move Amendment No. 11 and also speak to Amendments Nos. 12, 13 and 14. It may appear strange that one should take the maternity benefits alongside the death grant, but both are involved in one field of social security and the principle behind these Amendments is the same. What we are recommending by our Amendment is that these particular benefits should be payable, irrespective of any contribution made or not made. In the debate in another place the Minister referred to the Finer Committee, and I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, can give us any indication when this important report is likely to be available.

The Minister also said that the Government were considering the position of unmarried girls under the age of 16 who became pregnant. The maternity benefit is not solely for the prospective mother, it is to ensure that when the child is born it shall at least have the necessary clothing, foodstuffs and the like. Reference to any Member of Parliament will show that from time to time—true, not very often—cases arise where women who are shortly to give birth apply for maternity benefit, only to find that they are not entitled to it as a consequence of their husbands' failing to make the necessary contributions. All that could have been avoided if noble Lords had not followed the old-fashioned noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, through the Division Lobby; but they did so, and therefore we have to seek ways and means by which we can help those women who may be in difficulties as a consequence of the failure of their husbands to make the necessary contributions. Both of these grants are important. In the case of the death grant, when special assistance is needed for the family, it should be made as a matter of right and not be subjected to the question of whether contributions have been made or not. I beg to move.

4.50 p.m.


I can say to the noble Lord that the Government anticipate that the Report of the Finer Committee will be made later this year. Of course that will be, as he knows, an extremely important Report where this problem of the lone parent and the kind of conditions he outlined, perhaps for young, unmarried mothers is concerned. Perhaps on a principle of "In the midst of life we are in death", the noble Lord has taken maternity grants and death grants together. I shall, perhaps rather more clumsily but I hope clearly, take them in order beginning, so to speak, at the beginning. I hope this will be satisfactory to the noble Lord.

The effects of the noble Lord's package of Amendments would I think be to attack radically the contributory principle of the scheme, and for this reason I must ask noble Lords to resist the noble Lord's Amendments. The effect would be to remove the contribution conditions for maternity grant and substitute a provision enabling qualifying conditions of residence and presence in the United Kingdom to be prescribed; pari passu, it would be necessary to provide some other conditions, residence or presence in Great Britain, as already mentioned, where death grant would also be involved. I do not think that the noble Lord's friends on the Trades Union Congress would be enormously pleased at his suggestion, and certainly we understand they are resistant to it.

The Government's view is that there can be no really satisfactory halfway house between maintaining the present position and removing the contribution conditions entirely in favour of a residence and presence test, as the Opposition now appear to be advocating. Under the Social Security Bill a woman (to take the first case) can qualify for maternity grant either on her own or, if she is married, on her husband's contributions, on an earnings factor 25 times the lower earnings limit in any one year. This closely parallels the provision in the present scheme. Indeed, the new condition is slightly easier to satisfy. Contributions of Classes 1, 2 and 3 can count for satisfaction of this condition. The grant will therefore be payable in all but a very small proportion of births—in all probability well under 5 per cent. For instance, the number of registered births for the 1971 calendar year was 881,000, and we estimate that nearly 95 per cent. of this figure attracted maternity grant. Surely the main argument in favour of retaining the contribution conditions is that on satisfaction of the contribution conditions benefits arc paid as of right without a test of means. While the annual cost of making maternity grant non-contributory would be, I acknowledge, relatively small—about £1 million a year compared with the current cost of maternity grants of about £20 million a year—the process, once begun, would surely not stop there, as the noble Lord's Amendments relating to death grants clearly show. It is for these reasons that I must ask the Committee to reject the noble Lord's Amendment.


The noble Earl read his brief well and I think the Committee is now fully aware of the position of Her Majesty's Government on these two particular issues. The noble Earl recognised that there are cases where, because of the present ruling, there is hardship; but we must stay, as I understand the noble Earl, by the contributory principle. The previous Administration stood, in my view wrongly, on the contributory principle when we resisted a number of Private Members' Bills which were introduced for the purposes of giving old-age pensions to men and women who were then over 80. Those persons in fact were not entitled to an old-age pension because they had decided to use their option; they opted out; they refused to make contributions. So the noble Earl now says that these benefits cannot be made to these people, despite the hardship, because they did not make a contribution. But it was noble Lords opposite, fulfilling, it is true, a General Election pledge, who gave pensions to a group of people who had opted out and who had not taken part in the contribution scheme and principle.

So the noble Earl cannot have it both ways. Either he is right today or he was wrong in terms of the over-eighties. My belief is that he and the Government were right with the over-eighties, and the Labour Government were wrong, and no doubt we need only to look to the Treasury buildings to find out where the instructions were given. But, if they were right then, I think they could be right today by recognising the undoubted hardship of a small number of people who could be dealt with, particularly if the first Amendment was accepted. Unless the noble Earl can change his view, 1 feel I should like to see noble Lords opposite again go through a Division Lobby on the issue of a principle which they stand by today but would not accept or support earlier in the Parliamentary Session.


I should like to speak again, even though we are not anxious to deny the noble Lord the pleasure of watching us traipse through the Lobbies. He accused me, in effect, of wanting to have my cake and eat it. I do not think this is a just accusation because what is concerned here is not a new benefit now being added to the scheme, and to date no Government have made an existing contributory benefit into a non-contributory one. He talked about the special hard cases of the over-eighties and said in this respect we were in danger of being accused of inconsistency. But we would point out that where the hard cases, perhaps of the very young, unmarried mothers, are concerned, they may not be entitled to benefit under the Bill but they are in many cases—indeed, in most cases—entitled to supplementary benefit. The last point I would make, and which I think is especially important, is the one with which the noble Lord started off his introduction to the Amendments: that we are attending to a Report of the Finer Committee in order to have fresh thinking on how to tackle these very difficult but proportionately small problems.



I am reluctant to intervene in a dispute between the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and the Government Front Bench, but Lord Shepherd said that the previous Administration were wrong in their decision about the elderly people outside the scope of the insurance contribution. His knowledge of the history of the matter seems to be slightly defective. I go back to 1945, when we became a Government. In 1945 I remember my old friend, now long dead, Sydney Silverman, coming to a Party meeting and urging that something should be done immediately for old people; it badly needed to be done. Jim Griffiths, who was then the Minister, came to us and said: "Look. You can have it one way or the other. We can either introduce a Bill as quickly as we can, giving the maximum of benefits to the maximum number of people, or we can wait and inquire into all the marginal cases and produce a more refined document—a more refined Bill." I was one of those who raised his voice in favour of the maximum good and the maximum advantage as early as possible. That having happened, one had to accept the consequences of one's actions.

Then we ceased to be a Government, and over the years a number of my then (if I may use the expression which I used the other day and got "ticked off" for doing so, but old habits die hard) honourable friends tabled a measure to extend the principle to elderly people. That was resisted by successive Conservative Administrations, time and time and time again. The Conservative Government over a period of 13 years objected, and they went on objecting until we became a Government by a narrow majority. Then, not in order to help the old people—the humbugs!—what they did to embarrass the Labour Government was to introduce the same Bill that a number of my honourable friends had introduced on other occasions. Now they claim credit for it.

I speak now for this reason. We are approaching a General Election. It may come at any time. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has not been in politics as long as I have and therefore he is a little inexperienced, but if he is not careful his words will be used against him. He said this afternoon that a previous Labour Government were wrong, but that is untrue. The Government in 1945 and my honourable friends in between whom I have mentioned were right; the humbugs who were wrong were the Conservative Government. This was not the only occasion on which they were wrong. I wanted to get that on the record.


I should not like to intervene in a Party political dispute, particularly as I am taking part in a B.B.C. broadcast this week and I may get a question on this subject. I think it is now recognised that if we tie any benefit totally to contributions there will be hardships. Some mention has been made of unmarried mothers. I would cite the case of the young student I know who married soon after he had finished his rather long term of education, and he had not contributed enough stamps for those young people to be able to get the maternity grant. They needed it as people really need money. If we always tie grants and benefits to money it will go to the people who can afford to pay the contributions and not necessarily to those who need it.

What does it matter whether it has never been done before? That is surely the worst of all reasons. This is supposed to be a piece of changing legislation and I sincerely believe that it brings hardship to both groups: to the elderly, who have to find the cost of the funeral, which is very heavy and they receive no death grant, and to the young married people who desperately need the money. It is not enough to say that they can apply for supplementary benefits. It is a dif ferent system altogether. One has to go and ask for it as if it was something that was being handed out to you. A grant is different; it is something you receive. If I may use the words of the pamphlet. The maternity grant is paid to help you with the general expense of having your baby".


I would defend myself on one score: I never said that the argument was that this had never been done before. I agree very much with the noble Baroness that that is no sort of argument to deploy. Neither do I wish to intervene between the Front Bench opposite and the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, who often on these occasions does a lot of the Government's work for them. But I think we must point out that this is something which, as we understand it, the official Opposition, to judge from Mr. O'Malley's remarks in another place in the Committee stage on December 7, and, as I mentioned earlier, the Trades Union Congress in their general comments and strategy in regard to pensions, complain weakens the contributory principle. In regard to the death grant in particular, the abolition of the contribution conditions would soon raise the question of whether the grant should continue to be paid on all deaths, regardless of income. I can assure the noble Baroness that we shall be vigilant under other provisions in keeping an eye on hard cases. I have myself a special sympathy for students, but I do not think this Bill is the vehicle for such provisions.


I think we had better make some progress. I rise only to say that my noble friend, Lord Wigg, as on other occasions, has not always quite understood what one has been saying. Or perhaps it is another example of our difference of view, which again arises from time to time. But for the noble Earl, Lord Gowrie, to suggest that the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, has today, as on previous occasions, assisted Her Majesty's Government by referring to them as a lot of "humbugs" is absurd. Anyhow, I think we should move on and that the Question should be put.

On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No.11) shall be agreed to?

5.15 p.m.

BARONESS PHILLIPS moved Amendment No. 15: Page 15. line 22, at end inert ("Widowed father's allowance … Class 1,2 or 3")

The noble Baroness said: This is where we come to a slightly different situation. We move away from the question of contributions and non-contributions but come back to the basic philosophy of the Bill. We are still talking about wives

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 54; Not-Contents, 86.

Addison, V. Gaitskell, B. Sainsbury, L.
Airedale, L. Garnsworthy, L. [Teller.] Samuel, V.
Amherst, E. Hale, L. Seear, B.
Amulree, L. Henderson, L. Segal, L.
Annan, L. Hoy, L. Serota, B.
Archibald, L. Hughes, L. Shackleton, L.
Bacon, B. Kennet, L. Shepherd, L.
Beswick, L. [Teller.] Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B. Shinwell, L.
Blyton, L. Longford, E. Slater, L.
Brockway, L. McLeavy, L. Snow, L.
Burntwood, L. Maelor, L. Stow Hill, L.
Champion, L. Maybray-King, L. Summerskill, B.
Clancarty, E. Milford, L. Wade, L.
Davies of Leek, L. Ogmore, L. Wells-Pestell, L.
Diamond, L. Phillips, B. White, B.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Platt, L. Wigg, L.
Evans of Hungershall, L. Raglan, L. Wise, L.
Foot, L. Rhodes, L. Wootton of Abinger, B.
Aberdare, L. Ferrers, E. Milverton, L.
Alport, L. Fortcscue, E. Monck, V.
Amory, V. Gage, V. Monckton of Brenchley, V.
Auckland, L. Gainford. L. Mottistone, L.
Balfour, E. Gowrie, E. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Balfour of Inchrye, L. Greenway, L. Moyne, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Grenfell, L. Napier and Ettrick, L.
Berkeley, B. Gridley, L. Northchurch, B.
Bethell, L. Grimston of Westbury, L. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Brooke of Cumnor, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.) Orr-Ewing, L.
Brooke of Ystradfellte, B. Rankeillour, L.
Carrington, L. Hanworth, V. Redesdale, L.
Conesford, L. Harcourt, V. Reigate, L.
Courtown, E. Harvey of Prestbury, L. Roherthall, L.
Craigavon, V. Hawke, L. Rowallan, L.
Crathorne, L. Hylton-Foster, B. Ruthven of Freeland. Ly.
Crawshaw, L. Ironside, L. St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]
Cromartie, E. Killeam, L. Sandford, L.
Daventry, V. Kindersley, L. Sempill, Ly.
Davidson, V. Kinloss, Ly. Strathspey, L.
de Clifford, L. Lauderdale. E. Swaythling, L.
Denham,L. [Teller.] Lindsey and Abingdon, E. Templemore, L.
Dnumalbvn, L. Long, V. Tenby, V.
Dudley, E. Lothian, M. Tweedsmuir of Beihelvie, B.
Dundonald, E. Loudoun, C. Vivian, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Lucas of Chilworth, L. Wakefield of Kendal, L.
Emmet of Amberley, B. Lyell, L. Windlesham, L. (L.Privy Seal.)
Falkland, V. Mancroft, L. Wolverton, L.
Falmouth, V. Merrivale, L. Yarborough, E.

Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.

and dependants. I feel quite seriously that when women talk about equality they mean just that; they do not mean discrimination against men. All of us know widows who depend very heavily on the widowed mother's allowance. Indeed, at the time they lose their husbands, they are in a state of stress and the financial support of the State is the thing that sees them through. But equally, I know men who have lost their wives—and I am now talking about a working-class man. He is left with two or three young children. If it were possible for him to have a housekeeper he could claim something against his tax. But since he cannot do that—usually the house is not large enough and the kind of woman who would accept the wages he could offer is not readily available—he is usually forced to rely on some kind of daily help with the children. Alternatively, we have known cases where men have had to give up their own employment because they were left with small children.

It is not unreasonable that in this day and age we should recognise that for children to be left without a mother creates a financial difficulty for the father. I feel that there will not be many cases. We cannot say that the State is going to be overwhelmed but I believe that it would be a forward thinking move if we were to give the opportunity to the father who is left without a wife to get some kind of allowance. I beg to move.


It is a comfort, of course, that Women's Lib. is non-discriminatory and that here is an Amendment in the name of the noble Baroness designed to help men. Her Amendment appears to be an exploratory one to test the Government's attitude towards a contributory benefit payable to a widower with young children. As the noble Baroness has shown, widows' benefits are provided to help women whose main source of income disappears when their husbands die. Not all widows are covered but widows who have young children and are therefore needed at home, and those who are older and may have been out of employment for a considerable time and who are likely therefore to find it difficult to re-establish themselves in employment, qualify for a pension or allowance which takes account of their limited earnings potential. By contrast, while a man whose wife dies leaving young children will be faced with many problems, he is not likely to suffer a substantial impairment of his earning capacity. Although it is not part of the Amendment, we assume that the intention is that cover for the widower's benefit should be provided by virtue of contributions paid by his late wife. At present only about one million out of the 11.1 million married women under pension age in this country pay full contributions, so that nine out of ten of all widowers—the proportion could be even higher where there is a family of young children—might not qualify for the benefit even if it were allowed.

The Supplementary Benefits Commission takes a sympathetic view if, exceptionally, a widower is compelled to stay at home to look after the children, while practical assistance may be provided by the local social services departments with help with crêches or whatever. Again, as was mentioned in an earlier debate, widowers are among the lone parents whose problems are within the terms of reference of the Committee on One-Parent Families under the chairmanship of Sir Morris Finer Q.C., whose report is expected, as I said earlier, before the end of this year. So I do not think it can be said that no practical help is available from the social services for widowers with young childen, or that their problems are not receiving either care or consideration. But there seems little doubt that a benefit under the contributory scheme will not provide a satisfactory answer. Again, as so often, it is a question of priorities and I must rather regretfully ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her Amendment.


I thank the noble Lord for his comments. I would only say that I had not envisaged it as being contributory from the wife. I had thought that this would be an accepted part of what the husband had contributed and would continue to contribute. I am sorry that the Government do not see fit to look at it this time. I appreciate that we are waiting on the Finer Committee Report. I am interested not only in that but in other angles, but by then the opportunity may have gone; this legislation will be on the Statute Book. I will not press this point now. I feel that it is something unlikely to have been a heavy drain on the fund, and something which could have been incorporated now. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.21 p.m.

BARONESS PHILLIPS moved Amendment No. 16: Page 16, line 39, leave out ("January") and insert ("September")

The noble Baroness said: With Amendment No. 16, with the permission of the Committee I would also speak to No. 17. This is on a different point. The value of the supplements referred to in this clause has been considerably reduced in many cases since last month by the fact that the benefits year in future is going to start in January and not May. This may seem a small point, but it is one of those things that happen in an Act of Parliament; there is a change in the tax year or the benefit year, and this adversely affects many people. May I give an example? If we take from May, 1973, to December, 1973, the supplements will be based on the earnings for 1971–72, whereas for the same period in previous years they will have been based on a complete year. I wondered whether this would be a way in which we could put this small point right at this time. I beg to move.


Identical Amendments were moved by the Opposition in another place in February, 1973. In the discussion which followed, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State accepted, with the noble Baroness, that it was desirable and is desirable to keep to a minimum the gap between the end of an income tax year and the date of the start of the corresponding benefit year. He therefore undertook—and I quote— … that we shall struggle to bring the date closer to the end of the tax year than to January, mentioned in subsection (10)". He indicated, however, that if it were found possible to make any change it would be— not in the next few months but in the next few years"— that is to say, after experience had been gained of the working of the arrangements after 1975. On that occasion the Opposition withdrew their Amendments in the light of my right honourable friend's undertaking, and I hope that the noble Baroness will do so also.


I, of course, have to accept the explanation—not, I would say, a very satisfactory one, since it appears to have been spread over a period of years. One of the unfortunate effects of a Bill of this kind is that it is not retrospective, and if you happen to come within the wrong period you may well find yourself on the wrong side financially. I am sorry that we cannot hope for anything better than a change in a period of years, but I will not press the matter. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 9, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 3 (Contribution conditions for basic scheme benefit).

BARONESS PHILLIPS had given Notice of her intention to move an Amendment: Page 141, leave out lines 1 to 31.

The noble Baroness said: This again was an attempt to deal with the question of making the maternity grant noncontributory, and although I remain completely unrepentent—I still believe that those who need things are not necessarily the ones who get them—I can see that I am not going to make any headway, so I will not move this Amendment.


This is a drafting Amendment to insert a word inadvertently omitted on the reprinting of the Bill. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 144, line 46, after ("first") insert ("contribution").—(The Earl of Gowrie.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 4 (Rates of basic scheme benefits, grants and increases for dependants).

BARONESS SEEAR moved Amendment No. 20A:

Page 145, line 30, at end insert— ("4A. Invalid care allowance … £6.75.")

The noble Baroness said: If it is for the convenience of the Committee, should like to take in conjunction with this Amendment Nos. 35A and 35B; Amendment 20A is in fact consequential on Amendment No. 35A. The purpose of these combined Amendments, which are in fact a new clause with consequential Amendments, is to ask the Government to consider introducing a new benefit for a small but very needy class of people. This benefit we would like to have called the "invalid care allowance".

As our knowledge of social security has progressed and the social conscience has been roused, there is no doubt, and this Bill is an expression of it, that progress is being made in providing real security for the vast mass of the population who are able to pursue the normal procedures of life through a job to retirement. But if people fall out and are unable to pursue the normal progress through jobs to retirement, then they can be in an exceptionally unfortunate position. Our current legislation leaves certain of these groups seriously neglected. The group on whose behalf I am speaking this afternoon, on whose behalf this Amendment is moved, are those persons, normally women though sometimes men, who give up their employment to look after an infirm or aged person, usually a close relative. Of course, we are not suggesting that any provision should be made for them unless it is established medically that it is necessary for the aged and infirm person to have someone living with him.

The problem is increasingly acute today in that, as your Lordships are aware, people now live a great deal longer. There are a number of women—not a vast number but far too many—who at the age of 50, 55 or 60 give up employment, give up all earnings; they are, therefore, unable to continue to pay pension contributions, and their claim to State pension is greatly reduced. When the old person eventually dies, it is extremely difficult for these people to get back into employment and re—establish themselves in any way; if they do get back into employment it is usually of a very much less well paid kind. Their State pension rights and any other pension rights they would otherwise have accumulated in employment are also lost.

The sacrifice these people make is, of course, made voluntarily. It is a financial sacrifice, but it is also a considerable sacrifice in other directions. To a large extent they fall out of society and are lost sight of. Their friendships, their social contacts are lost, and this at a time when already they are subject to increasing financial and emotional strain in looking after old people getting progressively even more senile and sick. I have here a collection of letters; I am not going to read them, but again and again it is the story of a woman, or sometimes a man, who has come home to look after an old father. When the father dies the mother is also old and she needs to be looked after; so the story goes on year after year.

If these women did not undertake the task of looking after these old persons, the State would provide for them in an old persons' home or geriatric ward, and this would cost £30 or £40 or even more a week, the price rising all the time. It is this amount of money that is saved by the act of the child, usually, in staying at home and giving up employment. What we are asking is that such persons, properly certified as being necessary so to do, should be paid an allowance. We should like it to be the equivalent of the unemployment benefit, paid as of right to the person who does the caring. Previous legislation has improved the position of the old persons themselves with attendance allowances, invalidity allowances, and so on, but these payments all go to the old person and no money goes as of right to the person who does the caring. It is on behalf of the person who does the caring that we are asking that a benefit should be paid for the job.

We have divided the proposals into three. Amendment No. 35A is to establish the principle that a benefit should be paid to someone undertaking this responsibility. We have separated this from Amendment No. 20A, which gives the amount that I would think is reasonable—the same rate as the unemployment benefit at present, £6.75p. Of course, it might be that the Government will recognise the principle of paying the person who does the caring without being limited to that particular amount.

I hope that noble Lords will accept this proposal. The total amount involved is not going to be large. We have not got exact figures. The most recent figures we have date back to 1966, and these show simply that, so far as women are concerned, there are 64,000 living in households of two or three persons where one of those persons is an old—age pensioner. Of course the vast majority of those 64,000 would not be eligible for this benefit, They may just be living in the house; the old age pensioners may not be in need. It is only a very small fraction of the 64,000 who would be able to claim this benefit. There are also 64,000 living in these households who are not themselves working. This may be because they do not have to, but it may be that they themselves are ill, or that they may choose not to. This figure could be reduced in terms of those eligible for this grant. There are men not working and living in households of this kind to a total of about 50,000. One would assume that the great majority of those are not working because they are disabled or because they do not wish to continue working, and that they are not persons who would be eligible for this grant. However, if they showed that they were not working for the reason shown here they would be as eligible as the women.

We are putting forward these proposals in the hope that the Government will accept the principle that a grant shall be paid; secondly, that they will accept that this grant should be of the order of the unemployment benefit. If the Government are unable to do this, at the very least it is to be hoped that they will consider Amendment No.35B, which asks that a Class 1 contribution stamp should be credited to people caring in this fashion. Then at least their Class 1 insurance benefit could be maintained, as it is not at present. It is true that in certain circumstances a Class 3 stamp is paid for them, but this is done only if people are on social security payments. A considerable number of the people on whose behalf I am speaking are people who manage to keep just above the social security level but are carrying on on minute pensions, or small savings. They are people who either do not qualify or who, rightly or wrongly, are not prepared to apply for social security. The amount of money involved in this is very small, but the cases are acute and tragic cases and well worthy of your Lordships' consideration. I beg to move.

5.35 p.m.


The noble Baroness put her case with very great force. I have great sympathy with the people for whom she is pleading, and so indeed do the Government. This is the first of a number of Amendments that relate to disabled persons, and I think that it would be fair to the Committee if I were to say in advance to all of them that, although we have great sympathy and although we believe there is a great need to do more in all these instances, it is not yet possible for us to announce any further advance in policy. We have put in hand—and I think that this has been made thoroughly public in both Houses of Parliament and outside—a thoroughgoing review of all facets of cash provision for the disabled. My right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for Social Services, told the annual general meeting—


I should like to make the point that the people for whom I am speaking are not themselves disabled. It would be quite wrong to confuse their case with the case of the disabled. They are people perfectly able—bodied, and willing and most anxious to go on earning their living, but who give it up on behalf of the disabled.


The noble Baroness really must do me the justice that I did listen to her speech. But this is the first of a number of Amendments that deal with the disabled in general, although her case is for the people who look after them. We are studying thoroughly the position of the disabled and that includes those who look after the disabled. If she allows me to finish my case, perhaps she will appreciate what I am trying to say.

My right honourable friend the Secretay of State for Social Services said at the annual general meeting of the Disabled Income Group on May 5: The results of research, D.I.G.'s own publications, and the experience of other countries are all being fed into a thorough review in which administrators, economists, statisticians and doctors are engaged, and in which my Department is co—operating with other Departments. We are determined on this thoroughgoing review, which will cover what is required to help the disabled and, if I may add, those who give up their time to help the disabled.

Nobody could but admire the self—sacrifice of those who are compelled to turn their backs on paid employment, on their careers and so forth, and outside interests generally, in order to devote their lives to the care of invalids. Indeed, they deserve not only our admiration but our support. As the noble Baroness mentioned, some of them get cash support, some of them receive some form of social service support—and sometimes it is the social service support that is so very crucial. But they do provide a very valuable service, and it is certainly our wish to encourage people to remain as long as they may in their own homes rather than going into some form of institution, be it an old people's home or a geriatric hospital. This is very much in accord with our priorities, not only for financial reasons but also because it is a situation so much happier for the persons themselves.

Our emphasis so far has been on developing provisions to meet the needs arising from disablement and of the disabled themselves, such as the improvements we have made in invalidity benefit and the attendance allowance. At the same time provisions designed to help the disabled members of the household are of very real value to other people who share the household and share the problems. It is because there is such a vast range of inter—related and overlapping problems that we are engaged in a thorough review of cash benefits—"We are trying to put right the virtual neglect of generations" as my right honourable friend called it. Certainly the attendance allowance has been the most important cash benefit advance in this area, and the progressive extension of the attendance allowance which has already begun will benefit an increasing number of families.

The benefit, I know, goes to the disabled person in this case because often attendance is a shared responsibility and because it seems right that extreme physical dependence on others should be compensated to some extent by a little financial independence. As the noble Baroness herself knows, the attendant may qualify for supplementary benefit; and as she also mentioned this can cover the cost of her Class 3 non-employed contribution. But I appreciate that she is thinking of the cases of those who are not eligible for supplementary benefit and who still find it hard going.

On the question of credits for eventual pension earnings, the easier and different contribution conditions introduced by this Bill will mean that credits are less important than they are at present. But tile basic difficulty with both benefits and credits for those who look after disabled relatives or friends is that the need to give up work to provide this attendance is not so clear cut and objective and readily definable as severe disablement. If the noble Lord, Lord Amulree, were here, he would confirm that it is very difficult to draw the line in the case of attendance allowance between those who are eligible and those who are not, and to grant a benefit which depends on someone's assessment as to the degree of dependence of the relative and the degree of necessity for the other person to give up work to look after her, might I suggest, be a little more difficult still. The burden of what I am trying to say is that this is one of the types of benefit within the field of disability—if the noble Baroness will allow me to say that rather than simply the disabled—which is very much within the review which we are now conducting, and it would be to preempt that review if I were to accept this Amendment. I can therefore only ask the noble Baroness to accept my good faith in this matter. I think that the record of the Government in the field of the disabled is perhaps sufficient encouragement for her to believe that we really do mean to make further progress on this front when we have sorted out all the problems and when we are able to find sufficient resources to add to the present benefits.


Can the noble Lord give us any indication as to how long the review is likely to go on and when we are likely to have the result? I am fully aware of the great interest that the noble Lord the Minister takes in this matter and am confident of what he will produce; but it would be a very great comfort to the people concerned to have some idea—I know he cannot be precise —when the report will be produced.


I am afraid I cannot commit myself on this occasion. I assure the noble Baroness that the work is going ahead very rapidly, but it is very complicated.


With great respect to the Minister and with no loss of faith in his own good faith in this, I cannot be terribly excited about the survey which is apparently being made by economists, statisticians and even doctors, because I do not think, again with respect, that the noble Lord fully answered the point made by the noble Baroness; that is, that if these people were not looking after disabled people they, the disabled, would be costing the nation very much more than the £6, or whatever it is, per week which is suggested in this Amendment. Furthermore, as to the difficulty of determining the degree of dependence —and I suppose some kind of determination and certificate will have to be made—no doubt this would fall upon the doctor who would be visiting the case from time to time. I suggest that the decision would be no more difficult than the many very difficult certification troubles that all doctors have when people whom one knows are on the borderline of malingering are claiming sick benefit or accident benefit for all kinds of things. So I am not wholly satisfied with the reply which we have received.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

THE EARL OF GOWRIE moved Amendment No.21: Page 146, line 6, column 1, leave out from ("the") to ("was") in line 7 and insert ("deceased").

The noble Earl said: With permission, I should like to take Amendments Nos. 21, 22 and 37 together. These Amendments extend the description of the deceased to the Schedule as well as to the clause and enable the Schedule to be shortened and simplified. They are tidying Amendments. I beg to move.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

THE EARL OF COWRIE: I beg to move Amendment No. 22.

Amendment moved— Page 146, line 37, leave out ("10(8)") and insert ("10(7)").—(The Earl of Gowrie.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Schedule 4, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 10 (Unemployment benefit and sickness benefit]:

On Question, Whether Clause 10 shall stand part of the Bill?


Before the clause is accepted I should like to ask the Minister whether I interpreted correctly that a married woman who has paid the full contribution to the State basic scheme will continue to receive a lower rate of unemployment and sickness benefit—in other words, the situation that exists now, or will that be changed?


The noble Baroness is perfectly correct; the situation will not be changed.

Clause 10 agreed to.

Schedule 5 agreed to.

Schedule 6 [Earnings—related supplement and addition]:

5.49 p.m.

BARONESS PHILLIPS moved Amendment No. 23: Page 147, line 39, at end insert ("or, if the number of contributions from which the earnings factor is derived is less than 50 but not less than 10, by that number").

The noble Baroness said: With permission, I will take Amendments Nos. 23 to 27 together as they relate to the same point. These Amendments refer to the earnings—related supplements to sickness and unemployment benefits and the way in which they are calculated. It appears that no allowances have been made for periods off work in the previous year, so that we have here a situation where the earnings on which the benefits are calculated are often far below the real average earnings of the person concerned. This does not appear to be either correct or fair. I beg to move.


The noble Baroness has made such progress that I am having a job to keep up with her. In general, this is essentially a Bill about pensions and about how they should be financed. It is not designed to change the structure of short—term benefits. But because it replaces the present flat—rate contributions on which benefit entitlement is based with a wholly earnings—related system of contributions, the existing provisions for short—term benefits have had to be brought into line with the new contribution system. The White Paper explained this at paragraph 36, which said that benefits covering sickness, unemployment and maternity would need to be adapted to the new system of earnings—related contributions, and added that detailed proposals would be announced later. We have made it clear that we are considering separately the possibility of future changes in short-term benefits, and any such changes would not necessarily be tied to the time scale for the new pension provisions. This is the same conclusion that was reached by the noble Baroness's Government when they were in office. They took the same line on short-term benefits in their proposed Bill.

To come to the Amendments which she has discussed, Amendment No.23, as worded, is not workable. It assumes that under the Bill it will be possible to ascertain the number of weekly contributions paid by an employed person during a tax year. But this will not be so with wholly earnings—related contributions, which will be payable whenever earnings above the threshold are paid, and the amount of contribution will vary according to the level of the earnings. They will not therefore be recorded on a weekly basis and the amount will be known for a year only. So I regret that for that reason we could not accept Amendment No.23.

The effect of Amendment No.24 would be to increase the rate of earnings-related supplement from one-third to one-half of that part of reckonable weekly earnings between the lower earnings limit (which is £8 in the Bill) and £30. We have not made any change here. One-third is the proportion used at present and it is the same as was fixed by the noble Baroness's Government. The point of it is that it has regard to the fact that the claimants concerned get not only the earnings-related supplement but also a substantial flat-rate benefit which varies according to the size of the family. If we were to increase the supplement in the way suggested in this Amendment, we should be giving a man quite a bit extra. If we are looking to help the lower paid, it is better to concentrate available resources on the flat-rate benefit than on earnings-related supplement, which favours the higher earner. The effect of Amendments Nos. 25, 26 and 27 would be to remove the benefit ceiling which ensures that earnings-related supplement shall not increase total benefit so that it exceeds 85 per cent. of the claimant's reckonable weekly earnings. The object of this limitation, which is a normal feature of any earnings-related benefit scheme, is to ensure that total benefit does not reach the level of a claimant's normal "take-home" pay, thus avoiding any financial disincentive to return to work. In practice, however, the ceiling is calculated on reckonable weekly earnings which are based on gross pay, and the end result is that a claimant who is affected gets something of the order of 90 per cent. of his average take-home pay.

I appreciate the point which the noble Baroness made about the claimant whose earnings in the relevant tax year have been reduced by periods of unemployment or sickness and who, as a result, is entitled to a lower rate of supplement than he could normally expect, but I am afraid that to attempt to meet this situation by removing the ceiling would remove the precaution against providing a disincentive. It might result in a family man with low earnings in every week in the year receiving more in social benefits than he could expect to receive when working, and I do not think that would be a desirable result. So again, I am afraid that I cannot accept any of these Amendments which the noble Baroness has explained so persuasively. I hope I have done something to explain the underlying reasons why and to express the point that we are not anxious to make any changes in the short-term benefits, because in this Bill we are concentrating mainly on the provision and structure of the new pensions scheme.


I thank the Minister for that explanation. Of course I have studied the White Paper, and we debated it and made some suggestions about how it could be changed; but none of those suggestions was taken up, thus rather justifying my thought that once something is written it is, as it were, carved in stone and cannot be changed. It is most curious, and my belief has been confirmed this afternoon. On the question of the disincentive, I thought that the "wage stop" would still operate if we were carrying over old legislation. I also thought that if we were calculating on a yearly basis it would be much more sensible to refer to weekly rates, because those who collect their money weekly do not realise that the yearly salary is being taken and divided by 52. But I understand what the noble Lord has said. I do not know whether he can tell me whether the "wage stop" would still operate, making it impossible to have more than one would have if one were earning.


The "wage stop" is in connection with supplementary benefit.


Not with unemployment?


Not with contributory benefits. While I am on my feet, may I answer the noble Baroness's point about contributions and earnings? This is a fearfully complicated matter and perhaps the noble Baroness would like me to try to explain it outside the House.


Yes. I recollect trying on one occasion to fill in a form which asked me for my weekly earnings, and as I had been paid monthly for many years it took me some time to work it out. Our forms are a little old-fashioned, like many other things. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 6 agreed to.

Clause 11 [Invalidity benefit]:

5.58 p.m.

LORD CRAWSHAW moved Amendment No.28:

Page 20, line 39, at end insert?— ("(8) Where the earnings of a person entitled to invalidity pension, being a person who has not reached pensionable age, have exceeded £9.50 for the week ending last before any week for which he is entitled to the invalidity pension, the weekly rate of pension for the last-mentioned week shall be reduced—

  1. (a) where the excess is less than £4, by 5 pence for each complete 10 pence of the excess, and
  2. (b) where the excess is not less than £4, by 5 pence for each complete 10 pence of the excess up to £4 and by 5 pence for each complete 5 pence of any further excess.
Provided that this subsection shall not affect the rate of the invalidity pension and invalidity allowance for the first week after the date of the beneficiary's entitlement to the pension.")

The noble Lord said: I have been moved to put my name to this Amendment, which is one of a series of three which my noble friend Lord Aberdare mentioned a moment ago, for four main reasons. The first is that this is, after all, a Social Security Bill which should be comprehensive and should take quite an interest in the affairs of disabled people. The second reason is that during the Second Reading of the Bill in this House—although I did not speak on it myself—I was aware of the great interest of your Lordships in this subject, as indeed has been the case on many occasions in the past. One recalls an occasion about a year ago when we kept your Lordships up till 5 o'clock in the morning to move an Amendment to the Housing Finance Bill. There has also been a great deal of debate in Standing Committee E in the House of Commons on this whole subject, and I have been impressed by what has been said and done there, particularly by Mr. Alec Jones, the Member for Rhondda West. In passing, I should like to say, too, that we appreciate very much all the trouble and interest which the Secretary of State takes in these matters. We believe that he is an exceptional Minister and we are very grateful to have him in that position.

My next reason is that I believe that there is obvious public concern over these matters. Anybody who saw a television programme on the subject a month ago will realise that. There has also been a campaign in the country, run by the Disablement Income Group, to draw attention to the problem. I know that they have set their hearts on amending this Bill and I think that they were disappointed and disheartened by what appears to be the intransigent response by Government spokesmen in another place. It is a long time since February 15, when this matter was discussed by the Standing Committee. It is now June 12. The sun has been shining; England has won a good victory in the Test; an English horse has won the Derby and we are in the middle of an economic boom. I am therefore trying to persuade my noble friend Lord Aberdare to take a look at this in the light of present circumstances, to see whether we cannot do something with the Bill now. Also, the so-called "lame ducks" in other spheres have more or less got what they wanted by loud quacks, and I think we should now turn our attention to their human counterparts and ask your Lordships to consider their position in detail. Your Lordships will remember the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act which was passed three years ago and which did a great deal to improve amenities for all disabled. Since then I recognise, and acknowledge at once, the great improvements that this Government have made—attendance allowances, invalidity pension allowances and so on, which were also mentioned by my noble friend Lord Aberdare.

For the moment I want to turn to the economics of disablement and the problems of employment. It seems to me that the worst-off people are those who have not been in a position to contribute or to pay National Insurance, those affected before even starting to work, and disabled housewives—and that will be discussed in a moment. I want to speak now about those who have paid National Insurance contributions but who by one cause or another have been struck down, are being rehabilitated and receive an invalidity pension. In my view it is in everybody's interest that they should be returned to work of some sort or another as soon as possible. I believe that at present there is not enough incentive, for as soon as they earn £4.50 they lose all entitlement to the invalidity pension. Until recently the figure was £2. That it has changed at least shows that the Government are movable on this point. I maintain that £4.50 is not really an incentive figure. All of us here who have been "through the mill" in one way or another realise that earning power is reduced by these accidents and diseases and so on, and that partial employment in one form or another must be the first step back—or (should I say?) forward. Equally, there must not be a hold-up in starting back in employment, for the longer it is left, the harder it becomes. This is something which should start as soon as rehabilitation itself starts. Also I believe it is important, especially now, that the theme and principle of the 1944 Disabled Persons Employment Act be put into operation; the question of firms taking their quota of disabled persons in employment seems to have been abandoned.

To illustrate what I am trying to get at, I cite the case of a professional man, now aged 45, with three children. He has multiple sclerosis and will be no longer able to go out to work. He receives, or will receive, an invalidity pension of something over £19 a week. If he earns more than £4.50 a week, he loses the entire £19. He would like to continue as a freelance in his own home but he cannot take the risk; for while building up his business he may earn more than £4.50 but not reach £19. So he is debarred from doing this. His condition may deteriorate at a later stage and he may earn less than £19 a week for a considerable time. This man has been reluctantly forced to remain idle at home while able to do a certain amount of work in his profession. Such enforced idleness has meant that between 32 per cent. and 37 per cent. of invalidity pensioners have had to resort to supplementary benefit, so placing a further burden on taxpayers. More important is the effect on the individual's morale. A fighting spirit and enterprise is replaced by complacency and despair, and possibly a sense of false security.

Your Lordships may be wondering whether, in the recent words of Mr. Wedgwood Benn, there is anything magical in the figure £9.50 which is mentioned in the Amendment or whether it is simply a piece of uprating in a structure Bill. We have chosen £9.50 because this is what the wife of an invalidity pensioner can earn without affecting her husband's entitlement to pension. Also it is the amount that a retirement pensioner can earn without affecting his pension. The argument is this. Why not apply the same figure to the invalidity pensioner himself? I maintain that this is a matter of principle and not simply a piece of uprating inappropriate to this particular Bill.

My final point is that every other member country of the E.E.C. except the United Kingdom and Ireland has managed to devise a system of pension payment for partial incapacity. We are the only two countries still requiring total incapacity as a condition for sickness and invalidity benefits; so there is plenty of experience to draw on. Despite the foreboding words of my noble friend Lord Aberdare, I still hope that the Government may feel inclined to take this away and to come back with possibly a better solution at Report stage—for I do not want to cross swords with them. On the other hand, if we find that your Lordships give this Amendment some support I may well ask for your support in the Division Lobby. It does not require extra money from the Exchequer—in fact it would save money, because of the question of supplementary benefits. In my view, it would establish an important principle and in so doing would give great encouragement to a great many people to take a more active part in society. I beg to move.

6.7 p.m.


I wholeheartedly support the Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Crawshaw. I think it of tremendous importance. A great deal has been done to help the disabled over the past few years, but I feel that the whole question of employment in regard to the disabled needs looking into. As the noble Lord explained, this Amendment seeks to put the invalidity pension on a par with the wife of such a pensioner and with the normal retirement pensioner in relation to the amount they can earn before their benefits are affected. It is not a handout, a palliative for disablement, but an attempt to remove serious obstacles to a disabled person's return to work. Many disabled people cannot return to work immediately in a full-time capacity. Rehabilitation is a long-term process. It takes time to regain the maximum possible fitness and to adjust mentally to disabled life in an able-bodied society. While some people may never be able to return to work full-time, a vast number of disabled people who can do full-time and demanding jobs in many cases need an interim period of part-time employment. Many of the more severely handicapped who do not seriously contemplate the idea of going back to a full-time job find after a spell of part-time employment that they can manage a full day's work. The graduated earnings stop, which at present applies to disabled persons on an invalidity pension, makes it impossible for them to return to part-time employment.

My noble friend quoted the case of the disabled man with a wife and three children who was receiving about £19 invalidity pension and who could not risk earning more than £4.50 a week because if he did he would forfeit his entire invalidity pension in one fell swoop. So he will be far worse off, unless he can make sure of earning at least £19 a week straight away, whereas when the graduated earnings rule is applied the person never actually loses money by earning more. This situation is scarcely an encouragement to return to work and become a truly rehabilitated and fully fledged member of society. I know several people fortunate enough to have a small source of private means that they could use while they were progressing from part-time to full-time employment. Without that to fall back on they could never have achieved full-time employment and would not now be repaying the State handsomely by paying income tax. It is disturbing to note that, as the noble Lord pointed out, about one-third of those disabled people receiving invalidity pension have to draw additional supplementary benefit because the invalidity pension is insufficient for their needs. This Amendment would help to reduce the number of these people and save the State money.

In another place the sum of £4.50 which the invalidity pensioner is allowed to earn before losing the pension has been referred to as "therapeutic earnings". As pocket money it is not ungenerous, but it in no way meets the needs of disabled people. It is rather like the prepared cake-mix sold to the housewife which tells her to add an egg, just to make her feel that she is doing the job properly. The idea, presumably, is that if we pay the disabled person his invalidity pension and allow him "therapeutic earnings", he will feel that he is pulling his weight and it will give him dignity. Dignity is important to the disabled—it is important to us all as human beings—but I do not believe that it is bestowed on one by "therapeutic earnings". The disabled want to earn their living and support their families, and to pay their taxes along with the able-bodied members of the community.

Perhaps I may quote a report in The Times of May 23 of Mr. Macmillan's remarks at a Press conference about the Department of Employment's report on the quota system for disabled people. The report states: Mr. Macmillan did not agree that the withdrawal of invalidity and supplementary benefits after a small amount had been earned caused widespread discouragement. There was considerable incentive in the 'justifiable pride' disabled people felt in being able to work in spite of considerable handicaps. Again the whole approach is wrong. The disabled are not regarded as responsible productive workers, capable of contributing to the community and to the State. Medicine and technology have advanced so much in recent years that severely disabled people are capable of doing very demanding jobs in competition with the able-bodied. There are wheelchair-bound dentists and solicitors; I know of a computer programmer who can use nothing but one foot; an accountant who runs his own accountancy business from home and whose sole functioning limb is one arm. Is it logical, or even financial good sense, to spend time, money and skilled energy on rehabilitating the disabled up to a certain point, only to deny them the opportunity of fulfilling their potential and the chance to repay the State by their labour and the taxes they may pay?

Some people might argue that when it comes to the disabled in full-time employment we are talking about a small and exceptional bunch of people. But I would say to those who argue in this way that one has to be exceptional to surmount the obstacles that we are seeking to remove by this Amendment. I would argue, further, that if we remove these obstacles we shall clear a path for the less exceptional to follow. From my knowledge of the disabled world I am convinced that removal of this obstacle will encourage and help a large number of disabled people to return to part-time, and eventually, one hopes, to full-time employment. Mr. Macmillan spoke of "justifiable pride". That was his own phrase as quoted in The Times report. But people cannot live on justifiable pride. I think that no able bodied worker in this country would agree that justifiable pride alone was a sufficient incentive for doing a job. I feel most deeply that society has lagged behind medicine and technology in the rehabilitation of the disabled by failing to offer them opportunities for worthwhile and productive employment and the chance to become useful members of the community. Today we have a real opportunity to change this situation and so I urge your Lordships to support my noble friend's Amendment.


I also would support this Amendment. It seems to me absurd to discourage disabled people from getting back to work by providing such a low earnings stop. As soon as the disabled person earns £4.50, he loses complete entitlement to his invalidity pension. What is needed, surely, is a graduated earnings rule; in fact, all that we are asking for is the rule as it already applies to the wife of a disabled person. We are asking for a partial pension for a partial inability to work, and we are asking for something which, as my noble friend Lord Crawshaw has already said, exists in seven out of nine of the E.E.C. countries. I warmly commend this Amendment to your Lordships.


I should like to support this Amendment. Some of us who are lucky enough not to be disabled do not, I think, appreciate the enormous revolution that has taken place in regard to the rehabilitation of disabled people. I have reason at the present time to be working closely with a number of organisations dealing with disabled people and I have been absolutely astonished by what I have seen. It has been a revelation to me to see how extraordinarily successful and accomplished disabled people can be as a result of the many changes and innovations and the many new types of training which have been evolved for disabled people in the last ten years or so. I think it would be a great thing if in this Bill, which is the most up-to-date social security measure we are likely to have for a very long time, cognisance were taken of what has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, and the other speakers who have supported the Amendment. We are on the brink of something quite new in the way of work for disabled people to enable them to earn their own living in ways which could never have been possible before. I know that the noble Lord will personally be most sympathetic, and I hope that the Government will see their way to including this Amendment, or something like it, in the Bill to enable disabled people to take advantage of what I think is a very enlightened measure.


Unfortunately, I missed the opening remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), but I listened with the greatest interest, as I am sure the whole Committee did, to the case that she and the noble Lord. Lord Crawshaw, made. I think it would help us all if the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, could give us some idea of the size of the problem by telling us how much it would cost if the Amendment were accepted.


I should like to say a word in support of this Amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, spoke of the frightful effect on the morale of enforced idleness. There was a time in my life when that was the case with me and I can entirely confirm what the noble Lord said. Furthermore, having during the past six days or so been minus the use of one hand, I can realise the tremendous bravery shown by those who have permanently lost an arm but who are carrying on a normal life. I think the suggestion about a gradual reduction of the benefit is only reasonable and natural and should have been thought of by any humane Government years ago. I sincerely hope that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, will consider this Amendment seriously.

6.20 p.m.


May I first congratulate my noble friend Lord Crawshaw and his great "team" on this Amendment. I think that they have all spoken admirably and put their case strongly. I am sure that we all congratulate them. From my point of view, I should like to make two points, one as a member of the Royal British Legion and another as a parent of a thalidomide child. Naturally, the Royal British Legion deal with pensions and the disabled all the time. Therefore it is our duty to make sure that in Parliament our voice is heard. At the present time, we are having more work placed on our shoulders with the very young soldiers who have been injured in Northern Ireland. I should not like them, or anybody, to think that they are being neglected when they come out of the Army, disabled through defending law and order. I should like the Government to appreciate the feeling through the Royal British Legion.

I make the second point, as I have said, as a parent of a thalidomide child. We were extremely lucky. I should like to think the Government are doing something not only for the future of the thalidomide children but for other disabled children also. I do not want to bring in the battle with the Distillers Company, but I should like the Government to consider the future of these children in the way of pension and training for a job. At the moment, in some sections of society certain of these children are being taken care of, but there are still children looked after by their parents. I should like the Government to realise that we are looking to the future also for the children, and I hope my noble friend Lord Aberdare can give a very good ear to the Amendment of my noble friend, Lord Crawshaw.


This is an extremely difficult Amendment for me to speak to because of the immensely human and sympathetic way in which it has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, and supported by various others of your Lordships. I have a deep sympathy with the case that has been put. I know these same people that the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), mentioned. I have seen them and the work they do, and I know the magnificent way in which with the aid of electronic devices they manage to earn a living for themselves. I am acquainted with the gentleman who is a lawyer.

I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, thought that the speeches made in another place were intransigent. The fact is, as I tried to say when I was replying to the noble Baroness, Lady Secar, that we are engaged in a very thorough-going review of all the benefits for the disabled, without seeming to be a little intransigent—that is the last thing that we are trying to be. The noble Lord paid a tribute to my right honourable friend. My right honourable friend is the last person who would enter into discussions and investigations of this kind without meaning to try to get some result from them. My answer will no doubt seem very disappointing to the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, and his supporters, because all I am going to say, in effect, is that we feel it would be anticipating the results of that review to change this Bill in the sense that the Amendment would.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Amendment is quite rightly put down to this Bill. It is not just a matter of uprating. It would be possible to uprate the present amount of £4.50 which the noble Lord mentioned, but it does in fact change the concept that at present exists of invalidity benefit. The present underlying purpose of invalidity and sickness benefits—and invalidity benefit follows on from sickness benefit—is that they are paid where some physical or mental condition renders an insured person incapable of working. His benefit is therefore payable because the claimant is unable to do any work, and the general rule is that the day on which a person does any work cannot normally be regarded as a day of incapacity for benefit purposes. Nevertheless, it has always been recognised that there can be circumstances in which a person may be accepted as incapable of work and yet be capable of doing some work. It was for that reason that a small amount was allowed to be earned. That was originally £2. It was, I am afraid, described as "therapeutic earnings", which I agree is not a very happy phrase, but at least we can claim credit for having increased it to £4.50. I know it is not as far as others might wish to go, but we did increase it. It is not intended to be an earnings rule in the accepted sense. It is a measure of the amount of work that a person can do in somewhat special circumstances and still be accepted as being incapable of work.

If we are considering changing this kind of earnings rule—and again I would ask the noble Lord to allow us to look at it in the context of other possible improvements in the scheme for the disabled—it must be considered together with the position of disabled people in full-time, open or sheltered employment. The noble Lord mentioned the £19 a week invalidity pensioner. If there were a sliding scale earnings rule, that pensioner would be able to get £28 a week doing a fairly limited amount of work, while another disabled person, a low earner who had never received invalidity pension, might not be able to earn that amount by working full time. This is an anomaly. It is one of the difficulties that one always has to go into in these cases. There are always difficulties, and I mention them only because they form part of the review of the whole question of disabled assistance under the social security Acts of which I have been speaking. It is also worth adding that the age of most invalidity pensioners, and the severity of their disablement, make it unlikely that many invalidity pensioners would be working but for the earnings disqualification. Some might be, and some no doubt are. But it is simply because of this that we are so determined to look carefully at the position. As the noble Lord quite rightly said, there are other European countries which deal with this matter in different ways, although there is no single agreed solution in Europe: if there were, it might be easier for us to move towards it. Certainly the experience of other European countries is being used. We are studying what happens in other European countries, and we are hopeful of making improvements.

I come back, however, to the point that I made when I began: that this is to be a comprehensive review which my right honourable friend has set in train. The comments that have been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, on her Amendment, and the comments of other Lords and Baronesses who have spoken to this Amendment, will all be taken into account and we hope that we shall be able to make progress. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, will not take this Amendment as far as a Division, because I feel that to pre-empt the review that my right honourable friend has promised and to put one particular improvement into this Bill would not be, in the long run, in the general interests of the whole subject of what we ought to be doing for the disabled in the social security field.

6.30 p.m.


I am sure we all reaiise the difficulty that my noble friend finds himself in here. Also I think that none of us could fail to have been moved by the terms of great moderation in which the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, and his supporters have spoken in this matter. I am sure all your Lordships will agree that there must be something wrong when, in a case like this, the whole of an invalidity pension is lost through a modest increase in earning capacity. It surely must be right, for all the reasons that the noble Lord has given, that we should find some way to avoid this sudden removal of the whole of an invalidity pension. Some principle of gradual movement must replace it. I would beg my noble friend, even if it is not possible at this stage to deal with this case, to bear in mind that every noble Lord in this House will feel that in principle the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, has established a case for change, and that such a change may be considered positively at the earliest possible moment.


I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, could give the information for which my noble friend Lady Serota asked? We all recognise that throughout our legislation there are anomalies, and the fact that we may be making another one neither improves the situation very much, nor does it make it much worse. But I think the Committee would very much wish to know the approximate cost that would be entailed if this Amendment were to be passed; in that way we may see the difficulties of the Government in proper perspective.


I am sorry I did not reply to the noble Baroness, but one of the difficulties is that it is impossible to forecast the cost. One does not know how many disabled people who are in receipt of this benefit would wish, or be able, to earn more than £4.50. However, I appreciate what has been said. The difficulty is really one of principle, because here is an attempt to introduce an entirely new concept in this field of invalidity benefit. I am not saying that this is right or wrong; but it is a completely new concept. It has never been considered a proper function of the National Insurance Fund to supplement earnings, and it would clearly be inconsistent with the principle on which sickness and invalidity benefits are paid to make them available to those who are capable of substantial earnings. Here a complete change is being asked for. All I am saying is that I will ask my right honourable friend to consider it in conjunction with all the other changes that we are being asked to provide, such as the case raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, of the person who looks after a disabled relative. There is also the question of the disabled housewife to be borne in mind. We have sympathy with them all, but were we to accept them all I am afraid we should not be able to study the problem as a whole. The entire situation needs to be studied carefully as a whole. We have to take into account what other countries in Europe are doing, and in the end arrive at a balanced and sensible proposal which we hope can be adequately funded from the resources available.


I feel I must say something here. This is the kind of debate in which it is essential that everyone who is going to vote should have heard both sides of the question. To my mind, it would be a rather unhappy situation if the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, pressed the Amendment to a Division at this stage, because noble Lords would come in to vote not really having heard the full situation at all. That might give a wrong impression. This has been a particularly moving debate, and I personally think that we should understand the position of the Government, which my noble friend Lord Aberdare has put before us.

There is going to be this survey of all the disabled, and perhaps it is better to do this in a complete way, taking into account all the consequences of disablement, rather than to do it in bits and pieces. I think that if my noble friend Lord Crawshaw would have faith in the Government in this matter and wait a little longer for this report, we shall come to a much better conclusion than by putting this matter before the Committee and pressing for a Division at this moment.


I would respond to the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, by saying that I only wish he had spoken in similar terms on a previous Amendment put from this side of the Committee—one on which we had set great store. On that occasion the Committee was relatively thin, but the total vote for the Government was about 90. In fact I suspect that the Committee at the present moment is a good deal fuller than it has been for the greater part of this debate. I merely touch on that point. I have some sympathy, because I have been swamped by people who have come from distant parts of the House to vote on many occasions when I have put down Amendments which I thought had merit, and these Amendments have been voted down by people who did not wish to listen to the debate. On this occasion the Committee is relatively full.

I am rather surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, cannot give us at least a hint of what the cost might be. The advice I have had—true, it is not so close as that of the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare—is that the total sum involved is relatively small. I wonder whether the noble Lord, without claiming to be accurate, could give us a rough estimate of what is involved—and I do recognise the difficulty—so that we might see the approximate size of the contribution which the State is being required to make.


I wonder whether the noble Lord could also give us an idea of how long such an inquiry is likely to take? Could he tell us whether the inquiry is in train, or whether it is still to be set up? Is it necessary for the whole range of disablement to be included, or could not something be done for those people who have been so ably and so movingly described by the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw? We all know of people who are becoming rather more able every year to earn their living because of the great advances made in the rehabilitation of the disabled. Could the noble Lord say how long all this would take?


In reply to my noble friend Lady Elliot, I tried to answer this question when it was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. I am afraid I cannot answer the question. I can tell her that the review is in progress and that a large number of people in my Department are very hard at work on it. We are most anxious to make progress with this, but I cannot actually tie myself down to giving a date. So far as the cost is concerned, again it really is impossible to put any kind of accurate figure to this. I do not think it would be very large. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, about that. I am not arguing, however, entirely on grounds of cost: I am asking the Committee to accept that this is a completely new principle and it is a difficult one to accept in this Bill at a moment when we are trying to study the total needs of the disabled right across the board with all the other people concerned—both those that we have already discussed and those we shall be discussing later.


I wonder whether my noble friend could go so far as to say that even if it is a new principle—and I quite accept what he says about that—it would be a principle for which there is a great deal to be said?


I agree with my noble friend. I have listened with the greatest sympathy to the points that have been made by everyone who has spoken this afternoon, and I will certainly see that my right honourable friend is made aware of the strength of feeling that has been expressed during this debate.


I am afraid I am rather depressed when I hear about comprehensive reviews. In the time of the Labour Government there was a comprehensive review into the social services. I was in Government for over three years and the review was still going merrily on when I finished, and it is probably still going on. Our main Bill on this matter was never carried into law before the Election swept us away. So I am not exhilarated by the news of this comprehensive review. It means less to me than it does to the noble Lord.

So far as the immediate situation is concerned—and I speak for myself only—if the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, decides to take this to a Division I will support him with alacrity. If the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, feels that he would like the opportunity of discussing what has been said to—day with his colleagues and, without any commitment, feel able to promise to look into it before the next stage, I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, that he postpones this for the next stage. If the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, cannot go so far as that then I see no option but to press the Amendment to a Division.


The noble Earl underlines the difference between the two Parties. His Party may have been engaged for many years on a long—term review; we are getting action. Our record stands for itself. I gave all the figures during the Second Reading. Some £100 million more will be spent on new benefits for the disabled in 1974–75 than was spent in 1970. We have done an immense amount to increase the invalidity benefit and we have introduced the attendance allowance. We are genuine in claiming that we are concerned with the disabled and I think our record proves it. What was said by the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, was that the present Secretary of State means what he says. I can promise the noble Lord that we are engaged in a real review; that it is not just an academic exercise and it is intended to produce results. But if he asks me whether I will take it back and bring the feelings of the Committee to the attention of my right honourable friend, I have said that I will do so. I will certainly see that he is well aware of all that has been said in this debate. It was for that reason that I was hoping we would not need to go to a Division. I will take it back without commitment because we are trying to look at the whole of this field and not pre-empt one particular corner.


There is a slight ambiguity there, although not intentional, I am sure. The noble Lord means that he would have time to discuss this matter with his colleagues before the next stage. I think that is what he said. He does not mean that he has time for a good discussion after the Bill is finished with and while the review is going on. He means before the next stage.


I will see that to-morrow, if Hansard is available, my right honourable friend gets a copy and looks at what has been said.


First of all, may I acknowledge the great support and interest your Lordships have shown in this Amendment. I can perhaps clear up the question of the cost which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd. It was my contention that there would be a saving, because less people would be drawing supplementary benefit. I believe that to be the decision. I acknowledge, too, everything that my noble friend Lord Aberdare said in perfactly good faith about the review, and so on. I am a little suspicious, like the noble Earl, Lord Longford, about reviews—one likes to have something rather more concrete. I acknowledge, too, that this Amendment is not perfect and that was why we were trying to draw the Government to produce a better alternative.

I am grateful for what the noble Viscount, Lord Amory, said, because I am sure there is a good principle here which should be developed and it is possibly something which can be put in better terms. I am in a slight quandary as to what to do. I think the noble Lord, Lord Aberdare, said that he would discuss this and come up with something at the Report stage—


I said, "without commitment". I will certainly draw the attention of my right honourable friend to every word that has been spoken in this debate; but, as I explained, I cannot undertake that I can come up with anything at Report stage. The difficulties lie with the need to review every side of the question.


My noble friend made it clear that he would call the attention of his right honourable friend to the strong feelings expressed by every Member of the House who has spoken in this debate.


In view of that, and in view also of the fact that we are in a position to put down another Amendment on Report stage, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment for the time being.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11 agreed to.

Clauses 12 to 15 agreed to.

Schedule 7 agreed to.

Clauses 16 to 18 agreed to.

Clause 19 [Widow's allowance]:

6.47 p.m.

BARONESS PHILLIPS moved Amendment No. 31: Page 31, line 5, leave out from ("death") to end of line 6.

The noble Baroness said: We come now to an entirely different point from the one we discussed earlier in relation to women. We are now on the subject of widows' benefits and the point that I will be discussing in this Amendment is also a point discussed in later Amendments, though in a slightly different connection. We are all aware that the Bill provides certain benefits for a widow, but equally we have a carryover of the old rules which characterise present legislation: if a widow re-marries or cohabits with a man as his wife, her pension ceases.

We will leave for the moment the question of remarriage, but I feel it is humiliating for a woman to have this kind of thing printed in her pension book. It was drawn to my attention many years ago when I first started working for widows. I believe the words have now been changed to say "lives with a man as his wife". One could make some kind of unfortunate joke and say that you would be safe in having casual affairs provided you did not have a regular one, because that seems to be the implication of the wording.

This rule gives rise to all sorts of unfortunate circumstances. I believe I have quoted before the case of the young widow who lived on a farm and shared a house with a single man who was engaged to a girl in another village. This single man was in the habit of watching television with the widow. It was never established at any stage that there was any situation other than that. Quite recently when speaking to widows I said to them, "If you have a colour television set and the man next door has only black and white, be careful if you invite him to come and look at your television". But on the strength of an investigator who called at the cottage and interviewed not the woman, but one of her children, who said that this man had looked at the television with her mother, the mother's pension was withdrawn. After some difficulty, we managed some months later to get the pension back again.

This is not an isolated case. Many women are subjected to this humiliating situation merely if they take a lodger. It is not unreasonable in this day and age to prefer to have a male lodger to a female one. After all, I believe he is not so much trouble; he does not want to wash his clothes so frequently. and there are all sorts of other advantages. But it comes to the situation where a widow with all honesty declares that she has a man lodger and she is immediately under suspicion. We always have the situation of the neighbour who wishes to cause some difficulty. I would respectfully suggest that, for the very small number of cases in which the wicked woman would be drawing this £6.75 and spending it on a man with whom she happens to be living, there must be thousands more widows who live, or try to live, on their pension and deplore the fact that this rule is still included. So, if we leave aside the question of remarriage, which I will come to when I speak of the widowed mother, I would ask for this particular rule to be taken out of the widow's benefit. I beg to move.


The only time I have found myself at sharp emotional variance, as it were, with the noble Baroness is when I felt she did not significantly appreciate that the widow's allowance is a short-term benefit. Normally it is paid for 26 weeks to help tide the widow over the early months of widowhood. To accept this Amendment in isolation—and the noble Baroness has moved it on its own—would be to remove the disqualification for remarriage or cohabitation for a maximum period of six months. So that even if linked with Amendments Nos.32 and 33, which are still ahead of us, the advantage to a remarried widow would last for no more than six months.

The second point is perhaps a more general one. Social security widows' benefits have always been subject to remarriage disqualification, even before 1948, and I think with good reason in this case because the benefits are designed to provide a cash benefit to a woman who has lost her husband—normally the main provider for her and for any children of their marriage. To continue payment of widow's allowance after remarriage or cohabitation, as the noble Baroness proposes, would give a remarried or cohabitating widow financial help at a time when she has essentially resumed her pre-widowhood position; that is to say, she again has someone to whom she can look for support. So I think I must ask the noble Baroness on those grounds to withdraw her Amendment.


I wonder whether the Minister would distinguish. There is a difference between marrying and cohabitation which this wretched rule describes. Obviously, if a woman has married then she has a legal claim, even in this day and age, on her husband's money, but that is not so in the case of somebody who is cohabitating. There is a difference.


I certainly appreciate that there is a difference between marriage and cohabitation; and I think the end result of the noble Baroness's philosophy might be a significant diminution of the number of marriages. But that may be neither here nor there. What is a serious point is that one must not disadvantage the married in Statute form for the benefit of the unmarried; that would be, surely, inequitable, even by the most enlightened standards.

On Question, Amendment negatived.

Clause 19 agreed to.

Clause 20 [Widowed mother's allowance]:

6.55 p.m.

BARONESS PHILLIPS moved Amendment No. 34: Page 31, line 19, leave out ("and") and insert ("or she satisfies prescribed conditions as to residence or presence in Great Britain and, in either case,")

The noble Baroness said: We return now to the question of remarriage and cohabitation, a discussion of which I am sure your Lordships will enjoy. This Amendment deals with a different point and concerns a woman who remarries and loses the widowed mother's allowance. I think your Lordships will take the point that if a man takes over the care of another man's children it is not unreasonable that there should be some monetary recompense to help him. Indeed, I have seen situations where this question has created quite a lot of difficulty. It is a very delicate role, as anyone will tell you, to be a stepmother or a stepfather, and it seemed to me in the cases I had occasion to discuss that it would have been a little easier if the widow had been able at any rate to retain the allowance for the children of the previous marriage. May I say again that this will not at any stage ever concern a large number of people; and, of course, those who do not wish to take the allowance would not need to do so, if the husband felt particularly that there was something in it that was undesirable. But I would plead in this new legislation for the opportunity for the mother who is getting the widowed mother's allowance to continue to have it after remarriage. I beg to move.


In a very charming but, I still find, a dangerous way, the noble Baroness is again battling against the contributory principle, and is also battling against it at a time when, so far as we can tell, most, at any rate, of the official Opposition, and certainly the Trades Union Congress, are anxious to retain it. The effect of her Amendment would be to allow the widowed mother's allowance to be paid on the basis of a period of residence in Great Britain as an alternative to the normal contribution test. We have already spoken about the other cases in which that would be a major inroad on the contributive principle. Since its inception in 1948, a widowed mother's allowance has always been a contributory benefit, rightly I think, again because from 1948 there was a 10-year marriage condition, but this was reduced to a three-year test in 1956, and abolished completely in April, 1971.

I have already defended at this Box the contributory principle. Suffice it here to say that acceptance of the Amendment would be equivalent in most cases to abolishing the contribution condition. It would be a very serious breach of the principle indeed, and therefore a serious breach of the basis of the benefit. It would inevitably lead to pressure to abolish the contribution tests for the other widows' benefits, which I am sure the noble Baroness would not wish, and indeed it would put the whole basis of the scheme at risk. We cannot believe that either the Opposition or the Trades Union Congress would wish to see this arise. We agree with them, if I am right in that description, and hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her Amendment.


I should not like to challenge the Minister to give me this quote from the Trades Union Congress, but as he has quoted it several times I shall probably have to ask him for the column number or reference. I should not wish this case to be overstated, but I am not unduly concerned about what the Trades Union Congress feel in this matter. We have to be guided by the equity of it. Again, I do not regard the contributory system, which has been quoted several times, as sacrosanct. This is new legislation, and it seems to me that the Government are missing an opportunity. They are carrying over all the old, sometimes outdated and sometimes quite bad previous rules of previous Acts. However, I will not press this Amendment, and beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 20 agreed to.


This might be a convenient time for us to break off for the other Business, and I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved, That the House do now resume. —(Lord Aberdare.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed accordingly.