Clause 4. — (Relaxation of Earnings Rules for Widow's Benefit and Retirement Pensions.)

Orders of the Day — Family Allowances and National Insurance Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th January 1964.

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5.30 p.m.

Photo of Mr Gilbert Mitchison Mr Gilbert Mitchison , Kettering

I beg to move, in page 4, line 10, to leave out "hundred" and insert "thousand".

Photo of Dr Horace King Dr Horace King , Southampton, Itchen

I suggest that it would be convenient for the Committee also to discuss the following three Amendments in the name of the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison): in line 13, leave out "hundred" and insert "thousand".

In line 21, leave out "hundred" and insert "thousand".

In line 22, leave out "hundred" and insert "thousand", together with the proposed Amendment to the title, in line 10, after "to", insert "repeal or", together with the first new Clause—(Repeal of earnings rule for widow's benefit).

Photo of Mr Gilbert Mitchison Mr Gilbert Mitchison , Kettering

I gladly avail myself of the opportunity offered to refer to the other Amendments.

I must explain to the Committee what we have done and why we have done it. Our intention is most simply expressed in the proposed new Clause, for we want to repeal the earnings rule relating to widows' benefits. The logical brother of that is the Amendment, which has not been called, to leave out subsection (1). I say no more than that it had to be, as it were, a paving Amendment to the Clause. The four Amendments—the one I moved and the three being discussed with it—are in each case designed to delete "hundred" and insert "thousand", and the effect of that is to make the earnings rule apply only to widows who are earning a very great deal of money per week.

However, that is not our substantial intention. Our intention is to abolish the rule, but we are bound by the rules of order, and this is the best way we can attempt to achieve our object. If we divide on this proposition I hope it will be perfectly clear that what we really want is the abolition of the earnings rule. This sort of thing has happened on other occasions in connection with the earnings rule. I shall not discuss the figures because, as I say, the substantial point concerns the earnings rule itself.

At the risk of some repetition, I must return to what I was saying when we were discussing the last Amendment; that when one has to consider widows benefits—and I am including all kinds of widows benefits—one must realise that they arise out of widowhood. They arise out of the person losing the services to the household of someone who is normally its main breadwinner. We are, therefore, considering a state of affairs which is completely different from the position of retirement pensioners.

The point about the earnings rule in relation to retirement pensioners is that if one is going to make a pension conditional on retirement, retirement must mean something. It is different from the age pension which we have in certain cases. That does not arise for widows. For them one is trying to meet, in money, the financial loss they have suffered or, at least, to make a contribution towards it.

It has been said that this question of the earnings rule has been examined and that there is a vital difficulty about it; that the widow automatically, when she reaches pensionable age, becomes a retirement pensioner and that, therefore, one cannot put the widow in such a position that before she reaches the age of 60 she is doing quite well and then finds that, when she gets to 60, having regard to the earnings and the rest of it, it is not enough. I reply that if that is the case against it I do not think very much of it as a case. I always think it rather a bad argument to say that one must not do something that one recognises to be right at the time because something else will happen in the future which will produce an awkward situation. The right course then is to deal with the awkward situation, rather than do the wrong thing at the time.

I notice that one of the recommendations made by the National Insurance Advisory Committee in May, 1956, in page 20, of Cmnd. 9752 was: A widow should be able to elect not to be treated as retired when she reaches the age of 60, or when she is widowed above that age, and a widow who has been treated as retired should be able, on the same conditions as for other retirement pensioners to revert to the same position as if she had not been so treated … The recommendation then deals with another point that is not related to this Amendment.

As far as I know, that recommendation has not been followed. If it has been, the argument disappears; otherwise, it may very well be that it ought to be done. I trust that I am not called upon to provide for every legislative consequence of an Amendment of this character, and I should like to know why, if I am right in supposing that that has never been done, the Government have neglected the Report of the Advisory Committee.

The earnings rule was originally introduced when the limit was about one-third of the average widow's earnings, and the result was that the limit exempted only a comparatively small number of cases. What has happened over the years has been that, gradually, the proportion of the average widow's earnings which the limit bears to the total has risen, and the limit is at present more than half—about three-fifths, I think—of the average widow's earnings. The result is that, if we divide widows roughly into three earnings groups, all those in the bottom group and more than half of those in the middle group will be protected by the rule; it is only those at the top of the middle group and those in the top group who will not be affected by it at all.

I do not object to that, but it has reached the point of absurdity—and I do not ask hon. Members to take that statement on my authority. It was the Advisory Committee that, in 1960, on this very ground, urged that the rule should not be relaxed any further. I do not agree with the Advisory Committee. I think that the rule should be relaxed to the point of extinction. However, the Committee's reason was that if there were any fundamental ground—I do not believe there is—for the rule in these cases, it had disappeared because the number of cases to which the fundamental ground could apply was so comparatively small, and had grown so comparatively small year by year. The position had become quite different from what it was in the 'forties and the majority of widows, even apart from the particular change here, will now be outside the rule altogether.

It might be said, "If this is the position, we should stiffen the earnings rule", but we would all agree—and I think that the Advisory Committee itself would agree—that that approach is entirely against the whole trend of modern legislation. It is bad enough to have an earnings rule which operates so very differently as regards men and women—because the position I have just stated is not the position of the retirement pensioners at all; their position is entirely different—we do not want to make it worse by aggravating the difference.

Whatever was the position when this rule was first introduced—and there was some case for it then—the reasons for it have now disappeared. I will not repeat what I said on Second Reading, but it is an important point. Looking at the OFFICIAL REPORT afterwards, I felt that perhaps I had not made myself sufficiently clear about it.

5.45 p.m.

We now have an earnings rule that is unjustifiable in principle and which, in practice, works entirely the wrong way. A woman may be earning a considerable amount. We can all think of employment in which professional married women, for instance, may be earning a great deal, and when they become widows they continue to earn a good deal of money. The proportion affected by the earnings rule is vastly different from the proportion affected who are earning much less. What it comes to is that, in order to get the same amount, the obvious distinction that some women are earning at a much higher rate than others applies in this case, and the effect is that in, say, terms of hours of work, we restrain people very differently according to the amount they are earning.

There is another fantastic result. The rule applies to earnings, and only to earnings. Consequently, we may have two widows in precisely similar circumstances, one of whom is earning, let us say, £500 a year, and affected by the earnings rule, and the other, getting exactly the same amount out of investments, completely untouched by it. What is the social justice in that? I simply cannot see the case for it. It seems to be just another illustration of the utter stupidity, the perverseness, of the rule in its present form.

I do not say that when the rule was first introduced there was not a case for it. The case very largely depends on the high proportion of widows who are now not affected by it. However, in these matters, one lives and learns, and there is no doubt that the rule has created a very great deal of resentment, and that resentment will not be appeased by the removal of yet another group of widows from operation of the rule. It will merely make the rule a little more ridiculous. We shall not oppose it—it is a further relaxation, and the very opposite to what the Advisory Committee said should be done, and the more the rule breaks down in practice the easier we shall find it to remove it altogether, as we intend to do.

Turning back to the Report, the majority—not at that time with the hesitation it later showed—reported in favour; I admit that. I much prefer the minority Report, which dissented, among other things, on this particular ground.

The Committee put forward the argument which I have just put forward about the difference, in effect, in terms of working hours in different cases, and it went on to put the dilemma. If I remember rightly there used to be a dilemma posed by medieval schoolmen called Occam's Razor. This, I think, is Titmuss's Razor. The dissenting note in the Report says: The logical solution for the Committee would have been to adopt a lower earnings limit for women. But this would be at variance with the whole direction of public policy in equalising rewards for men and women. I hope that the party opposite is not going back on that, at any rate not just before an election.

The note continues: Yet an 'effective' earnings rule devised for men is not at present, nor can be in the foreseeable future, an 'effective' rule for woman"— the difference being that the average earnings for women are so much lower. This unresolved dilemma is partly responsible for driving the Committee further towards a weakening in the earnings rule as an instrument of policy. This was in 1956. In 1960 the Committee jibbed about it. In 1963 it just accepted an alteration, and in 1964 the Government had not the courage to submit the matter to the Committee. If it had been submitted, I do not know how far the Committee would have gone.

It is becoming ridiculous and, at the end of it all, there is a paragraph in the Report, to which I referred on Second Reading, about the misunderstanding and confusion that all this causes. People resented that very much. It is said that the real cause of the resentment is that people who are doing the same job are getting different incomes. Both are getting the same pay but one of them in addition is getting a widow's benefit. It is said that it was in recognition of that sort of difficulty that the earnings rule was introduced. This may well be so. I wonder whether it is logical. What we are trying to do is to deal with an exceptional loss, an insurable loss—the loss of a husband. The widow has suffered that loss and we have to think in terms of the family. The widow ought no more to be discouraged from going out to work than she was before her widowhood, when she may well have done so. It depends on what part of the country she is in and on all sorts of circumstances. Why should we penalise the widow who goes out and earns? I do not see any justice in it.

I shall be interested to hear the Minister's defence of the earnings rule as a real matter of morals and practice. I am not in the least interested, though I am sure he will be, in anyone saying that it was introduced under a Labour Government. The question we have to look at now is whether it is right or wrong in circumstances which have changed. In comparison with that question, I am not interested in whether or not this matter appears in a particular pamphlet. I do not mind the Minister having a bit of fun. Ministers need a little relaxation, particularly in this jungle of stuff which constitutes National Insurance, but at the end of the day I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will answer the fundamental question whether it is right or wrong to continue this rule now.

Photo of Mr Norman Cole Mr Norman Cole , Bedfordshire South

I intervene in the debate because this is a matter about which I have been most concerned. I am in some support of what the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) said about the earnings rule, but I did not understand that as a general policy the rule came about because there could be two women working side by side with one having more means than the other because she was in receipt of a full pension, theoretically, plus her pay. This may have been part of the reason, but I thought that there was rather more than that to it. I thought that from the days when we did not have quite as much employment as there is nowadays and it was a question of a person who otherwise would be taken care of by the State usurping a job which might have gone to somebody else. But there is no doubt that the atmosphere and the scene have changed considerably since then.

I should like to add another point in support of what the hon. and learned Member said. He said that the widow had lost a great insurable factor in her husband and all that that meant in the way of consortium and the rest. I entirely agree. There is little enough we can do, whether or not she earns a whole day's pay. This widow's pension is a sort of solatium to make up for her loss—although, of course, it will not—but there is also a good financial reason here.

It strikes me that this rule is an usurpation of the warranty which insurance is supposed to bring in its train. It is as if an insurance company had decided half way to do away with the profits towards which one had contributed in the premium and had altered the policy. I do not like the earnings rule and I suspect that people are getting to like it less and less.

I congratulate the Government on the steps they have taken over the years towards eliminating the rule. I should not have thought that a great many widows are affected by it now. I should not have thought that those who do part-time jobs and cannot afford time to do a whole week would be much affected now that the limit is to allow earnings of up to £7 a week. But the earnings rule is an irritation. It is a sort of running sore. I hope that one day, not too far off, we shall see the end of the earnings rule altogether. I am amused at the labyrinthine methods which have to be adopted to get the amendment in order—to make a widow able to earn £50 a week before she comes under the earnings rule. This is the sort of thing that happens in Parliament. It is fantastic but that is the way we have to do it in this place. I am glad that it does not happen elsewhere.

I should like to ask my right hon. Friend two simple questions. Firstly could he clarify—and he probably can from his own knowledge—the origins of this facet of the earnings rule in our insurance policy? Do the cases which gave rise to that policy still obtain? If not, can we look forward to the day when the earnings rule is eliminated? Secondly, would my right hon. Friend address his mind to a point which I am sure has been made by constituents to all of us from time to time. It is the question why, if the husband has been paying the premium settled by the Government of the day in his contributions, his widow is apparently not entitled to receive the compensation towards which he had contributed.

I hope that my right hon. Friend will answer these questions as I am very concerned about the working of the earnings rule.

6.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Albert Hilton Mr Albert Hilton , South West Norfolk

The hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) tells us that he wishes to see the end of the earnings rule in the not too distant future. He can help the Committee to put an end to it this very night. Let him come with us into the Lobby and vote, if the matter goes to a Division. Since this is something which we all feel very strongly about, I am sure that all my right hon. and hon. Friends would welcome the hon. Gentleman in the Lobby with us.

I support what has been said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison). Through the loss of their husbands, widows have already suffered very serious hardship, and what they need at such a time is kindly action and consideration. The repeal of the earnings rule for widows would be one of the kindest things we could do. No question of charity comes into it at all. It is a plain piece of justice that a widow, having lost the breadwinner, should be treated well.

My hon and learned Friend reminded us that the earnings rule was introduced as long ago as 1946. Of course, there have been many changes since then. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will have noted from time to time the hard way in which the earnings rule has operated, and, of course, my hon. and learned Friend gave illustrations of the adverse consequences which it has on widows.

When we on this side criticise the earnings rule, we are often taunted by hon. Members opposite who say that it was the Labour Government who introduced it. We cannot deny this, but, after such a long interval, getting on for eighteen years now, most people are of opinion that the time is now ripe for a change, and the change which we advocate tonight is the repeal of the rule.

Recently, both from these benches and from the country as a whole, there has been much criticism of the present Government's policies. The Government could go some way to redeem themselves if they would accept what we are urging upon then and repeal the earnings rule so far as it applies to widows. If the Minister would say that he accepts what we suggest, he would earn the gratitude of many widows who have suffered by the rule and the gratitude of many other people besides.

Photo of Hon. Richard Wood Hon. Richard Wood , Bridlington

I will do my best to answer the fundamental question which the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison) put. I say at once that I quite appreciate the point that, although the effect of the Amendment would be to take all the force away from the earnings rule for widows, the real intention of the Opposition in moving it and the related Amendments is to abolish that earnings rule, while, so I understood from the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech, keeping the rule for retirement pensioners.

The hon. and learned Gentleman was rather reticent about the pamphlet, which he seemed almost shy of mentioning—

Photo of Hon. Richard Wood Hon. Richard Wood , Bridlington

I am glad to hear that the hon. and learned Gentleman subscribes to what, believe, is his party's policy.

Photo of Mr Gilbert Mitchison Mr Gilbert Mitchison , Kettering

An excellent pamphlet.

Photo of Hon. Richard Wood Hon. Richard Wood , Bridlington

I shall try to examine it critically, and, in explaining the objections which I find to the Amendment, to make clear why I regard the policy of the Labour Party in this matter as misconceived.

My predecessors and I have probably given more thought to the problems of the earnings rule than to any other aspect of National Insurance. It is, as the Committee knows, a subject which has engaged the personal attention of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, and it has always been very present to the mind of my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) who, for a moment, I see has deserted the front line. Her constant championship of widows and her assignations with successive Prime Ministers to press the claims of widows are very well known to the Committee. I should like to say, for my part, that her powerful influence—perhaps, as she is not here, I may say her overwhelming influence—on new and ignorant Ministers I very gratefully acknowledge.

My own view on the very important question of the earnings rule, and on this Amendment in particular, has been reached not so much on the ground of cost—although the cost of doing what the party opposite would like would be quite considerable, about £6 million more than is involved in the Bill—or even on the fact that abolition of the rule, as the hon. and learned Gentleman made perfectly clear, would not help those most in need. The reason why I oppose abolition of the earnings rule for widows is that the consequences of such abolition would, in fact, be far more intricate and far-reaching than seems, even after the hon. and learned Gentleman's speech, to be generally realised. As I was encouraged by my horoscope, "Friends will support your ideas if you explain them"—though I admit that it did not commit the Opposition—I shall do my best to answer the fundamental question which the hon. and learned Member asked.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) seemed to be questioning the basis on which we pay widows' benefits to widows. The contributory National Insurance scheme qualifies a married couple for widows' benefits, if the husband dies, selectively—as was arranged when the Labour Party introduced the system where the widow is unlikely to be able to support herself by her own earnings. I must make clear to my hon. Friend and to the hon. and learned Gentleman that what we are not doing in the payment of widows' benefits is making up for the loss of the husband, because, if we were making up for the loss of the husband, we should pay widow's benefit to all widows. That is not what we do. Therefore, what we are trying to do is to make up for the loss of the power of a widow to support herself by her earnings.

The Amendment's effect would be that widows who qualified for benefit would be able to draw the benefit on top of unlimited earnings—in fact, in the words of the Amendment, on top of anything up to £50. But the only reason why they are getting this benefit at all is that they are thought to be unlikely to support themselves by their earnings, and there would be other widows without children, or who were under 50 years of age when their husband died—

Photo of Mr Gilbert Mitchison Mr Gilbert Mitchison , Kettering

I dislike interrupting the right hon. Gentleman—he is always so polite—but surely what he says is quite inconsistent with the fact that a widow may have unlimited unearned income from investments and not be touched by the earnings rule?

Photo of Hon. Richard Wood Hon. Richard Wood , Bridlington

I am prepared to face that point. What I have been trying to explain is that the purpose of the scheme as it exists, and as it existed when the scheme was initiated by the Labour Party, is to replace the absence of earnings. It insures against the inability of the widow after her husband dies to support herself by her earnings. Although I appreciate the hon. and learned Member's point, I do not think it is relevant in this context to say that other widows may have a considerable background of unearned income and therefore are better off, and that that is unfair on the widow who is unable to support herself by her earnings. This insurance scheme is trying to do the job of replacing the inability to earn, and, naturally, does not therefore take into account unearned income.

I was trying to explain that, as against the widows who are getting the benefit only because they are unlikely to be able to support themselves by their earnings, and whom the Amendment would relieve entirely of the earnings rule, there are other widows without children or who were under 50 when their husband died who would not qualify for benefit and who might have very little in the way of earnings. They might not be earning at all, but existing on sickness or unemployment benefit. It therefore seems to me that if the widows who qualified for the benefit because they were over 50 or because their children had not reached the age of 19 until they were over 50 were allowed to draw it whatever their earnings, I should be very hard put to it to find a decent justification for withholding benefit from any widow.

Therefore, as I see it, the present selectivity which we exercise, and with which I think the Opposition agree, would become untenable, and the first consequence of the policy which the hon. and learned Member has suggested would be the payment of unconditional pensions for widowhood. They would have to be paid to every woman who had lost her husband.

I do not believe that the changes since 1946 which the hon. and learned Member for Kettering mentioned afford ground for abolishing the earnings rule, and I find it very hard to explain the change of mind in the party opposite, from a belief that widow's benefit should be selective to an acquiescence, to say the least—although I do not think it appears in the Opposition's policy—that these pensions should become unconditional, because that is what the pressures which would follow the abolition of the earnings rule would lead to. I do not find it easy to follow the argument, in the light of a recent letter from the headquarters of the Labour Party which I saw in a newspaper. It pointed out, rightly, that the abolition of the earnings rule for retirement pensioners would benefit only the minority who have an income of at least £7 12s. 6d. a week. I cannot see why this does not apply with equal force to widows' pensions.

6.15 p.m.

Photo of Hon. Richard Wood Hon. Richard Wood , Bridlington

We are in Committee. I should like to continue. If I lose the thread of my argument the Committee may lose something extremely valuable.

It must be said for the Labour Party's proposals that they seem to acknowledge the difficulty of abolishing the rule for widowed mothers and keeping it for widows. If I may say so presumptuously, the party opposite realises that it would be foolish to allow a widow to draw benefit regardless of her earnings while her children may or may not be keeping her at home, but while at at any rate she has children to bring up, and then to apply an earnings rule when the children grow up and leave her free. However, a mother may become not only a widow—I am talking in National Insurance terms—but, as the hon. and learned Member pointed out, a retirement pensioner. It is here that the Labour Party's proposals seem to take no account of the very real difficulties which the hon. and learned Member mentioned.

I think that the hon. and learned Gentleman was rather light-hearted about these difficulties. He suggested that we should do something which he thought it was right for us to do and then face the difficulties later. We are given two conflicting kinds of advice. We are told to go ahead and damn the consequences. If we go ahead and then find it impossible to deal with the consequences, we are told that we have been extremely improvident.

Photo of Mr Gilbert Mitchison Mr Gilbert Mitchison , Kettering

I do not think the Minister can have followed what I said. I advised him to take the advice which had been offered to him by the Advisory Committee, and I read it out. That would obviate this difficulty. If he proposes to say that it is administratively impossible—and puts a penny in the box—that is another matter.

Photo of Hon. Richard Wood Hon. Richard Wood , Bridlington

If I might continue and try to explain, as I proposed to do, what some of these difficulties would be, and to refer to ways in which they might be circumvented, perhaps I should avoid the necessity to put pennies in the box and yet might convince the hon. and learned Member that the difficulties are very real.

I want to address myself to this very real problem, as I think the hon. and learned Member admitted it is, of where the widow graduates to retirement pension. Under the present law, a widow pensioner need not transfer to a retirement pension on her sixtieth birthday; she can wait until she is 65. There is no argument between us on that. Suppose that there was an earnings rule for retirement pension but not for widow's pension. Clearly the widow would be well advised to put off her retirement until she was 65 and to draw her widow's pension in addition to her earnings. It would obviously be common sense for her to do so, provided the retirement pension and the widow's pension were at the same rate. At present, they generally are at the same rate, but we know that there is a growing number of widow pensioners—and the number will become quite considerable—who would be able to draw a higher retirement pension, either because of the graduated pension which the widow, or her husband, or both, had earned, or because of the flat-rate increments which her husband had earned for her.

Therefore, there is a difficult choice before widow pensioners of 60—and this will affect more and more of them as time goes on—between taking a higher retirement pension with an earnings rule or taking a lower widow's pension without an earnings rule. It would be very difficult for most widows to come to a sensible judgment about that unless they were quite certain about their earnings—their continuance, and the way in which they would move up or down in future.

If a woman's husband dies when she is over 60, she gets a retirement pension. If the Amendment was accepted and the Labour Party's policy were introduced, when she draws retirement pension she would be subject to an earnings rule. Her sister who was widowed when under 60 could, however, draw her widow's pension and earn as much as she liked. I should not like the job of trying to persuade the older widow that this was fair. It would certainly be one of the consequences that it would, no doubt, be necessary to allow her to draw a widow's pension, which, again, would involve her in exactly the same awkward choice that I have tried to describe.

There is the widow aged 60 who already has a retirement pension when her husband dies. Since, because of its graduated addition, it may be higher than the widow's pension, she may be drawing more than she would if she transferred to a widow's pension and avoided the earnings rule. It would certainly seem odd to compel this widow to go on to a lower widow's pension, when she was already a retirement pensioner, in order to avoid the earnings rule.

Suppose that, to avoid those complications, it was decided to allow widows between the ages of 60 and 65 to draw their retirement pensions free of any earnings rule. I should very much like the hon. and learned Gentleman's advice about how this could be justified to other women between 60 and 65. There would be the position of no earnings rule for widow pensioners between 60 and 65 but an earnings rule, not only for married women and spinsters between those ages, but also for widows who never qualified for widow's pensions because their husbands died before they were 50.

Photo of Mr Gilbert Mitchison Mr Gilbert Mitchison , Kettering

The Minister was kind enough to ask my advice. I will give it in general terms quite clearly. There are abundant anomalies at present. There would be other anomalies if a change were made. In those circumstances, what we should do is to do the right thing, what we believe to be right; and this, I think, is right.

Photo of Hon. Richard Wood Hon. Richard Wood , Bridlington

The hon. and learned Gentleman continues to press his point that this is the right thing to do. I suggest that by removing certain anomalies to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has drawn our attention about unearned and earned income, he would merely lead us into just as difficult anomalies in the future. To distinguish between giving widow pensioners between 60 and 65 their pension without an earnings rule and giving it to other widows who did not qualify earlier with an earnings rule is not the kind of proposal which will get the hon. and learned Gentleman much of a cheer at the hustings in a few months' time.

Therefore, to get a cheer, perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman may be persuaded to allow widows like these—those who never qualified for widows' benefits—to join the concessionary group between the ages of 60 and 65. If the party opposite did that, however, how would they face the spinsters? Indeed, a childless widow whose husband died when she was 25 would get into the circle if all widows were admitted, but a spinster would be kept outside.

Therefore, a spinster would draw a retirement pension, which would be reduced if she earned more than £5 a week, but a widow whose husband died, say, 35 years before could earn as much as she liked on top of her pension. I should appreciate and admire more than ever the hon. and learned Gentleman's powers of persuasion if he thought that he could make this seem fair to the women who have never had husbands.

I believe that the only way out of this dilemma is to abolish the earnings rule for retirement pensioners as well. Last week, I gave my reasons why I did not think that this solution could, or should, be adopted, and I understand from one or two perusals of New Frontiers for Social Security that it is not the proposal of the Labour Party. Nevertheless, for reasons which I have tried to give today, I believe that it would be hopeless to try to maintain an earnings rule for retirement pensioners if the earnings rules for widows' benefits were abolished.

Therefore, I must ask the Committee to reject the Amendment, and I ask it to do so in order that the principle of retirement pensions remaining conditional upon retirement can continue to be maintained.

Photo of Miss Peggy Herbison Miss Peggy Herbison , Lanarkshire North

The Minister has given many reasons why he thinks that our Amendments should be opposed. He has taken us from the widow to the retirement pensioner. I want to take the right hon. Gentleman back to other anomalies which exist. One could apply to all these anomalies the reasons which have been given concerning the anomalies that might be caused if our Amendments were accepted.

This matter was raised on Second Reading, when the Joint Parliamentary Secretary gave reasons why such a proposal could not be adopted. The existing anomalies are two in kind. The first category is what happens to what I may call the industrially injured widow and the widow of the war disabled. They have a high rate of pension with no earnings rule attached to it.

In dealing with that category of widow, the hon. Lady said on Second Reading: It depends on the principles of the insurance applying to the two different schemes"— that is, the schemes for the widow of the man who has died naturally and for the widow of the man who has lost his life through industrial accident or as a result of war.

The hon. Lady stated: National Insurance is based on the concept of absence of earnings and one is insuring against being unable to support oneself by one's own efforts. I thought that in this case it was the husband who was insuring the wife, and not the wife herself; yet if one takes this from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, one would assume that it was the wife who did the insuring. The hon. Lady went on to say: The Industrial Injuries scheme is based on entirely different concepts, partly due to historical reasons, and it has an element of compensatior in it … I accept that Industrial Injuries benefit in all fields, whether widows' benefits or any other field, has an element of compensation in it, but that does not give any reason why in that instance an earnings rule should apply to the widow of a man who died naturally as against the widow of the man who lost his life through an industrial accident.

The hon. Lady went on further to say—and this is an important point to make: In the meantime, it would be absurd to attempt to justify the existence of a scheme and to justify its differences"— the only difference that the hon. Lady picked out was "its preferential rate"— and then o complain of the very preferences which that scheme gives."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 22nd January, 1964; Vol. 687, c. 1196–7.] We do not complain about the preferential rate of benefit. We do not in any way complain about the rate of benefit which is paid to the widows of the industrially injured or to the widows of war victims. What we complain about is that an earnings rule is applied to the widow of the man who has died from natural causes and no earnings rule is applied to the widow of the industrially injured. I should like the Minister to get rid of that anomaly even if it means that further anomalies are incurred.

I come, however, to the second case with which the Minister has not dealt adequately. My hon. and learned Friend who moved this Amendment spoke of the second type of case. We discussed it on a number of occasions on Second Reading, but the Parliamentary Secretary ran away from it completely—she did not even mention it. This is the case of two widows whose husbands have died from natural causes. One widow finds that she has to go out and earn to keep herself and family. The other widow is in a much more favourable position. She is able to stay at home because she has a very good unearned income. Is not that a very great anomaly, too?

6.30 p.m.

There is the further case of the widow, part of whose income comes from her own earnings and part from unearned income. I understand that the part that is unearned income is not taken into account. That is a further anomaly.

It seems to us, as to most people in the country—even the spinsters about whom the Minister was so concerned—that we should be giving justice to these widows if this Amendment were accepted. I am a spinster, and I know many other spinsters who are completely behind me on this Amendment, because they feel that here justice will be given to another group of women, and they are willing to wait to see if later they might get some justice, too.

The Minister said, "What a difficult position the widow would have to face when she comes to 60 years of age, and how difficult it would be, if there was an earnings rule applied to her, to make a sensible judgment on these matters." I would leave it to the woman to make a sensible judgment if, until she reached that age, she were given the justice which war widows and industrially disabled widows are being given at present.

I want to touch on one further point. My hon. and learned Friend called to his aid the reports of the Ministry's own advisory committee. They have shown very clearly that further increases of the amount that a widow can earn would make nonsense of the earnings rule. They thought that we had almost come to that stage on the last occasion. I think that they were right. I have a sneaking feeling that that was the reason the Minister did not put it to the Committee this time. I do not blame him for that. The Minister wants to make a decision on these matters, which are important matters, and to bring that decision to fruition as quickly as possible.

I have no complaint, but I say to the Minister that he cannot have it both ways. He tries to bamboozle the Committee with all the reasons why it cannot be done because of the anomalies that would ensue, and yet runs away from the advice of his own Advisory Committee, which has warned him at least on two occasions of the effect of raising the amount that can be earned under the earnings rule. In spite of the case that the Minister has made—I think that he tried to deal with the matter as fully and fairly as he possibly could—he would be very wise to accept the Amendment.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

I have always admired the Minister but I do not think that I have ever admired him more than I have tonight. I meet a good many widows who want to argue with me about this matter. I listen to what they have to say. Then, as a rule, I have to point out to them that under the law they are not entitled to a pension. That, of course, is a perfect answer so far as concerns anything practical being done while the law remains as it is.

They then want to get into arguments about abstract justice and all sorts of matters which they think justify amendment of the law. The right hon. Gentleman did not do as I do. I never allow myself to get drawn into an argument with a widow on the abstract justice of the present law. Difficult as it always is to argue with a woman, when one gets into an argument with a widow about the abstract justice of the present law, one just has to keep on saying, "Well, the law is as it is".

The right hon. Gentleman, in the details into which he went, showed very considerable courage, because I cannot help feeling that, in the end, one gets driven back to the position that the victims never seem able to appreciate that the laws that we make here ought to be applied to them. One of the difficulties that confronts us as legislators is: how can we make our decisions satisfy the claims of abstract justice? I suggest to the right hon. Gentleman that, when all the arguments he has adduced this evening have been considered, we come back to the position: can we honestly say to ourselves—let alone what we say to widows—that we think that justice is being done?

I would appeal to the Minister to recognise that when it comes to justice, the existing law is quite indefensible when we are dealing with its victims, and I hope that, even if it is not done tonight, the day will not be very far distant when the rule will be abolished. I could only wish I had thought to send half a dozen of the ladies who talked to me in my constituency to talk to him. I should like him to try the speech that he has made tonight on them. I am quite sure that they would tell him frankly, while listening to all that he had to say, that they still did not think they were getting a fair deal in view of the spirit of the country at the present time towards people situated in the difficult situation in which many of them are.

Photo of Mr Gilbert Mitchison Mr Gilbert Mitchison , Kettering

I feel a little like someone who has been taking part in a mixed doubles and is left merely to return the ball at the end of the volley. What the Minister has just heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) is substantially what the great majority of people in this country believe. The earnings rule is really discredited, not as an abstract matter, not as a statement of general morals, but simply as a matter of practice.

It is felt by people to be radically unfair, and it is unfair. I shall not repeat what has been said about industrial injuries, but it is a point that strikes people very much. How can it be fair in one case and unfair in another? It is no use trying to draw fine distinctions between the principles of the two Acts. There are differences but I cannot see that any of them really affect the point that what is fair in one case could equally well and should be fair in the other, and that what is practicable in one case is also practicable in the other.

In trying to go some way into the question of how far it would be practicable, perhaps I have been on the wrong lines but, after all, it is up to the Minister, if the rule is unfair in its operation, to get rid of it. The rule is unfair not only in relation to industrial injuries but also to other cases.

The first and most obvious one is that it only deals with earnings. That is bound to make it unfair. One can find instances one way and another, but it is obviously unfair that, if a widow has a considerable unearned income, it is not taken into account in reckoning her pension, while, if she has a considerable earned income, that is taken into account. It is perfectly simple and it is bound to strike anyone as being unfair.

Nowadays the commonest instances will not be of women entirely on earnings or entirely on unearned income, but of women who derive income from both sources. Even in these cases, however, one finds gross unfairness between one woman and another, cases where the earned income in one instance and the unearned income in the other brings the person concerned within the operation of the rule.

The second aspect that strikes everyone as being unfair is the difference between the operation in relation to widows and that in relation to retirement pensioners. I shall not discuss the rule for retirement pensioners but will merely point out that to them it is a very much smaller financial matter. The men are affected at a far earlier stage than the women will be. The limit in relation to their average earnings is a far lower proportion, just as the limit in relation to women's average earnings was, at the beginning, a far lower proportion.

When, however, one considers the widows, what the Government are doing now is dealing with a group of widows who are at the top of the earnings scale, and it is that group of widows only which is affected. Every increase made in the limit means a reduction in the number of widows affected, unless it is paralleled by an increase in women's earnings at the same time, and we constantly get the ridiculous position of the Advisory Committee time after time having to consider how these two things match up to the scale of women's earnings on the one hand and the limitation for purposes of the earnings rule for widows on the other.

The Committee has been considering this matter from that point of view for years. From what I see of its reports, the Committee can hardly be described as wildly revolutionary or likely to say to the Minister that he must not relax the rule if he wants to do good work. That is what it said in 1960 and in 1963 it only passed the change proposed because it thought that it was just within the limit of no relaxation since it could be just matched, and no more, with the change which had taken place in women's earnings.

6.45 p.m.

We thus have the situation where his responsible, experienced and very cautious Advisory Committee tells the Minister that he must not relax this rule any further and then he comes along with what is admitted to be a relaxation, although we do not object to it as far as it goes. But we do say that the Government have reached the moment where they should recognise that the rule is now ineffective, that the lack of effectiveness is its unfairness, that it is widely misunderstood and that, all this being so, the time has come for them to drop it.

I do not know what it is that makes the Government nowadays carry on with a rule simply because it has been in operation for some time. I listened with admiration to the right hon. Gentleman's administrative dialectic, but if that is all he can say in defence of a rule which affects a large number of people who have suffered grievous hardship and who look for help to the State—not through National Assistance but through National Insurance—then it is a very poor defence indeed.

I was glad to hear that the hon. Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) constantly bombards Ministers with

requests for a change. I agree with my right hon. Friend who said that he could send a whole packet of widows to the Minister. I, too, could send a packet to the Minister. If all six hundred or more of us released packets of widows upon the right hon. Gentleman his plight would be very sore indeed.

If he will not accept the Amendment as it stands, I urge him to give an undertaking that he will abolish the rule in the lifetime of this Parliament. He has an uncertain amount of time left but, after all, what are uncertainties here? It may be a question of weeks or months but he should nevertheless take the step. The right hon. Gentleman might even get far enough to assure us that he can draw up the necessary provision a great deal better than I have been able to do and get it done in another place. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will say that he will look again at this and undertake to get rid of the rule in this Parliament.

My last plea is that put forward by the minority in the Report I have referred to—that the rule is completely misunderstood. Widows simply do not know where they are. That applies not only to the rule but to a great many other things which concern widows under these schemes, but it operates principally in connection with the operation of the earnings rule.

In a democratic country, once one gets the position where the people principally affected really do not know why certain things are done and often get themselves into trouble simply because they do not understand it, then it is time for a change. After all, we shall soon have an election. Could not the right hon. Gentleman consider in this matter the preponderant feelings of the electorate? I am sure that if he did he would abolish the rule.

Question put, That "hundred" stand part of the Clause:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 190, Noes 147.

Division No. 13]AYES[6.50 p.m.
Agnew, Sir PeterBarber, Rt. Hon. AnthonyBishop, Sir Patrick
Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.)Barlow, Sir JohnBlack, Sir Cyril
Allason, JamesBarter, JohnBourne-Arton, A.
Anderson, D. C.Batsford, BrianBox, Donald
Arbuthnot, Sir JohnBeamish, Col. Sir TuftonBraine, Bernard
Ashton, Sir HubertBerkeley, HumphryBrewis, John
Atkins, HumphreyBiffen, JohnBromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. Sir Walter
Awdry, Daniel (Chippenham)Birch, Rt. Hon. NigelBrown, Alan (Tottenham)
Browne, Percy (Torrington)Henderson, John (Cathcart)Partridge, E.
Bryan, PaulHiley, JosephPearson, Frank (Clitheroe)
Buck, AntonyHill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)Peel, John
Bullus, Wing Commander EricHirst, GeoffreyPercival, Ian
Campbell, GordonHogg, Rt. Hon. QuintinPeyton, John
Cary, Sir RobertHolland, PhilipPickthorn, Sir Kenneth
Channon, H. P. G.Hollingworth, JohnPitt, Dame Edith
Chataway, ChristopherHope, Rt. Hon. Lord JohnPounder, Rafton
Chichester-Clark, R.Hopkins, AlanPowell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch
Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)Howard, Hon. G. R. (St. Ives)Pym, Francis
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)Hughes-Young, MichaelRawlinson, Rt. Hon. Sir Peter
Cole, NormanHutchison, Michael ClarkRedmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)Rees-Davits, W. R. (Isle of Thanet)
Cordle, JohnJackson, JohnRidley, Hon. Nicholas
Corfield, F. V.Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)Ridsdale, Julian
Costain, A. P.Johnson, Eric (Blackley)Roots, William
Courtney, Cdr. AnthonyJohnson Smith, GeoffreyRopner, Col. Sir Leonard
Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)Russell, Ronald
Crowder, F. P.Kaberry, Sir DonaldScott-Hopkins, James
Cunningham, Sir KnoxKerans, Cdr. J. S.Sharples, Richard
Curran, CharlesKerr, Sir HamiltonShaw, M.
Dance, JamesKershaw, AnthonySkeet, T. H. H.
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir HenryKirk, PeterSmith, Dudley (Br'ntf'd & Chiswick)
Deedes, Rt. Hon. W. F.Lagden, GodfreySpearman, Sir Alexander
Digby, Simon WingfieldLewis, Kenneth (Rutland)Stainton, Keith
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. M.Lilley, F. J. P.Stodart, J. A.
Doughty, CharlesLindsay, Sir MartinStudholme, Sir Henry
Drayson, G. B.Litchfield, Capt. JohnSummers, Sir Spencer
Eden, Sir JohnLloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield)Taylor, Edwin (Bolton, E.)
Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)Teeling, Sir William
Elliott, R. W. (Newc'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)Longden, GilbertThatcher, Mrs. Margaret
Errington, Sir EricLoveys, Walter H.Thomas, Sir Leslie (Canterbury)
Farey-Jones, F. W.Lucas-Tooth, Sir HughThompson, Sir Richard (Croydon, S.)
Farr, JohnMcAdden, Sir StephenThornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin
Finlay, GraemeMcLaren, MartinTouche, Rt. Hon. Sir Gordon
Foster, Sir JohnMaclean, Sir Fitzroy (Bute & N. Ayrs)Turner, Colin
Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)McLean, Neil (Inverness)van Straubenzee, W. R.
Freeth, DenzilMacLeod, Sir John (Ross & Cromarty)Vane, W. M. F.
Gardner, EdwardMarshall, Sir DouglasVosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis
Gibson-Watt, DavidMarten, NeilWalker, Peter
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, Central)Mathew, Robert (Honiton)Wall, Patrick
Goodhart, PhilipMaude, Angus (Stratford-on-Avon)Williams, Dudley (Exeter)
Goodhew, VictorMaxwell-Hyslop, R. J.Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Grant-Ferris, R.Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Green, AlanMills, StrattonWilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Gresham Cooke, R.Miscampbell, NormanWise, A. R.
Grosvenor, Lord RobertMontgomery, FergusWolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Gurden, HaroldMoore, Sir Thomas (Ayr)Wood, Rt. Hon. Richard
Hall, John (Wycombe)More, Jasper (Ludlow)Woodhouse, C. M.
Hamiton, Michael (Wellingborough)Morgan, WilliamWoodnutt, Mark
Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)Morrison, JohnWoollam, John
Harris, Reader (Heston)Heave, AireyYates, William (The Wrekin)
Harrison, Col. Sir Harwood (Eye)Nugent, Rt. Hon. Sir Richard
Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)Oakshott, Sir HendrieTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)Osborn, John (Hallam)Mr. MacArthur and
Hastings, StephenOsborne, Sir Cyril (Louth)Mr. Hugh Rees.
Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir LionelPage, Graham (Crosby)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)Corbet, Mrs. FredaGrimond, Rt. Hon. J.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe)Cronin, JohnHale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)
Barnett, GuyCullen, Mrs. AliceHamilton, William (West Fife)
Beaney, AlanDalyell, TamHannan, William
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)Harper, Joseph
Benn, Anthony WedgwoodDavies, Ifor (Gower)Hart, Mrs. Judith
Bennett, J. (Glasgow, Bridgeton)Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)Hayman, F. H.
Benson, Sir GeorgeDiamond, JohnHealey, Denis
Blackburn, F.Doig, PeterHenderson, Rt. Hn. Arthur (Rwly Regis)
Blyton, WilliamDuffy, A. E. P. (Colne Valley)Herbison, Miss Margaret
Boardman, H.Ede, Rt. Hon. C.Hill, J. (Midlothian)
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.Edelman, MauriceHilton, A. V.
Bowden, Rt. Hn. H. W. (Leics, S. W.)Edwards, Robert (Bilston)Holman, Percy
Bradley, TomEdwards, Walter (Stepney)Houghton, Douglas
Bray, Dr. JeremyEvans, AlbertHowell, Charles A. (Perry Barr)
Brockway, A. FennerFinch, HaroldHoy, James H.
Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)Fitch, AlanHughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)Fletcher, EricHughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)
Callaghan, JamesFraser, Thomas (Hamilton)Hunter, A. E.
Carmichael, NeilGalpern, Sir MyerHynd, H. (Accrington)
Castle, Mrs. BarbaraGinsburg, DavidHynd, John (Attercliffe)
Chapman, DonaldGordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas
Cliffs, MichaelGrey, CharlesJeger, George
Collide, PercyGriffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)
Jones, Dan (Burnley)Morris, JohnSorensen, R. W.
Kelley, RichardMoyle, ArthurSoskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Kenyon, CliffordNoel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)Spriggs, Leslie
Lawson, GeorgeO'Malley, B. K.Steele, Thomas
Ledger, RonOram, A. E.Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)
Lee, Frederick (Newton)Oswald, ThomasSymonds, J. B.
Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)Owen, WillTaverns, D.
Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)Padley, W. E.Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Lipton, MarcusPaget, R. T.Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)
Loughlin, CharlesPannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)Thornton, Ernest
Lubbock, EricPearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)Thorpe, Jeremy
Mabon, Dr. J. DicksonPearl, FrederickTomney, Frank
MacColl, JamesPrice, J. T. (Westhougton)Wainwright, Edwin
McKay, John (Wallsend)Probert, ArthurWarbey, William
Mackie, John (Enfield, East)Randall, HarryWeitzman, David
Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)Reynolds, G. W.White, Mrs. Eirene
Manuel, ArchieRhodes, H.Wilkins, W. A.
Mapp, CharlesRoberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)Willey, Frederick
Mayhew, ChristopherRobertson, John (Paisley)Williams, D. J. (Neath)
Mendelson, J. J.Rodgers, W. T. (Stockton)Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Millan, BruceRoss, WilliamWoof, Robert
Milne, EdwardSilkin, JohnYates, Victor (Ladywood)
Mitchison, G. R.Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Moody, A. S.Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Morris, Charles (Openshaw)Snow, JulianMr. Sydney Irving and
Mr. Redhead.

Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Miss Irene Ward Miss Irene Ward , Tynemouth

I must apologise to the Committee that I was not able to hear all the discussion on the Amendments. As everyone realises, there is always a great deal to do on a Thursday and it is not always possible to be in the Chamber for the whole of a debate. However, I have lived so much with the provisions of the Clause that I can repeat the arguments on both sides almost in my sleep. Although I feel that I owe the Committee an apology, that does not mean that I am not certain what arguments have been put forward. I did not vote on the Amendment because, not having heard the argument, I did not think that it was right to do so, but I am certain that if I had heard my right hon. Friend's reply I would not have agreed with him.

7.0 p.m.

I do not often agree with the hon. and learned Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison), but I heard him say—and I agreed with him—that this side of the Committee should put forward the argument that widows, having been relieved of the earnings rule, do not like to find the earnings rule applies to them on reaching the age of 60.

I am not a great feminist, but I sometimes think that men think—

The Deputy-Chairman:

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but we cannot have another discussion on an Amendment which has been discussed and decided on. She cannot seek to rehash all the arguments which were deployed on the Amendment which we have discussed and which has been disposed of.

Photo of Miss Irene Ward Miss Irene Ward , Tynemouth

Sir Robert, I was not intending to do that. All that I was going to do was to emphasise—and I do not think that this was brought out during the discussion on the Amendment—that men always think that they know all about women's motives. They do not. Ministers always think that they know all about women's motives, but they do not.

My objection to the Clause is that when the earnings rule is applied to widows they do not earn increments, whereas when they reach the age of 60 and the earnings rule is applied they do earn them. That ought to have been taken into consideration. A widow to whom the earnings rule is applied gets no benefit at all, whereas when the earnings rule is applied to a widow on reaching the age of 60 as a retirement pension she at least gets increments.

I should have thought that that would have been a cover to these discrepancies. The Minister's argument is that widows would not like having the earnings rule applied when they reach the age of 60. That is the point that I should like to have made when the Amendment was being discussed.

The Deputy-Chairman:

Order. I am sorry, but that is what the hon. Lady cannot do now.

Photo of Miss Irene Ward Miss Irene Ward , Tynemouth

Sir Robert, surely I am entitled to say why I object to the Clause?

Photo of Mr John McKay Mr John McKay , Wallsend

On a point of order. Having discussed a Clause at considerable length, and having put forward Amendments to it and taken a decision on them, is it in order for an hon. Member to start discussing the Clause again?

The Deputy-Chairman:

I have pointed out to the hon. Lady that on the Question, That the Clause stand part of the Bill, it is not in order to discuss the merits of an Amendment which has been dealt with.

Photo of Miss Irene Ward Miss Irene Ward , Tynemouth

I am discussing the Question that is now before the Committee. This Clause imposes an earnings rule on widows at a certain level of income. I am entitled to say that I do not support the Clause. I would rather that there were no earnings rule on widows' earnings, and I am entitled to say so.

It is a pity that I cannot put forward all the reasons why I object to the earnings rule being applied to widows at all. I think that they are being put into the position in which, because of the earnings rule, they will not derive the benefit of receiving increments. I think that I am in order in saying that.

Although it has nothing to do with the Amendment which has been discussed, perhaps I might say that the Conservative Lady Members of Parliament and I presume hon. Ladies opposite with the exception of perhaps one of them take the same view—would have liked an inquiry into the whole matter. We suggested it, but our request was turned down.

I shall say no more. I wanted to register my disapproval of the way in which the whole matter has been handled. I repeat that men always think that they know all about women's motives. They think that they know all about what widows feel about these matters. My mother was widowed when I was a very small child, and I know a great deal more about the difficulties of being a widow than men do, for the simple reason that they have had no experience of it, nor could they. I regret that we did not abolish the earnings rule for widows.

Photo of Hon. Richard Wood Hon. Richard Wood , Bridlington

Rather than repeat the speech which I made half an hour ago, perhaps I might suggest to my hon. Friend that she reads it tomorrow. She will find that, among other things, I said some delightful things about her which I do not feel inclined to withdraw even though she judged my speech without having heard it.

Photo of Miss Peggy Herbison Miss Peggy Herbison , Lanarkshire North

I shall be surprised indeed if, when the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) reads the Minister's speech tomorrow, she agrees with what he said.

This Clause raises the limit of earnings before the earnings rule is applied. The hon. Lady said that she would like the earnings rule for widows to be abolished. The hon. Lady is always extremely forthright, and I believe what she said, but why was it that she did not join us in the Division Lobby when we were voting on just that issue?

Photo of Miss Irene Ward Miss Irene Ward , Tynemouth

I hope that I shall be in order in saying that my colleagues and I, by exercising a great deal of pressure, swayed my Government into introducing the Bill. One is sometimes a little inhibited from voting against one's Government, or against one's Minister, if they do things which they have been urged to do. I know the hon. Lady very well, and I think that in similar circumstances she would have been as generous as I was. That is the reason for my not voting.

Photo of Miss Peggy Herbison Miss Peggy Herbison , Lanarkshire North

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her explanation, but I would haw been happier if, even though she could hot join us in the Lobby, we had been joined by some of those Conservative Lady Members to whom she referred. In fact, not one of them joined us.

I hope that the hon. Lady will maintain her pressure on the Government. I hope that she will read the Minister's speech and will be as dissatisfied with it as I have been. I am sure that with her energy she will be back at the Minister. I hope that her pressure, with the pressure from my hon. Friends, will cause the Minister to move a further Amendment in another place.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 5 and 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.