Increase of Death Grant

Orders of the Day — National Insurance Bill – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 10th April 1974.

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In paragraph 2 of Schedule 4 to the Insurance Act, for sub-paragraph (d) there shall be substituted:(d) over the age of 18/30·00."—[Mr. Boscawen.l

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Hon. Robert Boscawen Hon. Robert Boscawen , Wells

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

This is a very modest but a just and humane clause. Unfortunately, it is a much more modest clause than I would have wished to introduce, but the Chair has ruled new Clause 2 out of order, although it covers all of the points which I wish to raise. This clause covers a very small group of very worthy citizens —those who in 1948 were within 10 years of retirement. There is another smaller group—perhaps even more worthy—who were too old for the scheme in 1948 because they were at that time over retirement age. Unfortunately, that small group who are not eligible for any death grant cannot be included in this Bill. I wish that group could be included.

This is the third time that I have sought to introduce such a measure to successive Governments. I have to limit this clause to those who were within 10 years of retirement in 1948. Under successive Acts they have been entitled only to a limited death grant of £15. Everyone else is entitled to a death grant of £30. Of course, I do not suggest that £30 is anywhere near adequate. I think it is totally inadequate. I understand from those who have advised me that it would require three times that sum to provide the most simple funeral, which would cost something like £80 or £90. By "simple" I mean a funeral with no flowers, no entry in the mourning book and no other trappings that most people regard as necessary for a decent funeral.

However, it is not my intention to ask the House to raise the total death grant because that would cost a large sum of money and I do not think there would be any chance of having such a request accepted on this occasion. I particularly ask that this deserving group, some of whom are well over 80 and others over 90, who were within 10 years of retirement in 1948, should be entitled to the death grant.

I was shocked by some comments in letters that I had after seeking to introduce a similar amendment last year. The people who really know about the very poor when they die are the town clerks and district council clerks who often have to administer the funerals of such people. A number of them have written and explained to me what it is like. I was shocked that such things should still continue in 1973 and 1974.

Therefore, I ask the Committee to consider how much longer we can tolerate the low level of death grant for these people, particularly for the group who receive a reduced rate of grant through no fault of their own, but merely because they were so old when the 1948 Act was introduced. I wish that something could be done for those who are entitled to no grant at all. However, because of the way that the Bill is drafted by the Government, who did not seek to increase any of the grants, maternity or otherwise, I cannot include them.

I hope that the Minister, who spoke so eloquently and fairly on this subject last year in Committee, will support the new clause. I realise, as do many hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, that this blot or stain on our social security system should have been erased years ago. Successive Governments have stood by the contributory principle: that as these people had not contributed the full amount they were not entitled to the full benefit. The contributory principle has been breached on a number of occasions—in particular, when we introduced the pension for the over-80s. I suggest that it ought to be breached again regarding the death grant.

This is a modest, humane clause. There is no political mileage in it and no votes. It is something that we all wish to see carried out. I therefore ask the Committee to give its support to the new clause.

Photo of Mrs Elaine Kellett Mrs Elaine Kellett , Lancaster

I was shocked that throughout almost the whole of the beginning of the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Boscawen) the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has left his place, was laughing and talking to his neighbour and not taking the matter as seriously as he should have done—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Not true."]—I doubt whether younger hon. Members fully appreciate the importance that a highly independent and proud elderly person attaches to giving his or her loved partner a decent burial.

I was born and brought up in the North-West at the time when the first Socialist Chancellor, Philip Snowden, brought in the means test. I know how much importance people in my part of the country attach to being able to put something on one side for a decent funeral for themselves without being a burden to those they leave behind.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Wells said, this is but a modest step in that direction, but it is a step which the Committee should take tonight. It will go only perhaps one third of the way towards making good a deficiency which arises because of the high cost of funerals. The elderly people who will benefit from the provision were paying their stamp when money was very hard to come by. I ask the Committee to treat the clause sympathetically and, if necessary, to come with us into the Lobby tonight.

10.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robert McCrindle Mr Robert McCrindle , Brentwood and Ongar

On Second Reading I spoke about the death grant and I reminded the Minister in no spirit of malice how he and I had shared the same aspirations under the last Government. I listened to his reply with understanding and sympathy, but surely the Government can tonight show an earnest of their good intentions by accepting the clause. It touches at the heart of the people who are worst done by under the death grant arrangements.

The Government are introducing, to their own pride and with our commendation, a major development in social security costing hundreds of millions of pounds. It seems that the additional amount which would be required to improve the death grant under the terms of the clause is very small by comparison. I hope the Minister will be able to accept the clause and begin to end the whole system of paupers' burials which are still with us and which are, to that extent, a condemnation of us all.

Photo of Mr Brian O'Malley Mr Brian O'Malley , Rotherham

I have taken part in debates on the death grant with the hon. Members for Wells (Mr. Boscawen) and Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) over a number of years. I agree with them that the current levels of death grant need revising. I do not seek to score political points when I say that they needed revising under the last Government.

The grant was introduced by the Labour Government in 1946, and it was 1958 before that grant was increased from the original figure to £25. It was raised to its present level by the Labour Government in 1967. The grant is therefore high up the list of items which need careful and sympathetic consideration. I have argued that case in Opposition and I have no intention of changing my view simply because I have moved across the Floor of the House.

No Minister at one uprating can commit any future Minister to a course of action at the next uprating. The primary problems this year are that we are spending £1,250 million in a full year on a very simple uprating to implement the £10 and £16 principle. We made the Bill as simple as possible and left out proposals of all kinds to make the issue easy to deal with in this difficult period. We are spending a great deal of money.

The new clause does not, in global terms, involve a great deal of money. But my difficulty, as a Minister of State in the Department is that while only X million of pounds may be proposed here and only Y million of pounds there the overall bill can be one of hundreds of millions of pounds, not just a few million pounds. Hon. Members opposite would find themselves similarly placed if our roles were reversed.

I am not in a position—no Minister could be—to give a commitment about what will be in the next uprating which comes before the House of Commons. But it is my firm view, and I am sure the view of the Government, that death grants are an urgent priority. We should like to have the opportunity to review death grants as a whole rather than to deal with a specific, relatively small part of the matter. I do not wish to make anything of the argument of principle, although I could do. We have all previously argued about whether a particular benefit arises under contributory principles, and about whether it should or should not do so, but the fact remains that this is a contributory benefit as it stands at present.

I hope that hon. Members opposite who have spoken on this matter will accept that we are prepared to consider the whole question of death grants as a matter of high priority before the next uprating. I hope that they accept that it would be preferable to deal with this matter on a comprehensive basis rather than by way of this new clause which is not the new clause which the hon. Gentleman wanted to move. He would have liked to move a different new clause, but was prevented from doing so because of the Money Resolution. This new clause deals with only a fraction of the problem and if hon. Members are prepared to withdraw it we are certainly prepared to consider the whole question of death grants as a high priority for the next uprating.

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

May I remind the hon. Gentleman of the way he responded to such an agonising appeal from his predecessor in office during the Committee stage of the previous Bill relating to this matter a year ago, when people were already dying at a considerable rate, as unfortunately they are. The hon. Gentleman gave a stony reaction to such a commitment and his response was passionate eloquence in favour of this change. I was the unhappy Government Whip, trying to keep the Opposition together. Is he now to give that miserable Whip the task of turning out his party—

Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I meant that only in anticipation of the hon. Gentleman's state of mind and was not referring to his qualities, but he will have the job of turning out Members opposite to vote for the case which the Minister has just put.

Photo of Mr Brian O'Malley Mr Brian O'Malley , Rotherham

I was not looking for a political row on this. I have tried to treat the contributions made as very important and to meet them as far as I could. The last uprating cost £550 million in a full year. This one, in very difficult economic circumstances, will cost £1,268 million. The hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) has suggested that that is not responsible. I do not want to be unkind to him on an issue on which we are all sensitive but it is difficult to understand how he thinks an uprating of this size is not responsible, while at the same time he wants to make exceptions.

In ideal circumstances, like everyone else, I should like to make exceptions. But if one added all these small matters together, one could easily spend several hundreds of millions extra.

Photo of Mr Robert McCrindle Mr Robert McCrindle , Brentwood and Ongar

I understand the position that the Minister is taking, which is identical to the one for which he criticised his predecessor last year, but does he not realise that the debates are close to their end? He cannot be asked to accept many more amendments. So would he not show an earnest of good intentions of a general review of the death grant, which we wholly accept, by moving slightly forward to the very edge

of this area and accepting the new clause, which is modest by any standards?

Photo of Mr Brian O'Malley Mr Brian O'Malley , Rotherham

There are some improvements which I, like everyone else, would like to see. There is a real claim in the matter of disregards alone. We should like improvements in all these important and emotive areas. I think that I have conceded more this evening on this point than any Minister in recent years. I want to see that kind of improvement.

If hon. Members will accept my goodwill and good intentions, it may be possible to achieve far more improvement in this area. If hon. Members would be prepared to leave it at that now, I will take their points on board in the way I have mentioned. I understand and sympathise with them.

Photo of Hon. Robert Boscawen Hon. Robert Boscawen , Wells

Of course I accept the Minister's sincerity. He feels deeply on this important matter, as we all do. I also understand his embarrassment, which my hon. Friend also suffered when he rejected a similar amendment for the same reasons. But when we are spending a vast sum like £1,260 million, the public will ask why we could not afford to add this small amount to help this needy group That is very difficult to argue against.

I accept that the Minister will have a full review, which is long overdue, and that it may be necessary not only to extend it to those who get no grant at all but also to uprate the grant to something like the true cost. But I cannot accept his refusal to introduce this small measure, and I for one will support it if it goes to the vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 36, Noes 253.

Division No. 13.AYES[11.0 p.m.
Aitken, JonathanKnox, DavidRoss, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Ancram, M.Lawrence, IvanSainsbury, Tim
Baker, KennethLester, John (Beeston)Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Chalker, Mrs. LyndaMcCrindle, R. A.Sims, Roger
Cockcroft, JohnMarshall, Michael (Arundel)Steen, Anthony (L'pool, Wavertree)
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid,Maj.-Gen.JamesMayhew,Patrick(RoyalT'bridgeWells)Warren, Kenneth
Durant, TonyMoate, RogerWinstanley, Dr. Michael
Dykes, HughMorrison, Charles (Devizes)Winterton, Nicholas
Fletcher, Alexander (Edinburgh, N.)Nicholls, Sir HarmarWorsley, Sir Marcus
Hampson, Dr. KeithPage, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)
Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)Pattie, GeoffreyTELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Hurd, DouglasRenton, R. T. (Mid-Sussex)Mr. Kenneth Clarke and
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. ElaineRhys Williams, Sir BrandonMr. Robert Boscawen.
Knight, Mrs. Jill
NOES
Allaun, FrankGarrett, W. E. (Wallsend)Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Archer, Peter (Warley, West)George, BruceMurray, Ronald King
Armstrong, ErnestGolding, JohnNewens, Stanley (Harlow)
Ashley, JackGourlay, HarryOakes, Gordon
Ashton, JoeGraham, TedOgden, Eric
Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)Grant, George (Morpeth)O'Malley, Brian
Atkinson, NormanGrant, John (Islington, C.)Orbach, Maurice
Bagier, Gordon A. T.Griffiths, Eddie (Sheffield, Brightside)Ovenden, John
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)Hamilton, James (Bothwell)Owen, Dr. David
Barnett, Joel (Heywood & Royton)Hamling, WilliamPadley, Walter
Bates, AlfHardy, PeterPalmer, Arthur
Baxter, WilliamHarper, JosephPark, George (Coventry, N.E.)
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony WedgwoodHarrison, Walter (Wakefield)Parker, John (Dagenham)
Bidwell, SydneyHart, Rt. Hn. JudithPavitt, Laurie
Bishop, E. S.Hattersley, RoyPendry, Tom
Boardman, H. (Leigh)Hatton, FrankPerry, Ernest G.
Booth, AlbertHealey, Rt. Hn. DenisPhipps. Dr. Colin
Boothroyd, Miss BettyHeffer, Eric S.Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg
Bottomley, Rt. He. ArthurHooley, FrankPrescott, John
Boyden, James (Bishop Auckland)Horam, JohnPrice, Christopher (Lewisham, W.)
Bradley, TomHowell, Denis (B'ham, Small Heath)Price, William (Rugby)
Brown,Bob(Newcastle upon Tyne,W.)Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey)Radice, Giles
Brown, Ronald (H'kney,S.& Sh'ditch)Hughes, Mark (Durham)Rees, Rt. Hn. Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Buchan, NormanHughes, Robert (Aberdeen, North)Reid, George
Buchanan,Richard (G' gow,Springbrn)Hunter, AdamRhodes, Geoffrey
Butler,Mrs.Joyce (H'gey,WoodGreen)Irving, Rt. Hn. Sydney (Dartford)Richardson, Miss Jo
Callaghan,Rt.Hn.James(Cardiff,S.E.)Janner, GrevilleRoberts, Albert (Normanton)
Callaghan, Jim (M'dd'ton a Pr'wicn)Jay, Rt. Hn. DouglasRoberts, Gwilym (Cannock)
Campbell, IanJenkins, Hugh (W'worth, Putney)Robertson, John (Paisley)
Cant, R. B.Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (B'ham, St'fd)Roderick, Caerwyn E.
Carmichael, NeilJohn, BrynmorRodgers, George (Chorley)
Carter, RayJohnson, James (K'ston uponHull,W.)Rodgers,William (Teesside,St'ckton)
Carter-Jones, LewisJohnson, Walter (Derby, S.)Rooker, J. W.
Castle, Rt. Hn. BarbaraJones, Barry (Flint, E.)Rose, Paul B.
Cocks, MichaelJones, Dan (Burnley)Ross, Rt. Hn. William (Kilmarnock)
Cohen, StanleyJones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)Rowlands, Edward
Coleman, DonaldJones, Alec (Rhondda)Sandelson, Neville
Colquhoun, Mrs. M. N.Judd, FrankSedgemore, Bryan
Concannon, J. D.Kaufman, GeraldSelby, Harry
Conlan, BernardKerr, RussellShaw, Arnold (Redbridge, Ilford, S.)
Cook, Robert F. (Edinburgh, G.)Kilroy-Silk, RobertSheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Craigen, J. M. (G'gow, Maryhill)Kinnock, NeilShore, Rt. Hn. Peter(S'pney&P'plar)
Crawshaw, RichardLamborn, HarryShort, Rt. Hn. E. (N'ctle-u-Tyne)
Crosland, Rt. He. AnthonyLamond, JamesSilkin, Rt. Hn. John (L'sham,D'ford)
Cryer, G. R.Latham, Arthur (CityofW'minsterP'ton)Siikin, Hn. S. C. (S'hwark, Dulwich)
Cunningham,G.(Islington,S&F'sb'ry)Leadbitter, TedSilverman, Julius
Cunningham, Dr. John A. (Whiteh'v'n)Lee, JohnSkinner, Dennis
Davidson, ArthurLestor, Miss Joan (Eton & Slough)Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)
Davies, Bryan (Enfield, N.)Lever, Rt. Ha. HaroldSnape, Peter
Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)Stewart, Rt. Hn. M. (H'sth,Fulh'm)
Davies, Ifor (Gower)Lomas, KennethStoddart, David (Swindon)
Davis, Clinton, (Hackney, C.)Loughlin, Charles.Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Deakins EricLoyden, EddieStott, Roger
Dean, Joseph (Leeds, W.)Lyon, Alexander W. (York)Strang, Gavin
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir GeoffreyMabon, Dr. J. DicksonStrauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Delargy, HughMcCartney, HughSummerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Dell, Rt. Hn. EdmundMacFarquhar, RoderickSwain, Thomas
Douglas-Mann, BruceMcGuire, MichaelThomas, D. E. (Merloneth)
Duffy, A. E. P.Mackenzie, GregorThorne, Stan (Preston, S.)
Dunnett, JackMacLennan, RobertTierney, Sydney
Dunwoody, Mrs. GwynethMcMillan Torn (Glasgow, C.)Tinn, James
Eadie, AlexMcNamara, KevinTomlinson, J. E.
Edelman, MauriceMadden, M. 0. F.Torney, Tom
Edge, GeoffMagee, BryanTuck, Raphael
Ellis, John (Brigg & Scunthorpe)Mahon, SimonUrwin, T. W.
Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)Mallalieu, J. P. W.Varley, Rt. Hn. Eric G.
English, MichaelMarks, KennethWainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)
Evans. Fred (Caerphilly)Marquand, DavidWalker, Harold (Doncaster)
Evans, loan (Aberdare)Marshall, Dr. Edmund (Goole)Watkins, David
Evans, John (Newton)Mason, Rt. Hn. RoyWeitzman, David
Ewing, Harry (St'ling,F'kirk&G'm'th)Meacher, MichaelWellbeloved, James
Fernyhoug[...], Rt. Hn. E.Mellish, Rt. Hn. RobertWhite, James
Fitch, Alan (Wigan)Mendelson, JohnWhitehead, Phillip
Flannery, MartinMikardo, fanWhitlock, William
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)Millan, BruceWigley, Dafydd (Caernarvon)
Foot, Michael, Rt. Hn.Miller, Dr. M. S. (E. Kilbride)Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Ford, BenMolloy, WilliamWilliams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Forrester, JohnMoonman, EricWilliams, Alan Lee (Hvrng, Hchurch)
Fowler, Norman (Sutton Coldfield)Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)Williams,Rt.Hn. Shirley(H'f'd&St'ge)
Fraser, John (Lambeth, Norwood)Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Freeson, ReginaldMorris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Galpern, Sir MyerMoyle, RolandWilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Garrett, John (Norwich, S.)
Wilson, William (conventry, S.E.)Woof, RobertTELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Wise, Mrs. AudreyWrigglesworth, IanMr. Thomas Cox and
Woodall, AlecYoung, David (Bolton, E.)Mr. J. D. Dormand.

Question accordingly negatived.