§ Considered in Committee under Standing Order No. 71A.
§ [Mr. ENTWISTLE in the Chair.]
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That it is expedient in connection with pensions payable to persons to whom the Old Age Pensions Acts, 1908 to 1919, apply to authorise the provision out of moneys provided by Parliament of such further sums as will become payable as a consequence of providing that, for the purpose of determining the weekly rate of pension to which a person is entitled, there shall be deducted from his means as calculated under the said Acts such part, if any, of the means, but not exceeding in any case thirty-nine pounds, as is derived from any source other than earnings."—[King's Recommendation signified.]
§ Captain W. BENN
On a point of Order. May I ask whether it is competent in any form for a Member of this House to move either an Amendment, or a reasoned declaratory Amendment, which would be intended to bring this Resolution into conformity with the pledges which many of us have given to our constituents?
It will not be in order to move any Amendment which goes outside the detailed terms of this Resolution. I cannot answer the question of the hon. Member as a hypothetical question, but if he submits a specific Amendment I will rule on it.
§ Captain BENN
Will you rule that we have either to accept this Resolution as moved by the Government or vote against it, and that there is no power to amend it so as to extend it?
That is a question which has been raised before. Whatever criticism may be made on the form of the Resolution, that does not affect the rules and procedure of the House, and I think that the point raised by the hon. Member has arisen on previous occasions.
§ Mr. MARLEY
Is it possible to construct an Amendment to cover all the pledges that have been given by all hon. Members to their constituents?
§ The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Snowden)
The Financial 470 Resolution which I now submit to the Committee is in fulfilment of pledges which have been given by all parties in this House. In the Election Manifesto issued by hon. Members below the Gangway prior to the last General Election they said:The thrift disqualification attached to old age pensions should be immediately removed. Liberal policy concentrates upon lifting from the homes of the poor those burdens and anxieties of the old, the sick, and the widow with young children which the community has the power and the duty to relieve.The Labour party were much more general in their Election pledges. Referring to this matter, they said:When Labour rules"—which, unfortunately, is not the case to-day—
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
—it will take care that little children shall not needlessly die;…it will make generous provision for the aged people.It will be remembered that this matter was also dealt with in the Election Manifesto of the Unionist party, which said:The solution of the Unemployment problem is the key to every necessary social reform, but I should like to repeat my conviction that we should aim at the reorganisation of our various schemes of insurance against old age, ill-health and unemployment.Then follows this sentence:More particularly should we devote our attention to investigating the possibilities of getting rid of the inconsistencies and the discouragement of thrift at present associated with the working of the Old Age Pensions Act.Reference was made to this Election promise in the King's Speech submitted by the late Government at the opening of this Parliament:Bills will be introduced to improve the position of pre-War pensioners, and to deal with the discouragement of thrift involved in the present means limitation to the grant of old age pensions.4.0 P.M.
When we succeeded the late Government and first met the House of Commons, the Prime Minister, it will be remembered, made a statement of our legislative programme, and, referring to this, he said:They"—referring to the late Government—also promised a probationary system of dealing with offenders, and Bills were to be 471 introduced to amend and consolidate the Factories and Workshops Act, and certain Bills relating to the subject of legitimisation and also Bills to improve the position of pre-War pensioners, and to deal with the discouragement of thrift involved in the present means limitation in the grant of old age pensions.And then he said:We shall carry on the inheritance that we have received in the King's Speech, and we hope to cultivate the field a little more amply than would have been done if we had not come into office."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1924; col. 755, Vol. 169.]The proposal that I am now submitting to the House fulfils, amply fulfils, generously fulfils, the pledge that was given by the Prime Minister in the quotation that I have just read to the House. I want the Committee to understand that we are dealing now with what has come to be known as the thrift disqualification. That is a question upon which the Unionist party and the Liberal party are committed by their election pledges and upon which the Cabinet is committed by the pledge given by the Prime Minister. There is, as I said upon another question the other day, a great deal of ambiguity and indefiniteness in the use of the term "means limit." The hon Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Edwards) introduced a private Member's Motion on this question in the early part of the present Session of Parliament. It referred to the abolition of the means limit, but the whole of the hon. Member's speech and the whole of the speeches made in the Debate were directed and directed only to removing the hardship under the present scheme of old age pensions upon people who have been thrifty and have saved a moderate sum in prospect of old age.
Mr. HUGH EDWARDS
I quoted particularly in my speech the recommendation of the Treasury Committee recommending the abolition of the means limit altogether. I specifically quoted those three recommendations.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
That does not in the least invalidate what I said just now. It is perfectly true that the hon. Member did that, but what I say was that the whole of his speech was devoted to quoting hardships which were inflicted upon and were suffered by old people under the present law. There is a very real difference between the abolition of the means 472 limit and the removal of the present thrift disqualification. If words have a meaning at all, the words "removal of the means limit" mean universal pensions. They mean that in granting a pension the person's means shall not be taken into consideration at all. In other words, that any person who produces a birth certificate to prove that he or she has reached the age of 70 without further evidence or inquiry shall be entitled to an old-age pension. It means, of course, that pensions would be given to millionaires and to Dukes. They would be given to persons who do not need them, who do not want them, and I might add in some cases who do not deserve them. The case for universal old age pensions is not really logical. I can imagine circumstances where universal old age pensions might be justified. If the country had means to squander and it knew of no other purpose to which they could be devoted, then it might give old age pensions to these Dukes and millionaires.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I should think that the longevity among dukes is very high, unfortunately for me as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The abolition of the means limit, which means universal old age pensions, is advocated on the ground that that would remove all inquisitorial inquiry into the means of a person. I admit that there is something in that, and, if we had those abundant means which I supposed a moment ago, then, no doubt, realising the force of that contention, the House of Commons might adopt a scheme of universal old age pensions. The hon. Member for Accrington referred to the recommendations of the Treasury Committee upon old age pensions. I think I am correct in saying that most of the recommendations of that Committee have been carried into effect. In one or two instances we have gone beyond them. But what the hon. Member did not say just now is very important as bearing upon this question of the abolition of the means limit. They said that the recommendation of the abolition of the means limit 473 was dependent upon the Treasury being able to afford it. The practical objection is just that—the cost. The abolition of the means limit and the granting of universal old age pensions would cost at once £18,000,000 a year.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Additional, of course, and that would rise rapidly to £29,000,000 a year. The House will be interested to know that the cost of old age pensions is rising very rapidly, owing to a fact which is most embarrassing to an impecunious Chancellor of the Exchequer, namely, the increasing longevity of the people. I said that only in my capacity as Chancellor of the Exchequer; on every other ground I welcome it. This rapid rise—and we shall have to look forward to it for the next 20 years—is also due to the fact that two generations ago there was an extraordinarily high birth rate, and the people who were born during those years and have survived will reach the age eligible for old age pensions between now and 20 years hence. I informed the Committee just now that the immediate cost of universal old age pensions would be £18,000,000 a year, rising to £29,000,000 a year. The cost of old age pensions this year is £24,000,000, in 1930 it will have risen to £27,000,000, in 1940 to £35,000,000 and in 1945 to £40,000,000. That is to say, in 20 years' time the cost of the universal scheme would be £69,000,000 a year if we maintained the present age limit of 70 and also the maximum payment of 10s. per week. I would ask the Committee to remember that figure of £69,000,000 and also that we are finding this year £67,000,000 for war pensions. The cost of universal old age pensions is therefore prohibitive.
In attacking this problem we are bound to have regard, not only to the present cost of social services, but to the automatic increase in the present cost, and also to the cost of new social services to which all parties in the House are more or less committed. Therefore, the problem that I had to face was this: How to translate into a scheme the pledges of the other two political parties and the pledge of the Prime Minister to deal with this thrift disqualification. At the outset I was met by the difficulty, to which I have already referred, of defining 474 and limiting the term "thrift disqualification." What is thrift? What is the limit of income which may be said to be a reward of thrift? I have to confess that I have put that question to a great number of people, and their replies have not been helpful. I have had some people who said, "Well, everything that a man accumulates is thrift." I have had other people who said, "Ah, well, say £5 a week or £10 a week." Other people have been much more moderate in their definition of the reward of thrift. However, I have been helped to a conclusion by the history of this demand for the abolition of the thrift disqualification. I was in the House, and I believe my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn), juvenile as he still looks, was in the House when the Liberal party first introduced the Old Age Pensions Bill. The hon. and gallant Member will remember that this question was raised during that Debate, and the Labour party, which was very small in number in those clays, urged that any income by way of old age allowances from friendly societies or trades unions should be excluded from the calculation of means of the old age pensioner. Ever since then the strength of this general demand has gathered its force from the feeling of injustice amongst this class of people. That is the problem, in a somewhat broader aspect, that I have set myself to deal with by the proposals now before the Committee.
There was this further consideration to be taken into account. Some would-be reformers of Old Age Pensions have suggested it would be possible to discriminate as between means resulting from various kinds of thrift, and to eliminate certain of them, as, for instance, what some of them regard as the greater virtue of communal thrift—the thrift associated with friendly societies or trade unions as compared with the thrift, sometimes described as selfish, on the part of the man who makes provision for his old age by investments either in property or in some other way. I am convinced that no distinction ought to 'be made, and that the scheme should cover every-kind of thrift. In the circumstances I have also been forced to the conclusion that it is impossible to devise any workable scheme discriminating satisfactorily 475 between thrift and benevolence. What am I doing about benevolence? I am aware that in the calculation of means of persons applying for pensions the inclusion of gifts from sons or relatives or employers has given rise to a good deal of irritation and a good deal of indignation. These are in the nature of benevolent gifts, and under the Resolution which I now submit they would, up to a certain amount, be entirely excluded in calculating the pension.
I suggest that under this Resolution the existing basis of calculation of means will be continued. In other words I am not interfering in the slightest degree with the existing Acts, but my proposal is rather superadded to the existing scheme. I am proposing, as hon. Members who have seen the White Paper will understand, to make an addition of 15s. per week when derived from sources other than earnings to the 10s. per week which at present may be derived from any source, without reducing the pension from the full 10s. a week. In the case of a single man I propose to allow 15s., and 30s. in the case of a married couple. In other words the existing scale will stand, but I propose that in addition a sum of 30s. per week, if it is derived from thrift or benevolence, is to be ignored in calculating the means of the married couple. Such a couple, whose income is 50s. a week, will be entitled to a joint pension of £1 a week. In the case of a single person the figures are halved, and if his or her income is 25s. a week he or she will be entitled to the full pension of 10s per week under like conditions as to the source of income. The graded scales at present in existence will continue to operate up to the joint income of nearly £3 10s. per week in the case of a married couple, and nearly 35s. per week in the case of a single person.
If hon. Members who are in possession of the White Paper will turn to it for a moment I propose to take one or two cases showing how my scheme will work. I will take the second illustration given on page 3. Here you have an old married couple drawing a superannuation allowance of 25s. a week. That couple have also saved enough to bring them in £1 per week, and it may be that from small gifts from friends or by doing small jobs, or by working a little allotment they get 476 a further income of 5s. per week. That couple will get an old age pension of £1 per week.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
The right hon. Gentleman has referred to earnings on allotments or otherwise, but do not earnings disqualify the applicant?
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Yes, the right hon. Gentleman is quite right—I have taken the wrong example, but these are cases where a certain amount from earning will not invalidate the receipt of a pension. A married man would of course be barred from receiving a full pension if he earned anything above 20s. a week. I am glad of that interruption because it gives me an opportunity of saying this, that I have expressly excluded earnings I do not think it right to do anything to encourage earnings by individuals above 70 years of age. If a man has not earnings approaching the figure I have just given he will be enabled to get something as the "original scale" will still be operative. Take the case of a single individual given on the same page lower down. There you have the assumption that the man is earning 12s. a week and he gets 5s. 6d. weekly as a benevolent allowance. Under the present law his rate of pension is 2s. per week. Under our proposal 5s. 6d. per week would be deducted in calculating the means, which would then be taken at 12s. per week, and the rate of pension would be 8s. per week; only 5s. 6d. and not 15s. would be deducted here as the means other than earnings only amount to that sum. The reason why that man would not get a full pension is because the greater part of his income is derived from earnings.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Yes, they are. Take another case on page 4. There you have the case of a married couple whose income from earnings represent, 20s. a week, from property 10s., and from a benevolent allowance 6s., or a total income of 36s, per week. Under the present law the rate of pension is 2s. per week, but under this new scheme each of them will be entitled to the full pension of 10s. per week. Under the existing law if a single person has an income exceeding £26 per year he is not entitled to draw the full pension, and in the case of married couples the 477 income is divided so that where the joint income is £26 per year each would be credited with £13 per year, and they would get the full pension. The bottom illustration on page 4 represents a most extreme case. It is assumed there that the earnings are £2 per week. I have put the income from property at 22s. per week, giving a total income of 62s. per week. In that case no pension would be payable, and I am prepared to justify that, because I do not think we are doing a good thing in paying pensions to a man who is earning £2 a week; I do not want to subsidise wages.
That is how my scheme will operate in practice. But I would like to give one further illustration. When my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury introduced the Resolution dealing with pre-War pensions a few weeks ago, it was severely criticised on the ground of its lack of generosity, and when I spoke in the second Debate on that Resolution, I asked hon. Members to withhold their criticisms until they saw our proposals for dealing with old age pensions. I ventured then to anticipate that what we were proposing would be a very substantial relief to a large number of these pre-War pensioners who are over the age of 70. Let me take the case of a married couple. The man has a pre-War pension of £60 per year. His increased pension is for the purposes of old age pension under the existing scheme, divided into two, and neither of the couple would, consequently, be entitled to a pension. Under my scheme they would get the full pension of £1 per week, thereby raising their pre-War pension by a further £52 a year.
This new scheme will remove every reasonable grievance The population over 70 years of age is 1,600,000. The number of old age pensioners is just under 1,000,000—to be precise, 917,000. Of those 917,000, 854,000 are in receipt of the full pension. There are only 63,000 who do not get the full pension, and it may interest the Committee to know that the average pension for these 63,000 is 6s. a week. My proposal will raise the bulk of those 63,000 limited pensions to the full rate. But, of course, it will do a great deal more than that. As I have said, the population over 70 years of age is 1,600,000. Of those who are not pensioners the number of occupied people 478 over 70, with their wives, is estimated as 383,000. That includes people in business and their wives, well-to-do people and those of the manual labour class who are still sufficiently active to be able to continue their occupation. There are estimated to be 200,000 unoccupied people over the age of 70, and those include, as every Member of the Committee would naturally assume, a very large percentage of well-to-do and even of rich people. I am not dealing with the occupied classes. They do not come at all into the question of dealing with the abolition of thrift disqualification. Of the 300,000 unoccupied persons and their wives who are over the age of 70, my proposal will give a pension to about 173,000, I estimate. Those left outside, obviously, include people of very considerable means.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
The number of pensioners is 917,000 now. If you add 173,000, you bring the total up to 1,090,000. This proposal meets every reasonable grievance. I do not think that anyone can complain of the lack of generosity in a scheme which is going to add to an income of 50s. a week a State pension of £1 a week. As to the cost, estimates are necessarily to some extent rather hazardous. The data on which the Government Actuary has to estimate is to some extent very hypothetical. However, I think that on the whole the Estimates may be taken as approximately accurate. The Estimate is that the cost of this scheme in the first full year will be about £4,150,000, and it will continue to rise and in a few years' time will reach £7,000,000.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
It will start as soon as the House of Commons will give it an opportunity to start; the scheme will come into operation as soon as the Bill receives the King's Assent. But the right hon. Gentleman knows that there will be a good deal of administrative work to be done. I put forward this proposal in no sense as a final and complete settlement of the problem of old age pensions. In this scheme I have dealt with that aspect of it involved in the grievance of disqualification of thrift. With that I submit that I have dealt not 479 only adequately but generously. The whole problem of social insurance is in a chaotic state. There is no co-ordination. I am sure that, whatever Government is in office within the next few years, it cannot avoid overhauling the whole system of national insurance. I have at this Box, on more than one occasion, stated, without, however, giving any definite pledge, that we hope as soon as possible to be able to introduce a Measure dealing with that very urgent matter. I am glad to be able to inform the Committee that we have had our experts considering this question, and that very considerable progress has been made with their inquiries. I am hoping that before very long—I do not know whether we shall be able to introduce it this year or not; that will depend upon Parliamentary opportunity—I shall be able to submit to the House a scheme on a new basis which will deal with mothers' pensions and at the same time will provide means by which the age for old age pensions can be reduced, say, to 65. I do not submit this scheme as a final settlement. It is no use hon. Members of the Liberal party taunting me or the Government with our platform and propagandist speeches.
§ Captain BENN
Will the right hon. Gentleman read the Motion which his party has put down year after year in this House—a Motion which this proposal does not fulfil?
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
The hon. and gallant Member will have an opportunity of dealing with that subject in the course of the speech which I presume he intends to make, and I shall have an opportunity of replying to him. I submit that this is a fulfilment of the Government's pledges and it is a fulfilment of the pledges of the Liberal party. It is a fulfilment, an ample fulfilment, of the pledge given by the Unionist party at the last Election. I do not care anything about the hon. and gallant Member taunting us with the Resolutions that have been put forward in this House in years gone by. I am very much more concerned about the benefit, the really substantial benefit, which is to be given to nearly 250,000 old people in this country. That benefit, so long delayed, will be conceded by the terms of the Resolution which I now submit.
§ Captain Viscount CURZON
May I ask one question? Will Supplementary Estimate be necessary in order to effect this change?
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
At the beginning of his interesting speech the Chancellor of the Exchequer quoted with some care the various election addresses of the three parties, and if that was in order to show that all parties in the House share a common desire to find some way of modifying or removing the disqualifications which now exist in the Old Age Pensions Act, I agree with him, for there is no doubt that the present disqualifications do militate against thrift. The fact that a man has subscribed to a friendly society or has saved money and bought his house, or, perhaps, has answered the appeals to be a patriot and has bought War Savings Certificates—the fact that that should disqualify him for a pension is an anti-social act. The State ought to encourage that form of thrift and ought never to allow it to be a bar against old age pensions. If that is what the right hon. Gentleman quoted those election addresses for, I think he is probably preaching to the converted, for all parties have had that in their programmes for some time. The right hon. Gentleman was a little chary with his quotations, all the same. He said that the Resolution was amply and generously fulfilling the pledges given by the Prime Minister. He referred to one pledge only, the pledge that the Prime Minister gave early in the Session. He did not hike any notice of the various Resolutions which the Labour party has brought forward in the last three Parliaments. I am not sore that he himself voted for them.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON-EVANS
I thought the right hon. Gentleman was more cautious. I thought he had some sort of inkling of what they would cost. I see now that the caution has come later on, when the full facts are before him. Just for the matter of record, it might be worth while for the Committee to remember what the Resolution was. I am reading it from a very authentic document, a document which right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite no doubt recognise. It is said to beA speaker's handbook, designed in the main to provide the active workers in the 481 Labour movement with the necessary powder and shot to enable them more effectively to carry on their fight.It records the Motion which has been proposed by the Labour party three, if not four, times, as follows:That in the opinion of this House the recommendations of the Departmental Committee on Old Age Pensions in favour of the repeal of the provisions of the Old Age Pensions Act as to qualification by means should be adopted and the Old Age Pensions Act amended accordingly, thereby enabling applicants for and recipients of old age pensions to derive the full benefit of their thrift and provision for old age, and to receive assistance from friends, employers and organisations without reduction of or disqualification for the full pension.That is the Motion. It is not carried out by the proposal made to-day. The Chancellor of the Exchequer thinks that it is. Let me pursue the matter for a moment. The present Home Secretary explained on the platform what the policy of the Labour party was. He said in Newcastle on 30th November last:They (the Labour party) would see that the obtaining of money from any other source would not affect pensions in any way.Is that the proposal of the Chancellor? Not at all! The right hon. Gentleman just now had to admit that all earnings are taken into account. But the proposal of the Home Secretary was that no matter where the money came from, whatever the income, whether from savings or from earnings, the recipients of old-age pensions should not have anything knocked off their pensions. That was his proposal; that was what he put before the electors in November last. I am sorry the President of the Board of Trade is not here, because he also explained to the electors what the Labour party's policy was. He said:He would press again for the payment of old age pensions of the full 10s. irrespective of any savings a man had.That is not the right hon. Gentleman's proposal. I do not know whether the President of the Board of Trade has been pressing the right hon. Gentleman on the matter. Did the President of the Board of Trade press the right hon. Gentleman at yesterday's meeting?
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON - EVANS
That is quite enough for my purpose. I do not wish to overload the case at all. I wanted to see what was the Labour party's policy as put to the electors, upon which they got votes from the electors, and I wanted to know whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer slated he was now carrying out the policy which he put before the electors.
§ Sir L. WORTHINGTON - EVANS
Therein the right hon. Gentleman differs from both the Home Secretary and the President of the Board of Trade. They have stated that what they meant was a full and complete leaving alone of any income, whether derived from savings or from earnings, and this Resolution does not do anything of the sort. It is well known why that proposal was made. It was in order to get rid of the inquisitorial inquiry into means. That is the reason which has been given over and over again. You do not get rid a this inquisitorial inquiry by the Chancellor's proposal. That inquiry goes on just as it did before. The pensions officer will make the same inquiries, except that he will have to make one more—what is the income, and does it come from earnings or savings? If it comes from earnings, then one course will be taken; if it comes from savings, another course will be taken. There is still, unfortunately, a differentiation between those who have saved and those who have not saved. The right hon. Gentleman tried to give a definition of thrift. I share his difficulty in that respect. I do not think it is possible. But this is certain: you have to inquire now whether a man has been thrifty or has not. If he has been saving beyond a certain point, then he is to be penalised for doing so. I only say so because I think it necessary that hon. Members should realise that this matter is not finished. This is not the real solution. The Chancellor quite properly said that whatever party might be ruling this country in the next few years, this question would have to be dealt with.
I believe it has to be dealt with, and I only wish the Chancellor had been able to say something more about what is probably the real solution, namely, the introduction of some comprehensive form of insurance under which the test will be: Has a man contributed or has he not; 483 if he has, let him have benefit without any inquiry of any sort. [HON. MEMBERS: "And reduce the benefits!"] Hon. Members cannot have thought over the question if they make that suggestion. There is no question of reducing benefits. The State to-day is making a contribution of millions to the various forms of insurance. What is wanted is a better grouping of benefits, so that the restrictions can be cut out and a simple test applied for those who are entitled to receive benefits. I believe there is a great possibility open for the re-arrangement of benefits, without any attempt to transfer from the State to the individual any of the cost now borne by the State. The Chancellor, notwithstanding the prior history of his party and the Election promises of his colleagues, has come up against the facts. He has told its that this is going to cost at once in a full year an additional £4,000,000, rising to £7,000,000, so that pensions, when this is passed, will be costing £28,000,000 per year, rising in 20 years to £47,000,000. The right hon. Gentleman has examined the alternative of striking out the means limit altogether, and he has pointed out that it would mean an expenditure of £41,000,000 at once, rising to £69,000,000. I agree with him there is no justification for a universal old age pension at a cost to the State of such a large sum, because the money could only be raised by a further tax upon the unemployed or by causing a great many others to become unemployed. I intend, therefore, to support the Chancellor in his Resolution. I do so, pending the more complete and comprehensive proposals of insurance generally which, I agree with him, will have to be brought in by whatever Government may be in power, and in the hope that in these more comprehensive proposals we shall find some way of getting rid of the inquiries which have now to be made and of substituting for them a more simple and universal test.
§ Mr. GEORGE THORNE
I ask leave of the Committee to take a part in this discussion, which to me is peculiarly interesting. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, referring just now to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Leith (Captain W. Benn), said they were both in the House 16 years ago when my right hon. Friend the Leader 484 of the Liberal party, who had been Chancellor of the Exchequer and had just been elevated to the position of Prime Minister, introduced his final Budget. That date is peculiarly interesting to me, because it is the date on which I was introduced for the first time to this House as representative of the constituency which I have had the honour of representing ever since, and the very first formal vote I had to give was in favour of the Old Age Pension scheme, the announcement of which was comprised in that very important Budget. But my interest in this great question has been much closer and deeper than that. It was my responsibility and privilege to be a member of the Departmental Committee which considered this question. There were five Members of Parliament on that Committee, and I think only two are now in the House—the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for War and myself. We both voted then for the majority report, which was distinctly and absolutely in favour of universal pensions. I took that position advisedly and after the fullest consideration. I have held it ever since, and I hold it to-day.
We discussed every aspect of the question which has been so effectively submitted to the House by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; we viewed every possible way of facing the difficulty of the means limit, the very point to which the right hon. Gentleman has been referring; we approached the question from every avenue and listened to every argument, and we were forced to the conclusion that there was no possible way out of the problem but by granting universal old-age pensions. That was in 1919, but the principle which applies to-day is exactly the same. Although the pension has gone up to 10s. weekly, the principle remains the same. I am trying to put the matter from a non-party standpoint, and I honestly say I regard this as such a vital matter to the poor that I, for one, do not care from what party it comes, as long as the welfare of the poor is promoted. Therefore, I am glad this Resolution has been proposed. It does not go as far as I want but it goes a long way and, so far as it goes, I am grateful for it and gladly accept it. Our position on the Committee to which I have referred was put very clearly and it was that the existence of the means limit branded the Old Age Pension as a com passionate grant. We stated then, and? 485 stand by it still, that the pension should be a civic right and not a compassionate grant, and that the inclusion in an applicant's means—by reason of which he might lose his right to pension—of certain kinds of income, injuriously affects thrift, benevolence and industry. All that has happened since only confirms the view in my mind that there is no final way out of this difficulty except by means of universal pensions. The Committee also considered that the inquiries essential to the system caused a certain amount of irritation, I would put it even more strongly, that they cause a great amount of irritation which is very disastrous, in my view, to the stability of the nation. I signed the Report of that Committee, and I stand by it. A Motion was introduced in this House last year to which reference has been made. It was moved by one of the friends of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I cannot better the expression which was used by the Mover of that Resolution when he said:We are merely asking that everyone who attains the age of 70 years and desires a pension shall have it without investigation into what his means are."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1923; col. 1159, Vol. 160.]5.0 P.M.
After all the arguments put before us on the Committee to which I have referred, I am convinced there is no other way out of this problem without causing all kinds of inconsistencies and injustice. There is no other way of avoiding this inquisitorial investigation, which, of all things, is the thing I most desire to get rid of. I had hopes possibly not for the whole, but for something further than the Chancellor is proposing to-day, because of the Resolution submitted to the House last year. Unfortunately I was then at home ill, but if I had been here I should, at any rate have voted for it, and my hon. Friend and colleague the Chief Whip of the Liberal party did vote for it, and spoke upon it. While, therefore, we are justified in supporting the proposal, it seems to me to come with rather bad grace from the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, and now gone out, for the reason that his party moved an Amendment to the Motion, and carried it, in consequence of which the Motion itself was lost. My friends voted for that Motion, and voted for it, I understand, with all the, responsibility that 486 naturally ensued. I would ask hon. Members above the Gangway to remember that every leader of their party, as well as all the rank and file, voted too. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and all the other Members did the same, and the impression formed on my mind by that vote was that the Labour party was absolutely committed to the idea of universal pensions, which I, for one, have supported all these years by reason of my being a member of the Committee.
Personally, I should be only too glad to hear from the Chancellor that his position is this—I am going to put the position I would like him to take up—that while at present, owing to the financial position, he does not find it possible to grant all we desire, yet when the financial conditions improve, he is perfectly prepared to grant the full thing for which we have asked. That is a position which would be perfectly consistent, it seems to me, with the course taken last year, by which I stand, because I am absolutely convinced that we can never relieve the anxieties of these old people except by a Measure of universal pensions. I know it is said that this is merely sentimental, but, personally, having given the matter all the consideration of which I am capable, I entirely deny that. In my view, it is the greatest common-sense proposal we can possibly have. Fear is certainly an incentive to thrift, but hope is an infinitely greater incentive. The man who is frightened is robbed of his power of doing his best, but the man who knows beforehand that when he arrives at 70 years of age, and when his physical powers are failing, all his efforts will be to his own advantage, that they will not be used against him, will be inspired and encouraged to greater energy and greater thrift than he has ever manifested before.
I want to see our people inspired by that ideal, that when old age conies there is a certainty that what they have earned and saved they will get the benefit of, and the State will come in, additionally, with the civic pension to which they are entitled. I think the State ought to re- ward thrift, and not penalise it. Holding that view strongly, and having spoken in its favour on every platform up and down the country, and in my party exercised all the influence I possess in that direction, 487 while I am thankful for what is being done, and while we shall support the Chancellor's Bill, we recognise that this is only a stepping-stone to something bigger and something larger, and we look forward with hope and confidence, whether it comes from the Labour party, or the Liberal party, or even from the Torty party, I do not care from whom it comes, so long as we get the benefit for the old folk of this land.
§ Mr. CLIMIE
I am old enough to remember the struggles that we had previous to 1908 to try to get the political parties of those days to adopt the principle of old age pension, and I remember—I think it was 1906—when we were fighting a General Election, and while every political party expressed the deepest sympathy with old age pensions, their one feeling was that no money could be found to give us old age pensions. That was always the complaint—money could not be found. Well, the Liberal party did, in 1908, find the money, and the amount they found was 5s. a week for a man when he reached 70 years of age. From that date onwards, whenever I could, I was agitating and trying to convince politicians that 5s. a week was too little to give to our old people who had been employed in the industries of this country. The question, of course, was, Where would you find the money? We had a War, and we found a lot of money for that, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in bringing forward his Budget, had to find £305,000,000 for interest on War Debt. He had to find £45,000,000 for a Sinking Fund for that War Debt, and still he has a difficulty in finding smile £10,000,000 or £12,000,000 more to-day to wipe out the means limit with regard to old age pensions.
§ Mr. CLIMIE
I understood the Chancellor to say that if he were entirely to abolish the means limit, it would cost £18,000,000, as against the £7,000,000 this is costing.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
The hon. Member is confusing two things. What I said was that the initial cost of abolishing the means limit would be £18,000,000 for the first year, rising to £29,000,000. My 488 scheme is going to cost, in the first full year, £4,150,000, and after that £7,000,000.
§ Mr. CLIMIE
That makes a difference of about £21,000,000. I stand corrected by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; one cannot grasp every point in the course of a Debate. I want to say, quite frankly, that if I had to choose be teen a universal pension and reducing the age to 65 years, so that we could bring in a larger number of old people, then I would much rather bring in the greater number of old people at 65 than have the universal pension. I recognise, of course, the great difficulties of the Chancellor of the Exchequer in trying to find the money, hut the Chancellor of the Exchequer fund the money—that is the point—to pay the interest and Sinking Fund on War Debt. I know he is in favour of a Capital Levy. I am not going to enter into that, but I simply point out that he found the money without a Capital Levy, to pay the interest and Sinking Fund on War Debt. I wish he could have seen his way to find the money to give us what he has given us to-day, and, at the same time, reduced the age to 65 years. While I, personally, have on every occasion during the two elections that I have fought declared definitely in favour of the complete abolition of the inquisitorial investigations that take place, I am grateful for what the Chancellor has done to-day, but I wish I could get some promise from him, though I am afraid it would be impossible to get it.
The proposals he is bringing in to-day, as the right hon. Gentleman opposite said, do not do away with these inquisitorial investigations. Although the Chancellor has raised the limit for a single person to £39, and for married couples to £78, so far as I can see, unless he is able to devise sonic means whereby the investigation can be obviated, the Inland Revenue officer will still require to go to the old age pensioner and ask how much she has in the co-operative society, what she is getting from her son or daughter, or to ask the man what he is receiving from his friendly society, and so on. I am against those questions being asked. I know the difficulties of making universal pensions. I am not able to propose a scheme to the Chancellor, but I want, somehow, that people when they reach the age at which we are going to give them a pension can go to the post office, can register to become 489 entitled to the pension by age, and, whatever investigations may be required, they will be reduced to the very lowest possible minimum. I am not getting what I want, not by a long, long way. I, frankly, am in favour of reducing the age to 60 years. I think that when a man has worked until he is fit to work no longer, so long as he has been steady, sober—
§ The DEPUTY - CHAIRMAN (Mr. Entwistle)
The hon. Member cannot argue in favour of reducing the pensionable age to 60 or 65 years. That is not in order on this Resolution. He can say he is in favour of it, but he must not argue it.
§ Mr. CLIMIE
Well, I will not argue it. I take it that the Committee will agree with me on the subject, and I know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is in favour of that. I have advocated it, as I say, in every election speech that. I have made, and I have advocated also the abolition of the means limit.
§ Mr. CLIMIE
No, but it requires some courage for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to bring forward the Resolution he has brought forward to-day. The hon. Member's party never brought it forward, nor did the Conservative party. At the same time, there is no harm in me telling the Chancellor of the Exchequer that I am sorry he has not been able to do more in this way, and that I am going to support his Resolution, if it comes to a vote, with the sure knowledge that when he can find the money, which I hope he will be able to do when he introduces his next Budget, he will abolish the means limit and at the same time reduce the age.
§ Sir JAMES REMNANT
Several hon. Members have expressed, in no uncertain terms, their desire that politics should in no way be introduced into this subject, and have at once proceeded themselves to introduce polities and to attack one or other of the parties as delinquents in the matter, and to try and claim the credit for their own particular party. I have often said that this subject is too serious a matter for the welfare of the old people to be made the subject of party politics. This proposal of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to-day has undoubtedly 490 disappointed a great many people in this country, and I venture to say that the right hon. Gentleman himself is not satisfied with what is proposed to-day. Those who have listened to him and followed his great career know that his heart is warm towards this subject, and that we can rely upon him doing, at the very earliest opportunity, what is desired by us all. I must refer to the speech of the hon. Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. G. Thorne), who ended up by saying that even the Tory party is now supporting this Measure. I wish he were present, but if he were I would remind him that under the ballot for private Members' Bills, in almost the first year in which I got into this House—some years longer ago than he could remember—I had the luck to get first place, and the Bill that I had the honour to introduce then was a Bill to give old age pensions of 5s. to British subjects. It met with a good deal of opposition from the party opposed to that to which I belong, and we did not carry it, but when one party tries to claim that it has introduced a subject, all I can say is that it, is then open to a counter-proposition, which can be proved by reference to the OFFICIAL REPORT, and if we did as I should like every hon. Member to do, and that is to drop any little credit we may have earned in dealing with this subject and rally round the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his endeavour to provide for this great and crying demand from our old people, we should do well. Does the right hon. Gentleman propose that the modification of the thrift limit should be extended to, say, the police?
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Yes, most certainly. I think my hon. Friend did not hear my speech, but I gave an illustration. Suppose you have a married man getting a pre-War pension of £60 a year; under the existing law, in consequence of the increase under the Pre-War Pensions Act, he would get no Old Age Pension at all. Under my scheme both he and his wife would get the full pension of 10s. a week.
§ Sir J. REMNANT
The right hon. Gentleman knows that in the case of the police they have contributed towards the payment of their pension. Will that be represented by earned income?
§ Sir J. REMNANT
That will not be a question hindering them from getting the increase due to thrift under the present proposal?
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
I gave an illustration in my opening speech, and I showed that in the case of a single man, if the pensioner is not receiving more than about 35s. a week that individual would not be disqualified from receiving some pension. If the same man has a pension of £50 a year, £39 would be deducted from that. The result would be that his income for old age pension purposes would be regarded as £11 provided he has no other means, and he would be entitled to a full pension
§ Sir J. REMNANT
I am much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his explanation, so that under this proposal the poor police pensioner will benefit?
§ Sir J. REMNANT
There are very few of them, these poor old chaps who have contributed all their lives towards this particular pension and done faithful service, and I hope the right hon. Gentle-, man will be able to include them. I am, however, much obliged to him for giving this explanation, because it does meet a point which is pressing very hardly on some civil servants to-day, and I know that they would be the last to belittle, anything that is done towards relieving the distress that they are under in these grievous times. What strikes me as one of the most important steps now taken by the right hon. Gentleman is his practical admission that thrift should be encouraged rather than discouraged in dealing with these old age pensioners. He has been a pioneer of the movement, and the first to bring it into a concrete proposal, and nobody can be otherwise than grateful to him for the recognition of something for which hon. Members in this House and people outside have been clamouring for so many years. The question of affording it is always a difficulty. I remember over 20 years ago, when the subject of old age pensions was introduced, the question of whether we could afford it was brought up everlastingly. Why one strongly advocates the question 492 of protection, or import duties, or any other such duties, is that this money could easily be found by putting such a duty on imports into this country as would represent the difference between wages paid in that industry in this country and those paid abroad. The Chancellor laughs, and I expected he would, but it is coming, and it is coming from the right hon. Gentleman's party.
§ Sir J. REMNANT
No, Sir. In the days when this question was first introduced, the question of finding the money was as rampant as it is to-day, and, perhaps, more so. At that time that was one of the and a very plausible means, by which it was hoped to find the necessary money, but then, like now, it was not acceptable to the majority of Members in this House. I hope I am in order in saying that means have to be found, and that I hope the right hon. Gentleman will, as I am sure he could if he wished, find that he can give pensions, regardless of the thrift question, to our aged poor. I do not wish to introduce any subject which I should not introduce, and I am not arguing it, but I give it as a sample of the way in which we hoped in those clays to do it. It will come, and the sooner the better. I only wish now to thank the right hon. Gentleman for this step forward. We must see to it that the old poor, to whatever class they belong, whether they are civil servants, or working men, or anything else, have sufficient in their old age to keep away anxiety, not only in regard to the workhouse, but even in regard to life itself, so that they can enjoy the rest which they have earned.
§ Mr. FOOT
I do not want to follow the hon. Baronet the Member for Holborn (Sir J. Remnant) into the question of whether old age pensions are best provided by a Free Trade system, or by any other system. But the fact remains that pensions were originally secured under a Free Trade system, by a Free Trade Chancellor of the Exchequer, who was a Member of a Government which governed under a policy of Free Trade. I hardly know whether to thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer or to express my regret, though I think 493 possibly anything I have to say will be thanks mingled with regret. When I heard him speak on one point, there came to me the words of Walter Bagehot:An Opposition on coming into power is often like a speculative merchant whose bills become due.I think this is one of the Bills which has become due. I was interested in the different parts of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, because I thought there was a conflict between them. I gathered from one part of his speech that this proposal to-day was the first step which was being taken, but later he rather poured contempt upon the proposal for universal pensions, and I think he used the term "logical pedantry." I should like to know whether this is intended to precede a whole system of pensions such as was put forward by the Treasury Commission which was set up some years ago, and was also recommended by the right hon. Gentleman's own party in succeeding years.
Although my Parliamentary experience is not long, I have sat in three successive Parliaments. I remember that in the first Parliament a Motion was brought forward by a colleague of the right hon. Gentleman, who is no longer in the House. I refer to the then hon. Member for Spen Valley (Mr. Myers). The Labour party by that Resolution at that time definitely and specifically proposed to wipe out the means limit altogether. I think there was a reasoned Amendment brought forward by a member of the Conservative party on that occasion in which he sought to show the injustice of giving pensions to the rich and to millionaires. That, I suppose, would be condemned now by the Chancellor of the Exchequer as "logical pedantry." At that time the Tory Amendment was resisted, and the abolition of the whole means limit secured the vote of every Labour Member in the House. There was a similar experience last year when an hon. Member representing one of the Scottish divisions urged the same contention, and there was a Member, I think the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. D. Herbert), who again spoke of "logical pedantry." He used the phrase the Chancellor of the Exchequer has used to-day when he spoke of the logical pedantry of giving pensions to millionaires. My sympathy, I am bound to say, goes out to those sitting upon the benches opposite, because what- 494 ever be the proposals which the Chancellor is making to-day, hon. Members on that side were earlier held up to a good deal of opposition, and in the subsequent election, because they had fought against the proposals to get rid of the means limit altogether.
I was very interested in hearing the Chancellor speaking to-night, because almost my first recollection in politics was of hearing a very eloquent speech from the right hon. Gentleman in my own town of Plymouth. That was the time when the right hon. Gentleman the present Member for Paisley (Mr. Asquith) was making his suggestion for the establishment of old age pensions under the Government of that day. The argument was then used by the Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequer that his was only a first step—in fact, that they were only going a little way. I remember the speech of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, and remember it very well. I remember his extended finger and the scorn with which he spoke of the efforts of the then Chancellor, and he wound up:And these be thy gods, O Liberals!I had the temerity afterwards, as a very young man, to get up and put some questions to the speaker. I remember the severity with which the right hon. Gentleman replied that the arguments I was putting forward were those that were frequently heard in the House of Commons, and he suggested I would make an admirable Liberal candidate for Parliament. I am, therefore, rather interested, after the lapse of so many years, in view of all that has been said, to see that he is prepared to forego, and indeed abandon, the definite declarations made in successive Parliaments by the Labour party—for the time being to abandon the pledges, on which the election was fought, and upon which votes were secured. He is now taking practically the same view that I took so many, many years ago, but which he then thought only deserving of scorn.
The objection I have to the proposals is that they retain that most objectionable feature of our old age pension system, and that is the inquisition, and I myself believe that smaller pensions with no inquisition would be almost more acceptable than the retention of the present pension with the inquisition. At any rate, I know 495 that matters have been frequently referred to me by persons interested in old age pensioners. I have looked into them and communicated with the Customs and Excise, and if necessary have got figures, but when I give these figures to the old folk, I can never get them to understand the figures which are in possession of the Office. The old folk are never very good at figures anyhow, and are baffled by the various calculations. We do not get rid of this objectionable inquisition. Why not allow a declaration to be made, as is done in other cases, and if you discover that there is obvious fraud, then punish that fraud. It ought to be possible, I think, that when declarations are accepted in other cases, in relation to Income Tax involving millions upon millions of money, so far as the Treasury is concerned, to accept them here. It has always seemed to me a very simple proposal. Where the pensions were larger, the questions should be larger, and where the pensions were smaller the questions should be less numerous; while now it is the other way about. The smaller the pension the more searching is the inquisition. I hope that this matter will be given some thought in any subsequent proposals.
I should like to have from the Chancellor, or his colleague the Financial Secretary, if he is answering later, some fuller explanation of one or two points than I have been able to get yet. I have the advantage, or disadvantage, of sitting on a back bench, and I am not certain that I heard all the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor had to say; but I should like to know later precisely what is to be done as to the calculation of earnings. Let me take the case of a man, say, who has been living on a farm and working all his days there. He has got to about 70. He likes to look after the horses and the cattle, so far as he is able, and to potter about in the familiar fields. If he were not allowed to do this, he would be utterly miserable. Surely, then, if he goes on as many do, especially where there may be a shortage of labour in the country districts, it is very, very hard that what he makes by this kind of labour should be taken into consideration, and may result in the cutting down of his pension. Do I understand that now these earnings will not come into consideration?
§ Mr. FOOT
At present these are frequently taken into consideration, and sometimes the result is a prosecution, because a man has been able to get some work. I hope there will be an opportunity to go more closely into that part of the question. There is a further suggestion that something should be done as to the calculation of interest. I believe that upon what are the limited savings of these people this calculation bears very hardly. They are assumed to get a certain rate per cent. of interest which is actually a great deal more than they generally do receive. These people have a little amount of money, something they have put aside in a cloam teapot—as we say in the West Country—or the stocking, and it may be banked later, though it is very rarely that they get anything more than 2½ per cent. Would it not be possible so to amend the Regulations that the interest that is debited to these people will show some sort of a correspondence with what they actually receive. There are very few eases at the present time where these people receive 5 per cent. The Chancellor has pat forward as his reason for not going further to-day the fact that the cost is so heavy. For myself, I suggest only that the old people should come first; I think particularly the aged who are in need should come first. They have the first claim. If you have only so much money that can be spent in these benevolent directions—no, I will not say benevolent—but just directions, I think you ought to consider, first of all, the claims of those who are in most need. I think that these are in most need, and, though I may not sneak for others, I express the opinion that. I would rather have had some of the Budget concessions, even such concessions as those associated with the entertainments industry, held over until we had fulfilled some of the primary duties that I have just endeavoured to outline.
§ Mr. GIBBINS
I would claim the indulgence and patience of the House. Though hon. Members have heard other maiden speeches during the last few days, think I may be assured of the sympathy of the House on this occasion. There is one thing with reference to the hon. and 497 learned Gentleman opposite who mentioned "the present disqualifications." If I know anything at all about this matter, these disqualifications have been in existence for 16 years. At any rate, the speeches this afternoon are to the effect that the Labour party have simply met something for which they and not other parties, were responsible. Apart, however, from that there have been the speeches about pledges and broken pledges, and, in fact, if it were possible to eliminate from the speeches of this House the references to broken pledges very few speeches would remain. That has been My experience during the last three or four weeks. For years the discussions on old age pensions and the removal of disqualifications have been going. It is not merely a present disqualification. As a matter of fact, though the matter was well known to both the Independent Liberal party and the Coalition party, for a number of years we have not heard of any great demand for the removal of the disqualifications. Hon. Members have my sympathy in this matter.
§ Mr. GIBBINS
The fact remains that these disqualifications are here, and I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer has done very well to remove some of them; and for this reason, because he is in touch with the poor people who have suffered, and is anxious to provide immediate assistance. There is one man of whom I could tell who for 48 years was a workman on public works. He worked for smallish wages, and now that he is almost crippled he is debarred from drawing a full pension because of the pension received from his firm. That is only one case out of many. [HON, MEMBERS: "Thousands!"] We have been asked whether the working class has not lost its old sense and spirit of independence. I know clock labourers to-day, over 70 years of age, still going to the stand, summer and winter, to get a job, and many of them would prefer that rather than to draw the dole. In some cases like that we allow the men to persist in working. This Bill will meet some of the difficulties of that case. The effect of the Bill will be to add pleasure and happiness to people's 498 lives. We are not at all satisfied that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should go by instalments. I could quote a case in which, if this Bill, or the spirit behind this Measure, had been in operation some time ago, somebody I know very dearly might have been living to-day in some sort of comfort and leisure. I know these things, and there are many ways of knowing them and simply knowing about them. It sometimes amuses me to hear people who do not know what hunger means, or the real value of a 5s. piece, pleading as if it did not matter. To my friend who will receive 4s. or 5s. because of the removal of these disqualifications it will be a God-send.
I want also to suggest that some consideration should be shown to the wife of a man who is disqualified because she is not the age of 70. He cannot work, and I know cases where a woman has been a mother for 48 years and has had in the end to turn out and become the breadwinner because the husband is only receiving a pension of 10s. a week. The dockers have no servant problem, and these things come very hard on this class of people. I thank the Committee for the attention it has given to me, and I trust that this is only the first instalment, and I hope it will not be another 16 years before we have the next instalment. If the true wealth of a nation consists mainly in the happiness and contentment of its people, then this Measure will increase the wealth of the nation, and I hope before very long we shall have it increased by a further Measure in the same direction.
§ Sir ROBERT NEWMAN
I have not risen to criticise the proposals which have been put before the Committee by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I only rise to congratulate him upon taking a step in the right direction. I am quite sure that the right hon. Gentleman will find hon. Members on this side of the Committee will give him every sympathy and assistance in bringing forward a Measure which will benefit the whole of the people We are not anxious to make any political capital out of these proposals, but we are anxious to help the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his very difficult task. I have risen in order to make one suggestion. It is a question which I have raised before now by way of questions 499 in the House. I want to know whether it will be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to deal with the question of assessing the value of the house accommodation given to these old people. At present that value is taken into consideration and in some cases it amounts to a very considerable sum, and it has proved a great hardship on the old people.
I should like to place before the Committee two cases which came before my own notice. Not far from where I live an old lady died, and left a nice house near the seaside to be used as a house for the accommodation of old people. She also left a certain amount of money as an endowment to keep the house going. I know of a case where two old ladies, one over 80 and the other over s0 years of age, were admitted to this house. It is an extremely nice house near the seaside, and the accommodation given to these old people had to be taken into consideration by the pensions officer. The value of the accommodation of having rooms in this house in a fashionable watering place amounted to a very considerable sum of money, and the result was that these two old ladies were deprived of their right to receive the old age pension.
Would it be possible to arrange that the pensions officer should not take into consideration the actual value of such housing accommodation. There are other cases in which sons and daughters have also given a room or accommodation of that character, and that is often taken into consideration, and it amounts to a very considerable sum. I know it is said that children should look after their parents, but in the case of married people, not only the son or the daughter, but the son-in-law and the daughter-in-law have to be considered, and I think some liberality ought to be shown when dealing with accommodation provided in this way which is being enjoyed by the old people. I understand that up to £39 there will be no disqualification, but in the cases I have put before the Committee the accommodation amounts to more than that, and if under the right hon. Gentleman's proposals my objection could be met by such housing accommodation not being taken into consideration, then I have no more to say, and it would be a very great advantage to those 500 people who now have to suffer because some of their friends happen to give them a nice comfortable home in their old age.
§ Major HORE-BELISHA
I wish to congratulate the hon. Member for West Toxteth (Mr. Gibbins) on the maiden speech which he has just made, if it be not presumptuous on my part to do so. I congratulate him on his speech and the tone and temper of it. He seemed, however, to dismiss pledges with a very light gesture. He said that he did not attach very much importance to them, and the members of the party with which he is associated also seem to attach small importance to the pledges they gave at the last Election. At any rate the old age pensioners now know exactly where they stand. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is a courageous man. He does not give these pledges himself and he does not get votes on them, but his followers do, and I hope that this Debate—
§ Major HORE-BELISHA
In view of that interruption I will quote what the hon. Member for Gorbals said in the House of Commons on the 15th of May last. This is what he said:Its is all very well for hon. Members to excuse themselves from their pledges, but the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister ought to have known that the Labour party would not remain a propaganda party, but would one day come into office and into power.They have come into power this afternoon.
§ Major HORE-BELISHA
That excuse is getting somewhat stale. The Prime Minister has once and for all repudiated the statement that the Labour party are in office but not in foyer because he said "we have the opportunity and opportunity is power." The hon. Member for Gorbals proceeded to say:They should, therefore, have made their pledges sincerely, intending to carry them out. My chief objection to their not carrying their pledges out is that it was given to a body of very poor men. If they were well-fed men, well-clothed, and comfortably housed, it would not matter so much, because men in that position can fight their own battles; but to treat with contempt a pledge made to poor people is not worthy of a decent Government, and I hope that the people who do not carry this pledge out will go down with contempt in the political history of the country.
§ Major HORE-BELISHA
My hon. Friend says the Government are now carrying out their pledge, but they are doing nothing of the kind. I do not dispute that this proposal is a great benefit to the old age pensioners, but when my hon. Friend says they are carryout their pledge, he is very much mistaken. The whole purport of the Motion moved by the Labour party on the 21st February last year, before they came into office, was to remove the means limit, and on that occasion the present Secretary for the Colonies said:We can argue details and go into side issues, but that, after all, is the object of this Motion, namely, to remove that cruel, mean, and scandalous injustice.The Colonial Secretary was referring to the inquiry into the means limit, and he gave some very moving instances of the harsh way in which it operated. He said that it was not a question of details, of, presumably, increasing pensions by so much or altering the means limit, but the whole grievance was this means limit which he described as "a cruel, mean, and scandalous injustice." I wonder with what kind of conscience the right hon. Gentleman remains in a Cabinet which is continuing that "cruel, mean, and scandalous injustice"? The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the course of his very conservative speech, said that in theory he was in favour of implementing the pledges given by the Labour party at the last Election, and which have been given by them for many years. The Colonial Secretary dealt with that very point. He said, referring to a previous Conservative speaker:He may be in favour in theory of the report, but being in favour, in theory, will not remove any of the hardships I am dealing with. We believe it will be far better to be more practical than theoretical in a very practical matter of this kind.Further, the right hon. Gentleman said:I would ask the House when they go into the Lobby to vote against this Motion, can they justify their conduct on such glaring facts and such scandalous treatment as that?6.0 P.M
The right hon. Gentleman described the case of an old veteran of 70 years of age growing potatoes and greens on an allotment who had been subjected to a cruel inquisition. If that poor old veteran is still 502 alive, and is still growing potatoes and greens, he will still be subjected to that inquisition, and that, really, as it seems to me, is the whole point of substance in the pledges. I quite admit that he will get more money, and one is grateful to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, as I admitted at the outset, but I said that the Labour Members who spoke on this question a year ago went to the very heart of the question when they said that it was not a question of detail, not a question of increasing the pension by so much, but a question of whether or not the means limit should be abolished altogether. I would ask the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, when he replies, to consider the effect that excluding earnings from the benefit of these proposals is going to have on society as a whole. In the Memorandum he gives a case in which the income from earnings is 40s. per week, and from property 22s. per week, making a total income of 62s., and the Memorandum goes on to state:Under present law the means of each are taken to be half the total means, namely, 31s. per week"—this is a married couple—and no pension at all is payable. Under the proposal"—that is to say, this new proposal—11s. per week would be deducted in calculating the means of each, but the means would still exceed the existing statutory limit of 19s. per week, and pension would still not be payable.But if a pensioner goes to his employer and says, "I am earning this 40s. a week now from you; I will do the identical work for 5s. a week less, and get the other 5s. from the Government," that is what the Government is inviting these people to do. It is the same in the case of a single man. The Memorandum gives the case of a single man earning 20s. a week and having property valued at 11s. a week, making a total income of 31s. Under the present law that man gets no pension at all. Under this proposal a deduction of 1ls. per week would be made in calculating the means, but the means would still exceed the statutory limit of 19s. per week, and a pension would still not be payable. Therefore, a man earning 20s. a week by his work can now go to his employer and say, "It will pay you to pay me 15s. a week instead of 20s., and let the State pay the rest." That is the tendency of a Measure of this kind.
503 The social reactions of giving old age pensions in the first instance have been very considerable, because they have reversed a very human tendency. The tendency was for neighbours to support neighbours, for sons to support parents, and for relatives to support relatives, but the whole tendency of old age pensions has been to reverse that, and to make people less inclined to support one another, to make the employer less generous than he might have been towards those who have grown old in his service, and to make the son—I have seen cases of it—less inclined to support an old father, because he says it is the State's job to do it. Having put this tendency into operation, I do think it is the duty of the State to see that these old people are adequately looked after, and are not submitted to all kinds of reductions on all kinds of grounds, and that a differentiation is not made between one method of earning an income and another. It is quite unreasonable, as the Departmental Committee on Pensions themselves stated, to draw a distinction between one kind of means and another, whether they be earned in the present or whether they have been earned in the past. We must recognise that an old age pension was never intended to be a sufficient amount on which to keep a man, and, therefore, anything that he may earn or may have saved should be accounted unto him for credit and not for unrighteousness.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that this proposal removed every reasonable grievance. I do not know if he meant by that—I sincerely hope he did not—that this is the final step that he is going to take as regards old age pensions. [Interruption.] He said it removed every reasonable grievance. I listened very carefully, and wrote down the words, and there is no harm in getting an understanding from the hon. Gentleman who is going to speak for the Government on this point. I noted the words, namely, that it removes every reasonable grievance. Does it, or does it not? If we have an admission that it does not, and a foreshadowing of further legislation the House and the old age pensioners will be very pleased. I hope, therefore, that a precise declaration of the intentions of the Government will be made. We are 504 entitled to know them, because it is obvious that the Chancellor of the Exchequer deluded himself into the belief that he was doing very much more than he is doing, and that he was putting into operation the terms of this very admirable Departmental Committee's finding.
Lastly, there is the question of the cost. Of course, it can never be too expensive to carry out what you have promised, but, apart from that, the Socialist Members who spoke in favour of the Resolution last year and in previous years pooh-poohed the whole idea of cost. They said it should be a first charge on the community to look after these old people, and, seeing that they have promised this, one might quite legitimately expect the question of cost to be a secondary consideration. But, as the Chancellor of the Exchequer must know perfectly well, there is only one possible way of finding the cost of a scheme. And that is by a comprehensive insurance proposal which shall cover the man or woman against every risk to which he or she may be subject. The Chancellor of the Exchequer must know that perfectly well, and, instead of dealing with this matter in driblets, as he is doing—instead of giving a bit to the widows and a bit to the old age pensioners, or promising a bit to the widows and giving a bit to the old age pensioners, and saying, "You may get a little more in five years' time"—why does not he, in addition, of course, to doing what he is doing now, really investigate the subject comprehensively, and come forward with a scheme which shall be self-supporting, and which shall, once and for all, settle this question of the support which a man or woman is entitled to receive in the ordinary contingencies of life?
In a little book which he has published on the subject Sir William Beveridge shows quite clearly—[Interruption.] If hon. Members can produce a better authority it does not matter. Many people have done exactly the same, but I happen to have this book and have read it, and it shows quite clearly that, for very little additional cost, this could be put into operation, and, incidentally, that, if the pensionable age were reduced to 65, it would reduce the disablement benefit under the other insurance scheme. I do hope the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will undertake to examine a 505 comprehensive scheme of insurance. As far as I can understand, all parties seem to be in agreement with it in principle. It would result in a saving to the Exchequer, it would give the community a very much greater sense of security, and would put that security on a proper basis, and not on a basis of charity at all. Some of these schemes are liable to the stigma that they are a form of charity, although of course, they are not. If the whole thing can be put on a contributory basis, so as to cover people against old age, accidents, unemployment, and ill-health and widowhood, under one comprehensive scheme, the discussion which has taken place this afternoon will not have been in vain, and every citizen of this community would stand to benefit.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
I rise partly because of the quotation, or part of a quotation, which the hon. and gallant Member for Devonport (Major Hore-Belisha) gave from a speech that I recently made in this House. I should like to point out to the hon. and gallant Member that, as I stated in that speech, I am not concerned with pledges made to rich and comfortable people, but am concerned more with pledges to the poorer people, and this pledge deals, first of all, with trying to bring in a larger number of people within the Act than formerly. To that extent I am glad that this Resolution has been brought in. May I put to the hon. and gallant Member one point to which, I am sure, he could not have given very much serious thought? He asked why, instead of bringing this in in driblets—old age pensions and mothers' pensions—we did not have a comprehensive scheme? In simple language, what he asked was that we should not have this benefit for the old people—
§ Major HORE-BELISHA
No; the hon. Member has no right to say that. I never intended it, nor did I say it.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
That was the hon. and gallant Member's statement. His statement was this—and I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Rusholme (Mr. Masterman), who was sitting close to him. He asked deliber- 506 ately why we have this brought in in driblets—first of all, old age pensions, and then mothers' pensions—and said that what we want is a comprehensive scheme. What does that mean? It means that we should have no improvement of old age pensions, and no mothers' pensions, because we have no comprehensive scheme. I know that the hon. and gallant Member, now that it is brought home to him, will try to deny what he said, but he said it.
§ Mr. MASTERMAN
As the hon. Member appeals to me, I feel sure he knows that that was not the intention of my hon. and gallant Friend. There is not the slightest reason why this Government should not have included this and all other schemes in one Measure and passed it this year, if they had had the energy and the courage to do so.
§ Mr. BUCHANAN
No one knows better than the right hon. Gentleman that his party, as part of the Coalition Government, were in office for a considerable length of time, and they had not the energy and courage to do this; and if the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) had not energy enough, there is very little chance of anyone else having it. Talking about pledges, one ear go right back to the Newcastle programme, which built up the Liberal party and put it in power and kept it there, but how little of that programme has ever been put into effect! I want to put before the Committee one other point of view, which I do not think has been expressed at all. I say frankly to the Chancellor of the Exchequer that I am disappointed with what has been brought forward, but I am disappointed for an altogether different reason from those of any previous speakers. I should like seriously to put two points to the Committee.
First of all, we have an Income Tax limit. A single man is exempt up to, I think, 130 per annum, and a married man, I think, up to £225. What is to hinder the Chancellor of the Exchequer from accepting the Income Tax limit and making that automatically the limit for pensions? For my part, I cannot see that it would add much to the cost. There are only 130,000 people left outside the 507 scope of the scheme now, and, deducting rich men and those who are over the Income Tax limit, it could only add 30,000 or 40,000 to the present number. It would simplify the matter and save a considerable amount of grievance, which I think is quite just, to include these people in the old age pensions. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is well known for not being connected with the revolutionary side of the Socialist movement, and it is not a revolutionary proposal to ask that it be increased up to the Income Tax limit. But I want to criticise those who have been criticising the Chancellor of the Exchequer and to put to them this point. I am more concerned with the lowering of the age and the increasing of the amount than with the abolition of the means limit. I should like them to consider this point of view. We have heard about the evils of inquisition, but we have not heard about the evils of the man of 69 who is unable to work and has no pension at all. If you abolish the means limit entirely and bring in every person who is liable, you are making it more difficult for us to ask for a lowering of the age, because everything that adds to the cost of the present scheme makes it more difficult.
The first great thing, now that the right hon. Gentleman has admitted so many, if he is to increase it to the Income Tax level, would be not to bring in every person but to lower the present age limit of 70. We all know that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is a peace lover and, as I am glad to say, a pacifist. I should like to have seen the Government spend less in military adventures abroad and more on our people at home. If he has another year to go, the first thing that ought to be done in that year is to reduce the age. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) gave pledges in the last House and in the Coalition Government to inaugurate a 48-hour week. It was never carried out, and was never intended to be carried out. I would sooner have had the right hon. Gentleman not giving us a 48-hour week, but even giving us a partial contribution than nothing at all, as he did. I am glad to have even a partial carrying out of a promise. This is not an ample fulfilment of all we 508 thought we should get. There will be some disappointment for us, and the people who have a right to criticise it are not our opponents on the other side, or even hon. Members below the Gangway, but the supporters of the Labour movement itself. I hope the Chancellor has not said the last word on this, but will at lease increase the disqualification to the Income Tax limit, and clear away a good deal of the irritation so justly felt by the old people of the country.
§ Mr. DENNIS HERBERT
The party in office have been absolutely consistent through all these years in putting their proposal before the House to abolish the means limit altogether. I understand the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that that is a thing he was in favour of in theory, but the party unfortunately have found, on coming into office, the difficulties with which their predecessors were met of finding the money necessary to carry out that theoretically excellent reform. Therefore, while one may congratulate the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government on the proposal they are making to-day, one may perhaps also sympathise with them in the fact that they have been able to go such a short distance. I have a very clear recollection of things that were still by Members of that party about me on electioneering platforms because I bad stated in this House that I was also, in theory, in favour of the entire abolition of the means limit. But the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been more fortunate than his predecessors in that he has come into office at a time when, although he could not, find the money to abolish the means limit altogether, he is able to find substantial sum of money in order to improve the lot of the old age pensioners. I am sure the Chancellor and his Deputy, the Financial Secretary, are too good Parliamentarians to grumble if we criticise the form of their proposal in some detail. I am afraid among the class whom tithe Chancellor of the Exchequer is trying to benefit and help there will an enormous number left over still who are the hard cases that come into existence on the moving up of this line, and I am afraid he will not have very kind words said of him by those who are just shut out from the increased benefit by the line which he has been obliged to draw.
509 But I want to refer to one or two things which I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not proposing to do. I shall be corrected if I am wrong in thinking they are not proposed, and if I put this forward by way of criticism so far as possible within the terms of the Financial Resolution I hope they will be taken into account and something will be clone. Reference has already been made to the numerous hardships connected with the present system of old age pensions, entirely apart from the biggest one which I will come to later on of the method of the system being a discouragement to thrift. The other hardships are the inquisitorial methods and the way in which they have been used in the past and the hardship of such matters as my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Sir R. Newman) referred to as the placing of an unfairly high value upon the housing accommodation which some of these old people get by means of charity, and which is very much better accommodation than their means would otherwise justify. I think it is worth consideration whether the value of housing accommodation which is provided by means of charity or through members of the family or anything of that kind should be fixed for the purposes of old age pensions at what would be a reasonable rental for the particular old age pensioner to pay. An old lady is put to live in comfortable rooms in a beautiful house in a beautiful position where rents would be high. If she cannot accept the offer of these most comfortable rooms she has got to get very poor rooms somewhere and pay for them out of her pension or other means, and it seems to me the Government might well, if they could, put a limit for the purposes of the means calculation on any housing accommodation so that, in so far as the housing accommodation is beyond the standard of the old age pensioner, but is given through charitably minded persons, the old age pensioner should not suffer for that reason. That seems to be a matter which would cost very little indeed and would be one way of remedying one of the things that is a considerable hardship.
Now I come to the question of the inquisitorial methods, and it seems to me a great deal can be done by a little careful thinking out of these grievances and trying to see if they cannot be met in 510 the Measure which is to be brought in as the result of this Financial Resolution. Take cash earnings. Take the old veteran, who was spoken of by the Colonial Secretary in the Debate of last year, who made a few shillings by growing cabbages and potatoes. Take the man who is able to do an occasional bit of work in fine weather, or who has an ailment, which sometimes leaves him a little better for a week or two. Would it not be possible to exempt altogether from the inquisition or from the means limit certain cash earnings, which, clearly, amount to very little, and so avoid to that extent the inquisitorial methods, which must in many cases entail more expense and time than the saving of the pension is worth? I want to express the great disappointment which will be felt throughout the whole country that the Government have not been able to adopt anything but an extraordinarily clumsy method of just helping the few. I do not think it is unfair to say they have done nothing whatever to remedy that great blot on the system, the discouragement of thrift. They are merely shifting the line a little bit.
Although they have not been in office very long, there is no question that they have been most keenly interested in this subject for years, and it is only fair to say that perhaps had they realised years ago the position their first Chancellor of the Exchequer finds himself in, of not having the money to go the whole distance, if they had realised that the. Governments of previous years have suffered from that same difficulty to an even greater extent, they might during these past years have done something to try to evolve a different and an improved system which would have given the thrifty worker an inalienable right to a pension to which he had done something to contribute, however successful he might have been, and by that means they might be able to give pensions to those who have done their little bit towards providing for them by their own thrift absolutely, regardless of any means limit, and yet avoid the giving of pensions to those whose means make it unnecessary for them to have them, and who have dare nothing to contribute towards any system of the kind, because they have never anticipated the want of an old age pension. You would be saving that, and you would be able to grant these pensions on a more sound and economic basis at much less 511 cost to the country, and at a much greater encouragement of thrift and in a manner which would help the poorest workers in the country to increase their self-esteem and their comfort at the same time.
Hon. Members on the Front Bench opposite will agree with me that it is likely to be a long time yet, even if the recovery in this country is quicker than we dared hope for, before it will be possible absolutely to remove the means limitation. If that be so, I suggest that even now, if the Government hope to remain in office for any time, they should devote themselves to studying the question of setting the whole system of old age pensions on some kind of a contributory basis or, at any rate, on some basis which, while getting rid of the discouragement to thrift, will do one other thing, and that is to distinguish between the old age pensioner who is entitled by his conduct to an old age pension, and the old person who has never done anything to deserve an old age pension. I mean the person who is looked upon by his associates as one of those people who only deserve to be kept from real suffering by reason of humanity.
I hope hon. Members opposite will not misunderstand me. They will realise, they know it themselves, that there are and always must be a very small number—as an Englishman I am proud that their number is small—of wastrels. If you do not in any way distinguish between that small minority and the great majority of the poorer workers in this country, it is absolutely inevitable that there must be some slight taint of pauperism about these old age pensions. We wish to get rid of that, and hon. Members opposite will thoroughly agree with me in that view. There may be differences of opinion as to how it could be done, but in any review of the system of old age pensions that is certainly a subject to be born in mind.
What I am aiming at is to give to the vast majority of the workers in this country the old age pension to which they are properly entitled through years of service during their active life, and by means of some contribution on their part, however small, I should like to give them their pension as a right by reason of that contribution, never mind how rich they may become. I should like to give them 512 that right to pension, not merely under the Statute, but by all the principles of law and equity, as something which they have directly helped to provide. When we talk on this subject we are dealing with a difficult matter. There are people with whom it is not easy to arrange a contribution—workers of the least skilled classes, workers whose occupation is largely casual and from whom it may be said that you cannot ensure getting the contribution, and yet many of them are not to be described be any means as wastrels, because they are people who are entitled to old age pensions. It ought not, however, to be beyond the capacity of a Government in this country to deal with that kind of difficulty. It has been dealt with by the system of national health insurance and other schemes of that kind which are contributory. Something of that kind ought to be done in connection with old age pensions. Until that is done you will never get rid of the grievances which attach to the present system.
All of us—I can spent: for everyone on these benches—are glad to have an opportunity of helping the Chancellor of the Exchequer to get through these proposals, however much we may criticise them in detail, proving what we have always said, that we desired, as soon as the means of this country would allow it, to do the best we could to remove the grievances of old age pensioners. But I cannot help qualifying these congratulations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer by an expression of the very deepest regret that he has done it in what seems to me the clumsiest possible way—a mere shifting of the line, without any attempt to tackle the real grievances which are at the root. If he cannot get rid of all of them, he could get rid of some of them. May I express the hope that in the Bill, when it comes before the House, the Government will do their best to see whether they cannot within the terms of this Resolution, even if it costs a little more public money, get rid of the worst part of what are known as the inquisitorial methods, and if they cannot get rid of the hardships attaching to the drawing of a hard and fast line that they should do something to get rid of one or two of the unquestionable hardships in cases which come below the line, such as those to which I have 513 referred, in regard to casual earnings and the fixing of the value for housing accommodation which is provided by charitable means for old age pensioners.
§ Mr. G. OLIVER
The hon. Member who has just sat down, said that he was in favour of removing the inquisitorial inquiries into the means of applicants for old age pensions, but as he developed his speech he referred to people who by some misconduct ought to be disqualified and ought not to be entitled to pensions, and seemed to suggest that a line should be drawn between that type of person and the person whose conduct would justify his or her receiving an old age pension.
§ Mr. HERBERT
I did not mean that that should be done by any inquisition or any inquisitorial method. I meant that it might be done by means of a system towards which the old age pensioner would contribute.
§ Mr. OLIVER
I think that would involve a greater amount of inquiry than the system now outlined by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I have had some experience on an Old Age Pensions Committee. Whilst we all regret that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not found it possible to introduce a universal old age pension scheme, we all appreciate very highly the huge step that he has taken in including the 170,000 persons who will come within the scheme. I should like to make a few points regarding the Regulations. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that gifts would not be taken into account when they came from the sons or daughters of the old age pensioner, but I did not hear him explain how that would come about, because in the border-line cases, where inquiry has to be made, whilst the regulations remain as they are, gifts from children, investments in banks and other forms of small contributions must of necessity be taken into account.
Many of us have had large experience on old age pensions committees, and we believe it is possible for the Chancellor of the Exchequer to exclude from the Regulations such things as meals given by the children to people over 70 years of age, and to exclude those small, petty-fogging, humbugging things which are taken into account, such as eggs from back-yard We want him to 514 revise the Regulations as to certain other things. When there, are investments in the Post Office, 2½ per cent. interest is obtained, but the pensions officer takes into account 5 per cent. interest as being obtained on that money. Obviously, that is 2½ per cent. higher than the interest received. If that money was invested in any concern which paid 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. 10 per cent. or 15 per cent. would be computed as income. If the pensions officer takes 5 per cent. when 2½ per cent. only is being obtained on the money invested, it is wrong to take any higher sum than the 5 per cent. when a rate of interest higher than 5 per cent. is being earned. We ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to do something to modify these Regulations, because we believe that it is possible under the existing arrangements to provide that these Regulations shall not be so inquisitorial as they have been in the past. We believe that it is not decent or dignified for a country of for great dimensions and of great wealth to investigate all these petty-fogging details, as is done by some pensions officers.
Mr. HUGH EDWARDS
There is a consensus of opinion throughout the House that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has taken the right step in removing part of the thrift disqualification. It is agreed that the urgency is such as to demand some action of that kind. We are all agreed that the penalisation of thrift has been little short of a scandal. I am disappointed that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not done much more than he has undertaken to do this afternoon. In the year 1919 a Committee was appointed by the Treasury, representative of all parties in the House, and the majority report recommended the abolition of these means limits. In the majority report they laid emphasis on three facts:
These objections have not been eliminated by the statement of the Chan- 515 cellor of Exchequer. The friction and irritation will still remain. The penalisation of thrift to a large extent will still remain. I grant that there is a great deal of force in what the Chancellor of Exchequer says. We cannot have a universal old age pension because, although the Committee recommended it, the state of the national exchequer will not allow it. Even so I think that he could have, at any rate, gone to the limit of the Income Tax. It would not have been too much to ask that he should have raised it to the Income Tax limit. I find it hard to understand how he can plead the poverty of the Exchequer. One cannot forget that his colleague the Secretary of State for War publicly declared that this country could afford to give an old age pension of 15s. a week to every man and woman at the age of 60. I do not know whether the Secretary of State made that statement with the consent of the Chancellor of Exchequer.
- "(1) That the existence of the means limit reintroduces the old pauper taint and brands the old age pension as a compassionate grant.
- (2) That the inclusion in a pensioner's means, by reason of which lie may lose his right to a pension, of certain kinds of income injuriously affects thrift, benevolence, and industry.
- (3) That the inquiries which are essential to the system cause a certain amount of irritation and friction."
It was made, I grant, at the time of the Burnley election, but I do not think that a Cabinet Minister should make statements of that kind, and raise the expectations of the aged, and that then his colleague the Chancellor of the Exchequer should come forward and say that the state of the Exchequer will not allow any substantial increase. I hope that the Chanceller of the Exchequer will even now reconsider the advisability of raising the exemption to the Income Tax limit. He can count on the full support of this House. By all means let us do what we can to ease the declining years of the aged by enabling them to live amid surroundings undistressed by cankering care and unclouded by the black shadows of want. Therefore I hope that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will reconsider the position and bring in a still better scheme.
§ Viscount CURZON
I am indeed glad to be able to join in the universal chorus of, shall we call it, sympathetic praise with which the Chancellor's scheme has been received this afternoon. I am all the more glad to be able to do so because the Socialist party in my constituency spent the whole of last Sunday, from nine o'clock in the morning until nine o'clock at night, holding meetings abusing me at intervals, I believe, during the proceedings, and saying that I was not in favour of the removal of the thrift disqualifica- 516 tion on old age pensions. It did not suffice for me to say definitely in my Election address that I was, and that I would vote for it. That statement was ignored, but as they were able to spend a pleasant Sunday telling all and sundry what they thought about me, I do not grudge them the fun which they had. At the same time I am glad to be here to witness the passing of this Resolution.
There are one or two criticisms which I would like to offer, but they are advanced purely from a sympathetic point of view. I think that, probably, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has at the moment done the best thing which he can do, but, at the same time, the speech with which he introduced the Resolution reminded me somewhat of the ghost of speeches which were delivered in days gone by by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). He had a slight passing reference to the dukes. I could not help wondering whether the Chancellor had taken his inspiration from the right hon. Gentleman. These remarks did not seem to me to be very relevant. If I understood the speech aright, it seemed to amount to this, that the present scheme will benefit, roughly, about 300,000 people. My figures, possibly, may be slightly out, but I do not think they are. I listened very carefully and I tried to make them right.
The first criticism which I have to offer is that the numbers are not large enough. The second criticism is that the scheme rather savours of opportunism, inasmuch as it is about the best thing that the Chancellor can do at the moment. I would infinitely prefer—while I thoroughly accept this as something to be going on with—and I hope that we shall be able to see, at no very distant date, a comprehensive scheme brought in by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a scheme such as the Conservative Government foreshadowed in the King's Speech and in their election manifesto and their speeches at the election, it comprehensive scheme which should provide for old age and everything else. I believe that the right hon. Gentleman brought in a scheme of that sort—and I can assure hon. Members opposite that I am not hostile in my criticism at all—he would be able to do very much more for the old people than he is doing under this scheme. He would be able for instance to afford a 517 pension on a graduated scale and at a very much lower age. He would be able to avoid the extraordinary cruelty, as it must be as pointed out by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), of the position between the ages of 69 and 70.
It is a very hard case that the old person of 69 is excluded, while the person who is just through the gate can get the pension. If the right hon. Gentleman brings in some sort of contributory scheme he will be able to make it apply to a far greater number of people, and he will be able to give it up to the income Tax limit. He would also be able to graduate the scale and begin at a lower age. Such a scheme has everything to recommend it. There was another point, about which I was not sure when I listened to the Chancellor. The cost of this proposal, I understand, is going to be something like £4,500,000. I do not know whether the cost is coming from this year's Budget. I think that the Chancellor stated, in the discussion on the Budget the other day, that any extra demands would have to be met by extra taxation, and that he had not provided for the increase of old age pensions.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Perhaps I may intervene to make the position clear. I do not remember the speech to which the hon. Member refers, but the position is this: It will cost about £4,125,000 in the first full year, but as the: hon. Member knows, this will not be a full year. The cost this year will probably cover only a period of five or six months. Therefore, I do not estimate that the cost on the Exchequer this, year will amount to more than £2,000,000. The hon. Member will remember that I kept in hand a, surplus of something like £4,000,000, and from that this is being taken. I may add that there was an interruption earlier to-day by an hon. Member opposite, and as I did not quite comprehend what he meant I gave an answer that was not correct. I understand now that the question was whether a Supplementary Estimate would be necessary, and, under a misapprehension, I said "No," but, of course, a Supplementary Estimate will be necessary.
§ Viscount CURZON
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his explanation. It was I who put, the question to him at the conclusion of his speech, and I am glad to have the point cleared up. We 518 may take it from the figures which the right hon. Gentleman has just given that the cost this year may be expected to be rather over £1,000,000.
§ Viscount CURZON
That is out of the £4,000,000 which is available. It seems to me that the amount available as extra provision by the Government for unemployment is becoming less and less every day. However I pass from that. I have listened to hon. Members below the Gangway opposite quoting from speeches of members of the Socialist party when they brought in their Resolution last year. I am not sure that that is a very fruitful line of discussion. I do not think it will help us very much in this question. Of course it is very nice to be able to convict one's opponents of political inconsistency, but at the same time, no doubt, office has brought with it a better realisation of the difficulties of government than hon. Members had when they lightheartedly brought in their Motion last year. For now they find that they have to make provision for what they propose.
I hope that the Committee will pass this Resolution, which will do something to improve the position of the old age pensioners, and I hope the Chancellor will still further explore the position to see whether at a very early date we shall be able to go in for a really comprehensive scheme such as most hon. Members have desired. If we do so we shall be able, at any rate, to make the lot of the old people a bit happier. Anybody who sits for a large urban constituency, or even for a county constituency, knows only too well what are the sufferings of some of these old people in very difficult circumstances, and the heroic bravery with which they bear themselves, and I am not sure that we should all of us, living in more comfortable circumstances, as we are fortunate enough to do, bear ourselves with as much bravery as they do. I am glad that we have got this Measure before us. I hope that as this is the first step it will not be the last, and I hope that with my hon. Friend's help we shall be able to go up to the income Tax limit eventually, and also to decrease the minimum age, but this can be done, I am convinced, as part of a comprehensive scheme much broader than that which has been outlined this afternoon.
§ The FINANCIAL SECRETARY to the TREASURY (Mr. W. Graham)
Before the Committee comes to a decision on this Resolution hon. Members will bear with me for a few minutes while I reply shortly to a few of the leading points which have been referred to. In the first place, my right hon. Friend desires me to thank hon. Members in all parts of the House for the very cordial reception which they have given to this Resolution, which has been expressly put forward merely as an instalment of a reform which we hope later to carry further. That is the spirit in which the Resolution has been received by the Committee, and we are grateful to hon. Members for the reception which they have given to it.
Many hon. Members have referred to what they call the inquisitorial character of the investigation that is made, but everyone will agree that as long as a means limit is retained it will be necessary to make inquiry into the income and other resources of the applicant, and to that extent investigation must be carried on. I think that I ought to say on this point that, while no doubt here and there there are difficult cases of unpleasantness, as between the pensions officers and the applicants for old age pensions, on the whole our inference is that the pensions officers perform a task, which is very often one of great difficulty, with very great care and discretion. It is certainly the opinion of my right hon. Friend to-day that, looking to the more generous terms which be has introduced, the tendency will be somewhat to reduce the amount of investigation and cause to the poor less friction than has hitherto existed.
In the second place, the hon. Member for Exeter (Sir R. Newman) and the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. D. Herbert), among others, drew attention to certain difficulties in the existing administration of the Old Age Pensions Act, and referred particularly to the valuation of house property and also to investments in savings banks and kindred institutions. We are very far from denying that there are in such connections inequalities and anomalies which might well be removed. May I remind the House to-night of the real difficulty. It is the object of my right hon. Friend to confine his proposals strictly to an amended financial statement. The Bill 520 which we propose to introduce will be to all intents and purposes merely the Financial Resolution. If we strayed beyond the terms of the Resolution into any of the proposals or difficulties to which hon. Members have alluded, we should open the door to a long series of Amendments covering those and other points which would no doubt be promoted by hon. Members in all parts of the House. That would expose the Bill to a good deal of delay in the now terribly congested state of business which confronts us between the present clay and that at which optimists of this House hope to rise for the Summer Recess. On that ground, I sincerely trust hon. Members will not press us to go into administrative detail. 'That may be the subject of future Amendments of this legislation. In the interests of economy of our time, and the importance of getting the Bill through, I respectfully ask the House not to press such Amendments now.
In the third place, several hon. Members propose that we should depart from the scheme suggested by the Chancellor and take the existing Income Tax limit as the basis, which would be, approximately £135, or £150 in round figures in the case of an unmarried person; or £225, or £250 in the case of a married couple. There are very great administrative difficulties attached to a proposal of that kind. I do not require to remind the House that the Income Tax limit in practice is not the fixed thing which some Members have suggested, but is a varying factor. Without saying a single word more about the administrative difficulty of taking the Income Tax limit as a basis, the practical reply for the House this afternoon is this, that, according to the figures at our disposal, the adoption of that limit would cost only £3,000,000 less than the abolition of the means limit altogether. In other words, instead of £18,000,000 for the abolition of the means in the first year, the adoption of the Income Tax limit as a basis in flee first year would cost £15,000,000. As the Chancellor has indicated, we are not a: this stage able to find such a sum. We are finding £4,000,000 in the first full year and rather more than £2,000,000 this year. I trust with that brief explanation the Committee will now enable us to get this Resolution, remembering that there is an 521 opportunity for further discussion during the Committee and later stages of the Bill.
Lieut.-Colonel J. WARD
There was one point in the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to which I particularly wish to refer. There is not the slightest doubt that promises were made by every party that all difficulties and restrictions, especially those that used thrift on the part of individual citizens as a reason for reducing the pension by the State, should be removed. But the point to which I wish to refer is the manner in which business is presented to the country generally. The Chancellor of the Exchequer stated that these were not the proposals of the party to which he belonged, and that these were not the proposals which the Government would make if they had the power. The supposition, therefore, s that the Chancellor is going to suggest to people outside that he would have made much more drastic proposals if it were not for the opposition: either the official opposition, or my hon. Friends on his side of the House below the Gangway. That is absolutely unfair.
§ Mr. SNOWDEN
Surely the hon. and gallant Member does not suggest that. There was nothing whatever in my speech to that effect.
Lieut. - Colonel WARD
It is also alleged by one of the Members present that I was not in the House. Allow me to tell you that I was. I attended what I considered the essential part of the Chancellor's address, namely, his reasons for not dealing with the whole subject, and also the statement of the exact effect of his proposals upon the pensioner. I am within the recollection of those Members who were present that, while it may not have been stated by the Chancellor in the brutal way in which I am now stating it, there is not the slightest doubt that the indication which he gave in the preamble of his speech was to the effect that these were not really the proposals of his party—not such as they would make if they had a majority in this House. He may take it front me that that sort of argument, in presenting the Government's proposals, is getting pretty threadbare, especially on matters of this description. Both in the ease of unemployment and old age pensions I feel that the Labour Government should be more bold, 522 and state definitely what their full policy is relating to these subjects, and trust to the generosity and good feeling of other Members of the House, and let them see it.
I say most emphatically that so far as I understand the opinion of the House—and I have been here just about as long as the Chancellor himself; I have been a Member nearly 20 years—the House would treat these subjects relating to the relief of distress and the actual position of the daily worker who earns a hard-earned living by his labour, in a generous spirit, and the people would be as impressed on the one side of the House and in one party as well as another that it is not the limit of my hon. Friend's intentions. [A LABOUR MEMBER "Why did you not do it last year?"] I am talking as we are here at the moment. I am dealing with the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and with the particular part of the speech to which I most vehemently object. Dealing with unemployment, the wonderful things we would do if only we had a majority in this House Dealing with housing, the wonderful things we would do if we only had a majority! It is all absolute humbug. The Chancellor knows perfectly well that he has the management of the finances of the country, and that the promises which he and perhaps I have made, are not so easily to be performed as they seemed when we were tub-thumping at the street corners. That is all it amounts to. [Interruption.] Interruption will only make me go on another five minutes. This is the place where free speech at least is allowed. You can suppress a man at the street corners, you can break up a meeting of mine—you have done it before—but you cannot do it here. I say, therefore, I am certain that the argument is worn threadbare, and you can take it from me that the workpeople are beginning to see that it is not quite fair to put forward limited proposals admittedly short of the things promised, and then not confess that you are putting forward your proposals in a limited form because you now understand the, difficulty. Face it and tell them, and your people will support you just the same, but to go on pretending that you do not make your proposals because of the opposition of the other parties in the House is really too stupid 523 for words and will not work. Take it from me.
§ Mr. G. BARKER
May I inform the hon. and gallant Member for Stoke (Lieut.-Colonel Ward) that Labour is only 31 per cent. of the House of Commons. That the Labour party, when it had a majority of the House, would do this, that or the other is altogether beside the question when the party is in the minority, as it is at present. The Opposition has been engaged during the whole of this Session charging the Labour party with breaking its pledges. It is a piece of sheer hypocrisy and humbug, and the country knows it very well. My object in rising now is to make an appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I agree with the sentiments of the Committee that the Chancellor has gone a long way to ease a very difficult situation, and I want to say that a man cannot live on 10s. a week. They are compelled to work. Therefore, I want the Chancellor to extend that £37 that he has put in with reference to thrift to the wages of the working classes, because if a man be a single man he gets 10s. per week pension, but if his earnings exceed 10s., then an inroad is made into that 10s. a week pension. That is putting this man in an intolerable position. If he be a married man and his earnings exceed £1 a week, an inroad is at once made into the old age pension of his wife and himself. Until the Chancellor provides an old age pension on which the recipients can live they must work for their livelihood, and they should have the benefit of the £37. I strongly urge upon the. Chancellor to visualise the position of the working man excluded from the benefit of this £37, and, if possible, to put him in the position of the man who gets the benefit.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Resolution to be reported To-morrow.