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Social Security Bill

Volume 961: debated on Tuesday 23 January 1979

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

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

New Clause 1

Special Child Allowance

'In Chapter II of Part II of the principal Act (non-contributory benefits) the following is inserted after section 37A

"37B—(1) Subject to the provisions of this section a child aged over 2 but under 5 years shall be entitled to a special child allowance payable from the National Insurance Fund for any period throughout which he is suffering from physical disablement such that he is either unable to walk or virtually unable to do so.
(2) The circumstances in which a child is or is not to be treated for the purposes of this section as suffering from such physical disablement as is mentioned above shall be the circumstances prescribed by regulations for mobility allowance under Section 37A of this Act; but a person qualifies for the allowance only if—
  • (a) his inability or virtual inability to walk is likely to persist for at least 12 months from the time when a claim for the allowance is received by the Secretary of State; and
  • (b) during most of that time his condition will be such as permits him from time to time to benefit from enhanced facilities for locomotion.
  • (3) The weekly rate of a special child allowance shall be that specified in Schedule 4 to this Act, Part III, paragraph 3A for mobility allowance.
    (4) No child shall be entitled to a special child allowance except in prescribed cases, for any week before that in which a claim for the allowance by or in respect of him is received by the Secretary of State.
    (5) Except so far as may be provided by regulations, the question of the child's entitlement to a special child allowance shall be determined as at the date when a claim for the allowance is received by the Secretary of State.
    (6) A payment to or in respect of any child by way of a special child allowance, and the right to receive such a payment, shall (except in prescribed circumstances and for prescribed purposes) be disregarded in applying any enactment or instrument under which regard is to be had to a person's means.
    (7) Any regulations made by the Secretary of State under Section 37A of this Act shall apply to a special child allowance as they apply to a mobility allowance provided that no regulation restricting mobility allowance to persons over the age of 5 years shall apply to the special child allowance".'[Mr. Carter-Jones.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    8.14 p.m.

    I beg to move That the clause be read a Second time.

    I am very pleased to be the first Member to speak in this House to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Under-Secretary—the Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris), who will take part in the debate—on the well-deserved honour that he has received. It is rather appropriate that I should be the first to congratulate him, as I am a very close friend of his.

    The new clause is primarily concerned with the age group 2 to 5 and mobility. I had a choice. I could have moved a variety of new clauses. For example, there are certain classes of the elderly who need mobility allowance but who will not receive it. I could have talked about the mentally handicapped who will not receive the allowance. I could have spoken about agoraphobics, who will not get mobility allowance. I could have spoken about the blind, who will not receive the allowance. This worries me intensely.

    However, I have chosen to base the new clause on the question of mobility allowance for children aged from 2 to 5. In reality, we face a great problem. The Government have made substantial sums of money available. I hope that the Opposition will agree with me when I say that vast sums of money have been made available for mobility.

    Those of us who belong to the all-party group will say "Yes, we agree with this". The difficulty was how to spread the load, how to spread the jam. It seems to me that we have made a tremendous step forward on mobility and that we have had to ask ourselves whether we should do it in depth or spread the money thinly. What we seem to have done is to choose a certain group of people who will be aided and to leave out others, such as the older age group, certain classifications of the mentally handicapped and the agoraphobics.

    I do not know quite how it can be done, but my new clause at least gives us the opportunity to have a debate on the subject. The purpose of the new clause is to debate the way in which we might spend the money and resources that are available. I have tried to pick out one group which appears to be the most important.

    I have no intention of pressing the new clause to a vote tonight, but I want the Government and the Opposition to state where their priorities lie. A substantial amount of money has been made available. If someone were to push me hard tonight, I would vote against my own Government.

    I believe that we can find the money from the national insurance fund. It is a device that the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) and I have used frequently. When we have been unable to get round the money resolution, we have gone back to the national insurance fund, which is one way of getting the money.

    The new clause involves greater public expenditure. What I want from the Government tonight is a statement of intent, a statement of priorities. It is very difficult for me to talk about the cost factor, because the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker)—I am tempted to say "my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey"—tabled a question in October 1976 to find out what would be the cost of providing a mobility allowance for those between the ages of 2 and 5 years. At that time the figure was £2 million. It could be argued that that figure has been overtaken by inflation. We could argue a whole host of factors, but I believe that that figure of £2 million still applies, for two basic reasons. First, the number of people involved has been reduced because of the fall in the birth rate. Secondly, demand has decreased because people are not taking up this benefit. Therefore, I think that the figure we are talking about is still £2 million.

    There are three basic reasons why I move this new clause. I cannot say that I speak as an ex-father, because I am still a father. I cannot say that I speak as an ex-grandfather, because I am still a grandfather. But I know, casting my mind back and even referring to the present, that one can somehow, male or female, cope with a baby up to the age of 2. At least one can carry a child of that age—although that gets more difficult as one gets older.

    When they reach the age of 5, children go to school. There is then a period when they are off one's hands—speaking as a mother, a father, a grandfather or a grandmother. But between the ages of 2 and 5, children are a grave burden if they are severely handicapped. I took my grandchildren shopping just before Christmas. They are very able-bodied. Perhaps they are a little too lively. They gave me a run around. But I would hate to have handled my grandchildren in Woolworth's, Marks and Spencer or Littlewoods had they been disabled.

    The first point that I make is that the 2 to 5-year-old severely disabled child who is not mobile presents a major problem for the mother, because of a lack of educational opportunity.

    The second point about the 2 to 5-year-old group is that before the age of 2 one can take a child to hospital with a reasonable amount of ease—ease in relative terms, because if one has a disabled baby, one has a problem. If children between the ages of 2 and 5 need medical treatment, one is faced with a very severe mobility problem.

    I make my third point rather reluctantly, but it is a truth of life. Normally, when a child is aged 5 and goes to school, there is an opportunity for the mother to go out to work to augment the family income.

    It is for those three reasons that I want a statement tonight from my right hon. Friend about the way in which he views the problem of the 2 to 5-year-old child and mobility. First, this is the age at which there is no real educational opportunity. Secondly, this is the sort of child that has to be taken to hospital frequently on the basis that there is a chance of rehabilitation. Thirdly, at this time the mother is denied the opportunity of earning money to augment the family income.

    I raise this matter in order to allow the House to have a debate and to find out where in the problem of priorities the Government place these people.

    The whole Opposition join the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) in congratulating the Under-Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Morris). It is true to say that there cannot be anyone in this country who is not delighted at his elevation and tremendously grateful for the efforts that he has made—sometimes against some odds.

    The new clause has been moved by someone whom I regard very often as my hon. Friend—the hon. Member for Eccles. It concerns children between the ages of 2 and 5 who are disabled. We well understand the hon. Member having taken up the device—what I now call the myth—of the national insurance fund, and it has been used by the Opposition on some occasions to get the matter debated. It is right that we should discuss this issue in the House on these occasions, because we get few enough opportunities to do so.

    Of course, I understand that there is a very good case for the measure. There can be no question at all about that. The House will recall that several years ago, when we debated the money resolution on the mobility allowance, I raised the issue. At that time I too, was testing the strength of the proposal. We were all well aware of the tremendous burden that a disabled youngster places on a mother, in particular at a time when one expects an able-bodied youngster to be getting around on its own little feet and being able to amuse itself. One great problem is to keep a physically disabled toddler occupied during the hours of the day.

    There is no difference between the hon. Member for Eccles and Conservative Members. We all know that this is a real problem. I have seen this over many years, ever since I became involved with young disabled children in hospital, and we are gradually moving towards a solution to the problem.

    The first thing that we should look at is the availability, where it is totally needed, of the attendance allowance for children of this age. All children need attendance, but is it the sheer attendance about which we are talking rather than the mobility? I believe that there is a problem here.

    Another problem is that this matter has not been discussed for some time in the House. We shall, therefore, welcome the answers which I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will give in responding to the debate.

    I must disagree with the hon. Member for Eccles that there are no educational opportunities for disabled toddlers. In many of the more recent cases that I have come across there are such opportunities, and I pay tribute to the Toy Libraries Association, which has begun to do so much for families with disabled youngsters. I hope that it will continue to do that very good work. However, the hon. Member for Eccles is right in saying that that does not remove the burden from the mother, because it still means that the mother has to get her child to the toy library in the first place. I thoroughly accept that.

    I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way. I hope that tomorrow morning Hansard will show that I entered a caveat—that a development is taking place which assists the mother, and that toy libraries, and so on, are helpful. I was suggesting that it will be some time before facilities are totally available for this group.

    I agree with the hon. Gentleman that none of these helpful facilities grows as fast as we would like. I believe that over the past few years there has been a change and a new awareness in the importance which society now, thankfully, places on the development of children who although physically disabled are mentally alert and have a great deal to give. Therefore, we should examine this problem from both the social and the educational point of view.

    I should be glad to hear from the Minister whether he has discussed the needs of the under-fives disabled children with his opposite number at the Department of Education and Science. In the last two years there have been a number of new pamphlets and debates about the needs of the under-fives. I believe that the specific needs of the under-fives, who can sometimes be accommodated in special schools for a short period of the day, are matters which the two Departments together would do well to explore.

    In saying that, I am conscious that the last published figure of cost for this group was small. I am led to believe that the Amelia Harris figures, on which the estimate of cost of £2 million in 1976 is based, are now considered to be out of date. I should be grateful if the right hon. Gentleman could provide us with the up-to-date costs that his Department must, surely, have worked out for extending the mobility allowance to this group of little people.

    We also need to know what range of facilities are already available. This is not to say that we do not place great importance on helping the mothers of these children, but there are always so many calls on the public purse, especially with regard to this Department, that we must make a decision whether this gets the top priority of the money available.

    8.30 p.m.

    Every week another worthwhile cause requests money. It may be for £1 million or for £500,000; it may be for much more. For my part, I believe that this is a group that is well up the list. But, in the stringent situation in which we presently find ourselves I do not believe that it can be a group to which we can devote funds. That is not to say that I do not want to see it happen, because I sincerely do. It is a step for the future, one which I hope we can continue to research perhaps a little more avidly than we have done in the last couple of years to see whether we can extend this allowance to the parents of toddlers when the time is right. Perhaps we might even be able to extend a percentage of the allowance, because it might be argued that toddlers do not need the full extent of the mobility allowance, as does an adult disabled person, in order to get around.

    In saying that, I do not want any hon. Member, least of all the hon. Member for Eccles, to feel that we shall not give this due consideration. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, as well as agoraphobics, blind people feel that they have had nothing out of the health and social services kitty for a long while, and they also have put immense pressure on the right hon. Gentleman.

    In Committee we debated whether we should remove the upper limit for the receipt of mobility allowance. I know that every Government Minister receives daily requests for additional expenditure, just as we, either as constituency Members or as an Opposition, are asked to support many good causes. Therefore, I ask the Minister for more information. I should also like to know what can be done in conjunction with the other Departments concerned.

    One of the problems which confronts me more and more as a constituency Member is that many families with disabled children are more hampered by the lack of facilities for those children within their own homes than they are by the lack of outside mobility. We know that this should not be so, because there is the Joseph Rowntree family fund. That is worth mentioning tonight, because that might help some of those who look to this debate to solve their additional expense problems in respect of disabled children.

    For all the reasons that I have outlined, and in view of the many cases of genuine need to which we cannot yet give the funds that we would like, I believe that for the time being other cases will have a higher priority than the one outlined by the hon. Member for Eccles. The abiding duty, whether of this Government or the next one, is to get the economy in such a state that we can talk about additional funds for the disabled, and additional funds for this group. My one ambition may be to spend money, but in order to spend money the country must first earn it. That must be the top priority, because then 2 to 5-year-olds will be able to have their mobility allowance.

    I am grateful both to my hon. Friend and to the hon. Lady for their kind references to my appointment to the Privy Council. As my hon. Friend has made clear, his purpose in moving the new clause was to probe the Government's view about extending the mobility allowance to children between the ages of 2 and 5.

    I have noted the hon. Lady's request for an updating of the figures based on the Amelia Harris survey. However, meanwhile the cost is still estimated at around £2 million a year, and we expect about 4,000 disabled children to benefit. This was of course one of the recommendations of the Royal Commission on civil liability and compensation for personal injury—the Pearson Commission—and the Government are giving very detailed consideration to those recommendations. The suggestion has also been made on a number of occasions and has been sympathetically examined, as are all suggestions for extending the scope of benefits to disabled people.

    Against a background of scarce resources, one is always faced with a difficult, indeed agonising, decision about competing priorities, and, without wishing to minimise the problems of families with handicapped children under 5, we have so far felt bound to give higher priority to the elderly, many of whom are left to cope with their difficulties as best they can. That is why clause 3 extends the age limits for the elderly at a cost over four years of £20 million a year. For the future the Government are still considering the Pearson report.

    The House will recall that the Commission also recommended a general benefit for all severely handicapped children. Over and above this, more and more people are pressing for a new general disablement benefit for all severely disabled people, adults and children alike. There are difficulties in designing benefits for particular and very deserving groups rather than adopting a comprehensive approach to all severely disabled people. These problems concern not only costs but such other difficulties as taxability, how disablement is assessed, and the relationship with other benefits. We are studying all the possibilities and options very carefully.

    It may be helpful to remind the House that in the three years since it was first introduced we have doubled the rate of mobility allowance from £5 to £10 a week. It was increased to £7 a week in November 1977 and to £10 a week in July 1978. Moreover, we have undertaken to review the rate of the allowance regularly every year. With the improvements that we have put forward in the Bill, expenditure on mobility allowance will reach £65 million in the financial year 1979–80 and £72 million in 1980–81. These are the latest figures available. By 1980–81 we shall have raised overall expenditure on mobility for the disabled to some £90 million a year.

    Many people will say that this is not enough, but it is certainly a considerable advance on the £13 million a year that was being spent when we took office in 1974. I know that the House will be glad to learn tonight that we are now paying the mobility allowance to over 100,000 people. The latest figures available to me show that 103,500 people are now in receipt of this important new allowance. As my hon. Friend is aware, there are strong pressures on the Government to extend the mobility allowance to many other categories of disabled people. They include the blind, the deaf blind, people suffering from epilepsy, the mentally handicapped and agoraphobics, all of whom have mobility problems even though physically they may be able to walk.

    This is one reason why I have so often said that in this long-neglected field I face infinite claims with only finite resources. There is no one in this House who appreciates the truth of that more than my hon. Friend and, indeed, the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker), who referred to Jonathan Bradshaw's work at York. We are looking at this paper carefully and especially the medical and statistical data. However, I must emphasise that the Government see the issue not so much as one of the individual merits of a particular case where children aged 2 to 5 should have the allowance but rather as one of priorities where we seek to establish whether children should take precedence over many other competing claims for an extension of the allowance. This is a most difficult decision for the Government and one that we shall continue to consider very carefully.

    I can assure my hon. Friend and the hon. Lady that we shall continue to do everything in our power further to promote the well-being of disabled people as a whole, and that in doing so we shall continually have in mind such claims for assistance as the one that has been made tonight.

    I hope that in the light of my reply my hon. Friend will not press his new clause.

    Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

    New Clause 2

    Power To Abolish Earnings Rules

    "(1) The Secretary of State may by order determine that the deductions from pensions prescribed by sections 30(1), 45(3) and 66(4) of the principal Act, as amended, shall cease to apply from such date as the order may lay down.

    (2) No order shall be made under this section unless a draft of it has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.".—[ Mr. Patrick Jenkin.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    As one who did not take part in the Committee proceedings, I find that I have a little hesitation in moving, That the clause be read a Second time. I hope that if I trespass on to matters that were well and truly thrashed out in Committee I shall be forgiven.

    A new clause was moved in Committee right at the end—one might almost say that it was moved in extra time, because it was after one o'clock on the last day—by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young). The new clause before the House is in identical terms. Because of the time available, there was only a brief debate in Committee. There was a tied vote, and as a result we return to the matter tonight. Since the Committee stage the Under-Secretary of State has written a letter to my hon. Friend, and some of us have been able to see copies.

    The purpose of the new clause is, first, to allow a debate on the earnings rule and to consider the Government's recent report, published in October, in which they analyse the effect of the earnings rule. The second purpose is to give the Government power, if the House so decides, to phase out the earnings rule by order, so that when the moment comes to do that, as surely it must in the next year or two, they do not need to go through the whole process of legislation.

    It is no secret that the earnings rule has been increasingly criticised in recent years, mainly on two grounds. It is increasingly felt to be unfair. Pensioners say that they have paid their contributions and should be entitled to their pensions as of right. We in the House know, and many of us must have sought on many occasions to argue with our constituents, that the earnings rule exists to, reinforce, so it is said, the retirement rule, and that the contributions are paid to secure the benefit of a pension subject to the retirement rule and the earnings rule. But, equally, I think that all hon. Members know that it has proved almost impossible to convince people of the correctness of that argument.

    In addition to the argument of fairness, there is the social argument. The earnings rule is increasingly regarded as undesirable socially. It is undesirable to put barriers in the way of the younger retired working longer or earning more. As life expectancies steadly increase, people can look forward to 20 or even 25 and sometimes 30 years of retirement after the normal retirement age. Many would like to feel free to go on earning after that normal retirement age without feeling that they are fettered in any way by financial disincentives.

    One of the interesting findings of the OPCS survey, which is referred to in the Government's report, is that the psychological effect of the earnings rule may be as important as the financial disincentive. Far more people feel that they are being hindered by the earnings rule than its actual impact on their personal finances would justify.

    The fact is that all parties in the House are now committed to end the rule when resources allow. Therefore, the central question is what the cost of doing that will be. I shall not tonight argue for more cost, for reasons that we all understand. But when one considers the cost one sees that some important facts need to be considered.

    The rule now bites at a substantially higher level of income than it used to. That is due, as the House knows, to pressure from both sides over recent years—pressure, let it be said, that was resisted all the way each time by the Government. It had to be voted through time after time and the record shows that very clearly. The earnings limits have been raised substantially in the last five years, from £13 a week in July 1974, equal to about 28 per cent. of average earnings, to £45 a week, as from last November, which is probably, although we do not know the figure yet, around 50 per cent. of average earnings. But the rule is still there, and the earnings limit is still there, and the arguments for abolition are no less strong.

    8.45 p.m.

    In our debates we have had a variety of estimates for the cost of abolishing the rule, and a little over a year ago the Government were saying quite firmly that the cost was well in excess of £100 million—perhaps £140 million or £150 million. On this side of the House, ever since my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) and Mr. Christopher Mockler published the CPC pamphlet "An End to the Earnings Rule?", we have argued that the Government have always grossly over-estimated the cost of abolishing the rule. What has happened is that by stages we have been proved right and the Government have had to concede that they were over-estimating and were wrong.

    The House will remember that in 1977 the Government made some major concessions on costs. They published a paper headed "Note on estimated savings", in which they conceded that previous assumptions were wrong and that the figures had been wrongly interpreted. In that year we forced through the House, and the Government finally accepted, when it came back from another place, a clause to oblige them to review the operation of the rule properly and to report back to the House, and this they have now done. The reason why we did that is perfectly clear. It was admirably stated by the Government spokesman in another place, the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell, when he said:
    "I imagine that the expectation in putting down the new clause is to assess the cost of bringing the earnings rule to an end. If the Secretary of State undertook this kind of investigation, the hope would be that he would find that less public expenditure was required than he had so far supposed and, consequently, would be more willing to announce a timetable for the ending of the rule." [Official Report, House of Lords, 14 March 1977; Vol. 380, c. 1291.]
    Exactly so, and of course that is exactly what has happened, because this is what the report has done, as I shall show in a moment.

    I may say that when the Bill came back to the Commons on that occasion it did not prevent the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State from saying:
    "It remains the Government's view that such a review is not necessary on its merits."—[Official Report, 24 March 1977; Vol. 928, c. 1501.]
    I hope that we shall have a clear statement from the Government this evening that they are glad that they had to undertake this review, because it has disclosed a lot of new and interesting figures. The merits of the report will be clear as I go on.

    The study, although it leaves out two important factors which we have always argued should be taken into account, shows once again that even the revised estimates of the cost given to the House in 1977 were based on wrong figures, that the assumptions on which cost estimates were based were themselves wrong, and that important factors which the Government had previously discounted are relevant and should be brought into the balance.

    I should like to demonstrate to the House that, on the basis of the figures in this report, and taking account of the two factors which the report does not mention and which we argue should be counted, the earnings rule for pensioners might well be abolished now at no cost to public funds. But I stress the word "might" because I concede that there are still some uncertainties and there may well, therefore, be some cost.

    The biggest single factor has always been how many of the 137,000 people who are currently deferring retirement, postponing claiming their pensions and earnings increments would, if the earnings rule were abolished, take an immediate pension and forgo the increment. The Government have always argued that they would. They have said that it would be 100 per cent. No doubt the Minister will remember the statement made in paragraph 18 of the estimate paper of 1978. That stated:
    "In all estimates of the extra cost to the national insurance fund if there were no earnings rule or retirement condition, it has been assumed that 100 per cent. of those aged 65 (men) or 60 (women) with entitlement to retirement pension would receive it".
    The report shows—it is an important finding based on a retirement survey carried out by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys—that the paragraph in the estimate paper was wrong. About 40 per cent. would continue to defer taking their pension.

    That is stated not as succinctly but perfectly clearly in paragraph 4.8 in the report on the earnings rule, which states:
    "the results of the Retirement Survey suggest that about two-fifths of those who, under the existing provisions, cannot be treated as retired, would choose to earn increments rather than receive an immediate pension in the event of the earnings rule and retirement condition being abolished."
    That is an interesting finding. It radically affects the cost of abolishing the rule.

    As long ago as 1976 my hon. Friend the Member for Rushcliffe and Mr. Mockler estimated in their paper a very similar percentage of the then rather larger number of deferrers. It may be said that the OPCS survey wholly vindicates my hon. Friend's judgment. The effect is to reduce the gross cost to the national insurance fund from the Government's starting figure of £199 million, assuming 100 per cent. would take the pension, by about £80 million to £119 in the first stage.

    There has been argument about the figures, but the Government have always conceded that if we had people earning and taking the pension a good deal more tax would be paid. It is accepted that that, too, has to be brought into the account. That is put at £43 million—I accept that figure—and that reduces the cost of abolition from £119 million to £76 million.

    We now have to break new ground. Hitherto the Government have refused to accept the argument that the effect of the earnings rule is to limit what pensioners earn. We have always argued that if we have a marginal tax rate of, in effect, 100 per cent., that is bound to have a bearing on people's willingness to earn above that limit. For the most part, people will not go on working if they lose £1 for every £1 they earn. It was contrary to common sense to argue, as the Government did in the past, that no account should be taken of that factor. The OPCS survey, as appears from the Government report, shows that we were right. The language is somewhat convoluted but the purpose is clear.

    In paragraphs 4.10 and 4.11 it is stated that it is right to assume extra earnings and right to assume that some people will work longer hours, and that therefore there will be extra revenue to the Exchequer. That is put at £28 million. That reduces the cost from £76 million to £48 million. At this stage we begin to wonder why the Under-Secretary of State was so reluctant to concede such a report. Why did he say that it had no merit? Clearly it has merit. It is bringing us nearer the day when we shall be able to abolish the earnings rule.

    I do not stop there, because there are three further matters that have to be taken into account. First, the Government persist—as far as I can see, on no evidence—in the error of believing that the effect of ending the earnings rule will lead to many people reducing their incomes and so paying less tax. There are two other matters that the Government ignore altogether.

    Let me take these in turn. It is the Government's apparent belief that people will reduce their incomes. I find it strange that the Government take the view that if we remove a disincentive to work there will be some who work less. The Government do not put it in those terms, but that is what they mean. They argue that if someone gets his pension as well as his earnings, he will be able to work fewer hours without loss of income. I have to concede that there may be some, especially those who are disabled or are nearing the moment when they feel that they want to give up work altogether, who may do exactly that. The Government's argument is that there will be a reduction of about 10 per cent. in the earnings of pensioners across the board. That is a wildly excessive figure.

    In a letter from the Under-Secretary of State to my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton it was stated:
    "The idea that people who unexpectedly qualify for a pension which they did not previously receive might feel able to reduce their hours of work is in accordance with an acceptable economic theory."
    I suspect that this is what it is based on. We are given a reference:
    "A formal statement of the theory as applied to an earnings-tested social security benefit may be found in 'The Labour Supply Curves under Income Maintenance Programs' by G. Hanoch and M. Honig, Journal of Public Economics, Volume 9, 1978".
    There may be a theory, but there is really no evidence at all. Hon. Members on both sides of the House know perfectly well that the vast majority of people need every penny of income they can get. After all, are we not being reminded of that every day this week? The figure based on a 10 per cent. cut, which I suggest is wildly excessive, increases the cost of abolishing the rule by some £17 million. I should be prepared to concede that there may be a few at the margin, and I suggest that the increase is more of the order of £2 million to, say, £3 million, but I do not believe that it would be more than that. My previous figure of a cost of £48 million then becomes £51 million, but that is without taking account of two factors of which the Government take no account at all.

    I start with a quotation:
    "If the earnings rule were abolished a number of people who in present circumstances might well retire would not then retire."—[Official Report, 29 January 1975; Vol. 885, c. 469.]
    I agree, because it seems only common sense. It was said by the late Brian O'Malley, who, as we all know, had a deep knowledge and understanding of these matters which we all greatly respected.

    That is the first point. There will be some people who are coming up to retirement and who are planning to retire but who, if they find that they do not lose their whole pension when they go on working, will go on working. There is nothing at all in this report on that. There is no figure given. It is all the odder because in 1976 an OPCS survey found that 40 per cent. of non-working women between the ages of 60 and 64, and men between 65 and 69, wanted to work beyond retirement age, and yet no account was taken of that. I believe that there ought to be something in for that because extra tax revenue would be paid as a result of some of these people continuing at work.

    On my second point, I referred earlier to the psychological effect of the earnings rule to which increasingly people are giving credence. It is clear that the earnings rule is thought by many working pensioners to limit their earnings by more than is in fact the case. This point was made in paragraph 2.8 of the report, which said:
    "Relatively few, about 80,000, seemed to be limiting their earnings because of the earnings rule and of these only 40,000 were influenced by the correct earnings limit rather than a misconception of it. These answers say more about the general state of confusion surrounding the rule than about the extent to which it really acts as a disincentive".
    Poor knowledge may be as much of a problem as the rule itself, but, considering that the rule has operated for 30 years, we must recognise that if people do not understand it now, they never will. The fact is that it deters people from working.

    There must be many pensioners who do not work and who would like to work but who never get round to working because they have been put off by their impression of how the earnings rule would affect them. Therefore, rather than that they should start some new part-time job, they accept retirement. If they had the chance to keep on full-time, they would do so. There are 2 million non-working pensioners in the earnings rule bracket, of whom about 1 million are, or would be, affected by the present rule. Is it reasonable to assume that not one of them will return to work if the earnings rule is abolished?

    9.0 p.m.

    Will my right hon. Friend accept that it is not only the money they can earn which has to be considered, but the fact that people who are going into retirement because of this misconception have the skills that are needed to keep our factories moving? Once they have gone out of the system, this could very well lead to higher unemployment.

    My hon. Friend is right. Studies produced by the Department of Employment show that it is a substantial fallacy, though not a total one, to believe that young men step into old men's jobs. That does not happen. The fact that elderly people go on working seems to have remarkably little effect on the availability of jobs for youngsters at the other end of the age bracket. I do not believe there is any argument for keeping on the earnings rule as a disincentive to people to work in order to provide jobs for younger people. That is a fallacy, and my hon. Friend is right.

    My point is that there is nothing in the White Paper to suggest that people would return to work after retirement age once they knew they could keep their pension and earnings, paying only the tax on the income. The question is how much extra tax revenue we should allow in respect of people who are coming up to retirement but who decide to go on working and in respect of those who have retired and who believe that, with the ending of the earnings rule, they could go back to work. I do not know the answer, and it is a difficult question to answer without a further survey.

    In the CPC pamphlet of 1976 it was estimated that an extra 25,000 people would remain in work or return to work who would otherwise retire, and it was calculated on the figures in that year that there would be extra tax revenue of £19 million. If we apply the same proportions to today's figures, both as to tax revenue and in respect of the numbers involved, we estimate that this would yield a tax revenue of £46 million which would have to be thrown in on the credit side. If my sums are right, that reduces the total net cost of abolishing the earnings rule to £5 million.

    If we were wholly satisfied with £5 million, we would now be debating a new clause to abolish the earnings rule and I suggest that we would carry it because it would have support in all parts of the House. I do not know whether the figure of £46 mililon is right. The Minister's letter to my hon. Friend dismisses the figure as fanciful. Perhaps I may quote from page 3 of that letter:
    "The OPCS Survey attempted to discover whether any pensioner did not work because of the rule but the replies were difficult to interpret."
    We have to rely on anecdotal evidence in deciding whether the figure is fanciful. I refer to a recent issue of "Choice", the magazine published for retired people. A journalist interviewed an elderly widow whose husband, when he retired, became bored, returned to work and found that the earnings rule substantially limited the value to him. He was losing a pound for a pound. That was the rub.

    The report said:
    "the wages paid to him meant that he had to surrender some of his state pension. He was angry at the deduction. His view was that he had paid for the pension and it offended his sense of justice that he should be 'fined' for doing a fair day's work".
    The article says that it would have been better if the man had approached the matter more philosophically and continued working. But he could not. He gave up the job in mute protest. A few months later he was dead. His widow was convinced that if he had kept on at his job he would still be alive.

    That is an extreme case. But there are people who resent the situation. They take the view that they would rather take the pension, retire and have their time to themselves. But there are those who would carry on working or return from retirement if it were not for the earnings rule. Whether or not the figure involved is £46 million, something should have been put in the balance to cover that situation.

    I cannot argue on the basis of guesswork. If it were to cost £25 million, or £30 million, to abolish the earnings rule, I do not believe that it would be justified in the present state of the nation's finances. We have always approached such matters with responsibility. I cannot prove that it will not cost that amount.

    However, the Government should have the power to make the change by order. We have hammered out the principles. We are agreed about the rule being undesirable and that it should go. When we can afford it, we should phase the rule out. That is what my new clause proposes.

    There is another argument involving the wives of pensioners and invalidity pensioners. Theirs is a different case. Even if we could abolish the earnings rule at no cost—and that could be done for such pensioners—it is difficult to justify paying a dependence allowance to somebody who, by definition, is not a dependant. I do not seek to argue that case now because it involves different principles.

    We are all agreed about ending the earnings rule for pensioners and that it should be done as soon as resources allow. As a result of the latest work which the Opposition obliged the Government to undertake, we are nearly there. It would be reasonable for the House to decide to remove the procedural obstacle of legislation and to allow the Government to act by order. The facts are clear. When we can afford it we should get rid of this unfair anachronism, once and for all.

    I agree that the earnings rule is a most unpopular measure, but the campaign to abolish the rule has become a populist cause. Sometimes people are unwilling to face the realities.

    The right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) lost me when he said that if the earnings rule were abolished all the people working at present who were affected by that rule would retire. That seems to defy logic.

    The right hon. Member's reasoning seemed to fly in the face of common sense and all the evidence—which is anecdotal—which has been presented to me by pensioners in my constituency. Almost to a man—or a woman—they say that if the earnings rule were abolished they would go back to work. Whether they would go back to work is open to question. But the right hon. Member's reference to the psychology of the matter is not far off the mark.

    We should consider the economic and sociological effect of people not retiring at 60 or 65, or going back to another job after retiring from their main job. One thing must be established first. That is that the retirement pension is what it says. It is a retirement pension, a pension for people who are not in employment.

    Confusion arises when people are told that they must retire at 65, all the actuarial calculations of contributions having presumably been based on some notional life span of employment. If men are told that they must retire at 65 and women at 60, in normal circumstances, although it is not a legal requirement that they must retire, they feel that having paid for X number of years they are entitled to that pension as of right, because they have paid insurance contributions or taxes for it. It is some time since I looked at the actuarial position but I have a feeling that a big whack of retirement pensions comes out of general taxation and not from a sound actuarial insurance scheme.

    There is no absolute principle that as one has paid for one's retirement over the years, one is entitled to it as of right at 65. One is, of course, entitled to it if one retires. Leaving the issue of principle aside, what would be the effect of abolishing the earnings rule in terms of employment? With 1½ million unemployed, we cannot say that people should go on working beyond the normal retirement age of 65.

    I know that the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford said that there is little evidence to show that young men step into old men's shoes. I am not sure how firm his evidence is, but if it became normal practice, as it would be considered normal practice if the earnings rule were abolished for people to stay on beyond normal retiring age, this would be bound to have an effect on the number of people in work and those seeking work. How big or how small that effect would be, none can tell, but it would have a significant effect if one takes at face value the number of people who have told me that they did not want to retire but that to go on working would have been a financial disadvantage through loss of part of their pension. I believe that a substantial number would either continue in their jobs or go to other jobs apart from the one in which they have worked for most of their lives.

    A twin argument is developing in the country. On the one hand, there is the perfectly principled argument that people should retire earlier than 65 in order to enjoy a leisure life at a time when they are physically and mentally active enough to appreciate leisure that they cannot get during their working period. That is a perfectly reasonable argument. But there is another argument, to which I do not wholly subscribe, that the way to cure the unemployment problem is to reduce the retiring age of men to 60, which would automatically release jobs for younger people.

    I am a little worried about that argument, because it would simply mask the unemployment problem. One would be simply juggling with figures, just as we altered the unemployment position by raising the school leaving age. It was the right thing to do in itself. It affected the unemployment figures but did not affect the general problem of providing for full employment. I am not in favour of facile solutions that mask a real problem of providing meaningful employment for people of working age.

    These two arguments tend to push us in the direction of reducing the retirement age. Yet we seem to say, on the other hand, that the retirement age will be reduced but people will be allowed to earn more without penalty. These arguments are at odds with and pull against each other. The way to tackle the problem of retired people in meeting their daily costs and paying for their rent, electricity and food is not by juggling with the abolition of the earnings rule. The right way is to provide decent pensions.

    9.15 p.m.

    Although it is unpopular to argue with pensioners and their organisations that the earnings rule should not be abolished, it is an argument that must be put. It is akin to the argument over the claim that the pension part of a person's income should not be taxed. That is another popular cause, but I am coming increasingly to the view that we are tackling the problems of hardship in our society by creating special cases to which we give privileges instead of looking at how we can provide the wherewithal to give all the special classes a decent standard of living.

    I wish that we would look much more at that end of the argument instead of concentrating on arguments about abolishing the earnings rule There is, however, one aspect of the argument in favour of abolishing the rule with which I have some sympathy. I have no vast body of evidence to substantiate what I have to say, but I am told that many employers take on pensioners because they can tell the pensioner that he will be paid only £40 a week because if he gets £45 or more he will lose his pension.

    Many people do not understand precisely how the earnings rule works. I do not claim to understand it myself. Some people believe that they will lose their pension if they work on beyond their retirement at above a certain wage. I do not think that people set out to tell me lies, and there seems to be evidence that unscrupulous employers deliberately take on pensioners at much less than the going rate for the job because the pensioners believe that employers have a hold over them. Again, the best way to tackle that is under the fair wages provisions and by ensuring that investigations into low pay are properly carried out.

    The immediate abolition of the earnings rule would be a move against the sort of policies that we want to see of people retiring and having a decent living without having to work. If a man has spent all his days driving a lorry, especially in the sort of foul conditions that we are experiencing now, or down the pits—and thank heaven I have never had to do that—he is entitled to retire at a decent age and not be forced to work on. He is entitled to retire at a time when he can appreciate the value of society and benefit from all it has to offer.

    We need to tackle the question of how people can retire and have the wherewithal to enjoy their leisure without financial worries. That would be better than adopting the populist cause of abolishing the earnings rule. The bad effects of that are probably greater than the good effects that some people believe would result.

    I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) for ably covering a great deal of the ground that I had wished to cover. That will reduce the length of my speech.

    The pension is linked to retirement, and it is almost a contradiction to suggest that people should remain at work when they are receiving the retirement pension. I appreciate that in our constituencies and surgeries the opposite view is often put, and many pensioners point out that they have paid contributions that entitle them to a pension, despite the fact that they continue to work.

    I do not entirely accept that argument. If we assess the contributions formula, we see that the younger working population is funding the pensions scheme. The value of the pension, especially under the present Government, has increased in real terms, and that increase is being financed by the population that is still at work.

    But there is a wider background to the new clause. We must recognise that the available work force in this country—that is, the number of people between 16 and 65, excluding students—has increased considerably over recent years and will continue to increase at a quite sensational pace during the coming years. The available labour force will increase by about 2 million in the next 15 years. This will be alongside the advance of technology, which will lead to a smaller labour force being required, especially in manufacturing industry.

    I advocate earlier retirement. I do not accept the argument that this is perhaps a sly or almost dishonest way of dealing with the unemployment problem. I believe that it is a genuine and worthy way of reducing unemployment. If the requirement for people in the work force is lessened, we should accept the position. We should, if we can, reduce the retirement age and the length of the working week and, by various other methods, seek to reduce the work force, while retaining our capacity to generate prosperity. If there is the opportunity to do this, we should welcome it. It would rather defeat the purpose of that philosophy if I were to support the new clause. I would not press the enforcement of a compulsory retirement age, but I do not think that we should encourage people excessively to remain at work.

    Not all those who continue in employment after they have reached retirement age are there for virtuous reasons. Many of them are in employment simply because the opportunity presents itself, and opportunities of that sort are not generally available to people. Some are unable to take advantage of employment in old age because they worked excessively when they were younger. Many are too ill, too exhausted, too worn out to take up employment. Generally speaking, it is those who have had a comfortable working lifetime who are able to take advantage of employment after normal retirement age.

    While recognising all the arguments which have been put at some length and in some detail, I cannot accept that we have a priority for abolishing the earnings rule at this stage. I think that it should come very low in our list of priorities. Therefore I cannot support the proposition.

    We have had an interesting debate, which has gone fairly wide, on the whole subject of retirement in connection with the earnings rule. Perhaps it would help, as the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) spent quite a long time in introducing it, if I made some comments about the new clause.

    The clause gives power to make an affirmative order to stop deductions from pensions under the earnings rule in respect of retirement pensioners and the dependent wives of retirement and invalidity pensioners and of those receiving industrial injuries unemployability supplement.

    The Government see several disadvantages in proceeding in this way. First, the retirement condition, upon which entitlement to retirement pension rests, can be satisfied either by reference to the amount of time a person expects to spend at work after retirement or the amount of money he expects to earn, which is now up to £45 a week. The earnings rule is inextricably bound up with the retirement condition as the basis upon which entitlement to pension rests, and it has always been recognised that abolition of the earnings rule means that the retirement condition has to go also.

    The effect on the retirement condition of ceasing to make deductions under the earnings rule, in consequence of an order made under the new clause, is not clear. The Act would still provide for a retirement condition, although the circumstances in which it could be satisfied are debatable, and it is doubtful whether the ensuing legal tangle would accurately reflect the wishes of Parliament. It is an unsatisfactory solution, therefore, to remove the earnings rule in isolation. The remainder of the provisions in the Act are left in doubt, and we would not think that this is an appropriate way in which to set about the operation.

    The second difficulty is that the new clause excludes the most likely way of bringing the earnings rule to an end—that is, by phasing it out. The Government are already committed to phasing out the earnings rule. The cost of overnight abolition is substantial. It involves considerable public expenditure, and phasing out would allow us to meet this cost over a period of years. As suggested in the report on the earnings rule which was published last October, phasing out could be accomplished by progressive reduction of the upper age to which the rule ceases to apply, at present 70 for men and 65 for women.

    I shall deal briefly with the points raised by the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford about costs. One of the recurring features of these debates—we have had a number of debates on the earnings rule—is a dispute about costs. Costs are very important, and it is right that we should examine them closely. They can also be very complex. It would do injustice to some of the points involved to make them subject to exchanges, so to speak, off the cuff. The question of cost has been given a good run in the House and in Committee.

    Estimates of costs were debated at some length during the passage of the Social Security (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill in 1977. The Government undertook to prepare a detailed report, which the right hon. Member quoted tonight. The report was prepared in October last year. Various costs were closely examined. The estimates published were the most sophisticated that it had been so far possible to make. These were challenged by the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) in the Committee on this Bill before Christmas.

    In the light of the hon. Gentleman's arguments, we re-examined the figures with the help of the Government Actuary, who is independent of my Department, and my own economic advisers. In the result, we see no reason to alter the estimates put forward. Perhaps more to the point, we have not been convinced that the alternative estimates put forward challenging our own are based on evidence sufficiently sound to persuade us to prefer them. It would serve no purpose of ours to put forward figures that were unnecessarily high. We, too, welcome low figures where they are justified. I wrote to the hon. Member for Ealing, Acton on 19 January explaining our reasons. The right hon. Gentleman was good enough to quote several passages from that letter.

    In these debates we have gone over a lot of ground. I doubt whether there is much scope left for profitable exploration. The cost of abolishing the earnings rule is still formidably high. It is between £64 million and £124 million after allowing for tax, depending on the number of people who would decide to defer taking their pension so as to earn increments on it. The actual number that would defer their pension may be uncertain. In any event, the cost is a problem that has to be faced by any Government. It would help to be able to take on that cost gradually.

    The third point about the new clause is that it ties the abolition of the earnings rule for retirement pensioners to that of dependent wives. In the case of retirement pensions, the function of the earnings rule is to support the retirement condition. But in the case of an increase of benefit for a wife the earnings rule is a test of dependency. As the right hon. Gentleman rightly pointed out, it sets the point at which the wife's earnings have become too high to be consistent with her being regarded as being dependent on her pensioner husband. In tackling the earnings rule, therefore, it is necessary to separate the effect of the rules on the retirement pension from the effect on benefit for the dependent wife. The new clause does not do that.

    Having pointed out those aspects of the new clause which make it unacceptable as it stands, I acknowledge the common ground that the Government share with hon. Members opposite in that we agree that when resources are available the earnings rule should go. This is a commitment that we have made previously. That being so, we see advantage as well in taking suitable preparatory steps to achieve that purpose. I have indicated the defects in the new clause which hinder making progress in the desired direction. I accept that it is insufficient for the Government simply to find fault with proposals that other people have put forward while making no positive move. Probably the most promising way forward would be through a progressive reduction in the upper age for the retirement pensioners' earnings rule.

    If the right hon. Gentleman will at this stage ask leave to withdraw the new clause, the Government will in another place introduce a new clause that will enable the Government, by means of orders subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, to phase out the earnings rule for retirement pensioners by steadily reducing the period over which it applies, with the aim of abolishing it completely. In so doing the Government would simply be taking power to make changes. The question of using that power would need to be considered in the light of the economic situation at the time, in relation to the many other claims on public expenditure and the Government's expenditure priorities.

    The Government have been most forthcoming on this. I am especially grateful to the Under-Secretary for reiterating the Government's commitment to getting rid of the earnings rule. We have listened to two closely argued speeches by the hon. Members for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) and for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers). They both made it clear that they did not want to see the end of the earnings rule. They were prepared to argue for it.

    It is important that the Government have reiterated that they are committed to ending the earnings rule. I found the arguments of the hon. Member for Chorley unattractive. He seemed to think that it was necessary to have the earnings rule in order to save people from themselves, that they feel that they have to go on working but they were worn out and they should really retire.

    9.30 p.m.

    I should make my point clear, because I did not intend to give that impression. I said that some people were unable to take advantage of any relaxation in the earnings rule because of the nature of their working lives, which have been hard. I said that they were worn out and sick, and unable to continue working. That is rather different from what the right hon. Gentleman suggested that I said.

    Then I fear it is even less admirable than I thought. I was interested to see the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) nodding in agreement. Of course my hon. Friends will recognise that we have just heard the old Socialist cry "If I cannot have it, you shall not have it either."

    I had better clear the decks as well. I come from the pits, and I still represent a constituency that has many thousands of miners and retired miners. The fact is that when we introduced a new scheme recently for early retirement at 60 over a period of years, only about half a dozen miners in the whole of the Derbyshire coalfield stayed on beyond the retirement age, which is down to 62. The point that my hon. Friend is making is absolutely right. In that kind of industry most of the people concerned simply cannot carry on working and they look forward to their retirement. As far as I am concerned, I have done my 20 years underground. I qualify under the scheme, and if they get the age down to 55 it will not be long before I can retire.

    Many of us on the Conservative Benches would feel a very great sense of loss if the hon. Member for Bolsover retired. Nobody for one moment has denied the right of someone who reaches retirement age to retire if that is what he or she wants to do. The argument is—the Government's latest report emphasises it—that many people feel able to stay on doing the same job, the same job on a reduced basis or, as I suspect is the case with many of the Derbyshire coalminers, other lighter jobs above ground. I bet that they take jobs behind the bars and in all sorts of other useful ways where their experience and personalities help them to help themselves. Nothing that I have said would prevent them from doing so. On this side, we want to see a progressive move to more flexible retirement and greater freedom of choice. Ending the earnings rule is one important step in this direction.

    I understand the case that the Under-Secretary has made. One way of doing this is to alter the ages—to reduce the age by a year, or six months, or whatever. I would be grateful if the Under-Secretary would examine the possibility of raising the limit faster than is currently done under the 1977 Act and to include that in the proposed amendment, in addition, as an alternative method so that we can have a combination of raising the earnings limit and reducing the age.

    I would be a little unhappy if I thought that the only thing that we could do was to reduce the age by order. I suspect that if one wanted to accelerate the raising of the limit one would then have to have a Bill. Perhaps that can be done by order already. I suspect that all that can be done by order is to move in line with earnings, because that was what was agreed in 1977. If the Under-Secretary would undertake to do that as well—I see that he is nodding assent—we would feel that we had amply achieved our purpose this evening and that when the Bill comes back from another place it will contain an acceptable clause which we shall greatly welcome.

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

    Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

    New Clause 3

    Amendment Of Social Security (Invalid Care Allowance) Regulations 1976

    'The Social Security (Invalid Care Allowance) Regulations 1976 shall be amended by adding the following sub-paragraph at the end of Regulation 6:—

    '(3) The relationships of "husband" and "wife" as are specified in sub-paragraph (1) of this regulation shall be taken to include common-law husband and common-law wife respectively, provided that any allowance payable by reason of this sub-paragraph only shall be payable out of the National Insurance Fund'.".—[Mr. Newton.]

    Brought up, and read the First time.

    I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

    I believe that I can explain the new clause fairly briefly. Those who have studied the Amendment Paper will have seen that my new clause concerns the invalid care allowance. I can sum up its purpose very quickly. It is designed to allow the payment of an invalid care allowance to a common law husband.

    The House will be aware of the purpose of the invalid care allowance. It is a benefit for men and, at present, only for single women of working age who cannot go out to work because they are needed at home to care for a severely disabled relative who is receiving an attendance allowance. A whole range of issues which arise on this allowance—in particular the fact that it is not paid to married women—are controversial and could be discussed. My new clause concentrates on a much narrower point.

    I recognise that the phrase "common law" is not particularly elegant or attractive. But I think we can all agree that there are many relationships which are enduring, stable and worth while and which can only be described by the use of that phraseology. They are, almost by definition, likely to be such enduring and worthwhile relationships in a case which would be covered by my new clause, which is one where one of the partners is loking after the other—the husband is looking after the common law wife in circumstances where she is very severely disabled.

    I should acknowledge at once, if only to remind the Minister of the correspondence that we have had, that this matter arose in my mind because of a constituency case which came to my attention. For obvious reasons, I do not want to name the constituent, but I think it might be helpful if I briefly outline the circumstances.

    When my constituent came back from the war—now some considerable time ago—his wife had gone and was subsequently untraceable. Since then he has lived with his present partner, for a period of some 32 years. Ten years ago this second partner had a very severe stroke and was substantially paralysed and severely disabled. My constituent later found that he was forced to give up his work in order to care for her.

    In due course, becoming aware of the provisions for an invalid care allowance—which appeared to cover circumstances such as his, because the lady is in receipt of an attendance allowance—my constituent applied for an invalid care allowance, only to find that because they were not legally married he did not qualify. That is a point which caused me great concern.

    I accept at once that it is almost certain, in the circumstances as I know them, that my constituent and his partner could get married because present divorce law would almost certainly allow the matter to be sorted out. But they have been living in the same community for a long time, with most people thinking that they are already husband and wife. They have a daughter who is married. I am not sure whether she knows about the relationship, but probably her relatives and friends do not know of it. Very understandably, many people are shy about such matters. Some people would be shy, and some would not.

    At any rate, I feel that everybody in the House will understand why, after 32 years, this couple do not particularly want to go through the formalities of a divorce and remarriage, especially if it became known to their friends and relatives in the area. Therefore, they find that they cannot get the invalid care allowance. The man applied for it, and he was refused. He appealed, and that was refused. He came to me, and I wrote to the Minister. The Minister replied explaining, very courteously and sympathetically, why my constituent had been refused this allowance.

    It is perfectly clear that, under the existing regulations, the man was rightly refused. It may perhaps be helpful to the House if I read the list of qualifying relationships, as it were, from the Social Security (Invalid Care Allowance) Regulations 1976. This comes from part of paragraph 1 to regulation 6. The people who can qualify are:
  • "(a) lineal descendant or ascendant in a direct line;
  • (b) husband, wife, step-father, step-mother, step-son, step-daughter, brother, sister, half-brother, half-sister, step-brother, step-sister, aunt, uncle, nephew, niece; or
  • (c) father-in-law, mother-in-law, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, son-in-law or daughter-in-law."
  • That regulation seems to be pretty widely drawn, but it is clear that it does not include what, for the purpose of the new clause, I have been forced to call a common law husband.

    In cases such as that of my constituent, which I have described—and I have no doubt that other hon. Members could think of comparable cases or cases with somewhat different circumstances but leading to the same result—my argument almost makes itself. It seems patently unfair that this allowance should not be available to them.

    I should like to make one further point. Having read the definitions contained in subsection (1), those who have studied the new clause assiduously will see that what I have actually sought to add is a subsection (3). It may have occurred to some to wonder precisely what sub-paragraph (2) is in paragraph 6 of the existing regulations. Perhaps I may also read that to the House, because that sub-paragraph says:
    "Any such relationship as is specified in paragraph (1) of this regulation"—
    that is the one from which I have already extensively quoted—
    "shall be taken to include also any such relationship as would have subsisted if some person born illegitimate had been born legitimate."
    Unless I have gravely misunderstood the matter, what that means is that the daughter of my constituent and his common law wife could qualify for an invalidity care allowance because she is deemed to be legitimised under these regulations, but the father of that daughter cannot qualify as he is not legitimised for this purpose.

    That seems to transform something which, in common humanity, I would think unfair into something amounting almost to a breach of natural justice. I hope that Ministers will very seriously consider putting this matter right in the terms that I have suggested in the new clause.

    Has the hon. Gentleman made any estimate of the cost of implementing the new clause? I have great sympathy with the idea behind the new clause, but does he think that the difficulty would be overcome by a simple statutory declaration, without the public knowing anything about it at all, it being a matter between the parties involved and the Department of Health and Social Security?

    I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, in this matter as in many others, for his helpful suggestions. I shall certainly put them to my constituents. I should be grateful for the Minister's comments. I had not formed any estimate of the cost. However, in this day and age, especially as for many people divorce is much easier than it used to be, I should have thought that the numbers affected by this difficulty must be tiny and that the cost must be verging on the insignificant. However, perhaps Ministers can give us some estimate. Obviously, this is something that will have to be taken into account. Unless the cost is more than a few tens of thousands of pounds, I believe that here we have something that is clearly unjust, and if there may be ways around the difficulty we should seek to put right something which seems so manifestly unfair.

    I support the hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton) in his new clause. I seek from the Government an assurance that if, perhaps for some technical reason, they feel that the new clause is defective, they will take steps in another place to bring forward an appropriate amendment. I am astonished at the story that the hon. Gentleman has told this evening—that what are called common law relationships prevent people from qualifying for benefit.

    I ask a very difficult legal question of the Minister. I do not expect a reply tonight, but I hope that he will write to me about it. He will be aware that in Scotland, where we do not necessarily call people common law husbands and wives, a marriage by habit and repute is a perfectly legal marriage for all sorts of ancillary legal matters, such as accession and so on. Therefore, I wonder how far in Scotland the parties to marriages of habit and repute would find themselves disqualified in the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman described.

    I go further than the hon. Gentleman and say that many people today live together as man and wife without either the blessing of the Church or the legal sanction of a marriage in a registry office. If they live together as man and wife and pay taxes as man and wife, surely they are entitled to benefits as man and wife. It seems as simple and logical as that. If there are difficulties about the qualifying test, the fact that they live together and pay taxes on the basis of being husband and wife, possibly with children, ought to satisfy the test for benefit.

    I should add one barbed note about acceptance of the new clause. If the DHSS carries out investigations and concludes that a couple are living together as man and wife—the old question of the co-habitation rule in relation to benefits—and if it is good enough for the Department to say that it means that people are living together and therefore the husband is required to contribute, where a marriage clearly exists, whether or not legally sanctioned or blessed by the Church, the corollary is that the parties should benefit from the excellent scheme which the State has made available.

    9.45 p.m.

    I also rise to urge the Government to look sympathetically at this proposal. I do so partly because of the cohabitation rule, since people who are living together are deemed, for one purpose, to need to be treated as though they were legally married. I believe that that should apply in this case also.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) mentioned taxation. I would point out that at an earlier stage in their relationship, when the wife was healthy and perhaps working, such a couple would be paying more tax than a legally married couple, since they would not be entitled to the married man's allowance. Therefore, there can be no argument that they will not have paid their fair share when they were both in good health.

    I do not believe that this proposal would cost much. If it does, it means that many men are sticking by women in these circumstances and caring for them in ways that couples who are legally married might find burdensome. I believe that the Government should look sympathetically at this proposal, and I urge them to do so.

    If the Government do adopt such a new clause, they might call it the "Lee Marvin clause".

    Let me say straight away that we shall look sympathetically at everything that has been said by the hon. Gentleman and by my hon. Friends in keeping this matter under active consideration.

    The invalid care allowance is a non-contributory benefit which is available to people of working age but who cannot work because they have to stay at home to care for a severely disabled relative. In this context, "relative" means wife, parent or grand-parent, child or grand-child, sibling or half-sibling, aunt, uncle, nephew or niece, certain step-relatives and certain in-laws. The benefit is not available to a wife caring for her husband, or companion if they are not married.

    When ICA was introduced in 1976, the Government said that they would seek to extend coverage to those caring for non-relatives once experience had been gained of dealing with claims from relatives.

    We estimate broadly that there could be between 200 and 300 men who would qualify under the new clause proposed by the hon. Gentleman. The gross cost of paying ICA to them would be about £150,000 a year. But, since most such men would be receiving supplementary benefit, the net cost would be lower, though I am not able to provide precise figures tonight. Extending the benefit to all those caring for non-relatives would, however, increase expenditure on the benefit by an estimated £1½ million a year at current benefit rates, though there would be some offsetting savings on supplementary benefits. Such extra expenditure could only be afforded if extra resources became available. Even then it would have to compete with the many other pressing claims for additional expenditure.

    The amendment seeks to extend invalid care allowance to a man who is caring for a woman to whom he is not married while they are living together as man and wife, and I know that the hon. Gentleman has a particular constituency case in mind. The new clause is technically defective in two respects—first, for obvious reasons, it makes the benefit payable out of the national insurance fund, which is quite inappropriate, and, secondly, it amends paragraph 7 of the regulations instead of paragraph 6. But, more important, it would be invidious to extend the benefit to some persons caring for non-relatives and not to others. Essentially, the question—

    I am becoming a little confused, because my right hon. Friend appears to be explaining why he cannot grant a benefit which at this stage has not been asked for. As I understand it, this is a very limited proposal which would apply to a very limited number of people. My right hon. Friend used the phrase "actively consider". I should like him to define what he means by that. Are we to have a commitment that this will perhaps be amended in another place?

    I can give no definite commitment tonight. What I have said is that we shall sympathetically consider all that has been said by the hon. Gentleman and by my hon. Friends. My hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers) says that there is no claim on behalf of non-relatives generally, but there is a very strong claim on behalf of non-relatives generally.

    We are here discussing a proposal that would help perhaps only 200 or 300 people. Nevertheless, I assure the House that there is a strong and persistent claim on behalf of non-relatives generally. There is also a claim that we should pay invalid care allowance to married women. That argument is pressed very strongly on the Government. What I said earlier is that in my very neglected area there are infinite claims against only finite resources. From his close association with me, my hon. Friend knows that I shall do whatever I can to see that what has been said is considered as sympathetically as possible.

    I was saying that it would be invidious to extend the benefit to some persons caring for non-relatives and not to others.

    I am worried about my right hon. Friend's line of argument. Of course, if the Government saw fit to extend this to non-relatives as such, I am sure that hon. Members would be very pleased. But the specific point we are now discussing does not relate to non-relatives but to people who have a very particular relationship which it is possible to define. On this small point I believe that we must press for an undertaking to come back with something specific in another place.

    I have by no means completed my argument on this point. I am in no way seeking to minimise the force of the case that has been presented tonight What I cannot do now is give a definite commitment. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) has experience of these matters from his time in Government. He will know that what I am saying is based on consultations with colleagues. I have undertaken to reflect on what has been said tonight, in further consideration of this matter. However I must emphasise that there are claims from other non-relatives who might feel that their difficulties are as great as the difficulties about which we have heard.

    Essentially, the question is whether the particular category covered by the amendment should be helped in advance of non-relatives generally. Certainly, there will be some who will doubt whether it would be right to put this category ahead of the group as a whole. In these difficult matters it is also important to draw a line which can be readily understood by claimants and staff. To single out a particular category for special treatment could create a greater sense of unfairness among people who are excluded.

    Since principal legislation is not required, I would wish to seek the advice of the National Insurance Advisory Committee on any draft regulations which would be necessary. I take note of the hon. Gentleman's concern in this area and I can assure him that as soon as the availability of resources and other priorities allow we shall seek to extend coverage to those caring for non-relatives, including this group.

    In the light of my reply, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will agree to ask leave to withdraw his new clause. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North rightly suspected that I could not tonight deal with the point about Scottish legal practice which he raised with me. I shall seek to arrange for him to have an answer as soon as possible.

    I must confess that I am worried about the mixing up of non-relatives in the legal sense with non-relatives in the emotional sense. I do not think that anyone can consider that when two people have lived together for a long time, and perhaps produced children, they can be classed as non-relatives, although technically under the law they are. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give this issue a great deal of sympathetic consideration, because if the view that he is now taking is that because some other people who might qualify will not qualify, by that criterion we should never have introduced the invalid care allowance at all.

    I have said as much to my hon. Friend. What I have made clear is that I shall take this matter back to colleagues. I am sure he will appreciate, and that the House as a whole will accept, that it will cause me no displeasure to be able to increase further expenditure on the invalid care allowance and on further improving the well-being of all disabled people. But I must say that if we advance provision for one group of people, inevitably other groups will say that their claims must be urgently considered. I gladly give the assurance that my hon. Friend has asked for, namely, that I shall seek to get sympathetic consideration of all that has been said by my hon. Friend and by the hon. Gentleman.

    May I comment on one or two of the technical points made by the Minister? I accept that it is not particularly appropriate to do this by primary legislation, as I have sought to do, but it was the only way open to me to raise it. The reference to the national insurance fund, as the House knows, and as the Committee upstairs knew, is the only way that such a proposal could be got within order on this Bill because of the restrictive financial resolution. So far as paragraph 7 is concerned, I believe that the Minister will find that in the up-to-date Amendment Paper the proper paragraph, No. 6, is referred to. Therefore, I think that that small objection would fall.

    The main point I would wish to make—I think that I would carry with me hon. Members on both sides of the House—is that I could wish that the Minister had been a little more willing to throw away his departmental brief in view of the specific point which has been raised and the sympathy that has been engendered throughout the House. The purpose of the new clause is not to extend the provision to all non-relatives. I can only say, as indeed other hon. Members have said, that I believe a very clear-cut distinction can be drawn, and moreover one which would be accepted by most non-relatives—a distinction between other non-relatives caring for a disabled person and a common law husband, especially in cases where that relationship has subsisted for a very long time. I suppose that we should be grateful for the relatively small mercy of the Minister saying that he will look very seriously at this. I hope he will feel able to go just a little further in encouraging me to withdraw the new clause by saying either, or both, of two things.

    First, I hope that he will seek the advice of the National Insurance Advisory Committee and, secondly, that he will make a further statement about this very small point when the Bill moves to another place, which I understand is likely to be in about two or three weeks' time. I cannot believe that the scale of the issue, or the expenditure, is such that it should not be possible to carry out some further consultation and come to a view while this Bill is still before Parliament and while we can still have a further opportunity to consider the matter. If I can have one or other of those undertakings, and preferably both, I would be glad to seek the leave of the House to withdraw the motion.

    I made it clear that we would want to seek the advice of the National Insurance Advisory Committee. We are often enjoined to do this automatically before we make changes. I gave a fair indication of our intentions in this regard. I said earlier that I could not give a definite commitment to accept the clause. I have said—

    It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.


    That the Social Security Bill may be proceeded with at this day's sitting, though opposed, until any hour.—[Mr. Joseph Dean.]

    Question again proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.

    I have not kept slavishly to any brief. I have said that I shall seek to ensure that all that has been said tonight is sympathetically considered.

    On the understanding that what the Minister has just said is that he will refer the matter to the National Insurance Advisory Committee, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

    Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn, drawn.

    Clause 2

    Attendance Allowance

    I beg to move amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 18, at end insert:

    'in respect of both a re-award of the attendance allowance and an award of a higher rate allowance to a person already in receipt of an attendance allowance at the lower rate'.
    Though I shall not take up too much of the time of the House, the amendment is important in that it allows us to take a further look at a problem that causes grave concern to the Disablement Income Group and other disablement organisations. We are here dealing with the qualification conditions for the attendance allowance, especially as they apply to the disabled person who is already in receipt of a lower rate attendance allowance but whose condition deteriorates to such an extent that he or she therefore becomes eligible for the higher rate allowance.

    In Committee the Minister gave an unequivocal answer to the question whether the seriously disabled person of whom we are talking would have to wait a further six months before becoming eligible for the higher rate of allowance, whatever the circumstances. His arguments then, I believe, were the ones expressed by his right hon. Friend the Minister with special responsibility for the disabled in letters and correspondence with Peter Large and the Disablement Income Group. Those arguments amount to the requirement by Government of a six months' qualifying period in order to be sure that the deterioration in the condition of the disabled person or patient is reasonably long-term or permanent.

    I accept that there are temporary illnesses, such as influenza, which could make a disabled person appear to have deteriorated suddenly for a very short period, but in Committee the hon. Member for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers) said that the waiting period was undoubtedly formidable and very frustrating. It is in that context that I move the amendment. We are seeking to achieve a more humane approach to the problem of the waiting period. Instances have been reported of unfortunate people who have died before the second six months' qualifying period for the higher rate allowance has been completed. We can understand how that can happen.

    A particular case quoted by the Disablement Income Group, which came to the group through a social worker, was that of a lady in receipt of the lower rate allowance who had had two strokes and was partially disabled and in need of attendance. She suffered two further strokes, having already become entitled to the lower rate allowance, but had to wait a whole six months more before she could receive the higher rate of allowance.

    The husband, who had a job and would have continued working under normal circumstances, had to give up his work to look after his wife because of that six months' delay. It seems somewhat harsh to hold up that financial help for the six months after deterioration has taken place when the increase in disability has clearly taken place.

    There are also those disablement diseases such as multiple sclerosis and arthritis, where the condition is often expected to deteriorate. The problem can arise quite often. It seems to me that if the first six months' qualifying period has been completed, and if such worsening of condition takes place, at least the payment of the higher rate allowance should be backdated to start from the day when the deterioration is assessed as having taken place, and not some six months later.

    I do not believe that a temporary illness, such as influenza, which has been quoted as being one of the problems that may arise in determining deterioration, cannot be distinguished by the medical experts from the real deterioration in disability with which I am dealing.

    I hope, therefore, in moving this amendment, that this will give the Government a chance to accept the genuine purpose behind it and to look sympathetically at it.

    The effect of the amendment that the hon. Member proposes would be that anyone already receiving the lower rate of attendance allowance whose attendance needs increased, for whatever reason, would immediately qualify for the higher rate of the allowance, notwithstanding that the conditions to be satisfied for that rate are different.

    I can see that on the face of it this might seem a desirable amendment—indeed, there was some support for it in Committee—but I think it would produce effects quite contrary to those which the hon. Member and his hon. Friend have in mind. For example, as he acknowledged, someone may receive the lower rate because, as a result of his chronic disablement, he needs attendance by day. Should he, however, have an attack of influenza or some other acute but short illness and as a result have quite different attendance needs at night for a short while, he could, by reason of this amendment, qualify for the higher rate of the allowance for that period. In that event he would be receiving the higher rate for attendance needs that were neither established nor long-term.

    The position of someone receiving the lower rate of the allowance is no different from that of someone claiming the allowance for the first time, where there is a need to establish that the particular attendance needs that are spelt out in the Act, for whatever rate of allowance is to be paid, are settled and long-term. I think that these are the two key factors.

    The purpose of the allowance has always been to provide a measure of financial assistance to those severely chronically disabled people with settled long-term attendance needs, who, arising out of those needs, have established commitments above the normal. It would be impracticable and, we feel, wrong to alter the purpose of the allowance to meet short-term attendance needs—I think that the hon. Gentleman accepts this—or to vary it to meet what in many instances would be short-term fluctuations in those needs. If account were to be taken of temporary changes it would have to cut both ways and the allowance would have to be stopped if there were improvement, or reduced if somebody were on the higher rate. I am sure that hon. Members would not want a position to arise in which disabled people were put into a state of uncertainty about their continuing right to the allowance.

    Moreover—this, too, came up in Committee—the amendment would impose an impracticable and heavy burden on the doctors charged with deciding whether the attendance needs are satisfied. Those needs can well vary from person to person even where they are suffering from similar conditions, and their necessity and extent can be satisfactorily established only over a reasonable period of time.

    As I said, we think it would be wrong to change the entire character of the allowance in the way this amendment would achieve. The six months' qualifying period makes it possible to decide with reasonable certainty that attendance needs are established and settled, and I think that is the main purpose of section 35 of the principal Act.

    Although I am sympathetic to the points that the hon. Gentleman is making, I hope that in view of what I have said he will ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    I accept the point—I think I made it clear in my own speech—about the short-term nature of the provision. I agree that we do not want to change the rules to deal with short-term deterioration. The point that I was making, which I do not think has been dealt with, is where one has the expected deterioration in such diseases as sclerosis, or with strokes and heart conditions, where in fact the six months' delay still has to take place. Is it not possible for the Minister to look again at this whole question of whether, when the deterioration is judged to be of a permanent nature, the higher rate allowance can be made payable from the date when the deterioration is assessed to have taken place?

    I shall consider that matter and write to the hon. Gentleman as soon as I can.

    In view of the Minister's sympathetic response, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    I beg to move amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 19, at end insert—

    "(7) For the purposes of determining the entitlement to attendance allowance of any person who
  • (a) has been refused payment of an allowance, or
  • (b) has had an allowance withdrawn,
  • Section 35 of the principal Act shall be deemed always to have had effect as amended by this section, but payment shall be made at the appropriate rate out of the National Insurance Fund.".
    The amendment refers to a part of the attendance allowance that was dealt with at some length in Committee. At the end of that debate a number of us still felt unhappy about the manner in which the Government had chosen to make back payments of attendance allowance for kidney dialysis patients who dialyse at home.

    Many patients had the full facilities of the National Health Service and were dialysing in our hospitals. They were in receipt of the attendance allowance. As a result of changes in the rule by the Attendance Allowance Board, those persons who had been dialysing three times a week at home, and who, through modern methodology, were permitted to dialyse for longer periods but on fewer occasions per week, had the attendance allowance withdrawn. That was done in a way which I think every hon. Member regretted. A decision was made and it took effect during a parliamentary recess. That happened last summer, during the previous Session.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) introduced a Private Member's Bill in which he sought to rectify the anomaly whereby those who were in receipt of the facilities of the NHS and dialysed in hospital to cope with their renal failure were in receipt of the allowance and those who through modern methodology were dialysing at home and having to pay somebody to prepare their renal dialysis machines and complete the operation after their periods of dialysis were denied the attendance allowance.

    It will always remain a regret to me that we did not solve the problem in the summer. However, as a result of the work of the British Kidney Patients Association and many other interested bodies which felt that an unfair state of affairs existed, we reached a position in which the Government felt that they could no longer resist what seemed such a sensible and right solution to a problem that had, through a quirk in our law, become a matter of concern and dispute.

    When the Government moved the Second Reading of the Bill on 21 November 1978, they did so with the intention of rectifying the law and ensuring that in future those who dialysed at home would receive the attendance allowance and that those who dialysed in a hospital with the attendance of Health Service staff would not qualify for the allowance because they would not be paying for someone to prepare their renal dialysis machines and complete the operation after the period of dialysis.

    We thoroughly applaud what the Government have done in the Bill. We wish that they had taken similar action when my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton introduced his Bill last year. Never mind; the Government saw sense in the end. At various stages we have concerned ourselves with the manner in which the Government have sought to make retrospective payments to about 100 persons who we know lost their attendance allowance because they were becoming home dialysis patients. We concerned ourselves with how we could rectify what had become an unfair state of affairs.

    10.15 p.m.

    In Committee, in response to a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton, the Minister said:
    "I know that the Opposition, not least the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin), are highly intrigued to know how the Government have the power to do this. 'Extraordinary payments' as is made clear by their title, have no statutory basis."
    This relates to the back payment of those who had been denied benefit. The Minister continued:
    "In essence, they are payments which the responsible Minister regards as being within the broad intention of the relevant statute, but outside a strict interpretation of its terms. Such payments are in general not disputed, but as they are not strictly proper in a legal sense they need to be noted in the appropriation account when that is laid before Parliament for approval."
    Something which is "not strictly proper in a legal sense" worries me. The Minister went on:
    "Responsibility for such payments rests with the departmental Minister, but, given the Treasury position under the Exchequer and Audit Departments Acts of 1866 and 1921, they may not be charged to a Vote without Treasury approval. The Treasury's position was set out in a Treasury minute of April 1868, which has been reproduced on pages 20 and 21 of the report for 1868 printed in the 'Epitome of reports of the Public Accounts Committees 1857–1937'".—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 5 December 1978; c. 25.]
    That is a really interesting little snippet from the Official Report of the Committee, but what has concerned us for a very long while is not only that payment should be made as speedily as possible—I fully accept that that has been the Government's wish as well—but that we should not be using some rather antiquated Act to rectify a mistake of Government but, rather, that we should make clear once and for all that if a change in the rules was made by somebody—such as, in this case, the Attendance Allowance Board—we had a better way of dealing with it.

    Unfortunately, within the terms of the money resolution attached to the Bill it is simply not possible to do the job as we would wish. Therefore, in raising this issue with another of our "myth" amendments tonight—our national insurance fund amendments—we are seeking to make sure of what has happened and also to ensure for the future that we devise a better way of rectifying mistakes on the part of Government where they are quite genuinely agreed between all Members of the House.

    The further question I would put to the Minister in proposing this amendment tonight is this. I know it is early days since 5 December, but what progress has the Department made in trying to find those cases, of which the Minister spoke at column 30 of the report of the Standing Committee, of persons who should have received the attendance allowance, and particularly those cases where the person to whom the attendance allowance is being awarded is now regrettably deceased, and where the relatives of that person have a claim in law? If this is to be considered, as the Minister seemed to indicate, how far have we got in sorting out this very unfortunate situation which we allowed to occur within our legislation?

    We know that it is early days but we believe that we should seek to rectify this as speedily as possible, and this amendment will give the Minister who is to reply an opportunity to explain just how far he has proceeded with his extra-statutory payments and just how far the Department has been able to track down the relatives of deceased persons who should be claiming back attendance allowance for those who have since died but should have received it whilst they were home dialysing, once the entitlement had been removed. I do not believe that we need prolong this debate, but for the sake of the record I feel we should rectify something that has been regretted by everybody but which really lies in the hands of the Government for rectification.

    This matter has already had considerable discussion both on Second Reading and in Committee. It is common ground to both sides of the House that benefit should be restored to persons dialysing at home and that arrears of benefit should be paid as soon as possible for the interval between cessation and resumption. The Bill as we introduced it allowed for the restoration of benefit. Also, as I announced on Second Reading, the Government decided to identify the persons involved forthwith and to make payments in arrears immediately. I said that the payments would be made extra-statutorily, and in Committee my right hon. Friend explained at considerable length what that meant.

    The hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) asked me for figures. The Government have honoured their pledge, and 40 payments of arrears have already been made. The remainder will be paid as quickly as possible.

    There is no need for this amendment to enable such payments to be made. Indeed, I am advised that the amendment, if approved, would cause considerable confusion and could harm some of the people we are all concerned to help. First, in the case of those who have already been paid their arrears, the amendment would give entitlement to a second payment of arrears. It would not simply validate the existing payment but would enable the independent statutory authorities to make a new award. Hon. Gentlemen opposite presumably do not wish to make duplicate payments from public funds.

    Secondly, the amendment would put in question the payments made since 1972 to persons dialysing as hospital outpatients, because it applies to section 2(6) as fell as the other parts of clause 2. Finally, the national insurance fund is not the appropriate source for attendance allowance payments as the hon. Lady acknowledged.

    We should pay a tribute to Mr. Peter Large, who in drafting amendments to Bills first adopted the stratagem of making recourse to the national insurance fund. His idea has been widely followed by hon. Members on both sides of the House.

    The hon. Lady referred to the British Kidney Patients Association. She may wish to know that Elizabeth Ward, of the association, wrote to me appreciatively about our solution to this difficult problem. She clearly appreciated that we wanted to help and sought the most expeditious way to do so.

    Many of those involved are already receiving their payments. The amendment is not necessary on that count. Moreover, it would create confusion and might act against the interest of claimants. Therefore, I hope that the hon. Lady will ask leave withdraw the amendment.

    The Minister knows why the amendment was so worded. We have, as a result of this device, received from him the good news that 40 people have so far had their back payments. However, it still behoves us to realise that we are using an ancient statute to do something which, because of administrative difficulties, we may find ourselves required to do on other occasions.

    We always hope that these things will not happen, but those of us who have been concerned with social security measures for a number of years in this House know that we are always amending and reamending provisions and bringing them up to date.

    We also know that in the nature of a developing system of assistance for the disabled and those in need we shall come across cases which in the original drafting have not been fully explained or understood. Therefore, although I accept that the amendment is defective, I believe that it has at least enabled the Minister to tell the House what is going on. It has put down a marker to the effect that in future we must look to a better way of making the extra-statutory payment for the payment which should have been owing but for the device which took place when Parliament was not in session, which meant that we could not rectify the matter by other means. I am wrong to say that we could not have rectified the situation. However, the Government did not see fit to give the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, Acton (Sir G. Young) a fair wind. Had they done so, our amendment would not have been necessary.

    I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 3

    Mobility Allowance

    I beg to move amendment No. 3, in page 2, line 21, at end add—

    "(1A) In subsection (4) (increase in rate of mobility allowance) for the words 'and such other matters as he thinks relevant' there are substituted the words 'any changes in taxation which directly affect the cost of motoring for persons in receipt of mobility allowance and such other matters as he thinks relevant; and he shall lay before Parliament a statement setting out his conclusion and the reasons therefor as soon as is reasonably practicable.'."

    The amendments seek to tidy up two of the amendments that were accepted in Standing Committee.

    Amendment No. 3 accepts that the Secretary of State, in considering whether the rate of mobility allowance should be increased, should take into account any changes in taxation which directly affect the cost of motoring for persons in receipt of the allowance. That is the substance of subsection (5), and, as the legislation already makes clear, he can take into account any other matters that he thinks relevant.

    In accepting that any changes in taxing motoring costs should be considered, however, I must emphasise that this cannot mean that the Government will commit themselves to freezing taxation of the disabled motorist at its present level. The Government are committed to the revalorisation of petrol duty. Energy conservation needs may dictate still further increases in petrol duty in the years ahead.

    Mobility allowance is a major contribution—but a contribution only—to the cost of mobility to disabled motorists. Nevertheless, we accept that in considering whether mobility allowance should be increased we should take into account any changes in taxation in this field.

    I have been asked on a number of occasions, both inside and outside the House, about the consequences for the disabled motorist of the Government's decision to abolish vehicle excise duty and to replace it by increased petrol taxation. We are studying carefully the situation. At the appropriate time I shall make a statement to the House. I emphasise that there are a number of major and relevant issues, such as the timing of the phasing out of the duty, upon which the Government are committed to consult with industry. These consultations have not yet taken place but it is hoped to begin them shortly.

    As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State made clear in Committee on 7 December, there have been inter-departmental discussions already on the position of disabled motorists. I have received a number of representations from organisations representing disabled people, including an appraisal by Mr. Peter Large, the chairman of the JCMD, which I found helpful.

    I am watching the developments carefully and I shall keep the interests of disabled people well to the fore.

    If any further assurance is required, however, I suggest that it can be found in the amendment. The Secretary of State will be required to consider in each review of mobility allowance any changes in taxation which directly affect the cost of motoring. The move to remove excise duty, from which disabled motorists are exempt, by increased petrol taxation is clearly one such change.

    As I have said, there is a lot to be done on this issue, including resolving the starting date. Things cannot be rushed, but I shall make a statement as soon as I am able.

    I turn to subsection (7). We have accepted that the Secretary of State should lay before Parliament a statement setting out his conclusions on the matter, but, whereas the original amendment required the statement to be laid
    "not later than 31 May",
    our amendment provides for it to be laid
    "as soon as is reasonably practicable".
    It will be sensible for the announcement relating to any increase of mobility allowance to be made at the same time as any announcement relating to an increase in other social security benefits.

    Inthe past, these announcements have been made on various dates, sometimes more than once a year, and within the operational limitations it would be possible for such an announcement to be made as late as early June. Hence, we feel it is right to leave the Secretary of State with greater flexibility. Since no specific date is set for the announcement of upratings of other social security benefits, it would seem invidious to single out the mobility allowance in this way. We will, however, undertake to provide the statement as soon as possible after the end of each tax year.

    10.30 p.m.

    The House has sufficient procedures to prompt the statement if one has not appeared in what seems to right hon. and hon. Members to be a reasonable time. The amendment which was passed in Committee as clause 3(6) and which we are seeking to leave out is that which required the Secretary of State to have regard to any changes in the charges levied under the Motability scheme for leasing vehicles to persons in receipt of the mobility allowance.

    There are a number of reasons for this course. Motability is an independent voluntary organisation. Its leasing scheme at present affects only a small proportion of the 145,000 people who will eventually receive mobility allowance, and even when the leasing scheme is fully operative it will still cater for only a proportion of the total number of recipients of the allowance. That is not the principal reason for our amendment. A more important reason is that if Motability charges are to be taken into account the Secretary of State should, strictly speaking, have access to its accounts and financial arrangements. As it is an independent organisation, this inevitably raises problems of law and business practice generally. For these reasons, we would regard this subsection as undesirable. For the detailed reasons I have given, I hope that the House will agree to accept the Government's amendments.

    I would like to ask a question to which I hope the Minister can reply, or write to me about. As Motability receives Government support, in the sense of administrative back-up, provided at the expense of the Exchequer, does that not automatically give the Public Accounts Committee the right to examine the accounts of Motability? It certainly does so in cases where the Government are contributing to the funds of a private body. For instance, a body like the Family Fund is as much subject to the Public Accounts Committee and the Exchequer and Audit Department as a Government Department itself.

    As the right hon. Gentleman knows, my Department helps Motability by seconding staff. We have given what we regard as very important help to this organisation. I cannot give a precise answer tonight, as the right hon. Gentleman suspected, on the point he has raised. He asked if I would write to him with an answer. I am glad to give that assurance. He and I, as patrons of the organisation, feel that it has done a great deal of good already. I am certain that the whole House wants Motability to achieve further success in the months and years ahead.

    I would like to follow up the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) in connection with the Motability scheme. I am disappointed that the amendment that was passed in Committee, which inserted this subsection (6) in the Bill, has had to be struck out by the Government. Echoing the words of the Minister, we are all staunch supporters of the Motability scheme. There is grave concern that the scheme is threatened by the lack of finance provided by the mobility allowance to enable it to operate properly. We were endeavouring to build in protection for the Motability scheme by this subsection.

    I agree that, technically, as it is an independent, charitable organisation, it cannot be protected in the way we hoped in our amendment in Committee. All hon. Members of the House, Government and Opposition Front Benches, want to see Motability succeed, and I know that this is also the Minister's wish. It is going through some very difficult times. Something has to be done to ensure that it is made to succeed.

    In Committee, we discussed the problems that the Motability scheme is facing. We discussed the objective of creating a mobility allowance commutation scheme that would allow Motability therefore to provide necessary vehicles for disabled people in exchange for a four-year commutation of their allowance. This objective is seriously threatened, as we agreed in Committee, by rising prices and by, of course, the rather iniquitous double VAT charge both on the car and on the leasing of the vehicle.

    The figures given to us in December by Mr. Jeffrey Sterling, the chairman of Motability, showed that even the cheapest, unadapted mini-car will not now be covered by the £10 a week mobility allowance, An automatic mini, which I suppose is probably the suitable vehicle for disabled people, will now cost about £12·50 a week, if we include the insurance. If we add on the cost of adaptations that are needed for many of the recipients of these vehicles, we can see that these cars are being lifted by increased costs out of the reach of many of the low-income and non-employed disabled people who have to look to Motability in order to provide the replacement vehicles of the Government's vehicle scheme, the trikes.

    So the amendment that we passed in Committee underlined the tax claw-back problem that is being faced, where one has the £520 a year mobility allowance, where over £150 a year is being clawed back in car tax and double VAT on the purchase and the leasing of the car, and where, of course, if the disabled person is working and paying the standard rate of income tax a further £170 a year can be clawed back as well.

    The Government amendment refers to "any changes in taxation"—and I can understand how that will deal with particular examples, such as changes in vehicle excise duty, or motor vehicle taxation, and so on—and then it says
    "and such other matters as he thinks relevant".
    I would have liked the right hon. Gentleman to explain a little more fully what was in his mind in that phrase, because he did not really refer to the difficulties of Motability; he expressed the view, which we all share, that he wants the scheme to succeed. He did not go into the details behind the Committee's decision to put this subsection in the Bill. I hope that we shall hear a little more about how the Government are to protect Motability from this gap which is going to open up between the level of the mobility allowance at £10 a week and the minimum cost now of providing and leasing a basic adapted mini-car.

    I hope that we can be assured that, in the wording of the Government amendment, Motability and its requirements will be covered, because otherwise the whole future of the vehicle provision for disabled drivers will be in jeopardy.

    Having set my hand to drafting for the Committee stage the amendments that are now being replaced, and having had the satisfaction of seeing them inserted in the Bill in Committee, I can hardly be expected to be totally enthusiastic at seeing them messed about with by some replacement Government amendments.

    The right hon. Gentleman says that the Government amendments are improvements. I was about to say that I am rather flattered by one aspect of them, in that the wording chosen in relation to taxation is identical with my amateur draftsmanship in Committee. I take that to be very flattering indeed, because, in my relatively limited experience in this place, much of it serving on Finance Bill Committees, the parliamentary draftsmen and Ministers between them will almost invariably find some good reason for changing any Back Bencher's wording, since that makes them feel that they are one up in the game. I hope that I can be forgiven for feeling slightly one up in the game, since my wording has been accepted in that part of the Government amendment.

    As the Minister has said, there were three elements in the amendments that we passed in Committee, one relating to tax, obviously with vehicle excise duty most in mind, one to the Motability leasing charges, and one to the question of publishing the conclusions and assessment of the annual review by the end of May. The Government amendments retain the first element and the substance of the third but leave out the second. I shall return to that omission.

    We are satisfied with the outcome on the points about tax and publishing the results of the review. We on the Conservative Benches feel that what has happened to disabled people as a result of the Government's proposals on vehicle excise duty and petrol tax is important. I reiterate for the sake of the House the simple figures that I used in Committee. On the assumption that the disabled person is driving 6,000 miles a year in a car that performs at the rate of 30 miles to the gallon, and that the increase in petrol tax is 20p per gallon, the Government's proposed change would cost a disabled per about £40 per year more. In the context of the income of a disabled person and the Motability allowance, that is a significant sum and one about which he is understandably cancerned.

    It was unfortunate that the change was proposed in the same month as disabled people began to get the benefit of the vehicle excise duty exemption. They undoubtedly felt that something that they had just been given was being immediately snatched away.

    It is unsatisfactory that there is little definite commitment that disabled people in receipt of mobility allowance will be compensated. The Minister tried to sound as sympathetic as possible, but the White Paper had no commitment to compensation. It said that compensation would be considered.

    On Second Reading we were told that it would be considered. When I questioned a Treasury Minister at Question Time last week, I was told that it was still to be considered. In effect, the Minister told us tonight that it is still to be considered. We are entitled to ask for a definite assurance not about the method by which it will be done but about the fact that disabled people will be compensated if the policy goes ahead and they lose sums of the order that I have mentioned.

    When the Under-Secretary was talking in Committee on 7 December, he gave the clear impression that discussions with organisations for the disabled were taking place and that they would have moved along successfully by the time we reached the Report stage. That is at variance with what has been said today and with the remarks of the Minister of State, Treasury last week. It was stated tonight that no discussions had taken place. The Minister said that he had received some representations but that consultations had not yet begun. There is some confusion here. If consultations have not yet begun, why not? It is some time since the White Paper was published. The concern is well known. If in a couple of months' time a measure is to be moved in the Budget, it is high time that the consultations proceeded so that a result could be indicated.

    I am pleased that the Minister has accepted the substance of my amendment about publishing annually the assessment and conclusions reached on the review of mobility allowance. I take his point on removing the specific date which was in our amendment in Committee. Both I and my right hon. and hon. Friends are satisfied that we have achieved what we sought on the question of publication.

    I turn finally to the missing ingredient of Motability. I endorse what my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) said. It would be difficult for my hon. Friends and me to resist the point that Motability is a non-statutory body and that there is some difficulty about writing it into the Bill in the form that I suggested.

    I do not insist too hard upon that, but I emphasise the importance of Motability leasing charges to the situation that concerns us all. We all know the background. After the introduction of the mobility allowance, which the Minister has rightly claimed to be a great advance in some respects, it appeared that it was not an advance at all for some people because they had vehicles and were in practice, whatever had been intended, to lose them because the vehicles were being withdrawn and they would not be able to afford a substitute vehicle out of the mobility allowance.

    10.45 p.m.

    The Motability scheme was devised as a means of overcoming that important problem. However much the House welcomed the mobility allowance concept, hon. Members would not have agreed to it if they had thought that a significant number of people who already had vehicles would lose their mobility as a result of the introduction of the allowance. That is still happening and will continue unless Motability works as well as everyone hoped and intended. My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter has given the figures and reasons for supposing that there are still serious problems about its providing an adequate alternative to the old invalid trike for some people.

    It is a highly relevant factor to be taken into account, and even if it is not to be written into the Bill in the form that I proposed and the Committee accepted, we should like an assurance from the Minister that, in the general phrasing of the commitment being written into the Bill and the continued use of the phrase "other relevant factors". In his annual review of the mobility allowance the Minister will take into account the charges levied by Motability. That is all we ask. We accept the problem of writing that into low, but we emphasise the practical importance of the scheme and the need for Ministers to take it into account when considering the level of the mobility allowance in future.

    I well understand the position of the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam). He is a widely respected officer of the all-party disablement group in the House and he spoke with great sincerity. I know that his motive is further to improve the wellbeing of disabled people. I have said that we cannot legislate to cover Motability's leasing charges in the way that he wishes.

    The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton) asked for an assurance that we shall take into account changes in Motability's leasing charges. Clearly, Ministers will want to take all factors into account, but, given that Motability is a voluntary, independent organisation, we do not feel that we should legislate as has been suggested.

    The hon. Member for Braintree can derive a great deal of satisfaction from what he has achieved by his drafting. I hope that he will be drafting amendments to Government Bills for many years to come. He has shown great skill in doing so and I am sure that Government after Government will appreciate the help that he can give in using his skills in seeking to amend Government legislation.

    As the hon. Gentleman said, the projected phasing out of the vehicle excise duty is an important matter for disabled people. They feel that the sweet of exemption may be snatched from their lips almost before they have got to know its taste.

    It has been nut to me by one disabled person after another that I must watch their interests in this matter very carefully. I have said tonight that I shall want to make absolutely certain that the interests of disabled people are well to the fore. The right hon. Member for Wan-stead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) appreciates that this is a matter for interdepartmental discussions. It is not just the Department of Health and Social Security. Other Departments are also involved. I have said that I will make a further statement as soon as possible.

    My hon. Friend referred in Committee to discussions that I was having with organisations of and for disabled people. He had no intention of misleading the Committee. I am in constant dialogue with representatives of organisations representing disabled people, as the hon. Member for Exeter and others will appreciate. I mentioned tonight the viewpoint of Peter Large. At the same time, I made it clear that the submission he has made to me is one which I found very helpful.

    I have no wish at all to pursue the Under-Secretary of State, because I am certain, knowing him, that he had no intention of misleading the Committee, but may we be quite clear about this? As I understand what the Minister is saying, there have so far been no discussions with representatives of disabled people about this policy. The Minister is simply saying that he regularly talks to them but there have not yet been consultations with disabled people about the White Paper on vehicle excise duty. Is that the position?

    What I am saying is that there have been no formal discussions specifically to deal with the phasing out of vehicle excise duty. My hon. Friend was well aware that I am day by day, not to say hour by hour, in discussion with representatives of disabled people. He knows that I have had a great many representations on this matter. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for appreciating position. Everything said tonight by the hon. Member for Exeter and by the hon. Gentleman will be taken fully into account.

    The Minister has plainly tried to overwhelm me by flattery of my drafting, and he has gone some way to satisfy our anxieties, at least for the moment. We shall look forward to the further statement that he has promised and give it the keenest possible scrutiny when it arrives. With that assurance, that there will be a further statement reasonably soon, I beg to ask leave to withdraw—[Interruption.] I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

    Order. The hon. Member for Braintree (Mr. Newton) has been carried away by the flattery accorded him.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendment made: No. 4, in page 3, leave out lines 20 to 31.—[ Mr. Deakins.]

    Schedule 1

    Amendment Of Principal Act, Pensions Act And Act Of 1977

    I beg to move amendment No. 11, in page 13, line 1, leave out 'the said Schedule 1' and insert

    'Schedule 1 to the Pensions Act (deferred retirement)'.

    This is merely a drafting correction.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Schedule 2

    Schedule Inserted In Act Of 1976 In Substitution For Schedule 4

    I beg to move amendment No. 12, in page 17, line 20, at end insert—

    '(2) Before assigning a clerk under this paragraph the Secretary of State shall, if one or more Senior Chairmen have been appointed under paragraph 11 below, consult him or such one of them as he considers appropriate.
    (3) The Secretary of State shall consider any representations made to him by a Senior Chairman as to the desirability of terminating the assignment of a clerk and shall take such action, if any, as he considers appropriate.'.
    I should like to draw the attention of the House to the debate that we had in Committee on the operation of clerks in supplementary benefit appeals tribunals and the difficulties which arise on occasion. This issue was brought up by Conservative Members but very persuasive arguments were used on this matter by my hon. Friend the Member for Lambeth, Central (Mr. Tilley), ably aided, if I may say so, by my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley (Mr. Rodgers). It was felt that the fact that the clerks were appointed by the Secretary of State could, at times, lead to advice which was not satisfactory. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Chorley instanced a particular tribunal, or at least complaints that he had received from his constituency, and not least from his local trades council. The arguments were supported by the right hon. Member for Wanstead and Woodford (Mr. Jenkin) and his hon. Friends.

    I undertook to consult my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor and to produce a memorandum for members of the Committee and for the House before Report. When I discussed this matter with the Lord Chancellor, he looked a little askance at the debate that the Committee had had and the problems which he and his Department would face if, for instance, the appointment of all the clerks were taken out of the control of the DHSS and put solely in his hands. However, he saw the strength of the argument for seeing that justice is not only done but is seen to be done.

    The proposal in the amendment is that the senior chairmen will interview the clerks and advise the Secretary of State before the clerks are assigned. The senior chairmen are appointed by the Lord Chancellor. The amendment further provides that if any representations are made about the unsatisfactory conduct of a clerk, the senior chairmen can make representations to the Secretary of State. I think that it is fairly obvious that if a senior chairman who is a legally qualified chairman were to make such representations, action would have to be taken.

    I emphasise that in no way is this a cosmetic exercise. Because of the memoranda that I have submitted, and the discussions that I have had with the Lord Chancellor, I hope the House will realise that a genuine attempt has been made to meet what we appreciate is a genuine point. Therefore, I hope that the House will regard our present proposal as an exercise in an extension of democratic control. I hope, too, that it will be understood by people outside the House that what we are trying to do is to show that clerks who make representation or give points of guidance to the chairman and members of a tribunal in the vast majority of cases do so based on their knowledge and training within the Department, and that very seldom is advice given which is in any way misguided.

    But, of course, that could occur. Therefore, to see that justice is done, if a complaint is made against the clerk, it will now go to an independent person, as it were, who himself is appointed by the Lord Chancellor, and that person can assess the case.

    With that understanding, I hope that the House will accept the amendment.

    The House will be grateful to the Minister for going partially along the road that was sought in Committee. When the Committee discussed this matter very seriously, both sides of the Committee, as I recall it, were anxious that the Lord Chancellor should be given the power to appoint the clerks in this case.

    I think that the reasoning behind this was really twofold. The first reason as the Minister said, was the importance of justice not only being done but being seen to be done. I think that there was genuine anxiety that the Minister appeared to be judge, jury, prosecutor and appointer of officers of the court, which could be seen to be undesirable. Secondly, there was a feeling that the clerks are in positions of rather greater power and influence than is sometimes appreciated. It was felt important that the people appointed should not just be familiar with the minutae of social security but should have a sense of justice and realise the importance of their position, and that advice on that could better come from the Lord Chancellor and his Department than from the Secretary of State.

    11 p.m.

    These clerks are not without power. I take note of some of the things that they, can do. For example, they can advise on procedural matters, take notes at the hearing, give all sorts of advice to the tribunal and make drafting suggestions. Indeed, we have seen the power of clerks in the magistrates' courts and elsewhere. Those of us who have had experience of this know that a strong clerk can influence a weak tribunal and, indeed, that a cantankerous and bigoted clerk, confronted with a cantankerous and bigoted tribunal, can put the whole system into considerable disarray. Therefore, it is important to get this right.

    I am grateful for small mercies and for the fact that the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Lord Chancellor, who I can well understand is a busy man and does not really want his Department saddled with this, has cooked up some sort of compromise. But I am bound to say that the drafting looks rather "furry". For instance, the Secretary of State must consult one or more of the senior chairmen. I hope that this will be taken seriously and that consultation means proper discussion, rather than saying "I propose to appoint Mr. X. I have hereby told you. I have consulted with you. Good afternoon".

    Likewise, sub-paragraph (3) says:
    "The Secretary of State shall consider any representations made to him by a Senior Chairman".
    That can mean everything or nothing. He can say "Yes, I have considered it", rather like the marvellous novels of Henry Cecil, in which a charming judge used to hear well-prepared applications by counsel and his reply was invariably "Yes, Mr. X. I have considered your application. It is refused". We do not want the Secretary of State to take that sort of attitude.

    At the end of that sub-paragraph there is a classic piece of parliamentary draftsmanship. It states that the Secretary of State
    "shall take such action, if any, as he considers appropriate".
    In other words, he can do anything or nothing, or neither or both, I suppose.

    We take this wording in the spirit in which it is given. I very much hope that the Secretary of State will appreciate the serious points that have been made about the quasi-judicial nature of the clerk and of the importance of getting the right sort of person—someone who will have a sense of natural justice and who is conscious of his responsibilities. If that is the spirit behind the amendment, half a cake is better than no cake at all.

    I have listened patiently to what has been said in the debate. I am not a lawyer, and therefore I can speak as an honest man. I do not have the same favour towards the lawyers as my right hon. Friend the Minister seems to have.

    I listened to the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant), who is a lawyer. I am sure that he has put the case for the lawyers very well. He spoke about his anxiety over consulting the chairman. I should like to tell him a little story about chairmen. It began in September and concerns the chairman of one of the tribunals of the type described in the Bill. The case is still going on, and we are now approaching February. The chairman cannot be found. I understand that he is abroad on holiday somewhere. People cannot get hold of him to have the consultation. I want to get rid of him, never mind about the clerk.

    I say to my right hon. Friend that I see nothing in the proposals that will protect people going before his tribunals. While he is arguing about the quality of the clerk, I should like to argue much more about the quality of the chairman. Under paragraph 11, the Lord Chancellor, will
    "after consultation with the Lord Advocate, appoint persons who are barristers, advocates or solicitors of not less than 7 years' standing"
    I do not see why. I come from a working-class area. We have chaps available to do those jobs who are just as good as my hon. Friend's lawyers and lawyer friends.

    I was unable to appear on behalf of one of my constituents before one of one of my right hon. Friend's tribunals because I was delayed in going to the tribunal for two months. Apparently, it does not desire to sit in July or August, although some of us are quite happy to work through those months. The tribunal, purely to suit itself, chose a day in September that was not convenient for me, for parliamentary reasons.

    Therefore, I took my constituent aside over the weekend and explained how she should state her case. I said that my right hon. Friend was a good man and that his tribunals were fair and just. I think that he has spoken of natural justice, of justice not only being done but being seen to be done. I told my constituent that my right hon. Friend believed in that and that she should have no fear.

    My constituent went to the tribunal on her own and the chairman, a Mr. Buckley, told her "I thought you were going to have your MP with you" She replied "Yes, Sir, but unfortunately on the day you have chosen he cannot be here because he is on parliamentary duty" The chairman said "Parliamentary duty ! Parliament is not even sitting." I do not know what he implied by that in that tribunal, which was public. The interpretation, certainly of those in the tribunal, was that I was telling a bit of a tale and had wilfully refused to represent my constituent. At the very moment when the chairman was making that obscene remark, I was on my feet in the European Parliament representing the interests of this country.

    My constituent asked to receive a piece of paper from the Department that was germane to the issue. That great chairman said "You cannot expect the Department to keep details of that sort. It must be on an envelope somewhere in the papers." He treated my constituent in a most abominable way. I raised the matter with the Lord Chancellor in September, and I am still waiting for an answer.

    I understand how carefully the provisions have been drafted. I have read them with great care, and I have heard the hon. Gentleman ask that the chairman, that great man, should be properly consulted and not simply be told.

    We are talking about a small number of senior chairmen who are legally qualified. There are only a few senior chairmen. The type of chairman of whom my hon. Friend is speaking is a chairman also appointed by the Lord Chancellor but not necessarily legally qualified. He is not the chairman who will be consulted about the clerks.

    I am very pleased to hear that. I had an awful feeling that he was legally qualified and might be one of the candidates to give the advice. I can only tell my right hon. Friend that in his legislation, both in what he proposes and in the existing legislation, he is placing a great deal of dependence on the lawyers. My experience of them is that they are not very good. They do not really understand what is going on.

    It seems that those who are selected to become members of the tribunals will include those who understand the nature of the area
    "to which the panel relates".
    I do not know from where the chairmen from Hackney are to be picked. In private conversation, it will be interesting to know the names that have been received of those who live in Hackney, know the area and understand it. There is experience in Hackney of attending tribunals only to find that the members do not understand very much.

    I entered the Chamber with the intention of not supporting the Government if a Division took place, but my right hon. and hon. Friends seem to understand what I am saying. I shall be persuaded to vote for the Government should that be necessary. However, I urge my right hon. Friend to appoint those who understand the problems and who will not treat appellants in the disgraceful and disgusting manner that was met by my constituent.

    Unlike my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Brown), I welcome the amendment. It stems from the concern that was expressed on both sides in Committee and by many outside organisations long before the Bill was produced. There has been the fear that there may be a tendency for clerks to support the view of the DHSS, the Department being their direct and sole employer. There is the fear that that will be the tendency whatever the regulations, advice and suggestions to the contrary from the Department. It was suggested that the Lord Chancellor should employ the clerks as a means of overcoming the problem.

    The Government's proposal, which is ingenious, is to give oversight of the clerks to the new element, the senior chairmen. That new element will have oversight of the standard of the ordinary chairman, the standard that is so concerning my hon. Friend. I hope that he is reassured.

    We must ask the Minister to state more clearly—he has already done so to members of the Committee and it would be useful if he put it on the public record—that it will be the specific duty of senior chairmen both to inspect the clerks before they take up their posts and to keep an eye on them while they carry out their duties. That will be their duty, as well as undertaking all the other aspects of the tribunal system that will be their responsibility and for which the post of senior chairman is being introduced.

    It will be useful to receive the assurance that the senior chairmen will have an obligation to consider any representations about the conduct of clerks that are made by any interested party, be it an MP, a local councillor, a claimant or groups that feel that they have the interests of claimants at heart. That would reassure many groups, such as the Child Poverty Action Group, that have on many occasions tried to help claimants but have felt that their concern about certain clerks could not be expressed anywhere in a way that would be properly pursued.

    How do we get rid of an unsatisfactory chairman? I assure my hon. Friend that that is a job on its own. There is nothing in the Bill that helps in that respect.

    I shall leave the answering of my hon. Friend to the Minister.

    The remarks that we have made in Committee and in the House should not be regarded as an attack on committee clerks in general. The majority of them carry out their work extremely well. Nor should our remarks be considered an attack on the social security establishment in general. The counter clerks are at the front line in the same way as the tribunal clerks. They are overworked and have to face the consequences over the social security office counter of policy decisions taken in this House.

    The hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant) implied that the wording of the provision was a little furry. That is why we require reassurance. The Minister said that the provisions were not cosmetic. I am sure that that will be the case, provided that everybody involved—including not only senior chairmen but claimants and those who try to represent them—take the matter seriously.

    I have a sneaking suspicion that the amendment will, if properly exercised, achieve the objective which we sought in Committee.

    11.15 p.m.

    I wish to assure my hon. Friend that this provision will place on the Secretary of State a duty to consult the appropriate senior chairman before assigning a person to act as a tribunal clerk and to consider any representations from a senior chairman that an assignment should be terminated.

    Senior chairmen, who are to be appointed by the Lord Chancellor after consultation with the Lord Advocate, will be in frequent contact with tribunal clerks in their areas and will be in a position to observe them in action. They will also be involved in investigating complaints. I hope that complaints are few. I trust that any complaints that are made are responsible, because we are talking about people's careers. Therefore, this is not a matter to be taken lightly.

    As a further measure to try to establish the impartiality of tribunal clerks, each one will be required to attend a training course approved by the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Advocate. The courses will be designed by the advisory group which produced the procedural guide to supplementary benefit appeal tribunals. It has already arranged training for chairmen, and it has now embarked on the training of tribunal members. The first pilot course for members takes place this weekend.

    We are as concerned about the quality and standard of chairmen as we are about the standard and quality of tribunal members. We are always looking for suitable people. We have consulted organisations such as the TUC about their representatives and about training. We want to see more lay chairmen appointed wherever that is possible, and we are concerned about the standard of the tribunals. If the tribunal is of a proper standard, it should not be possible for a clerk to abuse his position.

    I hope the House accepts that we have now taken positive steps. This proposal goes far beyond the cobbling together suggested by the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Grant). We have gone a considerable way in consultation, in open government, in providing memoranda and in canvassing the Lord Chancellor's views. I hope that this will lead to the better conduct of tribunals in future.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Schedule 3

    Minor And Consequential Amendments

    Amendments made: No. 13, in page 19, leave out line 18 and insert—

    '8. In section 119 of the principal Act—
  • (a) in subsection (3)(b), there are inserted at the end the words "or out of a requirement to repay any amount by virtue of subsection (2A) above";
  • (b) in subsection (4)—'.
  • No. 14, in page 20, line 33, at end insert—

    '18A. In section 59(7) of the Pensions Act, after the words "this section"(in the two places where they occur after the definition of "the sum") there are inserted in each case the words "and section 59A of this Act".'.

    No. 15, in page 21, line 27, at end insert—


    26A. In section 132 of the Employment Protection (Consolidation) Act 1978—

  • (a) in subsection (3)(e) for the words "and (3)" there are substituted the words "to (4)"; and
  • (b) in subsection 4(a) for the words "and (2)"there are substituted the words"(2) and (2A)".'.—[Mr. Orme.]
  • Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

    11.21 p.m.

    I do not wish to delay the House but I must raise a question, under clause 10, about public service pensions. We have all received letters about the uprating of this pension. I declare an interest as one who is involved in this matter. The missing 11 days are mentioned in a letter from Mr. Maxwell of the Public Service Pensioners' Council. I require an assurance that there was proper consultation on this issue.

    Mr. Maxwell says:
    "It is accepted by the Council that the changes from those which would have applied under the Social Security Act, 1975 would be an improvement but the changes do not honour the assurance which was given during discussions in 1977 with the two Ministers that no public service pensioners would be disadvantaged by the new arrangement for their pensions to be index-linked under the new Social Security Pension Scheme.
    The wording of Clause 10 of the Bill, although an improvement on the present legislation (Social Security Pensions Act 1975, Clause 59) does not give complete effect to this assurance by the Ministers.
    The Council disputes the contention of the Under Secretary of State that the earlier date (12 November 1979 instead of 1 December 1979) would compensate for the loss of 11 days pensions increase. There was no prior consultation with the Council, representing one and a quarter million public service pensioners. …
    After I had dictated this letter I received a letter dated 18 January from Mr. Charles Morris that there would not appear to be any useful purpose served by a further meeting"
    I am concerned about this matter. Many of these pensioners feel aggrieved. I agree that the sums involved are not large. We accepted that in Committee. But the pensioners feel that there was no proper consultation. The Government said that there would be no loss as a result of changing the date. This matter was discussed in Committee and the Minister took note of what was said. We must be ensured that there was proper consultation.

    11.24 p.m.

    I identify myself with the remarks of the hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant). Many hon. Members have received correspondence on this issue. There seems to be a contradiction. It is claimed that consultations did not take place. I am not sure how we should define the word "consultations". The question of pensions was raised during consultations, but I am not sure that conclusions were reached. Those involved feel aggrieved and are concerned about the impact of the legislation.

    I am pleased that the subject has been raised, and I should be grateful for the Minister's comments.

    11.25 p.m.

    This is a useful Bill. The Minister described it as making running repairs to existing legislation, in addition to making certain specified amendments dealing with attendance and mobility allowances and supplementary benefit appeals tribunals.

    We accept, however, that at some stage not far ahead the Bill will have to be consolidated with the earlier legislation. It is no surprise to anyone dealing with this sort of legislation that one's brief case gets heavier and heavier as the days of debate go by. There is more and more backtracking into previous legislation, and with that the opportuniity for error grows. I have spoken before of the need to make our legislation clearer to understand both by parliamentarians and those who have to work with it, not least the counter clerks and many of the employees of the DHSS.

    We well understand that at present it is not possible to take further steps, but I hope that all hon. Members will look at the way in which the invalid care allowance, which is not currently awarded to women whose husbands are severely disabled, is now seen as discriminating not just against women but against the family. That is one of the issues we might have seen in an amending Bill of this nature but which is sadly absent. That must be seen in the context of the fact that an overhaul of all benefits from the Supplementary Benefits Commission is under way with the reviews that are now being made. There is now open discussion about disablement costs and about how, for many years ahead, the Government can best provide for those who do not have the able-bodied or able-minded capacity to deal with the rigours of daily life.

    Every hon. Member tries to ensure that attendance allowance goes to those who need it. But I have become aware that some people, including general practitioners, are not as familiar with the rules of attendance allowance as is desirable. It is in the hands of the DHSS to communicate to the general practitioner committees the simple rules about eligibility for attendance allowance and the means of applying for it. That is a further step of clarification and assistance that could be taken for those who qualify for the allowance.

    There is a further publicity job to be done—on the mobility allowance. There is already some misunderstanding about the eligibility of women up to the age of 65 or 66. Until June this year, the age limit on phased-in eligibility for mobility allowance is 58. After that date men and women aged 59 and 60 will become eligible for phasing in. Many people think that with the passing of the Bill, which removes the discrimination between men and women in terms of age, women aged between 60 and 65 will become eligible for mobility allowance. But I believe that that will not be so under the Government's phasing-in regulations. That must be made clear through publicity.

    We have heard much tonight about the taxation changes affecting motoring. Mobility has been regarded as the substitute for healthy legs. I hope that one day not too far away our economy will so improve that we can make sure that there is no taxation on legs. These people need their mobility allowance because that is their only means of getting from A to B.

    We welcome what the Minister said tonight about supplementary benefit appeals tribunals, and we welcome the amendment. I shall go no further into it than saying that I think a sensible compromise has been arrived at. I believe that both sides can be pleased with the work that they have done on this matter in the House.

    When we talk of the numbers receiving supplementary benefit, our long-term objective must surely be to look further ahead to the stage when we can reduce considerably the numbers of those who are dependent upon means-tested benefits.

    We have gone a long way in the Bill to tidy up odd ends. We know that there will be more to do in the months ahead. But none of this happens without co-operation, which I think has fairly been noted on the Bill, between the Government and the Opposition and all my colleagues in the House and help from all those officials who serve us in Committee and provide us with useful notes for use both in Committee and on Report. In agreeing to the Third Reading, I think that we should pay tribute to those who keep us well briefed on complicated Bills such as this.

    11.31 p.m.

    We think that the Bill is important and that it contains several advantageous measures for dealing with the disabled. It also saves public expenditure. One aspect is the public service pension, in which we all have to declare an interest because, as Members of Parliament, we are covered by it. We must ensure that the public realise that this is dealt with in a correct manner.

    The hon. Member for Reading, North (Mr. Durant) asked about consultation. Knowing that the 1975 Act would alter the situation, consultation on this matter began on 21st September 1977 with the Public Service Pensioners' Council and with my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Civil Service Department. Consultations continued well into July of last year, and beyond. We have taken on board the representations that have been made but we feel obliged to say, in the terms that I have given to the House, that we must go ahead in the manner which we propose.

    At the eleventh hour we received this letter from the Public Service Pensioners' Council, which is addressed to all Members of Parliament. It does not alter the fact that I think that the manner in which we have acted is correct, and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has sent a detailed reply to hon Members. I think that if the hon. Member for Reading, North examines that reply he will see that it stands up to examination and that in this matter we have to say that the Government have acted correctly.

    I should like formally to place on record my gratitude to the Under-Secretary of State for the prompt reply that he gave. Inevitably, I have not been able to study every word of the letter with the detail that I should like, but it puts on record the points that the right hon. Gentleman has just made.

    If hon. Members want to come back on this matter and raise the issues again, perhaps when the hon. Gentleman has studied the letter we shall listen to further representations.

    My experience in this Department leads me to believe that, just as the Treasury must have a new Finance Bill every year, so it will be essential for our Department to have a Bill to deal with past and perhaps future measures. I make no apology, therefore, for bringing the Bill before the House, and I thank the House for its co-operation this evening.

    11.35 p.m.

    I shall detain the House only briefly. I did not have the privilege of serving on the Committee, but I should like to refer for a few minutes to clause 12. I thank those hon. Members on both sides who introduced a new clause into the Bill which brought into the limelight the question of a death grant. The Under-Secretary of State said in Committee that, for the reasons that he had given, the intention was that the death grant should not be increased as a result of the clause. Accepting that that is the case, I am particularly pleased that the Government have not seen fit to alter the clause at this stage.

    As Ministers will know, there is a strong feeling in the country, going across party lines and supported by the all-party parliamentary group—I apologise for the absense of the joint chairman, the hon. Member for Paddington (Mr. Latham), who would have liked to be with us but was unable to attend—that increasing the death grant should be given priority. We had a meeting with voluntary organisations, and the feeling is one that is gaining ground all the time.

    Age Concern, in its national policy, calls for an immediate increase in the death grant so that it reflects its value at the time of its introduction in 1949. During the debate in Committee it emerged that some people do not receive the death grant at all. About 1,100,000 people receive only half the grant. In congratulating the Government on accepting the new clause, I should like to conclude with the words of the late Brian O'Malley, who, when replying to a debate in the House in 1974, said:
    "It is my firm view, and I am sure the view of the Government, that death grants are an urgent priority."[Official Report, 10 April 1974; Vol. 872, c. 582.]
    I ask the Minister to bear that in mind.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.