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The Earl of Longford: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, said that he thought he was. He did not exactly think that, but when a journalist said to him, "Sir William, are you the cleverest man in England?", he paused and then he said, "Well, inductively perhaps yes, but deductively Maynard has it". So he did not exactly think that he was God because he had limitations. Maynard Keynes was ahead of him. That was Beveridge. I was with him for three years and I have dragged him in only because he has been mentioned. He did wonderful work with the foundation of the welfare state. The morning after it was completed I went into a newsagent to try to buy a paper. The lady said, "It's no good trying to buy a paper here. That Sir William Beveridge is going to abolish want, so all the papers were sold out". Later that day or the next day I asked him to come to lunch. I was meeting with Evelyn Waugh, an old friend and famous writer. They did not get on at all well. Evelyn Waugh said to him at the end, "How do you get your main pleasure in life, Sir William?" He paused and said, "I get mine trying to leave the world a better place than I found it". Evelyn Waugh said, "I get mine spreading alarm and despondency"--this was in the height of the war--"and I get more satisfaction than you do". So he did not meet with universal acclamation, but nearly everyone admired Beveridge at that time. He was a wonderful man.
The right reverend Prelate, in a fine speech, referred to Beveridge and ethics. One of Beveridge's ethics was to leave the world a better place than he found it. But, on the other hand, was he a Christian? In all the years I was working with him, he was not. He said that he had been brought up without Christianity. But later in life he took part in a debate in your Lordships' House on Christian unity and made an eloquent speech in favour of it. I said to him at tea afterwards, "Sir William, you seem to be very Christian these days. What denomination do you belong to?" He paused, so I said,
In the field of disability the noble Lord, Lord Morris, is a Beveridge. He produced a great Bill which revolutionised the treatment of the disabled. He carried it through the Commons. I had the great honour of carrying it through this House. It was not that what I said mattered very much but we had these wonderful people here--the noble Baronesses, Lady Masham and Lady Darcy de Knayth, in wheelchairs. That Bill was carried. As far as I am concerned, my two instructors in social matters are Beveridge over the whole field and the noble Lord, Lord Morris, on disability.
What is the message? It is the same as that delivered by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, whom I admire in a slightly different way. The way in which he has overcome his disability is an inspiration to the whole disabled world. I really think that is a terrific achievement.
I follow the noble Lord, Lord Morris, almost blindfolded. Clem Attlee was my hero but I did not agree with everything he said. Later in life, after he came here, he confided in me--I do not think that I am breaking a confidence--and said, "I have never liked the Germans". He had been Prime Minister dealing with the Germans and I had been Minister for Germany. He said, "Of course Vi and I"--that was his wife--"once had a German maid and were very fond of her. She was an exception". So he had his difficulties. I do not think that anyone is perfect, but in the particular area of the disabled I am not likely to disagree with the noble Lords, Lord Morris and Lord Ashley, Barbara Castle and the noble Baroness Lady Turner.
Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, will the noble Earl allow me to intervene? He has been extraordinarily complimentary but I must tell the House that I have not only never had a German maid but I have never had a maid in my life. He is possible confusing me with someone else, but I warmly appreciate--
The Earl of Longford: My Lords, if anyone complains, my articulation does not get any better as the years pass. When I was talking about Lord Attlee, the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, thought that I was talking about him. There you are. I admire the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, very much and I admired Lord Attlee very much but it was Lord Attlee who had the German maid. I hope that is clear.
Coming down to business, the noble Lords, Lord Morris and Lord Ashley, Barbara Castle and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, and I are old Labour. There is now what we call new Labour. New wines you put in new bottles but they do say that when in a month's time there is the new wine the old one is better. I am not saying that that is necessarily true but I regard new Labour as the children of old Labour. It is rather a credit
There were things I might have sold but did not sell". To sell the disabled would be a terrible betrayal, but I do not believe that this Government will do it.
Baroness Fookes: My Lords, it is a great privilege to take part in a debate in which there have been so many distinguished contributions, most notably by the Baroness, Lady Castle, whose analysis I thought was brilliant, although I am not sure "analysis" is the right word; it was more like "dismemberment" of the Government's policies. I agree with much of what she said.
I have been very disappointed by the Bill. Shortly after the general election we were told that the Government would carry out a radical overhaul of the welfare state. I therefore looked forward to such a radical overhaul. I expected to find that there would be a real explanation of the principles on which the new welfare state would be built. For example, how important would the contributory principle be? How much reliance would be placed on money that that brought in? How far was it to be financed out of general taxation? How far were people to be expected to make their own contribution, as it were, direct as through pension schemes? I expected that we should be given a coherent explanation of the relevant importance of those matters.
However, we have heard nothing of the kind. It seems to me that we have compounded what was already wrong with the welfare state. One worry was that costs may spiral out of control unless reined back. There was the worry about the complications of the system. I certainly came across that as a constituency MP. It is not simply the citizens advice bureaux that deal with the 2 million inquiries a year about social security benefits. I think that every person who has ever been, and is now, an MP will find that much of their correspondence and many of their advice bureaux are taken up with precisely those difficulties. Many people find it extremely intimidating.
Finally, we have the unfortunate darker side of the welfare state, usually called the "dependency culture". A vivid example was given tonight of the boy who, when asked what he wanted to do when he grew up,
There is a worry about dependency, so I hoped that the Bill would take a radical look at the whole situation. But that is not the case. As the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, pointed out, that is not to say that there are not some plums that are worth plucking out, but the consideration of over-arching principles on which we can go forward into the next century seem singularly lacking.
I shall deal with one or two issues that I have found particularly worrying. In principle, I thoroughly applaud pension splitting on divorce, but it seems that it is an extremely difficult matter to deal with in practice. So far I have heard nothing that suggests that there are some practical ways in which this will be tackled.
The memory of the Child Support Agency always haunts me. I still consider it a brilliant idea but, as always, the devil was in the detail and I can see that the devil may be in the detail of pension sharing as well. I hope that the Minister may give us some words of comfort on that when she sums up tonight.
I turn next to the gateway principle. I believe that it is a sound way of dealing with benefits; and it should certainly make it simpler for the individual. However, that will work only if the staff are fully trained to deal with it. I suspect that that will be a much harder task than appears to be the case at first sight. There will need to be considerable training and rethinking on the part of those who are asked to engage in that. Quite a different culture will be required from the one for which most of the staff will have been prepared.
Perhaps I may give an example of an analogous situation. I am associated with a charity called Tomorrow's People, whose aim in life is to help the long-term unemployed back into work. Such a scheme operates in the city of Plymouth, with which I was associated for a long time. Last week I visited some case workers in their respective offices. They were able to tell me a great deal about the difficulties that they find in seeking to help people who have been unemployed for a long time. They talked about need to spend several hours with an individual at a first session, and needing to work with them for a period of months not weeks. They had to raise their self-esteem and they had to get them into the habit of thinking in terms of obtaining work. Often they needed to supply them with suitable clothing so that they could attend an interview for a job looking the part. They also helped them with their CVs. Even after those individuals had managed to get a job, the case workers helped to ensure that they still had the habits of punctuality and reliability to which all employers look.
I am, of course, in favour of any increase in the help that can be given in that way. However, I do not know whether the Government have addressed this--whether there are sufficient jobs for such people to undertake in any given area. It is no good saying that everybody who could work shall work and only those who cannot work should be given real help, if the jobs that they are able to do are not there. We appear to have no assessment of the number of jobs that there may be in any given area of the country.
I should like to make one suggestion. I remember the community programme with some affection. It gave fairly simple work to people who would otherwise be unemployed. It created work artificially. But if we want to establish the principle that people should work if they are able to, perhaps we should think in terms of a rehabilitation or reassessment of that kind of scheme, where the Government or a local authority provides fairly simple work that people can do. Otherwise, I can foresee a mismatch between the aspirations implicit in the Bill and the reality of being able to give people work. If we raise their hopes only for them to be dashed, that is a very worrying feature.
The hour is late and many people far more qualified than I am have dealt with the issue of disability benefits and the erosion of the contributory principle. However, I make this observation. I believe that the trend to erode the contributory principle, particularly where people have been reasonably led to expect that they could receive certain benefits in return for contributions already made, is a serious one. I suspect that if one entered into a contract or a policy with an insurance company and that company failed to deliver on the grounds that it had changed its arrangements, one would say that it was ratting on its obligations. The company may even be sued, with success, in the courts. I fail to see any distinction between a private organisation or company and the Government ratting on their obligations.
Baroness Strange: My Lords, I want to congratulate the Minister on her elegant and comprehensive speech. Having spent 10 days reading the Bill--or series of Bills as it appears to be--I am amazed that she could make it sound so coherent.
I also say to the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, who is not in her place, that I am someone who believes that your Lordships' House was perfect as it was, or as perfect as anything can be in this world, before all this unhappy hoo-hah.
It will not, I fear, come as a great surprise to your Lordships that I shall talk about pensions in regard to war widows. As your Lordships know, war widows are lovely, brave, self-sacrificing ladies who do not push forward their own interests.
Your Lordships will also know that my noble friend Lord Freyberg won a great victory for all war widows when he moved, and managed to win, the amendment by which all war widows, who would lose their pensions by remarrying, had those pensions reinstated at the end of the second marriage. That was a tremendous victory,
The Minister was also battling on our side on this, and perhaps I may add without embarrassing the noble Baroness that she is a true friend to war widows, which they all very much appreciate. I know the noble Baroness says that this Bill does not affect war widows, but I believe there is a connection. We still have some unfinished business. There is a group of around 2,700 post-1973 war widows who have two sorts of pension. They have the ordinary war widow's pension and they also have an attributable pension to which their husbands contributed. Servicemen have been able to do this since 1973 and currently 7 per cent is docked from their pay as a pension contribution. That decreased from 11 per cent in 1973 to 10 per cent in 1986 and 9 per cent in 1991. I believe Members of another place contribute 6 per cent. to their occupational pension. Incidentally, the pension is calculated not on the gross pay, but on the net pay from which the contribution has already been deducted.
I am not going to go into this at the moment, but it is an interesting fact worth bearing in mind. These ladies, who are not very many when we consider how many people there are in this world, therefore have two different war widow's pensions; the ordinary one and what is called the attributable pension, to which their husbands contributed. If they remarry they lose both pensions, and they will not get reinstated at the end of a subsequent marriage.
In 1995, in his report of his team's independent review of the Armed Forces manpower, career and remuneration arrangements, Sir Michael Bett recom- mended that spouses' attributable pensions should be awarded for life and not withdrawn on remarriage, in line with what had become standard private sector occupation pension scheme practice. The Goode report had previously made the same recommendation. The Bett report is even more relevant today, when the award of spouses' pensions for life has since been introduced into a public service pension scheme--the Local Government Officers Scheme. Moreover, the present Government have acknowledged that,
It would also be helpful if the noble Baroness could give us clarification about pension sharing on divorce, which comes in Part IV of the Bill, Section 23(3). If a divorcee is entitled to her "earned" share of her husband's future pension, that share is hers by right and cannot be taken away even if she remarries or cohabits. The pension will be administered by the Treasury, which will then be paying a pension to a divorcee who will retain that pension whatever her subsequent marital status, but would not permit a war widow to receive her pension should she remarry. That does not seem to me to be right. War and service widows must have at least as good a deal as divorcees. I do not know what the moral of this is.
Many of the post-1973 war widows have hesitated about remarrying; at least 99 per cent of them have not remarried. Even if they have the opportunity of rebuilding stable family units and providing their young children with a father, they simply cannot afford to do so as they would then lose all their pensions. If the attributable pension were to remain for life, many of them might remarry. And because they no longer had to pay out the basic pension, the Government would be considerably better off.
Finally, in relation to the bereavement benefits, I do not believe that the 26-week period for which that allowance is paid before the widow is required to have a "work" interview is sufficient in many cases for many war widows. I thank the Minister especially for her sympathy and understanding of the particular and peculiar circumstances that can surround death and the lack of a body, which can be particularly relevant to death in action in the forces. It is not unusual for a body not to be retrieved immediately and this means that the grieving process is delayed. War widows also have to move house and re-establish their lives, and may, as I have said before, not have had the opportunity to be in work. I therefore ask that this period of entitlement be extended for those ladies.
Perhaps I can conclude by telling your Lordships a small story. It is something which my husband remembered the other day from his own wartime experiences, long buried in the layers of old memories and suddenly emerging like a pebble out of clay. He was with the 1st Commando Brigade in Germany and was walking up a slight hill when he suddenly found a soldier, alive but obviously in a very bad way. He stopped to hold and comfort him as best he could. There was clearly little else that could be done. And suddenly this unknown soldier opened his eyes and looked at him and said, "Tell her I love her", and then he died. That is what we must do.
Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, the Minister has received many congratulations on her speech, but I thank her for her diligence in remaining here for so many hours to listen to all our speeches. I say that before I move into critical vein.
There have been many occasions in the past when I would have welcomed the elements in this Bill which reduce benefits to those whose need seems less or who have greater resources. But my mind was changed, as in the case of many in this country, by the writings and speeches of the Minister's former colleague, Frank Field, who in the past year or so--I have attended meetings and read his pamphlets--has had a profound effect on my thinking and altered it. I say without any insult to the Minister that had Mr. Field still been in office this would have been a more imaginative Bill. His theme seems to have been that of Beveridge; that universal compulsion demands universal benefit.
As many noble Lords have said, this Bill breaks that pattern. I do not want to dwell on the incapacity benefit; I merely underline what has been said. If one has an occupational pension, one loses one's incapacity benefit. There are two objections to that, already mentioned in the debate; nothing new can be said. The first is that incapacity benefit is a national insurance-funded benefit. People who have paid 30 years' contributions, as my noble friend Lady Fookes pointed out, have suddenly had the contract ripped up because, if they become incapacitated afterwards, that is what happens.
The second point is this. The measure clearly penalises those who work hard and save money in any pension scheme, as the noble Baroness, Lady Castle, pointed out with graphic evidence. This Bill will result in making someone who has saved for a pension little better off than someone who has not.
It is worth underlining what people will have to face. We are talking about a person who is totally incapacitated. As I see it, he could get his old age pension of £1,619.80 a year. Let us suppose he had a modest occupational pension of about £5,840. That is a total of somewhere between £8,000 and £9,000.
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