FAMILY ALLOWANCES AND NATIONAL INSURANCE BILL
Again considered in Committee.
New Clause.—(Increase of basic pension of certain widows.)
A widow's basic pension to which a woman has become or becomes entitled by virtue of paragraph (2) of regulation 7 of the National Insurance (Pensions, Existing Beneficiaries and other persons) (Transitional) Regulations 1948 (which paragraph confers a right to pension on widows who had a prospective right to a widow's pension under the Fourth Schedule to the Contributory Pensions Act of 1936) shall be at the rate of 30s. a week instead of at the rate of 10s. prescribed by paragraph (2) of Regulation 9 of the said Regulations.—[Mr. Mitchison.],
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
This is a matter about which we know, or ought to know, and in the absence of the Prime Minister I assume that we do know. It is the 10s. widow. The 10s. widow is the widow of someone who had accrued rights under the Contributory Pensions Act, 1936. She had a right to a widow's pension when she reached it. She was given a pension of 10s. in certain circumstances into which I need not go now because she had that vested right, and for no other reason. There she is. There are many of her. She has had this now, one way or the other, ever since the 1946 Act was introduced, and I am not here to discuss whether she is an anomaly or not. There was a perfectly good defence for what was done. It was rightly done. [column 658]
However that may be, the question raised by the Clause is this: she has been given 10s. She was held by Parliament, and has been held by the country, to be entitled to that 10s. When it was awarded it was worth a great deal more than it is now, and all that we propose to do is to give her something like the equivalent of what that 10s. was worth when it was awarded.
This jungle of National Insurance is peopled by anomalies—and a nasty lot they are. It is a jungle haunted by widows, and one of the most aggressive is the 10s. widow. She has a sister—the 20s. widow, who comes under the Industrial Injuries Act. She has had the compliment, at any rate, of being referred to the Industrial Injuries Advisory Committee for an opinion, and presumably for some action, but the 10s. widow has had nothing, and it is about time she was given something like the real value of what she was intended to have.
This is the simplest possible question and I hope that the Committee will allow us to test it in the Lobby as quickly as possible. I know what the Government will do. They do not give a penny. That jungle is thick with stinking pinchwort.
The hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) said that the 10s. widow has been aggressive. I do not agree, although I agree with the rest of his speech. But she has not been at all aggressive. I would remind my right hon. Friend that some hours ago he said that we were not trying to compensate widows for the loss of their husbands, because that could not be done; we were trying to make up to them something of their earning power, to enable them to look after themselves for the rest of their lives. No one in his senses would suggest that this 10s., given under the residual powers of the 1936 Act, helps to any great extent in making up for a widow's loss of earnings as a result of her husband's death. [column 659]
Secondly, if it was right when the 10s. was given—whether purely gratuitously or legally, under the Act—it is right that we should make the figure commensurate with the present-day cost of living, whether it be 30s., or more or less. I feel very strongly about this matter, as the hon. and learned Member does. This is not the first time that I have raised it. I know most of the arguments that are produced in reply, from the days when my right hon. Friend's predecessor was in office, but I do not think that we should give up the fight. If not now, then one day we should do something about it. At any rate, we should tell the 10s. widows that their cause is not forgotten by many of us.
As hon. Members know most of the arguments, I will not detain the Committee by repeating them. I merely point out that the vast majority of the 10s. pensions now in payment have come into payment since 1948. They are still coming into payment this week, and they will go on coming into payment for the next 20 years or so, although the scheme under which they were [column 660]payable ceased on 5th July, 1948. That scheme set out to compensate widowhood, of itself, and to pay a pension of 10s. because a person was widowed, whether she was 21, 25 or any other age. It was replaced by another scheme which had a different concept.
Nevertheless, although the old scheme has ceased, new pensions are still coming into payment. They are an anachronism, and the right comparison is between the 10s. widow and her modern sister, who would get nothing under similar circumstances after 13 weeks' benefit. The Clause would cost roughtly £7 million. I hope that the Committee will reject it.
All I say is that if these widows became entitled to 10s. under the Act of 1946 they should get 30s. now, and I invite my hon. and right hon. Friends to support that argument in the Lobby.
Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:—
The Committee divided: Ayes 103. Noes 148.