asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether she will alter the present regulations of paying pensions to widows, lower the present age limit of 50 years, and pay more attention to length of marriage as a qualification for a widow's pension.
Mr. Gresham Cooke:
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance whether she will give assurance that the forthcoming major review of social security schemes will take into consideration the need to lower the qualifying age for widows' pensions from 50 to 45 years; and when she expects the review will be completed.
Mr. Gresham Cooke:
When the review body goes into the matter, will it look at the case of a widow who has perhaps been, say, for 30 years—from the age of 20 until the age of 50—out of touch with any form of employment during that period and who finds it very hard to take another job? There is, therefore, a very strong case for the starting date for widows to come down to 45 or even earlier. Will the right hon. Lady ask the review body to take this into account?
Is the right hon. Lady aware that this is another example of the pressing need to be selective in pensions increases? Many people realise that it is scandalous that the Labour Government spend £300 million on pension increases and do not deal with some of the anomalies? Surely the principle of selection should be adopted rather than spending right across the board.
I repeat that the hon. Gentleman wants to cut some people out of the pension increases announced last week, I again say to him that, during their 13 years of office, his Government had many chances to deal with the principle of flat-rate increases but did not do so. We shall deal with them in our major review.
May I first congratulate the right hon. Lady on her appointment, as an opportunity to do so has not arisen before? I wish her well and I am sure that she will have a very happy time there. Is the right hon. Lady intending that the review should be an internal review by the Government machine or that an outside body should be set up to carry it out?
asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if she will bring forward legislation to pay the same weekly rate of benefit as she proposes to pay to the 10s. widow, to the widow who, although widowed under identical circumstances, receives no longterm widow's benefit under the National Insurance Acts.
No, Sir. But in the course of the major review of social security provisions on which we are embarking we shall certainly examine the structure of National Insurance widows' benefits.
Is the right hon. Lady aware that under her present proposals, as far as we know them, there could be a difference of as much as £1,800 in the amount which two ladies, widowed this week, could draw from the National Insurance Fund, their title stemming from identical insurance contributions on the part of their late husbands, that this difference is far too great to defend and that she should, therefore, bring forward proposals for giving a 30s. pension now to the no-shilling widow?
Again, I would put a question to the hon. Lady. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give an answer."] As soon as hon. Members on the back benches opposite stop baying, I shall certainly answer. But I would put this question to the hon. Lady: why—[HON. MEMBERS: "Give an answer."].
When the hon. Lady seems now to be so concerned about the widows whom we call the no-shilling widows, why was nothing done in 13½ years by her own Government? This at least is a step forward. These widows who have the 10s. pension are different from those who have no pension, in the sense that it is a carry-over from the pre1948 insurance principles. Time and time again, hon. Members on this side urged the former Government at least to make the 10s. buy what it bought when the 10s. pension was first instituted. That is all we are doing at this moment.
The right hon. Lady has not quite answered the question. Under our Government, the 10s. widow could, I admit, draw £600 more, if widowed this week, than her no-shilling widowed sister. Does the hon. Lady think that a difference of £1,800 from the same contributions is defensible?
It is of the greatest importance that where there is a right to a pension—and these 10s. widows have a right to that pension—one ought not to leave that pension for 15, 16 or, perhaps, 18 years without raising it to meet any rise in the cost of living. That is all that we have done in this proposal to raise it to 30s. On the question of widows generally, I assure the hon. Lady that this matter will be getting the most careful consideration in the review which we propose to have.
Is my right hon. Friend aware chat some of the ideas ventilated by the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) and by her colleagues on the benches opposite in the course of Questions to my right hon. Friend are excellent in themselves but that the only trouble is that hon. Members opposite thought about them only after the election?
It is estimated that the number of widows under age 60 who are receiving 10s. pensions is about 80,000, and that the number who are drawin3 no pension from my Department is about 40,000. There is reason to think that the great majority of women in both groups will satisfy the contribution conditions for retirement pension from age 60.
No. There were 10s. widows long before 1948. Indeed, there were 10s. widows before 1939, at the beginning of the war. The widow's pension was 10s., and what the Labour Government did in its legislation was to give to those women who did not have a right to the full pension under the new legislation the reserved rights which they had from their husbands' contributions before 1948.
Does not the right hon. Lady realise that all the speeches that have been made about equity and justice mean that both the 10s. widow—and I am delighted that this has happened—and the no-shilling widow should be in the same category in order to achieve justice?
That may be so. If one is considering the case of the no-shilling widow, the whole provisions for widows' benefits will come within the review, because the anomaly which has been mentioned today is by no means the only one. All the anomalies that affect widows will be taken into account in the review.