Skip to main content

Clause 6

Volume 885: debated on Wednesday 29 January 1975

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

Non-Contributory Invalidity Pension

I beg to move Amendment No. 6, in page 6, line 1, leave out from 'where' to end of line 4 and insert

'she is incapable of performing normal household duties'.

With this amendment it will be convenient to take Amendment No. 7, in page 6, line 27 [Clause 6], after 'work', insert

'as incapable of performing normal household duties'.

After this classic demonstration of Tory humbuggery, perhaps we may now return to some of the realities of sustained Socialist progress as regards social services.

The effect of these amendments is to embody the provision for a disabled housewife's benefit in the Bill in the appropriate form, namely, by making it payable out of the Consolidated Fund instead of out of the National Insurance Fund. Therefore, the purpose of this clause remains unchanged, but the means of financing becomes more appropriate.

I know why my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) chose this form of financing in moving his amendment in Standing Committee. I congratulate him on his ingenuity. However, we all agree that the proper form of finance for the non-contributory benefit is the Consolidated Fund and not the National Insurance Fund, because it is out of the Consolidated Fund that we take the other non-contributory benefits: the attendance allowance, the old person's pension and so on.

In these two amendments therefore we are embodying a disabled housewife's benefit in legislation a few months earlier than we otherwise would have done. I am sure it makes my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles happier to feel that he will at least see this measure on the Statute Book when the Bill has passed through all its stages. He has merely anticipated the intention of the Government by a few months, because, as I said during the Second Reading debate on the Bill, it was the Government's intention to legislate in this Session of Parliament, if at all possible, for a disabled housewife's benefit. We are not introducing any principle that was not already in the Government's policy and the legislative programme schedule for this Session. My hon. Friend knows that this Government did not need any convincing about the case for a disabled housewive's benefit.

I was immensely flattered, when I read the reports of the debates in the Standing Committee, to find the extent to which hon. Members on both sides quoted from the report to Parliament on social security for disabled persons and quoted with approval the moving references in that document to the difficulties of the disabled housewife and to the need to deal with her case urgently. From the testimony of both sides, therefore, it was clear that hon. Members were not only pressing at an open door but were merely underlining what the Government themselves had already said.

What the House has never understood and what those hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee did not understand is why we proposed to deal with the disabled housewife's benefit separately from the non-contributory invalidity pension. The reason is that a disabled housewife's benefit is an entirely different benefit from the NCIP and embodies a novel principle. The non-contributory invalidity pension is itself a breakthrough in provision for the disabled. But it is not a benefit for disablement as such. It is a benefit for incapacity for work—in other words for paid employment. The NCIP is merely a non-contributory form of the existing invalidity pension in the National Insurance Scheme.

We have had a long experience—my staff in the Department and the medical profession—in dealing with benefits based on incapacity for work. That is why we said that, with the co-operation of our staff, it should be possible to put the non-contributory invalidity pension into payment some months before the end of the 1975–76 financial year. That is why it got priority. We were on familiar territory. We were merely extending an existing contributory benefit into the noncontributory field. It was a simple process, and we could do it quickly. It was not a matter of trying to establish orders of priority between the needs of different disabled groups. It was administrative needs which dictated the priority, because the housewife's benefit embodied a new principle—that of a benefit not merely for incapacity for work but for the performance of normal household duties.

This is completely new to social security, and it involves therefore the working out of entirely new assessments and criteria. It is not just a matter of getting a medical certificate of incapacity for work. It is more complicated. The inability to do housework is less of a purely medical question, and it may require non-medical evidence—for example, in Switzerland a report from a social assistant may be required. It is for these reasons that we wanted more time to examine the criteria, although, as I said on Second Reading, we were hoping to legislate in this Session of Parliament on the disabled housewife's benefit.

10.30 p.m.

If the amendments are accepted, all the criteria and the commencement date will have to be set out in regulations. Including the benefit in this Bill rather than a later one does not of itself solve the operational difficulties. I cannot therefore guarantee that it will be possible to introduce it at an earlier date than that to which we have urgently been working. We have never taken such a criterion on board before. Our staff must take it on in addition to a whole catalogue of new benefits. I do not think the House realises the extent to which, in the last nine or ten months, we have been pouring additional work upon the staff of the Department—upratings, new benefits and the additions planned for April of this year.

A great deal of work has been done on disability in industry and other fields. Surely some of that is relevant. Is my right hon. Friend correct in presenting this as a new problem? Surely some of the parameters of disability are connected. Can she not relate them, rather than start from scratch?

My hon. Friend is right we have a good deal of experience about disability, but disability in social security provision up to now has been related to incapacity to do paid employment. The formula of my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) and, with slight modifications, the formula in the amendments, is that of a woman incapable of performing normal household duties. That is a test we have never tried to apply before. If a disabled housewife is bedridden, there is no difficulty, but there are problems in deciding what incapacitates to do housework. Many severely disabled people are not necessarily incapable of doing work—they may earn high salaries—but they may be incapable of performing household duties. One of the difficulties is that this is a new criterion.

When my right hon. Friend talks of the test being incapacity to do household work, is she restricting the benefit to a disabled person who is housebound? Would a disabled housewife who is a registered blind person be entitled to the benefit?

I can give an assurance straight away. Of course it does not necessarily mean that someone must be housebound. But equally, the point about blindness that my hon. Friend has raised is something involving exactly the criteria about which we must argue. I think that every hon. Member knows that if one gives a new benefit on a basis which is not accepted by the public generally as being fair, one can create all sorts of new claims and new difficulties—for instance, the person excluded who comes along with very great indignation to question the criteria.

But the criteria must be worked out. They will now have to be embodied in regulations. We wanted a little more time to work them out, discuss them and embody them in the Bill. But as has been said, a Bill in the hand is worth 20 White Papers in the bush. However, the criteria have not been agreed.

I am delighted that my right hon. Friend has brought this matter forward and that it is now to be put in legislative form. What worries me is that Megan du Boisson, who helped to found DIG many years ago, myself and people such as her and the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Price), went to my right hon. Friend's Department years ago and told her about these difficulties. We said "One of the major things we require is a disability allowance for the housewife who cannot work." It frightens me that in Committee I was still being told that the Government had not done any work on criteria. It appals me, because these are the people at greatest risk. I beg my right hon. Friend to bring this thing forward. In DIG and all the voluntary organisations she will find a superb body of people with knowledge who will feed her all the information she wants and will augment the lack of knowledge, perhaps, in her Department. I hope that she will give a little more on this matter.

I think that instead of constant interruptions it would be better if these points were made in the debate. My hon. Friend the Minister responsible for the disabled has been in consultation with DIG already about this problem and would be willing to deal with it in winding up the debate.

It is no good my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) telling me what he asked my Department to do "years ago". I was not in the Department years ago. I was in the Department only nine months ago.

When I went to the Department—I say this in challenge once again to Tory humbuggery—there was not a word or a letter about preparations made for any disabled housewife's benefit. They never dreamed of it until we mentioned it.

The hon. Gentleman can reply when he comes to speak. He has his chance coming. I am not winding up. He can tell us what preparations were made to establish criteria for a disabled housewife's benefit. It is absolutely absurd.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for the right hon. Lady to imply that she has seen previous papers when she knows perfectly well that such a thing is not allowed in the Department?

I intend to ignore it, because the hon. Lady knows perfectly well that if the work had been done I would have been told, without the disclosure of previous papers.

No criteria were available to me. Until we presented our paper to the House, which we did ahead of our statutory obligation date, which was last October, hon. Members of the Opposition had not begun to think out a policy. We had to start from scratch.

Only when we announced our paper did they rush out a document saying what they were thinking about doing.

No. The hon. Gentleman will have plenty of time to reply shortly. No doubt he can say what he likes. The simple fact is that this miraculous disablement policy of the Conservatives was rushed out at a moment's notice on the very day we produced our report and the Press statement committing ourselves to the range of benefits which is now embodied in the Bill.

I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles, who I am sure understands this, that in a short period we have had to work very fast over the whole disablement field. That is the reason why we are still going over virgin territory in trying to work out the very novel criteria for a disabled housewife's benefit.

I therefore say to my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles that he has the great satisfaction of knowing that his amendment is embodied in the Bill. In accepting the amendment the Government are also anticipating the rate at which the benefit for the disabled housewife will be paid. That is an achievement that my hon. Friend can hold unto himself for comfort and righteousness. It could be argued that, in keeping with the logic of our Conservative predecessors' scheme for old persons' pensions, the disabled housewife should get only the lower rate since her benefit could be said, by definition, to be a dependant's benefit. We are not concerned with someone capable of working or doing household duties. I referred to this precedent of the old persons' pension scheme in the report I made to the House.

We believe that the new benefit should be sui generis. It stands on its own. We are concerned here with in many cases people who have always been too disabled to work outside or inside the home. No one can say whether such a disabled housewife who is totally or almost totally incapacitated would have been a breadwinner or a dependant any more than they can say it about a man in that position. Therefore, it is right, above all in International Women's Year, that we should give disabled housewives equality. We are creating a benefit which the recipient gets as of right, a non means-tested benefit which deals with a particular human problem in a way which is completely separate from any of our previous security developments.

If the House accepts the amendment all that will remain will be for us to legislate for the mobility allowance which we hope to be able to put into law before very long. It also only remains to us to provide through our better pensions scheme the earnings-related invalidity pension for the people for whom DIG has fought for so long. With that done the package of measures outlined in the document last September will have been completed. Of course, DIG will go on pressing for more, and so will many of us. I am not pretending that this is the final answer to the needs of the disabled, but from my experience of DIG and the conversations I have had with members of it, I know that that organisation is in no doubt that by this package we shall have completed a remarkable breakthrough for the disabled in a remarkably short time, and we shall have done it during a period of unprecedented economic difficulty. It certainly does not lie in the mouths of Conservative Members to utter anything but words of congratulation to us—I hope this time with a measure of humility.

10.45 p.m.

All that the Conservatives' election manifesto promised was a modest start with a new benefit, and even that promise was coupled with the proviso that they would do it as resources became available. Their manifesto was governed by one overriding, dominant phrase. After the demonstration we have just had from the Opposition, it is worth reminding the House of what they said in the introduction to their manifesto:
"Only as we overcome our economic difficulties will it be possible to carry through the proposals in the second part of this Manifesto which involve expenditure. These proposals therefore are all subject to this important qualification."
No hon. Member can pretend that the country has overcome its economic difficulties. Therefore, our opponents' alibi would have been complete, and I have no doubt that it would have been used. We have said that the economic difficulties remain unresolved, but we do not believe that we can resolve them by sacrificing the urgent needs of the weakest members of our society. We do not believe that we can solve them by sacrificing the disabled.

In nine months we have already proved that what matters is not words but our deeds.

I had thought that we could get through a debate about such a human subject as the disabled housewife without the stink of political vitriol coming from the Government benches as it has tonight. I found it disgusting. It did not happen once from either side in all the long weeks we sat in Committee. I am disappointed in what the Secretary of State said.

We were relieved that the right hon. Lady carried her colours off the field and accepted the verdict of the Standing Committee, which was to include the disabled housewife in the new non-contributory invalidity pension. That was not the Government's intention when they introduced the new benefit. As the right hon. Lady said, they did not intend to bring it in until the 1976–77 Session.

We believe that the Government missed the essential purpose of any disablement income scheme by leaving out the disabled housewife. That purpose must be to keep the family of a severely disabled person together, by enabling the disabled person to stay in the same home, instead of having to move into an institution. The purpose must be to keep marriages intact. Of all those families, the ones at the greatest risk are those where the disabled person happens to be the mother or the wife. There is no doubt about that on either side of the House, except on the Government Front Bench.

It needed a high degree of anger within and without the House and amongst all the pressure groups which take an interest in disabled people to bring about the amendments which the right hon. Lady seemed to claim as her own this evening. Most of all, it was the pressure and the speeches from hon. Members on both sides of the House that brought about the amendments that will, we hope, bring the disabled housewife a higher benefit than she would otherwise have received, and at an earlier date.

Those of us who heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Price) about the frustration day and night and year after year in homes where there is a disabled mother will not forget that experience. Those who know of the courage that the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) has shown in working to bring an income as of right into the homes of severely disabled people will respect him and back him up when he seeks to help those very people in the way that brought about the amendments. That was not done through the work of the right hon. Lady.

We also respect the work done behind the scenes by our friends in the Disablement Income Group. Some of them are represented here by my hon. Friends the Members for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) and Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker).

Yes, Members on both sides of the House take a great interest in the work that they perform. It is due to them and their parliamentary representative that we are having this debate. It is their parliamentary skill that went into the drafting of the amendment that got round the Money Resolution which the right hon. Lady and her hon. Friends drafted so that we should make no amendments that enables us to have this debate. That is why my hon. Friends share the disgust that is felt by some Labour Members at the way in which the Government have tried to prevent back benchers introducing a human amendment.

It does not lie in the mouth of the right hon. Lady to call us humbugs when it comes to talking about the disabled. It was because of the representations that we received from those outside the House in the disablement lobby and from some of my hon. Friends, including my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh, that we introduced as a party before the last election our policy for the disabled in a paper entitled "Disability Policy: The Next Stage". It was presented by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Sir G. Howe). In that paper we committed our party in September last, as an immediate priority, to provide cash benefits for the quarter of a million who are so seriously disabled, together with the disabled married women who cannot look after their homes and families. We intended to bring that in and we were aware of the sort of cost it would involve, and we made that clear. It is true that at the time we brought it in the rate was a little lower than that at which the Government have now introduced it because since then there has been an uprating, but as we were committed to a six-monthly uprating that rate could have been made known.

As one who carried out work in the study group, among hon. Friends headed by my hon. Friend the Member for Barkston Ash (Mr. Alison), I know that all its members were adamant that we would include the disabled married housewife. We faced up to the administrative difficulties because we believed that it would be difficult to establish the criteria on the lines followed by the Government in their Bill. Therefore, upstairs in Committee we sought to introduce an amendment to base the test of eligibility, not on the incapacity to work, but on the degree of disability which the person concerned suffers.

We foresaw considerable difficulties with a new benefit in testing the eligibility of somebody like a housewife as to whether she is incapable of work. What does one mean by "incapable of work"? Is she to be incapable of doing the washing, of shopping, or of many duties the housewife has to do? We believed that the snags were such that the test of eligibility would have to be based on the degree of disability. Surely we have plenty of experience of being able to assess that matter in civil cases, in the war disablement context, and also in the work carried out by the Department in respect of the invalidity pension. On those grounds we believe that the idea that the new benefit would exclude the disabled housewife because of administrative difficulties was wrong, and we felt we should push hard against that attitude.

The concession upstairs in Committee which was wrung out of the Government has established another point—namely, that the housewife now unable to do normal household duties as defined in the amendment merits equal financial treatment as anybody else who is incapable of working. It has been our information—and most of our information of what goes on in the right hon. Lady's Department seems to come by leak or by rumour—that the reason why the disabled housewife was to be kept out of the Bill and put in at a later stage was that she was to get a benefit at the lower rate of the attendance allowance—namely, £6·20 instead of £6·90 per week. If that had happened, we believe that would have been intolerable and unacceptable for anyone suffering from a disability—in other words, it was wrong, that we should introduce a lower rate for people who need help more than any other group and whose homes are perhaps some of the poorest in the country.

Therefore, we can say that we achieved something positive in Committee. Although we may not have achieved everything, we have achieved the higher rate of the non-contributory invalidity pension and the right hon. Lady was good enough to admit it.

11.0 p.m.

Furthermore, the House may think that, having wrung this concession from the Government, the official view that the housewife is a non-worker, or a second-class worker, has been killed stone dead, and that in future the housewife will be on equal terms with any other worker.

I hope that the other great Government Departments will take note of what has happened through the Committee having passed those amendments. This is an important point, and I hope we shall come back to it again and again.

The House has not heard from the Secretary of State whether she intends to do anything about getting a move on in the Ministry to bring forward this benefit more quickly than would otherwise have been the case. We are extremely worried about what she said just now when she intimated that despite what we have done, and despite the will of the Committee upstairs, the disabled housewife will not get benefit any sooner than if the right hon. Lady had had her own way and left this out.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman who winds up the debate will make clear that the Government are all set to obey the wishes of the Committee and the House and to bring this in at the earliest possible date, not holding it back, but using extra resources, if necessary, to do it.

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it acceptable to the procedure of this honourable House that the right hon. Lady at whom specific charges are levelled should take it on herself, having consulted the Chief Whip, to withdraw from this honourable House at such a time?

The right hon. Lady disgusted us when she used her political venom at the beginning on a subject which is not suitable for political venom and, from the Government benches, it is disappointing and harmful to the reputation of the House.

We are highly sceptical when we hear a suggestion that the Government did not introduce the disabled married housewife's allowance into a non-contributory invalidity pension on grounds of cost. We know that it was not so, because they have been able to do it. We have found that when they were pushed hard enough they were able to do it.

They could not have gone back to their hon. Friends and introduced a Bill to spend an extra £1,000 million on extra food subsidies and at the same time squeeze some small sum out of this group. We are therefore extremely sceptical when we hear that they cannot find the cash and do not wish to increase the borrowing requirement by this small amount.

These amendments are merely tidying up what was done, and wrung from the Government in Committee. We accept them, with the proviso that they get on with it as quickly as possible and introduce the payment to these deserving people at the first possible opportunity.

I am delighted to welcome the Government amendments replacing mine and putting forward a better set of proposals for the disabled housewife. I am sure that the Department would want this proviso in the Bill at this time. I have certain reservations about the time-scale. My hon. Friend who has special responsibility for the disabled may consider me remiss if I do not start tabling Questions almost at once asking him to speed up the implementation of this reform.

We might have had a better discussion because there is an undoubted body of experience on the Committee. I again make my plea to the Treasury regarding Money Resolutions. If it had not been too clever by half we might have had the opportunity to discuss in depth some of the difficulties which the Department will face with these new benefits and assessments. We would have had within the confines of the Committee representatives of the disabled who could have fed us briefs aimed at further polishing the amendments to improve these provisions.

I have a funny feeling that the Department is making rather too much fuss about the administrative difficulties of definition. The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Price) had it right when he said that we would have been prepared to accept a rough and ready category initially and allowed the Minister to polish the provisions as they went along. We did this, as back benchers, when we pressured the Government on the subject of the attendance allowances. They have been improved considerably since, although there is still room for more improvement. We ought to be consulting the disabled.

Although I and a substantial number of hon. Members in Committee tabled amendments, it was, in the end, a wheelchair victim who found a way round the cunning of the Treasury. There is a message here and it is that we have in the disabled a most viable element which can work for the benefit of the economy. One disabled constituent of mine, who has recently died, used to say "I wish people would not think that because I am disabled I am daft". Some of the most intelligent people I have come across have been severely handicapped people who used wheelchairs.

Although we have made assessments of the number of people who require this benefit, let me surprise hon. Members by saying that I should like to see the number reduced to nil. If we were to have an intelligent application of technology to this problem we could compensate people for their disability and allow these unfortunate women to run their own homes. We should spend a little more time on providing services for them, such as advanced Possum systems, and other devices which would give them independence. In the long term the Government might well save money.

I am grateful to all who have given me help in this struggle. The great thing about the occasion is that it has been a back-bench victory. The Front Benches were not involved. They were shadowboxing while we got on with the debate. We are glad that we have won and that the Government have seen sense. We are grateful to all those nameless people outside who helped us. I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Social Services will be delighted with this. I compliment the Department for having got this through the Treasury, because that was where the difficulty lay.

I acknowledge that there will be severe administrative problems. I urge Ministers to consult the disabled groups, particularly DIG and the Central Council for the Disabled about these. They can augment the work needed to be done in the Department and will willingly do so. But for me 1977–78 is not a good target date. I will be flooding the Order Paper with Questions with regular monotony until I have that date brought down to something more acceptable. We are talking about those who are at greatest risk. Where the risk is greatest effort must be maximised.

This should be a happy occasion, because some of us have been working for many years to achieve what has been consummated tonight. It was a back-bench victory in the Standing Committee and it has been accepted by the Government, who have produced amendments of their own. The reason that our amendments were not perhaps as elegant in parliamentary drafting terms as they might have been was that we had to get round the difficult point of the Money Resolution and the Long Title. The difficulty was overcome, not by our ingenuity, but by the ingenuity of one of the leading members of the Disabled Income Group.

I therefore regret the Secretary of State's ill-mannered and ungenerous approach. She was not on her best form tonight. I warn her that the disabled particularly object to being treated as a party football, kicked from one side of the House to the other. Over many years a number of us have been very active in the all-party group, headed by the Minister with responsibility for the disabled. This is a subject on which we should forget about party—because that is what we do in practice. Let us not try to score points off each other. We have had a back-bench victory tonight because a good deal more generosity has been shown on the back benches than on the Government Front Bench. The kindest thing that I can say is that the right hon. Lady was going through a Walter Mitty neurosis, as we all do from time to time. Let us leave it there.

I should like to help the right hon. Lady and the Department. In Committee we offered her help, both personally and from the organisations representing the disabled. My credentials are twofold. As most hon. Members know, I am a member of a family one of whom is, and has been for many years, severely disabled. I am also a works study engineer. I think that those two considerations give me some qualification to speak and to offer the Department a little advice.

In Committee the Secretary of State and her ministerial colleagues made heavy weather of the difficulties of defining the criteria. They spoke about the incapacity to do household work as against the capacity to earn one's living, as if the two things were different. They are different only in the sense that one is paid for the work one does for an employer, whereas the housewife is not paid by her husband; she simply gets her housekeeping money. But other than that the two things have a great deal in common. A disabled person's capacity to work varies enormously with the work and where his skills and training lie. If a stevedore has a spinal injury, he loses his capacity to work. If an accountant has a similar injury, his capacity to work is greater than that of the stevedore.

The commonality of work which a housewife has to do in the home is a combination of physical work and brain work, together with management of the home. One may retain the capacity to manage, but one loses, according to the degree of one's disability, the capacity to carry out the physical work. As I said in an intervention in the Secretary of State's speech on Second Reading, there need be no argument about the incapacity of a substantial number of disabled housewives because of the degree of their incapacity.

If one is in a wheelchair, as my wife is, one is totally incapable of scrubbing floors and of getting up a step-ladder. If one is totally blind one's ability to fulfil domestic work is enormously restricted. We are dealing with about 40,000 women, and there would be no difficulty in knowing what is the disability of 20,000 of them. I grant that with the next category of 20,000 or 30,000 there are certain difficulties. The Department, having gone through the experience of the higher and the lower rate attendance allowances, will have vast experience of incapacity to work. It should not be too difficult, with the help of work study engineers to analyse the Department's experience of incapacity to work and apply it to disabled housewives.

11.15 p.m.

I suggest to the right hon. Lady and the Department that simple approach. It is done in other fields. It is done, above all, by the Treasury in looking at pay, and it can be done equally for disabled housewives. I should be delighted to give any help I can. I have made that offer before, and I make it in no partisan sense. The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones), my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) and the societies concerned with the disabled would all be delighted to help, as indeed would professional organisations dealing with work study problems and all who have been involved in working out standards and parameters for disabled living. There are several specialist organisations and practitioners in that field.

The right hon. Lady and her Department are making heavy weather of this. I shall be asking questions, but rather than doing that I prefer to ask the right hon. Lady and her Department to get in touch with some of us who live with disability every day of our lives. It is not a new problem, and no new criteria have to be established. I know the criteria. I live with them every day of my life. I make that offer not in a partisan spirit but in a spirit of happiness and generosity, which should be our spirit tonight when at last something is being done for disabled housewives.

I briefly intervene to raise the question of a certain category of disabled persons in my constituency—and I am sure throughout the country—who do not receive the fair consideration that is their due. Before doing so, I congratulate my right hon. Friend and her colleagues on their initiative in introducing these amendments and approving in principle the payment to disabled housewives. During the election I stressed the importance of this provision should a Labour Government be returned, and I am very happy that a Labour Minister and a Labour Government are introducing this system of remuneration for these unfortunate members of our society.

I have noticed time and again that after we have discussed matters of this kind in the House, argued about principles and come to a decision, the implementation of that decision has not operated in the way I had expected. After debating the problems of the disabled I have left the Chamber fully convinced that certain provisions would be implemented, but I have found that local authority officers were applying an entirely different interpretation of the provisions from that which I believed to be correct when we debated the matter.

It is with this end in view that I am so anxious to try, to the best of my ability, to impress my right hon. Friend of the importance of having flexible and generous criteria for this system of payment, and I give an illustration to indicate why I speak on the matter at this late hour.

Recently, provision was introduced for parking discs for the disabled. It meant that a disabled person with such a disc could park anywhere near his work or wherever he was going. But I discovered that when a totally blind self-employed constituent had to journey to Glasgow in order to conduct his business from premises to premises and house to house, he was denied a parking disc. The result was that, on some occasions, his car had to be parked half a mile or so from where he was going to work, and he had to cart his bag of tools on his back all the way and across dangerous streets, the interpretation being that he was not sufficiently disabled to have the privilege of a parking disc. When we were discussing that provision in the House, I never thought that it could be interpreted in such a way, but I found that other local authorities in Scotland were doing exactly the same thing and I took the matter up with the Secretary of State for Scotland.

I appeal to my right hon. Friend to ensure that the criteria of disability which she plans will be sufficiently flexible to allow a registered blind housewife to qualify for this payment. The blind housewife may be able to put a vacuum cleaner to the carpet or stand at the sink and wash dishes, but there are many other duties she cannot do. For example, for her to approach a gas stove or certain electrical apparatus or other heating devices can mean grave danger not only to herself but to the home.

It is with this kind of thing in mind that I appeal to my right hon. Friend sympathetically to consider declaring the registered totally blind housewife as an individual entitled to this disability payment. By doing so, she would not only be making history among that category of disabled persons, but would inspire them with confidence that she and the Government are fully determined that they shall enjoy the advantages of this radical innovation, the payment of this new form of disability allowance.

I rise at this late hour to review a few of the points made in the debate. First, it is important that we should congratulate the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones), whose spirit throughout this battle has been notable. He has not flagged once in his persuasive efforts on the Treasury through the Under-Secretary of State for the Disabled, in order to get this provision.

It is important also to remember that we have now got over the problem we had as the Bill was drafted, in that a disabled housewife who happened to be a male would have received the non-contributory invalidity pension, whereas the disabled housewife who was female would not. Thank goodness, that differential has gone. The right hon. Lady herself mentioned International Women's Year, and I am glad of this first step towards providing for non-discrimination against women. It is vitally important.

I understand many of the things which have been said about categorising the degree of incapacity to do housework. During the time in which I have tried to help the disabled I have gradually built up a wealth of experience, which has not been gained inside the House, since I have been here barely 11 months, but has been gained outside the House. The result of such experience is available. Whether it is on the right file in the right cabinet at the Department of Health and Social Security I do not know, but it is there for the Government to use. The Government will be pressed to use every available aid to put the benefit for the disabled housewife into action, not just a few months earlier but a good deal sooner than the Government had probably intended under a separate Bill. With a united non-partisan effort hon. Members can make this benefit available to the disabled housewife at the same time as the NCIP. That may be an enormous challenge. However, I have never known the House of Commons to shrink from a real challenge when helping people who are less able to help themselves.

We know that the rate of benefit would be higher than would have been the case if it had been introduced by means of a separate Bill. It will not worry me if we have to give up a little bit of the food subsidy, or something else, which two-thirds or three-quarters of the population can do without, if we give disabled housewives the benefit which I hey so richly deserve.

I know that there are deep feelings on this issue. I assure the right hon. Lady that, whatever she may have said earlier this evening, there is plenty of evidence to contradict her words. Perhaps it is the wish of every Member not just to see the disabled housewife receive the benefit at a due date but to cut the cackling we have heard about this matter in the House and make sure that the benefit is there for the disabled housewife to use as soon as possible.

The House is much less crowded now than it was when the previous group of amendments was discussed. I believe that those with a sense of history will see that these amendments are of more abiding importance in terms of fundamental social rights.

This is a debate for stayers. There are many Members on both sides who have taken a sustained and sincere interest in legislating for the disabled housewife at the earliest posible date. We are talking of the daunting problems of some of the so-called "left-outs" of the National Insurance system. My right hon. Friend has warmly acknowledged the sincerity and persistence of my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones). I know that he senses the pleasure which my right hon. Friend and I derive from our presentation of these amendments to the House of Commons.

My right hon. Friend rightly emphasised that this is a brand new benefit which is proposed at a time of unprecedented economic difficulty. Some Opposition Members have said that they dislike any suggestion of party animus in debates on disablement. I work day by day with my right hon. Friend. No one has worked harder than my right hon. Friend to advance the date of the introduction of a disabled housewife's allowance. She feels very strongly that the claims of the disabled housewife are compelling and urgent. I hope that the Opposition will accept that in my experience of working with her, she is a person who wants passionately to see the first ever benefit specially for disabled housewives at the earliest possible date.

11.30 p.m.

Help for the disabled housewife has long been one of the priority demands of organisations which speak for the disabled. The Disablement Income Group itself was founded by two disabled housewives—Megan Du Boisson and Bent Thornberry. These amendments coming from the Government will be regarded by the DIG and other organisations representative of severely handicapped people as a further important step forward.

Tribute has been rightly paid again tonight to Mr. Peter Large, the honorary parliamentary spokesman of the Disablement Income Group. The House may like to know that I have already had discussions with Peter Large, Betty Veal and Stewart Lyon of the DIG about the problems of introducing this new benefit.

It may be argued that we have not done enough. But we have done a great deal, and we have done much that has never been publicised.

The hon. Member for Wells (Mr. Boscawen) said that this was a deeply human subject. He referred to the importance of keeping the disabled family together. We all accept the importance of the concept of the disabled family. If one member of a family is disabled, it follows that the family as a whole is involved in the problems of disablement.

The hon. Gentleman will be the first to recognise that he said something which we emphasised strongly in our White Paper of 13th September 1974. We said there that there was a risk of marriages breaking under all the physical, emotional and financial strains, and that a wife with a very severe degree of incapacity could have a most serious impact on the household budget and on the family's ability to stay together. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that in drafting the White Paper, we sought to present a document which would be of lasting value. I have had important consultations already with the Disablement Income Group—and there will be further consultations—about the problems of introducing this entirely new benefit.

I was asked when the new benefit would be payable. I must stress that there are staffing problems. Then there are the problems of defining entitlement and of certification, because we must ensure equity between one housewife and another. Again, there is the problem of medical manpower. There are real administrative problems, and they will take time to solve. But we shall introduce the allowance as soon as we can consistent with the making of proper administrative arrangements.

The attendance allowance was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Eccles, who has great experience in these matters. All of us with experience of the attendance allowance know that there was for a long time—to some extent, there is still—the complaint that people with the same disabilities were being treated differently in different localities. I would not want a benefit as important as this to be introduced with defective administrative arrangements. We shall move as quickly as possible.

The hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Price) who has as much experience as any hon. Member of the realities of living with a disabled family, hoped that there would be no party animus in debates about disablement. He gave the impression that the Government may have been forced into this position. Hansard of 21st November 1974 shows that my right hon. Friend repeatedly emphasised that we hoped to legislate for the disabled housewife this Session. The Standing Committee discussed the matter in great detail and we welcome the keen interest which was shown in the mechanics of introducing the benefit. My hon. Friend the Member for Eccles will know that we rejoice in being able to present these amendments.

My hon. Friend the Member for Coat-bridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) referred to the particular problems of the totally blind housewife and said that there was a moral to be drawn from the orange badge scheme under Section 21 of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. We intend this year to widen the application of that section to include blind people.

We shall also be introducing—this applies to Scotland, England and Wales—other improvements to the scheme to help the disabled driver and the driver of a disabled passenger.

I should have liked to have put what we are doing in a wider context—

The hon. Gentleman did not mention Northern Ireland. Is that included in the scheme?

The Act applies to the Province, but perhaps I could speak to the hon. Member later on what is rather a technical matter.

I was saying that I would have liked to put this matter into the wider context of the other things we have been seeking to do to extend the welfare and improve the status of disabled people. I have read in the Press recently of the Government's announcement of a "£25 million package" for the disabled. The April 1975 uprating alone will put £110 million a year into the pockets of those receiving benefits for chronic sickness or disability. In the July 1974 uprating, over £150 million a year was added to these same benefits. In addition, 2½ million retirement pensioners with some disability are benefiting and will benefit even further from higher pension rates.

I should have liked to list what we have done in terms of the mobility allowance, and in terms of taking VAT off aids and appliances for the severely disabled; a decision we have taken about an Institute for Hearing Research; and what we have done about wider exemption from vehicle excise duty for drivers of disabled passengers. But that would be stretching the debate.

In conclusion, for disabled people this is a debate of historic importance. We are now legislating for people who were the "left outs" of the National Insurance system. We are justifying those who have said over many years that a great wrong has been done to disabled housewives. I hope that the House will warmly welcome these amendments.

By leave of the House. The Opposition welcome the generosity and sincerity with which the Minister responsible for the disabled has spoken. We understand and respect the fact that he will do his utmost to bring about these benefits so that they may be paid as early as possible. The hon. Gentleman is well aware of the strong feeling on all sides of the House and outside it for this group of "left outs", as he calls them, to be helped as soon as he can possibly do so.

In that spirit, I ask my hon. Friends to accept the amendments.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 7, in page 6, line 27, after 'work', insert:

'as incapable of performing normal household duties'.—[Mrs. Castle.]

I beg to move, Amendment No. 8, in page 6, line 36, leave out from 'sixty-five' to end of line 38.

This is a minor drafting amendment. We are now advised that the words which we seek to delete from subsection (8) of Clause 6 are unnecessary. The reason is that the application of the definition of "incapable of work" will be covered in the regulations relating to the non-contributory invalidity pension, which will be made under the powers conferred by subsection (6) of Clause 6.

The amendment does not alter our intention to use the existing definition of incapacity for work—incorporating, in the case of a housewife, incapacity to perform normal household duties. The definition already in legislaton has long applied to the other benefits that are paid on the basis of incapacity for work—including the existing contributory invalidity pension—and is equally apposite for the non-contributory invalidity pension, which is the non-contributory version of the invalidity pension.

Amendment agreed to.