HC Deb 19 June 1911 vol 27 cc103-17

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


I do not wish to discuss the provisions of the Bill at this stage, but in agreeing to the Second Reading I have to say that there may be one or two little points to be dealt with in Committee.


I want to offer a few observations in regard to this Bill. In the first place I think on the whole I ought to express satisfaction that the Government have at last made some effort to deal with the defects found in the Old Age Pensions Act of 1908. No one wants to cavil at that Act unnecessarily. On the whole it has worked fairly well. On the plan of welcoming half a loaf when you cannot get the whole loaf I welcome this Bill, but I am sorry that the Government, while they were at it, have not decided to make a complete job of it. I think this Bill and the Bill which was brought forward recently by the hon. Member for South St. Pancras (Captain Jessel) are rather narrow in their character. The defects of the Old Age Pensions Act may be said to have relation to questions of nationality, residence and income. It has been found there have been extreme cases of hardship in the case of women who have married foreigners. Although these women have been left widows, they have been deprived of old age pensions, notwithstanding the fact that they have reared families in this country. An effort is now to be made to deal with that point, but so far as I can see the Bill does not deal with it as a matter of principle. I find, for instance, that a person who has married an alien will not be disqualified under certain conditions, but these conditions are very onerous. For instance, a woman must satisfy the pension authority that she would, but for marrying an alien, have, fulfilled certain conditions, and then the Clause goes on to provide "that at the date of the receipt of any sum on account of a pension, the alien is dead." I take it that even if this Bill were passed a woman who marries an alien, no matter at what time of life, and the alien is alive at the time she comes to be seventy, that fact would of itself be sufficient to disqualify the poor woman. It seems to me that that is not removing the disqualification at all. I think we should have an explanation of that.

There are other provisions in the Bill, all in the nature of disqualifications. There are conditions with regard to the residential qualification. We had in mind three-years ago that some residential qualification would be necessary, and we inserted, I think without sufficient consideration, twenty years. There was nothing in the-Bill to indicate that the twenty years should mean residence in the country immediately previous to the application being made, but that has been regarded as the proper interpretation. This Bill lays it down that an applicant shall have resided in the country twelve years out of the twenty years immediately prior to the application. I submit that even that may leave a great deal under which complaint might easily be made. For instance, if a person lives sixty years in the country and then goes away, he would, under the terms of the Bill, at the age of seventy, be disqualified if he came back then. I think that there again this Bill does not satisfy requirements, and does not meet the representations which have been made not only from this side of the House but also from the other side. So far as I could gather from the statement made a week or two ago persons should get pensions if they have lived in this country during what may be called, the productive period of their lives. Surely the productive period in the life of a man is before the age of sixty. I would suggest that a far better way would be to take a long period, and to provide that a person shall not be disqualified if he or she has lived a certain period in this country. It ought to satisfy a11 reasonable requirements if you go back forty years before the application is made. If a person has lived in the country twenty years out of the forty, I think that should be sufficient to cover all reasonable requirements.

As to the case of a man who has suffered in prison, I find that this Bill does not carry out what I understood to be the intention of the hon. Gentleman when lie spoke on the introduction of the Bill a week or two ago. I understood him then to say that the period of ten years within which a man has suffered imprisonment was to be wiped out of the Bill altogether. For my own part, I think it ought to be. If a man has been imprisoned, surely that ought to be held as having purged the offence. I think that was a good old principle of English law and practice. I think we ought to have that principle embodied in the Bill, because there are many men who have suffered in prison for small and trivial offences. We had an instance brought to the public notice only a few months ago of a man who had been put in prison as a passive resister because he had not paid a fine imposed by local magistrates who were opposed to him on political grounds. Under this Bill it is proposed to substitute two years for ten years, but that unfortunate individual after undergoing a term of imprisonment would still have to wait two years before he could get his pension. My hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) Bays it would have to be imprisonment without the option of a fine. This man had the option of a fine and did not pay it. I take it that this forms a new offence. In any case I submit that the period of two years is far too long, and, as a matter of fact, there should be no period at all. The whole provision seems to be silly and vindictive, and when the Bill comes before the Committee I shall try to get that provision knocked out of the Bill.

It appears to me that the provisions of the Bill in regard to income are not only not improvements, but entirely reactionary in character. I take the provision whereby it is proposed that a man shall not get a pension if he has more than £300. That is really what it means. It is stipulated that a tenth part of a man's wealth shall be taken as constituting his total income. Therefore, if a man has £300, he will not be entitled to a pension. I am entirely opposed to that, and indeed I am entirely opposed to all the provisions in regard to income. I believe this Bill is creating a great many unnecessary offences, and is setting up a condition of things under which lying and misrepresentation will be practised. If you were to leave out this provision in regard to income you would probably find that you would not get many more applications, because you would be getting into the region where men and women would be so well off that they would not think of claiming pensions. I think you should put pensions on the same basis as elementary education. Give them to everybody if they claim them under certain conditions on the ground that everybody has paid into the fund from which pensions are drawn. I want pensions to be paid as a civic right, instead of being put on a compassionate basis. We are discussing a Bill which is supposed to be an improvement, but I say that it goes in the wrong direction.

I want to put in a plea for the friendly society member and the trade union member, and even for the old soldier who is in receipt of a small pension. I do not know why these people should be disqualified. We hear from both sides of the House from time to time speeches as to the great need of encouraging thrift. Here you have a form of thrift of the best possible description. The members of friendly societies and trade unions have throughout their whole lives been practising thrift in the best of all possible ways by pooling their small savings, and when they reach seventy years of age you make up the amount and count it as in-come. I hope when the Bill is going through Committee as many Members as possible will associate themselves to carry an Amendment exempting 1s. a day from income received by a man or woman who gets it as the result of membership of a friendly society or a trade union. I would put on the same basis the soldier or sailor who has gone through the service and is entitled to a pension of 1s. a day. These are some of the points to which I take exception. On the whole I welcome the Bill, though it does not go far enough. It does wipe out some of the most glaring defects of the Act of 1908. In Committee I and my Friends will try to get Amendments made in the direction I have indicated.


When we had a Debate in this House on Friday about three or four weeks ago, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Hobhouse) told us, in speaking of the Bill which was then being debated, the Old Age Pensions Bill of the hon. Member for St. Pancras (Captain Jessel), that the Government proposed to bring in a Bill to incorporate most of the things that were aimed at by that Bill. Now there are two things, one of which the hon. Member for the Black-friars Division (Mr. Barnes) has just referred to, which especially came out in that Debate, and I am greatly disappointed to find that neither of these, matters is referred to in the provisions of this Bill. One of them is the question of leaving out of account altogether in reckoning a man's means the whole, or some portion at any rate, of what he may be getting from his trade union or his friendly society as the result of many years of thrift. The hon. Member for Blackfriars says he hopes in Committee to bring in an amendment to deal with that point. I am quite a new Member in the House, but I should have been under the impression that it would be outside our power to propose an amendment which would impose any extra charge upon the Exchequer of the country. The hon. Member for Blackburn shakes his head, and I am delighted to hear that we shall be in order in doing so. Certainly I should like to see added to the Bill a clause which would exempt, say, 5s. a week from the means taken into calculation in allocating an old age pension, provided that that 5s. is the result of the personal thrift of the claimant and is derived from a pension or an annuity from a friendly Society or a trade union. If this does impose some charge on the Exchequer, which undoubtedly it does, there is another thing, which was mentioned in the debate a few weeks ago, which goes the other way and also is not mentioned in this Bill. It is well known that while many people are not receiving pensions or full pensions who ought to be receiving full pensions, a great many people are receiving pensions whose friends and neighbours know very well ought not to be receiving pensions, because they do not need them.

The Clause which I desire to have amended in this Bill is Clause 4 of the Old Age Pensions Act of 1908; Section 4, Subsection 3 of that Act imposes on the pension authority the duty of finding out what is in his mind. The Clause says:— If it appears that any person directly or indirectly deprives himself of any income or property in order to qualify himself for the receipt of an old age pension, and so on. It has been found to be in practice quite impossible for anybody to find out what the motive of these particular transfers is. I would like to remind the House that under the Death Duty there is no question of what the motive of the person is who transfers any property within a period of three years of his demise. The mere fact of his having transferred the property within such a period brings the property within the scope of the Death Duty. I think in this case what is sauce for the rich goose is sauce for the poor gander. We ought to have no question of going into the motives of the transfer of this property, but we should have an amending clause in this Bill amending the section of the Old Age Pensions Act of 1908 to which I have referred, and placing a statutory time, say within three or five years of arrival at pensionable age, within which the transfer of property will not be allowed to count, and the property so transferred will be considered part of the property of the claimant. I hope that we shall be able to amend this Bill in that direction in Committee. I wish to take this opportunity of reminding the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury that though he did not pledge himself to all the points covered by the Bill discussed recently he gave us to understand that the most important of these matters would be dealt with. I have referred to what seems to be two of the most important of the questions, and I find neither of them in the Bill now under discussion.


I rise to support the Second Reading of this Bill. The parent Bill has been very popular and has done a vast amount of good. I speak of my own Constituency, and I think that what I say of it applies equally throughout the whole of Ireland. It is recognised that that Act has marked a considerable social advance. I am sure that everyone who has felt the benefit of the Old Age Pensions Act either in individual cases or generally must welcome any improvements in the machinery for administering the scheme of old age pensions. I join heartily with the hon. Member for Blackfriars in the complaints which he has made, which are to the effect generally that the Amendments proposed are not as thorough-going as might have been expected on account of the various cases brought under the notice of the Treasury. Nowhere have the difficulties in administering the Old Age Pensions Act, which are ventilated in this House from time to time, been more experienced then in Ireland, and I have looked forward with considerable hope to having improvements made in this amending Bill which would remove grievances that exist in Ireland.

The House is aware that its time is occupied to a considerable extent day after day by inquiries by Members representing Irish constituencies as to cases in which they feel that grievances of real and substantial character do exist. As an instance of the difference between our position in Ireland and the position of parts of Great Britain I may mention that last year the Chief Secretary for Ireland, representing the Irish Local Government Board, stated in answer to a question put to him by me that up to March, 1910, in 4,588 cases the Irish Local Government Board had cancelled pensions which had been issued. In reply to a similar question the Lord Advocate stated that only in forty-four cases had pensions been cancelled in Scotland. The President of the Local Government Board for England (Mr. Burns) was too busy with his various other duties to be able to reply to a similar question which I addressed to him that year. When we consider these facts we must come to the conclusion that grievances do exist in Ireland which create a sense of injustice on the part of those people who have been deprived of their pensions. It has been admitted by the responsible Minister that the difficulty in Ireland with regard to the age qualification is that the Census Returns of 1841 and 1851 are inaccurate, and misleading and incomplete, and it has been admitted by representatives of the Government that certain Census Returns in Ireland are entirely wanting. The Act of 1908 does not contemplate that a person who has reached the age of seventy years should be deprived of a pension merely because the applicant cannot produce an excerpt from the Census Return which the Government themselves have admitted to be defective. In a large number of cases in Ireland it is impossible to produce such evidence from the Census Returns, and what is complained of in my own Constituency, and I believe generally throughout the country, is that when you have a local body like the local pension committee, who have local knowledge, who see the claimant and to come to the conclusion, apart from the evidence of the Census Returns, that the applicant is of the qualifying age of seventy, the Irish Local Government Board entirely disregard the evidence submitted to the local pension committee and considered by them to be satisfactory.

I had hoped, as the result of complaints made by Irish representatives, that a direction would be given to the Irish Government Board in this amending Act that where it is impossible to produce-written evidence of age, in cases where the Census give no results whatever, they should have regard to the evidence of people known to be over seventy years of age who are prepared to make affidavits and say that the applicant is of the qualifying age. I think, however, it would be possible in Committee to have an Amendment inserted giving to the Irish Local Government Board some positive direction in regard to this matter. Another point on which the parent Act should be amended is in regard to the calculation of means. I do not think that the suggestion made in this Bill that the means should be taken as one-tenth of the capital value of the property of any person is satisfactory. I agree with the hon. Member for Blackfriars that the disqualifying of persons from receiving pensions on account of a conviction before a local petty sessions court is absurd. I agree with with him that if a person is punished in a. criminal court of justice, the punishment should not be followed by deprivation of a pension. As an illustration I may mention a case from the west of Ireland which was brought before the House a few weeks ago. A person was brought before a. petty sessions court and charged with an offence the slight character of which was shown by the fact that the justices merely ordered the person to be detained during the sitting of the court. This was without the option of a fine, and as the Act now stands and even under the amending Bill this conviction might be followed by serious consequences to that person. I submit that when this Bill is in Committee this Clause should be altogether omitted. Otherwise the Bill as introduced proposes amendment on various points on which amendment is necessary, and I heartily support the Second Reading.


My hon. Friend the Member for Blackfriars (Mr. Barnes) has put before the House various criticisms on the Bill with which I am in agreement, so that there remains very little for me to do except to very heartily and emphatically endorse what he has said. Like him, I am glad to know that the Government are seeking to amend the Old Age Pensions Act, although I think their action is somewhat late. It is considerably over two years since I spoke in this House, and urged the need of the introduction of an amending Bill dealing with all the points that are included in this measure. As my hon. Friend the Member for Blackfriars observed, now that the Government have taken up the consideration of this question they might have dealt with it in a more thorough manner. In regard to the disability under which the wife of a British workman would still labour when she has to qualify for a pension, I submit that what the Government has to do is not to recognise the pre-nationality of the woman, but that they ought to recognise the British nationality of the husband. The Bill proposes a new method of settling the yearly value of property owned by applicants for pension. I remember when the Old Age Pensions Bill was under discussion in Committee that the question of capitalising by way of annuity the property of an applicant for pension was considered, and I recollect that at that time there was in the House no measure of support at all for doing what is now proposed by this Bill. I remember very distinctly the speech of the then Attorney-General, now Lord Robson, in which he advocated the matter, and that the overwhelming majority of Members of the House impugned the justice of such a proposal as is now intended to be embodied in the Act of Parliament. I associate myself wholly with my hon. Friend the Member for Blackfriars and with the hon. Member for Wiltshire in their request that some consideration ought to be given to the case where an old man or even an old woman, after being for years a member of a trade union or friendly society, receives a pension as a result of their thrift.

I will go further than that. There are many ways and forms that the thrifty habits of the working classes assume. It is not every working man who can become a member of a trade union or a friendly society, and, therefore, I think that all forms of thrift are equally entitled to consideration. In the north of England, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and in Lancashire, one of the commonest forms of thrift to provide for old age, is investment in house property; and the time when the working class family is able to save and to invest in such a way is during the ten or fifteen years when the children are working and still remain at home. In that period of time these workpeople, with their four or five children working, are enabled to save £200, £300, and £400, and this money is invested in house property. What does this Bill propose to do? It proposes to deprive people who have invested in property, money which is the result of thrift, of the right to old age pension. I cannot imagine that is the intention of Members of the Government. I remember the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of the Treasury (Mr. Hobhouse) when speaking on the Bill, introduced by an hon. Member opposite, three or four weeks ago, used what appeared to me to be an astounding observation in regard to old age pensions. He said that they were intended only for the poor and needy. That is not my idea of old age pensions at all. My idea of old age pension is that it is not a pauper dole. My idea of old age pension is that it is a recognition by the State of a lifetime of useful social service, and that men and women should be given pensions, just as civil servants, or soldiers, or other employés of the State are given pensions, regardless of whether they have other sources of income. The savings of a lifetime, after a great deal of sacrifice in order to escape the workhouse, are invested in property, and because they have been invested in that one particular form, the applicant who has so invested the result of his thrift through many years of self-denial, is to be deprived of the pension. On the other hand a person who lives in a house reaching a value of £310 or £320 can claim the old age pension under this Bill. So far as I can understand the wording of this Clause some very curious anomalies are likely to arise. It orders that:— The yearly value of any property belonging to that person (not being property personally used or enjoyed by him), which is invested, or which is otherwise put to profitable use by him, or which though capable of investment or profitable use, is not so invested or put to profitable use by him, the yearly value of that property being taken to be one-tenth part of the capital value thereof. What does that mean? So far as I understand it, it means that if an applicant for the old age pension lives in his house, then the yearly value of that, or one-tenth of the capital value of the property, is not to be charged in estimating the income. Therefore, we may have side by side two people living in houses, one paying rent for his house, but owning a house elsewhere, and being disqualified from pension, and the other who lives in the house that he owns, being qualified for pension. I am quite sure of this, that never will any proposed amendment of the Old Age Pensions Act be so impossible as this. I am perfectly sure it will have the effect of losing the party tens of thousands of votes; it will arouse intense indignation amongst the most respectable and the most worthy section of the working classes of the country. I am amazed that the Government should have done such a thing, and I do hope that for their credit and for the credit of this House when the Bill goes into Committee, this objectionable and unjust Clause will be removed.


There is one small point to which I should like to call the attention of the Secretary to the Treasury. It has reference to the disqualification of the wife or widow of a man who chooses to reside abroad. As a rule, the man who goes abroad chooses either one of the Colonies or America. His wife has no choice in the matter. Her husband may decide to leave Old England or even Scotland to go to the Colonies or America, and his wife has no option but to accompany him. She does not want to divide the family and break up her home, and many women in these circumstances go abroad against their will. The man goes from his own choice, and his wife follows him to Australia or Canada or America as the case may be. Whether from family pride or because she wishes to be with her husband and children, the woman is compelled to go abroad. I submit that in these circumstances she should not lose her right to the old age pension if her husband should die and she returns to this country. The woman is not controlled by the same motives as the man, who leaves his country for one of the colonies because he wishes to work there, whereas his wife, because of her family affection, feels bound to follow him, and I think when she returns she ought to be entitled to old age pension. I am not able to suggest a Clause myself, for I am not an old enough Parliamentary hand, but I mention the point because it does appear to be unjust to women who have been compelled to go abroad with their husbands. Speaking generally, I approve of the action of the Government in bringing in this Bill. I believe it is an immense step forward in the right direction, and I believe many Members sitting on these benches appreciate the fact that the Government are going to proceed with this measure.


In saying a few words in reply to hon. Members who have spoken upon the subject under dis- cussion, it will be unnecessary for me to say anything upon the general principle of the Bill. I went into it in considerable detail on the occasion of the discussion which took place some few weeks ago, and I do not wish to weary the House with any repetition of what I then said. The hon. Member for Blackfriars was good enough to say that he felt some dissatisfaction at the delay of the Government to remedy lapses in the Act of 1908. The reason is that we had to wait for a period until we were able to collect together in one measure all the various discrepancies which arose from time to time. These discrepancies were not brought to our notice within the first six months or a year or even two years after the passing of the Act.


I brought every point in the Bill before the House within six months.


The hon. Gentleman will admit that one swallow does not make a summer, and that one case of injustice and hardship does not necessarily prove that it represents such a general condition of things that it is necessary that Parliament should at once bring in a Bill to set matters right. Therefore until there was some general proof in regard to discrepancies, and until there was general evidence of hardship, not in the case of one area or another but throughout the country, we did not proceed with this Bill. Several points were raised by the hon. Member for Blackfriars. First of all there was the question of the British subject, and he suggested that it was rather a hardship that some persons should not be able to get the pension, unless the alien was dead, or the marriage was dissolved. But it may be quite possible for any married man to go abroad and continue abroad, neither contributing to the benefits given here nor to the industry of this country, and then return and take up his residence, and, after having had all the advantages of residence abroad, derive all the advantages of being a British subject.


Could not the residential qualification be applied in such a case?

8.0 P.M.


It would apply to twelve years, but should not apply so far as eight years are concerned. Under the; very extended business of this country, the mere alien could then return just on the critical border line and claim all the advantages of residence without having had any of the liabilities. That is not, I am sure, the wish of the House, and it is not our contention. Rather to avoid any possible collusion between the alien and his wife we have put in a provision that the alien must be dead or the marriage must be dissolved I do not think that that is an unreasonable qualification. If the hon. Member, to be perfectly frank, wishes to see everybody with a pension, irrespective of their means or irrespective of the righteousness of their claim—


I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will not wilfully misrepresent me. We have always said we are willing to admit a residential qualification, and it is only with regard to means.


That is the whole point of difference between us. I think the hon. Gentleman recognises that our provision in regard to the twenty years of residential qualification does, at all events, meet some of his objections. I believe some test of residence must be applied. Why, it may be said, make it twenty years or thirty or forty, or any time? Twenty years is, I think, a fair proof that the person concerned has really British citizenship, and in order to ease that period we take eight years out of it under the conditions set out in the Bill, so that I really think we have met the grievances which have in practice arisen. The hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Snowden) referred to the question of friendly society and trade union benefits. If you are not to exclude those as means, why should you exclude any means at all? You cannot make a distinction between various sources of income. Supposing you do exclude all these considerations, then we come back to the question of money, and the total abolition of any limit of income of that sort would represent, not a sum of £2,000, not some small, petty sum, but something like three millions of money. I hope the House in Committee will be quite clear as to what they are embarking on in making any such proposal as that which is now suggested. Investments of £300 or £400 in house property are not to be considered, according to the views of the hon. Member, and the persons having considerable amount of money are, notwithstanding, to receive old age pensions. From my point of view, I consider that those persons are not fair recipients of old age pensions, and I am in sharp antagonism to the hon. Member on that point. If you are to abolish those conditions, as the hon. Member proposes, you are embarking on an expenditure which cannot be less than between two and three millions of money. I do not know where that two or three millions is to come from, and I do not believe that the House, when it has to deal with the question, will adopt the view which the hon. Member recommends.


Is that based on the assumption that all over seventy draw their pensions?


It is based on the assumption that these qualifying conditions are removed?


And that all over seventy draw their pension?


That is the contention. The hon. Member for North Sligo (Mr. Scanlan) referred to something about pensions in Ireland being cancelled. I do not know that that subject is perhaps germane to the Bill which is before us. I may also remind the hon. Member that while 5 per cent. of old age pensions cancelled in Ireland is larger than in Scotland or England, the percentage of pensions in Ireland is greater than in those countries. I do not intend to go into details, but I think you will find that Ireland has not emerged unsuccessfully from the struggle* for pensions. With the remark that the census returns were incomplete, I agree, but I am convinced from experience that the advantage has not been entirely to the Exchequer, and that undoubtedly a certain number of persons have reaped advantage from the incompleteness of the census, as well as the fact that other persons have incurred some disadvantage by the incomplete census. I do not think that I need go into the other points which are-Committee points, and capable of discussion upstairs.


There is my point with, regard to the value of houses.


I think all those are really Committee points, best discussed upstairs. The point arises in Clause 4.


My point is this: Supposing a person has, say, £400 invested in house property in one house, and that the person is in occupation of that house. Will that be regarded as property personally used and enjoyed?


What is meant is to cover the point of the possession of either furniture, clothes, or personal equipment up to the extent of £30. Those hitherto have been taken into account. We propose to exempt them in future, and in order to make clear that they are not included, these words are inserted.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.