§ Consideration on Report continued.
§ 3.56 p.m.
Lord WELLS-PESTELL moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 2, line 20, at end insert—
("(4) At the end of section 125(3) and section 126(1) of the Social Security Act 1975, there shall be inserted the words "and a report on the relationship between the weekly rates of retirement pension, invalidity pension, unemployment benefit and sickness benefit, on the one hand, and the general level of earnings obtaining in Great Britain on the other").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the amendment standing in my name on the Marshalled List. I think that this is an amendment which can be taken fairly briefly, and I see no objection that the Government can take in this particular matter. Your Lordships will know that the Bill abolishes the obligation to take earnings as well as prices into account in future up-ratings of pensions. At the Committee stage the Government refused to consider even a compromise proposal which would have maintained the long-term relationship between pensions and earnings while eliminating the ratchet effect of the present up-rating formula.
§ Ministers have said that it is their intention that pensioners will share in rising prosperity, when there is any prosperity to share in. But they have not 1540 said that pensioners will get the same percentage increase as other incomes; nor have they said by how much prosperity must increase before pensioners get a share in it, or even how the increase in prosperity will be measured, when earnings rose more than prices in the year to last November.
§ The amendment would not impose any obligation on the Government to increase the real value of benefits, but it would oblige the Secretary of State to make an annual report to Parliament on the relationship between benefits and earnings so that Parliament could decide whether benefit-recipients were being fairly treated in comparison with the working population. This seems to me to be a reasonable amendment—to ask the Secretary of State to make an annual report to Parliament on the relationhsip between benefits and earnings. I hope that it will be one which the noble Baroness the Minister will feel able to accept. I beg to move.
§ Baroness YOUNG: My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has explained this amendment because when I first read it, it was not entirely clear. However, it would appear that at the time when the up-rating order is laid for pensioners, information which would enable a comparison to be made between the proposed new rates of benefits and the general level of earnings should be made to Parliament. The difficulty about that is that at the time when the up-rating order is laid—normally shortly after the Budget, and in any event several months ahead of the dates when the new rates will come into effect—the only earnings figures available would be those for a past period, and would be quite irrelevant for the intended purpose of making the relationship clear.
§ Therefore, as regards the comparison between earnings and short-term benefits, such as sickness benefit and unemployment benefit to which the amendment also refers, I think that it is only right for me to say that no Government, either a Conservative Government or a Labour Government, have ever proposed that these should be up-rated in line with earnings, and it is not our intention to do so at the present time in this Bill.
§ The purpose of this amendment is to enable a comparison to be made, at the 1541 time the up-rating order is laid, between the new benefit rates and the general level of earnings. But, as I have said, as the only earnings figures which would then be available would be for a past period the comparison would not be very helpful. If it is desired to make a comparison after the new rates have come into effect information about earnings in Great Britain is in fact available and can easily be obtained from sources such as the Department of Employment Gazette.
§ The noble Lord in moving his amendment asked a number of hypothetical questions. I can only say that I have indicated, and my noble friends have indicated, that it is our intention as the economy improves that old-age pensioners, along with everybody else, will benefit. Our record under the last Conservative Government speaks for itself. Between 1970 and 1974 prices rose by 40 per cent., earnings rose by 55 per cent., and pensions rose by 55 per cent. This was at a time when there was no obligation to keep pensions up either with prices or with earnings, whichever was the greater. When we did have an increase in prosperity we were able to help the pensioners, as quite rightly we should do.
§ I hope, therefore, that I have said enough to indicate that this amendment would not enable the kind of comparison which the noble Lord wishes to be made. We have discussed at length Government policy on this, and it is our view that pensions should keep up with prices, and that if the economy, as we hope it will, picks up, then pensioners will benefit. I have also said enough to show that our record shows that in the past we have been able to do more for pensioners than the minimum that is required, and we shall hope very much that we can do so again.
§ Baroness WOOTTON of ABINGER
My Lords, surely everything that the noble Baroness has said relating to earnings applies equally to prices, and that at the time when pensions are up-rated they are up-rated on a guess as to what the level of prices will be in November, about six months later. If this is an obstacle to keeping pensions level with earnings, it is equally an obstacle to keeping pensions level with prices, which I understand is the intention of the Government. It seems to me that her argument is exactly the same in both cases.
§ 4.3 p.m.
§ Lord BANKS
My Lords, unless the old arrangement which this Bill abolishes is observed in practice, then over a period of time old-age pensioners must be worse off under the new arrangement than under the old. The Government say, nevertheless, that they hope that if there should be an increase in the general prosperity which would be measured by an increase in earnings, that the old-age pensioners will get a share of it.
It would seem to be implicit in the reasoning behind the Bill that they will not get as great a share as the earning portion of the community. Therefore, it is important to keep before the public the relationship between the benefits and average national earnings. That is the important thing. Not so much that we should attempt to carry out a kind of shadow estimating of what would be done if the old system were still working, but that we should have drawn to our attention every year what the benefits represent in percentage terms in relation to average national earnings; what percentage of national average earnings do they represent. In that way we could see whether they were falling back, and then this would make all the more urgent that the Government should do something as well as allowing for prices in their up-rating of benefits.
§ Lord RENTON
My Lords, surely what old-age pensioners want—and may I say that I speak as one—is to ensure that their standard of living keeps pace with the increases in prices. Old-age pensioners are not envious people. They do not wish to make a claim for an improved standard of living for themselves because of the accident—it may be a mere accident, and it may not necessarily be an accident to the national advantage—that in a particular year earnings happen to increase by an abnormal amount in that particular year. What they are interested in is their own standard of living; and the yardstick for deciding what they should have in order to achieve that aim is surely information about prices, and earnings should be regarded therefore as irrelevant.
§ Lord SHINWELL
My Lords, I apologise for intervening in this debate, but I want to declare an interest, and that is my reason and purpose. This concept of 1543 relating pensions to earnings, instead of being adopted in a general and comprehensive sense, might be applied to individual industries and persons concerned with those industries. For example, in the mining industry, where earnings are far in excess of those in other industries, the pensions of old-age miners and their dependants, wives and so on, are not related to earnings. I just mention that in passing.
I come to the matter of interest. I am an old-age pensioner. Anyway, if I am not old-age I am a pensioner. I should be delighted if my pension could be related to earnings. Whose earnings should I select? Obviously it can only be in the political arena. The earnings of my erstwhile colleagues in another place have bounded up enormously in comparison to what they earned when I was associated with them—perhaps I have no right to use the word "earned", it is what I received; whether I earned what I received is another matter—and if my pension was related to their earnings I would be receiving double what I do receive.
I want to ask the noble Baroness, who I know is very humanitarian in her principles, concepts, and general moral outlook, whether she could do something in the matter, so that people like myself—and I am speaking not only for myself; there are several other Members of your Lordships' House in a similar position—could receive pensions related to earnings in the political sphere. I should be quite content if we did not take into account people like Lord Chancellors, judges, Ministers of the Crown, but just the ordinary Member of Parliament. I should be quite content if something of that sort could be arranged.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Baroness the Minister has not been more forthcoming. I would not press this matter but for the fact that she and her colleagues for weeks now have made a great play that when prosperity dawns it is their task to see that pensioners are going to get a share of that prosperity. But let us face the fact that prosperity is a long way off. Things are going to get much worse than they are at the present moment—and that 1544 is saying something! In the not too distant future we shall have to face up to a permanent 2 million or more of unemployed for whom we shall not be able to do anything other than give them financial help.
If this Government had not spent so much time shedding crocodile tears for the pensioners I should appear to be a little more reasonable than the House may think I am being, but what noble Lords do not appreciate is the level at which a large number of pensioners are not living but existing today. Perhaps I may be permitted to say—and I am not getting at anybody—that it does not behove anybody in your Lordships' House to declare an interest because they are in receipt of the State retirement pension. What really matters is whether that is the only income they have to live on, and I am perfectly certain it is not the only income they have to live on. It is difficult for noble Lords to place themselves in the position of a pensioner who has nothing else coming in and who must cut down his standard of living in order, for example, to have adequate heat to keep warm. I do not think a number of your Lordships appreciate the conditions under which these people are living, and because the relationship of the pension to average earnings is so low, they cannot be expected to enjoy the standard of living to which they are not only entitled but which they need to keep body and soul together.
I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will remind me, "Your Government did not do very much about it," but we were not shedding crocodile tears about the pensioners on every occasion. If this Government really want to do something, why do they not say, "we cannot do now what we want to do. We cannot raise pensions to the level we believe they should be. We cannot give the pensioners the lifestyle that men and women of 65, 70, 75 and 80, many of whom have worked hard for this country, should have, but we will see that an annual look is taken at the relationship between the level of pensions and earnings"? That is all the amendment asks for. I am not expecting anything dramatic. I am simply asking the Government to accept the amendment so that a new peice of machinery can be installed in the interests of the pensioners.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, noble Lords who have taken part in debating this amendment have recognised that we are in fact debating the point that was debated at length in Committee—namely, whether retirement pensions should, as the Bill proposes, have regard to prices, or should have regard to prices or earnings whichever is the greater. I recognise that those are not the precise terms of the amendment before the House, but I think that is the principle behind it. I would say at the outset that if all old-age pensioners did as well as the noble Lord, Lord Shinwell, none of them would need to worry at all, because to have the capacity to speak as fluently as he does is an object lesson to us all. The noble Lord was kind about me, but he does very well on his own without my help, if I may tell him that without any disrespect.
As a Government, we recognise—this is not just a question of repeating idle remarks—the importance of looking after retirement pensioners, of whom there are a great many in the population and some of them will undoubtedly not be well-off. Indeed, the reason why we have put so much emphasis on getting the economy right is of course that when the economy is not right it is always the poorest and worst-off who suffer most, and it is for that reason, if for no other, that there is everything to be said for making a great effort to get the economy right, so that all will benefit at any future time.
The noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, said we were shedding crocodile tears and could give no guarantees. It is worth remembering not only the figures I gave when I spoke earlier about what happened to pensions under the last Conservative Government but also the fact that we introduced pensions for the over-80s and introduced the £10 Christmas bonus. I believe that both were possible because the economy improved and we were
§ therefore able to make small improvements. It is also worth remembering the enormous sums of money we are talking about. We should like to do more, but the whole social security programme currently costs about £20 billion a year, which of course includes other matters besides retirement pensions. It is about one-quarter of all public expenditure and it works out per year at the equivalent of £1,000 for every household in the country. We believe we are giving the help we can afford to pensioners and we wish to keep that where it is. We hope that as things improve we shall be able to do more.
§ For the benefit of the noble Lord, Lord Banks, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wootton of Abinger, who raised particular questions on this matter, it is possible to find out what annual earnings are doing, but of course what this amendment is asking for is annual earnings at the time of the up-rating, whereas the up-rating is fixed to the projected rate of inflation, so it is not quite a comparison of one with the other. It is possible, as I have indicated, for anybody to look at annual earnings, because they are published regularly, and it is possible to make that comparison should it be necessary. Our aim, which is quite clear, is to maintain pensions to keep up with prices and, as things improve, to do more than that. That is as far as I can go, but I believe that is a fair policy, a realistic one and one which we hope to keep to and improve upon. I hope the House will not accept the amendment.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 79; Not-Contents, 103.1547
|Airedale, L.||Blyton, L.||Diamond, L.|
|Amherst, E.||Boston of Faversham, L.||Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Brockway, L.||Elwyn-Jones, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Bruce of Donninton, L.||Fisher of Rednal, B.|
|Aylestone, L.||Byers, L.||Fulton, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Collison, L.||Gaitskell, B.|
|Balogh, L.||Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Galpern, L.|
|Banks, L.||Crowther-Hunt, L.||Gardiner, L.|
|Barrington, V.||Cudlipp, L.||Gordon-Walker, L.|
|Beswick, L.||David, B. [Teller.]||Goronwy-Roberts, L.|
|Blease, L.||Davies of Leek, L.||Gosford, E.|
|Grey, E.||McNair, L.||Seear, B.|
|Hale, L.||Maelor, L.||Sligo, M.|
|Hampton, L.||Maybray-King, L.||Stewart of Alvechurch, B.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Milverton, L.||Stone, L.|
|Henderson, L.||Northfield, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Hooson, L.||Oram, L.||Strauss, L.|
|Hunt, L.||Pargiter, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Jacques, L.||Peart, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Janner, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Jeger, B.||Plant, L.||Walston, L.|
|Kaldor, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Kilbracken, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Kilmarnock, L.||Robson of Kiddington, B.||Wilson of Radcliffe, L.|
|Kirkhill, L.||Rochester, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Leatherland, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|McCarthy, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Exeter, M.||Morris, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Ferrers, E.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Alport, L.||Fortescue, E.||Newall, L.|
|Amory, V.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Northchurch, B.|
|Ampthill, L.||Galloway, E.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Argyll, D.||Geoffrey-Lloyd, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Gisborough, L.||Piercy, L.|
|Avon, E.||Glenarthur, L.||Porritt, L.|
|Bellwin, L.||Gowrie, E.||Redmayne, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Gridley, L.||Renton, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||Robbins, L.|
|Birdwood, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Rochdale, V.|
|Caccia, L.||Romney, E.|
|Camoys, L.||Hanworth, V.||St. Davids, V.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Henley, L.||St. Germans, E.|
|Cathcart, E.||Hill of Luton, L.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Holderness, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Clwyd, L.||Hood, V.||Somers, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.||Spens, L.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Inglewood, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Jeffreys, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Kimberley, E.||Strathspey, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Kinloss, Ly.||Teviot, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Thorneycroft, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Long, V.||Trefgarne, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Lonsdale, E.||Trenchard, V.|
|De Freyne, L.||Loudoun, C.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Lyell, L.||Vickers, B.|
|Derwent, L.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Vivian, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Mancroft, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Ebbisham, L.||Mansfield, E.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Marley, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Ellenborough, L.||Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Wrenbury, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||Merrivale, L.||Young, B.|
|Emmet of Amberley, B.||Monson, L.|
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 4.26 p.m.
Baroness FISHER of REDNAL moved Amendment No. 4:
Page 27, line 26, at end insert—
(".In paragraph 2 of section 36 leave out the words after 'full-time education' and in paragraph 7 of section 36 leave out the words 'as incapable of performing normal household duties'.").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 4 on behalf of my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell. I hope that the remarks I shall make on Amendment No. 4 regarding equality of the sexes will be taken by noble Lords as being applicable to the further amendments that I shall be moving. The basis of the amendments is to provide for equality between the sexes. With regard to the amendment now before the House, I wish to make the point that I recognise quite clearly that in some respects the Bill perhaps goes farther than one would expect the Government to go, but it does 1549 not go as far as women, and those actively interested in women's problems, would want it to go.
§ Many of the changes regarding sex equality arise from an EEC Directive which is very broad in its scope and therefore allows member countries to exclude certain matters. In relation to this particular amendment, I wish to ask the Government which clause they are using for the purposes of exclusion. I hope that they will give the reasons involved, and will justify them, and that perhaps they will give a date as to when they are to consider the possibility of review, as is desirable under the EEC regulations.
§ I should say to the Government that one is disappointed that in this Bill sex equality is not at all apparent even though there were long debates in both this and the other House on the Sex Discrimination Act. I know full well that matters regarding social security benefits are not covered under the Sex Discrimination Act. I spoke in the other House on that Act and I have read the debates that took place in your Lordships' House, and I recall that it was pointed out quite clearly that legislation alone would not bring about equality for women, but that it would go a long way towards creating public opinion in favour of such equality. I believe that it behoves the Government to create more public opinion in favour of sex equality, and they can do so only in legislation of this kind, where we cut out further discrimination
§ To return to Amendment No. 4, under this amendment we hope to remove the special test that is applied to married women who claim invalidity pension, which is known as the housewife's noncontributory invalidity pension. There is no need for me to remind this noble House that the non-contributory invalidity pension is available to people of either sex who are incapable of work. However, married women have to comply with an additional test. They have to do something more than married men, single men and single women. They have to comply with the test that they must be "incapable of performing normal household duties". Whichever noble Lord is to reply to the amendment, I should like the Government to say what they feel is included in the definition of "normal" 1550 housework, because it is true to say that many of the tasks that married women have to undertake are very strenuous, and are not just pushing the vacuum cleaner and flicking the feather duster around the house.
§ If married men can do the tasks around the house and still claim invalidity pension—and many married men now perform a great many household tasks; more so, perhaps, than they did 10, 15, 20 or 25 years ago—why should married women have to go through this kind of second leg to get the pension? This is an added difficulty that the married woman has to meet before she can get the pension, unlike a male or single woman.
§ I know that perhaps my own party were not fully sympathetic to this view, though I would have said that all the women Members in the other House were very sympathetic to it. I would point out that a very small number of women are concerned, because, if one is looking towards the future, the majority of women in this country who are working—and that is, I think, two-thirds of the women—will be covered by payments that they have already made into the National Insurance Fund. So this group of women that we are talking about now is very small in number, and cannot possibly, I should imagine, increase in size. It is on the ground of equality that I beg to move this amendment.
§ Baroness SEEAR
My Lords, I should like very strongly to support this amendment. It is certainly in line with the spirit of the Directive. Of course, the Directive in Article 6, provides loopholes, but it is very much to be hoped that this country—which, after all, took the lead in Europe in developing sex equality—will not hide behind this article and drag its feet. It is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, has said, only a relatively small number of people, and the costs would be slight. Surely, on this point the Government can meet the amendment.
§ Lord CULLEN of ASHBOURNE
My Lords, the effect of this amendment would be to abolish the "household duties" test for married women claiming non-contributory invalidity pension, or NCIP. NCIP is an income maintenance benefit. Its conditions are designed to 1551 concentrate the limited resources available on those most in need. Married and cohabiting women have their partners' income to support them when they cannot work. But, as the 1974 report Social Security Provision for Chronically Sick and Disabled People explained, families in which the housewife can do neither paid work nor her housework are seriously disadvantaged. The household duties test enables that group of people to be identified, and so make NCIP available to them.
There are presently almost 43,500 married women receiving NCIP, at an annual cost of about £31 million. To abolish the household duties test would cost about an extra £170 million at current benefit rates, and in the present economic situation this cannot have a high priority. Quite apart from this, your Lordships will be aware that the National Insurance Advisory Committee are at present considering certain issues relating to housewives' NCIP, referred to them by the predecessor of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. They have received a great deal of evidence and representations, many dealing with the household duties test, and my right honourable friend is expecting their report within the next month or so. It would be discourteous to the committee, to say the least, if we did not wait to hear what they have to say; they have given a great deal of time and thought to the matter. I would therefore ask your Lordships not to support this amendment.
§ Baroness FISHER of REDNAL
My Lords, while I thank the noble Lord for that reply—and I fully appreciate that the committee has been deliberating for quite some time regarding the household duties test—may I conclude from his remarks that, after receiving that report, he might then take into consideration that which the EEC Directive says as to the periodical examination of these kinds of disadvantage to women? Can we have an assurance from the noble Lord that on receipt of the report on household duties he may perhaps more sympathetically consider a periodic examination of this pension? I listened to what the noble Lord said about the cost, but one would have thought that that would not increase but would be a decreasing cost to the Government.
1552 I want to say that this is an important amount of money to a small group of women who feel that they are not able to contribute fully to the household because they cannot work. This little amount—I think it is £7 or £8 a week—is an amount which gives them that little bit of independence; some money of their own so that they can pay somebody to do the tasks that they cannot perform themselves.
§ Lord CULLEN of ASHBOURNE
With the leave of the House, perhaps I may say that I have fully taken the noble Baroness's point. My Lords, £7 a week may be a small amount of money, although very important to the person concerned, but £170 million is a very large sum of money at this stage.
§ Lord BANKS
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord could explain to us how the Government calculate the £170 million extra which they feel would result from the abandoning of this test? On what sort of evidence is this based?
§ Lord CULLEN of ASHBOURNE
My Lords, I am very sorry but I am afraid I cannot give a breakdown of that figure. I take it as the correct figure, it being that which I have been given by the department.
§ Baroness FISHER of REDNAL
My Lords, with the permission of the House, may I ask for an answer to my particular question about a periodic review, as is required under the EEC Directive?
§ Lord CULLEN of ASHBOURNE
My Lords, I would be very glad to give that assurance if I was able to, but it is really up to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and I am afraid I am not in a position to give that assurance.
§ Baroness SEEAR
My Lords, with the permission of the House, may I ask the noble Lord the Minister whether, if he does not know how the arithmetic is done, he will ask his department and let us know? Because it is rather taxing our faith to ask us to believe that it really amounts to so high a figure as the noble Lord has given. One would like to know on what assumption that is based.
§ Lord CULLEN of ASHBOURNE
My Lords, I fully understand what the noble Baroness says, and I promise to write to 1553 the noble Lord, Lord Banks, with the figures and the proper breakdown.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, in that case, if I were to advise my noble friend—and I am not so sure that she will take the advice—not to press this amendment at this stage (there is always Third Reading), will the noble Lord undertake to let her have a reply not only to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, but to the questions which my noble friend has put? She asked two of them.
§ Baroness FISHER of REDNAL
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 4.39 p.m.
Baroness FISHER of REDNAL moved Amendment No. 5:
Page 27, line 26, at end insert—
(".In subsection (3) of section 37 leave out the words from "and a woman shall not be entitled to any such allowance" and leave out paragraphs (a) and (b).").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 5 on behalf of my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell. This, again, is another provision which discriminates against married women. I find it hard to understand that this Government, which depend so much on the married women's vote, do not really, in practice, do very much when they are given the opportunity to be more helpful towards them. This is a discrimination against married women caring for invalids and themselves invalids. Married women are not entitled to claim an invalid care allowance, as I understand it; but single men and women and married men are able to do so.
§ It is rather difficult for us to understand the argument that is put up against being able to give the invalid care allowance to a married woman. I know that the assumption is that married women do not give up jobs to care for the elderly and handicapped. The handicapped must be defined as invalids and severely disabled; and the assumption that married women do 1554 not give up jobs of work to do this very worthwhile task for their relatives is to me completely erroneous. Because of the assumption that married women do not give up jobs, it seems to me that they are discriminated against.
§ I should like to know on what basis the Government are using this particular discrimination. If a single man or married man gives up his job to look after his father he is able to qualify. If a married woman gives up a job to look after her mother (or, for that matter, her father) she would not be able to qualify. It is difficult for us to understand why this inequality should exist, and therefore I beg to move Amendment No. 5.
§ Baroness SEEAR
My Lords, the House will remember that when the invalid care allowance was introduced, an attempt was made to include married women in the benefit. The Government at that time, the Government of the party now in Opposition, said that they could not see their way to do it but that they would look at it. Surely the time has come when, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, has said, this plain discrimination against an important section of women should be removed. The allowance is an economy to the country because, by having someone staying at home to look after a person who is severely ill—and it is only if someone is severely ill that the invalid care allowance can be paid—that invalid person is kept out of a very expensive institution.
The idea that a married woman will not be giving up a job is surely erroneous. We know the figures of married women who are earning. I would make the point that where a married woman is staying at home to look after a severely-ill husband, it is highly probable that that severely-ill husband has been severely ill for some time and that she has been the main breadwinner. Secondly, where she is giving up work in order to look after a parent, she is quite likely to be a widow or someone who has been able to work; because she will then be free to look after an elderly parent. She is much less likely to be able to do so if she is herself a wife looking after her husband. It is very probable therefore that the kind of married woman who would be qualified for an invalid care allowance is, in fact, working and therefore will lose her 1555 earnings in order to do this task, a task which is a benefit not only to the elderly person but to the State and to the economy.
It can be but a very small number involved. Surely, the Government can meet this point. The invalid care allowance has not been taken up in vast measure, as we know. It involves a very small number of people; but a small number who are doing a very worthwhile job. If they do not get this allowance, they will be doing it at considerable cost to themselves.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, I have listened with interest to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. A very similar amendment was moved in Standing Committee "E" of another place on 12th February this year. This amendment refers to the invalid care allowance, a benefit which, as the noble Baroness has pointed out, is not payable under the law as it stands to a woman residing with her husband, or if she is living with a man to whom she is not married but they are living as man and wife.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, perhaps I may finish the paragraph. The amendment would remove those restrictions so that the invalid care allowance would be available to women in that position.
Your Lordships will be aware that this allowance is intended as an income maintenance benefit. As such, its conditions have been designed to concentrate the limited resources available on those men and single women who, in the main, have little or no other income to support them because they are caring for a severely disabled relative. Both noble Baronesses referred to this situation. On the other hand, it must be remembered that women who benefit from this amendment already have their partners' incomes to support them. Where it is the partner who is being cared for, he will often be receiving an increase of benefit for care, an increase which, I am advised, could not be paid as well as the invalid care allowance which in most cases it will equal in amount.
§ Baroness FISHER of REDNAL
My Lords, I am sorry to have interrupted the noble Lord. I was not really following his remarks on cohabitation and all that. I could not see the argument he was putting forward until he came to the last sentence. I apologise for getting up too quickly.
Following on what the noble Lord has said, I understood from reading the proceedings in the other place that the estimated cost of introducing this was a very small amount—roughly between £23 million and £36 million—an amount which takes into consideration what the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, has said: that the number of women that this applies to is very small. As the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, has said, it is really a great saving to the National Health Service if people themselves (especially the wives or daughters who are married) are able to carry out this task. Perhaps we should be paying them much more instead of nothing at all.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, I would remind the noble Baroness that as we are on Report stage I have to speak with the leave of the House. With your Lordships' permission I will continue. In response to the intervention of the noble Baroness, I have read the remarks of my right honourable friend, Mr. Prentice, the Minister for Social Security. The noble Baroness is quite right when she refers to the estimate which my right honourable friend gave. His words were—and I quote from col. 381 of the Commons' Official Report of 12th February:The estimated cost for a full year would be between £23 million and £36 million.Unfortunately, it is very difficult to estimate the cost of this amendment since there is no way of accurately determining the number of women who would be eligible for benefit. The cost could, however, be as much as £40 million in a year; and sums of this order are simply not available. Moreover, this money would be going to a group of people who are largely provided for in other ways if they are caring for a disabled relative. I must therefore, with regret, say that the Government are unable to accept this amendment.
§ Baroness SEEAR
My Lords, with the leave of the House, may I make a comment on a remark made by the Minister? He said that a married woman who was giving up work would not be very much better off because the person for whom she was caring could get additional payment. I think I understood aright. The noble Lord said that the invalid—not because the married women had given up work—would get an additional sum. He said that the married woman would be no better off by getting a grant because the invalid would have received it. Perhaps the noble Lord would look at what he said. I think what he said was to that effect.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, we are in considerable difficulty on Report because at this stage we may speak only once. Therefore, I should have to seek the leave of the House. With regret I say to the noble Baroness that I cannot give her a satisfactory answer at this stage. The best course is to communicate with the noble Baroness through the post, and it will be for the benefit of the Report stage if I do so.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 5) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 73; Not-Contents, 109.1559
|Airedale, L.||Gaitskell, B.||Phillips, B.|
|Amherst, E.||Galpern, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Ardwick, L.||Gardiner, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]|
|Aylestone, L.||Glenamara, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Goronwy-Roberts, L.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|Balogh, L.||Grey, E.||Rochester, L.|
|Banks, L.||Hale, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Blease, L.||Hampton, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Seear, B.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Hooson, L.||Shinwell, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Jacques, L.||Stone, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Janner, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Byers, L.||Jeger, B.||Strauss, L.|
|Chitnis, L.||Kaldor, L.||Taylor of Mansfield, L.|
|Collison, L.||Kilbracken, L.||Thomson of Monifieth, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Kilmarnock, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Crowther-Hunt, L.||Kirkhill, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.|
|Cudlipp, L.||Leatherland, L.||Walston, L.|
|David, B. [Teller.]||McNair, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Maelor, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Diamond, L.||Meston, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Northfield, L.||Wilson of Radcliffe, L.|
|Elwyn-Jones, L.||Oram, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Fisher of Rednal, B.||Paget of Northampton, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Fulton, L.||Peart, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Cockfield, L.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Cork and Orrery, E.||Galloway, E.|
|Allerton, L.||Cottesloe, L.||Gisborough, L.|
|Alport, L.||Craigavon, V.||Glenarthur, L.|
|Amory, V.||Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Gowrie, E.|
|Ampthill, L.||Daventry, V.||Greenway, L.|
|Argyll, D.||Davidson, V.||Gridley, L.|
|Atholl, D.||de Clifford, L.||Grimston of Westbury, L.|
|Auckland, L.||De Freyne, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)|
|Avebury, L.||De La Warr, E.|
|Avon, E.||Denham, L. [Teller.]||Halsbury, E.|
|Balerno, L.||Drumalbyn, L.||Hanworth, V.|
|Bellwin, L.||Dundee, E.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Ebbisham, L.||Henley, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Eccles, V.||Hill of Luton, L.|
|Bolton, L.||Ellenborough, L.||Holderness, L.|
|Caccia, L.||Elliot of Harwood, B.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Camoys, L.||Emmet of Amberley, B.||Inglewood, L.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Exeter, M.||Kimberley, E.|
|Cathcart, E.||Ferrers, E.||Kinloss, Ly.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Fortescue, E.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.|
|Long, V.||Onslow, E.||Spens, L.|
|Loudoun, C.||Orkney, E.||Stamp, L.|
|Lyell, L.||Orr-Ewing, L.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||Pender, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Mancroft, L.||Porrit, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Mansfield, E.||Redmayne, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Marley, L.||Renton, L.||Trefgarne, L.|
|Massereene and Ferrard, V.||Renwick, L.||Trenchrad, V.|
|Merrivale, L.||Rochdale, V.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|Milverton, L.||Romney, E.||Vickers, B.|
|Monk Bretton, L.||St. Davids, V.||Vivian, L.|
|Mowbray and Stourton, L.||St. Germans, E.||Westbury, L.|
|Netherthorpe, L.||Saint Oswald, L.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Newall, L.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]||Wolverton, L.|
|Northchurch, B.||Sharples, B.||Young, B.|
|Nugent of Guildford, L.||Somers, L.|
Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 5 p.m.
Baroness FISHER of REDNAL moved Amendment No. 6:
Page 27, line 27, leave out ("sections 44(3)(a) and 47(1)(a) (which provide") and insert ("section 44(3)(a) (which provides").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell I beg to move this amendment, and may I also speak to Amendments Nos. 7, 8 and 9. In moving the amendment, what we require is the same test for male and female beneficiaries claiming invalidity pension for their spouses. At the moment female beneficiaries are again in a lesser position. While accepting that the Bill goes some way towards the equalising treatment, in this case it is very much less favourable because it sets a ceiling upon the husband's earnings. If he earns above this ceiling his wife may not claim for him. This is part of what is called the tapered earnings rule; that is, the dependant's increase is reduced according to the amount of earnings applicable under another clause of the Bill. While we say "thank you" because this factor has been recognised in the pensions part of the Bill, it is not taken into consideration in this particular part. Therefore, we are asking that equality shall once again prevail.
§ We ask the Government to recognise quite clearly that, as women are now being called upon to pay an equal amount of money for national health insurance stamps, they should also be able to look forward to equal benefits. They are not asking for any special treatment, but exactly the same value for money as men get for their national health contributions. I would ask, therefore, that this should be considered quite seriously by the 1560 Government. The other amendments which will follow are again on equality and the use of the word "spouse" instead of the words "wife" or "husband". I beg to move Amendment No. 6.
§ 5.1 p.m.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, in moving this amendment, also spoke to Amendments Nos. 7, 8 and 9, I think it will be for the convenience of the House if I reply to all four amendments at the same time. I was glad that the noble Baroness made it clear that she was grateful for the steps that we have been able to take under this Bill to give equal treatment for men and women. We are doing so under the EEC Directive. but we are going slightly further than the Directive requires us to do. In fact, just to reassure myself and to remind myself of what the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, said on this matter on Second Reading, I looked up col. 1283 of Hansard for 1st April 1980, where she says:Nevertheless, I should like to thank the Government for some of the things that have been included that they intend to do".Then she goes on to list a number of things which are improvements.
Of course, having given some improvements, one recognises that the argument promptly moves on: "You haven't done enough". I suppose that is the kind of argument which can be applied almost indefinitely in relation to social security matters, because these things are relative and no doubt one could almost always do more. However, the fact is that if the Government were to agree to the particular amendments we are debating now, the cost would be substantial. It would, we believe, certainly go far beyond our 1561 commitment under the EEC Directive on equal treatment. Indeed, the effect would be to remove all differences in the treatment of wives and husbands as dependants of spouses receiving either invalidity or retirement pensions. The amendments would go a long way beyond the proposals of the Bill, and consequently we believe that they would entail a considerable cost. It is difficult to quantify it precisely, but we believe it would be at least £10 million in a full year and possibly considerably more.
It may be helpful, therefore, in order for the House to understand this cost if I were to give our reasons why we cannot agree to these particular amendments at this time. At present a wife cannot get an increase of retirement pension in respect of her husband, although she can get an increase of invalidity benefit. The qualifying condition for an increase of invalidity benefit is that the husband must be economically incapable by reason of illness or disability of prolonged duration. This has been criticised because it does not allow for the case where the wife is the principal breadwinner and where a couple have deliberately chosen for the wife and not the husband to be the main breadwinner.
There has for quite some time been agreement between the parties that this should in all fairness be remedied so as to allow spouses to organise their domestic circumstances in this way if they should wish to do so. We are therefore proposing to substitute a test of earnings for this test of economic capacity; but the test of earnings we have chosen is the test as it applies to wives other than those who reside with an invalidity pensioner husband. It is a test of economic dependency. The higher (now £45 a week) earnings rule for retirement pensioners' wives was extended to the wives of invalidity pensioners when invalidity benefit was introduced in 1971; but to help wives of men who had become, through sickness, unable to maintain their families, take on a breadwinner role to the extent that their circumstances would allow.
A wife who got a job with only slightly better earnings than the dependency benefit would, under the pre-1971 rules, see her contribution to the family budget whittled down because of the the loss of the dependency increase, to the amount 1562 by which her take-home pay exceeded the amount of the increase. There were some quite lowly-paid jobs, many on a casual basis, available to married women. The earnings rule, which was set in 1971 at £9.50 a week—just slightly above the average part-time female earnings at that time—provided for the gradual withdrawal of the dependency increase and so, within limits, a wife who did not have a substantial job could add all or most of her earnings to her husband's income. Obviously this would very much affect their standard of living in difficult circumstances.
The same argument does not apply to husbands of wives claiming invalidity benefit, because they would not usually be economically inactive at the time when the wife became incapable of work. If, therefore, in real terms the earnings rule had remained at 1971 levels, few wives could have benefited by the amendment now proposed. The earnings rule has risen to £45 and would have risen further but for the fact that it is agreed to be excessive for dependency purposes and is being held at the 1978 level until it again becomes a reasonable test of dependency. At this level, extending the rule would merely subsidise families in reasonable circumstances already. Since under the EEC Directive we are not bound to change the dependency test for invalidity pensioners even to the extent we propose, we believe that it would not be right to incur even more substantial expenditure by copying a provision, the social purpose of which is at best questionable.
The amendment also seeks to make dependency increases for a husband available to a women retirement pensioner. It is here that the major cost arises, because a significant number of women who are over retirement age—that is 60 for women—will have a husband under retirement age—that is 65—who has taken his occupational pension but is not yet entitled to a State pension. If he had a State pension that would, of course, prevent payment of a dependency increase. Therefore we do not think it is right to take a deliberate measure to subsidise couples in this situation, quite apart from the cost of the proposals. As your Lordships know, married women cannot provide a retirement pension on their contributions for their husbands; and we believe that there is no case for treating a 1563 husband as his wife's dependant if he happens to be below retirement age and not yet entitled to his own retirement pension.
I have explained this point in some considerable detail to the House because it is important. I recognise the reasons of the noble Baroness for raising it. If there are points of detail on which she would like me to write, I shall, of course, do so. But I hope she will accept that lengthy explanation, that we have gone as far as we can in this Bill in fulfilling our obligations under the EEC Directive, and doing slightly more, but that in the present financial circumstances that is as far as we can go.
§ Baroness FISHER of REDNAL
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for a very long and detailed reply, which was rather complicated. I often wonder whether the beneficiaries who make these claims understand how complicated they are. They are most complicated for us who try to understand them, never mind the people who have to make claims. But I thank the noble Baroness for her remarks, and one looks forward to the fulfilment of the equal opportunities Directive of the EEC. I accept her reply and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 7 to 9 not moved.]
§ 5.11 p.m.
Baroness FISHER of REDNAL moved Amendment No. 10:
Page 28, line 13, at end insert—
("In paragraph 3(c) of section 44, at end insert "providing that such conditions shall treat male and female beneficiaries the same, regardless of the sex of the beneficiary and the sex of the person caring for the child",").
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 10, 11 and 12 together. This is another complicated set of amendments which apply to cohabitees who are caring for children. The noble Baroness will perhaps explain the position much more clearly than I can, but the difficulty seems to arise that when a man claims for a woman cohabitee, or an unmarried woman with whom he is living who cares for a child for whom he may also claim, he can claim 1564 the full benefit for her. But when a woman claims for a man with whom she is living, who cares for a child for whom she may also claim, she may not claim at all if the man's earnings exceed the benefit.
§ Here, again, all kinds of difficulties arise because of women's earnings and men's earnings. The same arguments as are used on the tapered earnings rule, regarding the spouses of invalidity pensioners apply particularly to cohabitees caring for children. I know that it is a difficult question, and all I would say is that what we have been trying to do this afternoon is to draw the attention of the Government to the fact that there is discrimination.
§ What we are being told is that the discrimination must still persist, because of the economic situation of the country. One would feel happy if those on the Government Benches would say, "As soon as we have solved the economic situation of the country, we shall have no hesitation in rushing forward with all these things that do away with inequality for women." If they could give us that assurance, I might not be pressing this amendment so strongly.
§ But it is important for us to recognise that the exclusions which we have been discussing this afternoon, and this one, are denying full equality for women in social security. These exclusions are options that are being used by the Government, and they are not requirements under the EEC Directive. Once again, one hopes that at some future date, sooner rather than later, we shall have legislation which really gives full equality to women and not the so-called sufferance that so many women have to put up with. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I have listened to what the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, has said and, in the interests of historical accuracy, I should say that we are not doing away with any measures of equality that may formerly have existed. There has always been, I regret to say, this inequality between the sexes. We have improved the situation in regard to a great deal of what is in this Bill. We have not gone so far as the noble Baroness would like, or as many of us would like, but that is for the reasons I have given.
1565 But I think we ought not to suggest that we are taking away something that existed before. That is not the case and it is only right to put that on the record.
The noble Baroness moved Amendment No. 10, but spoke also to Nos. 11 and 12. I might begin by saying on Amendment No. 10 that I am glad to be able to assure her that the changes that are being made under this Bill to Clause 44(3)(c) are such that the intention of this amendment will be fully achieved in relation to the short-term benefits. It is already the case that male and female beneficiaries can, if entitled to an increase of benefit for a child, claim an increase for a person who has the care of the child under otherwise identical conditions, the chief of which is that benefit is not being paid for another adult dependant, but we will now make it possible for a person of either sex to qualify as the dependant. So that so far as her first amendment is concerned, we are actually meeting the point under the Bill.
As regards Amendments Nos. 11 and 12, I agree with the noble Baroness that this is a rather complicated area, which introduced me to the term of "child carer" for the first time. But I shall attempt to set out the position and I hope that that will clarify it for her. The legislation in the area of dependency is, as I have said, very complicated and is not easy to understand. The effect of Amendment No. 11, as drafted, would merely be to remove our power to make regulations so as to prescribe an earnings rule comparable to that which affects the wife of a pensioner who resides with him and earns over £45 a week. We would then have to make another earnings rule under the power in Clause 46(3), which would have to be that earnings over £14 disqualified the child carer as a dependant. That, it is true, would achieve equality between child carers of both sexes, but it would, in fact, have the effect of removing an existing entitlement.
A child carer—which is the new term which I understand one must use in this connection—is something of a hybrid creature and this is what causes a lot of the difficulty. Some people merely see the term as a polite reference to a cohabitee, while the regulations, in fact, make express provision, even for a non-resident child minder undertaking her—or, in 1566 future, his or her—caring function on a commercial basis. The truth is somewhere between the two extremes. The addition to benefit represents extra money available to a beneficiary, who is responsible for a child and needs to employ someone to look after the child.
Sometimes this employment, if I may call it that, arises out of cohabitation; indeed, a man in these circumstances often qualifies only because he has assumed full responsibility for the children of the woman concerned. But it can equally be employment of a nanny; indeed, most of the case law we have arose in the context of the employment of female child carers by widows, when there was still an earnings rule for widows, and expense incurred in arranging for the care of children by a working mother was an important consideration. The Act allows us to deal with the earnings of a female child carer who resides with a beneficiary as if she were his wife. This is probably apt in the majority of cases. The effect of the amendment would prevent us from doing this, and as I am sure that that is not what the amendment is designed to do I hope that the noble Baroness will understand the explanation in this case.
So far as Amendment No. 12 is concerned, we believe that it is, in effect, academic. An unemployability supplement is an increase in the rate of an industrial disablement pension payable to someone who as a result of the relevant loss of faculty is likely to be permanently incapable of work. It is payable at the same rate as a national insurance invalidity pension and attracts dependency benefits under similar conditions. There are fewer than 400 current awards, mostly payable without dependency increases. Although I do not know this for certain, it is almost probable that none is in payment for a child carer.
In these circumstances, we believe it would be wrong to seek to impose different dependency rules, even if they need never be applied. I hope therefore that in this, as the noble Baroness has said, rather complex world she will recognise that the Bill meets the case of Amendment No. 10, that Amendment No. 11 would have consequences which I do not believe she would wish to see, and therefore should be withdrawn, and that Amendment No. 12, to the best of our knowledge, does 1567 not cover any case. The argument would be that it might cover a case in the future. For these reasons, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendments.
§ Baroness FISHER of REDNAL
My Lords, may I thank the noble Baroness for her very generous reply. I wonder whether she would write to me regarding the position of the one parent family woman who is not cohabiting—not living with anybody—but who might fall into this category. I am not now asking the noble Baroness to define a caring person. Would it be somebody who was helping a one parent family woman who was trying to work and keep her child herself and not rely upon social security benefits, thus justifying her in making a claim? May I ask the noble Baroness to write to me about that? I am a little disturbed that the regulations that are before us this afternoon are subject to the Negative Resolution procedure. Sex discrimination should be subject to the Affirmative Resolution procedure so that we can all see the progress made in regard to discrimination. Very often it is on the fine details of the regulations that discrimination creeps in. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment No. 10.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 11 and 12 not moved.]
§ 5.23 p.m.
Baroness SEEAR moved Amendment No. 13:
Page 28, line 47, at end insert—
(". In section 167(1)(a) (which provides for parliamentary control of orders and regulations), after the words "section 20(3) (additional conditions and restrictions as to certain benefits) there shall be inserted the words" sections 41 to 49 (child dependants and adult dependants)".")
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment ought to appeal to the noble Baroness the Minister, in that its great merit is that it does not ask for any money. Therefore it may be difficult for the noble Baroness to find a reason for rejecting it. The amendment takes up the point which has just been made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal. For a much wider range of benefits, it simply asks that regulations should be subject to the 1568 Affirmative Resolution procedure and not to the Negative Resolution procedure. As the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, said a moment ago, it is in the detail of the regulations that the real substance of the matter lies. It is the question of how much is going to be given to the various parties that is of real concern.
§ I should have thought that since the heart of the matter is the quantity to be paid, it is reasonable to ask that all the benefits listed in this regulation should be subject to affirmative action. This is partly because of the importance of the size of the benefit. Also, as the amendments moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, have illustrated and as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has agreed, there is today in our social security legislation openly and avowedly an element of discrimination. As the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has said, it is true that some moves are being made towards the elimination of this discrimination. We want it to go further and, if possible, faster. It will be in the terms of the regulations that we shall see whether progress is being made. It will not cost any money. It will not even take a great deal of time. But it is a very important safeguard to make sure that we are moving in the right direction. I beg to move.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, is quite right in saying that this is an amendment which does not cost more money, and I am sorry that as the proceedings continue I shall be sounding increasingly like Scrooge. The fact, however, is that we have to look at all these matters very carefully in the present economic climate.
The noble Baroness asked me why, particularly in this relatively narrow area, we could not make this subject to the Affirmative Resolution procedure rather than, as the Bill requires, to the Negative Resolution procedure. It might therefore be helpful if I reminded your Lordships of the stages that regulations must pass through before they become law.
Except in cases of extreme urgency, the Secretary of State is bound to refer his proposals to the advisory committee for their consideration and he must lay the report issued by the committee before Parliament, together with the regulations, 1569 in due course. Furthermore, all regulations are considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.
More recently, there has grown up the practice, where the subject matter is difficult—and I think one could say that is the case in these particular parts of the Bill—and certainly where dependency is concerned, of sending to the joint committee an explanatory memorandum similar to the Notes on Clauses issued when there is a parliamentary Bill. Thus, Parliament has available when regulations are laid before it a full explanation by the Secretary of State, together with a report of the advisory committee and, where appropriate, the joint committee. Either House is then, if it is so minded, able to pray against the regulations and have a debate. I believe, and we on the Government side believe, that these seem to be adequate safeguards in the context of the powers in Sections 41 to 49. In considering the matter, and the debate we have just had, it seems to me that this may well be the best way of dealing with what is an immensely complicated and technical matter.
I take the point that has been made. What is really required is a rather smaller group of people to look in considerable detail at how all this is working out. That seems to be how parliamentary procedure would in fact enable discussion on these very points to take place. It is interesting to note, incidentally, that the requirement for regulations to be submitted to the National Insurance Advisory Committee, which appears in Section 139 of the Social Security Act and Clause 10
§ of the Bill, makes a comparable provision for reference to the Social Security Advisory Committee.
§ The noble Baroness will recall—as I am sure the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, also recalls—that in Committee we had a debate about the influence of the Social Security Advisory Committee. If I may say so, this seems to be one way in which it, too, could be influential in making recommendations regarding the regulations when they are before the appropriate Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. With this explanation, I hope again that the House will feel that we are providing adequate safeguards and that there would be an effective discussion of these particular sections.
§ Baroness SEEAR
My Lords, as one would expect, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, has made the very best of what I still think is a rather bad job. What she is trying to tell us, I think, is that a Negative Resolution is almost as good as an Affirmative Resolution. But the difference is made and it is clearly understood that affirmative action is stronger and gives more parliamentary control than a negative procedure. That being so, I am afraid I cannot accept the explanation given by the noble Baroness and I must divide the House.
§ 5.31 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 13) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided, Contents, 69; Not-Contents, 100.1571
|Amherst, E.||Diamond, L.||Jeger, B.|
|Ardwick, L.||Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Kaldor, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Fisher of Rednal, B [Teller.]||Kilbracken, L.|
|Aylestone, L.||Fulton, L.||Kilmarnock, L.|
|Bacon, B.||Gaitskell, B.||Kirkhill, L.|
|Banks, L.||Galpern, L.||Leatherland, L.|
|Barrington, V.||Gardiner, L.||Longford, E.|
|Blease, L.||Gladwyn, L.||McNair, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Glenamara, L.||Maelor, L.|
|Brockway, L.||Goronwy-Roberts, L.||Mais, L.|
|Bruce of Donington, L.||Gosford, E.||Northfield, L.|
|Byers, L.||Gregson, L.||Oram, L.|
|Chitnis, L.||Grey, E.||Peart, L.|
|Collison, L.||Hale, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Cooper of Stockton Heath, L.||Hampton, L.||Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.|
|Crowther-Hunt, L.||Hatch of Lusby, L.||Robson of Kiddington, B.|
|David, B.||Hooson, L.||Rochester, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Jacques, L.||Ross of Marnock, L.|
|Seear, B. [Teller.]||Thomson of Monifieth, L.||Whaddon, L.|
|Stone, L.||Underhill, L.||Wigoder, L.|
|Strabolgi, L.||Wallace of Coslany, L.||Wilson of Radcliffe, L.|
|Strauss, L.||Walston, L.||Wootton of Abinger, B.|
|Taylor of Mansfield, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Airey of Abingdon, B.||Elliot of Harwood, B.||Milverton, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Emmet of Amberley, B.||Monk Bretton, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Exeter, M.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Amory, V.||Ferrers, E.||Newall, L.|
|Ampthill, L.||Fortescue, E.||Northchurch, B.|
|Atholl, D.||Fraser of Kilmorack, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Avon, E.||Galloway, E.||Onslow, E.|
|Balerno, L.||Garner, L.||Orkney, E.|
|Bellwin, L.||Geoffrey-Lloyd, L.||Redmayne, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Gisborough, L.||Renton, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Glenarthur, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Bolton, L.||Gowrie, E.||Rochdale, V.|
|Caccia, L.||Greenway, L.||Romney, E.|
|Campbell of Croy, L.||Gridley, L.||St. Davids, V.|
|Cathcart, E.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||St. Germans, E.|
|Clifford of Chudleigh, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Saint Oswald, L.|
|Cockfield, L.||Sandys, L. [Teller.]|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Hanworth, V.||Shannon, E.|
|Colwyn, L.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Cork and Orrery, E.||Henley, L.||Spens, L.|
|Cottesloe, L.||Hill of Luton, L.||Stamp, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Holderness, L.||Strathcarron, L.|
|Cullen of Ashbourne, L.||Hylton-Foster, B.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Daventry, V.||Inglewood, L.||Strathspey, L.|
|Davidson, V.||Kimberley, E.||Trefgarne, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Kinloss, Ly.||Trenchard, V.|
|De Freyne, L.||Lindsey and Abingdon, E.||Vaux of Harrowden, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Long, V.||Vickers, B.|
|Denham, L. [Teller.]||Loudoun, C.||Vivian, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Lyell, L.||Westbury, L.|
|Dundee, E.||Macleod of Borve, B.||Willoughby de Broke, L.|
|Ebbisham, L.||Mancroft, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Eccles, V.||Mansfield, E.||Young, B.|
|Effingham, E.||Marley, L.|
Moved accordingly and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ 5.39 p.m.
Lord WALLACE of COSLANY moved Amendment No. 14;
Page 33, line 12, after ("except") insert ("a sum paid to a person engaged in remunerative full-time work during the period of 30 days from the beginning of the engagement or").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the amendment set out on the Marshalled List. We dealt with this particular type of amendment at the Committee stage, but this is a modified version. The amendment moved at the Committee stage would have enabled supplementary benefit to be paid to a monthly-paid worker on a non-recoverable basis during the first 30 days after starting a job instead of only during the first 15 days. In his reply the noble Lord, Lord 1572 Cullen of Ashbourne, said that monthly-paid workers who claim supplementary benefit currently outside the 15-day period are eligible for urgent need payments under Section 4 of the Act, which normally would be recoverable, and that the regulations would provide for this to continue.
§ The amendment now before your Lordships accepts that payments after the first 15 days would be made only in cases of urgent need, which gets over the difficulty of cost. The noble Lord estimated at Committee stage that this could cost as high as £30 million in the extremely unlikely event of all monthly paid workers claiming benefit for the whole 30 days. The amendment ensures that where urgent needs payments are made in these circumstances they would not be recoverable just as payments made to weekly paid workers during the first 15 days after starting a job are not recoverable. So in point of fact there are likely to be not many claims and where they are made they are not to be recoverable. That is 1573 the simple point of the amendment. I beg to move.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, said, this amendment is a further revised version of one that he moved in Committee. This amendment would write into the face of the Bill a requirement preventing the Secretary of State from recovering an urgent needs payment made within 30 days of the start of full-time work. I think this would be undesirable on a number of counts.
First, it would give an unjustifiable preference to the weekly paid. As noble Lords will recall from our debate in Committee (cols. 549–552), entitlement to supplementary benefit continues during the first 15 days after a person takes up full-time work. This is already generous to the weekly paid. I do not think that we could justify going beyond that, as the amendment would require, by giving a blanket exclusion from recovery of any urgent needs payment made within the first 30 days, for the claimant may well be able to afford to repay any payment that is made after the 15-day period out of his wages. I would submit instead that the normal rules should apply; that is, that an urgent needs payment should be recoverable. This has been a long standing rule in the supplementary benefits scheme and I would stress the adjectival form of the word, "recoverable". Urgent needs payments will not be recovered in every case. Section 4 of the Act, as amended by this Bill, enables the Secretary of State to make regulations setting out the situations in which urgent needs payments will not be recoverable. They will not be recovered, for example, when a person has a low income by supplementary benefit standards.
As my noble friend Lord Cullen acknowledged in Committee, however, the 15-day rule is not so generous to the monthly paid. He explained then why we were unable to accept the Opposition's amendment to extend the period of 30 days in the case of the monthly paid. It is largely a matter of cost, which could be as high as £30 million. But he also made clear that the monthly paid could claim urgent needs payments if they faced great financial difficulty. I am aware that the document Social Assistance 1574 (para. 4.18) suggested that "if it were thought desirable" to bring the monthly paid in this respect more into line with the weekly paid then any urgent needs payments made in those circumstances should be made not recoverable. But here again I do not think it would be wise to write into the face of the Bill a general exemption from the normal powers of recovery, because the regulations that will be made will waive recovery if there is continuing hardship. And I think we must hear in mind that the monthly paid are, very often, among the higher paid in the working population. They may well, therefore, be as well, if not better, placed to cope with the repayments than the weekly paid.
My Lords, the regulations that we propose to make will broadly follow the existing rules laid down by the Supplementary Benefits Commission. Thus, a payment will only be made if it is unreasonable to expect the claimant to arrange an advance of salary from his employer. Most employers have arrangements to help the monthly paid over the period up to their first pay-day. And the Government think that such arrangements are the right way to deal with this situation. If we were to open up the supplementary benefits scheme in the manner suggested by the amendment there would inevitably be abuse and a massive shift from seeking help from one's employer—which normally has to be repaid—to seeking non-recoverable payments through the supplementary benefits scheme.
If an urgent needs payment has to be made, the regulations will waive recovery where only small amounts of benefit are at stake, and the cost of recovery could be disproportionately high, or where a claimant's income will be low, judged by supplementary benefit standards. Under the regulations, taken with section 2(1) of the Act, as amended by this Bill, it will be for a benefit officer to decide whether the prescribed circumstances apply. There will be an appeal against his decision under section 15 of the Act. Putting these rules into regulations will achieve their full publication for the first time. And, as was made clear in another place, the rules will also appear in the new Handbook to be published on the authority of the Secretary of State. My Lords, I hope that, in view of the explanation I have 1575 given at some length, the noble Lords will feel able to withdraw their amendment.
Lord WALLACE of COSLANY
My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for going into such detail in his reply. There is still confusion over this. In my view, a weekly paid person is better off than a monthly paid person when starting a job, because he has not got to wait so long for his money; that is obvious. I accept that many employers transferring weekly paid workers to monthly pay do in fact help them out; there is no doubt about that. But, as I said at Committee stage, when you come to a point where a worker is unemployed and then gets an engagement with an employer who pays on a monthly basis, that man is in a worse position because he has to wait a month for his money. Furthermore, as I said then and I still believe, no employer could be expected to help unless he was an extremely generous, charitable person, because how is he to know that that employee is going to be satisfactory? He may have to dismiss him at the end of the month. So there is a need for some assistance to the monthly paid. I do not intend to press the amendment now. I think there is a little disagreement here, but I would not regard it as a serious disagreement. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.49 p.m.
Lord BANKS moved Amendment No. 15:
Page 43, line 33, at end insert—
("Provided always that when prescribing such items and weekly amounts the Secretary of State shall ensure that proper provision is made for the recurring costs incurred by a chronically sick or disabled person by reason of his impairment.").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 15, which is in my own name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, who, unfortunately, is unable to be with us today. During the Committee stage I moved an amendment, again with the support of the noble Lord, Lord Crawshaw, designed to secure from the Government an investigation into the special extra costs which disablement imposes. The Government rejected that 1576 proposition on the grounds that research was already going on in part of the area concerned. In the course of that debate I quoted the Conservative Party Manifesto as supporting a coherent system of cash benefits to meet the costs of disability so that more disabled people could support themselves and live normal lives. The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, quoted the Minister of Social Security as saying that he was in favour of a disability income, but indicating that it would not be introduced for some time to come. In the meantime, disabled people will have to manage under a revised supplementary benefits system in which discretion is much reduced. That system is to be simplified by the elimination of discretion. There is a danger that disabled people will be simplified out of the system.
The Disablement Income Group, because of the impending reform of the supplementary benefits system, carried out a survey among four different samples of disabled people. The results of that survey showed the extent to which disabled people are dependent upon discretionary payments, and particularly exceptional circumstance additions. The survey showed the following:
More than 80 per cent. of disabled people receive at least one exceptional circumstance addition … every week and more than a third receive two. These additions are commonly for extra heating, dietary or laundry needs.
One in five disabled people receive more than £2 a week in additions (after deducting the 50p or 75p 'offset' which long-term claimants lose).
The general pattern is of an increasing number and value of additions being received with an increasing level of disability. So, 9 per cent. of a severely handicapped persons' income (disregarding mobility and attendance allowances) is made up of discretionary additions; 7 per cent. of the income of the less severely handicapped comes in this form".
§ That illustrates the importance of the current discretionary payments to disabled people.
§ Severe hardship could arise, as the Bill stands, if all possible extra costs disabled people will incur are not foreseen and set down in the proposed regulations. First, the amendment would make it difficult for some future Secretary of State to change the scope of "normal", "additional" and "housing" requirements in a manner that would adversely affect disabled people. If some successor of the present Secretary of State wished to 1577 reduce the cost of supplementary benefits by withdrawing some special allowances now available to disabled people, the amendment would allow that to be challenged and consequently it would probably be necessary to amend the principal Act. The purpose could not easily be accomplished merely by changing the regulations.
§ Secondly, as it will be virtually impossible to foresee and list all possible extra costs, the amendment will require the Secretary of State to add to the list any that are shown to be needed, or introduce into the regulations some phrase allowing discretion in respect of disabled people.
§ A number of the extra expenses which chronically sick and disabled people incur, as a direct result of their impairment or disability, are detailed in paragraphs 62 to 82 of the annex to the Notes on Clauses. But that is not an exhaustive list. It is virtually impossible to specify all such costs in relation to all types of disability. That is why we think it essential to reintroduce a measure of discretion in respect of the disabled. I beg to move.
§ Lord CULLEN of ASHBOURNE
My Lords, the effect of this amendment would be to ensure that the extra expenses attributable to disablement were provided for in the supplementary benefit rates. Whatever the merits of meeting such costs, I do not think that a means tested scheme such as the supplementary benefits scheme is the right place to start. It seems entirely right, as the Bill proposes, to assess the entitlement of all claimants to supplementary benefit by reference to normal requirements, housing requirements, and additional requirements where appropriate. In this way a claimant who happens to be disabled will be treated in exactly the same way as any other person and any additional needs, such as help with heating costs, or the cost of a special diet, which a disabled person may have, will be met according to the normal rules of the scheme. The expenses for which additions will be made to weekly benefits will be laid down in the regulations, and the list of items will be added to as the need arises. This will apply also to exceptional needs payments. And I should point out that both attendance allowance and mobility allowance will 1578 continue to be disregarded in full in assessing entitlement to supplementary benefit.
To move beyond this takes us into the realms of a general disablement benefit As the noble Lord, Lord Banks, said in Committee and again today, the Disablement Income Group has argued for a two-part general benefit for disabled people, the first relating to income maintenance and the second to disablement costs. It is at present pressing for the latter and for a Green Paper on the subject.
The question of some form of general disablement benefit for disabled people has been a live issue for some time and your Lordships show a keen interest in the subject. Many people and groups have put foward views and proposals for the way ahead, some mirroring the views of the Disablement Income Group and others differing, quite markedly in some respects. The spectrum covers the two preferential schemes, war pensions and industrial injuries, on the one hand, and changes which would affect particular diagnostic or identified groups, on the other.
The Government's view on all this was made clear in another place and was stated in the manifesto. Yes, we are in favour of some form of general disablement benefit and that remains the long-term aim. The difficulty rests not with the aim but with the means of achieving it. My right honourable friend the Minister of State made clear in another place that, given the general economic position, the Government could not hope to introduce such a benefit within the next few years. In the interim, we consider it essential to assimilate and evaluate all the various and sometimes conflicting views being put forward, and to take account of current research into the various aspects of disablement, including the particular item of extra costs. I repeat that, against this background, the supplementary benefits scheme does not seem the place to start. I hope that, in view of the explanations I have given, the noble Lord will agree to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord BANKS
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cullen of Ashbourne, for his reply to the amendment and particularly for his reaffirmation that it is an aim of the Government that there should be some form of disabled expenses allowance. He regards this as a long-term 1579 aim and some of us are worried that it will be very long term indeed. But, it is at least encouraging to have it recognised as an aim.
The noble Lord argues that because there is this long-term aim there is no need to do anything in the interim; whereas I have argued precisely the opposite: that because it is agreed that this is a long-term aim something is necessary in the interim until that long-term aim has been put into effect. However, I should like to consider further the reply which the noble Lord has given and perhaps return to this matter again at Third Reading. In view of that, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 6 p.m.
Lord WELLS-PESTELL moved Amendment No. 16:
Page 44, column 2, leave out lines 18 to 31 and insert ("£34.85").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 16 standing in my name on the Marshalled List and, at the same time, I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 17, 19 and 20. It is true that we have been over this ground before during the Committee stage, and I said then that I wanted to consider very carefully what the noble Lord, Lord Cullen of Ashbourne, said on that occasion. I have come to the conclusion that I want to pursue this because the object of the amendments is to ensure that the Government do not back out—and I use those words very carefully—of the proposal to give a small addition to the short-term supplementary benefit rates in this year's up-rating.
§ That proposal was an integral part of the nil-cost package of reforms to the supplementary benefits scheme. Although it resulted from the proposal to align the supplementary benefit rates with the national insurance benefit rates, which have now been dropped, there is no reason why the small increases in the supplementary benefit rates, which amount only to 20p per week for a single person and to 25p per week for a couple, should not be proceeded with.
I find it very difficult to believe that the Government can really put their hand on
their heart and say that this cannot be done. I quote from column 616 of Hansard of 21st April. In the Committee stage debate, the noble Lord, Lord Cullen of Ashbourne, said:
The report by officials on the review of the scheme, Social Assistance, argued strongly that it is families with children, rather than pensioners, who are experiencing the most difficulty in managing on supplementary benefit, so that any redistribution should be directed towards them".
§ I shall not deny that that is so. I do not think that anyone on supplementary benefit has anything left over at the end of the week; probably he or she has nothing left by Wednesday or Thursday. I do not deny that if it is a family, obviously they are in considerable need. But it is also true that this applies to anyone who is in receipt of a pension.
§ Yet while the Government persist in their intention of reducing the long-term rates which pensioners get to bring them into line with the national insurance pension rates, the Government are backing out—and I do not think that there is any other phrase with which to describe it; certainly not to describe what I mean—of the other side of the redistribution, and that is the increases in the short-term rates which are what most families with children on supplementary benefit receive. I hope that the House gets a more comforting reply from the Minister on this occasion, because on the face of it 20p or 25p may seem only a small amount; I believe that neither amount will buy a loaf of bread today—I have just been advised that they will buy a small loaf. It may not seem very much, but to a family it is necessary. I hope that the noble Lord will feel that this amendment can be accepted.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has chosen to move Amendment No. 16, and at the same time speak to Amendments Nos. 17, 19 and 20 because, of course, they hang as one group. The noble Lord said that he thought the Government were going to be unable to put their hand on their heart—I think that was his phrase—and say that 20p per week was too much. Indeed, I think that the Government may do so, because I re-read with interest the announcement of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State on 27th March. Of course, the figures are simply enormous in regard to 1581 the whole of the social security budget. I think that my noble friend Lady Young has given ample testimony of that this afternoon, and I do not wish to repeat what she has already said in any detail.
I realise that the noble Lord and his colleagues are, as they said in Committee—and, of course, I have been following the noble Lord in his quotations of what was said on 21st April—unhappy about the proposals contained in the Social Security (No. 2) Bill to up-rate the short-term national insurance benefits by 5 per cent. less than the estimated movement in prices. However, this is not the time to consider proposals contained in the No. 2 Bill, which will come before your Lordships' House in due course.
In so far as these amendments affect this Bill, I regret that I can only put in another form the arguments which my noble friend Lord Cullen expressed during Committee and some of which have been quoted this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell. The effect of the amendments would be to raise the ordinary rates of supplementary benefit by 25p for a married couple and 20p for a single householder more than the increases already announced for next November. Under the Government's original proposals for reform of the supplementary benefits scheme, the ordinary scale rates were to be aligned with their corresponding national insurance rates in the same way as the long-term rates will be. As a result, these rates would have been increased by sums similar to those I have mentioned and now put forward again by the noble Lord's amendments, but we no longer envisage aligning the ordinary rates in November.
At the next up-rating the supplementary benefit short-term rates will be fully price-protected and, as a result, they will rise to much greater sums than the national insurance rates. The scale rates will then be greater than the national insurance rates by £1.20 a week for a married couple and by 65p a week for a single householder. The increases of 25p and 20p respectively proposed by this amendment would have been the result of alignment this November. Without alignment they are no longer appropriate and could not be justified in their own right. There would be an additional cost which could not be met from within the 1582 supplementary benefits package of changes as it stands today.
The noble Lord has argued that his amendment should be made so that families with children might benefit as Social Assistance, the document we have already referred to this afternoon, suggested. That document suggested that it was they who are experiencing most difficulty in coming on to supplementary benefit. But the package of reforms has been specially designed to help such families: for example, the reduction in the number of children-scale rates, the shorter qualifying period for the long-term rates and the better disregard of earnings specially designed so to do. I think that these improvements, combined with the arrangements for November, should persuade the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, I am fast coming to the conclusion that there is not enough dynamite in this country to move noble Lords on the Government Front Bench and that one really is fighting a losing battle. In the circumstances, I have little alternative but to ask the leave of the House to withdraw this amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments Nos. 17 to 20 not moved.]
§ Clause 8 [Provisions supplementary to ss. 6 and 7]:
§ 6.10 p.m.
Lord WELLS-PESTELL moved Amendment No. 21:
Page 13, line 26, at end insert ("including a person who would cease to be entitled to supplementary benefit by virtue of his capital resources")
The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is an amendment which we discussed at Committee stage. I was given, and the Committee were given, a fairly long and detailed reply which I wanted to consider before deciding whether to pursue it or not at this stage of the Bill. Replying for the Government the noble Lord, Lord Cullen, denied that the Government would be making a profit of the proposed changes in the treatment of capital expenditure. In fact his words were:
there will be no question of a saving as a result of retaining the capital cut-off at £2,000. Our
costings have been done on the basis of this figure to give a nil-cost result".—[Official Report, 21/4/80; col. 631.]
§ But he also stated that only some 13,000 people would lose their entitlement to supplementary benefit as a result of the introduction of the £2,000 cut-off point in place of the more flexible formula that applies at present.
§ As I understand the position, the level at present is £1,200, but it is also true to say that quite a substantial number can, and do, get supplementary benefit, albeit at a reduced amount, notwithstanding the fact that they have a capital of £1,200. It is clear that the figure of 13,000, which is the number of claimants with capital over £2,000 in November 1978, is now I would say far too low. Every time the benefit rates go up the amount of capital a claimant can have without losing his entitlement to benefit also goes up.
§ I think that there were 6,000 claimants with capital over £2,000 in December 1976; two years later there were 13,000. It is a fair assumption to say that there probably will be this November at least 20,000. All of them will have their benefit cut off on 24th November, and for many of them it is their main source of income. It seems inevitable, therefore, that the Government must—and I do not see how the Government can argue otherwise—be making a profit out of that cutoff. Twenty thousand people are going to be cut off from supplementary benefit because they have a capital of £2,000. It must stand to reason that the Government are going to save an enormous amount of money. This amendment would give the Government the power to make transitional regulations to help at least some—I say some—of these 20,000 people; if you like, those who stand to lose £5 a week or more.
§ If the Government are not prepared to move in this matter there is still time for the Government to reconsider the £2,000 limit, and raise it to a figure which at least restores the value of the existing £1,200 capital disregard to what it was worth when it was introduced in 1975. As I understand the situation, £1,200 in 1975 would need to become £2,350 to have the same value and purchasing power now. I think that this ought to be done, because I do not accept—it may be that I am wrong about this—that, if 20,000 people are 1584 going to lose their supplementary benefit in November of this year because they have a capital of £2,000, the Government are not going to make some money out of it. I think that the only way of dealing with this, if the Government will not reconsider it, is certainly to consider bringing the figure of £1,200 in 1975 up to its present-day value. I beg to move.
§ Lord CULLEN of ASHBOURNE
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has already said, we debated this selfsame amendment in Committee on 21st April. I cannot add a great deal to the reasons I gave then as to why the Government are unable to protect the position of existing beneficiaries who have capital over £2,000, but I am only too pleased to give the House a brief résumé of my arguments. Our proposal to introduce a simple rule whereby anyone who has capital in excess of £2,000 will not qualify for supplementary benefit replaces a provision in the existing legislation which is much more complicated for claimants to understand and for staff to operate. In the present scheme, capital of £1,200 or less is ignored altogether in calculating a claimant's resources. On amounts over £1,200, an income of 25p per week for each complete £50 of capital is assumed, and this notional income is offset against a claimant's benefit entitlement.
As I explained when we debated this on a previous occasion, the Government are unable to provide that existing beneficiaries who have capital over £2,000 should continue to receive supplementary benefit after 24th November. This is simply because there are estimated to be 13,000 of them, and to protect their position would cost about £5 million. I am afraid that the Government remain convinced that this £5 million—which would have to be found at the expense of improvements we are making elsewhere, for example, for families with children—should not be spent as a matter of priority on protecting the position of those who are, by virtue of the fact that they do have capital, among the better-off on supplementary benefit. The Government would, ideally, like to protect the position of all existing beneficiaries—and Clause 8 gives us the power to look after the very great majority of them with transitional regulations.
1585 There is here a question of priorities in the redistribution of resources that is being effected by the changes we propose in the supplementary benefits scheme. We do not think it is of sufficient priority to allocate such a large sum as would be needed to protect the position of people with more than £2,000 of capital. The noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, argued in Committee that we were in effect making a saving on the cost-neutral package by not increasing the capital limit beyond £2,000, and he has returned to this charge again. But that is not the case. The package has been designed to be cost-neutral at the time of implementation—that is, in November of this year—and clearly, therefore, any upwards adjustment in the level of capital which we would allow beneficiaries to keep would be bound to attract an extra cost. There is a basic question here of what level of savings it is appropriate that people who are receiving means-tested help such as supplementary benefit should have.
In the Government's view, £2,000 will represent a reasonably generous level in the revised scheme, particularly as the possession of up to £2,000 will not affect entitlement to weekly benefit. As I have said before, we cannot promise to increase regularly the capital limit, but the figure of £2,000 will appear in regulations and will be kept under review in the light of the economic circumstances prevailing at the time of review.
I wish to emphasise that people with capital in excess of £2,000 are not being asked to use up all their savings. They will of course have to manage on their own resources for a time, but they will not have to use their savings below £2,000. As soon as savings are reduced to that level, it will be open to the people in question to claim supplementary benefit again. I should also emphasise, to ensure there is no doubt whatever on this point, that the value of an owner-occupier's home is not included for supplementary benefit purposes as part of any capital he may possess.
§ Lord DRUMALBYN
My Lords, when my noble friend refers to the value of the applicant's home, does he include with that the furniture, blankets and all the rest of it in that home?
§ Lord CULLEN of ASHBOURNE
Yes, my Lords; in view of that explanation, I hope the noble Lord will with-draw the amendment.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, there is something radically wrong with the thinking of the Government. It is quite appalling to think that they are taking their present attitude because all this will cost £5 million. I take a leaf out of the book of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who reminded us of what the Conservative Party did for pensioners between 1970 and 1974. I remind the House what this Government did less than a year ago when they came to office. They gave 700 times that amount of money, £3,500 million, to people by way of tax deductions when they did not need it because it went to the £10,000, £15,000 and £20,000 a year people. They did not need it, but they got it, and why were they given it? It was to encourage them to work harder and stronger, the implication being that they were not pulling their weight before. Noble Lords on both sides of the House know that it did not have that desired effect, and I would not say for one moment that they did not earn their money.
Here, however, the Government are penalising part of the poorest section of the community, people in receipt of supplementary benefit, simply because they have capital amounting to £2,000. They are terrified to use any part of it because if they live much longer it will cost them that to get buried; one cannot get buried now for less than several hundred pounds. The Government's attitude on this matter is mean, and there must be noble Lords opposite who think it is mean, too. I do not mind taking money from those who have it, and I know noble Lords opposite who do not mind doing that. Indeed, I know that some noble Lords opposite are very unhappy about the way in which certain sections of the community who do not need help have been given it. The fact that the Government are not prepared to move in this matter puts me in the position where I must apply for the leave of the House to withdraw the amendment.
§ Baroness PHILLIPS
Before my noble friend adopts that course, may I ask the 1587 Minister a question on the practicality of this provision? Bearing in mind that people who do not comply with this rule break the law, I would again mention the man who was jailed because he did not reveal that he had savings in a building society. If one has £2,000 in a bank deposit account, one receives a certain amount of interest, If that interest is added to one's £2,000, one immediately goes over the prescribed amount. Does that mean that such a person would have to report that fact, and should not receive supplementary benefit, remembering that that state of affairs will occur at different times of the year? It seems that in terms of sheer practicality, a fixed sum will cause a great deal of paperwork.
Like my noble friend Lord Wells-Pestell, I am amazed at the philosophy of the Conservative Government on this subject because they are supposed to be encouraging people to save and be hardworking. This is the one group who, because they have saved some money, are to be told they cannot draw any benefit.
I think it a great mistake to insert a fixed figure in this sort of provision and I can envisage real difficulties for those drawing supplementary benefit. There is bound to be misunderstanding if, perhaps at certain times, they find they have more than £2,000.
§ Lord CULLEN of ASHBOURNE
With the leave of the House, my Lords, perhaps I might inform the noble Baroness that there is a fixed sum already; at present it is £1,200 and that is now going up to £2,000. Thus, we will still have a fixed sum, but a different one.
§ On Question, amendment negatived.
§ 6.27 p.m.
Lord WELLS-PESTELL moved Amendment No. 22:
Insert the following new clause:
.—(1) It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State to make arrangements for—
(2) The Department of Health and Social Services for Northern Ireland shall make copies of the publication mentioned in subsection (1) of this section available for consultation by members of the public at local offices of the Department where, in the opinion of the Department, it is reasonably practicable.")
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, we had a long and, I think, helpful debate on this matter in Committee. I raise it again because the length of the discussion was such that I wanted to study in Hansard what had been said and because the Government, in a burst of generosity, decided to consider the matter. That they have done, and I am grateful for the letter which I have received on the subject from the noble Lord, Lord Cullen of Ashbourne.
The amendment is much the same as the one we discussed on that occasion, except that I have inserted £3 instead of £1, fully conscious of the fact that that is not a realistic figure in the circumstances, and the new clause differs from that moved in Committee in certain other respects. The suggested maximum price for the publication, as I said, has been raised from £1 to £3. I realise it will be quite a bulky volume, since the regulations will be both numerous and complicated. As for the requirement to place copies in local DHSS offices for consultation, that is qualified in the new clause by the phrase,
where … it is reasonably practicable.",
§ though it is hard to accept the statement of the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, that there would be practical difficulties in doing it. I have been trying to discover, with help what those difficulties would be, but I have been rather unsuccessful.
Then there was the requirement to supply copies to tribunal members. That has been omitted because Lord Sandys gave an assurance that that was already
being done. Despite the noble Lord having given that assurance, in the letter sent to me by the noble Lord, Lord Cullen of Ashbourne, on 30th April, I was told:
In the meantime, I should like you to know that it is our firm intention that every supplementary benefit appeal tribunal member should have copies of the law relating to supplementary benefit".
§ Whether they have it now or will get it is, perhaps, beside the point; the point that was made then has obviously been taken up.
§ I am grateful for the fact—which I understood from the letter that the noble Lord, Lord Cullen of Ashbourne, sent to me—that talks are taking place involving the Secretary of State, the DHSS, and Her Majesty's Stationery Office regarding the possibility that an annual publication of the law might be available at a cheaper price—I would hope far cheaper than the Yellow Book. Obviously we want a publication at a reasonably low cost. I do not know whether the noble Lord can say whether any progress has been made, but in view of his letter I do not propose to go into this matter in greater detail, though I have come prepared to do so.
§ I should like to end on the point that I made on the last occasion. As I understand it, what a person is entitled to know will be laid down by law, and those people advising clients, such as social workers, CAB workers, and others, will need to have that information. I consider it to be of supreme importance that a suitable, informative handbook is available. I appreciate that discussions are going on between the Government and Her Majesty's Stationery Office, but I wonder whether this is a matter which the Secretary of State for Social Services could perhaps take up with one of the national voluntary organisations, or some kind of trust. Much of the literature that we have today in professional social work has in the past been financed by trusts. Going back more years than I care to think of, I recall the Charities Digest, which the old Charity Organisation Society, now the Family Welfare Association, published year after year; and I believe that it still does publish it. I do not think that there is a better Charities Digest to be found anywhere.
§ There may well be a trust which exists to undertake this kind of work. I should 1590 be happy to save the Government money if I could, and perhaps I could then direct them what to do with the money that had been saved. I am sure that there must be trusts that exist to do this kind of work. Certainly in this country there is a national organisation co-ordinating all the social services.
§ I leave the thought with the Government, because I think it of extreme importance that a document of this kind is available for people at grass roots level—I mean the ordinary social worker who every week is inundated with not just a few, but dozens of, inquires from clients and other people who come to see him. I wonder whether the noble Lord can say any more on this matter. Perhaps he will take the opportunity to say whether the Secretary of State is giving consideration to providing facilities within DHSS offices. I have heard that this possibility is being explored, and I should be grateful to know whether a suitably qualified person, able to advise claimants, is likely to be available in local offices. I beg to move.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, since we are on Report we have a particular difficulty, because in view of what the noble Lord has been saying I believe that it would in many respects have been easier to discuss some of his suggestions more happily and more readily had we been at the Committee stage. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, wishes to perform a public service, and from the Government's point of view we have listened with interest to what he has said in regard to the production of a document which would be of particular value to social workers.
Since we last discussed this matter in Committee on 22nd April, my noble friend Lord Cullen of Ashbourne has written to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, and the noble Lord has, in somewhat guarded terms, welcomed what was stated in that letter. I think that it would be for the benefit of all your Lordships if I were to explain what we are intending to do.
We accept the principle inherent in this amendment; namely, that there are arguments of convenience and cost in claimants' advisers having access to a published version of the law at as low a price 1591 as is economic. That does not mean that we could undertake, at a time of economic difficulty, to make such a volume available at low cost with the help of a subsidy; but there may be other ways of moving forward. My officials are in touch with Her Majesty's Stationery Office and are looking at the existing publication of the law—the Yellow Book, referred to already—to see whether it is feasible to produce it in the form envisaged by the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell. This might of itself enable one volume to be produced at a lower cost. We are also having regard to the increased demand which such an annual publication might stimulate. Again, this is a factor which will have a bearing on the cost at which it can be produced.
Turning to the letter which my noble friend Lord Cullen last week wrote to the noble Lord, it was there indicated that claimants would be free to check on the law in social security local offices. I hope that this assurance meets one of the points of the noble Lord's amendment. I should also mention to the noble Lord that facilities for advice points in 400 local offices are being considered. As this matter is not at a very advanced stage of discussion, I do not think that I can at present say much more about it.
I would ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment so as to allow us the maximum flexibility to pursue the matter. I am well aware that he has varied the terms of the amendment as a result of assurances given at Committee stage and in the light of the letter referred to earlier. I think it would not be desirable to incorporate in the statute the figure of £3 because it may just not be possible, with the best intentions in the world, to produce the publication at precisely that figure. Though I cannot today give the noble Lord a categorical assurance that we can meet the amendment in its entirety, I hope that I have said enough to reassure him about the Government's intentions in this matter.
I believe that the kind of volume which the noble Lord has in mind would be a highly technical, legally-based document, and therefore it would perhaps be as well if it were prepared and edited by lawyers within the department, who would be responsible for what it contains. I am 1592 aware of what the noble Lord has said, and we have noted what he has suggested in regard to the Family Welfare Association. I do not know whether this is a possible line or avenue for further discussion, but I am obliged to the noble Lord for making that suggestion.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his frankness and for dealing with this matter reasonably thoroughly. It was not my intention to take this amendment to a Division. I wanted to comment upon the letter that the noble Lord, Lord Cullen, had sent me, which I felt was very helpful indeed. I think, looking back, it is the best progress we have made so far in dealing with the Social Security Bill, No. 1. What I am hoping is that the noble Lord, or somebody on the Government Front Bench, will be able to give the House some concrete evidence of success in this matter before the Bill receives its Third Reading and passes through your Lordships' House.
I think I should like to correct only one thing. I was not meaning to give the impression that this proposal ought to be carried out by the Family Welfare Association; I was merely instancing that it was that organisation which had published this book, Charities Digest, for many years. I think the noble Baroness will be familiar with it, and will know that it is an extraordinarily valuable book. I was merely saying that it might in some way be possible to get some sort of trust which specialises in this sort of thing. I do not think they are going to do it for the Government—and one cannot altogether blame them for that—but if this was going to be a publication which was going to be made available at a reasonable charge to grassroots social workers and others who have to advise people, then I think there might be something to interest them in it.
As I say, I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said, and to the noble Lord, Lord Cullen, for his letter. I hope that both noble Lords and the noble Baroness the Minister will pursue this question with the Secretary of State, so that perhaps by the time we reach Third Reading something can be said which will show that it is very much on the stocks in theory, 1593 if not in practice. With that, I ask the leave of the House to withdraw this amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 9 [The Social Security Advisory Committee]:
§ 6.42 p.m.
Lord WELLS-PESTELL moved Amendment No. 23:
Page 14, line 27, at end insert ("and the Committee may advise the Secretary of State or the Northern Ireland Department on any question that could have been referred to it under this subsection, whether that question has been referred to it or not.").
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am aware that this amendment covers much the same ground as did Amendments Nos. 73 and 74 which I moved at the Committee stage, but I am hoping that it might be more acceptable to the Government. Its object is to remove any doubt about the powers of the advisory committee to advise on questions that have not been referred to it by the Secretary of State or, for that matter, the Northern Ireland Department. At the Committee stage the noble Lord, Lord Sandys, said—and I quote from Hansard of 22nd April, col. 669:
it would not be appropriate or practicable to give the committee as one of its major tasks the interpretation of social security law".
This amendment, if it is read carefully in relation to where it will be in the Bill, does not do that, but merely confirms that the committee may advise on changes in the law if it wishes to do so. The noble Lord, Lord Sandys, said that they would be able to do this, but, if I may say so, it is far from clear from the Bill as it stands, since Clause 9(1)(a) refers to—and I quote:
advice and assistance to the Secretary of State in connection with the discharge of his functions under the relevant enactments",
§ which presumably does not include advice on improving those enactments. It seems to me that when you are setting up a very powerful body like the advisory committee—and it will be a powerful body—it should have the opportunity laid down in the Bill to give advice to the Secretary of State or to comment on the improvement of any enactments which he may see fit to make.1594
§ The noble Lord, Lord Cullen, objected to Amendment No. 74 on the ground that it threatened the independent status of insurance officers and benefit officers. This was not its intention, and the above amendment gets round the difficulty by simply providing that the committee can take up on its own initiative questions that could have been referred to it by the Secretary of State; for example, questions relating to the operation of any of the relevant enactments. I accept that this new amendment is infinitely better than the other one. I think we ought to be able to get from the advisory committee any skill or expertise that they have which they can put forward by way of comment and observation, and that at the same time they should have power to draw the attention of the Secretary of State to any matter which they feel he ought to consider. I hope the Government feel that they can accept this amendment, because I think it is an improvement on the Bill as it stands at the present time.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, the same kind of principle as the one that the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, has been arguing for in this amendment was of course raised in the Committee proceedings in another place, and in fact arose in our Committee proceedings on the Bill in this House. I hope I can show to the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, that in fact it is not necessary to add these further words to this particular clause, because throughout the proceedings on this Bill both in another place and here in your Lordships' House the Government have stressed that the new committee will be free to decide activities which it might undertake, in addition to considering matters which will be referred to it by the Secretary of State and the Northern Ireland Department. The phrase in brackets which occurs in both Clause 9(1)(a) and Clause 9(1)(b)—and I quote—whether in pursuance of a reference under this Act or otherwise"—was inserted into this Bill in another place in response to Opposition anxiety on the scope of the new committee's powers; but the fact is that when the amendments to make these additions were moved it was made clear that the phrase is in fact declaratory in effect. It simply confirms that the new committee's 1595 duty to give "advice and assistance" is not restricted to matters which have been referred to it.
If I have understood him correctly, that is the nub of the noble Lord's argument, and is the nub of the concern of Members of your Lordships' House who are concerned that the committee can deal only with matters referred to it, and cannot have any initiative. My understanding of it is that the committee's powers to consider matters are not restricted to matters which have been referred to it; and, as I have already said, the Government believe that the committee will be free to decide the activities that it might undertake, as well as considering these other matters that are to be referred to it. It follows, therefore, that the absence of a similar phrase in Clause 9(1)(c) is in no way significant. There is more than ample confirmation of the new committee's powers of initiative in subsections (1)(a) and (1)(b). I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will see that we are in fact meeting precisely the point that he wishes to be met in this clause, and will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, having listened to the noble Baroness the Minister, I feel that I have been given certain assurances which I do not think were given on the previous occasion. I think we now have it quite clearly set down what the position is; I accept that, and it goes some way to meeting my amendment. In the circumstances, I beg the leave of the House to withdraw my amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Baroness YOUNG
My Lords, I wonder whether this might be a convenient moment to break for dinner. I believe that there is quite a lot of discussion to come on further amendments, and it might be more convenient to break now than to start another amendment.
§ Lord WELLS-PESTELL
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for proposing what I was about to propose. On the next amendment, No. 24, I regret 1596 to say that I shall be a long time. I could not do it by seven o'clock. Perhaps the House would like to get fortified for the occasion.