§ Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 71A.
§ [Mr. ROBERT YOUNG in the Chair.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it is expedient—
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. William Graham)
The Committee will recall that a few weeks 1501 ago the Government submitted a Financial Resolution for a Bill to grant increases upon pensions under the Act of 1920. It would be an exaggeration to say that on that occasion the proposals that were submitted met with unanimous approval. There was a good deal of criticism on the part of hon. Members representing all points of view, and, as a result, I undertook to withdraw the Resolution, to amend it in accordance with my pledge on two particular points, and, in due course, to put the Resolution again on the Paper. That promise has been fulfilled and the Resolution this afternoon shows what the Government are prepared to do at the present time. We very sincerely hope that after a not very long discussion the Committee will agree to adopt it. Rut before it does so it is necessary that T should give one or two words of explanation of the amended Resolution. I propose to notice some of the criticisms offered on the last occasion—criticisms which have been repeated in correspondence in the period that has since elapsed. It is perfectly clear that two weeks ago when the Resolution was before the Committee there was a good deal of misapprehension on the part of many hon. Members with regard to its provisions. We want Members to realise very clearly that the Act of 1920 represented a purely voluntary provision for, as it turned out, about 100,000 people. They were in receipt of pensions to which their services or their work had entitled them, but, unfortunately., because of the great increase in the cost of living during the War, those pensions very largely lost their purchasing power and the position of the recipients became precarious. It was therefore decided to apply to them certain scales of increase.
We all recognise the hardship which fell upon those people, but I think the Committee will agree that this was a purely voluntary act on the part of the Government of the day, and one which it was not in any way bound to perform. There was no legal compulsion; it was, as I say, a purely voluntary act to meet the situation as regards the class of people whom we have in mind. At the same time it is necessary to recall it because this problem is very much wider than the class of people immediately affected. There are large classes in the community whose securities depreciated 1502 during the War, whose incomes were undermined and who had, in their own way, given service to the State in various capacities at other times. They can get no remedy at all far their depreciated incomes at the hands of the community as a whole, yet these people—and this is not in any way a criticism of the recipients of pensions—have to stand in behind any considerable provision which we make for the 100,000 people or less dealt with in this Resolution. I mention that fact merely to put in proper proportion some of the criticisms passed on the last, occasion and to remind the Committee that there are certain arguments which have been used outside among the community in criticism of any legislation of this kind which is, as we all recognise, a mere expenditure of money, no doubt to meet circumstances of hardship, but from some other points of view a little difficult to defend.
Another point regarding which many hon. Members were under a misapprehension was the obvious confusion between the pre-War pensioner in Great Britain and the post-War pensioner. Comparisons were drawn between the very low pensions in force prior to 4th August, 1914, and before the Act of 1920 and the very much higher pensions which have accrued, particularly in the case of the police, to other classes of society during and following the War. May I make it perfectly plain, and I think on this point there will be no substantial difference of opinion, that that can never be an issue as regards this legislation? All that the Act of 1920 set out to do was to increase, according to a certain scale of percentages, the pensions which were in force prior to August, 1914, or, more broadly, prior to the passing of the Act itself. That Act did not set out to bring pre-War pensions—which were admittedly low and which I must not be understood as defending at this Box—up to the level of the post-War pensions, which were granted, as we all know, under very different conditions. Yet if we read the speeches of hon. Members on the last occasion, particularly when they became more obstreperous in criticism of me than is usual, we will see that what they had in mind was the increase of the low pre-War pensions to such a level as 1503 would bring them up to the post-War rates. That, however, is not before the House in this legislation at all. What is before the House is such increase or improvement upon what was introduced in 1920, as will more nearly bring the people in receipt of those pensions into line with the still high cost of living. I refer to these points because they occurred again and again in the course of the last Debate, and I mention them now in order that we may clear the ground as regards the Resolution now submitted. The most substantial point which was made, referred to the suggested abolition of the means limit. If the means limit were abolished at once, as regards classes of pensioners up to £150 per annum single and £200 per annum married, which is the scope of the legislation of 1920, the immediate cost to the State in a full financial year would be approximately £552,000. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is unable to promise or give a concession of that kind at the present tune.
§ Major-General Sir JOHN DAVIDSON
That being the case, may I ask the hon. Gentleman why the leaders of the Labour party pledged themselves to do this at the last Election?
§ Mr. GRAHAM
The hon. and gallant Memberwill no doubthave full opportunity of dealing as he dealt on the last occasion with the question of pledges; but I do not suppose anybody ever imagined that you could initiate the very large expenditure involved in that change at one stroke. I am not going beyond that and I cannot make any pledge for the future. All I say regarding our proposals is that they represent a substantial step in the direction of removing undoubted hardships which exist at the present time.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
There is a good deal of information at the disposal of the Treasury after the experience of the Act of 1920, and I think the Committee will 1504 take that as a fairly accurate figure of the initial cost which would be involved. Looking to the fact that the income from all sources comes to about £3 per week:n the case of a single individual and £4 per week in the case of a married couple, I think hardly any hon. Member will dispute that on the whole it is not an unsatisfactory condition of affairs at the present day. We are bound to remember that there are large classes in the community at the present time who enjoy nothing like that income even if they are in full and regular occupation and who are in receipt of very much less if unfortunately they are out of work. But if the abolition of the means limit were adopted we could never confine it to the £l50 single and £200 married; it is quite obvious, according to what hon. Members argued on the last occasion, that they had in view the abolition of the means limit as a whole, and I say at once if that suggestion were adopted it would mean an immediate expenditure of £2,000,000 or £3,000,000. Having regard to the fact that this is only one branch of pensions legislation—and that there are many other classes of the community who have all to be considered—and I am bound to point out there. are certain classes much more urgently placed than many people under this proposal—I am certain my right- hon. Friend would not be justified in taking such a step which would involve an expenditure of millions or even of an additional half million you take it on the narrower part of the scheme.
So much for the two or three arguments employed on the last occasion. I wish to say something in the next place about the proposals which are embodied in the Resolution. Hon. Members in all parts of the Committee, criticised the restriction under the Act of 1920 which laid it- down that the increase would only be available if the pensioner resided in Great Britain. We have decided in response to representations to abolish that restriction and effect is given to that decision in the proposal now before the Committee. While it is necessarily difficult to submit a firm estimate in this connection, I am advised that the cost of that concession will be anything between £50,000 and £60,000 per annum. That is the first part of the additional burden which my right hon. Friend shoulders in this connection. 1505 In the second place, we agreed on the last occasion to alter or amend the legislation of 1920 in order to make it definitely obligatory upon local authorities in Great Britain to grant the increases of pension which were, laid down or indicated in that Act. The Committee will recall that when that Measure was passed there was a feeling that it was obligatory and not permissive in character, but later investigation showed that such was not strictly the case and questions arose particularly as regards the application of the increases of pension by certain of the local police authorities in Great Britain. From the point of view -of money there is very little in this point. Our investigations show that in the financial year ended 31st March, 1923, the local police authorities in England and Wales had applied the increases under the Act of 1920 to such an extent that the gross expenditure on that date was about £238,000. The total possible gross expenditure, if the Act were fully enforced, was £256,000, so that there was a difference in money of about £18,000 representing the extent to which the local police authorities had failed to apply the full provisions of the legislation of 1920. It is true that a small number of local police authorities refused to apply the Act at all, and a larger number applied it with certain variations or under certain restrictions, and it mainly the lack of uniformity which is criticised. We have decided, under pressure from the House, to embody a Clause in the forthcoming Bill, which is covered by a part of this Resolution and which will make this provision by local authorities compulsory. I should fail in my duty if I did not say frankly to the Committee that it is always a very difficult matter to coerce a local authority and it is particularly difficult in a matter of this kind, where some of the recipients of the increased pensions are in a, position relatively better than that of other classes of ratepayers and much better than that of the unemployed, the partially employed or those having no income at the present time. That, however, is the decision embodied in the Resolution, and due effect will be given to it.
There is only one other duty which I must discharge this afternoon and that is to outline to the Committee the exact nature of the cost involved. The Com- 1506 mittee will not expect me to give details of the percentage increases because they are set forth in the Resolution and were discussed on the last occasion broadly speaking, as regards expense it comes to this: that under the Act of 1920, making provision for rather less than 100,000 people, we are spending in round figures about £1,000,000 per annum under this head at the present day. Our proposal to increase the percentages will involve an annual expenditure in a full year of £300,000 but the Committee will recall that we have decided in view of a Parliamentary promise at the time to give retrospective effect to these increases back to 1st July, 1923, and that involves us in an additional expenditure, this year, of £225,000.
§ Sir JOHN SIMON
Are the figures which the hon. Gentleman has given, the figures of estimated outlay from Imperial funds or do they include that portion of the outlay which will fall on the local authorities?
§ Mr. GRAHAM
No, what I am describing is our part of the burden. It is only in certain cases, such as the police and so on, that there will be a contribution from the local authorities.
§ Sir LAMING WORTHINGTON- EVANS
May I ask whether that also includes amounts under the Royal Warrant and the Orders in Council in respect to the Army and Navy?
§ Mr. GRAHAM
Yes, all naval and military pensioners are included under this head. The £300,000 for the increased percentages, plus the £225,000 for retrospective purposes, plus the £60,000 for removing the residential qualification, make a total, approximately, of £600,000 giving a round figure-which is the figure of the Government's proposal in the present financial year. I think, when the matter is viewed in that light, the Committee will agree that we have gone a considerable way to agree to the suggestion made on the last occasion, and we have, in the second place, after a very short period of office, found a very large sum of money to meet the hardest of the cases. Let me add that the bulk of the percentage goes to naval and military pensioners, and to other pensioners in receipt of pensions below £25 per annum, who will now get 70 per cent. increase on the pre-War pensions; that is, we are 1507 putting up their pre-War pensions substantially to a point nearly equal to the cost of living, and, by common consent., it is the poorest class of pensioner who most requires our assistance. That is the broad aspect, of the legislation, and I now submit it with confidence to the approval of the Committee.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
I am glad the hon. Gentleman has followed the suggestions that were made to him on the last occasion, and withdrawn the old Resolution, and brought this in instead. I am thankful to him for having included the two matters which the Committee specially pressed him to include last time, namely, the matter of the residential qualification, and the alteration from "may" to "shall" with regard to the police pensions. He suggested that the public have not quite understood what the object of the Act of 1020 was, and he has had some correspondence during the last two weeks. I, also, have had some correspondence during the last two weeks, and there is, undoubtedly, a feeling of great soreness that the Resolution does not also include the removal of the means limit, the removal of the age limit, and the increase of the percentages. The public want all that done. I can quite understand the Government do not see their way to do it. I can quite understand that, but the blame which they are getting in the matter they have earned, because before the Election they promised to do the very things which the correspondence I have received shows the public now want them to do, and it is because they have misled the public for the purpose of the last Election, that retribution is now falling upon their heads. But we ar3 in the position to-day of either having to vote against this Resolution, and so destroy the benefit which is now to be extended beyond that which the Government originally proposed, or we have got to vote for the Resolution. So far as I am concerned, I am going to vote for the Resolution, because I want, at least, this amount of justice done to the pre War pensioners. I do not believe there is the slightest use in pressing the Government again to withdraw this Resolution and to enlarge its scope, and that notwithstanding the promises they made before 1508 the Election. And so, as I have got to do one thing or the other, I propose to vote in favour of this Resolution.
§ Mr. SIMPSON
The right hon. Gentleman who has just sat down, in introducing the Bill in 1920, with reference to the age limit and the means limit, used these words:It is obvious that some strict limitation had to be put upon those whose pensions were to be increased if the expense was to be within the limits of the country at the present moment.He went on to say:The limit chosen has been an income limit on the one side and an age limit on the other, so that the increase in pensions relate only to those pensioners over 60 years of age, or those who have retired by reason of their infirmity under the age of 60."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th June, 1920; col. 353. Vol. 131.]and so on. It is these people between the ages of 55 and 60 whose, case I wish to represent to the hon. Gentleman this afternoon. It cannot be that there are many of them. The police pensioners below 60 must be very few now, and the police are in a very special position, as I have tried to represent to the Committee on a previous occasion. Under the Police Pension Act, 1890, they were entitled to retire at the age of 55. In the Civil Service generally the retiring age was 60. There was a reason for this difference, because the police service was looked upon as more severe than ordinary service in the Civil Service; so much so, that when a man was transferred from ordinary service in the Civil Service to the police service, his previous service of four years only counted as three for purposes of police pension. I, therefore, urge the hon. Gentleman to look with some favour on this, and reduce the pension limit to 55, because it could not cost any money to speak of, and would benefit a very few deserving people who are feeling their position very sorely. I simply want to suggest that a very small addition might be made to the expense, and the Act amended accordingly.
§ Captain DIXON
I want to say a word about the Royal Irish Constabulary, because I think these pensioners are perhaps more deserving of our sympathy than any others. I would like to point out that the wage a constable in the Royal Irish Constabulary got was 25s., and he retired on £40 a year. Therefore, it was quite impossible for that man to accumulate 1509 any sort of sum upon which to retire. There is another point to remember. In 1917 and 1918 the Royal Irish Constabulary were really used as a military force, and in 1919 the Government found it very difficult to get recruits. They, therefore, altered the conditions of service entirely, but, before doing so, they weeded out, with a fine comb, all those men in the Royal Irish Constabulary who they thought were not capable of carrying on really what amounted to military service. They did not tell those men the conditions were not going to be improved, but they advised these men, as the service was dangerous, and they could not see any further hope of increase of pension, that they should go.
The result was that an enormous number of the Royal Irish Constabulary retired in 1919, and, within a few months of their doing so, the entire conditions of the police force were improved. I think the Committee will agree that it is almost impossible for any man with a wife and children to live upon a pension of £40 a year. They object, as all other pensioners do—though it hits them, perhaps, harder than any others—to the age limit of 60, and they object to the fact that if the whole family has £200 they cannot receive any benefit. This second point is, perhaps, hardest of all, because a Royal Irish Constabulary man must, in fact, be a casual labourer. He has no trade, and, therefore, it is particularly hard for him to say exactly what his income is. These Royal Irish Constabulary men complain that a regular Star Chamber inquiry takes place in their homes and households practically once a year, and it is very hard on men who served the State so gallantly and well, as they did.
There is one other point I would like to mention, and that is that at present the Royal Irish Constabulary man, instead of finding the old jobs which he ordinarily filled, such an that of a caretaker, he can now find no job. In fact, in many parts of Ireland he is a hunted man, and, for that reason only, I think I might call upon the Government to look into the case of these men, and see if something cannot be done to meet it.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I recognise that the proposal which the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has brought before the 1510 Committee to-day is an improvement on the proposal which he thought adequate a fortnight ago. When I contrast the terms of the two proposals, I find it instructive to recall that, on the last occasion, he assured the Committee that the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not find more money than the money which he then, on a narrower scheme, said could be allowed. We all understand the extraordinary difficulty of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in any Government in finding very large sums of money for purposes even so deserving as these; but I cannot help thinking there are a good many people in the country, a good many old pensioners, who will read our discussion to-day and reflect rather sardonically upon the difference between the generous promises of candidates in Elections, and the decision—I think the rather niggardly decision—in which those promises are translated into law. I do not say that applies to one set of people or one party, but it is undoubtedly a very serious thing that inquiries of this sort made by these deserving old people, either single or through their organisations at Election time, should so often he answered in such generous profusion, and then, when translated into cold print, the actual result should be so different.
I recognise that it is no good crying for the moon, or for Members, not sharing the responsibility of office, speaking as though it was only the hard-heartedness of the Minister which required some restrictions to be made; but I should like to call attention to one or two definite results of the proposal in its modified form. May I point out that the Act of 1920, whatever its shortcomings may have been, at any rate recognised that an old pensioner, whose pension did not exceed £150 if he was unmarried, or even £200 if he was a married man, was a person who was entitled to the special provision of an Act of this sort. Those were the limits in the Act of 1920, and in the Schedule one sees that it provides for an increasewhere the existing pension exceeds £100 a year, but is less than £150 a year in the case of an unmarried person, or exceeds £130 a year but is less than £200 a year in the case of a married person.I should have thought if we were going to revise the scale of percentages of increase, at least we should have applied it to a similar range of cases. The truth 1511 of the matter is, that the new proposal, although no doubt it is an advance on the proposal made a fortnight ago, is not a proposal which covers the range of pensions up to £150 for unmarried people, and up to £200 for married people. It is a proposal which has not any effect at all upon any pensioner, married or unmarried, whose pension is over £100 a year.
Therefore, the Committee will see that what we are now invited to do is not to take the Act of 1920 and to revise its percentages, but to confine ourselves to dealing with a portion—I agree that it is a most important portion—of the range which the earlier Act covered. I rather gathered from what the Financial Secretary said that the most serious burden on the Treasury occurs in the lower ranges, because they represent the greatest number of people. One would expect that. I hope that the authorities will consider whether it is their fed and final intention, in making their revised proposal, not to cover the ground which was covered by the Act of 1920, but to limit themselves to the lower portions of the scale.
In the second place, the Committee will observe that, by the confession of the Financial Secretary—who has been perfectly frank about this, as he always is, as well as most magnificently clear and simple in his statement—there is not the smallest pretence that these percentages, even when they are thus revised, will really compensate for the rise in the cost of living. On the contrary, the Financial Secretary said, in effect, "Take the man whose pension is not more than £25. In his case I am going to authorise an addition of as much as 70 per cent. That is an addition which, as things are, is not very far off the rise in the cost of living." That statement shows, in itself, that as regards every other case with which you are dealing you are not making a provision which coincides at all with the rise in the cost of living. While it is true, as the hon. Gentleman said, that these people, however much you may sympathise with them, are not people who have any right to anything more than they are getting, if you mean that they have no contractual right and could not bring an action 1512 against the Crown by Petition of Right, where is the Member of the House who, when asked this question at the General Election, prefaced his answer by explaining that the questioners hail no right to ask for what they were demanding? That is not the way in which any of us dealt with this matter before the Election.
A third point is this: The hon. Gentleman says that he cannot contemplate the removal altogether of the means limit. One listens, of course, with great respect to the estimate that is made of the additional expense involved. I confess to being a little surprised that it as much as it is. But still the hon. Gentleman has the very highest assistance behind him, and we have to pay attention to what he says. I am not clear what he meant by the contrast between £520,000 on the one hand and what he called £2,000,000 or £3,000,000 on the other hand.
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
To abolish the means limit within the present limits of £150 for single persons and £200 for married persons would cost £520,000. To abolish it altogether on pre-war pensions as a whole would cost between £2,000,000 and £3,000,000.
§ Sir J. SIMON
I want to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider this: We are entirely in the Government's hands. I warmly support the constitutional rule that the expenditure of public money is limited to those proposals which the Government of the day feel able to recommend to the House. That is essential in democratic government. But at the same time I ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to consider whether, if he cannot get rid altogether of the means limit., it is not possible, on reflection, to do something to raise it. See what an absurd position we are in! Compare the situation under the Act of 1920 with the situation as it will be if we modify that Act only to the extent now proposed. The Act of 1920 contains a means limit to the effect that the pensioner must satisfy the pension authority that his means, including his pension, are less than £150 a year if unmarried, or £200 a year if married. Take, for example, an unmarried man whose pension is £80. He would have got, under the law of 1920, an addition of 40 per cent. to that £80, and he would lose it only if the increased 1513 pension, plus his other savings, came to as much as £150. But now the hon. Gentleman says, "I am going to increase and improve that percentage; I am going to make his pension bigger by a higher percentage." But at the same time he is leaving as an absolutely fixed figure the sum of 2750. Surely that is absurd.
Under the law of 1920 a man may, as the result of thrift and saving, have as much as £60 or £70 a year provided. He would none the less get the advantage of the Act. The Amendment would mean that if he got as much as that he would be above the means limit, because the additional percentage means that the increased pension that he got would be a larger sum than before. Surely it is not unreasonable to consider whether we can raise the means limit by a percentage which at least corresponds to the percentage which you are adding to the pension itself. Otherwise it would be an absurdity. The original Act was designed to secure that a man should not lose an increased pension merely because he saved so much money. The new proposal is one which will not allow him to enjoy the increased percentage if he has saved the same sum of money. We should, at least, increase the means limit by the same percentage. I have criticised it, because it is the duty of the Committee to see how far it is reasonable to suggest Amendments to the Treasury. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is here administering public funds with unlimited claims in all directions upon him. I am sure that he will be the first to confess that neither a Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer nor any other can work all these benefits by a mere sleight-of-hand. I gratefully recognise that the Treasury have improved a proposal which they made a fortnight ago. At the same time it would be regarded as very cold comfort by many people, who expected much more generous terms, to be told that this is all that can be afforded at the moment.
I hope that the Chancellor will consider whether at least these modifications can be made. They cannot be very serious additions, but they will go some way to meet what is undoubtedly a very widespread feeling outside. These people may not be very powerful electorally, but everyone knows of most distressing cases among them. Such cases very often exhibit in the highest degree the hard- 1514 ship which has come on a decent family at the end of its life—people who believed that, when the time came to retire, they would have just sufficient income to live in modest respectability for the rest of their days. Those are very hard cases to refuse. While I think that the whole Committee, and not only the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has to take the responsibility in saying that the thing has to be dealt with reasonably and within what the nation can afford to do, yet, at the same time, I hope that the Chancellor may be able to make some small additional concession before this matter is settled.
§ Mr. BAKER
I hope that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer is unable to make a greater concession, he will at least respond to the appeal which has just been made to him. When this question was last discussed in Committee I put two or three questions to the Financial Secretary of the Treasury, and I regret to say that he did not reply to those questions at the time, nor has he dealt to-day with the points then raised. I have a long acquaintance with the hon. Gentleman and a great admiration for him, and I am certain that he has not failed to deal with these points because he has not remembered them. I am certain, too, that he has not failed to deal with them out of discourtesy, because he is one of the most courteous of men. I must ask that whoever speaks on behalf of the Government later will have some regard to the simple points which I submitted in our previous discussion. I do not propose to weary the Committee by repeating the points, because the Financial Secretary will have them in mind. This afternoon his case is that the pre-War pensioners have no contractual right to an increase of their pensions. As the last speaker said, it may be that they have no legal right which can be urged in the Courts, but I submit that when the Government agreed that, having regard to the great increase in the cost of living, it was necessary to increase the rate of pension to be paid to all civil servants in its service at the moment, it realised that the whole question of pensions called for review.
My strongest objection to the attitude which the Government are taking up to-day is based upon a belief that legisla- 1515 tion and regulations of this character are altogether unsatisfactory from the point of view of the Government, from the point of view of public servants, and from the point of view of the nation generally. I ask the Financial Secretary to consider whether it is not possible for him to give an undertaking that the Government will introduce amending legislation for removal of the anomalies which have been created during recent years. I appeal to him to consider whether it is not possible, in the existing circumstances, to appoint some sort of inquiry that will bring the whole problem under review, so that we may be certain that people are being treated with something like equity in relation to each other.
§ Sir J. DAVIDSON
I wish the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to know that I and those who are working with me do not intend to oppose the Resolution. Not that we are in any way satisfied; far from it. We are extremely dissatisfied with the Resolution as is stands. I agree with every word which has been spoken by the right hon. Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon). think that he hit many of the important points on the head. In our last discussion, and again to-day, the Financial Secretary has ignored one point which has escaped the notice of the Committee. That point is that this is a decreasing class, and a very rapidly decreasing class These men are old men, their expectation of life is very short, and in a very few years the class will have disappeared altogether. I should like the Financial Secretary to realise that in one particular locality—I could give him the facts—the average age of the pre-War pensioners is just over 70 years, so that their expectation of life is only four or five years. We are not satisfied with this at all, and we look to the Government to carry out the pledges which they have made on the subject.
I want to add a word to what was said by the hon. Member for Taunton (Mr. Hope Simpson), who spoke first from the opposite benches. He referred to the age restriction of 60 years, and said that it was a very small matter. I have been into the figures as far as it has been possible for me to do so, and I know that this is a very small matter indeed. There 1516 are no naval pensioners in it at all, for every single man in the Navy up to the age of 55 who was in the Navy at the outbreak of War in 1914 was called up, and they are all 65 now. Therefore, it does not affect naval pensioners at all. There are practically no Army pensioners, because every man up to the age of 50 who could serve at all did serve in 1914 and is, therefore, 60 years of age now, and the hon. Member opposite has told us that there are very few police pensioners, and there are very few civil servants. There are very few at all, and I am convinced that my hon, Friend could, within the financial limits of this, Resolution, bring in a Government Amendment, when he introduces the Bill, to remove this age restriction, without incurring any great expenditure, if any, on the country at all. I would ask him to consider that matter very carefully, because it is a gesture which he could make to these pre-War pensioners which would give them immense satisfaction and would cost very little.
I want to refer to a matter which has been referred to already by previous speakers and that is the question of further legislation. The Financial Secretary a fortnight ago, when the previous Resolution was before us, indicated in almost every paragraph of his speech that the Government intended to introduce fresh legislation on this subject at a not distant date. I marked the paragraphs, but I do not propose to weary the Committee by reading them all out. I will refer to one or two cases where the hon. Gentleman mentioned this question. He talked of the restrictions and modifications whichmust stand together and form the subject of separate legislation.Then, again, he said:We thought it best to take the first step by increasing the percentages, and the other changes must form the subject of separate legislation."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th May, 1924; col. 1874, Vol. 173.]He went on in almost every paragraph to refer to fresh legislation on the subject, and these old pensioners of the Army and Navy who were sitting up in the galleries of this House a fortnight ago went away, and everyone of them said, "Well, this is something as a first instalment, and the Financial Secretary has said that there is going to be fresh legislation, a review of the position, and we shall get something further later on, 1517 something to meet our requirements." I want to know very definitely whether the Government have in view such legislation. I want a very definite answer to that, because I do not want these old pensioners to go away under any misapprehension on the subject. It is not fair that in their old age they should be buoyed up by hopes which might not be in the breast of the Financial Secretary or the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The whole question of the means limit is, I recognise, an extremely complex one, and is bound with legislation which I believe the Chancellor of the Exchequer is going to bring before the House later on in connection with old age pensions. It is a very complicated matter altogether. There is immense dissatisfaction all over the country, as is evident from the speeches which were made a fortnight ago from every quarter of the Committee, and from the speeches which have been made again to-day.
I suggest that the Government ought to have some investigation, as the hon. Member for East Bristol (Mr. Baker) suggested, as to the whole position of the pre-War pensioners and as to what is reasonable and feasible to carry out, not a pledge such as has been made broadcast in an irresponsible manner, but a reasonable consideration as to what is absolutely feasible. I, therefore, join with my hon. Friend opposite in suggesting that some investigation of this nature, either by a Select Committee, or by a judicial Committee, or some other Committee, should be undertaken, and that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should definitely say that they intend to bring' in fresh legislation, if not this year, early next year, and that they are going to have a Committee in the meantime to consider the whole question. I should be very grateful if the Chancellor or the Financial Secretary could give the Committee a promise now that when the Bill is before the House they will introduce an Amendment so as to remove the restriction as to age.
§ Sir THOMAS BRAMSDON
I suggest to the Committee that when the House passed that Resolution last year it was a definite intention on the part of the House to deal generously with these men. That Resolution was as follows:That, in the opinion of this House, the provisions of the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1518 1920, are inadequate to meet the needs of pre-War pensioners, and further legislation should be passed to augment the increases allowed by that Act and to amend other provisions of a limiting and restrictive character which have disqualified many deserving pensioners from receiving benefit under the Act."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th May, 1923; cols. 553-4, Vol. 164.]I submit that the very limited increases which have been made in the proposal of the Financial Secretary this afternoon do not carry out the spirit of that Resolution of last year, neither do they carry out the amending of the "other provisions of a limiting and restrictive character." I appreciate that there is one alteration made which deals with those living beyond Great Britain, but the "other provisions of a limiting and restrictive character" merely apply to the question of the limiting of their means, and until that is dealt with, the provisions of the Resolution are not carried out. The hon. and gallant Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson) pointed out the importance of the question of the age of these men. Unless we accept this Resolution this afternoon, there will be very few of these poor men who will receive any benefit at all, and it is a question of whether we shall permit any further delay to take place, or let these men have the restricted means alone which have been set forth in the proposal to-day.
I quite appreciate that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury would like to increase the amount of this money, but although it is an appreciable sum which is now put before the Committee, yet, having regard to the rapid mortality which must arise from the passing of these poor men from this world, the amount will come down very rapidly, and we could afford to be more generous with them. I live amongst these men; I see them and meet them frequently, and my hon. Friend cannot conceive the bitter disappointment which these men have had. They have been accustomed to hope that, when the House of Commons passed a Resolution, it would be carried out quickly, freely, and generously, and I am sure that no one in the Committee to-day would agree for a moment that the spirit of that, Resolution of last year has been adhered to.
§ Mr. HAYES
I would like to follow other hon. Members in asking that before 1519 our minds are made up on this general question of restrictions, the Government will consider some form of inquiry into the question. There is a great deal to be considered. The implications of the Bill are hardly correct. I believe the Bill which will be founded on this Resolution is really wrong in principle. The 1920 Act aimed at making some relief to the old pensioners because of the increase in the cost of living, and if that were so, it seems strange that we should limit the measure of justice to those who happen to be 60 and over. We seem to have no real reason why we should not apply the general increase to all pre-War pensions, and not to a selected number. It is true that only a few are outside the pale of this Resolution, and because there are only just a few, I think the Government might very well hold out some promise of an early, satisfactory recommendation in respect of those few.
I want to say that, just as readily as I joined in the criticism of the Government on the last occasion, I now wish to thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary to the Treasury for their modification of the last Resolution, for making the permissive Clauses into mandatory Clauses and also for removing the disqualification of those pensioners residing abroad. It. will, I am sure, be some satisfaction to the Chancellor when I tell him that the result of the promise that the pension shall be payable to those who may be living abroad has meant that the case of at least one old pensioner has come to my notice, who has now been able to make arrangements to join his family in another country many thousands of miles away from here, and I am sure that in many cases that concession will be very gratefully accepted. The Financial Secretary made rather light of the benefit that he has given to us in the new Resolution by altering the word "may" into "shall," but I want to assure him that it is a real benefit that he is conferring on these pensioners, a benefit that is far greater, perhaps, than he himself imagines. This Resolution is to have retrospective effect to last July, but even those local authorities who may have granted the increase or a portion of the increase permitted under the old Act may not have been quite so ready to apply the additional increase with retrospective 1520 effect, and had we not altered the word "may" into "shall," those poor old pensioners, who have expected to have something in the nature of what would be regarded by them as a windfall, would have been deprived of it, probably, in a large number of cases, and I want the Financial Secretary really to appreciate what he has done by turning the word "may" into "shall." The Committee will, I am sure, appreciate it also.
I want to urge upon the Financial Secretary to promise if he will have some thorough inquiry made into this general question of pre-War pensions, that it may be done rather quickly, because these men, for whom we are now appealing in regard to age and income limits, will probably be beyond the pale of this request unless he does it this year. There is no reason at all why we should not get to grips with this question at once, in the hope that when it comes before the House on a subsequent occasion we shall be able to deal finally with it; because it is inevitable that the matter is bound to be raised again and again till there is a settlement, which I hope will be final.
§ Captain BOWYER
I must confess that I am very disappointed with the Financial Resolution which is on the Paper to-day. My disappointment is still more in view of the whole attitude taken up by Members of the Government who so recently have given their views upon this matter to the country. Let me remind the Financial Secretary to the Treasury what he himself said during the last General Election. I have his words here. They are:" You may certainly count on my support." What sort of support will these old men think that the hon. Gentleman has given to them when they read the report of this Debate to-morrow morning?
§ Mr. GRAHAM
Perhaps the hon. and gallant Gentleman will remember that in the four months we have been here we have given £600,000.
§ Captain BOWYER
But that was not the question upon which the hon. Gentleman gave his answer. The question he was asked was: "Are you in favour of removing the means limit?" and the old people who asked that question were the people to whom the answer meant more than anything else in the world. I am going to quote a specific case. I have the 1521 figures brought up to date. The question was asked the hon. Gentleman by the pre-War teachers. Let me give him the figures. There were 5,240 of these teachers and there was not one of them under 70 years of age. Many of them were much older than 70. What expectation of life have they? How can they wait until on some future occasion the Members of the Government shall be as good as their pledges? Not one of the pensions which these 5,000 teachers have exceeds £60 a year. The average amount of the pension is under £40. That is a point upon which I wish to lay stress, because the means limit which was included in the Act of 1920 is still enforced, and no less than 1,400 of these 5,000 odd teachers, all of whom retired before August, 1914, will not benefit one iota by the present proposal of the Government. Why?
It is amazing to know that out of their very small salaries—for which they worked about 40 years—they have been able to do what they have done. The average salaries of the pre-War teachers were 1()4 a year. By thrift they saved out of those very small salaries so that they have a pension averaging £40. The question asked the hon. Gentleman at the election on behalf of those men was:Are you in favour of doing away with the means limit and increasing the pensions in accordance with the increase in the cost of living?It was to that question that he replied,You may certainly count upon me.Within the last four years no less than 1,797 of these pre-War teachers have died. Therefore the liability is a diminishing one. I submit that this question of the withdrawal of the means limit is all-important to these men.
There are two main reasons why this question is deserving of better treatment by the House of Commons and by the Government. Those two main reasons are these: In the first place these men are not as other men. They are men who in the various services have built up those services to what they are to-day. It has been their efforts in the Navy, Army, Civil Service, the teaching profession, the police, and so on, the life-long services of these very men, that has brought the services up to the magnificent position in which they to-day find themselves. That is one thing. The second is, that these men, having so small an expectation of life the matter is one which can- 1522 not wait. I for one for the first time during my life—perhaps for the last !— wish to say in respect to the leaders of the great Liberal Party, that I listened to the brilliant speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon), and I agree with every word he said. I regret, however, that he sat down without saying to the Government: "We are the arbiters of your fate: we quite agree that the Government must always determine whether there shall be expenditure of public money but this is a case so serious and so deserving that we insit upon the Government paying attention to it." He alone, or the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) might have said that to this Socialist Government. Why did he not do as his Party did last night in this House.
§ Sir J. SIMON
The hon. and gallant Gentleman could not have been in the House when his right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Sir L. Worthington-Evans) who, I presume, acts as his leader, announced that he proposed not to resist the proposal now made.
§ Captain BOWYER
I listened to every word that my right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester said. He spoke, as he always speaks, for himself—it may be for others; but certainly he did not speak for me in this matter. If I can get anybody to show me the way to get justice done to these old men I will endeavour to do it, irrespective of what my party, or any other party, may say. I say that this claim of these old age pre-War pensioners is so insistent and just, that the whole House should combine to see that that claim is attended to at. once.
§ Major HORE-BELISHA
I am sorry the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Buckingham (Captain Bowyer) has introduced a partisan note into this discussion—
§ Major HORE-BELISHA
He has dissociated himself from his leader, and I propose to claim the same privilege. I hope, however, that this discussion will continue on entirely non-party lines, except that I hope the suggestion of the hon. and gallant Gentleman will be adopted, and that the whole Committee will combine and give the Government the defeat they so richly deserve. I am pre- 1523 pared to go with the hon. and gallant Gentleman into the Lobby to press upon the Government the fact that they are not carrying out their pledges. In this respect, not only is their own honour involved, but the honour of the House of Commons, because it was the House of Commons that, in the first instance, passed this Resolution. The Resolution introduced to-day is worth just about as little as the pledge of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who sit upon the front Government Bench. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down read an extract from a letter that had been written by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I have another which is addressed from Sunny Gardens, Hendon, London. It was written in a very optimistic vein—in view of the situation in which it was written—and in view of the fact, presumably, that it was written before the last general election. The date of the letter was 3rd November, 1923, and the hon. Gentleman said:With reference to your kind letter of 27th October, I shall certainly continue to do the best I can to secure an increase of these pre-War pensions, and also to promote the Bill to amend the Act of 1920.What did the hon. Gentleman mean by that [An HON. MEMBER: "He is doing the best he can"] If it is a question of his lacking the sympathy and support of other hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who sit upon the Front Government bench, I would remind him that almost to, a man they gave pledges of an identical character. The Minister of Agriculture gave a most emphatic pledge. I will not weary the House by going into all, but the Lord Privy Seal, who speaks with greater authority on these matters, said he would gladly do all he could to remove the grievances represented. The grievances referred to are those we are now discussing. The Financial Secretary, in the course of another communication, claimed that he had supported the case for the last four years in the House, and would continue to do so to the best of his ability. The Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs replied that he was in favour of the restrictions being abolished and no man penalised on account of his savings. The Minister of Labour said:I acknowledge the principle that a pension from the State was intended to secure 1524 that the pensioner should be above the need of charity, and I am prepared to support it.The Colonial Secretary said:I am certainly in favour of a readjustment of pre-War Civil Service pensions so as to take into account the increase in the cost of living.The Minister of Health promised to do all he could. He was instrumental, he said, in assisting similar persons in his corporation. And so on. I have an interminable list. I have here a clear majority of the Cabinet, but I would especially note the answer of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, who replied to the communications sent:You are, of course, aware that the Resolution referred to in your letter which was passed in the House of Commons on 19th May, was moved officially on behalf of the Labour party. The party will, of course, do its best to set that the Government's Measure is consistent with the recorded opinions of the House. I shall do all that is possible to secure satisfactory legislation in connection with the matter.
§ Sir WILLIAM DAVISON
Will the hon. and gallant Gentleman exchange some of those pledges he has got for some that I have got?
§ Major HORE-BELISHA
They ought all to be preserved upon the records of the House. These pledges are worth absolutely nothing. This Financial Resolution is worth absolutely nothing. I think the Committee ought to have no hesitation in rejecting it. The money proposed to be spent under the Resolution should form a fund for the relief of necessitous cases. In most necessitous cases the inflation being, as it is, about Id. on the shilling, is not going to get anybody out of the workhouse, and is not going to relieve any kind of distress. It is simply eyewash. I therefore suggest that the Committee should ignominiously reject this proposal so that the whole thing may be referred to a Committee, and if justice is going to be done, let it be done in accordance with the principles on which the House has already decided. Section 2 of the Act must be abolished in any proposals brought forward in connection with this Resolution, far that Section deals with the age limit and the means limit. It is indefensible to impose an age limit, because these men are drawing already from public funds, and they are bound either to go to the workhouse or to the guardians. They are bound to get 1525 public money, and why should they not get public money which they have earned by virtue of their past services? Although what is suggested may involve some increase in the Estimate, it will not really involve any additional expenditure upon public funds. We might have an undertaking to abolish these iniquitous inquiries into a person's means. If a sick man receives eggs and milk he has to make a return of it, and he runs the risk of having his pension affected. Another Section defines what is meant by the expressions "married person," "widower" and "unmarried persons." The moment a child is over 16 the father or the mother correspondingly lose a portion of their pension, which is most unfair, and this could be remedied without any difficulty whatever. The expression "means" is defined in the case of a married person as the means of husband and wife. They may not be living together, and it would not involve very much increase if that harsh and immoral provision were removed altogether from the Act. [Interruption.]
§ Mr. WESTWOOD
I do not often interrupt, but I would like to ask you, Mr. Young, if it is in order for the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle) to suggest, as he has done, that an hon. Member of this House is trying to make a fool of himself when, at the same time, the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Pringle) can make a fool of himself without trying?
§ The CHAIRMAN
If the hon. Member objects to a reference like that, he must not interrupt for the purpose of applying the same reference in return to the hon. Member.
§ Major HORE-BELISHA
For the first time in history a Socialist Government has the opportunity of carrying out something it professes, and if the Government now attempted to do justice in this case it would receive the support of every section of this House. It is a little bit tiring to have continually the excuse put forward from the Socialist back benches that they are not in a majority. On this occasion they have a majority, and they are failing to avail themselves of it. I have dealt with some of the anomalies perpetuated by this Act. There is one which particularly affects civil servants. I would like to point out that the 1526 established men in the dockyards are getting less pension because they are based on the industrial bonus than the pre-War pensioners who get the benefit of this Act, and I hope my hon. Friend will look into this matter. I think this is one of the most pathetic situations which has ever occurred in the House of Commons. In the last Debate we had a speech from one of the Labour Whips the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. Robertson), and I will conclude by reading the peroration of his speech made in the days before the present Government came into power, This is what he said:Let us try to appreciate the feelings of these old pensioners in cases such as I have described. They have lingered just a little longer on the threshhold of eternity than their fellows. An increased pension cannot buy back their youth, cannot give the light of youth to their eyes, cannot bring back the lost cunning to their right hand, nor give elasticity to their step, but it will save their pride; it will save their independence, and not have them harried, as is too often the case with the aged poor, to the grave, when their way ought to be smoothed, and made more comfortable for them than it is at the present time. An increased pension—and I am hopeful that they will not have to wait much longer—would bring us a little nearer the ideal set up by one of our most humane poets for our aged people, when he said that they may be able to Sink to the grave with unperceived decay.'"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th May, 1923; col. 558, Vol. 164.]Those were the words of one of the Labour Whips when he was introducing a Resolution which the Home Secretary described as the Official Resolution of the Labour party. To-day the Labour party has an opportunity of doing what the whole House desires it to do and what its own conscience expects it to perform.
§ Mr. MARLEY
I think this Committee and the country as a whole will regard with a great deal of cheerfulness this new consciousness and the new social spirit which has sprung up in this House. I am quite sure the whole country will be very glad to know that after all these years the whole House is agreed that something should be done for our old people. There are a considerable number of old teachers with pensions of £40 or £60 a year, and this only shows the miserable way in which governments and local authorities in the past treated people in pre-War days, because that amount of pension was not sufficient even in pre-War days. There are a great number of people who require 1527 pensions far more urgently than those who have the means of £200 or £150. If we were to suggest that our aged people who have no pensions should have a larger allowance we should have a great deal more difficulty in getting it. I hope the day has gone by when those who have fought for these things in the Labour party will have to fight so strenuously in the future.
§ Mr. MARLEY
We have no intention of stopping the fight, but I want to know whether, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer had offered to do this, and had said, "I shall require to increase the Super-tax by 2s. in the £," there would have been the same consensus of opinion among hon. Members opposite. Although I do not think the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary are doing all they could do for these old people, and all that the Committee expect them to do, they are doing better in the circumstances than any of their predecessors.
§ Captain BOWYER
If the hon. Member desires to know where he can get the money, I can tell him how to do it without touching the Super-tax. All the Government need to do is to keep on the McKenna Duties.
§ Mr. MARLEY
The hon. and gallant Member has suggested a remedy which would not be acceptable to hon. Members below the Gangway, and I think he is only throwing a bomb in his own camp to proceed in that way. There is no party in this House which desires to help the old people more than those who sit on these benches, either now or at any other time. I know hon. Members opposite c-in promise a good deal at election time, but we do not want this matter to become contentious.
§ Mr. MARLEY
I know the hon. Member for Penistone would agree to almost anything if he got his own way.
§ 6.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MARLEY
I am with you when you are right, but that is not very often. I admit this is a scanty Measure, and I hope in the next Budget the Chancellor of the 1528 Exchequer will be able to take the assurances of hon. Members opposite and hon. Members below the Gangway that if necessity compels him to increase the Super-tax there will be no objection raised from those hon. Members. There have always been anomalies with regard to the pensions paid to the old people, and we have had far more serious cases than these. Let me just give one illustration. I know it is not in order at the moment to mention it, but there are the widows of policemen who were in the force previous to 1919. Their husbands, unfortunately, died too soon or were born too early, and because of that the widows now have no pension whatever. I would suggest to hon. Members opposite that this also is a matter which should be very seriously considered. Had these men been in the force in 1919 or later, or had they died since then, their widows would have had fairly substantial pensions, but now they have none. All these questions in regard to pensions and keeping our old people are a new sign of social consciousness, and we want it to go on growing. We hope to see the time when pensions will be considered, not only for salaried people, but for all workers in the country who have rendered long service. We hope that this expression of feeling in the House of Commons will be considered, and if the Chancellor can give way and extend these pensions, no one will be more pleased than those on these benches; but we welcome what he is able to do at the moment, and still more do we welcome the expressions from hon. Members opposite and below the Gangway. We hope that anything he can do when he has more funds available will he accepted by them in the same spirit.
§ Mr. L. THOMPSON
I want to say at the outset that it is a matter of great amazement to me to hear the pronouncement from the Government Bench with respect to their efforts to help in the amelioration of present-day needs, as compared with their pronouncements in the days of their irresponsibility. It will be within the memory, possibly, of a number of hon. Members, that as recently as the 16th May of last year, as has already been mentioned in various parts of the Committee, we listened with a degree of assurance to the Resolution that was moved by the hon. Member for Bothwell (Mr. J. Robertson), and there was 1529 agreement in all parts of the House that something of a definite nature should be done for these pre-War pensioners. I do not agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Sir L. Worthington-Evans) in his ready acquiescence that we should support the Government in the present Resolution. I would rather associate myself with those other Members who are endeavouring to press the Government to do something of a more adequate nature for the pre-War pensioners. The whole substance of the reason why the Government do not intend to go further is that they say the money is not forthcoming, but might I remind the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he will find great difficulty in persuading either the House of Commons, or the electorate outside, or the pre-War pensioners, that such is the case? I was one of a number of Members of the House who tried a short while ago to press him to retain certain duties which have been referred to this afternoon.
§ Mr. THOMPSON
The hon. Member may have an opportunity of making his statement later on, but I was one of those who pressed the Chancellor of the Ex-chequer to retain those Duties, and he assured us during his Budget speech that the time had come when he could do with out them. To-day we are pressing him to increase the pensions of these worthy pre-War pensioners, and the Financial Secretary tells us that the whole reason why he cannot do it that he has not the money. Yet a few weeks ago he sacrificed £3,000,000. I would remind the Committee that it was only yesterday that we pledged the country to a future ex-penditure of some £34,000,000, and we are told to-day that we cannot afford this. It reminds me of a certain building operation in which I was engaged some time ago, when we were spending many thousands of pounds. There was a proposal that we should make a slight increase on a certain item, and objection was taken to a sum of some £5 or £10. The architect, however, waved us aside and said, "It is too late in the day to talk about £5 or £10." I would say to the Financial Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in reference to what they have done within the last 1530 couple of months, that it is too late to say that they cannot increase the amount to this extent. We are not asking too much, but we do say it is inadequate to meet the needs of the pre-War pensioners. I am one of those Members on this side of the Committee who would press the Government to make further provision, and I support those who have spoken to that effect. We freely admit that certain concessions have been made, in regard to the removal of the permissive Clause and so on; but we do say that the age limit must be altered, and also the income limit, to meet the needs of the [...]Ire-War pensioners. I should like to say quite definitely and frankly that, if a Division is challenged on this Resolution, I should be one who would divide against the Government, and I hope that some considerable pressure will be brought to bear in order that at least we may have a pronouncement that will allay our fears and those of the people concerned.
§ Mr. FOOT
I want to submit only one point to those who are in charge of this Resolution. I think it would be a pity if we spent our time this afternoon in comparing the respective records of the different parties. I do not think it is any answer at all to the criticism that has been made to say that parties in past years have failed to perform the promises they made. All I can suggest to the hon. Member for North St. Pancras (Mr. Marley) is that it is for him to set the older and orthodox party the better example, and I am bound to say that that example has not been set so far during the first three or four months. Our concern to-day is for these distressed and unhappy people who, I suppose, have been communicating with every Member of the House. During the last 18 months—and I expect the experience of every other Member has been the same as mine—I have been constantly receiving letters from these people, and have replied saying that proposals are to be brought in by the Government. I have myself put questions on the Order Paper, and a number of other Members have done so, asking when these proposals were to be introduced. Now that they have been introduced, I feel that I must have the further experience of having to communicate with many people who have written to me, telling them that they 1531 do not come within he scope of these proposals at all.
I am glad that the hon. Member for North St. Pancras referred to the widows of those who have served the State in some capacity or other, who are faced at present with utter destitution. I can quite understand that, after the hints and suggestions that were thrown out from time to time, and the specific declarations that were made in some cases at the time of the Election, that it was intended to do something for these people, whose husbands received no superannuation or pension, and who themselves have nothing between them and destitution—I can quite understand that many of them have been living in the hope that, when these proposals came in, they would be wide enough and, I will not say generous, but considerate enough to include many who are in this distress. I know something of their distress, because I know that, when the pre-War pensioner has left his employment, he has gone down from the town in which he has been living into that part of the country where he can get a house at the lowest possible rent. He has shifted his surroundings, torn up his home by the roots, left his relations, and gone down and lived in the simplest possible circumstances, where he can get a cottage in a distant country hamlet for 1s., Is. 6d., or 2s. a week.
These people have been awaiting these proposals, and I am bound to say that when they were brought before the House only a week or two ago they caused an amount of disappointment greater than this House realises, and I should feel obliged to vote against this Resolution to-day were it not for one assurance that has been given by the Financial Secretary. I believe that it is our business to trust the Financial Secretary to carry out the promise which he himself has made, and the pledges which the Government have given. In the course of his speech he did admit that the performance was falling far short of the promise. Of course, the excuse is that when the Members of the Government made their promises last November they did not expect to be returned to power. It was like the excuse that Benedick gave when he said:When I said I would die a bachelor I did not think I should live till I were married.1532 I think—although I do not ask for the open admission—that there are many above the Gangway who will be ready to admit in their hearts, at any rate, that, if it had been thought at that time, when the lists of questions were being submitted, that there was a likelihood of their taking upon themselves the responsibility of office within a few weeks, a little more care would have been exercised, to put it no higher.
It has been admitted to-day that there is a difference between the actual performances and the promises, but the Financial Secretary said this: He said, "Whilst admitting that there is that difference"—I am not quoting his words exactly, but I think that this is what he conveyed to the Committee—"we do not suggest that this is the full performance of our promise. We suggest that our promise could not be carried out at one stroke; we suggest that it could not be carried out in the course of two or three months." That is a perfectly reasonable plea. We cannot expect that these performances would be carried out within a limited time, and I am prepared to concede to the Government that they are entitled to time in which to turn round, to measure their resources, and to see that their promises might be carried out; but I want to get an assurance from the Financial Secretary, if he speaks later, as to what the intention of the Government is. Do they intend, during the present Session, to deal with the wider question? Do they intend, during the present Session, to bring in a Measure that will include within its scope the widows to whom reference has been made? Do they intend to bring in a Measure that will wipe out the means limit, and so carry out the express promises which they themselves have made? If that is their intention, and if we have an assurance that, subject to the ordinary accidents of Parliamentary life, some such Measure will be introduced during this present Session, and that the full weight of the Government will be behind its passage into law, I shall certainly support the Resolution, and shall be very glad to help the Government in the first step that is being taken.
§ Mr. SCRYMGEOUR
I emphatically agree with the protests which have been made, and I feel that many would be made from even this quarter of the 1533 Committee if we were shifted over to that side where we were last year. There is unanimity in the Committee in reality regarding this point. I have a clear recollection of that Resolution being unanimously adopted with very great heartiness. I have had put before me urgent appeals to sustain the obligation appertaining to this matter. I certainly feel it is an unfortunate procedure to try to excuse ourselves because other Members of the House have failed to keep their word of honour. I quite realise the difficulties of any man occupying office under present conditions, but at the same time, if I were in that position, I should feel that I was in honour bound to meet those obligations or else clear out of office. We cannot go on extenuating the situation by trying to say we are meeting the difficulties so far. The Government have the best opportunity it could possibly have under present conditions. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury was told on every hand, "Go and bring in something far more substantial, and you will find it will go through the House with perfect case." That surely relieves the Government in this case from any exceptional difficulty. There is no fear of being defeated by the Liberals and no fear of being defeated by the Conservatives. No one could fail, in listening to the speeches from the other side of the Committee, to sympathise with the 1,400 people who are finding this thing to mean nothing for them. I certainly lose sight of all partyism. I see only the suffering. I know in my own heart and mind that I am committed to supporting these people. I appreciate the Government very highly and back them as a rule. I believe they are doing remarkably well, taking it all round. At the same time I believe in taking every case on its merits. If anyone puts up a case I can conscientiously support I am going to do it, and the Government in this instance has a magnificent opportunity, even for the second time, of saying: "We will come back to the House for the third time and show you that we will do better than we have ever done before."
§ Sir JAMES REMNANT
I believe the speech that has just been made will appeal to every Member of the Committee, and in dealing with this question the course the hon. Member took will have much more effect than the attempt to attack political opponents. He spoke correctly 1534 when he said that, in his opinion, if the Cabinet took the full case into its hands and dealt with this subject in the sufficient and proper way in which the Committee feels it should be dealt with, it will be carried with practically no opposition whatsoever. I believe it is undisputed that over 500 Members of this House have not only agreed to support the case of the old pensioners, but they have followed the example in a great many cases of the leaders of the Cabinet to-day in saying they will not he content unless they get the maximum advantage for these old people. Why cannot the Government remove the present grievances? They have gone one step forward and made the granting of these pensions compulsory and not conditional, and they have made it permissible for these old pensioners to draw their pensions even if they happen to go to the Colonies. Why cannot they go a step further and remove the age and the means limit? I believe they would like to do so. They have certainly the support of the House in overwhelming volume. I wish the Chancellor of the Exchequer had been sitting on this side of the House when another Chancellor of the Exchequer had brought. forward such a suggestion as is now embodied in this Resolution. I can see him being very indignant, and saying, in a way I wish it was in my power to do, in the familiar way in which when he is really in earnest he clasps his hands together, "£300,000! What a sum for the greatest country in the world and for a Government which is always posing as trying to do what it can for the poor of the country to be able to find. £300,000 What is that amongst so many? "How many? Can the Financial Secretary tell us how many this £300,000 is to be divided amongst? I am sure in order to justify such a proposition being put before the House the right hon. Gentleman will be advised by the permanent officials of the Treasury who, when they want to show that the sums suggested will be amply sufficient for those amongst whom they are to be distributed, will put the number at the very lowest. Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us what number this £300,000 is to be divided amongst—the old pensioners of the Navy, the Army, civil servants, police and teachers? Would it be 10,000, 30,000 or 50,000?
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
The hon. Baronet asks a perfectly fair question. The total number of pre-War pensioners affected is rather less than 100,000. They will all participate in the increase, and 85 to 90 per cent. of them will get the benefit of the highest percentage of the increase.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
No, that percentage will get the benefit of the largest percentage of the increase. I put it at 85 because I think that is a fair figure.
§ Sir J. REMNANT
They will not all get the same amount of advantage under this, I quite agree, but 70 per cent, 80 per cent. of 90 per cent. of 100,000! When the right hon. Gentleman—I admire him for his keenness on the subject—was defending the removal of those duties the other day that some of us were anxious to be retained, he took what was after all a fictitious amount of unemployment and divided it amongst the work given out. I can see him now, gesticulating and saying: "What a ridiculous fuss for this small amount of money per annum to be divided amongst this huge number." Let us be serious. Here is an enormous amount of distress amongst the old and deserving poor pensioners, and if the numbers that he has just given us are to be benefited under this £300,000, all I can say is, that it is a gratuitous insult to offer them in these days of distress such a petty, ridiculous, niggardly amount.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
I do not want the Committee to be under any misapprehension. The £300,000 that the hon. Gentleman mentioned is the normal increase in one year. We are giving in addition £335,000 this year retrospectively, plus £00,000 in respect of people brought in who reside outside these islands, in other words £600,000—exactly double the amount he mentioned.
§ Sir J. REMNANT
The suggestion is to increase the amount by £300,000 per annum. You are going to make it retrospective to 1st July, 1923. You cannot add it and make £600,000 per annum as the amount suggested by the Government unless you wish to oppose the Resolution on the ground that it is insignificant and nothing like what it ought to be, because these poor old people who have been 1536 suffering intensely have now the opportunity under this Resolution of getting back pay from 1st July, 1923, in addition to a small advance. I do not wish to create any disagreement amongst us. Not only the House, but everyone outside, must have felt keen sympathy and appreciation with what the right hon. Gentleman said the other day, that nothing would give him greater pleasure and satisfaction than to feel that he had done something to help the conditions of the poor of the country. Why will he not remove these limitations, and if it will cost a little more money, find it? When he has been appealed to has he ever failed yet to find the money he has been asked to find He was asked for free railway fares to the constituencies. First of all third-class fares were suggested. It was then complained by some hon. Members that they could not work or have quietness and comfort on the way to and from their constituencies, and eventually they were given first-class fares free. [Interruption.] Any fool can interrupt.
§ Sir J. REMNANT
I certainly withdraw that. I hope the hon. Member will forgive me; I did not apply it to him. I was only speaking generally. What I meant was that it takes no brains—it is so easy to interrupt—I will put it that way—and when you are not as gifted a speaker, for instance, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, it is very disconcerting to have an interruption made in the middle of one's speech. I certainly apologise to the hon. Member if it can be construed that I applied this epithet to him. In dealing with this serious subject we ought not to impart any ill feeling into it. The right. hon. Gentleman could find the money—there is no doubt whatever about that—if he really chose to do so. In recent years, we have had many suggestions put forward for money which, on the face of them, appeared to he ridiculous. I am not referring to the party opposite, or to any particular party. In recent years we have seen hundreds of thousands and even millions of pounds found at a moment's notice, when the Government were satis- 1537 fled that the House really desired the money should be found. The McKenna Duties have been turned down. I am sorry that they have been turned down, because those Duties hurt nobody and benefited everybody
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member cannot pursue that argument. He must keep his remarks to the subject of the Resolution.
§ Sir J. REMNANT
I was only using the illustration as an argument in regard to the finding of money. The House has turned down money when it had the power of dealing with it in the McKenna Duties, and I would like similar sums of money to be earmarked for the benefit of such a deserving body of people as these old pensioners, seeing that by doing that we are not hurting the industrial population. The Financial Secretary has undoubtedly disappointed us. I did hope, after the last Debate, that he was going to deal with the age limit and the means limit, and that when the Bill was eventually brought in, those questions would be dealt with. I trust that after consultation the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary will withdraw the age limit and, subsequently, introduce legislation by which all these restrictions could be removed. I will give a case in point. During the War the police pensioners were called up, and those who had earned their pensions were retained in the Service. They were not as physically fit as other men, and many of them broke down. These men unless they are 60 years of age are unable to get this increase in their pension. Why? These men are just as much entitled to the pension at 57 as the men who had not been called up. It would not cost the Government a great deal to remedy this pressing grievance.
No conditions are imposed in regard to pensions granted to-day. Why, therefore, are you trying to distinguish between the present-day man and those who have earned pre-War pensions? There is nothing in this Resolution which gives anything to the widows of the pre-September, 1918, pensioners. The widows of the pensioners who did not strike are distinguished from those who did strike. I believe the Chancellor of the Exchequer is fully sympathetic, and, seeing that he has the support of over 500 Members of 1538 this House who, if they were allowed to vote, would support him in every way they possibly could to remove this grievance, I hope he will give it the further consideration for which I plead. If he does remedy these defects, he will have the cordial support of every hon. Member.
§ Mr. LINFIELD
I have watched events in this House from the outside for a good many years, but I never dreamed that I should see the great Conservative party and the great Liberal party—still great, believe me—beseeching a Labour Government that they should observe their pledges, and that they should do justly by the pre-War pensioners, many of them exceedingly poor, and all deserving. I find myself in full agreement with almost everything that has been said from the opposite benches, excepting in one respect, when the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Captain Bowyer) said he wished lie were sitting on this side so that he might lead us.
§ Mr. LINFIELD
I am sure that the hon. and gallant Member has a much better chance on that side. He need not trouble about the leadership of out side. He had better look at home. If we could get to know the minds of hon. Members above the Gangway on this side of the House, I feel confident that almost to a man they would be with us on this question. What is to prevent justice being done? I want to add my plea to the Chancellor of Exchequer that he should yield to the evident desire of the Committee. I can assure him that, if any Amendment is proposed that will not destroy the amount of good that will come to some people under this Resolution, I shall most certainly vote for it. In every part of the Committee there is a very sincere desire that nothing should be done to destroy whatever good there may be in the Resolution.
What is to prevent the right hon. Gentleman from setting op a Select Committee, if we give him this Vote unanimously? If the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary could see their way to give us a Committee, I have no doubt the Debate would come to an immediate end. We have heard a great deal about cost. It is always difficult to extract anything from a Chancellor of the Exchequer. There 1539 seems to be a cast-iron idea that you must not give way, because it is a sign of weakness. If the right hon. Gentleman gives way now, it will be a sign of strength and not of weakness. We are met with the cry of cost. I am quite aware that there are great demands on the Treasury. They have to build five cruisers and to keep them up afterwards. Demands are being made upon them day by day. This demand does not amount to much, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer has a certain margin in reserve for contingencies. In this case he has the advantage of having an almost unanimous House requesting that justice should be done.
Unless the right hon. Gentleman yields to this almost unanimous wish of the House, there is trouble in store for him. In yielding he would he having a little regard to the men behind him. If I could only disclose the feelings of hon. Members above the Gangway at the present time—[HON. MEMBERS: "Get on with it"]—and I could quote to them some of the speeches that they made and some of the pledges that they gave, I feel that instead of blessing the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whom we all respect, there would be a very different feeling in their minds. I feel sure that if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would give us a Select Committee he would meet the wishes of the House.
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Snowden)
I need hardly say that nothing in the world would give me greater pleasure than to respond to the very eloquent and pathetic appeals that have been made to me to extend the scope of this Financial Resolution. Probably, if I were in the position of hon. Members who have made those appeals I should have made a speech of a similar character, but, unfortunately, I have personal responsibilities which I cannot forget or ignore. I am sure the Committee will not misunderstand me when I say that the House of Commons in discussing any particular question is apt to regard that question as being disconnected and isolated, and they are not apt to consider the matter in relation to other correlated matters, especially in regard to the general financial arrangement. Of all the speeches which have been made to-day, the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for 1540 Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon) was the only one that took that comprehensive view and realised the difficulties of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Hon. Members opposite, and indeed hon. Members below the Gangway on this side of the House, have said quite airily that there is no difficulty about finding the money. There would no difficulty in finding the money provided that this were the only purpose for which we had to find it. The hon. Member who has just sat down spoke of my surplus. A very old and respected friend sitting opposite urged me to remove the two still outstanding disqualifications of the Act of 1920, the age limit and the means limit. Will the Committee excuse me for saying that, not only in connection with this matter, but in connection with other matters, there is a great deal of loose talk about the means limit. Members use it in a different sense, but what my hon. Friend and other hon. Members have in their minds, I think, is this. One hon. Member below the Gangway spoke of the inquisitorial investigations that were made into the means of pensioners. We get the same complaints about pensioners who receive the old age pension. Unless you have a universal system, unless, in the case of these pre-War pensioners you are going to give a percentage increase, and that all a pre-War pensioner has to say is that he is a pre-War pensioner in order to get an increase of so much per cent. unless you remove all these restrictions, then some kind of inquiry is necessary. I am quite sure that in operations of this kind, and in the course of working the Old Age Pensions Act, the officials reponsible for making these inquiries conduct their investigations with the greatest delicacy, and consult in every way the feelings of the pensioners.
§ Mr. LINFIELD
Will the right hon. Gentleman excuse me if I read this one question—The yearly value of capital, or voluntary assistance whether in money or in kind, including free maintenance.May I add that the late Prime Minister expressed disapproval of this.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
That, of course, under the regulations is regarded as income. "There is no difficulty about finding money. The Chancellor Of the Exche- 1541 quer has £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 in hand," says the hon. Gentleman. "Why not spend it on abolishing the age-disqualification and the means disqualification." As my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary told the Committee, that would cost up to £3,000,000. If that were the only claim which we had. I would devote my surplus to that. You can have it for that, if you want it, but if you do you will not have it for something else. The House of Commons knows that we are pledged to a great. many other things, all of which will cost. money. It is, I believe, the historic function of the House of Commons to discuss and to redress grievances, but I would like the House of Commons not to forget that the taxpayers themselves, who have to find the money, have grievances, and upon occasions like this, when the House of Commons is on its sympathetic side, when it is wanting to spend money, it forgets that a day will come when the bill for that will have to be paid.
The hon. and gallant Member opposite, who made one of the most energetic speeches in the course of this debate, and said that there was no difficulty about finding the money, was one of the deputation of members from that side of the House who waited upon me during the preparation of the Budget, and made a very powerful appeal to me to reduce the Income Tax. If hon. Members would refer to what has been said, and would look at the Amendments to the Finance Bill which have been demanded, knowing the amount left at the disposal of the State, they would see that the cost of these Amendments which I am going to be asked to make during the Committee stage of the Finance Bill would represent a reduction of taxation amounting to tens of millions a year. The House of Commons cannot have it both ways. As Chancellor of the Exchequer I must take both sides of the problem into consideration, and I must he convinced when a proposal involving expenditure is before the Committee, first of all that it is just and that it is necessary, and secondly that it can be afforded consistently with the full discharge of other obligations which I am bound to honour. That is my attitude in approaching this particular question. A great part of the debate this afternoon has been devoted to reciting pledges which have given by Members of Parliament who are now His 1542 Majesty's Ministers. One hon. Member who, I am quite sure, in his constituency will get full credit for the speech which he has made this afternoon—
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I do not want to interfere with the hon. Member getting still further credit by defeating this Resolution in the Division Lobby. I waited to hear a recital of my pledges. They were not forthcoming. The hon. Member as well as other hon. Members charged the Government with a breach of the Resolution which was passed unanimously by this House 12 months ago.
§ Major HORE-BELISHA
On a point of Order: Is it in order for the right hon. Gentleman to attribute to a Member motives which are quite unfounded?
§ The CHAIRMAN
I cannot find in the remarks of the Chancellor of the Exchequer anything which is out of order. May I remind the hon. and gallant Member that he must not stand up unless the Chancellor gives way.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
When the terms of the Resolution were read out this afternoon, I was amazed to find—I have not referred to it recently—how in the proposal which we are now submitting to the Committee we were carrying out to the very letter the declaration of this Resolution which I will read to the Committee:That in the opinion of this House the provisions of the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1920, are inadequate to meet the needs of the majority of pensioners— Therefore, we are increasing the increases which were given under the 1920 Act—and further legislation should be passed to augment the increases allowed by that Act and to amend other provisions of a limiting and restrictive character which have disqualified many deserving pensioners from receiving benefit under the Act.I would remind the Committee that this Resolution does not say, "remove all limiting and restrictive provisions which disqualify." We are amending two of the provisions which can be carried into effect without costing an impossible sum. To do what hon. Members ask would cost something like £3,000,000 a year, and in that form it would be quite impossible.
§ Sir J. REMNANT
Will the right hon. Gentleman bear with me when I state that the estimate given at the time of the cost likely to be incurred under the 1920 Act was £2,500,000, whereas actually the cost was £1,000,000. The Treasury generally over-estimate in these matters.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I am afraid that that is not always so. I was in the House of Commons when the first Old Age Pensions proposals were put forward, and it was estimated that the cost would be something like £8,000,000, and it is now nearly three times that amount. The increases proposed in this Resolution have been described as niggardly. The 1920 Act was passed when prices were almost at their peak. That Act was passed by a Government which combined a large number of the Liberal party and the whole of the Conservative party. It had a majority of three or four hundred, and it could do exactly what it wished. At that time the cost of living stood at 155 per cent. over the pre-War figure. At that time the increases in the 1920 Act were considered to be sufficient to remove all the legitimate grievances of these pre-War pensioners. The position now is that the increases that were given in 1920 are far more valuable than they were in 1920, because the cost of living has fallen from 155 to about 71, and they are not only getting the advantage of the considerable reduction in the cost of living, and therefore a corresponding increase in the value of their pensions, but they are getting the increases that we are proposing under this Resolution.
If in 1920 it had been necessary to do what we are doing now for these old age pensioners, they must have done so. The supporters of the Government then constituted almost the whole of the membership of the House of Commons. They had the largest majority of modern days. The pensioners have had that advantage since 1920, and they will have the additionl advantage of the benefits we are now proposing to give them. So much for the general points which have been raised in the discussion. One speaker, including the hon. and gallant Gentleman, the Member for Fareham (Sir J. Davidson), referred to some pledge or promise which had been given by my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, 1544 from which he had gathered that the Government were proposing this Resolution merely as a temporary measure, but that they hoped at some time to deal with the question of pre-War pensioners. One or two other hon. Members below the Gangway also said the same thing. I assume they were referring to a statement which he made when this matter was before the House a few weeks ago. What my hon. Friend had in mind was this: that we would take back that Resolution, and would consider the matter afresh in the light of what had been said in the Debate that afternoon, and that we might then he prepared to bring forward proposals which would be a little more comprehensive. My hon. Friend had in mind just those few points embodied in this Resolution, namely, the application to local authorities and residence abroad. That is what he meant, and nothing else.
§ Sir J. DAVIDSON
This is what the Financial Secretary to the Treasury actually said:… we thought it best to take the first step by increasing the percentages, and the other changes must form the subject of separate legislation."—OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th May, 1924; col.1874, Vol.173.]
§ Mr. PRINGLE
He said that in his first speech. The promise referred to was made in that first speech; consequently, he could not have had in contemplation the two points mentioned.
§ Mr. W. GRAHAM
I think I can clear up the matter very quickly. The truth is, representations had been made to us on the two points which emerged later in the Debate, namely, the residential qualification, and the application to the local authority. Those are the two points about which I gave a pledge later in that Debate, and they have been carried out. We also had in mind a very much wider Resolution raising means limits problems in old age pensions, and other subjects; but that is exactly what I intended, and it fully explains what the hon. and gallant Member has said.
§ Sir J. DAVIDSON
I accept, of course, that that is what the hon. Member meant, but he said it in his very first opening speech of that day. He made it clear 1545 that this was a first instalment, and that, later on, the Government intended to bring in fresh legislation.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I am quite sure there must be some misunderstanding somewhere, because it was never the intention of the Government to deal with this matter again by further legislation. I am quite sure my hon. Friend must have had in mind the other legislation which the Government intends to introduce. May I say this, in reply to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Spen Valley (Sir J. Simon)? He raised a question regarding people with pensions or means, and said that single men, say, with more than £150 a year, would get no benefit under the provisions of this Resolution. There are two answers to that. These pre-War pensioners have no legal claim to an extension. These increased benefits have been given to them owing to the exceptional conditions created by the results of the War in regard to the cost of living and the depreciation of the value of money. In view of the fact that only a certain amount of money could be devoted in 1920 to that purpose, an increase was given to those people who stood most in need. That increase has not been given in the same way as the original pension was given, namely, as a right, but rather as an additional means to meet the high cost of living, in view of the condition of poverty in which many of these pre-War pensioners have been placed.
I do not deny that the condition of these people is deplorable. That may apply to numbers of them, but I would remind the right hon. Member that there are many other people, industrial workers, who have no pensions, but whose condition is just as bad. They have served the State, it is true not under the Government or under a public authority, but nevertheless they have been in the service of the community, and have just as strong a claim to be considered by the State, and to be provided for in their old age, as these more fortunate people who happen to have been in the service of the Government or of public authorities. If you are going to be unnecessarily generous, and give out of public funds assistance where it be needed, it will be putting an extra burden of taxation on people who are in no better position than the people we are assisting. We must take these facts into consideration. In 1546 regard to the £150 limit, if we were dealing with those above that figure we should get into this dilemma: that many of the pre-War pensioners would be receiving a higher pension than post-War pensioners. It is quite evident that if we were to make further concession, we should not satisfy everyone. Nothing short of increased benefits, which would cost the sum of something like £3,000,000 a year, would satisfy the wishes of all the hon. Members of this House.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
No, hon. Members on the benches below the Gangway want the abolition of the means limit altogether.
§ Captain BOWYER
The Financial Secretary clearly told the Committee that the abolition of the means limit within the terms of the Financial Resolution now on the Paper would cost just over £500,000.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
The hon. and gallant Member asks me if I will give that. No, I cannot do it, because, added to the £300,000 a year that the proposed increases will cost, it would bring the amount up to nearly £1,000,000 a. year. It tell the House of Commons frankly that we cannot afford that.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
That point has been raised over and over again, but it will be no relief to me next year. I have got to raise it next year. It might be a fortunate thing for my successor, providing I have a successor, that we are not undertaking this commitment. There is not likely to be much money above our requirements this year and next year. I have every sympathy with these people, and, if I could do it, it would be a great pleasure to me; but, in view of the commitments of the Government, and of what we hope to be able to do, we cannot in this particular case be as generous as we would 1547 like to be. We are doing the best we can now. I do not know whether I am saying something I ought not to say, or not, but, at any rate, the Committee know that the Government intend to amend the Old Age Pensions Act to deal with the thrift disqualification. Well, I had hoped to be able to introduce that Bill before now, but the House knows the congested state of business. I shall be very much disappointed if I do not get an opportunity of introducing the Amendment soon after we reassemble after Whitsuntide. I cannot consider the question we have before us this afternoon without relation to that matter. The two have a very intimate bearing. One hon. Member quoted from a circular, which I believe has been sent to all Members, from the Teachers' Superannuation Society. I just looked at the circular when I received it this morning, and it struck me at the time that the great majority of the cases quoted in it—and in saying this I am not divulging any of the details of what I hope to submit to the House in the course of a week or two —would come under that Amendment of the Old Age Pensions Act, under which they would receive very considerable additional benefits. I want the Committee to remember that. I am sorry I cannot do more than is embodied in this Resolution, but I am dealing with the whole question of Old Age Pensions, and the necessitous poor of all degrees, and this is only the first step, though I admit it is only a small thing. I hope the. Committee will, therefore, accept it for what it is worth. I am quite sure there is no Member of the Committee who will take the responsibility of defeating it. Although it is not everything we desire, it will, I hope, give a substantial addition to the incomes of a not inconsiderable number of persons.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
There was one golden sentence in the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer which I hope did not escape attention. The right hon. Gentleman said there had been a good deal of "loose talk" on this matter. I think he might have applied that, to the Labour candidates. It is a sentence which should be framed at the headquarters of the Labour party. [An HON. MEMBER "And Liberals as well?"] I shall be very glad to deal with the relative merits of the 1548 Liberal party and the Labour party in due course. I am prepared to say that had it not been for the extravagant pledges given by Members of the Labour party at the last Election, the respective positions of the Liberal and Labour parties would have been altered in the present House of Commons. There were a good many pledges given about reinstating policemen, and other matters, and now we are dealing with the case of the pre-War pensioners. The pledges applied to almost every section and condition of society. Labour candidates made pledges without any sense of responsibility. It is quite true that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not in sympathy in that respect with many of his colleagues. I believe that not only at the last Election but on other occasions he has always addressed the electorate with a sense of responsibility. But that does not apply to his colleagues on the Front Bench, and I think the taunt which the right hon. Gentleman flung at my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Devonport (Major Hore-Belisha) did not come well from him.
The pledges of the right hon. Gentlemen on the Front Bench won them votes at the last Election, and it is in virtue of those pledges that they are now enjoying their salaries. I want the Committee to know what pledges they have given. We know exactly that the Home Secretary gave a pledge, not only on his own behalf, but on behalf of the Labour party. He said that the carrying out of the Resolution passed last year was the policy of the Labour party, and that the Labour party were committed to it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer this afternoon told us he was carrying out that Resolution to the letter, but there was nothing about the thrift disqualification in that Resolution. I think the right hon. Gentleman would have known if he had read the Debate that, that was a totally inaccurate explanation of what took place. The hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot)—I am sorry he is not here—devoted the greater part. of his speech in support of the Resolution to a demand for the removal of the thrift disqualification. This afternoon the Chancellor of the Exchequer took special pains to reinterpret the speech of the Financial Secretary. On the last occasion the Financial Secretary gave the House to understand that what the Government were then under- 1549 taking was merely a first step, and that they intended to introduce further legislation dealing with various grievances. May I read exactly what the hon. Gentleman said—I quite agree with hon. Members in not seeking to penalise thrift in any shape or form."—[OFFICIAL RETORT, 19th May, 1924; col. 1874, Vol. 173.]That is the very question on which the Chancellor of the Exchequer is adamant to-day. He reminded the House that, having regard to the fact that they had provided rather more than half-a-million sterling, they thought it best to take the first step by increasing the percentages, and the other changes must form the subject of separate legislation if at any time the Government find themselves able to embark on that course. Yes, that is what the Chancellor of the Exchequer said. I am sorry the right hon. Gentleman has left the House. It is a very important matter that we should have it cleared up whether this is or is not merely a first step. The Chancellor of the Exchequer declined to make himself answerable for any further legislation except in respect of old age pensions, which is an entirely different thing. [Interruption.] If hon. Members above the Gangway instead of cheering will listen, they will understand better what I am endeavouring to convey.
A question was put to the Financial Secretary, what further legislation would be introduced? It was put by the hon.Member for Bodmin, and also by an hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite. The hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite quoted these words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that no further legislation is in contemplation in this matter, and consequently there is no hope that the present Government will at any time remove any further restrictions [Interruption.] I am prepared to give way to the 'Financial Secretary if he desires to correct me. If he is not willing to reply I make no reflection on him, for I quite recognise that the hon. Gentleman, not being a member of the Cabinet, may not desire to take upon himself the duty of making a declaration on the question. But why is he silent now? What is the position? Is this the first step or not? If it be the first step, I want to ask what other steps the Government have in contemplation. The hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. 1550 Thurtle) is prepared to accept Newman's theory "One step enough for me." He accepted it, I believe, with some difficulty about the cruisers. If the Financial Secretary be not able to deal with this question, three is the omniscient President of the Board of Trade, the man who initiates all the policies of the Government, a universal Whiteley! He told us the Government had all its unemployment schemes ready. Surely he is the man to put this right.
I remember the Prime Minister told us there was to be a new spirit and new methods. I have heard several such statements in my time in this House, but I distinguish nothing in the tone and accents of the present Chancellor of Exchequer which differ him from any of his predecessors. In fact, if anything, he is harder-hearted than the, right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). That right hon. Gentleman did not keep the purse strings tight enough. The great trouble with him was that he was too easy in the expenditure of public money when he was in office. The Chancellor of Exchequer is probably the hardest and closest watchdog there has ever been at the Treasury, and it is certainly a new spirit which we did not expect from the Labour party.
Reference has been made to a pledge which I gave. It is quite true I gave a pledge. It is one of the few things on which I did give a pledge. [An HON. MEMBER: "Are you going to Keep it?"] When I have broken as many pledges as hon. Gentlemen on my left, they will be entitled to reproach me. The Resolution had been adopted by this House. It had been accepted by the right hon. Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin), and I thought it was safe to assume from the declarations of the Labour Party welcoming it, that this matter would he dealt with in the spirit of the Resolution which the House of Commons accepted. But it has not been so dealt with. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has placed on the Order Paper a Resolution which makes it impossible for the House to extend it in any direction. If the right hon. Gentleman had framed the Resolution in general terms to the effect that provision should be made out of funds provided by Parliament for increasing the pensions of pre-War pensioners, on such a general Resolution it would have 1551 been competent for any Member of the House to have moved later on in the Committee stage that certain restrictions and modifications should be introduced, and then the matter could, have been tested by the House of Commons as a whale.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The Government, instead of allowing that liberty to the House, has so introduced the Resolution, so narrowed and so restricted it, that the House is denied liberty to deal with this matter. No matter what the goodwill and the good intentions of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley (Mr. Lansbury) may be he is absolutely powerless to obtain a vote of the House in this matter. He is made powerless by his own leaders.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
My hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton with his usual good sense says that this is the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is a foretaste of Moscow I suppose. [HON. MEMBERS: "Glasgow!"] In any case I do not think the proletariat will appreciate a form of dictatorship which prevents the representatives of the proletariat from voting the money which they desire to spend. That is a new form of dictatorship for which they will not be very thankful. The situation is that by this Resolution the hands of the House of Commons are being tied.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us what line the Government will take in that event. He has said that the Resolution is thrown out by the votes of hon. Members, then on their heads will rest the blame, so that the Government will decline to go a step further, even with the help of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley. It is attempt to throw upon hon. 1552 Members in this House the discredit for denying certain small concessions. It is raising the issue in an unfair form—a deliberately unfair form. It is put in such a form that, for example, my hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Major Hore-Belisha) might be misrepresented in his action in giving that vote. It might give an opportunity to the Socialist opponent of my hon. Friend to misrepresent him. [Laughter.] I do not see why it should be a matter for merriment. It is well known what is the usual practice of Socialist candidates. Now, however, they are in a position of responsibility, and they will have to stand or fall by the performances of the Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer made a cheap point at the expense of the hon. and gallant Member for Buckingham (Captain Bowyer) that he had been a deputation asking for the reduction of the Income Tax. I do not think many of us have asked for a reduction; I only went on one deputation with regard to the Budget, and that was with the object of increasing taxation. From that point of view, the Chancellor's reproach does not affect me, but there are other ways of getting the money.
The right hon. Gentleman complains, "I have so many pledges: I have pledged myself to getting rid of the means disqualification in connection with Old Age Pensions. I have pledged myself to mothers' pensions, and to ail these things." Did the right hon. Gentleman pledge himself to the five cruisers? I have a distinct recollection of the Prime Minister and other colleagues of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as well as the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself, protesting against the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bewdley (Mr. Baldwin) to build cruisers to relieve unemployment. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in his own Division, made a weighty protest against it One of the first things he did after he became Chancellor was to assent to that expenditure, yet ho says now that lie must refuse the pre-War pensioners this slender pittance to, improve their conditions because he has his pledges to carry out If it were simply a matter of pledges, there is no difficulty in finding money for this purpose. What is the Chancellor of the Exchequer doing under this Resolution? He tells us that the annual 1553 amount which would be payable to the pensioners is £300,000. Among how many pensioners is this sum to be divided? They number 100,000, which means an average of£3per head per annum.
§ Mr. GRAHAM
My hon. Friend is surely forgetting that they have already £11,000,000 per annum, and there is also the sum of £225,000.
§ Mr. PRINGLE
I am stating the annual benefit under this proposal. I know that in the Bill for which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colchester (Sir L. Worthington-Evans) was responsible they got £1000,000, but the Financial Secretary is not responsible for that Bill. I am asking what he is doing under this Resolution. I am pointing out that the amount which will annually come to the pensioners under this Resolution is £300,000, that the number of the pensioners is 100,000, so that what they are going to get is precisely £3 per head per annum. If I calculate it out in terms of the amount per week, as the Minister of Health did yesterday, it would not appear to be a very magnificent sum, We are often told that the reason why the present Government cannot do things is that they are only in office and not in power; that they are a minority Government, and that they cannot do the things which a majority Government can do. That does not apply in the present instance. So far as this matter is concerned, they could, if they chose, be a majority Government. Appeals have been made to them from every quarter of the Committee to make concessions in respect of the age limit which would not cost a great deal—not a full concession of the means limit but only within the limits already mentioned. [HON. MEMBERS: "Half a million!"] That is all we ask for, and the concession is comparatively small, because there are very few pensioners concerned, but they are a fairly important body and deserve consideration.
Requests have been made from all quarters of the House that this should be done, and the Government cannot say they are being prevented from doing it because the Liberals will not support them or because the Conservatives are obstructing them. They know that nearly every man and woman behind them would back that concession, but they 1554 refuse to give it because the Treasury has got itself in, and for no other reason. It proves what we have always said, that the more things change the more they are the same. [Interruption.] I know there are certain proficient French scholars on my left, but I was considering the weaker brethren on my right. The Government have an opportunity of doing this, and they know they have the opportunity, but it is the Treasury which refuses all appeals of this character; that is the reason why the former Measure was limited in character. It is always the Treasury and it always will be the Treasury. Sometimes, however, a Chancellor of the Exchequer is more sympathetic and does not yield entirely to the Treasury officials, but we find here what I felt sure was going to be the case, namely, that Socialist Ministers are going to be more bureaucratic and more official than any other Ministers have ever been. As has been proved in every discussion in this House, every time a matter of administration comes up, bureaucracy is strengthened by the advent of Socialism, and consequently with the Socialist Chancellor of the Exchequer we have the same spirit. I regret very much that on this occasion, when they had a real opportunity for conferring a boon upon a large class of the community to whom they have pledged themselves, and when they could have done so with the assent of all parties, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has refused to take advantage of the opportunity.
§ Major KINDERSLEY
I often wondered before I came into this House why political economy was called political economy. Since I came here and especially during to-night's Debate. I think I have learned. The last Financial Resolution before us was concerned with the Government's building programme. I fancy in that programme the country will be committed to an ultimate expenditure of £2,400,000,000, and I can imagine the Minister of Health interviewing the Chancellor of the Exchequer and being asked, "How much is this going to cost?" The Minister of Health would say, "Oh, well, I suppose sooner or later it will cost the country £2,400,000,000." The Chancellor of the Exchequer, I fancy, would say. "That is all right, my dear boy, that is nothing." To-night the Chancellor of the Exchequer gave us a lecture on cor- 1555 related finance. I wonder when he and his colleague were discussing the housing scheme if they considered the question of its effects upon the finances of the country? Yet, when we come to a small amount of money which is required to do justice to a few deserving people, the Chancellor buttons up his pockets and says nothing can be done. Surely there never was such an economic Pharisee as a Chancellor of the Exchequer who strains at this gnat and swallows the camel of the housing scheme.
I wish to comment on one point made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He said these pensioners were not different from ordinary workers. That is absolutely untrue; everybody knows that the State servant, or the employé of a corporation, who receives a pension, gets a smaller income than the ordinary worker. [HoN. MEMBERS: "No!"] The pension is really deferred pay; this is a sum which these people have actually earned, which is just as much earned, or one may say saved, as the money which the worker puts aside out of his earnings. I maintain it is an absolutely false argument which the Chancellor has employed, on this subject. We heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer say that when the question of the means limit in connection with Old Age Pensions comes to be considered the removal of the means limit in connection with these pensions will be considered. The main thing left for consideration is this question of the age limit in connection with these pensions, and that limit affects a very small but not less deserving class and a class for whom I wish to plead, because I have come across many of them in my own constituency—both retired policemen and ex-R.I.C. men. I wish the Committee to consider the position of these men. They have been trained to no trade; the only work for which they are fit is work as messengers and in various positions of trust of that nature. At the present moment it is almost impossible to secure positions of that kind, because there are 100 men for every vacancy which occurs. I have been trying to place some of these men myself, and I know how difficult it is to do so, although they bear the very highest character. I plead with the Financial Secretary, and I ask him to plead with the Chancellor for this small concession in the matter of the age limit.
1556 I also ask the Financial Secretary how much it is going to cost? The question has already been put to the Chancellor, and I observed that the right hon. Gentleman and the Financial Secretary whispered together, but the Chancellor did not give a categorical answer. I now categorically ask him how much would the removal cost? I fancy it would be a very small sum, but it would remove a great injutice. If we leave the other question of the means limit to be considered later, and if the right hon. Gentleman makes this concession, he will do an act of justice to a deserving class.
§ Mr. MILLS
I have listened to the hon. and gallant Gentleman who has just sat down and have endeavoured to follow him, but I gather that he is as clear as the mud on Epsom Downs. I am about to impart a secret to the Committee which, probably, it is just as well should be unloaded now as later on. When the Prime Minister met us after the defeat of the party opposite, he told us there were some things we should have to do as the first Labour Government. The first thing was to learn to listen, because if we pursued a policy of listening, we should be very much better able to reply to some of the nonsense that has been talked this afternoon. The point I desire to make clear to the Committee is that we were warned by both the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Prime Minister that the first Labour Government would be called upon to remedy so many of the anomalies of our social system, that if we attempted to do it in one year or two years we should bring about financial chaos. We on these benches are perfectly willing to be loyal to those on the Front Bench, but I do submit that in the case of these men—a diminishing body of men, who are dying off by the dozen every month—if I were the Government I would take the Members on the right and opposite at their word, and, if there are to be Supplementary Estimates, let them come.
We have waited here too long for this opportunity of doing a modicum of justice even to pre-War pensioners, because the more we recognise the injustice being done to pre-War pensioners, the more we begin to see that those men who had a certain income, increased by £10 to £15 for every year of service, will be providing a precedent 1557 for the agricultural labourer—not for him to be asked to receive less because he is growing older, not to put the skilled engineer on the scrap-heap because he is over 40, as do many great firms, of which some hon. Members are directors. This will be a precedent that we can take to the organised and unorganised workers of this country, and ask them to contemplate, because, under this social system, you get out of society, not according to what you put into it, but according to your power to demand.
Sir F. HALL
Withdraw! I have never said anything in this House that will lead anyone to believe that.
§ The DEPUTY-CHAIRMAN
The hon. Member is going too far with his illustration, and must come nearer the question of pre-War pensioners.
§ Mr. MILLS
I am trying to make my point clear, that we gamble every day and yet denounce gambling. If we could produce the kind of legislation that those who formed the last Government actually contemplated, and compared it with the legislation that the Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer is prepared to put on the Table, then would be seen the difference between this simulated sympathy and the actual things to be achieved. I could only wish that could be done, but if a Labour Minister places anything on the Table of the House, if he quotes an official document, he is guilty of high treason. Therefore, I would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer, reviewing the result of these things on the code of morality as it 1558 applies to employers, that he should regard it as the expressed, and evidently sincere, desire of the House on the right and in front of us to grant this thing. And because the sum is small, and because it is a sum which, after all, is going to a body of men diminishing, as I said, every month, it will create a precedent that as the years go by, and, as the State more and more takes over the function of industry, will give to the agricultural worker, the engineering worker, the textile worker or the carpenter, that right to an increased remuneration, which these civil servants have had tip to the time they have retired, when they were able to take a pension. Why, there are men in Woolwich sacked by the late Government at the age of 60, to whom the only source of income has been unemployment benefit, out of which they have paid Inhabited House Duty, which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been the first to remit. Those men throughout their lives have been attempting, out of wages, to buy the house that shelters them. They were engineers in Government employ, slung on the scrap heap at the age of 60. They also have a claim, and if Members are willing to go into the Lobby, to give a gesture to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I think many of us would be prepared to support them, on the ground of the precedent it would create.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
May I point out to the Committee one very obvious possible result of the vote that may be taken on this occasion? We have to remember that no party is in a majority. We have to remember the state of business in this House. There is much in this Resolution which many Members of the House would like to see honoured, but, if the Resolution be beaten to-night, it is perfectly possible that we may get no Bill at all, either owing to the state of business, or owing to the position of the Government. I need not pursue that any further. The Government may go out, and there will be no Bill at all. They are committed, as our Government were committed, and as the House of Commons were committed, to do something for these pre-War pensioners. It is far better, in my view, that the Committee should do now what it can with a certainty, than that it should run what I believe to be the very real risk of losing the whole thing, for 1559 the sake of pushing forward a particular claim of this or that class of men to-night. I think it is only fair to point out to the Committee this real difficulty. We all want to get something done, and we may to-night, by defeating this Resolution, defeat what we ourselves have in view, and we may, in the end, get nothing done before the House rises. I hope my hon. Friends behind me may see the force of that, and that we may get something done.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I am very much obliged to the Leader of the Opposition for his intervention in the Debate, and I am quite sure the whole Committee will appreciate what he has said. This is the second day which has been devoted to the consideration of this question. The right hon. Gentleman has put the case before the Committee with more bluntness and directness than I felt disposed to do, but I do want the Committee to realise that the alternative is between accepting this Resolution, and getting no Resolution, and, therefore, no Bill. Then, may I add this to the appeal of the Leader of the Opposition? I think this question has now been amply debated. If we do not come to a decision soon, it is very likely we shall not get the Resolution this side of Whitsuntide, and, therefore, the introduction of the Bill will be very considerably delayed, and, in view of the congested state of business, to which the right hon. Gentleman has referred, there may be a real danger that we may not get the Bill at all during this Session. Therefore, I do ask the Committee to allow this to proceed.
§ Sir H. CROFT
May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he can give any indication as to whether this is the final decision of the Government, or whether, during the course of the year, they are going to bring in fresh proposals?
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman mean with regard to this particular question, or cognate questions?
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
As far as the Government is concerned, this is as far as we can go now, and we have no intention to supplement the Bill which 1560 will arise out of this Resolution by any further legislation dealing with the position of these pre-War pensioners. I might add—as I do not think the hon. and gallant Member was here when I spoke—that a great many of those old pensioners will benefit very materially by the Bill we propose to introduce dealing with the amending of the old age pension.
Lieut.-Colonel Sir WILLIAM ALLEN
I do not very often trouble the House, and I have no intention, owing to the appeal made from both sides, of saying what I intended. I will merely satisfy myself with saying how disappointed I shall be in going to Ireland during the Recess with the message of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, more particularly as I know so well how the Royal Irish Constabulary have been treated, and are being treated under this particular Resolution. I am very sorry I cannot give them a better message when I go home. They are people who feel the pinch more than any other section. I know how difficult it is to deal with particular sections in a question of this kind, but if at any time the Chancellor of the Exchequer can do anything to alleviate their position, I am sure we shall all be very grateful. I do hope the time may come when he will be able to do more than he has promised to-day.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.