HL Deb 09 July 1984 vol 454 cc560-1

2.40 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that recently widowed pregnant women are unable to claim maternity allowance.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Lord Glenarthur)

My Lords, a woman may draw a widow's allowance during the first 26 weeks of widowhood, followed by a widowed mother's allowance if she is pregnant by her late husband. She is not prevented from claiming maternity allowance, but only the amount of the more favourable benefit for which she qualifies is paid. In this case, it would normally be the widow's benefit.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, I thank the noble Minister for his reply. May I ask whether he agrees with me that the people who are mentioned in this particular Question about the maternity allowance are very few? These people are young women who have not had their first baby but are pregnant and whose husbands have been killed or who have died from other causes. Would he agree with me that no woman under 40 is able to claim a widow's pension and that no woman who is pregnant with her first baby is able to claim maternity allowance until the baby is born?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords. I certainly agree with my noble friend that only a very small number of people fall into this particular group. As my noble friend will know, this is a contributory benefit as opposed to a non-contributory one. I have some sympathy with the view which my noble friend expresses. But as she is aware, a review is being undertaken at the moment by the department (details of which were announced by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary for Social Security on 18th May) which will encompass the maternity benefits and payments administered by the department and the maternity pay scheme administered by the Department of Employment. It will examine the scope for simplified administration and for making more effective use of the present resources. I am sure that my honourable friend will wish the review to consider the suggestion of the eligibility of widowed mothers for overlapping benefits, which I think is what my noble friend is looking for.

Baroness Gaitskell

My Lords, may I support my noble friend in her most sympathetic Question? To be widowed, to lose one's husband, is a very terrible experience.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I entirely share the views which the noble Baroness expresses. That is why the review has been set up to look into this problem.

Barones Jeger

My Lords, I appreciate that this whole question is to be reviewed, and I am sure that the whole House welcomes that. However, can the noble Lord make it clear whether an expectant mother whose husband dies during her pregnancy is disadvantaged as compared with a woman happily not so bereaved? Is she disadvantaged compared with an unmarried, single mother so far as this benefit is concerned? Can the noble Lord assure the House that the union disputes at Newcastle are not causing any delay in the payment of benefits in these cases?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, regarding the last part of the supplementary question, I am not sure of the answer, but I will check and let the noble Baroness know. I know the dispute is affecting certain things but I do not know if it is particularly affecting those we are discussing. So far as the comparative rates are concerned, I do not think it would necessarily be right for me to give a table of the rates now, but I can certainly let the noble Baroness have them. However, the point is that it has always been the rule of our rather comprehensive social security system that there should not be two payments of benefit for the same purpose. The point that we are essentially talking about here is the beneficiary's maintenance. Where a person qualifies for two national insurance benefits such as widow's benefit and maternity allowance, both of which are intended for that maintenance, only the amount of the higher benefit is paid.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, as president of the National Association of Widows, may I thank my noble friend for his sympathetic answers today? May I also ask whether he would take a message back to his right honourable friend to ensure, as I think he said he would, that this particular very small group of women should be considered in the future?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I will certainly ask my right honourable friend to look into this matter. I am sure that he will read the exchanges. I am well aware of my noble friend's work for the National Association of Widows, and I am sure that he will bear all that in mind.