Speeches, etc.

Margaret Thatcher

HC Committee [National Insurance Bill] (Dean Amendment)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: House of Commons
Source: Hansard HC [703/787-830]
Editorial comments: MT intervened at c803, c1810; she spoke at cc808-14, c1815-30 and intervened again at c819, c1855 and c826, c1920. For easier understanding the whole debate on the amendment is included.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 15005
Themes: Social security & welfare, Women

Mr. Paul Dean (Somerset, North)

I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 6, at the end to insert:

Provided that in section 17(1)(c) of the Insurance Act for the word “fifty” there shall be substituted the word “forty-five” .

The Temporary Chairman (Sir Leslie Thomas)

I think that together with this Amendment it would be convenient for the Committee to discuss Amendment No. 3 in page 2, line 6, at end insert:

(4) Section 2(5) of the Family Allowances and National Insurance Act 1956, which amends section 18(1)(a) of the Insurance Act to provide that a widow who ceases to be entitled to a widowed mother's allowance shall not have a right to a widow's pension unless at the time when the entitlement ceases she is over the age of fifty, shall have effect as if for the word “fifty” there were substituted the word “forty-five” .

Amendment No. 7. in line 39, leave out “subsection (1) or (3)” and insert “subsections (1), (3), or (4)” .

Amendment No. 17, in Schedule 5, page 16, line 9, at end insert:

15. In section 17(1)(c) for the word “fifty” there shall be substituted the word “forty-five” .
[column 788]

Amendment No. 18, in page 17, line 12, at end insert:

The Family Allowances and National Insurance Act 1956 (4 & 5 Eliz. 2. c. 50)

20. In section 2(5), for the word “fifty” there shall be substituted the word “forty-five” .

Mr. Dean

The object of this and the other Amendments is to reduce the age at which widows qualify for a permanent pension from the present age of 50 to 45. May I, first, remind the Committee of the position as it is at the moment? Widows without dependent children qualify for a permanent pension if they are widowed before the age of 50, dating from the 1946 Act, and the same applies to the widowed mother if none of her children is still dependent when she reaches the age of 50.

That dates from the Family Allowances and National Insurance Act, 1956, which was based on a previous Report by the National Insurance Advisory Committee. Before that Act, the age in the case of the widowed mother was 40. The 1956 Act was, I believe, generally [column 789]acknowledged as providing a substantial improvement in the provisions for the widowed mother—a substantial increase in the benefits for her and the children, what we call the “flying start” , with regard to cover for sickness, for unemployment, the entitlement to a widowed mother's allowances for children up to the age of 18 instead of the previous age of 16 and the reduction of the qualifying period of marriage from 10 years to three years.

I think that the party opposite acknowledged at the time that this was a very substantial improvement in the cover for the widowed mother, but hon. Members opposite did have reservations about the fixing of the age of 50 in the case of the widowed mother for a permanent pension. I remember the right hon. Lady the Minister, saying at that time that she felt that the age of 50 was too high, that it should be 45 or even lower. She then went on to refer to the possibility of having a sliding scale for widows' benefits.

In view of this, and of the Amendment which the party opposite moved at the time to reduce the age to 45, I am very hopeful of a sympathetic reception for this proposal from them this afternoon. I believe that there are now arguments for believing that the age of 50 is too high. There are, I believe, four main reasons for this.

The first is that a woman who finds herself widowed, say at the age of 49, or whose children just cease to be dependent at that age, very often finds it extremely difficult to get a job. Although the “flying start” is of help to her, the unemployment provision only lasts for a period of 19 months. We all know, on both sides of the Committee, of cases where there is a real difficulty for widows of the age of which I am speaking. Even if a widow at this age succeeds in getting employment, she has to readjust herself, after perhaps a substantial number of years during which she has been caring for the home and for her family.

The third reason—and I believe that this is an immensely important one when we are dealing with an essentially human scheme like the National Insurance Scheme—is that there is a real sense of injustice on the part of these widows when they compare themselves with the [column 790]pensioned widow who may be living next door. They naturally ask themselves why they should get no pension and should have to go on paying contributions until they are 60, whereas another widow who may be in similar circumstances is getting a pension. The disparity under this Clause will be even greater between the two, because, in future, the widow who is getting a pension will no longer be subject to an earnings rule. So, in this respect, the sense of injustice will be increased.

There is one further reason which, I believe, strengthens the case for a change now in the age and that is that women are marrying younger. The only age group in which the proportion of women marrying actually rose between 1956 and 1961, the last year for which I could find figures, was the under-20 group. In every other age group the number was declining. We all know this to be true. Women are marrying younger and the Government Actuary's Report on the last quin-quennial review estimates that the marriage rate of the age 20 or under group will be no less than 20 per cent. greater in 1973 than it is today.

It is also interesting that it is noted in this same Report that not only are women marrying younger, but they are having their families earlier. As a consequence of this, it follows that there will be a growing number of women whose children will be grown up before they themselves reach the age of 50. We all know of the phenomenon, these days, of the glamorous grandmother. Unfortunately, many of these women will be widowed. They will be faced with the prospect of trying to get a job and of going on paying contributions until they reach the age of 60.

These, I believe, are strong arguments for reducing the qualifying age for the permanent pension to the widowed mother. I believe that we should do the same for all widows, because the principle established in the 1956 Act of a uniform age for the permanent pensions for the widow was a sound one. I know I shall be told by the right hon. Lady that I am merely creating more anomalies. It is perfectly true that the woman who becomes widowed at the age of 44 years and 11 months or whose youngest child is then grown up, will feel the same sense of grievance as many feel at the age of 50 at the moment. [column 791]

Wherever one draws a hard line like this, those who are on the wrong side of the line will feel a sense of grievance. If the arguments which I have put forward up to now carry any weight, it is at any rate something to reduce the number of widows who will be on the wrong side of the line, the older ones who will find these problems much greater than the younger ones.

Another thing which I have no doubt that the right hon. Lady or the Parliamentary Secretary will say, and which we have already heard in a number of speeches opposite, is, “Why not wait until the review?” My answer to that is that the right hon. Lady herself has not waited in dealing with the Bill. She is, after all, proposing to abolish the earnings rule for widows and to increase the 10s. pension to 30s., thereby creating additional anomalies within the widows' benefit arrangements. If this can be done in these two cases, surely there is no justification for saying that one should wait for the review in this case.

I regard this as very much a holding operation to help an important group of older widows who have a sense of injustice, which will be increased by this Bill and particularly by the abolition of the earnings rule for the widow next door, who is getting a permanent pension as well. I believe that the sooner we can rethink widows' benefits and the jungle of anomalies that there are within them, the better. Both sides of the Committee are committed to doing this.

The sooner we can help more effectively those who have suffered the great loss of their husbands, the better, but until these new proposals are ready to be put into operation, surely we can do something now by reducing the age qualification for the widowed mother and the other widows.

Miss Herbison

As the hon. Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) has said, these five Amendments are aimed at substituting an age condition of 45 for the present age condition of 50, both for the widow's pension and for the transition from the widowed mother's allowance to the widow's pension. The hon. Member made reference to some remarks which I made in 1956, when the previous [column 792]Administration decided to raise the age from 40 to 50 for the transition from the widowed mother's allowance to a pension, or to no pension. The remark that I made at that time I still adhere to today.

The case made by the hon. Member for Somerset, North backs up the case which we made against the change which were made by the Government in 1956. The first reason given by the hon. Gentleman was that a widow approaching the age of 50 finds it difficult to get a job, and that is very true. In 1956, a widow of the same age also found it difficult to get a job. His second point was that a widow close to 50 years of age found it difficult to readjust herself to a new way of life after spending many years at home caring for her family. That also obtained in 1956.

The hon. Member compared a widow receiving no pension with a widow who was obtaining a pension. I must remind him that that situation was the same in 1956. He argued that women are marrying younger and having children earlier. He made the point that children are no longer dependent on their mother and are often over 19 years of age before the mother reaches the age of 50, which means that a greater number of women are being denied a pension.

If we look at the figures we find that had the change not been made in 1956, the number of widows who would be receiving today a pension of £3 7s. 6d., or at 29th March of next year £4, is 10,000. As a result of the action of the Tory Government in 1956 they are receiving either nothing or 10s. I am glad that the hon. Member brought out all these difficulties of which we have been aware for so long.

Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee would, I think, be critical of the present age limit, and we have been critical for a very long time. They would, I think, agree that the most severe criticism may be directed against the all or nothing nature of the present provision. The hon. Member for Somerset, North drew attention to the fact that there might be a great difference in the situation of two widows who were neighbours. Were the Amendment accepted this difference would still remain and there would still exist a grave sense of injustice. It is possible today for there [column 793]to be a widow, in receipt of a full pension of £3 7s. 6d., with a neighbour whose circumstances are exactly the same, the only difference being that she may be a few days younger and is, therefore, not entitled to a pension at all. That is the cause of the severe criticisms directed against the present arrangements. If the Amendment which has been moved and those which are being discussed with it are accepted there would still be this same ground for that severe criticism.

The hon. Member for Somerset, North said that their acceptance would reduce the number of widows on the wrong side of the line. It would still leave a large number with a very great sense of injustice. The hon. Gentleman observed that I might suggest that we should wait before doing anything until we have the review and he said that the very fact that the 10s. pension had been raised to 30s. had made a great difference. But it has not. In the Bill we are increasing the £3 7s. 6d. pension to £4. By regulations we proposed to increase the 10s. pension to 30s. This is to take care of the loss of value of the 10s. between 1948 and today. What we have done for the 10s. widow is completely in line with all the other matters contained in the provisions of the Bill.

Mr. Dean

I was referring to the anomaly between the 10s. or 30s. widow and the no-shilling widow.

Miss Herbison

What we are doing will not make the position any worse and there is no reason for the hon. Gentleman to suggest that we should accept these Amendments and not wait until the review.

I have tried to show that the increase from 10s. to 30s. is in line with the increases we are making by virtue of the other provisions in the Bill in all the other National Insurance benefits, sickness benefit and retirement pensions, and also in the industrial injuries benefits. On a number of occasions in the last few weeks I have tried to make clear that the age condition and the other provisions relating to benefits for widows are among what I consider to be the more important matters which we have to examine in the course of the review of social security provisions. The review will have to cover many matters, including the position of the existing widow who has failed to qualify [column 794]under the present conditions. I remind the Committee that these widows number 10,000 more than would have been the case had the action taken in 1956 not been taken.

Another matter which will be given serious consideration is the substitution of a sliding scale of widows' benefits in place of the all or nothing condition. I am sure that in these modern times that is the only way to get rid of the grave injustice which exists at present.

Mr. Charles Curran (Uxbridge)

When this review takes place, will it be possible for outside organisations to give evidence, such as the National Council of Women?

Miss Herbison

Certainly. Then the review takes place, we shall be delighted to receive evidence from all those who are interested in these matters.

Another matter to which we must give consideration is the way in which widows should be treated in relation to their contribution liability and the conditions on which they may qualify for National Insurance benefits. I am sure hon. Members will agree that these are all matters of great importance and they must also agree that they are highly complicated problems. We wish to examine those problems and try to find acceptable solutions. I suggest again to the Committee that it would be prejudicial to the working out of a sensible and practicable approach to these matters if we made in isolation the one change proposed in these Amendments.

I hope that hon. Members will agree with the points which I have made and that these Amendments will be withdrawn, so that the matter may be left until the review does the job which so much needs to be done.

Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)

I have listened to the right hon. Lady with bewilderment. I never mind criticism of my own party. We made a tremendous amount of progress during our term of office, but I have heard her say repeatedly that this and that happened in 1956. Of course it happened in 1956, but my recollection is that the party opposite said that it was looking to the future and not to the past. Am I to understand that all that idealism of quick [column 795]action to deal with all these anomalies has now flown out of the window——

Mr. Bernard Taylor

Before the hon. Lady leaves that point——

Dame Irene Ward

I have not left it.

Mr. Taylor

The hon. Lady was referring to the progress of the Conservative Administration. Did she call it progress when the age for the widowed mother was raised from 40 years to 50?

Dame Irene Ward

I will not be distracted—[Laughter.] It is no good everyone just shrieking with laughter. This may be very funny to hon. Members opposite, but not to the widows. It might be wiser if I were allowed to make my speech, though I am used to dealing with opposition from thousands, and I shall not be put off by a few hon. Members sitting on the Government benches.

I fully understand—and here I gladly reinforce what the Minister has said—that to deal with the whole range of provision for widows is a very complicated and difficult matter, but when she says that we were in power for 13 years my reply is that she and her right hon. and hon. Friends had 13 years in which to prepare their scheme against the time when they were elected to power. Certain matters can be dealt with while one is in opposition.

We were certainly led to believe during the General Election that all these plans were ready to be put into operation. Of course, it has not passed unnoticed that the whole idea of dealing with National Insurance matters has undergone a complete transformation since the Socialist Party took office, and discovered how impracticable some of its suggestions were. The country is deeply interested in these domestic matters, and the complete reversal of policy has been noticed.

It is extremely important to find out from the Minister the extent of the review. The right hon. Lady has just told my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran) that she and her Department would be delighted to receive representations, but will the evidence given to the review be published? That sort of review would be in line with what the Conservative Party promised, and would do much to reassure both sides of the Committee. As it is, all we hear is [column 796]a reference to “when the review take place” .

Is it to be an inter-departmental review or is it to be a departmental review. Does the right hon. Lady think that women's organisations will be satisfied with permission to send in their recommendations without the right to be heard in public? Nor will those who feel that there should be a really national public review be satisfied with a department review. Before we go any further with the Bill and the Amendments, I want to know exactly what the Minister has in mind about the review.

The right hon. Lady said a lot about the 10s. widow's pension being put up to 30s. She said that it was to make up for the increase in the cost of living and the fall in the value of the 10s. but what she failed to point out was that those widows who are to receive 30s. will have money to pay for their stamp in full, while the widows who do not get any money at all have to find the cost of the stamp out of the own resources. That is a very important point.

I say quite frankly that I did not agree with my own Government on the age question—I have always been outspoken, and I shall continue to be so—but I must point out that in heavy industry areas such as those represented by the Minister and by myself, it is very difficult for women to find employment even at a younger age, but that for those who are widowed and have to try to return to work, the employment available is very small indeed.

My spirits rose when I thought that at least some of the things for which I have battled ever since I have sat in the House of Commons were to be achieved for widows. Had that been the case, I would have been quite willing to have given honour where honour was due—to the right hon. Lady and to her Government—but I find that all my ideas in that respect have gone by the board. Of course, I never really thought that the Socialist Party would implement its pledges.

The right hon. Lady spoke about the inadequacy of the machine that she inherited, but does she realise that the whole of this machine was the creation of the Socialist Party——

[column 797]

Mr. Swain

On a point of order, Sir Leslie. I appreciate that the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) still thinks that she is a lady-in-waiting to Queen Anne, but is she in order in going as far as this from the Amendment, and wasting the Committee will be quite free to develop the same kind of case?

The Temporary Chairman

As long as hon. Members, in developing their case, keep within the rules of order. I think that the hon. Lady was getting rather near the line.

Dame Irene Ward

Thank you very much, Sir Leslie. I do not wish to embarrass the Chair.

If the proposals in the Bill are to be put into effect, including those altering the position of widows, does the right hon. Lady think that all this will happen without a machine? It is ridiculous if I cannot refer to the machine through which these proposals, to which she referred, are to be put into effect.

The right hon. Lady has made time and again as a reason for our Amendments not being included in the Bill the claim that she inherited a bad machine. I resent that statement, because the headquarters of the Ministry is in my part of the country and it has a first-class machine. I dislike and resent her criticism of the machine intensely. The whole basis of the system was created originally by the Labour Government in 1948. If she has inherited a bad machine, then I remind her that her own Government created it at a time when they had an overwhelming majority.

The Temporary Chairman

Order. The hon. Lady has now strayed from the rules of order. She is not entitled to make a Second Reading speech on the Amendment.

Dame Irene Ward

I leave that point, Sir Leslie. I have made it. But the right hon. Lady must not resent the fact that my party wants to make progress. [column 798][Hon. Members: “Oh.” ] By our Amendment we want to make progress.

The Minister has referred to a review to be held. She has stated no time limit. Many widows will have been vitally affected by the present regulations if they continue for much longer. I want to know how long the review will take. Hundreds more anomalies will be created unless the Minister says when the review must be completed. There is no sense in the right hon. Lady saying that everyone must wait for a review. The party opposite never said that at the time of the election. The Minister must not complain if the Conservative Opposition challenges the promises made by the Socialist Party during the election.

Mr. A. E. Hunter

On a point of order, Sir Leslie. Surely the hon. Lady is out of order. We are discussing Amendments to the Bill, not the General Election.

Dame Irene Ward

I am discussing Amendments to the Bill.

The Temporary Chairman

Order. When I judge the hon. Lady to be out of order, I shall say so.

Dame Irene Ward

I am discussing the Amendments, which have been referred to by the right hon. Lady. Her only answer was that they would only create more anomalies. Yet when the present Government were in opposition they had plenty of opportunity to consider what they wanted to do. I have referred to the reduction of the age to 45 and to the increase for the 10s. widow which enables her to pay the stamp—and I am pleased about that. But the right hon. Lady has left many widows without consolation. I only ask her when we may expect her review to start, whether it is to be public and how long she thinks it will be before she accepts our proposals, about which she spoke sympathetically.

I am thoroughly disappointed that those who went to the country on the basis of proposals we now embody in these Amendments, and who promised the earth, are now unable to fulfil those promises because they cannot get the Treasury to agree to giving the necessary money.

Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

It would be unseemly [column 799]of me to make a personal speech. It is the last thing I want to do. But I must declare my interest. I must inform the Committee that, as a no-shilling widow for 11 years, I am amazed today by the hypocrisy of some speeches from hon. Members opposite and find them bitterly unacceptable.

In the 11 years that I have been alone I have not had one word from the Conservative Government either of hope or of encouragement towards the possibility of those widowed at the age of under 50 receiving any consideration from a Government who have been in power during a period of unparalleled affluence in the post-war history of the country. I observe that the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) is laughing. I do not know why she should.

Dame Irene Ward

I just commented, “Really” , because the hon. Lady said that we were affluent.

Mrs. Jeger

I am trying to deal very seriously with what to many women is a deeply serious matter. It is very difficult to deal with this question of the age of the widow in isolation from many other factors. The Amendment suggests that, in certain circumstances, the widow's age of benefit should be reduced from the age of 50 to the age of 45. I think that there are powerful reasons why this should be done. I know that my right hon. Friend will consider these reasons. But I must ask the Committee to take cognisance of the other factors.

At present, it is not so that a widow over 50 is entitled to benefit. I have a friend who, at the age of 55, had a very delightful Indian summer romance. We were very happy when she married a man of 60. They were immensely happy together until one terrible day when, on his way home from work, he was knocked down and killed by a drunken driver. That lady gets no pension at all. She is over 50.

Her husband's stamp record was immaculate, but they had not been married quite three years. So her age did not matter and the impeccability of his stamp record did not matter, either. She was told that she must go to the National Assistance Board if she could not earn enough to keep herself. But she said, quite rightly, “I could have gone there if my husband had never bought a stamp in his life” . [column 800]

I mention this case to show that if we try to isolate all these factors of widow hood it is impossible to get a fair and full picture. I know another widow, also over 50, who is receiving a tiny fraction of the pension because she was married to a rather inadequate specimen of manhood—which does happen, often to some of the nicest and kindest of women. Although this lady was over 50 when her husband died, she was unable to get her full pension because there was something wrong with his stamp record.

The basic problem—and this is why I support my right hon. Friend in waiting for the complete review—is that we have not decided whether a widow's pension is hers as of right as an insurance benefit, linked to her husband's stamp record, or whether it is a biblical out pouring of charity. Until we get that basic decision straight, and until we consider it in the light of all sorts of sociological factors, such as the increasing need for women of all categories to continue work in the present position of our society, we shall not get the picture right.

Basically, the widow's problem is her own. She has to come to terms with her life on her own. But it is for the Government to look at all these factors which can make it possible for some kind of social justice to be done. I submit very sincerely that more attention should be paid to the connection not between the widow's age and the circumstances of her widowhood, but to her husband's contribution record.

One reason why many widows who receive no pension at all feel a sense of injustice is this. One type of widow is told, though her husband may have paid his insurance contributions for 20 years, “You are under 50. This is not an insurance benefit. It does not matter how much your husband paid in. You cannot get anything.” Another type of widow who is over 50, but whose husband's stamp records are not complete is told, “You cannot have anything, though you are over 50, because there is something wrong with your husband's stamp record.” This suggests that there is a dichotomy in the situation which, to be fair, has persisted through both Administrations.

This is a question which we must all try to solve. I have spoken only because I think, though I have a great deal [column 801]of sympathy with the thoughts behind the Amendment, that it would not help those whom it is most essential to help to take the question of age in isolation. I am sure that I speak for many when I say that we must ask the Government for a comprehensive and fundamental review of this tangle of anomalies, injustices and muddles.

Sir Keith Joseph (Leeds, North-East)

I support the request of my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) to the right hon. Lady to tell us more, if she refers to the inquiry, about what sort of inquiry is intended. The speeches of my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean), the hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger), and indeed, of the right hon. Lady the Minister show that neither side of the Committee is satisfied with the varying provisions which are made or not made for widows. The only difference is that, whereas this side of the Committee, in its election manifesto, promised a comprehensive review of all social security provisions, with special mention of the varying provisions for widows, the Labour Party, during the election, made a number of detailed promises which it is not now fulfilling, but it has adopted our proposal for a review.

The right hon. Lady, well within her rights, spoke about the review. My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth reflected in her questions the point expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) the other day, that the country expects the inquiry to be of a public nature; that is, an inquiry conducted outside the Department. It is not that anybody distrusts the integrity of the Department. It is simply that when a Department has been concerned in such detail for so long with problems it is perhaps better that outside people, open to public evidence, the evidence and the report being published, should conduct the inquiry.

I am merely asking that the right hon. Lady should at least tell us when she and her right hon. Friends expect to make an announcement about the inquiry, even if she cannot make that announcement today. We hope that she and her right hon. Friends will note that [column 802]we on this side of the Committee expect such an inquiry to be of the public character I have mentioned.

Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)

I am not sure whether I would be in order if I followed the right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) in speaking to these Amendments, because he did not speak to the Amendments. He followed the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) in talking about a general review. Nevertheless, I will pursue one or two of the right hon. Gentleman's remarks. He came down to the fact that the Conservative Party favoured the appointment of a Royal Commission. [Hon. Members: “No.” ] He stipulated an outside body with independent witnesses. What else would that be but a Royal Commission? How long would that have taken? Would it have taken another 13 years?

I remind the Committee that last January the House of Commons had an opportunity to do all the things covered by the Amendments. I will put myself in order by returning to the Amendments. Hon. Members opposite did none of those things. What we have witnessed this afternoon is a display of sanctimonious hypocrisy, with hon. Members opposite expressing concern for people whom they neglected for so long. When my right hon. Friend brings forward immediately after the election emergency legislation to deal with some of the immediate problems, the Conservatives have the impudence to make the sort of spurious speeches which have been made today.

Earlier this year the hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) had the opportunity. In January there were Motions dealing with widows' benefits and with provisions for widows. The hon. Lady voted against them.

Mr. E. Fernyhough (Jarrow)

So did the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward)

Dame Irene Ward

No, I did not.

Mr. Hamling

The hon. Lady did. I will quote the exact debate, if the hon. Lady wishes. It was on 30th January, 1964. The hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth voted against an Amendment designed to effect certain [column 803]increases in widow's allowance, widowed mother's allowance and child's special allowance. So did the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley. So did the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran). So did the whole of the Conservative Party.

Mrs. Thatcher

If we divided on this Amendment, would the hon. Gentleman vote with us?

Mr. Hamling

The hon. Lady has not scored anything.

Hon. Members


Mr. Hamling

I shall not vote with the hon. Lady, because the Amendment is not an honest one. If this had been honest, she could have done it in January.

The Temporary Chairman

Order. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman should say that of hon. Members who have put their names to an Amendment. To suggest that such an Amendment is not an honest one is contrary to our traditions.

Hon. Members


Mr. Hamling

I withdraw the words “is not an honest one” in this connection. I remind the Committee that the hon. Lady's intervention was intended to convey to the Committee that I was being dishonest and insincere. There were opportunities during the last 13 years to carry out every one of these Amendments. The Conservative Party failed to do so.

Mr. Norman Cole (Bedfordshire, South)

I want to tell the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), so that he can identify me, that my constituency is South Bedfordshire. If he cares to look up the record to which he has referred—I think that we are talking about the same occasion—he will find that I—whether it is a criticism or the opposite I am not prepared to say—do not fit personally into the category he has just mentioned.

I and at least one, if not two, of my hon. Friends tabled an Amendment of the kind we are now discussing to the then Government's Bill earlier this year. Our Amendment sought to reduce the qualifying age not to 45, but to 40. The [column 804]hon. Gentleman will find, if he cares to consult the record, that I did not support the Government on that occasion in that matter. I am glad to be able to tell him that. I want to make it clear that I am not saying this by way of a personal explanation. I am pointing out that the hon. Gentleman should be very careful when he tries to analyse records.

If he consults the Official Report he will also find that some of my hon. Friends and I were in favour of other measures being taken, some of which are being implemented in the Bill. I say this to show that at least I do not qualify for the accusation of hypocrisy as a result of anything I have done about the subject we are discussing. I have taken a quite unpolitical but personal and human view of the matter over the last 10 or 12 years. I shall continue to do so, irrespective of whether our party is in Government or Opposition.

I do not blame the Minister for saying that before she can take the matter further or accept Amendments of this sort she must await the outcome of the review. I support my hon. Friends in urging that the review should be as public as possible. Indeed, it might be in the interests of the Minister's party if it is public, so that not only widows but everyone else will see that the right hon. Lady intends justice to be done. I hope that the review will be as comprehensive, open and public as possible, with every possible piece of evidence being brought to light. I make that not as a political suggestion but as a reasonable and human one.

Mr. Stanley Orme (Salford, West)

Why is it so essential that this inquiry should be public in view of the wealth of information already in the hands of the social services? The Minister and her advisers already have access to this information, so I cannot understand why it should be held in public.

Mr. Cole

I hope that that comment does not reflect the views of the party opposite. The simple answer is that it should be held in public for the reason that many of the provisions in the 1946 Act are out of date. Information may be in the hands of the Ministry, but that does not necessarily mean that all of it is up to date. Only if the review is held in public, with all possible evidence [column 805] brought into the open, will absolutely up-to-date information be available to the Minister. Parliament has a responsibility to the electorate and we should show that on a matter as important as this we are prepared to study everything in the open. Would that not add to the prestige of Parliament in the country?

There are two reasons why the review is vitally important. The first is that the Government are finding that being in Government is different from being in Opposition. We understand the Minister's difficulties, her having taken office only a few weeks ago. The second is that I suspect that, having seen the books, the right hon. Lady now realises even more than before—and I pay tribute to her knowledge of this subject—how complicated a matter it is.

The hon. Lady the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) gave two examples of how widows can suffer as a result of the complicated procedures over this matter. Many other examples could be given an although only a relatively small number of widows may be affected, their plight should be ventilated and brought into the open.

I have a personal view which might not be incompatible with the terms of reference of the inquiry. For some time I have been wondering whether we are approaching this whole subject in the right way. May we not be taking the line of least resistance? It is convenient to say that if a widow is under 50 she will not qualify, irrespective of her husband's stamp record, while if she is over 50 she will qualify. We are all aware of the thinking behind that; it is assumed that at 47 one can get a job, if one is lucky, while at 52 one cannot. The regulation is that there must be a borderline age somewhere.

In the Amendment earlier this year about which I was speaking the suggested borderline age was 40. In this Amendment it is 45. No one can say which is the right age. That being so, should age be the dictum of decision? After all, with a business insurance policy or an insurance fund, age does not arise if one has paid one's premiums. In a pension scheme there is no question of how long one has been married. [column 806]

Is there not a chance that, for the sake of convenience, we have in the past been adopting the wrong premise? I am not suggesting that I have the answer. In a heavily industrialised are like that represented by my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) it might be better to consider this matter not in terms of age but in terms of a widow's capacity to get a job in the area. If I am told, “You cannot expect any committee to decide things like that” my answer is that we already have pensions tribunals, branches of the National Assistance Board and other organisations deciding very similar questions. I just want to be sure that we do not, for the sake of convenience, go on taking the line of least resistance.

I would like to give this matter a great deal of research. Widows should be treated in their own right as widows and, considering the wealth of the nation, there should be no delay in giving them financial sustenance. A woman gives up a lot when she marries. Often she severs her business connections and takes on a new kind of life. I do not care whether she is 33 or 53, if she suddenly meets widowhood and is completely financially unprepared, provision should be made for her, even if only on a temporary basis until she is able to rehabilitate herself.

These matters should be looked into by a tribunal. We should be certain that the age limit is as appropriate as it can be. The sooner we study these matters and get some results the sooner justice will be done. I support the Amendments because although they do not go as far as justice demands, they will be of great help. I regret that the Government, because of the review mentioned by the Minister, cannot accept them. The fact that there is a review is, I agree, a good reason why the Minister should say that the Amendments are not acceptable. She cannot be expected to anticipate the findings of the review.

I hope very much that the right hon. Lady will make her review as comprehensive and as public as possible. Its terms of reference should be as wide as can be devised. If she does that, I do hope that the results of the review will be analysed quickly and immediate action taken so that justice is done for all widows.

[column 807]

Mrs. Thatcher

Although we have had an interesting debate the situation is in some respects rather ironic. Were the Minister standing at this Box she would be congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) on the excellence of his speech and the rightness of his cause and would be urging him to take the matter to a Division. If I were standing at the Dispatch Box opposite I would also probably be congratulating my hon. Friend on his excellent speech, pleading the defence of the review and urging the Committee not to divide. I know that the right hon. Lady would like to do this if she could. I believe that the ideas which have been ventilated today show that there are very many ways in which widows could be helped and that we are not agreed on exactly the right way to help them. Some people want widows' benefits to be put on an entirely different basis and some want a change of age.

I hope that we can move on to the next Amendment, which gives us the chance to debate similar subjects on an even wider rule. I recommend, if I may be so presumptuous, that we do not divide on this Amendment in view of the assurance given by the Minister that she will consider this matter in her review.

Mr. Hamling

The hon. Lady's party is in favour of a comprehensive review. If her mind is so set on all these Amendments, what possible things could this body about which she is talking review?

Mrs. Thatcher

It could review the basis of provision for widowhood and consider whether the present basis—the absence of earnings basis—is the right one, or whether widowhood itself should be the basis of widows' pensions. I shall have something to say about this matter on the next Amendment, which I believe will provide a more suitable opportunity for saying it.

Mr. Dean

I am disappointed with what the right hon. Lady the Minister has said. She accepts many of the points which have been put forward, but is not willing to concede the arguments which have adduced. However, I welcome her assurance that all widows' benefits, and particularly the various ages for the benefits, will have high priority in the review. [column 808]

I wish to make one further comment. It is very unfortunate that every time hon. Members on this side propose further to improve National Assistance arrangements are accused of hypocrisy. Are we expected to abdicate our duty to try to go on improving the National Insurance Scheme as we have been doing over the last 13 years?

In view of what the Minister said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mrs. Thatcher

I beg to move Amendment No. 4, in page 2, line 13, at the end to insert:

(5) There shall be payable to a widow, who is aged thirty-two years or over, without prejudice to any benefit to which she may be entitled at any other age under this or any other enactment, a pension at the rate of thirty shillings a week.

The Temporary Chairman

It would be convenient if we also discussed new Clause No. 2 entitled “Four pounds a week for all widows” :

(1) Notwithstanding any of the provisions of the National Insurance Acts 1946 to 1964, or the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Acts 1946 to 1964, or any other enactment relating to any other benefit to which widows may be entitled under the conditions therein specified for the time being and at the rates currently in force all widows (whether or not qualified under the provisions of all or any of those enactments) shall be entitled to a weekly pension of not less than four pounds.

(2) The provisions of this section shall have effect without prejudice to benefits already payable under any of these Acts. These benefits shall remain payable in the terms and at the rates therein specified.

Mrs. Thatcher

This is yet another Amendment concerning the anomalies relating to widows' benefits. There have always been anomalies and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Somerset, North (Mr. Dean) said, there have been progressive improvements in the provisions for widows ever since the National Insurance Scheme started. Indeed, on one occasion I read out from the Dispatch Box a list of improvements which we had made year by year. It was an extremely impressive list.

The Amendment, however, relates to a new system which has been created by the several provisions of the Bill and regulations which will be laid subsequent to its passing. These provisions have [column 809]created a new, and, I think, a more pronounced, set of anomalies. May I illustrate this by a “before and after” situation.

Before the Bill, benefits under National Insurance were granted on the old Beveridge principle namely, a widow was entitled to benefit if she could not be expected to support herself by her earnings. If she could be expected to support herself she did not receive any benefit, or, if she did support herself, her benefits were withdrawn. The whole basis of benefit under the National Insurance Scheme was that the widow could not be expected to support herself by her earnings.

There was one exception to that, namely, those who were married before 31st July, 1948, to men who were insured under the old scheme. They had a pension of 10s. a week—not very much, but no contributions have been paid since 1948 over and above the National Insurance contributions in respect of this old pension. In fact, the right to benefit has persisted all the time since 1948, although no special contributions over and above the National Insurance contributions have been paid since then. It has been an enormously long transitional provision—the longest, I think, in history. Before that benefit was given in the absence of earnings with one small exception, namely, the 10s. widow.

Since the Bill, benefits cannot be said to be given on the ground of absence of earnings. Quite substantial benefits will be given under the regulations to be proposed regardless of whether there are earnings there or not. The former 10s. provision will be 30s., regardless of whether earnings are there or not. In addition, those who are over 50 when they are widowed or when they cease to have dependent children will get benefits, not in the absence of earnings but in addition to earnings, however great those earnings may be. Therefore, however difficult the dividing line was before, it is an even sharper and higher dividing line now.

Perhaps I can illustrate that with three examples. Take three ladies working next to one another on a factory bench. Suppose that one is over 50 and is earning, say, £8 a week. Because she is over 50 and because the earnings rule is being abolished under the Bill, she will get £8 [column 810]a week plus £4 benefit and not have to pay a stamp. Suppose that next door to her there is a widow just under 50 who was married before 1948. She would get £8 a week plus 30s. benefit, and she would pay her stamp. Next door to her may be a third widow who is under 50, married after 1948, and who also earns £8 a week. She would get no benefit whatsoever and would pay a stamp. There could be a fourth widow who perhaps was not fit enough to work the whole time but was not sufficiently ill to get a doctor's certificate who would have precious little earnings but would get no benefit because she was expected to support herself by her earnings.

The justification for the Amendment is that a new set of anomalies has been created which increases the disparities by a considerable amount over those which existed before because there are much greater differences and the benefits can be paid in addition to substantial earnings. We could have a woman Member of Parliament—who, I understand, will get £3,250 if certain resolutions are passed—who, if she were widowed over the age of 50, would be entitled to draw her £4 widow's benefit, whereas the person just under 50, or whatever age we laid down, would not be entitled to draw benefit although her earnings were very slender.

Mrs. Jeger

Would the hon. Lady add to these contradictory situations the widow who has inherited a considerable estate, who is benefiting from a large unearned income and who is able to draw her pension with no deduction at all?

Mrs. Thatcher

I entirely accept that, I am dealing with anomalies within the National Insurance Scheme, because under the scheme one gets certain benefits in return for certain contributions. I do not think anyone would say, in dealing with an insurance scheme which gives certain benefits in return for certain contributions—there could be no justification for saying— “You shall not get the benefits because you can afford to look after yourself.” If one has a fire insurance and pays certain premiums and then one suffers a fire the insurance company does not turn round and say, “You are not going to get benefit because you can afford to do the repairs yourself.” This is an insurance scheme, and I was dealing [column 811]specifically with anomalies which arise between contributors to that scheme, and I believe that those anomalies have been considerably increased.

Miss Herbison

I think the point that my hon. Friend was making is one anomaly which obtains at present. The hon. Lady has been giving a list of the different kinds of widows, perhaps working next to one another, with one over 50, and earning with full pension and no contributions paid, while another who has a full pension at the present time has had no earnings rule applied to her, no matter how great the unearned income. I think that is the point my hon. Friend was making. This will make no difference. That has always obtained, and we did not hear anything about it from hon. Members opposite before.

Mrs. Thatcher

Yes, but the whole scheme is based on absence of earnings. One was insured against absence of earnings under the Beveridge system; not against absence of income, but against absence of earnings. This Bill is substantially increasing the anomalies as between contributors to the National Insurance Scheme—substantially increases the anomalies in the way I have indicated. If we look at the anomalies in the gross sense we find that the pre-1945 bride can, as I have already pointed out, I think three times, from this Box, draw some £1,800 more than the post-1945 bride for the same record of contributions. The anomaly there was to the extent of £1,200. Only a fool would say that the anomaly is not greater than a £600 anomaly. It is a £1,200 anomaly.

The case for this Amendment is really that it is a holding Amendment designed to reduce anomalies which have been created by this Bill, so that everyone over the age of 32, which is the youngest age at which we can get 10s., can get at least a basic pension of 30s., which would fit in with the right hon. Lady's conception of a sliding scale. and to some extent would soften the very harsh dividing line of 50 and over 50: the dividing line with, on one side, full earnings plus full pension, plus no stamp; on the other, few earnings, no pension and a stamp to pay.

We are also entitled to discuss the second new Clause, and, of course, undoubtedly the case for a review will [column 812]come up again. I think that women members of this Committee probably have more intensive ideas about the help which can be given to widows. There are a number of different opinions held, I know, about how best to provide for widows. I think the right hon. Lady and I would both agree with her comment on 30th January last, that the Labour Party, and the Conservative Party, officially realise that, as she said,

“widowhood of itself should not give a right to pension” .—[Official Report. 30th January, 1964; Vol. 688, c. 620.]

I agree that no party has yet officially adopted the thesis that widowhood of itself should give a right to pension.

I think that particularly some of the women Members may go further on this than some of the men Members. I always thought it very ironic that a wife should have a right to maintenance from her husband during his lifetime, that upon his death, and upon his leaving her nothing, and without a will, she has considerable rights to his intestate estate, that if he leaves a will but leaves his estate to someone else she can still probably get the will upset; that during his life she has a right to maintenance, that if he dies leaving her nothing the chances are she can get some of his estate, but she has no right whatsoever to compel her husband to make reasonable provision in the event of his death. I think, personally, that she should have that right under this Bill. I am speaking entirely personally from this Box, because I have not yet converted my party, any more than the right hon. Lady has converted hers, but I think that widowhood as such should be entitled to certain benefits. After all, under the old rules there were marriage settlements, there were wills which were automatically revoked by marriages, and all that was because with marriage there was a change of status and a change of commitment. I would put this view forcefully before a review body and put it publicly.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. Douglas Houghton)

Put it to me.

Mrs. Thatcher

The right hon. Gentleman is not much good. What I mean is that, I am sorry to say, I see not much point in talking to the right hon. Gentleman about it. However, I have [column 813]spent some time on this only to show how inconsistent is our attitude, in that we insist on a wife's maintenance during her husband's lifetime, we provide for her maintenance after his death, but we still have to get over the problem of compelling husbands to make certain provisions for their widows in the event of their death.

Mr. Cole

I am most interested in what my hon. Friend is saying and she knows that I support her on this, as I have indicated previously, but would she say that the state of widowhood by itself should be a qualification?

Mrs. Thatcher

I think that, if one accepts that it would be right to compel husbands to make basic provision for their widows, then I think the next step would be that the State should insist that they make this basic provision, and that one could, therefore, make some provision under the system for the state of widowhood. I do not want to dwell on this because I am rather lonely on this side of the Committee in this matter, though a number of people would agree with me about it.

This point was brought rather forcefully to our attention when the new “Everybody's Guide to National Insurance” was published. We in this Committee are used to National Insurance jargon, which means one thing to us but something rather different to people who are not used to the jargon. That document said:

“The main National Insurance scheme provides weekly flat rate cash benefits during sickness, unemployment, or widowhood, and on retirement.”

Naturally, people think from that that the state of widowhood does attract benefits.

I am very anxious that this should be dealt with by a review. It goes right to the root and the basic principle of National Insurance. I know there are difficulties. Perhaps a young girl of 19 who is widowed should not have the right to a pension for the rest of her life. On the other hand, perhaps she could receive some benefit; perhaps not very much. This is fundamental to a review, and I hope that it will be inquired into.

The reason for the Amendment which I am moving, rather than the one I have [column 814]been discussing, it to reduce the anomalies till such time as a review body has reported.

Mr. Curran

I rise to support the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and also to say something about the new Clause in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward). We are proposing this change in respect of the widow who is 32 or over because the Bill as it stands does intensify and multiply the anomalies in the treatment of widows. There is, of course, a wide range of anomalies.

Take the 10s. widow. Should she continue to get 10s. in spite of the change in the value of money? The answer is that she ought to get more. But we cannot look at her in vacuo. We have to recognise that, so far as the ordinary citizen is concerned—certainly so far as the ordinary woman is concerned—what we are doing for the 10s. widow intensifies the absurdity of the rules we make about widows.

We must make up our minds whether we are going to stick to the Beveridge assumptions or whether we are not. The Beveridge assumptions were that widowhood as such should create no claim to benefit and that all social benefits should be paid as a substitute for loss of earnings. If you could not earn because you were too old, or because you were sick, or because you were injured, or because nobody would employ you, then because you could not earn you had a right to benefit. But, said Beveridge, widowhood as such did not and should not confer a right to benefit.

This was not the view taken in this country before the war. The Act under which the 10s. widow benefited was an Act which said that widows in certain circumstances should get benefits because they were widows. Since then we have gone further. We have conferred on other classes of widows a right to get pensions, because they are widows. We have given a pension to the war widow and also to the widow whose husband is killed in an industrial accident. Consequently we now have four classes of widows in this country. There is class one, the 10s. widow now to become the 30s. widow, who gets [column 815]a pension because she is a widow. Then there is class two, the war widow, who gets a pension because her husband has died in action. Then there is class three, the widow who gets a pension because her husband has died in an industrial accident. Then we get class four, the great mass of widows who do not come into those other classes and who are denied pensions. It is to this difference that I want to address myself.

I have been re-reading the Beveridge Report. It is very interesting now to look back on it and to find what Beveridge decided—that widowhood as such should not create a claim to benefit under the National Insurance Scheme. He said that after an extensive review of the arguments submitted to him. He did not come to this conclusion in a hurry. He filled several pages of his Report with an examination of the arguments for and against. In the index he printed a long list of witnesses who came before him to give evidence—including, I suppose, evidence in reply to the question, “What should be our attitude towards widows?”

It seems to me that the example of Beveridge is an example which the Government ought to follow in setting up their review. Beveridge did take evidence, he did have the matter thrashed out in front of him, and he did come to certain conclusions about what our first principles should be in the treatment of widows. There is nothing sacred about those first principles of his. Nothing at all. I do not see why the Government or any kind of departmental inquiry, or intramural inquiry, should decide what should be our basic principles about widows. This is a matter for national decision. It is a matter of far greater importance than Government. After all, the present Government will not be there for ever. Whatever decision is now taken about our treatment of widows it will govern us much longer than the present Government will govern us.

I very much question the Beveridge assumption that widowhood should not break a claim to benefit, and I cannot help thinking that we should abandon it, and, finding anomalies, that we should abandon them. No matter how we try to [column 816]work inside the Beveridge doctrine that we shall pay benefits only for loss of earnings and not for loss of a husband, we are bound to have anomalies as fast as we remove one anomaly, we create another. I believe that we must abandon the Beveridge doctrine. We must say, plainly and flatly, that widowhood as such does and should create a claim to benefit. In saying that, I believe that I say something with which the great mass of our people will agree. Certainly whenever I have expressed myself on this matter in public—and I have done so inside the House and outside it—I have found that ordinary women endorse this view.

Looking back, I find it difficult to understand why Beveridge did not adopt it As far as I can gather—this is not based directly on the Report but on the climate of opinion which accompanied the Report—it must have been a sop to the theory of sex equality: that as we do not pay pensions to widowers, we should not pay them to widows either. Now when a man loses his wife, he cannot come to the State and ask the State to support him because he has lost his wife. If he did that he would be told promptly and probably profanely to stop snivelling and probably profanely to stop snivelling and do some work. Well, we put the married woman who loses her husband in very much the same position as the man who loses his wife. But this does not correspond to the realities of every-day life.

In spite of sex equality, it is idle to suppose that getting married is the same for a woman as it is for a man. In spite of sex equality, it is still true that for most women getting married is a career and that when a woman loses her husband she suffers an economic as well as an emotional disaster. It is an economic blow to her in rather the same way as losing his job is an economic blow to a man. I believe that we should recognise this fact here, just as I believe that it is recognised by ordinary men and women outside the House. At present we do not recognise it.

We must not permit ourselves to be spellbound by the doctrine of sex equality. There is a difference. It may be argued, and perhaps it may be plausible, in Hampstead, Chelsea or Bloomsbury, to say that the sexes are equal and that since we do not give pensions to widowers we [column 817]should not give them to widows. But this makes no sense at all in Coronation Street, believes that when a woman gets married she enters into an economic as well as an emotional alliance and that she looks to the economic alliance for support. When that support is withdrawn, she is entitled to compensation. The State should recognise the loss of a husband in exactly the same way as it recognises the loss of a job as creating a claim for benefit.

If we say this, I know that we shall face, not anomalies but certain consequences which may sound absurd. If we say that widowhood as such creates a claim for benefit, we shall be asked, “Do you propose to give pensions to teen-age widows for the rest of their days or as long as they remain widows?” We must accept that whatever we do will be open to criticism. We must make up our minds broadly what is our basic principle. We have already tried one basic principle and it has produced a crop of anomalies so large and so overwhelming that the great mass of the British people are sick of them. We must now turn to a different basis. We must accept it that when we do, then we shall create, I will not say anomalies but some seeming absurdities. We must put up with that.

Meanwhile, by giving 30s. a week to the 10s. widow the Bill intensifies an anomaly. I hope that the Government will recognise this and will also recognise that the no-shilling widow will feel all the more indignant when this change takes place. I urge the Government not to say to the no-shilling widow, “We admit that you are being very hard done by, but you must wait until there is a review.” We are legislating now and making changes in the National Insurance Scheme, now I suggest that we ought now to make this further change.

Mrs. Lena Jeger

It is difficult to discuss this Amendment without getting into deep philosophical water. I appreciate the feeling expressed in the serious speeches made by the hon. Members for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and Uxbridge (Mr. Curran). In my experience the majority of men in this country—and let us talk about the men for a moment—honestly feel that when they buy their National Insurance stamp, which will [column 818]soon cost them more, they are insuring their wives against widowhood. They may be wrong, but the sense of shock and surprise which these women feel when, being widowed, they go to the Ministry of Pensions and find that they have not an automatic benefit is considerable.

I agree with very much that was said by the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley—that there should be some automatic insurance provision against the problems of widowhood. Most men think that they are making that provision already. Hundreds of thousands of working men cannot afford to pay any more than the price of the National Insurance stamp, with the increase in the contribution which is to be made. I should prefer to see a situation in which the widow was brought within the National Insurance provisions on similar lines to those by which a widow gets benefit from an insurance policy which her husband took out commercially. Another anomaly which we are creating is that a woman whose husband during his lifetime was able, in addition to the National Insurance contribution, to pay for a commercial insurance policy for her, finds herself in an infinitely better position than does a widow whose husband was able to afford only the National Insurance contribution.

The review body will do very well to look at the question of relating benefits not to loss of earnings but to contributions in the same way as has become traditional and acceptable in normal insurance practice. The result would be that a young widow under 32, the age in the Amendment, who had not been married very long and whose husband had a very short insurance contribution record, would get some benefit but not as much as that laid down generally. It would be a sum related to the number of payments which he had made. That is the only way which seems to me to be fair over the wide range of circumstances with which we have to deal.

I am conscious that in trying to make some improvements for widows, no matter what their age, we are forgetting the circumstances in which many women find themselves who have not even had a few years of married happiness and who may be trying to bring up children on their own because their husbands have left them. There is the problem of deserted [column 819]wives left with children and of the common law wife who does not always find it easy to collect the benefit after the death of the man with whom she has been living for many years. That is why I feel that, accepting much of the spirit of the Amendment, we shall do much better not to make a decision today but to relate these matters to the wider issue of the National Insurance benefits in respect of widowhood.

Mr. Cole

The Amendment is needed to fill a gap which, with the best will in the world, has been created by the Act. The review will have to decide whether we still adhere to the principle laid down by the Beveridge Committee on the subject of qualification for benefit by widowhood per se without there being any insurance background. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran) gave the views on sex equality as a possible reason for the decision taken by Beveridge. With great respect, I differ from him. I doubt whether that was very much in the minds of the Committee at the end of the war. I think that we are still working towards an up-to-date philosophy.

May I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) that it is less than 30 years ago that the law decided that a man, on his death, had to leave a certain minimum sum—which has since been increased—to his wife. From memory, I think it is £5,000.

Mrs. Thatcher

If a man dies intestate his widow is entitled to the first £5,000 if there are surviving issue or to the first £20,000 if there are no surviving issue.

Mr. Cole

A man cannot leave the whole of his estate away from his wife. He must leave a minimum sum to her. This follows a case in which a widow was left nearly destitute. The paramount view before the war and during the war, and one can only guess that the Beveridge Committee had the same kind of idea, was that a woman should have a right, once she became a widow, to some kind of emolument from the State only if there was a proper insurance background. All these years afterwards—18 years afterwards—we are still working towards the objective which I am sure one day we shall reach, of a widow qualifying in her own right as a widow, an objective which [column 820]is hinted at, in the new Clause, whereby a widow would receive £4 a week, or, as in the Amendment, provided that she was over 32 years of age she would get 30s. a week.

I probably go as far as, if not further than, any other hon. Member in the Committee when I say that there should be no kind of qualification to benefit in these cases than the fact of being properly married and then being widowed. I am not a bit worried about the problem of young widows. Very young widows already qualify for compensation in some fields and the State manages to deal with that problem. We could look again at the position which would arise if they married again. But we do not want to rule out the possibility of a law which could help so many widows merely because in a few cases it might work out in a rather unusual way. That would not be a good policy.

I welcome the Amendment and the new Clause which seek to provide a pension for widowhood. I think that we are only touching at a principle. I hope that before the Committee is very many years older we shall be able to reverse the Beveridge enunciation about widowhood. I think that we are pushing at an open door. After all, there is not one married woman in this country who might not next week find herself, if she were widowed, in quite a different situation, if such a law existed. I think that this is little enough for us to do for widows.

There are all sorts of special State provisions for emergencies occurring to various people, but here we seem to have come into a blank. I think that it probably stems from those immediate post-war decisions on which a lot of our Welfare State is based. The time has come to break them up, and to think about them all again.

A married woman is still not regarded as the breadwinner. She may be one of the two, but more often than not she is not so regarded, especially when she has to bring up the family. When she marries, she severs herself from the business world. She takes on a new and very proper kind of life which is different from that of the business world. Suddenly, on widowhood, she is [column 821]transferred back into it, with the need to earn money, unless she qualifies under the present limited insurance arrangements. This is wrong. This is nothing to be proud of.

I hope that this review—and I am sure that it will if it takes note of the representations made to it—will reverse the Beveridge Committee's doctrine which I believe has coloured all our thinking ever since. I hope that the review will strike a new blow at these anomalies. These anomalies have existed for the last 18 years because we have not accepted the new principle. I welcome the Amendment and the new Clause. They show the way the straws are blowing, and I hope that we shall get a good wind of change about this.

Mrs. Freda Corbet (Peckham)

I intervene to stress the complexities of this problem. We all listened with great interest to the logical exposition of the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher). This is the first time that I have heard this case argued, and it takes my mind back to many years ago when I heard the opposite one argued.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran) surmised that it was a theory of sex equality which weighed in the consideration of the Beveridge Report and its adoption. That was my impression of those days. There was the new woman. She was very proud, and she did not want to be supported, at least in intellectual circles. It has been my experience all through that the new woman is not exceedingly numerous, and that the average woman wants to be supported. She feels that, having embarked on this great enterprise and career of marriage, having interrupted any other possible career that she might have made for herself—and goodness knows there is enough intelligence and ability amongst members of my sex to make great careers for themselves—she is entitled to some provision in respect of widowhood.

I am interested, too, in another type of person who is a widow, but who in law is not. The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) talked about people who were properly married. I have had a sad case brought to my notice. I do not think that the [column 822]Minister can do anything about it, because the law will not allow her to do so. This woman had been married, as she supposed, for more than 40 years, and had a family. She drew a pension for 12 years after her husband died. Suddenly it was discovered that her husband had been married before, that he had lived with his wife for eight months, and had a child by her. The result was that this woman's pension was stopped. This is the kind of thing which any review must take into account.

My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South Mrs. Lena Jeger) talked about deserted women. Is not desertion by a husband parallel to widowhood? These things, too, have to be considered.

There is a consolation for those who think that the cost of this help may be something which we cannot manage, that the good we do will not be commensurate with the burden. I think that the number of young women is decreasing, while the number of men is increasing, with the result that there is a better prospect of these young widows remarrying. Thus, actuarially, it may be possible to compute that an undertaking of this kind will not be as expensive as is now thought.

The extraordinary thing about the Beveridge situation was that everybody talked about getting older people off the market by encouraging them to retire at an earlier age—as the Committee knows we are making provision for people who postpone their retirement a little—whereas widows were practically forced to go on to the market. The curious situation today is that we want everybody on the market.

In the light of these facts, and modern developments, a review is long overdue. I think that when the Minister makes her review she will be grateful for the frankness of opinion which has been expressed by both sides of the Committee. We may not be able to hope for everything that we would like, but I am sure that great regard will be paid to the views which have been expressed.

Dame Irene Ward

We have had a most interesting discussion, and so many points of view have been put forward that I hope we have convinced the right [column 823]hon. Lady that it should be a comprehensive and public review.

I support both the Amendment and the new Clause. I want to make one additional contribution which I think will add to the general picture. I support my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran) in what he said about the new Clause, but I disagree with him, if I may put it that way, over his assessment of the reason for the Beveridge decision on widowhood.

My mind runs back to just before the outbreak of the Second World War when there was tremendous feeling among the working spinsters of the country that there were too many very young widows drawing pensions for the rest of their lives, or until they remarried.

I remember that at the time there was a society which was formed in Bradford. It was run by a very active woman called Miss Florence White. I can see the Central Lobby filled with working spinsters. Miss White was campaigning for spinsters' pensions at 60, which was achieved in the end, and then she campaigned for spinsters' pensions at 55. There is no doubt that the fact that there were very young widows receiving pensions, while many hardworking spinsters, a number of whom were supporting aged parents, did not receive pensions, caused a good deal of controversy between the married and the unmarried sections of the community.

At that time also we had that vivid House of Commons personality, Miss Eleanor Rathbone, whom we all remember with great affection for her ability and courage. She was campaigning—and she was successful in the end—for family allowances. That in a way rather exacerbated the division between the married women or the widows and the spinsters.

I am sure that the right hon. Lady will agree with me that very often in discussing all these matters, we find that the older people disapprove of the family allowances, which they think should go to help the retired pensioners, and the younger section of the community who are bringing up families feel that it is tremendously beneficial to them to have the family allowance.

[column 824]

The Deputy-Chairman (Sir Samuel Storey)

We cannot discuss family allowances on this Amendment.

Dame Irene Ward

I shall not discuss family allowances on this Amendment, but I am pointing out that in relation to widowhood, and the elderly widow and the young widow, which is very much a part of the Amendment and the new Clause, the whole situation was exacerbated by these outside developments which were a feature of the 1930s up to the beginning of the war, and which, I think, played their part in forming Lord Beveridge 's opinion on widowhood, which he embodied in the Beveridge Report.

When I hear the various assessment of the thoughts of Lord Beveridge in producing his Report I feel that the picture would not be complete if I did not add—as I knew Lord Beveridge quite well—that I have a suspicion that when he was considering his Report his mind was to some extent conditioned to the feeling that existed between the spinsters working and looking after aged parents and the young widows, now called the teen-age widows, who draw that very small pension of 10s. for the rest of their lives.

I think that the picture would not be complete unless I put that aspect of it into the contributions that have been made by so many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. I thought that Lord Beveridge, in producing his Report, took this new approach to widowhood, which has given us a variety of anomalies.

Mr. Curran

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, because she can give a contemporary testimony of what Lord Beveridge believed. I would draw her attention to two sentences—there is an interval between them—from the Beveridge Report, and they are the key to his attitude on this matter. Lord Beveridge wrote:

“There is no reason why a childless widow should get a pension for life; if she is able to work, she should work.”

A little later, he said:

“Permanent provision for widowhood as such, irrespective of the care of children and of need, is a matter for voluntary insurance by the husband” .

I think that gives his point of view pretty finally.

Dame Irene Ward

I am very grateful to my. hon. Friend, but the first sentence [column 825]that he read out, that a young widow without children should not be entitled to a pension, derived from the fact that there was this controversy with the spinsters, who felt that they were in the same position as the young widows.

I always find myself trying to support any section of the community where I think an injustice or an anomaly occurs irrespective of whether they are widows, married women or spinsters. It is well to remember that even today, whatever we try to do for widows, it is very difficult to get comprehensive treatment for all the injustices, even with all the efforts made both by the Conservative Government and by the Socialist Government when they were in power before their defeat in 1951.

I think that this adds to our request that there should be a public, comprehensive review because so many people over a very wide field have experience of these matters, including those referred to by the hon. Lady the Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet)—the deserted wives. There is so much experience that it would be a great pity if a review, however honestly and sincerely undertaken, was purely Departmental and the country could not have the benefit of the evidence and the experience that would be put in if a comprehensive review were undertaken.

I regret the anomalies. I think that the 10s. widow will feel very much happier as a result of the Government's action, and I am always pleased when people are made happy. It is very important in life. But there are a great many people who will be both aggrieved and frustrated. Therefore, it would help every one on both sides of the Committee if the right hon. Lady would tell us when she expects to be able to anounce to the House the review and the type of review. I hope that she will bear in mind that we emphasise these anomalies for the purpose of getting action, and that we shall have a comprehensive statement from the right hon. Lady before we part with this Amendment and the new Clause and, indeed, the whole of the Bill.

Miss Herbison

This has perhaps been the best debate we have had in Committee on the Bill. It has certainly been very wide ranging. The hon. Member [column 826]for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) made it range widely in the points that she made. It is important that on this question of provision for widows generally we should hear the points of view of as many people as possible. Perhaps it is a good thing that these Amendments have given an opportunity to so many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee to put their points of view.

I come back to the Amendment and to the new Clause. I shall first let the Committee know what we feel about the Amendment. It is defective in drafting in several respects, but I make no fuss about that. Nor do I stress it. Because not so very many weeks ago I was on the benches opposite, trying to draft Amendments myself without expert help and I resented it when a Minister made great play with the fact that Amendments I had put down were not in the proper language.

The hon. Lady in making her case seemed to stress to the Committee that by raising the 10s. pension to 30s. we were making a fundamental change in the whole provision for widows' pensions. But that is not the case.

Mrs. Thatcher

That, coupled with the abolition of the earnings rule, means that we are giving widows' pensions on two separate bases, one for widowhood and one for the absence of earnings.

Miss Herbison

I will deal first, with the earnings rule. We have decided to abolish it for widows. There is no fundamental change in that direction, and I will tell the hon. Lady why. When my hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras, South (Mrs. Lena Jeger) intervened, she raised the case of the widow in respect of who no earnings rule was applied because she had a sufficiently large unearned income, possibly, to live in comfort. The hon. Member for Finchley, in dealing with that point, said that insurance applied to earnings and not to income from some other source.

Mrs. Thatcher

Or the absence of earnings.

Miss Herbison

Exactly—or the absence of earnings.

I now come to the case of widows to whom, before we made this suggestion, no earnings rule was applied. The war [column 827]widow receives a full pension. She can earn as much as she likes without having the rule applied. The industrial injuries widow is in the same position. She receives a pension as of right, and no earnings rule is applied. It is clear that the case put forward by the hon. Lady cannot stand. There is no fundamental change in doing away with the earnings rule and in raising the 10s. pension to 30s.

Mr. Curran

Surely something fundamental is involved here. The basic principle of the National Insurance Act is that benefits are paid instead of earnings. That is one reason for the earnings rule. People have no right to receive benefits and also earnings. We penalise them if they do. That is not my reasoning; it is Beveridge reasoning. If they draw the benefit and go on earning, in one sense they are breaking the rule. Is not that one reason for the rule?

Miss Herbison

The hon. Member has not listened to my explanation of the present situation. What I have tried to prove is that the Bill merely extends certain existing provisions, but makes no fundamental change.

The increase from 10s. to 30s. makes no change at all in the condition of the payment of widows' benefits under the National Insurance Acts. All those who qualify now for the 10s. pension—which is to be raised to 30s.—at one time had an expectation of receiving an unconditional pension under the old contributory pension legislation. The “no-shilling” widows—which are the ones covered by the Amendment—at no time had that expectation, either because their husbands were not insured under those Acts or because marriage took place after those Acts were superseded. Their position is, therefore, quite different.

There is no logic in the argument that if there is an improvement in a benefit paid to a person who enjoys a reserved right—and that is what the 10s. pension is—there must be a corresponding improvement for those who have no such reserved right. Let me take the hon. Lady's memory back to 1957, because this is important from the point of view of the case she made. The Government then raised the age in respect of the [column 828]transition from widowed mothers' allowance to widows' pension from 40 to 50. But they retained the 40 years age limit in respect of widows who were widowed before 1957. The limit was raised to 50 years in respect of future cases.

What happened to those who had this right before 1957? In 1956, the benefit was 40s. It has been raised on three occasions since, and is now 67s. 6d. But no change has been made in the position of those widows who did not qualify for this concession—and 10,000 of them have been created since 1957. If the hon. Lady had been using the same logic, these 10,000 widows would have had the benefit of the improvement from 40s. to 67s. 6d. It seems to me that the two cases are similar.

I now turn to the new Clause in the name of the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran). This would give a pension of £4 a week to all widows, irrespective of age. No conditions are attached about contributions, age, duration of marriage, or even residence in this country. It is clear that at this stage it would be impossible for the Government to accept this proposal.

I have given what I consider to be the logical reason for the rejection of the Amendment. That does not mean that we are not concerned about any widow who is in financial difficulties. It was impossible for us to do everything in the Bill. The hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) said that all our idealism had flown out of the window and that this was a complete reversal of our policy. Later, we may be able to go over all that we have achieved in the Bill—we have not yet done everything, but we have made great steps forward in many directions.

The right hon. Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) said that we had not fulfilled the detailed promises we had made in the documents we published beforehand. Election day was seven weeks ago today, and I would remind the whole Committee of the many promises that we are carrying out in the Bill.

I come back to one reason why I am going to ask the hon. Lady to withdraw her Amendment and the hon. Member for Uxbridge not to move his new Clause. [column 829]This is not the time to make either this change, which would be applicable to all widows of 32 years and over, or the wide and sweeping change proposed in the new Clause. Speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the Committee in respect of this and the previous Amendment show that these are very complicated matters, involving problems to which there may be various solutions, which require very careful examination. Since that is the case, it would be much better for this to be left, as I asked the last ones to be left, until this review.

There has been insistence from the other side that we reveal the nature of this review and that we give the date when an announcement will be made. I cannot give the Committee the exact date. What I can tell the Committee is that we regard not only these questions of the provision for widows, but the whole of our social security structure, as of such importance that there will be real urgency in this review.

Mr. James Allason (Hemel Hempstead)

Could the Minister tell us the number of widows who would be involved under this new Clause? It is of great interest to those who want to study this matter further.

Miss Herbison

It is impossible for me to give the numbers.

Is this £4 to go to the 10s. widow? Is the 10s. pension to be raised to £4? What of those who are getting nothing? Are they to have the £4? I could not give the full number, but it would be very large indeed. I ask that the Amendment and the new Clause be withdrawn so that these things can be examined, as I am sure the whole Committee wants them to be examined, and solutions that will be acceptable found to the problems.

Mrs. Thatcher

The Minister knows from what I have said that I am very anxious that the no-shilling widows should get something; and the sooner the day the better. I have no hesitation in putting the increased cost directly on contributions. I recognise, however, the force of what she said, and I will make just one point before asking leave to withdraw the Amendment. A big review of the structure of all the social security services must be complicated and of a [column 830]kind which will take several years. [Hon. Members: “It will not.” ] People are always very optimistic, when they have not been in the Department, about how long it takes to implement the changes recommended by a big structural review.

The review for widows could be a very much shorter matter, and would take in industrial injuries widows and war widows, whom I specifically did not refer to in my speech, which was confined to National Insurance widows. I ask that the widows' review should come quite separately and rather quickly and should report in advance of the major review on the structure of the social security services.

Having received the right hon. Lady's assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.