§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. Hobhouse)
As this Bill would undoubtedly impose a charge on the Exchequer, Sir, I do not know whether or not it is in order. Perhaps you would give your ruling?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Clause 2 does not impose a charge, but Clause 3 does. The Bill therefore may proceed. I had some doubt about the Bill when I looked at it, but I have been informed that it was brought in in the same state and in practically the same words last Session, and that the Second Reading was moved over and over again, although the Bill was blocked and did not proceed any further. I am not disposed to take exception to it now as it was brought in last Session and no objection was taken. Of course, without a resolution of the Committee the third Clause will be of no use at all, and cannot be considered. Before that could be considered it would be necessary to obtain a resolution of the Committee. Therefore, the Treasury would have the final say in the matter. That Clause could not be brought in except on the Motion of a Minister.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
Of course, if that is your ruling I accept it at once, and I do so all the more readily because in the course of the Debate I shall inform the hon. Member opposite that we intend to proceed with a Bill of our own.
§ Mr. BOOTH
May I ask, may not the position be prejudiced by Bills being called on after Eleven o'clock at night? It is within your knowledge that many of these are not printed, and there has been no reference to them and no discussion upon them, and hon. Members are obliged to object at first because they cannot read them, and they have not been intimated by the promoter. Are we to understand that that will handicap you in the Chair in giving a ruling in future?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
Speaking generally, if Bills have been printed and circulated and repeatedly moved without objection being taken, that might rather prejudice 2285 any subsequent action of mine. I admit that I ought in theory to have read carefully all the Bills brought in last year, but I am afraid I must plead guilty to not having done so, and I trust to hon. Members to call my attention at once to matters which raise points of Order, and then I will rule upon them.
§ Mr. BOOTH
Do I understand that I may draw your attention to that any night when a Bill is called for Second Reading? I thought from a previous conversation which I had from you that you suggested that the simplest course was just to object and then it would remain over. If I did that would that be a standing objection and lose me my rights?
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I am sure that the hon. Member will not lose any rights which he can avoid losing, certainly not willingly. If the hon. Member desires to raise points of Order in regard to any particular Bill the best plan is to bring it to my notice privately, when I will come to a decision upon it, and if it be moved after Eleven o'clock I shall be in a position to deal with it at once and order its discharge or deal with it in whatever way may be required.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I am informed—I do not know whether it is so or not—that this Bill was not read a second time last year. It was moved, and introduced. Objection could not be taken to it until the terms of the Bill were printed. Then when the Bill was printed, and before it was read a second time, objection was taken to it and it never proceeded to a second reading. Nobody can object to the terms of a Bill or take a point of order against a Bill being proceeded with until it has been printed and has come under the notice of the House. I understand that before it passed its Second Reading last year it was objected to and was not proceeded with. Therefore objection could not be taken to it upon the point of order.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
This Bill was printed and circulated last year and the cognisance of the Treasury was complete. It was moved over and over again, and the Bill was in the hands not only of hon. Gentlemen opposite and every Member of this party but every Member of the Government, and it was touched by more than one.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
Not in this House, but the Treasury had perfect cognisance of it, and, in addition, this Bill has been printed now for some months past. This is not a Bill which never has been printed; it is a Bill which has been printed and circulated and moved again and again, and there is, I submit, something to be said for it, although one of its Clauses imposes a charge upon the Exchequer.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
If my attention had been called to the Bill last year I might have put a stop to it. My attention was not specifically called to it last year on any occasion that the Motion was made that the Bill be read a second time. If any hon. Member had objected to the Bill on a point of Order, I should have been prepared to rule on the point.
Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
In moving the Second Reading of this Bill, I wish to say that there is one thing in which I heartily concur—namely, that it ought to have emanated from the Government Bench. Had the Government been thoroughly cognisant of the intense cases of hardship which arise under the Old Age Pensions Act of 1908, and had their attention been called to these cases in the same way as the attention of the Pension Committee which administers the Act in London has been called to them, I think the Government might by this time have taken up this matter themselves, and might have adopted the Bill which was brought in last year, or, at all events, framed some Bill on their own lines. This Bill, to which I ask the House to give a Second Reading to-day, although brought in by my hon. Friend the Member for East St. Pancras (Mr. Martin), whose absence from this House, I am sorry to say, is owing to illness, is really identical with the Bill I brought in last year, acting as Chairman of the Old Age Pensions Committee which deals with the administration of the Old Age Pensions Act all over London. Although I admit that there are grounds for suspicion when the name of the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Hayes Fisher) and the name of the hon. Member for East St. Pancras are seen in association, yet there is no party flavour, no party character, and no party object whatever in this measure. It has the unanimous support of every one of the ladies and gentlemen who administer the Old Age 2287 Pensions Act in London. It will be supported by several hon. Members on that side. It has the support of the hon. Member for Deptford (Mr. Bowerman), and of Gentlemen belonging to the Labour party. Therefore, I am justified in saying that the Bill has no party flavour, party business, party character, or party object. The Bill is brought forward to secure for applicants under the Act of 1908, pensions from which, as we think, they are at present unjustly excluded, but to which they are just as much entitled as those who obtain them now. I cannot claim that there is any general principle running through this Bill; there is none. It is a Bill to give relief in many cases of hardship, and groups of cases of excessive hardship, and as it is unanimously supported by the London County Council so I hope this House will unanimously support the Second Reading, and send it to Grand Committee, unless the Government are prepared to take action of a character which will ensure being placed on the Statute Book a Bill similar to this. I hope, if the second reading is passed, that the House will send the Bill to Grand Committee so that in a very short time it may become law and a great grievance experienced by certain classes be redressed. It was inevitable that, in the passing of a very great and most beneficent measure—as I have always felt the Old Age Pensions Act, of 1908, to be—certain omissions would occur, and that when the Act came to be administered it would be discovered that there were groups of claimants who, though most justly entitled to the pension, yet, from the wording of the measure itself, are excluded, but I do not think intentionally excluded. Although this Bill, as regards Clause 3, will undoubtedly, if it becomes law, impose charges upon the Exchequer, yet as regards Clause 2, if that should be adopted, there would be some slight relief to the Exchequer itself. Clause 2 of the Bill proposes that in calculating the means of persons who claim the pension, the claimant may be allowed to have £300 absolutely free—that is to say, no interest need necessarily be allowed upon that £300—but beyond the £300 any property, any money, which the claimant possesses shall be taken, to be invested at three per cent. per annum. When the Old Age Pensions Act was discussed in the House, the question was raised as to whether, if a man had a cer- 2288 tain amount of money—say, £1,200—uninvested and in a stocking, the pension officer, or the,committee could calculate any interest which ought to be derived from that money if properly invested. If hon. Members will look at the Act, Clause 4 says:
"The yearly income which might be expected to be derived from any property belonging to the person which, though capable of investment, is not so invested or profitably used by him.…must be allowed for in calculating his means."
The Treasury very properly says by its regulation that where a man has £1,000 put away in a stocking, and not invested at all—
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
It is Regulation 46, which is to the effect that in cases where the claimant may be in possession of money that is not bearing interest, or any other kind of property which, though capable of being profitably used, is not so used, the interest upon it shall be calculated at 4 per cent. per annum, as the amount which might be expected to be derived from it. There are very many instances of this kind in which a claimant has £1,000 that is not invested, but is kept in a stocking, and on which the Pension officer or the Pension Committee calculate the interest upon what he possesses at 4 per cent. That is as much as £40 a year, and those who possess that are excluded from any pension whatever, and I think rightly. If it is not invested at all he is credited with 4 per cent., but supposing, and I can give instances, a man has a sum of a thousand pounds left in deposit with a bank which gives 1 per cent., then he can only be credited with 1 per cent. or £10 per year, and he gets a pension accordingly of 4s. per week. That is one of the matters which I seek to set right in the Bill in which it is proposed in future that the money shall be calculated at 3 per cent. except for the first x00A3;300. I have come to the conclusion that we had better put in 2½ per cent. because if we put in 3 per cent. we might exclude investments in Consols, and this is hardly a time to discourage investments in Consols which we all want to encourage. That is a Committee point. 2289 which can very easily be put right by making the 3 per cent. 2½ per cent. I will give one instance. There is a case we had before us not long ago where a male claimant and his wife claimed pensions. The male claimant had £980 on deposit at a bank at 1 per cent., which accordingly produced per annum x00A3;9 16s., and at 3 per cent. it would have produced £29 8s. The rate of pension which was granted, because only 1 per cent. was allowed on the money, was 5s. to the man and 5s. also to the wife. if that money had been calculated at 3 per cent. the man would have only got 1s. and the woman 5s. per week; there would have been a reduction of 4s. if the man had done as he could have done if he liked, namely, perfectly safely invested the money. Over 250 of these cases were known to us in London during the last two years, where very considerable amounts of money are earning very low rates of interest., 1 per cent. or 2 per cent., and we think owners of these large sums ought, in calculating their means, be credited with at least 2½ per cent., if not 3 per cent., on the money which they have either saved or inherited.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
Two hundred and fifty persons have been granted pensions who have actually £300 or more at a low rate of interest. I daresay the local Pension Committee would supply some more information upon this point
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
Yes, I think I understood the reason for the question. It is exactly the question I should ask myself. I think the right hon. Gentleman is endeavouring to see what he is going to save by this little arrangement.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
I may say I should have done it myself when I was in the right hon. Gentleman's position. That 2290 is the only part of the Bill the right hon. Gentleman is interested in from the point of view of what the Treasury can save. I think the rest of the Bill does undoubtedly put increased charges on the Treasury.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
If the man has money not invested then he is credited with 4 per cent., but if he invests it at 1 per cent. he is only credited with that 1 per cent., although, as every Member of the House knows, he could have invested it safely at 2½ per cent.
§ Mr. BARNES
I think the hon. Gentleman misunderstood the question. I understood the hon. Gentleman to say that he wanted to set £300 free, and to say that a man shall not be debited with any income for the first £300.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
That is so. That has been carefully thought out, and it seemed to us that a man might well be allowed not to be credited with any interest on the first £300 which he might wish to have for some purpose at his immediate disposal. That, however, is a point which can be dealt with in Committee. The portion of the Bill that interests me and others most is that portion of the Bill which in Clause 3 brings into pension rights many of those people who are, we think, very unjustly excluded. The first Sub-section deals with the case of those who have not lived in this country for twenty years up to the date at which they claimed a pension. There are very many of those cases where people are induced to go away, often to our own Dominions beyond the seas, sometimes to America, and so on, to try and live with relations there and see how it suits them, and perhaps only on a visit at first, and who leave no residence or home in this country. If they leave no home whatever in this country then they are permanently excluded from obtaining any pension in cases where they for some reason or other return to this country in which they passed the greater portion of their lives. That seems a very hard case indeed. We admit that there must be some safeguard against men and women returning to this country merely for the sake of claiming the old age pension, who have not lived in this country and therefore have not subscribed or contributed to the rates or taxes of the country or have not by their labour advanced the interests of 2291 the country. Therefore we propose in this Bill to make it necessary that any claimant for a pension must have lived first of all for twenty years at some period of his or her life after the age of fifteen, and then that he or she must have lived in this country five years before a pension is claimed, or that if the claimant does not live here he or she must have what is called a home here. Let us see how the Act has been interpreted. By the Act now a person is disqualified if the conditions as to residence prescribed by the regulations are not fulfilled. The conditions as to residence are laid down in Regulation No. 29 of the regulations issued by the Treasury:—For the purposes of the statutory condition relating to residence, the expression 'residence' shall mean actual presence in the United Kingdom uninterrupted otherwise than by temporary absences.A man may have temporary absences of eight years in one period or in frequent periods, but if he has not during that period got a home in the United Kingdom, he is disqualified. If he is absent for ever so short a time, and does not keep a home in this country, then he is disqualified. A home is interpreted by the Treasury and the Local Government Board to mean having a place to which you intend to return Very few of those poor claimants when they leave this country to see whether it would suit them in America or somewhere else, keep a residence here in that sense. They may or may not return; they are going to see whether or not it suits them; and undoubtedly it is very hard that when they come back, having lived here nearly all their lives and paid their contributions to rates and taxes, they should not be allowed to have the pension which is given to others.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
My remarks in reference to men apply to women. If the hon. Member has any matters in mind which he thinks are not covered by the Bill, I would suggest that he should allow the Bill to go to Committee where the cases can be considered and included if necessary. I have been the recipient of many letters. Here is one:—Last June, my wife and I were delighted to see that you had introduced an Amendment to the Old Age 2292 Pensions Act, as we have been refused the benefit of it. I left England in 1886, and my wife left in 1888. We both returned in 1895. We are both over seventy-four years of age, and in the fiftieth year of our married life. We have brought up a family; we are English. We think we ought to be entitled to the help we now require. We are just as much entitled to it as others.I think so, too. If this Bill is passed people in that position will be admitted to the pension, which I think they have every right to claim. Here is another case. I will not give the names, but I am ready to supply them to the Secretary to the Treasury. Here is the case of a man who was absent from 1881 to 1895. He has lived the rest of his life in England. During his absence he maintained a home in England for his wife and family; yet he is disqualified. A harder case still is that of a coachman, who went to California for three years. He always intended to return. He was an Oddfellow, but did not even transfer himself to the American lodge; he transmitted his payments to this country. He was promised by his employer re-employment on his return. The employer kept his promise, and also provided lodgings for the claimant as he had done previously. The case came before our Committee. We considered that the man had a home here, but the Local Government Committee took a different view, and the man was not allowed a pension. There is also the case of British women who go out as nurses to our Dominions and Dependencies. They very often stay there until they are nearly sixty years of age, and then come back to this country. They cannot claim the pension, because they have not been in the country during the twenty years immediately preceding the time of the claim. I have cases from Dieppe, India, and North America; there are many such cases. Even one day's residence in the Isle of Man or in the Channel Islands, if he has not a home here, will exclude a man from all hope of a pension under the existing Act. The amending Bill does not meet all the hard cases, but the point can easily be considered in Committee, and we may possibly be able to enlarge the net so as to bring in many people who deserve to come in, but who would not be brought in under the Bill as it stands.
Clause 3, Sub-section (2) provides that a man shall not be disqualified hereafter for the receipt of a pension on the ground that his wife is in receipt of poor relief. These cases are not numerous, but they are very hard. The old idea—and a very proper idea within limitations—was that a man should support his wife. So he should. 2293 But if, when a man becomes seventy years of age, perhaps is very feeble, and claims a pension, his wife, instead of going into the infirmary as she ought, stays with him, and receives 2s. or 3s. outdoor relief, then the husband is disqualified for a pension, although qualified in every other respect. If the wife went into the infirmary and received that kind of Poor Law relief, the husband would not be disqualified. These are cases of real hardship, and ought to be dealt with. Sub-section (3) provides that women, being British subjects by birth, shall not he disqualified for the receipt of a pension on the ground that, having married an alien, she ceases to be a British subject. There are hundreds of cases where British women have never left this country at all, but have married men who are aliens in the sense that they have never been naturalised, although they have lived here practically all their lives; they have brought up a British family, and the children will be eligible for pensions; but the mother will not be eligible, even though the alien husband has been dead thirty or forty years. Here is an instance:—Kindly excuse me for troubling you with my mother's hardship. As the Old Age Pensions Act now stands, because she married a foreigner she is not eligible, although an English woman pure and simple. She was born at Chelmsford of English parents; she entered service in London as a housemaid; she married the butler, who was unfortunately a Swiss. He had been in England ever since he was fifteen years of age; he could speak several languages; he never left the country after he entered service here; he has been dead nearly thirty years.The daughter goes on to state that at present an English woman loses her right to a pension as soon as she marries a foreigner; but if she only lived with him, and did not marry him, she could claim a pension. That, she thinks, is strange justice. Those are hard cases, and I could quote many of them. They press veryhardly on our sense of justice. We all feel that it was really intended by the House that these women should be admitted to pension rights; at all events, the House had no idea of excluding them when it passed that very beneficent Act.
I will now address myself to the Treasury, for which I have never altogether lost my sympathy, although of late I have transferred my affections to another quarter which sometimes is not altogether in harmony with the Treasury. But it is in the blood, and I still have some compassion on the Treasury. I am not asking a large sum of money. It is not easy to make an estimate; we have not the proper materials. We can only do our best to 2294 judge the number of cases under each of these heads that we should probably have to deal with if this Bill were passed. I give the hon. Gentleman the best estimate we can form, and that is that the cost in London will be £4,000. If you say that London, with one-tenth of the population of the United Kingdom, will cost £4,000, then that sum multiplied by ten gives £40,000. Making all allowance, I am confident that the proposals will not put an extra charge of more than £50,000 a year upon the Treasury. When we are dealing in millions—none of us want to waste money!—but when old age pensions now cost the country £12,000,000 or £13,000,000 a year I do not think we need hesitate to remove one of the very few blots on the Bill by adding this sum of £50,000.
I hope the House will approach the matter in the spirit in which I and others wish the matter to be dealt with. For two years we have been trying to bring it before the House of Commons, but with the congested business of the House it is very difficult to get these things done. This is not a large question; it is only a small one. This is not a great Bill; it is only a little Bill. I have the privilege week by week of sitting and administering very large benevolent funds, and I never approach the case of an allowance to any family, and confer with my colleagues as to whether the person or family should be allowed an extra sixpence or not, without thinking how much our decision means to that family. So, although the Government are occupied with other very large problems, I do hope that they will spare just a little time to see to it that these grievances are immediately redressed—that this hardship is removed from these poor people. Their decision to-day may wake a note of joy in many of these homes, and lead people to believe that after all there is justice in the British House of Commons.
§ Mr. DAWES
It is with very great pleasure that I rise to second the Second Reading of the Bill brought in by my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham. May I emphasise what he has said about the entirely non-political character of the Bill. Speaking from experience of the London Pensions Committee, I can say that from the inception of the Committee in 1908 its work has always been conducted on strictly non-political lines; and this, I am afraid, one can hardly say about any other committee of the London County Council. 2295 If I may say so, this has been largely due to the action of the chairman himself. I always like to give "honour where honour is due" and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Fulham, as I know spent a considerable part of the Recess of 1908 in mastering the details of the Act, and when the London Committee was appointed he told us that in his opinion the Act should be construed as liberally as possible towards the old people. It is in that spirit that thirteen sub-committees of the London Pensions Committee have from that time to this conducted their investigations and given their decisions.
It has been asked, why should this Bill have been brought in by London Members of Parliament? Well, London is not an inconsiderable part of the United Kingdom. We have dealt with no fewer than 83,000 odd cases. We have granted 67,000 pensions, the most of them of 5s. I have been a member of the London Pensions Committee since the commencement, and have never missed a meeting. I have also served on two sub-committees. Many thousands of cases have come before these sub-committees. Altogether, then, I may say that the work in London has been extremely successful. I would again emphasise the non-political character of the conduct of this committee, because on Tuesday the Secretary to the Treasury rather pointedly referred to the fact that the Bill was brought in by a Member of the Opposition. Nothing whatever can by any possibility take away from the Government the credit of having brought in and carried the Act of 1908. Therefore, I am quite sure, too, the Treasury will bear in mind the representations made on this subject from whatever side of the House they come. The President of the Local Government Board, in making a speech a little time ago, said that he had been struck during his investigations of appeals with the amount of patiently borne poverty that had been brought to light by the working of the Act. Those of us who have had to deal with the details of the Act, I am quite sure will agree whole-heartedly with everything that the President then said. If the House had seen, as I have seen, old spinster women, earning perhaps 3s. 6d. or 4s. 6d. per week, out of which they had to pay 2s. 6d. for rent, hon. Members would have marvelled, as I have marvelled, at the patient courage and firm determination not to give in, and of the resolve of these women not 2296 to have attaching to them the taint of pauperism. Hon. Members would then appreciate, possibly more than now, the incalculable blessing that this Act has been to thousands upon thousands of the deserving poor.
The Mover of the Bill has referred to Section 2 of the Act. On one of the sub-committee of which I am a member, two cases that came before the sub-committee at one sitting stand out in my mind in vivid contrast. In one case the applicant had £1,600 in the bank at 1½ per cent. interest. We were obliged, most unwillingly, to give that applicant a 3s. pension. We had also the case of a poor woman who had received 9d. worth of groceries from the Poor Law, and in that cagse we had also very unwillingly to refuse. We have discussed this question of how accumulated capital shall be dealtwith. There are two ways: either on the basis of an annuity, or of a minimum rate of interest. We dismissed the annuity basis. We took the alternative and fixed in the Bill 3 per cent. Like my hon. Friend, I should be perfectly content myself with 2½ per cent. if the House thought fit. But if the 3 per cent. basis is taken, a person with £1,000 would not be entitled to a pension; whereas if you take a 2½ per cent. basis a person with £1,200 would get a pension of a shilling. As to the third Clause, I am afraid we cannot claim so much sympathy from the Treasury as for Clause 2. But the end of the first part of Clause 3 would remove the disqualification on residential grounds, and would affect a variety of hard cases that have come to our notice. Perhaps I might give one or two: "J. P. was absent from the United Kingdom from 1890 to 1895. He was a sailor, serving in ships registered in Australia. He therefore became an alien." "R. B., from 1885 to 1891 lived in India with her husband, who was an engineer on a contract which took seven years to complete. They left behind them a boy of fourteen and furnished a room for him at his aunt's. On her return the applicant stayed at the aunt's house, and then removed to other quarters. She was disqualified on appeal on account of having left the old country." There was another case of a compositor who left this country in 1890, and lived in America until 1896. He went away owing to slackness of trade; he admitted he had no home here as he had always been a lodger, and he was disqualified. There is another case not met by this Clause, and it was pointed out to me the Clause 2297 might require amendment in order to cope with such cases. E. D. was a pensioner, and surrendered her book on leaving for Australia to stay with her sister. She was away eighteen weeks, but for some reason the sister could not keep her. She came back at once; she applied for the restoration of her pension, but was disqualified owing to non-residence. I cannot conceive the framers of the Act ever had any such intention as that. These are a few of the cases under Sub-section (1), paragraph 3. Sub-section (2) of Clause 3 deals with the case of the disqualification of a man whose wife has had Poor Law relief. I will take a more extreme case than that quoted by the hon. Member for Fulham. A wife might leave her husband through no fault of his; she might be living with somebody else, and she might be driven to such straits as to get parish relief. The man may know nothing about it for months, and not only would he not get a pension in such an instance, but if he had been in receipt of a pension for months it would be stopped, and he would be obliged to refund the amount received to the Treasury. The President of the Local Government Board said cases of that kind would be dealt with liberally, but the right hon. Gentleman will not be always at the Local Government Board; a new President may come along, and it would be far better to have this matter laid down by an Act on the Statute Book than to have it at the mercy of a President of the Local Government Board.
Under Sub-section (3) a most anomalous situation has arisen, and although Acts of Parliament have produced startling effects before now, I doubt if anything more singular has occurred than this. It has arisen from the application to the Old Age Pensions Act of Section 10 of the Naturalisation Act of 1870, and it. has arisen in this way. An Englishwoman married an alien, and the alien died. If he had died on or before the 11th May, 1870, she would be entitled to a pension, but because he died on the 12th May, 1870, she was ineligible. I do not think that was ever the intention of the framers of the Act. She applied to the Hackney Sub-Committee and the Pensions Committee, but they were obliged to refuse her on the ground that she had married a German. She then went to the German Benevolent Society, and they refused her relief on the ground that she was an Englishwoman. The sequel was an inquest was held upon the woman, and it was stated she suffered 2298 from mental worry owing to being unable to gain assistance. I am sure this was a case that the framers of the Old Age Pensions Act would be the first to say should be relieved. There is another point not mentioned in the Act, but the Local Government Board have recently given a decision upon it, and that is how far the withdrawal of capital should be taken into account in calculating means. I asked the Secretary to the Treasury whether he considered that in the case of withdrawal of capital where the capital does not exceed £100 the amount should be excluded. A case has arisen in the last week or two since this Bill was framed.
1.0 P. M.
I very sincerely hope that the Government will take this matter up. I do not think it matters to the hon. Member for Fulham or the local Pensions Committee whether it is dealt with by private Bill or whether it is dealt with by the Government —perhaps it would be better dealt with by the Government—so long as the matter is dealt with effectively. The promoters of this Bill have no special advantages to gain, and they will be satisfied if the Government does something towards curing these anomalies. This Bill is only a small Bill, but it embodies the experience of the Pensions Committee ever since the Act was passed of men and women of all parties who devote days and weeks and months to the administration of the Act, and it does give the Government an opportunity of bringing forward a measure to admit to the benefits of the Act a few more of those deserving people whom everyone desires to see admitted.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
The hon Member who seconded the Motion to read this Bill a second time, began his remarks by saying he hoped the fact that the Bill was brought in by a Member of the Opposition would not take away from the Liberal party any of the credit for the Act of 1908. This is a small measure. It has nothing whatever to do with party, and I am sorry the question of who is to get the credit of it was introduced. My hon. Friend the Member for Fulham was careful to avoid any allusion of that sort.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
I accept the statement of the hon. Member, and I am glad I have cleared up that point. Of course, a number of cases of hardship have arisen 2299 under the Act of 1908, but I think these are entirely owing to the fact that the Act of 1908 was not an Act based upon a contributory scheme. If it had been, none of these cases of hardship would have arisen. However, we have had to deal with the Act as it exists. With regard to the first Clause, dealing with the manner in which an amount of money which belongs to a man and is not invested, should be calculated, I think the proposal of my hon. Friend is an extremely good one, and I think he has made out a case which shows that calculating interest at 4 per cent. is wrong, and that taking the rate at only 3 per cent. is a much fairer and better way of doing it. There I agree with the hon. Member. Whether the rate should be altered to 2½ per cent. I do not know, but at any rate that is a Committee point. I understand from the reply given by the hon. Member that if a man had £290 he would not have any interest on that amount when his pension was taken into consideration.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
If this Bill passes as it stands and a man possesses £290 at 1 per cent. or 2 per cent. he would not be credited only beyond the £300, and he would be charged 3 per cent.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
That is how I read the Clause. This Clause does not alter the Act when the amount is under £300. The provisions of the Act would be enforced where a man had £250 or £290.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
Under the regulations now framed, if a man has £1,000 in his house not invested he is credited with 4 per cent. We do not ask what interest you get on any sum under £300, but beyond that amount we shall credit you with 3 per cent., and that would be taken into the calculation.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
This proposal does not repeal the existing statute as regards any sum under £300, but if it is over £300 then it makes this alteration, that if he gets I per cent. for it he will be credited with 3 per cent. I heartily congratulate my hon. Friend upon having brought in such a good Clause. As for Clause 3, I do not regard it with such fervent approval as I do the other, because it might have this effect: At the age of thirty-five a person might go out of the country and return at sixty-five and claim an old age pension. That is to say he might have lived out of the country for thirty of the best years 2300 of his life, from thirty-five to sixty-five. I have always understood that one of the reasons, if not the chief reason, advanced by Members of the party opposite for giving pensions to those who have not contributed to the Pension Fund was that they had contributed, if not directly, by their labour, and in this way they had added to the wealth of the country to such an extent that they ought to be deemed to have contributed to the pension fund. How can that be if for thirty of the best years of a man's life he has lived in some other country where he will have added to the wealth of that other country. For this reason I think that Clause 3 will require very careful investigation in Committee. I do not mean to say that this provision in the Act of 1908 might not be amended, but I think this Clause goes too far, and provision ought to be made that the person who has spent the greater part of his life in a foreign country, and has contributed to the taxes of that foreign country, and nothing to his own country, should be prevented from claiming the pension provided by the people in this country who have contributed to the taxes here and done their best to maintain the well-being and welfare of this country.
The next Clause deals with the case of a wife in receipt of Poor Law relief. My hon. Friend gave some cases where a man was in every way deserving of the pension being disqualified because his wife preferred to remain with him in their own home instead of going for medical and other relief to the Workhouse dispensary. I think this Clause will want very careful consideration. If it is passed it would be quite possible for the person receiving the pension of 5s. a week to contribute nothing whatever to the maintenance of his wife who could go to the guardians, and get out-door relief without interfering with her husband's pension. Every one admits that, human nature being what it is, any little flaw would be taken advantage of, and it is quite possible what I have pointed out might happen. No one desires that there should be a deliberate attempt to take advantage of something which is only meant to relieve hardship. A man might say, "I do not choose to keep my wife, go and get Poor Law relief; I shall not be disqualified for my pension, and you will be able to get something in addition out of the pockets of the ratepayers." That case might easily arise. I think it is within the power of eminent lawyers to 2301 safeguard us against that, and I think it is a loophole which I hope the Secretary for the Treasury will remember when this Bill comes before the Committee.
The next Sub-section I think also requires a little amendment. My hon. Friend has given the case of an English woman who marries a Swiss butler who has never naturalised himself, although he remains in this country. In that case the wife would not be entitled to a pension. The case against which I desire to guard is, when a woman marries a foreigner and goes out of the country to live abroad for some years, she may say to her husband, "I am entitled to a pension in England; you and I are tired of each other, and I will go back to England and get my 5s. a week out of the ratepayers." That could be done under Subsection (1) of Clause 3. I know it uses the word "he," but my hon. Friend has already pointed out that the word "he" covers "she," and I presume it would be competent for the woman at thirty-five to marry a foreigner, live abroad until she is sixty-five, and then come back and take a pension. I think that is something which requires alteration, and I have no doubt it can be done. In making these alterations in order to relieve cases of hardship we do not want through our kindness of heart to throw burdens which are unnecessary and unjust upon the taxpayers. I know my hon. Friend is extremely careful in his statements, and I am prepared to accept with a certain amount of reservation his assertion that these alterations will not cost more than £70,000. Of course, if the Bill were limited to £70,000, and were so amended that it would only deal with cases of hardship and did not admit persons who are desirous of imposing upon the taxpayer, it would be such a small additional charge upon the finances of the country that I think we ought all to be anxious to pass the measure, but I am afraid there are very few economists in the House, and, though I hope my hon. Friend is one, I am not sure. I see very few on the benches opposite. [HON. MEMBERS: "0h."] Well, there is the hon. Member for Pontefract (Mr. Booth), who also has what I regard with veneration—the courage of his opinions. I have endeavoured to point out certain Amendments which I think are required, and, providing the Committee takes serious trouble to amend the Bill, I think it will probably be passed through this House without difficulty.
§ Mr. BARNES
I rise to offer my word of welcome to this little Bill, and to congratulate the hon. Baronet upon at last having the grace to support a Bill of this character. I hope the Bill will be received with an open heart by the right hon. Gentleman who sits on the Front Bench (Mr. Hobhouse), and represents the Government, and that he will promise to give facilities to pass it, amplified and extended, I hope, to include a great deal more than the very moderate provisions it now contains. I was glad to note the spirit of goodwill expressed towards the existing Act by the Mover (Mr. Hayes Fisher), and I associate myself with the expressions which fell from the Seconder (Mr. Dawes) in regard to the beneficent working of that Act. I have had occasion to see the Act in operation, and I know it has brought comfort to thousands of homes which would otherwise have been dreary enough. After all, the Act has now ceased to be a party measure, if it ever was one. I am quite prepared to admit it never had much party colour, and what party colour it had has now, I think, entirely disappeared. I am glad to know all sections of the House are willing to co-operate with the author of this Bill in removing some of the most unfair things which experience has revealed in regard to the Old Age Pensions Act. It is in that spirit I welcome this little Bill. I use no word of disparagement nor do I impugn the motives of hon. Gentlemen opposite. I have no right to do so. I am willing to assume we are all honourable men and are prepared to do what we can to improve a Bill of this character, of course always hoping that in doing so we may improve the chances of the particular party to which we belong. At the same time, I think the Bill will need to be improved; otherwise, there will still be left a great many anomalies, and from some points of view it will really make confusion worse confounded, and make things more unfair compared with the present condition of things.
We are in favour of giving pensions to. everybody, of course within certain limits-We are in favour of a residential qualification and of barring criminals and lunatics, but, subject to those things, we are in favour of giving pensions to everybody as a right, and therefore of removing alt these disabilities. We are not called upon to discuss a Bill of that kind this afternoon, but only a Bill having for its object the wiping out of certain anomalies, and I want for a few minutes to compare the position of those who will be brought 2303 within the provisions of the Act by this Bill with the position of others who will be excluded. I am not very certain about the provisions of the Bill, and the mover and seconder seemed to be at variance about it, but, so far as I can see, the Bill proposes to exempt the first £300, and, in the words of the mover, to leave that £300 free. After that, 2½ per cent. is to be credited to any money a person may have. The Bill says 3 per cent., but I take it the mover and seconder are willing to substitute 2½ per cent. It will work out that a person may still have £1,000 and be entitled to an old age pension. I do not object to that, and do not object for a moment if he has £2,000, but I want to institute certain comparisons between that person and other persons. Take a person with £1,000. The first £300 is exempt, and the other £700 is credited with 2½ per cent. That is £17 10s. Consequently, that person would be entitled to a full pension. Then take a person with an annuity amounting to £31 10s. That person is in receipt of something which, if translated into marketable value, would amount in round figures to £250, because the expectation of life at the age of seventy is only eight years. He would not be entitled to a halfpenny of an old age pension, while the other person with £1,000 in the bank would be entitled to the full pension of 5s. per week.
Let me institute another comparison, and here I come to a point which is felt very strongly by many of those with whom I am associated, and which is thought of a great deal by members of trade unions and friendly societies outside. I refer to the person who has saved, as I think, in the best of all possible ways, by subscribing to a trade union or a friendly society during a long working life, so that at the age of seventy he may be entitled to a pension of 10s. a week. I might illustrate that by my own case. I am a member of two societies, a trade union and a friendly society. If I had followed my tools and had earned an honest living outside instead of coming here, at seventy years of age I should be entitled to 10s. per week, having subscribed for forty-nine years. I should also have subscribed to a friendly society, and from that I should have been entitled to 4s. per week, making 14s. in all. The money value of that is a mere fraction of £1,000, but I should be altogether excluded from any right to an old age pension, while a person with £1,000 would still get 5s. That is a manifest in- 2304 justice, and therefore we hope that the Government will, when amending the Old Age Pensions Act, not only have regard to the case put forward by the other side but also to the old age pensioners of the friendly societies and the trades unions.
I may go further. There are the Army and Navy pensions: how do they stand? I have in my mind the case of a man who enters the Army or Navy early in life; he serves, it may be twenty-one years; and he comes home with a small pension. If he gets a pension of £31 10s. a year, or a smaller one, and has some private savings which bring his income up to that amount, he is excluded from the benefits of the Act. These cases are just as hard as those referred to by the hon. Member, and are as much entitled to consideration. I wish to urge the Government to make some provision whereby a certain amount, say 7s. per week, or 1s. per day, shall he exempted from the calculation of income on which the old age pension is based. It is true that if that were done a person might be in receipt of an income approximating £1 per week, but, after all, that is not very much. If a man has a capital of £1,000, there is nothing to prevent him subtracting from the capital and adding it to his income. He does not do that: he prefers to take the interest and leave the money behind. But a member of a trades union or friendly society cannot do that. If you do as I suggest—if you exempt 7s. a week from the calculation of income—you will be putting these people on exactly the same lines as the others. That is my first point with regard to the first Clause of this Bill under the heading of "Calculation of Means."
I come now to the third Clause. Although I am at one with the hon. Gentleman with regard to the grievance which has been disclosed in the working of the Act of 1908, I think the proposal of this Bill does not go far enough to remove the grievance. It is stipulated in the Bill that a person must have lived five years in this country before making application for the pension. The hon. Member who moved the Second Reading said he wanted to prevent a person who had lived a long time in a foreign country from coming back to this country at seventy years of age for the purpose of claiming the pension. I think that argument is a little bit farfetched. Very few persons would come back to this country after reaching the age of seventy years for the purpose of getting this old age pension. But some 2305 hard cases of the disqualification under the Old Age Pensions Act have occurred in which men and women have left the country just before reaching the age of seventy and have been obliged to come back after a year or two's absence.
I remember one case I mentioned a year or two ago of a man close upon eighty years of age who had gone to live with a son in Canada. The son's means at the time seemed to warrant a reasonable expectation that he would be able to keep his father for the rest of his life. But, unfortunately, his circumstances changed, the old man had to come back, and then he found that his short absence had disqualified him for the old age pension. My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield told me of a case which occurred in his own division. A man seventy-three years of age had gone to Canada for five months. He had actually been a ratepayer in the city of Sheffield for forty-nine years, yet because he had been away five months a year or so before he made his application for a pension he found himself disqualified.
I have a third case. On the 9th of this month, only ten days ago, an old man in the Romford Division of Essex wrote to me reminding me that last June his case was brought forward. He is, he says, a bricklayer, and has been a trade unionist since 1860. He was seventy-four years of age last November. He has been in Canada six years and nine months. Presumably that absence extended into the period of five years before he made application for a pension. He went to Canada owing to trade depression at home. He had hoped that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to whom his letter had been forwarded, would have dealt with cases such as his in his amending Old Age Pensions Act Bill with a view to removing the disqualification in such cases as his. I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will bear such cases as this in mind, and that he will appreciate the fact that the Bill now before the House will not meet them.
I might perhaps suggest an Amendment. I see that the Bill proposes that the applicant shall have lived or has had his home in this country five years immediately before the date of the receipt by him of any sum on account of old age pension. The Clause proceeds:—
"And if after having attained the age of fifteen he has lived in the United Kingdom for a period or periods amounting in the aggregate to at least twenty years."
2306 My suggestion is that we should substitute the word "or" for "and," and the result would be that instead of having a double disqualification it could be provided that any one who had left the country after having attained the age of fifteen, but who has lived in this country for a period of say thirty or forty years—I have no objection to such an extension of the period—before he made application for the pension would be deemed to have fulfilled the requirements of the Act. That would entirely dispose of the argument of the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London, that a man might spend the most productive years of his life in a foreign country, thereby adding to the wealth of that country, and then come back to this country for support in his old age. I think the alternative I have suggested would meet all reasonable requirements, and I hope, therefore, no objection will be raised to such an Amendment of the Clause. There is just one other point I should like to refer to and that is in regard to property under the Act of 1908. In paragraph (b) of Sub-section (1) of Clause 4 there is a stipulation in regard to advantage accruing to a person from the use or enjoyment 'of any property belonging to him which is personally used or enjoyed by him. I am not very clear as to the original meaning of that Clause or that Sub-section, and I do not know whether it would not cut out a man who simply has the use of a house which does not belong to him, because it says alternatively, "or enjoyed by him." At all events I would appeal to the right hon. Gentleman who is representing the Government here to-day to re-cast that Clause, because, after all, a man living in a house cannot eat the bricks and mortar of it. He has to live somehow or other, and he may live in a house much larger than his requirements demand. I think that might be removed from the Bill as a disqualification in the event of a man having the use of a house in any way. These are some of the things which occur to me in regard to the Bill, but as I say it seems to me that, even if the Bill passes there would still be a great deal to do in removing some of the anomalies which have cropped up. I leave my hon. Friend the Member for Barnard Castle (Mr. Arthur Henderson) to deal with the second and third Sub-sections of Clause 3 because I think he has some very hard cases in regard to them to bring forward. I can only say in conclusion that I am 2307 glad this Bill has been brought forward, and I congratulate the hon. Member on having won a day in the ballot, and having made a fairly good use of it. I hope the Bill will be passed and will be sent to a Committee, and that the mind of the Government and of everybody concerned will be kept open in regard to these points which I have mentioned, because I can assure the House that ever since this Old Age Pensions Act was passed in 1908 it has been felt to be a real grievance on the part of members of trade unions and friendly societies that many of them have been cut out of the provisions of the Act. We have heard since, and we heard before, a great deal about the encouragement of thrift, but yet, under the provisions of the Act of 1908, instead of encouraging thrift, in so far as it is practised by these collective societies at all events has been discouraged and that we say is wrong. I would therefore, before sitting down, appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to give his earnest and favourable consideration to these matters, and I feel sure that if those restrictions were removed from the Act it would give a great deal of satisfaction and improve the Act in such a way as to increase to some extent—I will not say to a large extent—the number of beneficiaries under it, and would still leave the members of the trade unions and friendly societies who are now paying into these institutions free to pay their money without having over their heads a fear that by so doing they would be depriving themselves of something which they would otherwise be entitled to on reaching the age of seventy.
Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present. House counted, and forty Members being found present:
§ Colonel YATE
I am glad to have the opportunity of saying a few words in support of this Bill and of expressing my hope that it will pass and remove just one or two of the inequalities under the Old Age Pensions Act which have been brought to our notice by various speakers to-day. There was just one point in connection with the second Clause of this Bill that I hope will be amended in Committee, and that is in regard to the £300. It seems to me, considering the great facilities now given by the Post Office for the investment of money in Government securities, there is no necessity to keep such a large sum as £300 free, and as to the 3 per cent. I 2308 am certainly in support of the proposal which was made. With reference to Section 3 I must support the proposal of the last speaker that the word should be "or" instead of "and" between the two qualifications in respect to abode, and that they should be alternative, instead of one being supplementary to the other. With these few remarks I will conclude, except to congratulate the Mover and Seconder of the Bill on having brought it forward, and to say how much I appreciate it.
§ Mr. CHARLES ROBERTS
We must all agree in rejoicing that the chance has come in some shape or form for the review of the anomalies which inevitably arise in the construction of a new scheme like that of the old age pensions scheme. It is not really any great reflection upon the wisdom of Parliament or the capacity of the Legislature that points are not realised on the original structure of any great and far-reaching scheme such as that embodied in the Old Age Pensions Act. I suppose that anybody who has watched the administration of the Act knows that points of anomaly have arisen, and I heartily hope the Government will find time amid all the crowded business which presses upon them to deal with the matter. I think no one can have heard the cases mentioned by the Mover and Seconder of the Second Reading without feeling that the administration of the Act did give rise to hardships, some of which were really cruel, because they must have aroused a, bitter sense of disappointment all the more because the grounds of that disappointment must have seemed so unintelligible and absurd to those who have had experience on this point. I fully sympathise, therefore, with the desire that these cases of hardship should be cleared up.
But there are some points of criticism in this Bill. I do not often have the luxury of agreeing with the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury), and on this occasion also, though I agree with him that there are points of criticism, the points of criticism that I find are not where he finds them. Clause 3 seems to me to be much less open to criticism than Clause 2, and I very much doubt whether Clause 2is a wholly satisfactory clause. But I welcome the chance of dealing with this Bill because I think it gives us an opportunity, which this House did not take in the discussion of the Old Age Pensions Act of 1908, of really clearing up the question of how to deal with these accumulations of capital. It never was discussed in the 2309 Debates on the Act. It was just mentioned on the Third Reading, and no doubt was considered very fully by the Government, but the House, during those Debates, spent all its time in discussing whether there should be a sliding scale or not, and they never faced the question of whether we should treat on the same basis the case of a man who had a pension of £20 or £30 as an annuity and the case of the man who has £800 or £1,000 in Consols. I may be in a small minority in this matter, but I do not believe you will ever get any fair treatment until you treat properly these accumulations of capital on an annuity basis, and I very much hope that the Government, when they amend the Old Age Pensions Act, will accept that basis for the grant of the pensions. The hon. Member (Mr. Barnes) says, what we know is the case, that the Labour party treats the old age pensions as a matter of social right, therefore everyone, whatever his income, ought to have it. He trusts, using his common sense, to the fact that millionaires will not claim the 5s. a week, but on his principle, of course, the present position is not unfair. His only objection is that there is any upward limit at all. That ought to be, according to his principle, removed altogether. I do not quite take that line. I think you can justify old age pensions with a fixed limit as part of the legal minima which the State is establishing in a great number of different directions. The State may fairly say that after the age of seventy no person should have less than a certain minimum of means or property, and it is on those lines that I think the State should fairly proceed. When you mix up the income which a man may have as an annuity with the income which he may have as interest on accumulated capital you land yourselves in great confusion, and I think in gross hardships. You have great unfairness. Let me take two extreme cases. I think it has been calculated that an old couple of seventy living together might have £2,218 between them invested in Consols and still draw between them 2s. a week. This Bill would only make matters worse, because Clause 2 would assume that the first £300 of that, in the case of a man and his wife, would not rank for interest at all.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
Yes, I think it would. I think that is a mistake. It would be dealt with under the provisions of the Act of 1908. I think that is so.
§ Mr. C. ROBERTS
I doubt it. I shall be glad to hear what the opinion of the Government is on that point. I think it would take the first £300 off. Anyhow, I should be quite willing to accept what the Government has to say.
§ Mr. C. ROBERTS
I welcome the opportunity of co-operating with the hon. Baronet. But at all events you have this case of the couple living on £2,218. It may be that that case is not very likely to arise, but there it is theoretically possible. Let me put a case which has just come under my notice where a man has absolutely nothing whatever, but he is living with his children, and the married daughter allows him the use of her house with no fixed guarantee whatever about it. The pension officer has estimated the value of that privilege at 10s. a week, and he is given 3s. I should think that is probably a wrong decision, and an appeal, I believe, is pending, but still you get extreme cases of difference. Our scheme of old age pensions is certainly the most liberal in the world. I believe in New Zealand there is a restriction that anyone possessed of over £200 in cash should not draw a pension at all. The seconder of the Bill has said that if we adopted the annuity basis we should be discouraging thrift, but the discouragement is inherent wherever you draw the line. If you draw the line at the position of a man having £1,200 in Consols you, of course, discourage him pro tanto from possessing more than £1,200. I think it would be a discouragement if you forced him to realise his capital and invest it in some form of annuity, but if you take his capital and calculate it on the sum which it, would produce if it went to purchase an annuity, I do not think there would be any real discouragement of thrift. You discourage it wherever you draw the line, it is true, and you might say you discourage it lower down, but I really do not think that argument carries any real weight, and I think the anomalies which the present system occasion really outweigh any weight which ought to be attached to that argument. Then, during the discussions on the Old Age Pensions Act, it was said quite frequently that if you force a man to realise his property you might land yourself into all kinds of difficulties. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Jesse Collings) kept on referring to the case of the old couple who collected 2311 some furniture which might be worth large sums to a collector. How are you to treat that? If you like, leave out the value of his furniture or of his house. Possibly that might be done, but I think the capital itself should be calculated on the annuity basis in order to get rid of these anomalies.
I quite realise that you must not touch existing pensions. If you have given the pension it must last, but we are at liberty in the case of all new claimants to deal with these cases of men with £1,500, or £1,600, or £1,000, or whatever it may be. I cannot myself think it is necessary to grant old age pensions to such persons. It is said they will not often occur. I know one case of a small tradesman, who has had a relatively comfortable life, who has had a small business, and is living, I will not say in great wealth, but, at all events, under fairly comfortable conditions in the country, and he applies for an old age pension and gets the full amount. Personally I do not think the State is called upon to give pensions in such cases. We none of us wish to be illiberal or unhandsome in the grant of old age pensions, but we have to remember also that the pensions are costing a great deal more than the country anticipated when the system was instituted, and therefore I think it is not unfair, when a revision of these conditions is taken in hand by the Government, that they should consider the matter over again, and that the House should have an opportunity of really making up its mind on the question of these accumulations of capital.— I submit that the more we consider this matter the more we shall be convinced that the fair and just way of dealing with it is to allow people to accumulate capital as they like, but that in estimating for the purpose of an old age pension we should calculate on the basis of what the capital would bring in if invested in the purchase of an annuity. I venture to submit that view for the consideration of the Government.
I rise with great pleasure to support the Second Reading of the Bill. The hon. Member for Blackfriars division (Mr. Barnes) said that the Old Age Pensions Act of 1908 has ceased to be a party question. I am very glad to hear that that is so, because on many occasions the question of old age 2312 pensions was made very much a party question. It has been used at many elections as a purely party question. I am glad to hear from the hon. Member that we are all working now for the relief of old people who are in want of pensions. The hon. Member opposite (Mr. Charles Roberts) raised a point of considerable importance. Questions as to the effect of the Act in the towns and great cities have been dealt with by previous speakers, and what I am about to say has reference to the agricultural districts. I claim that the anomalies which occur in the towns and cities occur just as often in the agricultural districts. Of course, I agree with the hon. Member that anybody who has a pension at the present moment has a perfect right to get that pension. No one would attempt to take it away from him. But there are questions occurring constantly in the agricultural districts which ought to be dealt with. The hon. Member referred to the case of a farmer who went to live in the same house with his married daughter, and who has no means whatever. But there are many cases occurring in the agricultural districts similar to this. A father may have as many as six sons, and he renounces all his rights and gives up everything to his sons. He has put one of his sons in possession of the farm, he continues to live on the farm, and he receives an old age pension. I say that is wrong. He has a perfect right to get what the law allows, but I do say that that is an anomaly which ought to be dealt with when we are dealing with the revision of the Act. It is obvious that there must be many cases of hardship occurring, and it is only natural that we should endeavour to deal with cases where pensions are obtained by men who really have no right to them. Why should a man who is maintained by six sons and who has always been able to live in a comfortable house suddenly renounce all he possesses in order to get an old age pension. It is hard on those who have to pay.
2.0 P. M.
There are many men who are on the borderland, and who, being taxed and rated, have to pay for that sort of thing. They feel themselves that they would very much like to obtain pensions, and yet they do not, while at the same time they feel that it is a hardship that men who are really well to do should obtain pensions. I hope that matter will he dealt with when the revision of the Act is taken in hand. The right hon. Gentleman who represents the Government has mentioned the fact that they are themselves considering a Bill 2313 which they intend to bring in. I am rather doubtful whether they are going to find time to do so. That seems to be the point. I remember when an hon. Member brought in a Bill dealing with the milk supply of London, which is a very important question, the President of the Local Government Board requested him to withdraw that Bill in order that a Government measure might be passed dealing with the question of the milk supply throughout the country. That was a very good suggestion, and the Bill would have been very beneficial if it had ever become law. But we are still waiting for that particular measure. I am doubtful whether the Government will be sufficiently keen on the question of old age pensions to find time for their Bill. There is one Section in this Bill I certainly endorse most emphatically, and that is, Sub-section (3) of Clause 3, which is in the following terms:
"A woman being a British subject by birth shall not be disqualified for the receipt of a pension on the ground that, having married an alien, she has ceased to be a British subject."
It strikes me, and I think it must have struck others, that it is a great unfairness that because a woman happens to marry an alien, who has failed to naturalise himself in this country, she should not be entitled to receive a pension. It is simply a premium on not marrying, and that is a thing we should not seek to encourage in any way. I could quote many hardships which have occurred, but the hon. Member who moved the Second Reading of the Bill and the hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division have already pointed out what the hardships are. I do maintain that these hardships are just as much felt in the agricultural districts as in the towns and large cities, and I hope that the anomaly which has been pointed out will be dealt with either by this Bill or by the Bill which the Government are going to introduce.
Mr. CATHCART WASON
I am sincerely grateful to the hon. Member who has taken this opportunity of bringing forward the Bill, and I earnestly trust that hon. Members on both sides of the House will unite in doing their utmost to have the measure passed into law, and that they will not adopt the course suggested by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Morrison-Bell), and withdraw it in favour of another Bill promised by the Government.
Captain MORRISON - BELL
I never intended to convey the view that I wished the Bill to be withdrawn. What I suggested was that the hardships which have been pointed out should be dealt with either by this Bill, or by the one which the Government intend to bring in.
Mr. CATHCART WASON
I was only congratulating the hon. Member for offering a word of warning that we should not part with the Bill now before the House until we receive something better in its place. I will not dwell at length on the numerous hard cases which have been brought before every one of us with regard to pensions and the alterations in this Bill. I am sure many hon. Members are desirous to speak on this, and it would be hardly fair for me to weary the House with individual cases of hardship which are repeatedly brought under one's notice, in which the person, on appeal, has been unjustly treated. But there is one point which I wish to dwell on for a few minutes as regards Clause 2—the calculation of means. This presses with extreme hardship in many cases of the crofting districts of Scotland. The position taken up there has been very arbitrary and hard on the part of the pension officers and the Local Government Board. I think they have administered the Section of the Act applying to this point with extreme harshness, What we find there with regard to this calculation of means is this: Where an old person, a man or a woman, has had a little farm or croft it is only elementary knowledge that at a certain time of life that person cannot make a living out of his little craft or farm. If he has not got sons to work and cannot work himself he cannot possibly pay a penny wages out of the proceeds of the farm. What is continually happening in many cases before the pension officers is that where a person has from necessity to divest himself of his interest in his little croft or farm, as it is impossible for him to work it himself, the pension officers and the Local Government Board are refusing to allow him the pension after he has parted with his little bit of property, not to the extent of £1,000 but to the extent of £200 or £200. That is an extreme hardship which I have brought before the Government on several occasions. I am grateful to have this opportunity of bringing it forward, and hope that I shall have another opportunity in Committee. What happens is that a man is accused most unfairly and un- 2315 justly of having divested himself of his little bit of property in order to qualify for an old age pension, when he has done nothing of the kind, but has had to divest himself of his property because his age prevents him from carrying it on, and he is deprived of his pension after the local committee have granted it simply on this bare, technical, unfair use of the law by saying that he had divested himself of all his means in order to qualify for a pension. If there is one thing more than another that requires amendment it is the practice in this respect. The other cases of extreme hardship in Clauses 3, 4, and 5 I will not dwell upon, because they have been already alluded to, and it would only take up the time of the House, perhaps unnecessarily, to go through further cases. But if this Bill gets into Committee, as I hope it will, we shall be able to bring forward absolute proof of the necessity of some immediate alteration. The amount involved, £40,000 or £50,000 a year, is so small that it is a mere bagatelle in a matter of this sort. But the sense of injustice caused by the present system is so great that I trust sincerely that this Bill will go forward to a successful issue.
I rise also to support this Bill, both in respect of those cases which the Bill attempts to deal with and another case which I propose to mention. Sub-section 3 of Clause 3, which covers the case of a woman who has been a British subject from birth and because she has married a foreigner has been deprived of her pension has already been dealt with. I will add one instance of hardship which has been caused by the existing provision. In the time of our need we desired the assistance of foreign soldiers, and we raised the German Legion, which served in the Crimea. Under the Act which raised the German Legion, those soldiers who fought under our flag then did not lose their nationality. I know one case of the wife of one of the German Legion who fought for this country who, after the conclusion of the war, settled in this country and remained here ever since. She applied for a pension, and because she, being a British woman, had married one of the German Legion who had not lost his nationality, this woman was deprived of the pension which otherwise she would have been entitled to receive. It seems a gross hardship that this should happen in the case of a woman who marries a man, who 2316 by Act of Parliament only retains the German nationality, and who after the war comes back and settles in this country and remains to all intents and purposes a British citizen the whole of his life. He, of course, is precluded from receiving a pension, and she also is precluded. I do not suppose that there is a large number of wives of members of the German legion who would be affected by this, but as we have been receiving to-day a collection of hard cases I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should add this one which I have mentioned to his list when he comes to consider reasons for settling this particular Clause in the Bill. I trust that the opportunity will be given to us of extending this Bill when it gets into Committee.
I have made several endeavours to call attention to the position of those members of friendly societies who are at present debarred from either receiving remuneration at all or receive their full pension because, owing to their thrift, they have obtained from the friendly societies by payment some form of benefit. There are now I believe, speaking from recollection, 20,000 or 25,000 members of friendly societies who are either deprived altogether of their pensions, or at any rate whose pensions are seriously reduced owing to the fact that they are receiving benefits from the friendly societies. Those men of all men are the men who ought not to be deprived, because of their own sacrifice and their own thrift, of receiving what after all is a reward of good citizenship on their attaining the age of seventy, if otherwise they are qualified for it. The conference of friendly societies have inquired into the cost, and my recollection of the figures is that some 90 per cent. of the members of friendly societies who are affected could receive what appear to be their rights at an annual cost of something like £25,000. The right hon Gentleman shakes his head. I am sure if he will check my figures he will not find me more than a few hundred pounds wrong in my recollection. There is undoubtedly every possible reason why these cases should be considered at once. For parochial purposes, the benefits received from a friendly society are not counted as income. Surely it is absurd, under a national system of pensions, that whereas for parochial purposes benefits received from friendly societies are not considered, yet for national purposes they are to be considered as income. An Act was passed—I forget 2317 its title—which provides that parochial authorities—it was done tentatively at first—might or might not, as they chose, take into account the benefits received from friendly societies. Subsequently that was amended, and it was made compulsory upon the guardians to ignore any benefit received by members of friendly societies. If that is right and proper for parochial purposes, surely it is right and proper for national purposes. When the right hon. Gentleman comes to consider what Amendments should be made in the Pensions Act, I hope he will give serious attention to that point. I am delighted to-day to have had this opportunity of bringing this matter before the House. I have tried on several occasions to do so before. One of my first efforts on becoming a Member of this House was to bring in a Bill on this subject, but, unfortunately, it had already been moved in a previous Session, and that which I submitted was Out of order, because it imposed a charge upon the Exchequer. I was unsuccessful on two occasions on which I endeavoured to call attention to the matter by moving an Amendment, so that on this occasion, therefore, I regard myself as exceptionally fortunate in having once more an opportunity to call the attention of the House and the country to this particular point.
§ Mr. ARTHUR HENDERSON
In rising to give my support to the Bill now before the House I should like to associate myself with the Member for Blackfriars and the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down in pointing out what appears to be one of the most serious matters in connection with the Bill. Clause 2 seeks to exempt to the tune of £300 out of £1,000 of accumulated savings, for the purpose of enabling the pension to be drawn. I confess myself unable to differentiate between the savings that have been accumulated in the form referred to in Clause 2 of the Bill, and savings that have been accumulated by deposits in friendly societies or trade unions. As the hon. Member who spoke last properly pointed out, among the people of the country deserving of our consideration are the best of our work-people, often with very small wages, who, after struggling for thirty, thirty-five or forty years to pay week by week into their friendly societies or their trade unions, because they have succeeded in becoming entitled to double benefit, it may be 9s. or 10s. from the trade union, or 7s. or 8s. 2318 from the friendly society, are altogether disqualified for receiving any State pension whatsoever. The hon. Member opposite also referred to the precedent that has been established in. connection with the Parochial Relief Act. I remember being in this House when the measure was brought in by an hon. Member of the party opposite. I was associated with him in seeking to get. that Bill passed through the House. It exempts up to the tune of 5s. any friendly society benefits as disqualification for outdoor relief. It seems to me that that is a very excellent precedent that might be followed in any amending Act for the removal of anomalies that have been found out from experience in connection with the administration of the Old Age Pensions Act. Some of us on these benches endeavoured to carry an Amendment on that very point when the Old Age Pensions Bill was passing through the House. It appears to me, if we admit that the £300 referred to in Clause 2 should be exempt, that admission in itself must be a very strong argument in favour of exempting some portion of the benefits which the pensioner may derive from his savings or his contributions to the friendly society or trade union.
I hope if this Bill, as I sincerely trust it may, goes to Committee, that the Government will be prepared not only to give a sympathetic consideration to Clause 2, but will be prepared to consider an Amendment which will carry out the same purpose so far as the savings of friendly societies and trade union members are concerned. The second point I should like to refer to is as to Clause 3, Sub-section (2), which deals with the disqualification for receipt of pension on the ground that the claimant's wife may be in receipt of Poor Law relief. Most of us, I think, will have received from time to time accounts of hard cases of disqualification on this ground. I myself have had some very painful cases sent to me, where the pensioner has no other source of income but his pension, while his wife, not being of pensionable age, is, under dire necessity, compelled to apply for Poor Law relief, ignorant of the fact that her receiving the very small allowance from the Guardians means the destruction of her husband's right for the continuation of his pension. It seems to me that is a case to which the Government cannot be deaf, more especially when we remember the very definite pledge we as a House received from the Chancellor of the Exchequer on this point some months ago. The 2319 question was put to him by the Member for Blackburn:—Do we understand that next year, in the case of a man who receives Poor Law relief, but otherwise eligible for Old Age Pension, he will be barred if his wife, she being under seventy years of age, continues to receive Poor Law Relief.What was the answer of the Chancellor of the Exchequer?I think an amendment of the law may be required in that respect. If there is any doubt we will make it clear in the Act that there is no intention to disqualify in such cases.I understand the Act referred to was the Act for the purpose of removing the Poor Law disqualification on May 1st.That Act has now become law. This promise has not been carried out. I think that adds force to our claim that the Government to-day should be prepared to welcome this Bill, to pledge themselves to give it their support in Committee, and the necessary time when it comes back from Committee, if only to redeem the definite promise made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which would have the effect of removing these very serious hardships in the case of pensioners disqualified by their wives having to receive Poor Law relief. The third point to which I should like to refer is as to the cases dealt with in Sub-section (3) of Clause 3. Like many other Members, I have received accounts of cases which really are the most painful to be dealt with under the whole Bill. I will only trouble the House with one case. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has had to leave, because it is a point to which I wanted to call his particular attention. However, I will give it to the House, and probably some of his colleagues will convey it to him.
This is the case of a woman who was born at North Shields, and whose age is seventy-eight. She has never at any time been out of England—she has been a widow for nearly forty years. The Act of Naturalisation, I believe, was passed in 1870, and she became a widow in 1872, and remained so during the whole of the forty years. She was left with three small children, the eldest of the three being six years of age. She had to bring up those children, and to make her own living until her three boys were able to assist her when they obtained employment. She made application for a pension, as she thought she was perfectly entitled to do. The case was heard by the pension committee, and 2320 the pension was granted. Some months afterwards she got notice that her case had to be retried, and the case was tried a second time. A second time it was decided that she ought to have a pension. A few weeks afterwards she got notice inquiring as to what nationality her late husband was. She wrote back to say that he was an Austrian, and that he had been drowned at sea. The time since his death was so long that she could not say whether he had been naturalised or not. What was the result? She received an intimation that the pension had to be withdrawn. But that was not all. With that notice she was threatened with all the pains and penalties imaginable if she did not at once return the whole of the amount that she had been receiving for the thirteen months. I want hon. Members to imagine the position of this woman, who had been a widow for forty years, and who had been receiving this pension which I know for a fact was the only source of income that she had. She is now told that because there is some suspicion that her husband, who was drowned at sea forty years ago, might not have been naturalised, that her pension must cease, and that she must pay back the whole of the amount that she had received for the thirteen months.
I took the matter up, and brought the case to the notice of my right hon. Friend the President of the Local Government Board. He admitted the hardship of the case, but said that he was compelled to carry out the law, and the law of naturalisation prevented him from continuing this pension. As to the repayment, I was referred to the Treasury. I then took the matter to the Treasury, and, after pointing out the whole of the facts of the case, and the very serious hardship to this woman, and the fact that it was almost an impossibility to pay back the money she had received, the Treasury were good enough to waive the claim. I think this case very clearly proves that there is something very seriously wrong, and I am quite certain that the promoters of the Bill never intended that such a case as that which I have just described should be denied a pension that the country was prepared to give under other circumstances. Therefore, I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman now on the Front Bench (Mr. Burns) to ask him that the Government may be prepared to give this Bill not only a welcome, but to give it their support, both in Committee, Report stage, and Third Reading, in the hope that these very disgraceful anomalies that have 2321 arisen out of the administration of the Act may be for ever swept away, because I am quite certain that it is not the wish of the country as a whole that these cases of hardship should continue to exist.
§ Colonel GRIFFITH-BOSCAWEN
I am very glad to see that the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Local Government Board has come into the House, because for some time during the very interesting speech just delivered there was not a single Member on the Government Bench. Having regard to the importance of this question, and to the fact that the Government pride themselves, I daresay legitimately, on old age pensions, I do think that we might expect a little more interest in a Bill of this sort which seeks to amend certain detailed points, upon which we are all agreed, for the express purpose of removing anomalies. We are waiting on this side, and I daresay hon. Members opposite are too, with considerable interest to know what the action of the Government is going to be in this matter. This is a Bill brought in by my hon. Friend the Member for Fulham (Mr. Hayes Fisher) though the greater part of it I believe is, strictly speaking, out of order since it proposes to impose considerable charges upon the Treasury. In fact I think there is only one Clause which does not impose a charge, and that is the second Clause. It is quite clear that but for the presence of the second Clause it would not have been in order at all for us to discuss the Bill without the help of the Government, and a great deal more help than allowing us to pass the Second Reading, and witout actual positive help in Committee and willingness to provide the money, the Bill can go no further. We do want to know very much what the Government propose to do, and whether they propose to allow the Bill to be read a second time, and then to make provision in the Estimates to enable us to carry it through, or whether they are going to bring in a Bill of their own.
For my own part, I agree with my hon. Friend opposite the Member for Orkney and Shetland that it would be very unwise of hon. Members on this side and of the hon. Member for Fulham to agree to withdraw this Bill until we see what the Government propose. Here at all events is a Bill that does make provision to remove certain anomalies. It is a small Bill; the cost would not be very great. I think my hon. Friend estimated that it would be 2322 £50,000 per year. It will be far better to get this Bill through at the cost of £50,000 removing those particular anomalies, than to have the whole thing hung up indefinitely because the Government intend to bring in a bigger Bill. For that reason I sincerely hope that my hon. Friend will persist in the Bill, and that the Government will not merely allow a Second Reading, but will finance the Bill when we go into Committee. There is another point that is very interesting. It is very pleasant to find that we on this side and the Labourparty and hon. Members opposite are all in agreement for once in a way. I was amused to hear the hon. Member for Blackfriars Division (Mr. Barnes) saying that this was not a party measure, and that old age pensions never had much of a party colour at all. I quite agree, I do not think they ought to have, but I know that in the constituencies they were a very strong party cry. I do not know why because, although I was not a Member of the House for a certain time, I know that all parties in the House supported the proposal. The point is that you always say inside the House that it is not a party question, but outside you make party capital out of it. At all events I am quite prepared now to accept the statement of the hon. Member for Blackfriars, who recognises that there never was much of a party colour in the question, and that this Bill was not a party question.
§ Mr. BARNES
I never said anything of the sort. I never said old age pensions had never been a party question. What I said was that the Act of 1908 never had much party colour in it, and was generally supported by the House.
§ Colonel GRIFFITH - BOSCAWEN
I agree entirely. I do not want to misrepresent the hon. Member. Although the Bill has not much party colour, I think it was made a big party question in the country. However, we may pass from that, because nobody pretends that this particular Bill is a party measure at all. It is a Bill to remove certain definite grievances which have come to the notice of the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Hayes Fisher) and others who have been actively concerned in carrying out the Act as Members of the Old Age Pensions Committee for the county of London. Various other anomalies have been pointed out. The hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division referred to the question of annuities, pointing out that even under my hon. Friend's 2323 Bill a man with £1,000 might get a pension, while a man with a much smaller capital invested in the shape of an annuity would not get a pension. I quite agree with the hon. Member, but I would suggest that we might perfectly well pass the Second Reading of the Bill, because its title is very wide, and in Committee, if the Government are good enough to help us with money and so on, it will be possible to include some of the other anomalies which have been pointed out. There is another reason why we might proceed with the Bill now and deal with these particular anomalies. The hon. Member for Lincoln said that we ought to put the whole of these cases on an annuity basis. I do not quite understand what he meant by that, unless it was that he would further limit the amount of money that a man might possess before getting a pension at all. I am not in favour of going back in any way on the provisions of the Act of 1908 in that respect. I do not think we must draw any tighter the limits which prevent the getting of a pension at the present time. What we rather want to do is to extend the Act to cover hard cases as they arise, such as those which we have before us at the present time.
Reference has been made to the friendly societies. When the Bill was before Parliament in 1908 Amendments were moved from this side to meet that very point. It is very hard that a man who has proved himself to be of a thrifty class and who, by contributing for many years to a friendly society or to a trade union, ought to have if anything a preferential claim for a pension, should lose the advantage simply on account of that very fact. For my part, if this Bill is allowed a Second Reading I shall certainly support those hon. Members who wish to extend it to meet the hard case of the friendly societies. I could give more cases, but I do not want to occupy the time of the House by adding to the long collection already given. Ample hard cases have been produced and others can be found practically anywhere showing the necessity for the removal of particular disqualifications. Several cases have been brought to my notice under Sub-section (2), where a man or woman has been debarred from the pension on the ground that the wife or husband was in receipt of Poor Law relief. That is a very hard case. It arose, I suppose, in consequence of the removal of the Poor Law disqualifi- 2324 cation, and it was not foreseen when the original Act was passed. I think that that sort of case ought to be dealt with as quickly as possible. I sincerely trust that the Government will give every facility for carrying the Bill through Second Reading and also support us with the power of the purse in Committee.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
No one who has listened to the Debate will deny that it has been conducted in a most practical and temperate spirit. Any remarks I have to make will certainly not be in criticism of either the intention or the scope of the measure we are now considering. The hon. Member for Fulham, in introducing the Bill, said that he thought a Bill ought to have been brought in by the Government. He probably forgot that it is only four months since the last batch of what are called pauper pensioners were brought on to the pension list, and it would have been impossible until that class of case had been considered and any possible anomalies in connection therewith had been taken into consideration for the Government to have proceeded with a Bill. I have never known any large administrative measure, however carefully considered in this House, which has not resulted in administrative difficulties, and which has not been found to contain certain drafting defects. It is not until some time has elapsed that the Department concerned in the administration of the measure becomes fully acquainted with all the defects and, therefore, is in a position to propose remedies for them. I said that I did not propose in any way to object either to the intention or to the scope of the Bill.
I must confess, however, that the drafting of the measure is by no means satisfactory. That is my preliminary difficulty in accepting the Bill as it stands. At Clause 3 there is a marginal note, "removal of disqualifications for old age pensions." Clause 3 (1), as a matter of fact, does not deal with the removal of disqualifications. What it does is to modify a statutory condition of the original Act. It is not until you come to Sub-section (2) of the Clause that the removal of a disqualification is dealt with. Everybody familiar with Acts of Parliament will recognise that it is not desirable in one and the same Clause to deal with an alteration or modification of statutory conditions and the removal of disqualifications. In the same way Sub-section (3) refers to the condition of nationality. I think that also ought to be kept for a 2325 separate Clause. There are these technical defects which it would not be wise for the House to ignore in dealing with the Bill.
The hon. Member for Fulham told us that the expense of the measure would be only £40,000 a year. I am not for the moment going to argue that question with him. But there has already been a proposal from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Blackfriars, supported by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnard Castle, to increase the cost of this Bill by a proposal in connection with the extension of the working of the Friendly Societies Act. This could not be taken by itself. It would be found that this suggested extension would have to be considered in connection with similar relief to be given to friendly societies and savings banks, which would extend the cost of this proposal to much nearer three-quarters of a million than the sum mentioned. That, unfortunately, the hon. Member does not full recognise. I agree with him that if the cost is confined to friendly societies it might not be very much more than £25,000 or £30,000 more, but it is the contingent claims which would be urged with equal force, and on an equal basis, which would extend the cost of the Act to the larger sum which I have named, and which therefore the Government, at all events, are not prepared to face at the present time. So much for what I may call passing criticism on the proposal as it stands.
There are further difficulties in connection with the actual proposals of the Bill itself. We have had what hon. Gentlemen call a collection of hard cases. I do not quite think they are hard cases. I do not think "hard cases" is a proper term to use in connection with them. There is often in cases of this sort a suspicion of something which is not genuine. But I think the cases which have been put before the House do require remedy. They deserve and will receive the immediate attention of the Government, if the House will do me the kindness to listen to what I shall say a little later. Let me just before I come to what the Government proposals will be, deal with the Bill as it stands at present. Clause 2 limits the operation of the Act to persons with over £300. The framer of the Bill has already discovered that the percentage made in his proposal of 3 per cent. ought, in common fairness, to be reduced to 2½ per cent. He suggests that should be done. While he is endeavouring to remove anomalies and difficulties, he is, as a matter of 2326 fact, actually creating some. I must ask the House to read Clause 2 in connection with the Bill as it exists. Take the case of a man who, we will say, bias £290 capital. He does not come into consideration unless it can be proved that he is receiving a higher percentage. Such a man may get 10 per cent. on his capital as his income, or on loans—a not uncommon rate of interest in the class of cases to which this refers. He admits 1 per cent. Another man with a capital of £300 is rated under this Bill either at 3 per cent. or at 2½ per cent. for the purpose of receiving a pension. The man with the smaller amount of money receiving a much higher rate of interest would receive under the proposal a much higher pension than the man with a larger capital who was receiving a smaller yearly income from it would receive. That is one of the difficulties which at once suggest itself to me, and which I think fatal to the Clause as it stands.
Again, a man may be previously receiving on a sum invested at £300 a dividend of 3¼ per cent., it might be in one of the debenture stocks. He would be compulsorily rated under this proposal at 3 per cent. or 2½ per cent. At once you create a hardship which I am sure the framer of the Bill never intended. Take Clause 3, Sub-section (3), which deals with the question of nationality. It intends, of course, only to relieve cases of hardship, of which a very striking illustration has been given by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnard Castle. As a matter of fact it goes beyond that. It might, although it only intends to pay a pension to the widow, alter her status. That is not what the House desires, or what this Bill intends. Therefore it is clear that the wording of that particular Sub-section is not to be taken as it stands. Then there is the question of residence, which it is proposed to deal with in Clause 3. The greatest difficulties are here revealed. How are you going to trace the movements of a man five years previous to his application. It says:— "A person shall not be disqualified for the receipt of a pension on the ground that he has failed to fulfil the conditions as to residence prescribed by or in pursuance of Section (2) of the Act of 1908, if throughout the period of five years immediately before the date of the receipt by him of any sum on account of a pension he has lived, or has had his home, in the United Kingdom, and if 2327 after having attained the age of fifteen he has lived in the United Kingdom for a period or periods amounting in the aggregate to at least twenty years."
I confess I can see considerable administrative difficulties in tracing the movements of a man backwards and forwards all over the world. Communication in free countries is now exceedingly cheap and quick, and I see difficulty in tracing a man from place to place in a way to bring him under the operation of this Clause. Again, there is the question which would have to be established in connection with the original regulation, as to whether a man has or has not a home in a technical sense in the United Kingdom. This point has raised administrative difficulties, and it must be dealt with in any amending Act. Then take the question of Subsection (2), which deals with constructive relief. It could not be assented to as it stands as it is not complete. As we proceed to take up and examine these proposals of the Bill as they stand, and as they are drawn, I confess I do not find them satisfactory, either for the purposes of the Government, or likely to meet with the hopes of the House.
What is the Government attitude towards the proposals which have been brought to our notice to-day? If the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sevenoaks, who, I understand, is going to speak on behalf of the Front Bench opposite, will consult with the hon. Gentleman who moved the Bill, and get his consent to withdraw it, I will undertake on behalf of the Government to table in the course of the next week a Bill dealing with the proposals I am shortly going to bring before the House, and after we get the Second Reading of that Bill it can go to a Grand Committee and get through, I hope, in a short time. Let me come to the questions which I should propose should be dealt with in that way. There is first a small point in connection with the ages of people in England, Scotland, and Ireland, which I think it is necessary to amend. Apparently in England and Ireland a person can claim his or her seventieth birthday the day before they actually become seventy. In Scotland a person is not seventy until the clock has tolled the actual hour. This anomaly raises a difficulty, because in the case of people born on exactly the same day in England and Scotland, the one can get his pension a week before the other, which is an anomaly 2328 that ought to be removed, and we who desire to be just and generous to the thrifty people of Scotland propose to abolish this injustice by putting both countries on the same footing. I now come to a more serious question, the question of residence. Two points in connection with which have been brought to my notice this afternoon. The law as it stands at present is this. Sub-section (2) of Section 2 of the principal Act says:—
"The person must satisfy the pension authorities that for at least twenty years up to the date of the receipt of any sum on account of a pension he has been a British subject, and has had his residence as defined by the regulations under this Act in the United Kingdom." The regulation says that:—
"The expression 'residence' shall mean actual presence in the United Kingdom uninterrupted otherwise than by temporary absence."
And then certain conditions are laid down, amongst which are if during absence his home was in the United Kingdom:—
"Provided that a person shall not be deemed for the purposes of this provision to have had his home in the United Kingdom during any absence other than absences to which paragraphs (1) and (11) of this Regulation apply which occurred wholly or partly within the period of twenty years prescribed by Sub-section (2) of Section 2 of the Act, if the aggregate of those absences since the beginning of the earliest of them exceeds eight years."
The result of the Regulation creates hardship and anomaly which we propose to remove by limiting the requirements of residence from twenty years to twelve years, and allowing persons to count as residence periods spent abroad in the service of the Crown; or in the case of persons born in the United Kingdom; other periods not exceeding five years in the aggregate spent in the Channel Isles or the Isle of Man, or any period spent abroad during the whole of which the absentee has contributed regularly to the support of dependents in the United Kingdom.
I had a very curious and hard case brought to my notice of a man who was a miner and was absent abroad, but who during the whole of his lifetime contributed to the upkeep of his family, and because he had been absent for longer than 2329 the specified period, his widow was deprived of a pension. I think the regulation I have just mentioned would meet that case and remove a considerable amount of grievance. I then come to the question of nationality. There we propose to provide that in the case of a woman marrying an alien who at the time she was married was a British subject, the condition as to nationality should be deemed to be fulfilled if at the time of applying for the pension she was either a widow, or her marriage had been annulled, or if she had been legally separated from her husband or deserted by her husband for five or ten years. My hon. Friend behind me pointed out difficulties which might arise in connection with people either getting married or getting separated for the purpose of subsequently claiming a pension under the provisions of the Bill now before us; but I think these difficulties would be got over by the provisions I have indicated. Every Member of the House would like to see the Act so interpreted as to relieve genuine cases.
Then there is the question of what is called "constructive Poor Law relief." I rather think the principal Act never meant to touch questions of constructive relief—it meant to include it; and we desire to make the law in accordance with what we think the law should be. In other words, we should give relief to the case of a husband, even if the wife had taken Poor Law relief. But there is a certain amount of administrative difficulty. A person receives a pension on Friday of 5s.; by Saturday night he has drunk the whole of it, and may be absolutely destitute and incapable of earning wages, and goes to the workhouse. On Thursday he leaves the workhouse and claims the pension. It is very difficult to say whether he is entitled to the pension or not, but certainly he is not deserving of a pension. And it ought to be made clear, and we intend to snake it clear, that such a person should not be entitled to a pension until he puts in a fresh claim and shall have satisfied the pension committee. Then a curious case has arisen in connection with Ireland. The Summary Jurisdiction Acts do not apply to Ireland, and the consequence is that the power of imposing a fine as an alternative to a short period of imprisonment does not exist. Under the law as it stands, hard cases have arisen where on account of short sentences the option of a fine has not been given, and persons have been disqualified for a period of ten years for a pension. 2330 We desire to meet the case of Ireland. The period of ten years' disqualification, we think, might properly be reduced to some period which should lie within the discretion of the Court. That, too, will be included in the proposals we shall lay before the House.
I now come to what my hon. Friend called accumulated property. If the property exceeds £200 the person is not eligible for a pension. We do not propose to deal with the question of the limit in that way, but we take the view that the accumulated property might be placed upon annuity terms. As a matter of fact, I do not think it would be wise to refer it actually to annuity terms for this reason: As the person got older the annuity value of the accumulated sum would rise and might in the later days of life actually deprive the person of any pension at all by the rising annual value of the annuity. What we thought of doing was this. There would be a difference between man and woman in the calculation of the terms of the annuity. What we consider fair is to take the value of the sum upon a 10 per cent. basis, and, as the House will see, the accumulation of £300 on the 10 per cent. basis would not deprive a person of the pension. It might reduce the pension, but it would not deprive him of it, and in case of the accumulation of £200 it would not deprive them of the right to the full amount of the pension. We think that would operate to do away with what I think was not the original intention of the House. The intentions of the House were to relieve the needy and provide a minimum sum for maintenance in old age. Persons with an accumulation of £1,000 or more are clearly not in that position, and they have no right at the expense of other taxpayers who are quite in some cases as poor and infinitely more hardworking than themselves to take those pensions. Therefore the Government think if we proceed by way of annuity calculation, such as I have indicated, it would create no injustice to persons who had actually made thrifty provisions for their old age, and would prevent impositions, which unfortunately do sometimes exist upon the funds of the taxpayer.
Then there is one other point which we think ought to be dealt with, and it arises out of a construction of Section 4, Subsection (2), of the principal Act, which says:—
"(2) In calculating the means of a person being one of a married couple 2331 living together in the same house, the means shall not in any case be taken to be a less amount than half the total means of the couple."
The result is that if you take the case of a man with £32 whose wife has got no means the man gets no pension at all, but the woman gets 5s. Take the case of a man and his wife with a joint income of £42 a year—the man with £21 and the woman with £21—each is entitled to a pension of 5s. a week. They have only £10 a year more than the other people, and yet they get 5s. a week more pension. That was not the intention of the Act, and we propose to set that right by amending the Act to the effect that the means of each of the married couple living together shall be taken to be half the joint amount. I do not know whether I need trouble the House with one or two administrative improvements which we desire to make. One of them would be that we desire to make the pension claimable within a period of three months from the day which it is granted. Cases have arisen where the pension has never been drawn by the pensioner at all, but where the executors of the beneficiaries under the will have claimed and established that claim to the accumulation of the undrawn pension. The pension was never intended to go to beneficiaries or persons of that sort, but it, was granted simply to relieve persons in distress who would be incapable of earning more than a minimum sum and was intended to smooth the path of life in this way. We desire to amend the Act in that way.
There are one or two very small details and verbal alterations, but those are mainly the intentions of the Government, which we shall embody in a Bill, and which I will undertake shall be in the hands of the House before the close of next week, and in connection with which I think the House will allow us to take the Second Reading as a pro forma arrangement. I think I have omitted none of the proposals included in the Bill drawn by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Hayes Fisher) to whom I think all credit is due in this matter. None of the proposals of his Bill are excluded from the Bill which I shall present to the House. Under those circumstances, I hope the House will allow the Second Reading of the measure which I shall propose to go through pro forma, I will undertake to send the measure upstairs, and make use of any of the forms of the House I can to get it through all its 2332 stages at the earliest possible moment. I hope the proposals I have mentioned will be considered satisfactory, and that, under the circumstances, this Bill may be withdrawn.
§ Mr. H. W. FORSTER
We have been allowed to Debate a Bill brought before the House by the hon. Member for Fulham and the Secretary to the Treasury has reserved his bombshell until the Debate has proceeded for three hours. I think the sympathy which the Secretary to the Treasury has shown to this Bill is rather of a peculiar character. First of all, he endeavoured to get the Bill ruled out of order.
§ Mr. HOBHOUSE
I do not think that is quite a fair suggestion to make. In these matters, after all I am the representative of the Treasury, and I told the hon Member so. I took the technical objection I did, not with any intention of destroying this Bill, but to preserve the undoubted rights of any Government in connection with Money Bills.
§ Mr. FORSTER
Perhaps I carried my point too far. I admit that the Secretary to the Treasury is bound to look after the interests of the Treasury, and perhaps I was pressing my point further than it ought to have been pressed. My observation was not made with any ill-nature, and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will accept it in that spirit. At any rate the observation he has just made make it clear that although he is friendly to some of the proposals which this Bill contains, he is anxious that the Bill should not be read a second time this afternoon, and he suggests that this measure should be withdrawn in order that the Government may bring in a Bill in a few days' time covering some of the ground covered by this Bill, but making provision which goes beyond some of the provisions which this measure contains. In other words, he proposes to use the time of a private Members' day for what is, after all, the Second Reading of a Government Bill. I think the proposal which the right hon. Gentleman has made is not one that can be in any way acceptable to my hon. Friends who have brought this Bill before the House. After all, the right hon. Gentleman pointed out that none of the proposals which are contained in the Bill are foreign or hostile to the Bill which he proposes to introduce. I think we may say, in all fairness, that none of the proposals he proposes to incorporate in the measure he intends to 2333 introduce are inimical to the proposals contained in this Bill.
He commented upon some of the Clauses of the Bill, and pointed out some defects in drafting and one or two defects of a minor character in some of the proposals that are made. After all, those are defects that could be remedied and put right in Committee. I do not think the suggestion that we should withdraw this Bill in order to let the Government bring in their Bill some night after eleven o'clock would be agreeable to those who sit on this side. If we pass the Second Reading of this Bill this afternoon, there is nothing to prevent the right hon. Gentleman from bringing in his Bill next week. The mere fact that he has agreed to the passage of the Bill which my hon. Friend has brought forward would give him an even greater claim on the consideration and the goodwill of Members who sit on this side of the House than if he had left any sense, I will not say of unfairness, but of a want of consideration shown by him to-day. The title of this Bill is fully wide enough to admit all the Amendments the Government may feel necessary in order to bring the measure into conformity with the proposals which the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has just laid before the House. I do not propose to examine the proposals that he made, because, after all, some of them go a good deal beyond the proposals of the Bill now before us. I did not gather from him whether or not the Government propose to deal with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Worthington-Evans), and which really requires dealing with in any Amendment of the Bill. The amount received by way of benefit from a friendly society or a trade union up to the sum of 5s. a week should not be counted as income for pension purposes, just the same as it is now not counted as income for parochial purposes. I rather gathered from what the Financial Secretary to the Treasury said the Government do not propose to deal with that question. I think it ought to be dealt with. One of the objects of the grant of an old age pension should be the encouragement of thrift, and the operations of the Act should not be confined merely and solely to remedying the state of destitution.
I am not quite sure I agree as fully as the Secretary to the Treasury would like to the suggestion he has made for putting all accumulated savings upon an annuity 2334 basis. I grant there is a good deal to be said for the proposal he has made, but I cannot be taken as agreeing to so high a rate of interest as 10 per cent., or anything like it. I think I have said enough to make it clear to the House the course the right hon. Gentleman has suggested is not one that commends itself to my hon. Friends. I cannot believe the Financial Secretary to the Treasury would go so far as to divide the House against the Second Reading of this Bill, because I do not think it would affect his position in any way whatever if this Bill should be given a Second Reading. The Government pledge themselves to bring in a Bill within the next ten days. Why should not the two Bills go to the same Standing Committee? All the Standing Committees, I think, are so full of work now that if this Bill be passed to-day it cannot be dealt with in Committee for at least ten days. That will give the Government the opportunity of sending their Bill to the same Committee. I think the House must agree that would be a sensible course, and it is a course which I hope the Government will take.
§ Mr. J. H. THOMAS
I join in the suggestion made by the hon. Member who has just sat down, and I think the Government might reasonably give a Second Reading to this Bill, and consider it and the Bill they are bringing in together. I rise, however, to press upon the Government the advisability of considering the real hardship encountered to-day under the provisions of the present Act by members of friendly societies. I was compelled as a condition of my employment to subscribe ls. 4d. a week to a superannuation fund. It was deducted by my employer. There are thousands of men to-day who are contributing 2s. per week to a superannuation fund, and at the age of sixty-five or seventy they will draw a pension of 13s. or 14s. a week. I submit it is neither fair or equitable that the Government should penalise men who have paid these large contributions and have made great sacrifices and place them on the same footing as men who have never contributed towards a pension. The object for those responsible for the National Insurance Bill is to prevent malingering and to encourage thrift, and I certainly think they have an opportunity here in that particular direction. For that reason I rise to urge the Government to give this Bill a Second Reading, and to let their amending Bill be considered with it.
2335 I do ask them to realise the great hardship which is inflicted to-day on the members of friendly societies by the injustice I have already pointed out.
§ Mr. DUNCAN MILLAR
It has been made perfectly clear by those who have spoken on both sides that the amendment of the Old Age Pensions Act of 1908 is a matter which ought to be dealt with immediately. At the present time there are considerable blots on the working of the Act. It appears to me that while the proposals made by the hon. Member who introduced this Bill are deserving of the most careful consideration, and while every credit should be given to its supporters for the objects they have in view, it is clear from the statement of the Secretary to the Treasury that the Government contemplate a much more extensive measure, which will doubtless cover the points in which the hon. Members opposite are especially interested. Seeing that the Government are responsible for the finance of this measure, I think it is only appropriate that they should be allowed to bring in their Bill and take control of the situation. Hon. Members have referred to various grievances which have come under their notice in their own constituencies. We have all had experience of these things. We all know how the working of this Act has been rendered somewhat difficult in certain instances. But it is only right to pay a tribute to the sympathetic manner in which the Local Government Board have sought to interpret its provisions.
I am glad to think that to-day this question is being approached in a different fashion to which it was three years ago. We were accustomed to hear from hon. Members opposite in those days a great deal about the defects of the Old Age Pensions Act. Those defects were magnified at every point, and its advantages were somewhat minimised. I am glad now that we have a general recognition from hon. Members of the great advantage of the Act, and I am glad also that they are approaching this question with a very serious and honest desire to see the Act brought into better working order. I have listened with great interest to the statement of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I think he has dealt with the question in a very sympathetic spirit, and those of us who have carefully followed what he said, particularly in regard to the conditions of residence and 2336 with respect to the accumulation of property, must realise that his proposals were extremely sound and went to the root of the question. I think on these two matters especially he has given a distinct answer to the difficulties of hon. Gentlemen opposite; he has indeed gone a great deal further than they, and ha has made the position quite secure. I think we are all agreed that the Bill introduced by hon. Members opposite does not go far enough to meet all the cases that have arisen. I think, too, it would be very inconvenient for this Bill to be taken in Committee as the foundation of the very much larger measure which requires to be introduced to deal with questions which have not been brought within the scope of this Bill. I, therefore, am inclined to support the request that has been made that this Bill should be withdrawn on the ground that it lies with the Government to ensure the better working of the Old Age Pensions Act. The Government have shown their sincerity throughout; they have been proceeding from stage to stage; they have been removing disqualification after disqualification; they are pledged to deal with this matter at the earliest possible moment. They ought to have control of it because it raises very serious questions of finance, which it is only right should be handled in the form of a Government measure. I therefore hope the hon. Member will withdraw his Bill in order that the Government measure may be considered.
§ Mr. LANE-FOX
The hon. Gentleman has appealed to us to allow the Government to produce their Bill. I would suggest that there is nothing in the proposal that this Bill should have a Second Reading which will prevent the Government producing their measure. All we ask is that we shall have a guarantee that this measure, so far as it goes, shall be allowed to proceed to a Second Reading. The Government will then be in an absolutely free position. They will be able to take this as a Second Reading stage, and they can extend the scope of the Bill and include in it the provisions they propose to insert in their own measure. Give us a Second Reading of this Bill at all events. It would be some guarantee that this question is going to be really seriously considered, and, even if the Government found it impossible to proceed further with it this Session, we should still be able to point to the registered opinion of the House as 2337 an inducement to carry this matter a further stage. I cannot understand the position of the Government in this matter. They seem to be taking up a very "dog-in-the-manger" attitude; they are not prepared apparently to allow us to do anything. Considering that this is not a party measure, and that, although it has been brought in by an hon. Member on this side, it has been seconded and is backed by a large number of hon. Members on the other side, I cannot see why the Government should take up this extreme position.
I remember the Bill of 1907, and I should like to contrast the behaviour of the Government of that day with the behaviour of the present Government. The President of the Local Government Board was the spokesman of the Government when the earlier Bill, that of Mr. Lever, was brought in. He admitted that it was not very workable, he generally threw cold water upon it, but he did not adopt the attitude which has been adopted this afternoon; he confined his objections to small points. He did not object to the Bill in toto, but he agreed with its principle. That is the line which the Government should have adopted on the present occasion. On that occasion we accepted an assurance from the President of the Local Government Board that the Bill was impossible, and some of us were rash enough to vote against it. I did so, and ever since my action has been quoted against me in my own Constituency. I have been taunted with the fact that I voted against old age pensions. Everywhere I am asked whether it is not a fact that, in 1907, I voted against old age pensions, and although I may endeavour to explain that it was an impossible Bill, and was declared by every spokesman to be impossible, I am told that that is no answer to the charge brought against me. That only confirms in my mind the recollection of what happened on that occasion There was a Bill which had every possible defect. The Government were prepared to vote for the principle. Here is a Bill with the main principles of which the Government are absolutely agreed. But the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Treasury is picking the smallest possible holes in that he objects to the wording, to the marginal notes, and to the drafting, but he has really no substantial objection to it. All I can say is that the right hon. Gentleman did not impress the House at all, because that statement is not only made by 2338 me, but also on the other side of the House. It was thought that his objections were of a very small character, and there is nothing in this Bill to prevent him from building upon it a structure which may be more convenient or more workable. If any great objections in principle are to be found against this Bill, then let us have them from the Government Bench, but I venture to think, on the statement made by the Secretary to the Treasury, that there is nothing which would influence the House to vote against this Bill. I really cannot think that the Government mean to defeat the measure, because it will not in any way fetter or hamper their action, and would not prevent them from doing what they think best in the future. I only hope that those who have brought forward this proposal will, if the Bill is resisted, insist upon going to a Division, because then they will be right, and will carry out the pledges which they have given.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Lloyd George)
Fortunately there is no real difference of opinion between the two sides of the House in reference to the substance of this matter, and when we are all agreed in substance there ought to be no difficulty in regard to form. I would therefore like to make a suggestion. We are advised that the Bill in its present form will not carry out effectively the purpose which the promoters have in view, and inasmuch as there is no difference of opinion as to the object to be attained I think the question of form could be very easily settled in another place. And my suggestion is this. We propose to bring in a Bill which deals with exactly the same purposes as this. Neither of the two Bills can be read without a Resolution in Committee in regard to finance. That is obviously a matter which is in the hands of those who arrange the time of the House, and inasmuch as the Government are not only willing, but are exceedingly anxious, that there should be an amendment of the law on these lines, we propose to find time for the purpose of discussing the finance resolution, and my suggestion is this—
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to explain and will just listen, because I am going, first of all, to say that the Government are perfectly prepared, as far as they are concerned, to assent to the Second Reading of 2339 the Bill, but I think we are entitled to ask for some consideration from hon. Members on the other side as a return for that, and all the consideration we ask for is in regard to time. If hon. Members opposite will undertake that the financial resolution can be passed at a time which is convenient to the Government and without any unreasonable discussion, my suggestion can be carried out. After all the discussion is on purely a financial resolution to enable the Committee upstairs to discuss the problem. It is to that extent a matter of form, and therefore my suggestion is that we should assent to the Second Reading of the Bill on the understanding that a Second Reading should be given to our Bill pro forma, and that they both should go upstairs, and that the financial resolution should also be carried pro forma in order that the Committee upstairs can discuss the matter authoritatively. What we really want to know is whether there is a real desire to get this Bill carried in the best form upstairs if the Government will interpose no obstacle. But I believe we are entitled to ask hon. Members opposite to interpose no obstacle in our way also. That is really all we ask.
The Noble Lord opposite evidently thinks I am offering something very unreasonable, but all I want is for this subject to be taken and discussed fully upstairs. We are of opinion, upon the advice of those we are bound to refer to, that the Bill in its present form does not carry out the purpose which its promoters have in view. Therefore, we want the other Bill to go upstairs also, so that the two Bills may be considered by the Committee, and if the only way in which this Bill could be carried into effect would be by moving the omission of Clauses 1, 2, and 3, and putting in something else to carry out the same object in a different form that that should be done. I am not expressing any opinion upon that. All I wish is that the Committee should be in a position to examine the proposals upstairs and that that should be done in such a way as the time of the House should not be unduly taken up. If hon. Members assent to that course I will consent to the Second Reading and to find time for the resolution.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
I have no right t o speak except by the leave of the House, but so far as I am concerned I should be only too glad to fall in with the proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that 2340 this Bill should be read a second time. I cannot forego that because it asserts the principle which underlies the Bill, and indeed too something more than the principle. I am willing to agree that this Bill should be read a second time and that so should also the Bill of the Government if it covers only the points which are dealt with, and, of course, it is not intended that they should be swallowed up in a very large Bill.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
Even if a few additional points were put in by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary to the Treasury then that would not justify the House in occupying any time which was available to the Government in discussing the merits of this Bill.
§ Mr. HAYES FISHER
Or the financial resolution either, and I agree that the time of the House should not be occupied in the discussion of this Bill or of the financial resolution necessary to both Bills, but that both Bills should go upstairs and then be considered by the Committee. For my part I am so anxious that these grievances should be relieved that I care not which of these two measures should be carried. I am anxious to carry the principle of this Bill but I care nothing for the credit of it. I am only anxious that this measure, or that of the Government, shall be placed upon the Statute Book.
§ Sir G. DOUGHTY
All I have to say is that we are very much indebted to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the excellent suggestion he has made, and I think our leaders on this side would be very well advised if they fell in with the suggestion, so that this Bill or the Government Bill may become permanent law this Session. We have already had a Second Reading speech from the Secretary to the Treasury, and the House is now well informed as to what the views of the Government are It seems to me that if we get a Second Reading of this Bill and it goes to a Committee upstairs with the Government Bill there should be no difficulty out of the two of evolving a splendid measure to meet the difficulties which have arisen in the working of the. Old Age Pensions Act. There is, however, one question which I should like to refer 2341 to. The Secretary to the Treasury appeared to imply that the Government did not intend to do anything in the direction of relieving the undoubted and serious grievance of the members of the friendly societies and the trade societies of this country. I know, however, that whatever other difficulties may have arisen under the Old Age Pensions Act it is undoubtedly a very unfair thing that you should penalise thrift and industry by taking advantage of the savings of men who have joined friendly societies, and in that way not allowing them the full advantage of their thrift. I understood the Secretary to the Treasury to say that this was a very expensive suggestion, and, being so expensive, he was not willing in this amending Bill to deal with the question of friendly societies. I hope I am mistaken in that supposition, and I am sure the House would he delighted and much relieved, especially the Labour Members, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer could tell us that this question would be dealt with in this amending Bill.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I think on the whole it is substantially solved by the Insurance Bill. Eventually the old age pension and the allowance for invalidity will be merged, and that practically solves the difficulty when a man may be receiving benefit from a friendly society and disablement allowance as well.
§ Sir G. DOUGHTY
I am very much obliged for the suggestion. As far as I have been able to compare the two Bills I am afraid it does not altogether meet the case. If it does I am sure everyone will be very glad, but if it does not, will the Chancellor of the Exchequer promise that Amendments shall be proposed in this Bill which will give men who have joined friendly societies the full advantage of old age pensions as well as the money they have saved from year to year in connection with their friendly societies?
§ Mr. TIMOTHY DAVIES
I am very glad to be here to support the Bill, and very glad it is brought in by my hon. Friend (Mr. Hayes Fisher). This is the first time I have had the honour to be here to support any Bill which he has brought in. We have generally found ourselves voting in opposite directions. I am glad the Government has promised to give facilities to the Bill, and I am very glad to hear from the speech of the Secretary to the Treasury that other problems are 2342 to be dealt with in the Government Bill, although there are very important points dealt with in this Bill in Clause 3.
§ Lord HUGH CECIL
The Chancellor of the Exchequer is a past master in proposing, in the most conciliatory manner, understandings to facilitate the business of the House, and I need not say I have heard his suggestion with great pleasure. As this is an arrangement which requires, I apprehend, the assent of every individual Member of the House, it is rather a difficult one to carry out. I do not think it will be found practically possible to take the very important business which the Chancellor suggests after eleven o'clock. I do not honestly think it will be reasonable. The Secretary to the Treasury has made a very interesting speech, which was really in effect a speech introducing a new Bill. The right hon. Gentleman, moreover, said, and I have no doubt it was true, that some of the suggestions which have been made, especially upon the Labour Benches, would involve very considerable expenditure—he said £750,000—and for that reason the Government did not propose to go so far as those suggestions. Therefore it is obvious that when the financial Resolution comes to be moved it will decide more than the Second Reading of this Bill or of the Government Bill. It will decide not merely what shall be in the Bill, but what shall not be in the Bill.
It is clear that, of course, no Bill can deal with public money except where there is a financial Resolution, and of course it cannot go beyond the financial Resolution. A financial Resolution can only be moved by the Government, therefore the Government have absolute control over the matter, and it will be very important that on the financial Resolution there should be a sufficient discussion to raise those points which do not fall within the Bill, and which hon. Members on this side or on that side reasonably think might come within the Bill, because that is the only opportunity of raising those points at all. They cannot be otherwise raised except on the financial Resolution, because the financial Resolution will shut them out altogether. Therefore, I think there ought to be a reasonable discussion at a convenient time on the financial Resolution or on the Government Bill, in so far as the Government Bill does not cover precisely the same ground as the present Bill. If the Government would put down their Bill at a convenient time I do not believe there is the slightest intention or desire to pro- 2343 long the discussion unreasonably. I merely wanted to say a word of caution that they should not take it after eleven o'clock.
Perhaps I might say one word about the merits of the Bill. It has been received with very great approbation on both sides of the House, and I think my hon. Friend has every right to congratulate himself on having initiated a discussion which must be of great value to the Government and the House on subsequent occasions in dealing with this subject. There was a very important observation made by the hon. Member (Mr. Barnes) at an earlier period of the Debate, when the House was not so full as it is now. He said, speaking for himself, and I understand for many of his friends, he thought the basis of legislation on this topic ought to go further than the basis of the principal Act or of this Bill. He said it ought to depend on civic right. I think that is a point of principle on which there is sharp disagreement, not on lines of party, but on lines running across the House. In my view, old age pensions are a most excellent thing as long as they are on a compassionate basis, as long as the object is to relieve cases of distress, and they begin to be mistaken as soon as they are placed on a basis of civic right. I would gladly see the law of old age pensions amended to meet hard cases such as are contemplated in this Bill, where persons really distressed and really under great financial difficulties are helped in their declining years by the State, but are shut out by some disqualification not contemplated when the principal Act was passed.
On the other hand, it seems to me almost scandalous that well-to-do and even wealthy people should receive assistance from the taxpayer. I heard the other day of the case of a man who was very well-to-do, in very thriving circumstances—not a millionaire, but quite a rich man, whose mother, as she had technically no means, was in the enjoyment of an old age pension. I think that is a very improper thing. The State ought to be able to come on the children of parents who receive old age pensions, where they are well-to-do, and oblige them to bear the cost. The whole principle of the Poor Law was that a man was bound to support his children, and even his grandchildren, and they could not come on the rates as long as the father or the grandfather was able to support them. I think a similar principle ought to be applied in the case 2344 of old age pensions. It ought to be the, duty of well-to-do persons to support either their ascendants or their descendants, and persons who have relations of that nature ought not to be candidates for old age pensions defrayed by the State.
I do not think I ever heard a speech of the right hon. Gentleman with which I was in such agreement as the concluding passage on the Budget, though I noticed with some regret that I was the only person who cheered him. The right hon. Gentleman then said we must cut our coat according to our cloth, and must not consider merely whether a thing was desirable in itself, but whether we could afford it—a most just and wholesome observation, though whether it is quite appropriate to a Minister who is announcing payment of Members I am not quite certain. I hope the Government Bill will deal with both sides of the problem, and extend the benefit of the old age pension to all distressed persons who are now, as it were, accidentally shut out, and withhold the benefit of the old age pensions from well-to-do persons whom Parliament never intended to enjoy the assistance of the State. I hope the Bill will be read a Second time.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
I think I ought now to reply to the observations which the Noble Lord made. He appealed to the Government to give some opportunity at a reasonable hour for discussing these propositions if the House desires to do so, and said that the discussion would be a short one.
§ Mr. LLOYD GEORGE
Well, I think he is a very good judge on that subject, and I know perfectly well that when he says it will be a short discussion it will be carried out in a businesslike spirit. The difficulty of the question is very considerable, and I think it is quite a reasonable appeal to make. Of course it is not for me to say, in the absence of the Prime Minister, that such an opportunity will be given, but I shall be very pleased to lay the matter before him, and if there be a desire on both sides of the House that a Bill of this kind should be facilitated, I think we may trust absolutely to the general feeling of the House. I shall report the matter to the Prime Minister, and I have no doubt he will endeavour to meet the views expressed by the Noble Lord (Lord Hugh Cecil) and by the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury).
§ Mr. FFRENCH
I think the only objection to this Bill is that it does not go far enough. A case recently occurred in my Constituency which would not come under the Bill at all. It is the case of a poor man who had worked for a long time for farmers. He was in the habit of going round to those who had formerly been his fellow-labourers and getting a little assistance from them. For doing this he was arrested by the police and taken to petty sessions, and the magistrates, having no option to inflict a fine, sent the poor man to gaol for a few days, and he was thereby rendered ineligible for an old age pension. I asked some questions on the matter, which were answered by the Secretary to the Treasury, who is a very hardhearted man. He could not see his way to allow this poor old man a pension. I think whichever Bill is proceeded with a Clause should be inserted to deal with cases of that kind.
§ 4.0 P.M.
§ Mr. PETO
I only rise to state one point, as I may have no other opportunity of doing so. In the Bill of the Government, as outlined by the Secretary to the Treasury, which is to be brought in in about ten days, the points raised by the hon. Member who introduced this Bill will be dealt. with. That appeared to be clear from the right hon. Gentleman's statement. The right hon. Gentleman dealt with the four main points dealt with in this Bill. Some of them are to be dealt with in a different way in the Government Bill, but except in respect of some small additions the Government proposals proceed roughly on the same lines. The proposals of the Government in regard to Clause 2 of this Bill are, if I understand the explanation properly, in the nature of limiting the amount of capital which a person may possess who claims an old age pension, but they do not go at all into the other question which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester, namely, the question of friendly societies. He was perfectly clear on that point. If it was only the £20,000 or £30,000 concerning the friendly societies he said there would be much to be said for the proposal, but he added that the Government could not deal with friendly societies only, and leave out building societies, trade unions, and other organisations. If these were included the amount would be £750,000. There were no arguments put forward by the Secretary to the Treasury except as regards pounds, 2346 shillings, and pence, and that the cost would be too much. The hon. Member for the Blackfriars Division (Mr. Barnes), in speaking on the question of the amount of capital which a person might fairly have of his own. and still be entitled to an old age pension, said that so far as he was concerned he would not limit it to £1,000 or even £2,000. I draw a distinction between these two questions—the question. of an annuity which has gradually accumulated by small weekly payments through a long life, necessarily of thrift and industry, and the question of the capital some person may find himself possessed of at fifty, sixty, or seventy years of age, and which may come to him in various ways. I do not think anyone has dealt with the point I wish to make. It may be that a legacy has been left to someone. I know a case in which a windfall came quite late in life. The point I wish to put is this. I am not in the position of hon. Members who are discussing what should be the measure dealt out to the poor people for whom they plead. I wish to put the case from the point of view of the poor people themselves. There is a strong feeling among the poor in the agricultural districts that it is a very unjust and unfair thing that people who possess quite a considerable capital which, perhaps, they have inherited or accumulated, should be entitled to old age pensions, while other people, who have been thrifty all through their lives, and who have slowly put by small sums week by week, are put on a different footing. I think, so far as I understood the Secretary to the Treasury, the Government propose to do what they ought not to do and to leave undone that which they ought to do. I daresay the hon. Member for the Blackfriars division would go a step further and say that they ought to do both. My view is that under the provisions of the Bill, together with those of the Act of 1908, a person with an income from capital of £21 10s. would be entitled to receive a full pension. That income would mean at 3 per cent. a capital of £700. That capital sum may very likely be not directly due to the industry of the person, but may be acquired in another way. On the other question of small annuities received direct as the results of their own thrift, I think they should be in a category altogether by themselves and separate from the capital sums people are possessed of. I think if a reasonable rate is settled of 2 or 3 per cent., then, in conjunction with the Schedule of the 1908 2347 Act, that would be a fair exemption to make in respect of capital sums. But I would certainly urge that the door should not be shut to a full discussion in Committee of the exclusion of all questions of the annuities derived from friendly societies and trade unions, and so forth The Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University pointed out it would be necessary to have a financial resolution sufficiently wide in scope to admit of that. On the main question of the procedure of the House I hope that we shall proceed to divide, if it is found necessary, if there is any question of opposition to the proposals in the four corners of the Bill. Hon. Members who have taken part in the Debate and others may have differences of opinion as to how far the second or third Clauses in this Bill would meet the exigencies of the case, and the cases of hardship that have bean quoted to the House and how far the proposals shadowed forth by the Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Hobe house) would do so. But undoubtedly this Bill holds the field. It has been put forward by the hon. Member for Fulham (Mr. Hayes Fisher) and Seconded by an hon. Member on the other side of the House. and I certainly think that we are not only entitled to have it debated here as it has been debated this afternoon, but referred to a Committee. As the title imports, it is wide enough to include all possible Amendments in the direction of carrying out the intentions of the Government. Therefore I support the view put forward by the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. H. W. Forster) and the Noble Lord the Member for Oxford University, and I hope that the Bill will be allowed to have a Second Reading and that it will be carried to a Division if necessary.
The Noble Lord the Member for the University of Oxford, has referred to the financial resolution limiting the discussion of the Grand Committee to the amount of money that can be allocated and paid, therefore more time ought to be allowed in this House for the discussion of the financial resolution than has been forthcoming. I think that that has already been met to a large extent by what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said, and also by the fact that we have already had a considerable discussion on this particular point of the extension beyond the amount already suggested by the Government. Member after Member on that side of the House has got up and sug- 2348 gested the expenditure of largely increased sums of public money, and hardly a single Member in this House, except the Noble Lord himself, has yet suggested the lessening of the amount of public money that is to be spent under the Old Age Pensions Act. It is a very painful task to oppose the granting of public money to old people under any circumstances whatever. But I venture to suggest that even if the amount allocated by the Government is not as much as some Members desire to see, it is also, I think, a larger amount than others would wish to see it. There are Amendments, one or two suggested by the Noble Lord himself, which should be made to ensure not only that public money goes to those for whom it is intended, but that it does not go to those for whom it is not intended. Cases have been referred to of men who have a large sum of capital invested. I venture to suggest that the Government proposals for dealing with such cases are very much better than those laid down in this Bill. Then there are the cases of men who, shortly before they reach the old age pension, divest themselves of a large amount of property by handing their business over to a son or a daughter. Cases of that kind should be dealt with in the Bill, and, if so, then there will be a lessening in some directions of the amount which the Government will have to pay, and possibly an extension in other direction beyond what the Government have allowed.
As to the annuities, we have heard a great deal about the friendly societies. I suggest that there is not much substance in that case. There was a very great deal in that case before it was met by the Government proposals for dealing with large capital sums. It is a gross anomaly that one man with a large sum of money invested should receive the old age pension, and that another man who has subscribed year after year to a friendly society should not receive it. The anomaly is that the former should receive the pension, and that the other should not. I think the Government are proposing to take the right line in limiting the amount which is paid in certain instances, and in not paying it to those who have no particular claim to the pension. I venture to suggest that there should be some possible extension of the Old Age Pensions Act, and that there should not be any great amount of time spent on the Second Reading of the Government measure, or on the financial proposals in connection with this 2349 subject. As to the title of the Government Bill, I submit that it should be wide enough to allow of complete amendment, just as much as the Bill now before the House. We ought to have some assurance from the Minister that there will be opportunity to move Amendments on the Government Bill just as we would be allowed to submit them on this Bill.
§ Mr. GRETTON
I hope the Government will give consideration to the two grievances which have been referred to, and which apparently are not covered by this Bill. I do not think they are very widespread, but they press very hardly where they do occur. There is the case of the British seaman, who, under the terms of this Bill would not get his pension, and many seamen are as greatly in need of the pension as anybody else. There are cases of men, I know of several personally, who have served in non-pensionable offices in the Colonies, in India, or elsewhere, and who, having spent a large portion of their lives, always under the British flag in doing the work of Great Britain across the sea, at the end are not qualified for pensions in connection with the offices which they have held. They come home badly in need of a pension, and it seems to me that British subjects who have served under the British flag in foreign countries should not lose the right to pension through mere oversight. I believe the House will agree that these grievances should receive consideration. I will not detain the House by speaking of the grievance which has just been referred to by the hon. Gentleman opposite, for it is one which I am quite sure will receive the consideration of the Committee which will sit on these two Bills. I am sure both sides of the House are indebted to my hon. Friend for having brought forward this Bill, and given the House of Commons an opportunity of dealing with this important subject of old age pensions and removing some of the difficulties which are bound to occur in a measure passed somewhat hastily.
Mr. TYSON WILSON
The discussion which we have heard has been marked by the absence of party feeling, and it appears to me that the institutions of this country would make greater progress if this were more frequently our experience. I hope the Government will very seriously consider the question of the friendly societies. I am quite certain they are worthy of some concessions, particularly seeing that there are many anomalies in the Act.
2350 I think there are many cases where a pension is granted and where, if you had some system whereby the amount would be dealt with in the manner suggested by the Secretary to the Treasury, there would be a saving which to some extent would meet the expenditure of granting a concession to the friendly societies. I do not agree that the concession would cost anything like what the Secretary to the Treasury suggested, namely, three-quarters of a million. I do hope a concession will be made. I heard of a very ingenious method of getting over the difficulty of an Englishwoman married to an alien. I heard of a case where a woman had married an alien who died about twenty years ago. She applied and failed to get a pension, but, having married an Englishman she applied again and got the pension. She got over the difficulty in that way, and I think it is quite a legitimate way of doing it. I welcome the introduction of this Bill, and I think those who are responsible for its introduction deserve the thanks of the poorer classes of this country.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
I rise for the purpose of urging on the Government one point, and one point only—and that is that they should favourably consider the suggestion of the hon. Member for Colchester (Mr. Worthington-Evans), to the effect that in estimating the income of persons entitled to old age pensions they should not take into account any sums which those persons receive from friendly societies. I do think this is an important point. We in this House ought to do our utmost to stimulate and not to penalise thrift, and more especially that form of thrift which makes itself felt, and beneficially felt, throughout the country in the form of contributions to our friendly societies. This concession would cost a small sum of money, and there is an actual precedent for dealing with friendly societies on a special footing in the Poor Law Relief Act. I do urge on the Government when they bring in the financial resolution necessary to found their Bill to take care that they leave a margin which will enable the House, if it so thinks proper, to pass an Amendment of this character.
§ Mr. CHARLES BATHURST
I should like, having been the chairman of an old age pension committee, to draw the attention of the House to the fact that undoubtedly, and particularly in the country districts, there is as great a sense of injustice felt amongst the poor people if pensions are given to persons who ought not 2351 to receive them as if they are denied to persons who ought to receive them. I think the matter has already been referred to on both sides, but I should like to bear practical testimony to cases of farmers and other well-to-do tradespeople. When they retire from business handing over the whole of their property, which may be very considerable, to a son who continues to carry on the business, and divesting themselves of the whole of considerable property and claiming pensions from the pension committee. This point is one which can be emphasised, I am sure, by all those who have taken part in the administration of the Act as members of old age pensions committees. What I fear is that if small alterations are to be made in the Act as it is to-day there is a likelihood of larger alterations being deferred for a considerable time. I suggest that the Government should make their Bill sufficiently comprehensive to include within it some provision to prevent such cases as I have referred to obtaining benefit which it was never originally intended that they should get. The only other point I wish to refer to is the suggestion of the Secretary to the Treasury that in this Bill the wife of an alien is to be entitled to a pension if the marriage has been annulled. I am one of those who do not desire to see a premium placed upon the nullification of marriage, especially bearing in mind the ease with which this process can be carried out in the United States and elsewhere. I see a possibility, if such a provision is introduced into the Bill, of its becoming an actual premium upon the nullification of marriage in order to ensure an old age pension for the wife. I should like the Government to bear in mind the first matter of which I spoke, because it arouses a large amount of feeling in agricultural districts that farmers' mothers and fathers who have retired from business should be in receipt of pensions, although they are known to be living in a condition not merely of comfort but of luxury, whereas many of their labourers, in a very different social position, on reaching old age are disentitled to pensions, owing to their having provided for themselves through friendly societies or otherwise.
§ Mr. BOOTH
I quite appreciate the point that this Bill does not raise any party or really controversial question, and I am glad that we have had one Friday devoted to something useful. At the same time it is very inconvenient that the House should 2352 be in the grave fix in which it is placed. As I understand, a considerable portion of this Bill cannot be taken in Committee, but must be ruled out of order. Many of us who wish to extend its scope will not have a chance of going on the Grand Committee. If it were a Government Bill we could make our suggestions to the Minister in charge, who would have authority to bring in a resolution dealing with the increased cost. But the hon. Member for Fulham will not be in that position. Another grave inconvenience is that the hon. Members responsible for the Bill, after having brought it forward, have made themselves scarce, and they are not here to receive suggestions. During a large part of the afternoon there has not been a quorum present. That is not the way to get facilities from the Government for a deserving Bill. I wish hon. Members would be a little more considerate to the House. I have an important suggestion to make relating to the opposite sex. I hinted to the hon. Member for Fulham that he had only men in his mind. I wish the Bill to look after the interests of the elderly women. They are not in this House, they will not be on the Grand Committee, they are complaining in every conceivable way that their interests are neglected by the male sex, and I am not at all sure that they will get justice unless someone draws attention to their case.
I hope someone will convey my suggestion to the hon. Member for Fulham. In reference to the Clause dealing with a man residing abroad, the argument put forward was that he contributed to the rates, taxes, and business of that other country, and that therefore he ought not to be entitled to a pension if he came back to this country. The opposite is a case with women. I have had brought under my notice cases to my mind very painful and deserving. As a rule, when a woman goes to a colony, it is not for herself, and she comes back helpless. She goes out to nurse a child or a grandchild, or in order to have a home. When that child or grandchild dies, in Australia it may be, and the poor old lady comes back to look after another grandchild here who has grown a little older, she is at a disadvantage. She is disqualified for a pension. With a man who goes out, deserting his native land to seek his fortune elsewhere, it is not so. If you make the same regulations apply to both sexes in my opinion you will do a great injustice to the women of this country. I put that point. I will have no chance in Grand 2353 Committee; nobody seems to want the independent man on a Grand Committee, and I have no particular faith in them at all. I have much more faith in the general sense of right and justice across the floor of the House. The promoters of the Bill are not here to listen to me, but if they do not amend this Bill in the interests of the old women, so that when they return they shall receive their pension, I can promise them a very warm time on the Report stage.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I just wish to reply to a point advanced by the hon. Gentleman opposite. He cited the case of persons who transferred their property to their children in order to qualify for an old age pension. The hon. Gentleman does not seem to be aware of the fact, but that is definitely provided against in the original Act.
§ Mr. C. BATHURST
That is perfectly true, but it is almost impossible in the course of investigation to prove when and under what circumstances the transfer has taken place.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I do not think it requires any different words in order to make it any more definite than are the words in the present Act. It there says, Section (4), Sub-section (3):—
"If it appears that any person has directly or indirectly deprived himself of any income or property in order to qualify himself for the receipt of an old age pension, or for the receipt of an old age pension at a higher rate than that to which he would otherwise be entitled under this Act, that income or the yearly value of that property shall, for the purposes of this Section, be taken to be part of the means of that person."
§ Mr. C. BATHURST
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to interrupt, it is almost impossible to say when the divesting took place in order that the person might qualify.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Quite so. But I am afraid that the proposers have not indicated any words that will meet the case. I think that if these words do not apply it will be impossible to find any that will.
§ Mr. C. BATHURST
Might I suggest that if the Government are going to bring in an amending supplementary Bill, that they might with advantage amend that particular section to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, so as to make it 2354 impossible under all circumstances for such a transfer to take place?
§ Dr. CHAPPLE
I rise to correct an impression conveyed by the remark of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury with regard to old age pensions in New Zealand. The right hon. Gentleman said that in New Zealand a man in possession of £200 could not obtain a pension. That is not the case. He may be in possession of £260 and property in addition. He may own his house, and if he transfers that house to the public trustee he may qualify, notwithstanding the possession, and he may reside in his house so transferred free of rent. That is to say, he may have £260 and in addition the house in which he resides, but he must, if he wants to qualify for a pension, transfer that house to the public trustee. The public trustee, on his death, must sell the property and divide it amongst his relatives.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.