HL Deb 13 March 1975 vol 358 cc404-10

[Nos. I and 2]

After Clause 1 insert the following new clause :

Rates of reduction of pension in respect of earnings of invalidity or non-contributory invalidity pensioners

" . —(1) Where the earnings of a person entitled to an invalidity pension or to a non-contributory invalidity pension, being a person who has not reached pensionable age, have exceeded £13.00 for the week ending last before any week for which he is entitled to an invalidity pension or a non-contributory 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.

(2) In this section "week", where used in the expression "week for which he is entitled", means such period of 7 days as may be prescribed by regulations made for the purposes of this section."

The Commons disagreed to this Amendment for the following Reason :—

Because it involves a charge on public funds and the Commons do not offer any further Reason trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.


My Lords, I beg to move that this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 1, to which the Commons have disagreed for Reason No. 2, which is : Because it involves a charge on public funds and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.

Moved, That this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 1, to which the Commons have disagreed.—(Lord Wells-Pestell.)

Baroness DARCY de KNAYTH

My Lords, as this Amendment has been disagreed to in another place for a privilege Reason, there is little I can do but bitterly regret its removal from the Bill. This clause opened up avenues of opportunity for disabled people and it gave them the means by which they could help themselves and their families. The removal of this clause consigns them once more to a life of enforced idleness, with no hope and no possibility of progressing from complete inactivity to partial activity, and in many cases eventually returning to full time productive employment. The situation will be the same as it was before, that as soon as an invalidity pensioner earns more than £ 4.50 a week he will lose every single penny of his pension.

At the risk of repeating myself, I should like to expound on this matter for a moment, although I know we have debated it at length both in 1973 and during the Committee stage of this Bill, but I am not entirely sure that everyone understands how real and positive a deterrent to part-time work is the earnings stop. During the Committee stage of this Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, said: I find it difficult to believe that people who arc disabled will decline to do anything to help themselves financially simply because if they earn more than £4.50 it will be clawed back in some way."— [Official Report, 27/2/75 ; c. 1022.] My Lords, the situation is not one of "clawback"; it is one of confiscation. I, too, am convinced that disabled people will do all within their power to help themselves, to support their families and to pay their taxes. But does the noble Lord really imagine that a mature, responsible man with, perhaps, a wife and family dependent upon him would risk their wellbeing by attempting to do a job, if his invalidity pension was removed in one fell swoop as soon as he earned more than £4.50 a week?

A man with a wife and two children will, for example, get just over £ 25 a week at present. Very few newly disabled people—all those with disabilities which prevent them working, except spasmodically—could guarantee that they would earn that much immediately, although it may well be that they would be able to earn that sum after an interim period. Let us be in no doubt whatsoever that the removal of this clause once more sentences many disabled people to exist as publicly funded cabbages. The report of the Secretary of State promised to do something about this situation and I hope with all my heart that these promises will lead to rapid action. Meanwhile, I can only repeat that I look with the utmost regret upon the removal of this clause, and see it as a very retrograde step in modern thinking on rehabilitation.

3.26 p.m.

The Earl of LONGFORD

My Lords, I should like to support the noble Baroness very strongly in condemning the attitude taken up elsewhere as a retrograde step. May I first say one word on the procedure, which is very peculiar. Even after many years I have not quite understood the situation, and some who have come here more recently might understand it still less. We are told that the Commons disagreed with the Amendment which was carried in this House by two to one—quite an impressive majority. Despite the advice from both Front Benches, this House decided by two votes to one to carry a certain Amendment. It then goes back to another place and we are not given any reasons at all for their disagreeing with us. This is very strange. Somebody looking at this might think that it is a privilege Amendment, and therefore that we ought not to be discussing it at all, but that is not the position. Nor was it the position that when it went back to the Commons it was considered out of order to discuss it. It was discussed and, in fact, there was a Division on it. The whole matter has been thoroughly gone into.

This is not just a matter of procedure. It is rather important for this House to know what were the reasons for disagreeing ; we should, at least, hear much more than we have heard from the noble Lord. Owing to the difficulties about Hansard, most of us are not aware of what was said in the other place, but I am told that a concession has been made ; certainly, a concession was promised in a letter which was sent to a number of us. So if I may say so to the noble Lord, the very least he can do this afternoon is to say what was said elsewhere in regard to any concession being offered.


My Lords, I hope the House will not insist on its Amendment. As I tried to put to your Lordships at the Committee stage, it is not that we have any lack of sympathy with the very compelling case that has been made on more than one occasion by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, and always with great persuasion. But on this occasion, and in regard to this Bill, by what had happened in another place in their Committee and Report stages, we had already obtained some major concessions costing a great deal of money, and it was my advice to your Lordships in the Committee stage to abstain from voting for this Amendment. However, although I managed to persuade my own Front Bench, I had very little influence with those who sit behind me. I hope that on this occasion we shall be sensible.

As the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, explained, there is a very real difficulty. The Amendment strikes at the whole root of invalidity benefit and at the fact that it is paid to those who cannot work. I do not want to go into all that again, because the noble Lord explained it fully at Committee stage, but he has undertaken to look at the case that has been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, and by the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, in respect of the earnings of people who are in receipt of invalidity pensions. I would hope that that would be sufficient to be accepted. We are in a difficult position, as the noble Earl said. Not having the Hansard of another place, it is difficult to know what went on in discussing our Amendment. On the other hand, it would be quite wrong for us in any way to suggest that we were challenging the fact that the Commons are perfectly legitimately able to rely on their privilege in resisting this Amendment.

Viscount ST. DAVIDS

My Lords, while it is obvious that we must bow to the Commons privilege—indeed, it is an absolute necessity—this House would be happier if we could have a wider explanation, not because the Commons are bound to give one, but because it would be a matter of kindness and reassurance to this House to know that there are other good reasons which they have discussed, and on which they have made up their minds. Would it be possible for the noble Lord to give us such a wider explanation?


My Lords, I went into this matter in great detail when this particular Amendment was discussed. Obviously, I was quite unable to make the fundamental principle clear to many of your Lordships, and I do not imagine for one moment that I shall succeed today if I go over this ground again. However, I want to say that so far as this particular benefit is concerned, it is a benefit given to a person who has been adjudged by a competent medical person as being totally incapacitated for work, so an earnings rule cannot really apply, because if such a person can work then he cannot be totally incapacitated. If that person is not totally incapacitated, he is not entitled to that particular benefit. I thought it was perfectly simple, but as I said to your Lordships a moment or two ago, obviously I was not able to make it clear. But the matter really is as simple as that.

An earnings rule can apply only to people who are earning. The earnings rule, as some of your Lordships know far better than I, was designed to affect people who, on reaching retirement age at 65, decided to go on working. If they went on working, they could not draw their retirement pension if their earnings were above a certain amount. The noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, tried to apply that particular situation to this particular situation. It cannot be done, because the two situations are not comparable. I do not think I can say more than that.

It is not that we are unsympathetic. In fact, previous Governments have recognised the fact that people who are in receipt of invalidity pension should be encouraged, if only for psychological reasons, to do something that will bring in some money, albeit perhaps only pocket money; hence the £4.50 therapeutic allowance. The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, talked about £25. If I understood her correctly, she referred to a husband in receipt of an invalidity pension, having a wife and two children. My understanding of the situation is that a husband in receipt of an invalidity pension, and with a wife and two children, receives in total £31 a week, tax free. I am not suggesting for a moment that that is a princely sum, having regard to the cost of living and inflation. But the real crux of the matter is the ability of a person to work, or his incapacity to work.

My Lords, the Commons regard this as a question of privilege. Many of your Lordships are far better versed than I am on matters of procedure and the rights of the two Houses, but I understand that there are certain matters on which, when they involve the expenditure of money, the Commons have the right to determine that this is their privilege, and not the privilege of your Lordships' House. Therefore, they can decline and reject an Amendment of this kind. This is precisely what they have done, and with the very greatest respect, I think we must accept it.

It may be difficult for some people to accept what I am going to say, but nevertheless it is true. For some considerable time my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services and certain of her other Ministers have been very much exercised in their minds about this matter of the £4.50 therapeutic allowance. But there is only a limited amount of money. The new benefits brought in under the Social Security Benefits Bill will cost some £ 1,160 million a year more. It really is a fantastic sum. Consequently, the question of priorities must always arise. Not unnaturally, everybody who is in receipt of social security benefit feels the priority ought to be given in their particular sphere.

We were proposing at the end of this year to do something about this matter; but to show that we are not indifferent to what has been said by the noble Baroness and certain other noble Lords, it is proposed to raise the therapeutic allowance of £4.50 to £7 per week, starting next month, rather than at the end of the year. We would be the first to accept that the rise in itself is not a princely sum. Nevertheless, it involves an expenditure of a considerable amount of money when one takes into account all those who will benefit from it. I do not think I can add anything more to what I have already said, except to ask your Lordships to accept the Commons' decision on this matter.

Baroness DARCY de KNAYTH

My Lords, I welcome the fact that it is proposed to raise the £4.50 therapeutic earnings to £7 a week, but this simply takes account of the rise in wages and prices since the £4.50 was introduced in 1972. May I ask the Minister whether he agrees that it is high time there was a change in the concept behind the invalidity pension? No modern medical man would condemn a person outright by saying he was incapable of working.


My Lords, the noble Baroness has still got it wrong. It is not done to take into account an increase in the cost of living. The whole range of social security benefits has been increased year after year to take into account increases in the cost of living. This is not done on that score. It is done simply because one wants to give as much as one possibly can. It would not be right to say it is done solely on that account, because all pensions have been raised over a period of time with a view to taking into account either the increases in prices or the increases in earnings. We are conscious of the position of people in this situation. This is really as far as we can go at the present time.

Moved, That this House doth not insist on their Amendment No. 1 to which the Commons have disagreed.—(Lord Wells-Pestell.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.