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1964 Jan 30 Th
Margaret Thatcher

HC Committee [Family Allowances and National Insurance Bill]

Document type:public statement
Document kind:House of Commons Committee
Venue:House of Commons
Source:Hansard HC [687/544-554]
Journalist:-
Editorial comments:MT spoke at cc547-53, 1600-1615. For fuller understanding the whole of the brief debate on this amendment has been included.
Importance ranking:Minor
Word count:3408
Themes:Social security and welfare, Family
544

Clause 1.—(Extension of allowances, benefits and grants by increase of age limits from 18 to 19.)

Miss Margaret Herbison(Lanarkshire, North

I beg to move, in page 1, line 5, to leave out from beginning to the second "the".

The Chairman

I think that it will be convenient to discuss with this Amendment the Amendments in page 1, line 11, leave out from "apprentice)" to end of line 12 and insert:

"the words ‘before he or she attains the age of eighteen years’ were omitted".

545in page 2, line 1, leave out from "her)" to end of line 2 and insert:

"there shall be omitted the words ‘is under the age of eighteen years and’",

and in page 2, line 5, leave out from "eighteen)" to end of line 6 and insert:

"there shall be omitted the words ‘was under the age of eighteen years and’".

Miss Herbison

Since all the Amendments hang together, it is much better that they should be taken together, Sir William.

This matter was raised on Second Reading by members not only of the Opposition Front Bench but of the Opposition back benches. A number of my hon. Friends have had correspondence with the Minister about it. As a result of that correspondence, together with, perhaps, pressure from both sides of the Committee, the Government decided to raise the age in question from 18 to 19 years. These Amendments, if accepted, would do away with the age limit altogether and would make dependency, and not age, the criterion.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary replied to the points made on Second Reading when she wound up the debate. I listened very carefully to what she said. Since then, I have read the Official Report to see what she said. All that the hon. Lady was able to bring forward was a long rigmarole about all the anomalies which would be created if our request were granted.

I wish to take up one of the first things which the hon. Lady said. She gave a number of examples by which she tried to prove that some people would get this money when they were not in need of it. But family allowances are paid generally without a means test being carried out. If the hon. Lady were to follow her argument to its logical conclusion, that conclusion would have to be that family allowances were paid throughout on a means test basis. I understand that the Government do not accept that, and we on this side certainly do not accept it. I therefore think that the hon. Lady's first argument was completely "phoney".

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary pointed out on Second Reading that perhaps it would be better if young people 546over 19 years of age came under a discretionary system. Yet she said:

"The discretionary system often benefits people far more than a rigid insurance system. Where there is a discretion, often those people whose need is greatest get far more than they do under a rigid insurance system. But local authorities vary enormously one from another ... the standard of help given to the widow or the person with a dependent child at college varies very much. We therefore thought fit to deal with the bulk of the cases now by increasing the age limit from 18 to 19."—[Official Report, 22nd January, 1964; Vol. 687, c. 1192.]

That statement backs up the case for the Amendment. What, in effect, the hon. Lady said was that during the period between 18 and 19 years of age—the present age limit is 18; the new one will be 19—local authorities have discretion to help, but, because their help varies so greatly, the Government have decided that, even though it may cause difficulties to raise the age to 19, they are going to raise it. If this applies to 19 years of age, it applies just as much to any age of dependency while a young person is being educated. I think that that demolishes another of the hon. Lady's arguments.

In another part of her speech the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said:

"If we were not to make that period end at a specified age but dependent upon the end of education, we think that it would put an almost intolerable burden on the child, who would be under very great pressure to continue education, regardless of whether he was a suitable subject or not, in order to qualify his mother for widow's benefit if the age of 50 was reached by the mother during the critical time."—[Official Report, 22nd January, 1964; Vol. 687, c. 1190.]

It would not be the mothers putting an intolerable burden on the child. There would be, and always is, an intolerable burden on these children.

Is it not a sad reflection on our present legislation that the question whether a person should carry on as a student until 20 years of age should be affected by whether or not his mother would continue to obtain her pension, which at present is £3 7s. 6d. What the hon. Lady is saying is that if the age were raised from 19 to 20 years, in the example which I am giving, whether or not a child were capable of benefiting from the education, the mother might insist on the child continuing in full-time education so that she would reach the 547age of 50 during that time and continue to receive her £3 7s. 6d.

Should not the Government approach the matter from another angle? Should not they have realised long before this that it is an intolerable burden on any woman to realise that, having reached the age of 49 years and 6 months and after caring for a family, and because her last child leaves full-time education, she will lose her £3 7s. 6d. and may get only 10s. a week or nothing at all? If the Government had given as much thought to that aspect of the problem as they have to the question of the anomalies which might arise if we made the criterion dependence and not age, we should not be discussing the problem of the woman who might reach the age of 50 while her child continued his education between the ages of 19 and 20, or 19 and 21, or 19 and 22. I ask the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to give serious thought to this.

I emphasise that it was the present Government which changed the age from 40 to 50 years. In the meantime, many widowed mothers have suffered very greatly. Many of them have missed by a year, a month, a week or even a day obtaining a pension which we on this side feel they should have had. All the reasons given by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary are reasons of expediency and not of principle at all. I ask her and the Minister to have second thoughts on this matter. I ask the hon. Lady to bend her thoughts to this matter and to accept the Amendment. If she finds that impossible, I ask her to give the reasons why it is impossible, but I hope that we shall not hear arguments about the difficulty of administration or the kind of "phoney" reasons which we were given on Second Reading.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

I will try to deal as quickly as I can with the arguments raised by the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison), but I should point out that what she expresses to be her intention is very different from what her Amendments would achieve.

Perhaps I may deal with the question a little more generally than the hon. 548Lady did in the context of what her Amendments would do. The whole legislation which the Amendments would change is basically legislation to deal with children, it is drafted to deal with children and it has been interpreted as dealing with children in their middle to late teens. It is all relevant to that context.

The Amendment moved by the hon. Lady would alter the definition of a child. It would leave out the limit prescribed within the family allowances regulations so that the definition of a child would become

"A person shall be treated for the purposes of this Act as a child during any period while he or she is undergoing full-time instruction in school or is an apprentice."

That depends, therefore, upon what is a school in this context and how the phrase full-time instruction is interpreted.

"School" is defined widely to include

"instruction not only in a school in the ordinary sense of the word, but also in a university, college, establishment for further education or other educational establishment as defined or within the meaning of the Education Act."

The regulations also allow any other establishment to be treated as a school for the purposes of the Act

"if in the opinion of the Minister it should be treated as an establishment similar to one of those specified."

Partly because the legislations is dealing in the context of children, a number of other establishments have been specified as schools, including commercial schools, comptometer and other calculating machine schools, dancing, dramatic, speech training and music schools, schools of hairdressing, riding schools, sea training schools, Outward Bound schools and schools run by the National Institute of Houseworkers. They have all been recognised because under the existing legislation, an age limit is prescribed within the Act which limits that Act to children of the age group that I have tried to describe as "middle to late teens".

A child is a person who is undergoing full-time instruction in any one of those establishments. Full-time instruction is also generously interpreted. As a general rule, it means receiving during a week about 20 hours' instruction before five o'clock in a class. Therefore, according to the hon. Lady's definition, anyone 549receiving full-time instruction in any of those establishments is a child and would qualify, therefore, for dependency increases on either unemployment, sickness or widowed mother's benefit.

I notice that the hon. Lady does not intend such people to qualify for family allowances, although I was not certain whether she was trying to have a different rule for family allowances and National Insurance merely to get the Amendment in order, or whether she intended to have a different rule.

Mr. G. R. Mitchison(Kettering)

I had some responsibility for drafting the Amendment. If I may satisfy the hon. Lady's curiosity, the reason why family allowances have been left out is that they are paid out of public funds and we should, therefore, be out of order in attempting to put forward an Amendment. We sometimes hope that the Government will be consistent.

Mrs. Thatcher

I was hoping that the hon. and learned Member would be consistent. He has now explained his inconsistency in his Amendments concerning family allowances.

The new definition would, therefore, apply to those taking a second or third degree at university—a research degree after an ordinary degree—even while they were receiving a grant or bursary which would normally make them independent because they were at a school—that is, a university—receiving full-time instruction of 20 hours a week. They might also be doing demonstrating. I remember that when taking my first science degree, many people in that category did demonstration work in the vacation, but they would still be children for the purposes of the Acts with which we are concerned.

If the hon. and learned Member intends to include family allowances in these provisions, the application of his Amendment to family allowances would mean that a student or graduate might well be married, have children of his own and get family allowances, and yet, because for the purposes of the hon. Lady's definition he was still a child, he might qualify his own parents to receive family allowances in respect of him.

I hope that the hon. Lady will appreciate the significance of the point which I made at the outset. This whole 550legislation is drafted in respect and in the context of children and late teen-agers, with the expectation that there will be a limit to these things and that that limit will come in the age limit and not merely in the description of schools.

I turn now to the provisions concerning widowed mothers, with which one of the Amendments is concerned. A widowed mother's allowance may continue in respect of her child for two reasons. One is that the child is still residing with her up to the age—in the Bill—of 19. The child might, in fact, be earning and independent, but because she still resides with the mother she continues to qualify her mother for the widowed mother's allowance.

If we removed the age limit, as the hon. Lady's Amendment would do, any widowed mother who had a son or daughter residing with her would continue to get widowed mother's personal allowance, with its advantageous earnings rule, so long as the child was with her; and a child is not defined except by relation to the ordinary family allowances provision. Thus, in the case of a mother with a single daughter who never gets married, if the child continued to reside with her mother even though she was 30 or 40 years of age, she would still qualify her mother for a widowed mother's allowance.

The other limb of the widowed mother's benefit when she has children living with her is that she still continues to receive it so long as the child is at an educational establishment and is not older than 19. These two provisions march together. At the moment, therefore, the course of the child's education is unlikely to affect the widowed mother's benefit position, because the mother will get it so long as the child is residing with her whether or not she is continuing her education.

Under the hon. Lady's Amendment, there would be no limit to the residence condition, and this, of course, has nothing whatever to do with the test given by the hon. Lady of education and dependency. So long as the son or daughter was residing with the mother, even though they got married and brought husbands or wives home to live with them, they would qualify their mother for widowed mother's allowance. 551

Even when the education has ceased, if the child has come home he or she will still continue to qualify the mother for the widowed mother's allowance. If the hon. Lady states that she did not intend this residence provision to continue indefinitely, the other factor becomes important. As the hon. Lady knows, the important factor is whether the mother is 50 years of age when the son or daughter reaches 19. The hon. Lady made some comments about this, but they are more relevant to a later Amendment.

Clearly, we will get one or two tricky circumstances if there is no age limit. At the moment——

Miss Herbison

The hon. Lady has said that I made reference to that, but that it applies to another Amendment. It applies also in this case, because I was taking up the points that the hon. Lady has made in resisting the criterion of dependency.

Mrs. Thatcher

On the assumption that the same provisions would qualify for a widowed mother's benefit and the age limit of 50 would stay. Without an age limit on the child, we should come to a very tricky moment.

For example, if the mother were to become 50 within a few months of the child reaching 19 and the child wanted to cease its education and go out to earn a living—a girl might have come to the end of a secretarial course—the mother might say, "If you go on for another six months, I shall be 50, and, therefore, become entitled to benefit between the age of 50 and 60", which would amount to very nearly £2,000. That is the amount that would be at stake.

Bearing in mind the list I have given of establishments ranking as schools, it would be very tempting for the mother, or for the child, to say, "Shall I go back for another six months, or perhaps take a language course?" The Act would be open to a good deal of manipulation. We think that it would be better to recognise the context in which these provisions were drafted, which is for children, keep the age limit of 19, and deal with it by the Anderson grants. The grants to which I referred on the 552last occasion as being discretionary were the grants which applied to secondary school education. These vary a great deal between one local authority and another.

As soon as a person comes into a slightly higher age group qualifying for grant to go to university or college at the higher education grant, the system of Anderson grants is uniform throughout the country. As the hon. Lady probably knows a maximum grant of £300 for maintenance over and above tuition is awarded in those circumstances and there is provision for supplementation to the person who has to go home during the vacation and cannot expect to be supported by a mother or father.

We think that to remove the age limit would make nonsense of the residential qualification for widowed mothers' allowance and also make nonsense of the family allowance provision, if the intention were to apply the age limit to that as well. We think, therefore, that the Bill as it is, without the Amendment, would be better—to extent the limit to the age of 19, which will deal with the bulk of the cases. When the limit was fixed at 18 in 1956 there were 19,500 children aged 18 or over still at school in Great Britain. In 1962, the figure was 31,500, so more children are staying on later.

We think that the increase to 19 will still preserve the essence of the Family Allowances Act as providing for children and will deal with the majority of the cases. Over and above those cases, the matter is better dealt with by reference to the Anderson grant system. I hope, therefore, that the Committee will reject the Amendment.

Mr. Mitchison

To what extent will this depend on the definition of the school, that is to say, the Order which the hon. Lady read out, including a number of establishments as schools? She will realise that that Order was made by the Minister, it could be revoked and a more appropriate Order substituted if that were required. There is really no point in the terms of that Order, and I should like to know how far it comes into these figures.

Mrs. Thatcher

The definition of schools which I gave referred only to schools for family allowance purposes. 553That is an extended definition of establishments similar to schools. The figures that I have given of children staying on relate to secondary schools in the ordinary meaning of the words. The hon. and learned Gentleman has emphasised my point that because the Act applied to children we have tried to be generous all along, in every one of these interpretations, and the basis is that it is not suitable for extending the right into the ordinary period of adulthood.

Miss Herbison

The reply which we have received from the hon. Lady deals, first, with the Amendments on the Notice Paper. It is true that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) is very good at working out Amendments, but neither he nor I would ever claim that we are as fortunate as the hon. Lady in having the staff of the Ministry beside her to help her.

The hon. Lady and the Minister are very well aware what we want by our Amendment. When the hon. Lady comes to the second part of her case and leaves the technicalities of the Amendment, she shows very clearly that what we want the Government at this stage are not prepared to give.

I want to refer to a letter which came from the hon. Lady to one of my hon. Friends, when he was asking to have the age raised above 18, merely, I think, at that time, to 19. The hon. Lady, in her letter of 19th July, 1963, wrote these words:

"Age 18 was adopted because it was the highest practical point that could be fitted into the national insurance and family allowances schemes and it has not so far proved possible to improve upon it. There has to be a point at which childhood comes to an 554end for these purposes and it could not be taken beyond the age 18 without far-reaching consequences in the structure and administration of both schemes."

The Government, a few months after the hon. Lady sent that letter to my hon. Friend, discovered that they could overcome the consequences, both structural and administrative, in order to raise the limit from 18 to 19 years of age. We on this side of the Committee feel that the difficulties which were inherent in raising it from 18 to 19 could just as easily be overcome in changing it to dependency.

I would again make the plea to the Minister to have another look at this. Of course, no one on this side of the Committee wants the position which the hon. Lady says would result if this Amendment were accepted, of a widowed mother in those circumstances continuing to receive a pension for the rest of her life. What we want from the Minister is an answer to the point that we are making about making these people really dependent, that the age should go up to about 22 on full-time education and that those taking perhaps a primary degree should be covered by this scheme.

If the Government had the will to do so they themselves could find the right form of words. It could not be done at this stage, but they could put down appropriate Amendments in another place. Unless we get an assurance that they will do so, we shall have to vote on these Amendments as they are on the Notice Paper.

Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 191, Noes 159.