§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
I understand that with this Amendment it is convenient to take the following Amendments:
No. 7, in page 2, line 14, at end insert:'and(b) any sum paid by any member of the family towards the maintenance of his wife or former wife, provided that such sum is paid by virtue of an order of any court or is deducted from his earnings by virtue of an attachment of earnings order'.No. 8, in page 2, line 14, at end insert:( ) The amount by which any sum or sums which may after the commencement of this Act be receivable by any member of the family by virtue of any Act providing for the payment of family allowance shall exceed the sum or sums which, in the like circumstances, would at the commencement of this Act have been receivable by such person under the Family Allowances Acts 1965 to 1969.No. 9, in page 2, line 14, at end insert:( ) Any sum receivable by any member of the family by virtue of disablement due to war service.No. 10, in page 2, line 14, at end insert:( ) Any sum receivable by any member of the family by way of attendance allowance under section 4 of the National Insurance (Old Persons' and Widows' Pensions and Attendance Allowance) Act 1970.No. 11, in page 2, line 14, at end insert:( ) The first £2 of any income (other than such as is in this subsection specifically excluded) of any member of the family who is not engaged in full-time remunerative work.1183 No.12, in page 2, line 14, at end insert:'and(b) where any person who is not by virtue of section 6 of the Children Act 1958 disqualified for keeping foster children undertakes the care and maintenance of any foster child for reward, the amount by which any sum receivable by way of such reward exceeds the sum of £2'.No.13, in page 2, line 26, at end insert:(d) for substituting for the sum of £2 in subsection (1)(b) of this section such higher amount as may by regulations made under section 2 of this Act be substituted for the sum of £2 in the said section 2(1)(b).No.24, in page 5, line 13, at end insert:(6) The Secretary of State shall as soon as may be and in any event not later than six months after the day appointed by an order made under subsection (1) of section 16 of this Act make regulations providing for the matters contained in section 4(2)(b) of this Act.No.25, in page 5, line 13, at end insert:(6) The Secretary of State shall as soon as may be and in any event not later than six months after the day appointed by an order made under section 16(1) of this Act lay before Parliament a draft of regulations making provision for the matter contained in section 4(2)(b) of this Act.
§ Mr. O'Malley
The Amendments which we have been discussing so far have dealt with a possible situation which will affect only a small number of families. This series of Amendments deals with potentially every family who may be entitled to family income supplement. One hopes—and, in view of our discussions on similar Amendments in Committee, we may hope—that we shall receive support not only from my hon. Friends, but from Conservative Members.
This series of Amendments seeks to introduce disregards similar to those operated in the supplementary benefits system in assessing entitlement to the family income supplement. The House will recall that in Committee the Secretary of State came under considerable pressure on this subject. His attitude and that of the Under-Secretary of State at the time and earlier was that they wanted to keep the system as simple as possible and, certainly in the early stages of its operation, to have no disregards whatever. Fortunately, they were prepared to 1184 think again. That was partly as a result of the representations of hon. Members on both sides of the House, and some of the Amendments are already conceded by the Government.
As there are many Amendments to be considered—Amendment No. 6 is merely the paving Amendment—it may be convenient if I deal briefly with the Official Opposition Amendments, leaving my hon. Friends and others to deal specifically and in more detail with Amendments which they have suggested.
In numerical order, the first to which I wish to refer is Amendment No. 8. We are here knocking at an open door. Its purpose is to provide that if at some time the Government decide to keep their promise made during the General Election—and we know that they are still considering whether they can keep that promise, and we have that on no less an authority than the Secretary of State—families receiving family income supplements will receive the full benefit of any family allowance increase.
In Committee the Secretary of State told my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams):I can reassure the hon. Lady that any future increase in family allowances would not be reflected in the prescribed amount under the Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th November, 1970; Vol. 806, c. 1325.]We put the Amendment down because the Bill does not make that clear. Unless it is incorporated in the Bill we shall not be clear how such increases can be disregarded. It could be done under Clause 4(2)(a) or (2)(b), or the £2 sum specified in Clause 2(1)(b) could be increased. We should welcome further information from the Secretary of State on this. I think that there is no difference between us here, but the principles should be clearly laid down in the Bill, just as a number of later Amendments should be incorporated, rather than having the matters with which they are concerned dealt with by regulations.
Amendment No. 9 deals with income from disablement arising from war service, and Amendment No. 10 deals with income arising from attendance allowance under the 1970 Act. We have already been told since the Committee stage that the Secretary of State has decided to allow disregards in precisely 1185 those two areas where the pressure was strongest. In a Written Answer on 25th November he said that he had decided to provide for the disregard of, first, £2 of any war disablement pension, which brings this scheme into line with supplementary benefit conditions, and second,the whole of any attendance allowance or constant attendance allowance under the National Insurance, Industrial Injuries or War Pensions Schemes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th November, 1970; Vol. 807, c. 177.]The Minister who is to reply might well ask why we have tabled the Amendments, when the Government have already said in HANSARD that they are prepared to meet us on the matter. The point is that they are proposing to deal with it in regulations. I do not want to make too much of the issue, which certainly is no party political point, but the House should exercise considerable care in the use of delegated legislation. Wherever possible the wish of the House should be represented through principal legislation rather than delegated legislation. That argument has been going on for many years. I think that the first complaints were in a book on the subject as long ago as 1929. I am speaking from memory, because I could not find it when I looked for it a few hours ago, but I think that it was called "The New Despotism". Any hon. Member who has been in the House for a number of years must be concerned at the vast number of Statutory Instruments and regulations that we churn out through the machine which we have created.
We on this side see no reason why disregards for attendance allowance, war service persons and family allowance, which the families concerned may well have, should not be written into the principal legislation rather than put into regulations, which I understand will be under the negative rather than the affirmative procedure that we should want.
We welcome the Secretary of State's acceptance of the arguments that were put forward from both sides. He has thought again and given some disregards for war pensions and the attendance allowance. If he can introduce such disregards, with which we all agree, for those categories, is he not bound in equity also to introduce disregards, which are now a feature of the system, for other categories? [Interruption.] The Under-Secretary 1186 laughs, but of course it is an inevitable argument.
I can remember precisely the same kind of attitude from right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite when we discussed the Bill about pensions for the over-80s. When we said that there would be pensions for some of the over-80s but not all, that was pooh-poohed. Now the chicken is coming home to roost. There was correspondence on the matter in The Guardian the other morning. We must be careful on this kind of issue, because once a principle has been introduced it is not only the Opposition that can seek to extend it. Groups outside the House can say, "A system of disregards is operating. Should not they apply to us, too?".
When we argued the case in Committee hon. Members on both sides said that there are some categories of people for which we can argue priorities, but having argued those priorities we are bound to go on to the next stage and say that, whilst we recognise that there may be difficulties in the initial months of the operation of the Measure, certainly in the longer-term, and I believe in the short-term, too, there must be some movement from the Government to include other kinds of income as disregards as well.
I am not entirely clear what income is disregarded at present, as I define the family rather than as the Bill defines it. To my non-legal mind, and even to the legal mind of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), there is a difference between a family as defined by the Bill and the general understanding of the word.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. Taverne) said on 18th October, as reported at columns 1298 and 1299 of HANSARD, that he was not clear how the income of young people in employment in the households concerned was to be treated. He was worried about the situation which I understand existed in the early 1930s, when young people leaving school and taking a job were virtually driven to live with their grandmother or an uncle to increase the financial entitlement of their mother and father and younger children in the household. The Secretary of State undertook to consider the matter and comment on it on Report. I hope that he will be 1187 able to do so. Having looked at the Parliamentary Answers on the subject, I am not even clear whether the income of adult offspring in employment of a man and wife with younger children and living in the same household will be taken into account when assessing family income supplement.
§ Mr. O'Malley
I am glad to hear that.
One of the difficulties arises because the Written Answer in c. 178 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of 25th November, 1970, is ungrammatical. I think that it is a printing error. However, I am fairly sure from the reply that entitlement will not be affected by the income of such people.
I am not sure about the situation concerning income from lodgers. I think that it was my right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) and the hon. Member for Kensington, South (Sir B. Rhys Williams) who said that the Bill could be a scrounger's charter. If the income from lodgers is not taken into account, there might conceivably be difficulties in a few households with the kind of income which we have in mind.
Amendment No. 11 is, in our view, an important and substantive Amendment. If there are to be disregards for adult offspring living in the household, as the Secretary of State indicated just now, I should have thought, in view of our arguments about the mother who might be able to get a part-time job at under £2 to provide Christmas presents for her children, that the Minister could have gone a little further. People who would be helped by Amendment No. 11 would be people who were receiving disablement income, not through war pensions, but through industrial injuries legislation. I should have thought that they should have some kind of help.
The disregard provision under the supplementary benefit system concerning industrial disablement pensions states:The amount by which a war or industrial widow's pension exceeds the standard rate of the National Insurance widow's pension up to 20s. a weekcan be disregarded for superannuation purposes, for example. The House would probably take the view that we should 1188 introduce that kind of system of disregards. The superannuation disregard is an interesting example of the justice of the case. Recently it was decided that a gentleman in my constituency who had been in regular employment for a number of years could no longer carry on with his job on medical grounds. After great difficulty, he found another but not a well-paid job. He was receiving a small amount of superannuation on a monthly basis as a result of the payments which he had made in his previous job. I should have thought that we should be able to do something about cases like that.
The Secretary of State is concerned to get the scheme off the ground by August next year. A fortnight ago he thought that he could not do anything about war pensions, for example, because he wanted to keep the scheme simple. However, happily, he has been able to say, "I can get the scheme working by the target date and I can include these disregards for war pensioners and people receiving attendance allowance". I hope that he will be able to go a little further. But, in case he cannot, I should like to refer to Amendments Nos. 24 and 25, which are alternative ways of expressing the same idea. The reason for tabling them was that as the Bill is drafted regulations made under Clause 4 are subject to the negative procedure. Therefore, Amendment No. 24 is applicable to our discussion. Since Amendment No. 23 was not selected, I will not pursue Amendment No. 25, which was concerned with the affirmative procedure.
We understand the Secretary of State's difficulties which will arise after launching the scheme. If he found himself unable to concede the introduction of further disregards on the date of the launching of the scheme, he should nevertheless be able, six months afterwards, to introduce regulations dealing with problems of the sort that I have outlined. Amendment No. 11 allows the Secretary of State to go further than he has been able to go, and I hope that upon reflection he will find he can go further. If there are difficulties of timing, Amendment No. 24 will help him.
§ 8.45 p.m.
§ Mr. McNamara
With reference to Amendment No. 12, on behalf of myself and my hon. Friends, and I am sure on 1189 behalf of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite who spoke in support of me in Committee, I thank the Minister for announcing in a written reply in column 177 of HANSARD on 25th November that allowances paid by local authorities for foster children will not, under regulations to be published, affect entitlement to family income supplement under the Bill. This is an important concession and we are grateful for it.
Having first raised the matter in Committee and my first shot having been followed by a more eloquent fusillade from the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), I hope that Amendment 7 will be equally well received, and perhaps even get a salvo of support from the right hon. Gentleman.
Amendment No. 7 reads:Page 2, line 14, at end insert:'andIn a Written Answer to a Question from the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Kinsey) the right hon. Gentleman said:(b) any sum paid by any member of the family towards the maintenance of his wife or former wife, provided that such sum is paid by virtue of an order of any court or is deducted from his earnings by virtue of an attachment of earnings order'.The rate of family income supplement depends upon the income of the family and the number of children.He said later in reply to another Question:For this purpose it would clearly be wrong to ignore income of the wife altogether; and there would be strong objections to an arrangement which took account of a wife's income and not that of a woman living as a wife."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th November, 1970; Vol. 807, c. 178.]In replying to this point in Committee the right hon. Gentleman said:Here again I must ask the Committee to be understanding. To allow deductions for costs would involve a great increase in checking. We could not always rely on an individual's saying, 'I must pay out £4 a week' for this or that arrangement. It could be collusive in many cases. There would need to be checking, and once we introduce checking our chance of having a 1st August, 1971, start to payment will be in danger."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th November, 1970; Vol. 806, c. 1327.]It is to this argument that I wish to address myself. First, the Amendment has been narrowed so as not to include those family agreements which are made between couples but to include precise 1190 attachment of earnings orders or court orders. I think, therefore, that the argument about possible collusion falls to the ground. Secondly, claims for attachment orders can easily be checked by reference to the employer, to whom reference may in any case be made as to the man's income, when he is applying for the family income supplement. This is almost certain to happen in dubious cases. Claims for court orders can easily be checked by reference to the clerk to the court, merely by picking up a telephone, to ensure that payments are being punctually and regularly made.
I refer the right hon. Gentleman to the first quotation I gave of his Answers to Questions, namely:The rate of family income supplement depends upon the income of the family and the number of children.For the purpose of the Bill I suggest that a payment covered by the Amendment cannot be regarded as income of the family. On the contrary, it is income of another family, and this brings me to my third point, the position of the recipient of such an order.
The second quotation I made from the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman in regard to it being wrong to ignore the income of the wife altogether is of importance. My point is that "income" is a general term and, as well as applying to wages and salaries, comprises anything in the nature of a maintenance order, an attachment order, or payment of special benefits. If for the purposes of the Bill the money going into a household to a woman is to be counted and if it is thought that it would be wrong to ignore the wife's income altogether, surely equity demands that money going from a man in these circumstances should be disregarded under the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He cannot account for its going in and not for its going out. This is the nub of the problem.
The right hon. Gentleman said that I specialise in difficult cases. I wish if only from the point of view of the domestic happiness of the people involved, that these cases did not exist. I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's desire that the Bill should be implemented quickly, but I feel that the difficulties which he anticipates are not so insuperable that they cannot be overcome. I believe they 1191 can be overcome in the manner I have indicated.
If the Secretary of State cannot accept this Amendment, I hope that at least he will give an undertaking to look at the matter to see whether regulations can be made, as he has done in the case of other disregards.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I am almost amused by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. O'Malley), who consumes all he is given and then charmingly goes on to ask for much more. His appetite grows by what it feeds upon.
This is a debate about a series of disregards in which the combined voices of hon. Members opposite and my hon. and right hon. Friends have already pushed the Government into conceding two groups of disregards. And yet the Opposition still ask for more. The hon. Member for Rotherham even went so far as to get out the handbook on supplementary benefits, and I suppose I should be grateful that he did not include all the disregards in the supplementary benefits system. We are seeking to get into payment as quickly as possible a scheme for the relief of the poorest of the wage-earning poor. Therefore, I ask the House to sympathise with our objective of limiting the disregards—if not to nil, as was the Government's starting position, at least to the position that we have now conceded.
During the Committee stage the Government was attacked very effectively from both sides of the House and the unique position of the war disabled was emphasised both by the Opposition and by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), in a powerful speech, supported by my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward). There was also a combined operation on the attendance allowance for the very severely disabled which will not come into payment as quickly as the family income supplement itself.
Here again the Government have been able to meet the wishes of both sides of the House and to go a little further by conceding a disregard for constant attendance allowance under the industrial injuries or war pensions schemes, as well as under the Act of July this year, for 1192 the very severely disabled. We were able to make these concessions, first, because the number of cases will be relatively small and, secondly, because the payments can easily be checked. We are dealing with a fixed disregard for the war disabled and a fixed allowance for the others whom I have mentioned.
A large number of the disregards proposed in this group of Amendments does not present the administration of the Bill with simplicity. There would be need for checking. There would necessarily be complication of the instructions to those concerned, and a need to produce very sophisticated definitions of what a family was entitled to.
Before I examine each of the cases put forward, I repeat that we are perfectly willing to review the whole case for disregards, when the Act has been in operation for a year or so. If we find that the purpose of the Bill, namely the relief of the poorest wage-earning families, is being frustrated by a failure to introduce disregards, we shall use our power under regulations to introduce disregards. But that will be at stage 2, when we have got the family incomes supplements successfully into payment.
Meanwhile, I can give both sides of the House the comfort that we are not now discussing an early use of regulations, soon after the Bill has come into operation, to bring in the disregards which the Government have conceded. The regulations which we have undertaken to introduce will be introduced early next year. Thus the two disregards which the Government have conceded will be in action from Day 1 of the scheme. While I cannot satisfy those who have moved these Amendments on the disregards that they are now seeking, I am meeting the wishes of the House earlier than was contemplated for the disregards which have been conceded.
As for the individual cases mentioned, first, there is the Amendment spoken to by both the hon. Member for Rotherham and the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North (Mr. McNamara), connected with the payment of maintenance under a court order. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North has nearly disarmed me because I was about to ask how there can be any fairness in disregarding only a payment made under a court order. What about 1193 the maintenance made voluntarily? His argument has added force because he went out of his way to suggest a disregard only in a situation where the payment can be easily checked.
But he has not gone the whole way, because if we made a disregard for maintenance under a court order, we should still have to find out whether that maintenance was being paid. We should be faced with a large number of people saying, "You are disregarding this particular form of payment. Why not disregard also the maintenance I am receiving voluntarily, or the maintenance for a child which is paid either under a court order or voluntarily?" We should find ourselves in a quicksand. I ask the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North to accept that, once we have the family income supplement in payment and have had about a year's experience of its working, then is the time to look and see whether our purpose is being frustrated by a failure to have this sort of disregard.
§ Mr. McNamara
I do not want to disarm the right hon. Gentleman completely, but will he look at my arguments and arrange for an announcement to be made in the other place, as he said that he would on the point about double incomes?
§ 9.0 p.m.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I am learning to distrust the seductive invitations of hon. Gentlemen opposite. Of course we will consider the arguments, but I make no promise of any further movement on disregards.
I come to the Amendment moved by the hon. Member for Rotherham on disregarding an increase in family allowances. Here we are in fairly deep water. Among other methods of helping the poorest, we are contemplating the use of family allowances. If we decided to use them with or without some claw-back operation and were by that means to succeed in lifting groups of families now in the F.I.S. bracket out of that bracket, would it make sense at once to disregard the increase in family allowances?
We do not have to deal with poverty by methods which duplicate each other. If we succeed in eliminating the worst poverty by family allowances, we can set aside the use for that purpose of the 1194 family income supplement. Yet we are asked to duplicate any benefit that we provide for the poorest families. I must remind the House that an increase in family allowances is not disregarded for supplementary benefit. A family allowance is taken fully into account for supplementary benefit. For the purpose of this scheme there is, in effect, a 50 per cent. disregard because of the taper in the family income supplement.
In answering the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) in Committee, I was guilty of a serious ambiguity in the assurance that I tried to give her on family allowances. It was kind of her and her hon. Friend not to tease me with such a very ambivalent quotation from what I said. What I meant to say is that we shall keep a careful eye on the prescribed amounts, by which I mean the ceiling up to which incomes are half made good by F.I.S. In watching the prescribed amounts, we shall take into account the movement of earnings and prices and such factors as any change in family allowances. We have power to change the prescribed amounts and, in using the power under regulations to change the prescribed amounts, the family allowance scale will be one of the factors that we shall take into account.
I come next to the Amendment asking for a total disregard for all pensions payable on account of war disability. Here we have been able to assure hon. Members that we shall introduce regulations early in the new year to provide a £2 disregard for war disability pensions. But we would be going much further than any Government have done if we were to disregard the whole of a war disability pension. By hypothesis, we are dealing with the family whose wage earner is in full time work. If we disregarded the full amount of a war disability pension, we would bring help to some families whose wage earners would be in income brackets above the F.I.S. concept. I ask the House to accept £2 as a satisfactory proposition at this stage.
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams
On the point made by the right hon. Gentleman about the ambiguity of the answer which he gave me in Committee, may we take it that it is at least possible that an increase in family allowances would not be fully taken into account in the prescribed 1195 income; that is, that it might be possible for an increase in family allowances to be paid without deductions to those who were drawing family income supplement?
§ Sir K. Joseph
I must ask the hon. Lady to understand that if we were to put that into the Bill now we would unduly complicate the working of the Act in its first vital stage.
As to stage 2, I would rather keep a free hand. It is not possible for the Government at this stage to know exactly what method will follow the family income supplement, and the rent allowance as the next ingredient, in our campaign against family poverty. We shall, of course, wish to concentrate on our prime objective of bringing help to the poorest wage earning households with children. I take the hon. Lady's objective to be the same as mine—to bring help to those households. We may want to do it by ways which include family allowance increases or by ways which do not. However, I cannot bind myself to propose a disregard for increases in family allowances at this stage.
The next Amendment for a disregard for the constant attendance allowance has been met by the Government. The House is now being asked to put this disregard into the Bill. The Government have undertaken to introduce it by regulations. I suggest that, in the light of that assurance, it would be a mistake to introduce this one isolated disregard into the draft of the Bill now.
I now come to a fairly considerable proposal—to disregard the first £2 of earnings of a wife in part-time work. I am not sure why the Opposition limited the proposed disregard only to wives in part-time work. They might have wanted to do it also for wives in full-time work. Be that as it may, we are now into a realm which would involve a great deal of checking. For the first stage, I again beg the House to allow us to retain the simple structure that we want. I am not absolutely sure that it is fair to disregard the first £2 of a wife's earnings to bring family income supplement to the help of a family whose income is £2 above the prescribed amount, when at the same time we are refusing family income supplement to a family where the wage 1196 earner alone is earning up to £2 above the prescribed amount. How can that necessarily be equitable? Yet this is what the Opposition are asking us to do. This is understandable, because they have the same objective as we—to help the poorest wage earning families.
I remind the Opposition that the earnings of a part-time or, indeed, of a full-time working wife are 50 per cent. disregarded anyway by the operation of the taper while the total family income remains below the prescribed amount. But again I must rest on the plea for simplicity during the operation of stage 1 of the Bill.
§ Mrs. Shirley Williams
I apologise for interrupting again. I should like to make the position quite clear. The right hon. Gentleman will appreciate that few people are able to work without incurring some additional expense. It may be fares, clothes, or other things. Therefore, if there is no disregard for an additional member of the family working, the net effect is to reduce the income of the family from the level at which it would be if that person were not working. Our purpose was to remove what was clearly a disincentive to work part-time for wives in poor families, though we did not wish to press or force them into full-time work.
§ Sir K. Joseph
I must explain to the House that there is built into the prescribed amount an allowance for working expenses, but that is only for one worker in a family. The hon. Lady is right in saying that if there are two workers in the family there is no double allowance for working expenses, but here the taper comes into effect again. Provided the family income is more than about 8s. below the prescribed amount, it may still be worth while for a wife to do some part-time work, because she will keep 50 per cent. of the benefit after deducting working expenses up to the prescribed amount. I undertake during the first year of the operation of the Act to see whether this sort of problem is damaging to our main purpose, and if it is we shall introduce a disregard later.
I come, now, to the difficult problem of the fostering family, on the receiving end, or the providing end. I do not want to deceive the House in any way. The concession made by the Government in 1197 response to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North affects the child boarded out by a local authority. We are at this stage flinching from trying to cover a child privately fostered, because that leads us into difficult questions of checking, and we would rather leave that until later. We believe that there will be a few cases, but we shall watch the position during the first year and, if necessary, introduce a disregard later.
I now come to Amendments Nos. 24 and 25 which ask us to bind ourselves to using the regulations for disregards within six months of the appointed day. As I have told the House, we are beating that deadline for the disregards. They will come into effect from the appointed day itself. I ask the House not to press these two Amendments binding us to a six months' experience of the Act. I am asking for at least a year. I would rather not be bound by any definition in the Bill. The Government undertake to watch the position during the first year, and after about that time to report whether, in their view, further disregards are needed.
In the light of those rather complicated, and inter-related arguments I hope that hon. Members opposite will not press this group of Amendments to a Division. We have made concessions in response to strongly-felt demands from both sides of the House. We have told the House that after the first year of the operation of the Act we hope to have enough experience to come back again with any disregards that are necessary to achieve the joint purpose of all of us, and I hope that the Amendments will not be pressed to a Division.
§ Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)
Many of the Amendments are aimed at giving the Minister power to make regulations about disregards. He has argued against having this power on the grounds that it would not be possible to introduce regulations before the Bill comes into effect. I suggest that this is a strange argument to use against the background of the whole history of the powers to make regulations which rests in the hands of Ministers.
The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that many of his right hon. Friends go on churning out Statutory Instruments 1198 year in year out, month in month out, using powers that were accorded to them, or their predecessors, many years ago. These powers were accorded to the right hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friends and their predecessors precisely because the House, in its wisdom, judged that Ministers should have power to make regulations dealing with circumstances as and when they were convinced it was practicable and wise to do so. I can see no reason whatsover why that logic and that reasoning should be turned on its head tonight.
It has been conceded in Committee and again tonight that there is a tremendous amount to be learned in the early stages of the working of the Bill. It must follow that we cannot make a perfect judgment of all the disregards required before the Measure comes into operation.
I therefore urge the Secretary of State carefully to consider whether or not he should accept the power to make regulations for disregards as and when he has the information and experience and is convinced of the practicability of putting the machinery into operation to work them properly, rather than seeking at this stage to say, "We can have in the Bill reference only to those disregards which we can operate from the word 'go' when the Measure is put into force." That would be very unwise; in fact, it would be against precedent and logic, and the purpose of Parliament in giving the Minister power to make regulations.
If we wanted to provide for only those disregards that would operate from the date of the coming into force of the Measure we should write the disregards into it and make no reference to regulations in respect of the provisions of disregards. But when we examine the Bill we find that almost all the way through it is qualified by the power to make regulations. I shall stretch the truth only a little if I said that the only thing that the Bill defines is a family, because once we are past Clause 1 we find that the prescribed amount is subject to regulations which may substitute higher amounts; Clause 3 refers to regulations that may vary the amounts from time to time, and Clause 4 refers to regulations that may exclude the income of children. There are regulations for virtually every disregard in that Clause.
1199 Clause 5 contains the provisoexcept where regulations otherwise providein connection with the general proposition that both a man's and a woman's income shall be related to the family income supplement. Clause 6 enables regulations to be made against the general right or entitlement given by the Bill in respect of payment for 26 weeks. I do not want to bore the House ad nauseam, but one can adduce the same arguments right through to Clause 10.
The Bill is designed to vary by virtue of the Minister's having power to make regulations. The Minister obviously intended the Bill to be flexible—an instrument that would enable him to vary not only the amount of family income supplement from time to time but the way in which it should be paid, who should qualify for it, and so on. The House should totally reject the Minister's argument that we should not make provision for regulations to introduce disregards as and when the Secretary of State judges that it is practicable and desirable to do so.
§ Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)
I know that to a Minister in charge of a Bill even a speech expressing gratitude and appreciation is not always warmly received when it consumes some amount of Government time. Nonetheless, I want to express to my right hon. Friend my appreciation—and I believe that I can also express that of my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward)—for the distance that he has gone to meet the points that she and I, and some hon. Members opposite, sought to press on him in Committee.
I can well understand that a Minister introducing a Bill of this kind—my right hon. Friend has not sought to conceal the fact that it is not wholly free from administrative difficulty—should be naturally inclined to go for simplicity and to exclude disregards. That was the line properly taken by the Parliamentary Secretary in the Second Reading debate. Therefore, I the more appreciate the fact that my right hon. Friend has listened to the views expressed from both sides and has moved on the subject of disregards.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend has met the point made by the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull, North 1200 (Mr. McNamara), as well as by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames, by curious coincidence, about the foster child. My right hon. Friend's argument for confining this disregard to the child placed in care by a local authority is very strong. If the admittedly perfectly normal cases where this is done by voluntary arrangement are brought in, the possibilities of abuse is obvious to the House. Where there is a placing by a local authority, there is no such risk. I can understand my right hon. Friend's confining this very welcome concession in this way.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend has met us to some extent on war pensions. I am not wholly convinced that he could not have gone the whole way and gone as far as the Chancellor of the Exchequer does in disregarding all war disability pensions and allowances. However, my right hon. Friend has followed—this is an argument in his favour—the same limit, as I understand it, as that laid down for supplementary benefit. This is not only important in practical terms. It is also important as a recognition of the special importance of war pensions in our whole social security system. Any abandonment of the doctrine of priority for war pensioners and special treatment of war pensions in our system would be very much resented by those on both sides of the House and outside who feel that those injured in the service of their country are entitled to special and peculiar treatment.
I am glad that my right hon. Friend has met us in the war pension and industrial injury field and in the field of his own legislation in respect of constant attendance allowance. This is a good forward move.
I do not think that anyone outside my right hon. Friend's Department can form a completely satisfactory judgment on the balance between the social desirability of more disregards, on the one hand, and the administrative complications and delays resulting from granting them, on the other. This is the difficulty the House is in. We must take my right hon. Friend's judgment on this. I for my part take it with the more confidence because my right hon. Friend has abandoned the original position of no disregards and has shown his understanding of the point which some of us were trying to make by 1201 granting the particular ones to which I have referred.
The fact that my right hon. Friend has done that—here I come to the argument of the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth)—is an indication that he is genuinely concerned to meet, so far as is practically possible, the social problems which disregards generally are intended to meet. In other words, my right hon. Friend has indicated that he is willing to see the force of these arguments. In the light of that, I believe that my right hon. Friend has indicated that as it becomes possible, as the scheme develops, there will be further introductions of disregards, some of them those covered by these Amendments.
I am entirely against the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness in his criticism of doing this by regulation. With complex administrative arrangements such as these it does not make sense to tie this Minister or any Minister to precise statutory provisions at statutorily determined dates. The Minister must be left a reasonable margin of flexibility.
Naturally this raises the point whether we can trust the Minister. Because of the changes that my right hon. Friend has announced, I think that he has indicated that he is a Minister that we can trust in this respect. Therefore, I repeat my appreciation and gratitude and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne-mouth to my right hon. Friend for meeting these points. Gratitude having been defined as a lively anticipation of favours to come, I hope that a steady flow of genial and amending Regulations extending disregards will follow.
§ Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West)
Like the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), I am grateful for the small concessions which the Secretary of State has felt able to make on disregards, but I have certain questions to put nevertheless.
The Secretary of State said that he would look again at the question of disregards after a year or so if he felt that the essential purpose of the Bill was being frustrated. Will he, therefore, give some idea—only an approximate idea—of the level of take-up which he would regard as indicating the need for a further concession in terms of disregards?
1202 The right hon. Gentleman harped at some length on the need for simplicity. I take it that in the calculation of gross family income all forms of income which come into a household will have to be taken into account. I cannot see, therefore, why it is more difficult to do this from the point of view of disregards than from the point of view of the basic calculation of what the F.I.S. entitlement will be. Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify why the need for simplicity should make it more difficult to offer further disregards?
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman has exhausted his right to speak in this debate, but he may speak again with the leave of the House—which is rarely given at the Report stage.
§ Mr. O'Malley
I am grateful for your guidance, Mr. Speaker. May I have the leave of the House to make three brief points?
The right hon. Gentleman asked us to sympathise with him in his difficulties. We sympathise with the poor, not with the right hon. Gentleman, and, of course, the poor need sympathy under his Government, as we all know.
The right hon. Gentleman has moved some way. He has moved on war pensions, and he has moved on attendance allowance, and we are grateful on both sides of the House for his reconsideration of the matter. He has gone further and said that he would expect a review of the whole operation to take place—as he put it—within a year or so, not within a year or at the end of the first year. I hope that he did not put too broad a meaning on the words, "within a year or so".
One understands some of the difficulties, and, at this stage of our proceedings, albeit grudgingly, we accept what he said and hope to see extended concessions in respect of disregards in what the right hon. Gentleman described as phase 2 of the scheme. I have one question to put, and I am sure that he will be able to meet it. The right hon. Gentleman explained that one of the reasons why he could not accept some of the disregards which we propose was the great difficulty in checking them. He said that it was not like that with war pensions. 1203 It would not be like that, either, with industrial injury disablement pensions, would it? Could not the right hon. Gentleman help us on that tonight, or at least say that he will look at it before the Bill goes to another place?
§ Sir K. Joseph
If I may have the leave of the House, I should like to say a few words in reply.
All these questions are a matter of balance. Every disregard which we concede has to be embodied in the instructions to all the staff concerned, as well as involving extra checking. I assure the hon. Gentleman the Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher) that the Government aim to reach the poorest of the poor and will be bitterly disappointed if the take-up is not substantial.
I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) for both the content and the polished precision of the kindly speech which he has just made. I hope that the House will accept what I have been able to do.
§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
The right hon. Gentleman will know how much I appreciate his concession disregarding attendance and constant attendance allowances in respect of the care of severely disabled people. I welcome also the concession in respect of the war disabled. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman can tell us what is his estimate of the difference in costs between the proposition we are making for the war disabled in Amendment No. 9 and the cost of the disregard he is proposing?
§ Amendment negatived.