Orders of the Day — Family Allowances and National Insurance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th November 1961.

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Photo of Mr William Ross Mr William Ross , Kilmarnock 12:00 am, 9th November 1961

If we tabled an Amendment to give the family allowance to the first child even in limited cases, I should be interested to see what support it got. Let the noble Lord appreciate that he is taking away the family allowances attracted in respect of apprentices and given to the parents of, it may well be, a poor family, but he is putting nothing in its place. I wonder whether he has read the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum and appreciates exactly what is being done in this respect. He was very disappointing on that point.

I would remind the noble Lord of exactly what we have already had from the Government about this. I wonder whether he looked back to 1956 to ascertain what the Ministers who put this matter forward had to say about it, for they had to justify it. He never opposed it. The same considerations applied then as apply today. …family allowance is a family benefit…is intended to assist all families, irrespective of income. Earnings are not related to the number of children in the family."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th May. 1956; Vol. 552, c. 1902.] That was said on 15th May, 1956, by the hon. Lady who was then the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance and is now Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. That is the answer not only to the noble Lord, but to the Minister himself in his new approach today to the very extension which he introduced in respect of apprentices in 1956.

A fair answer was also given by the Commissioner in his publicised decision, when he said, about the definition: In our view this means that his earnings are sufficiently substantial to enable him to maintain himself on the assumption that he will be thrifty in the conduct of his affairs and be willing for the sake of learning a trade to forgo for the time being some of those amenities which a youth could enjoy by taking advantage of the wages which he could earn in an occupation in which he received no comparable training. Later, it said: This is a course of conduct at once beneficial to the children and the community at large. This is where we meet the conflict that we so often get. We have the Minister of Labour and those concerned with education in Scotland proclaiming the great need for skilled apprentices. They say that nothing must be done to prevent the apprentices from reaching out for this skill. But this 8s.—or it may well be 10s. in respect of a family—may be the one thing which will pull the child, guided by his parents, away from apprenticeship and into a more immediately higher-paid job which makes no demands on his spare time for attendance at technical college, and so on, such as we get with apprenticeships.

I am disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman, who was responsible for the extension in 1956, should now be willing to take it away, and not only take it away but go right back beyond 1956. The new limit is to be 40s. It is to be an unchanging limit; it will be written into the Bill. But in 1956 the limit, as interpreted by the referees at that time, was 55s. When the decision was made by the National Insurance Commissioner that an apprentice could earn this greater sum of 89s. 6d. at the age of 17 and 18, I was told by the Minister that the number of apprentices affected would be 30,000. But he told us today that the number of apprentices in respect of whom parents would be able to claim family allowance was being reduced by 50,000.

Here is progress under Toryism. We extend a benefit to 30,000 in 1956, but we take it away from 50,000 in 1961. Either we mean business on this question of apprenticeships or we do not. Quite apart from the intention and actual interpretation of the original Act, the realisation of the importance of apprenticeships should be such that we should allow no bar, no matter how small, to boys and girls entering into apprenticeships.

I sincerely hope that the Minister will be prepared to think about this again, but "I hae ma doots", because I think that this is the real reason for the Bill. The answer that we are likely to get from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is, "You have made some wonderful suggestions, but they all cost money, and the country is in economic difficulties and this is no time to increase personal incomes." That has a familiar ring about it. I wonder whether the Minister has appreciated that there is a familiar ring about what has been happening. He ought to have done. …this is a time at which additional expenditure, on however admirable a cause, is particularly difficult. It is perfectly obvious that a restraint on increased expenditure is necessitated by the general state of the economy."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee E.31st May, 1956; c. 11–12.] Those words were uttered by the Minister himself during the Committee stage of the Family Allowances Bill in 1956. We have come full circle, not for the first time in an economic crisis, and we have had the same call from the right hon. Gentleman—"I would like to do it, but the country cannot afford it". I sincerely hope that we will get a different attitude this time.

The hon. Member for Torrington said that when a man was contemplating marriage he should have a close look at the National Insurance Acts. It is not the man but the woman who should do that.