That for the purpose of any Act of the present Session to make provision for amending the Widows', Orphans', and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, 1925, section three of the Old Age Pensions Act, 1908, Section three of the Old Age Pensions Act, 1919, and the enactments regulating the right to become a voluntary contributor under the National Health Insurance Acts, 1924 to 1928, it is expedient—
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution."
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Captain CROOKSHANK
I do not think that the House should pass this Resolution without a word of explanation from one of the Ministers concerned or from a representative of the Treasury. I make no apology for detaining the House in order to call attention to the very extraordinary fact that neither the Chancellor of the Exchequer nor the Financial Secretary to the Treasury has intervened in the Debates on this proposal. Last Thursday the Minister of Health referred to the generosity of this provision as if the Chancellor of the Exchequer was shelling out the money and not the taxpayers. The Minister of Health told us that what has been described as a drain on industry is really a drain on the profits after they have been made. That statement overlooks the fact that the contributions which fall upon industry and which are paid by the employers and the employed are paid long before any profits are made. The contribution made to the Debate by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health as regards the finance of this Measure was also very slight. She explained how beneficial it would be that there should be a rise in the State contribution from £4,000,000 to £9,000,000 next year, and she said that there was going to be a violent jolt if we passed from an expenditure of £4,000,000 in one decennial period to an expenditure of £13,000,000 in the next. There seems to be a considerable jolt in the amount of £5,000,000, coming next year. The hon. Lady omitted to refresh her memory with regard to the origin of the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Pen- 772 sions Act which was described—so unlike the present occasion—by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer in opening the Budget in 1925, that being the first intimation which the House received of the scheme. The then Chancellor of the Exchequer made it clear that the ultimate thesis of finance on which his Measure would be based, would be the evening out of expenditure on pensions for widows., orphans and old people and levelling it up with the automatic reductions which would take place in War pensions. The hon. Lady never touched on that point which was fundamental to the whole scheme. As the then Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out the nation as a whole was not going to benefit by the reduction of the charges for war pensions. The Parliamentary Secretary tried to make out that while that was true as far as the nation as a whole was concerned, yet there would be a certain jolt in the Ministry of Health Estimates. That is not the point. The point with which the taxpayer is concerned is how much money has to be found out of the taxation account? It matters little to him whether it is on this or that Estimate.
We have had nothing from the Treasury in regard to the methods in which these increased charges are going to be financed. Perhaps it is the conversion scheme announced in the Press during the week-end, but one does not know whether it is going to be done by loan or taxation. I wish to ask what will be the effect upon the scheme of the original proposal made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) that at the end of each decennial period the contributions were going to be increased by one penny. Does that still stand? Does the new scheme involve any higher future rate of contributions at the end of each decennial period? This Measure has not been accompanied by any actuarial estimate. The original scheme of 1925 was accompanied by careful calculations. The Minister of Health told us that some of the particulars given then have been unfortunately falsified. That is perhaps one of the disadvantages of actuarial calculations, but they give us some sort of basis. As far as the present Resolution is concerned, there has been no actuarial estimate, as such, laid 773 before the House. The Minister has said that he is not afraid of the rising cost of social services. How far is that the view of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Financial Secretary? My right hon. Friend the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) on Friday touched upon the acknowledged dangers of any undue increase in social services and perhaps the Financial Secretary will let the House know something of the views of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the subject. I have looked up in my records a very interesting speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer which is reported in the "Times" of the 28th November, 1927, when he was speaking at a men's meeting—there were no widows present, I presume—at Whitefield's Tabernacle, Tottenham Court Road. The Chancellor of the Exchequer on that occasion said:Unless social reform developed a greater sense of individual responsibility and brought forth a greater individual co-operation, our social reform measures would never establish a co-operative commonwealth, but would establish a pauper State."—not my words, the words of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He continued:The most dangerous and the most menacing feature at the present time was a depreciation of the value, usefulness, honour, and dignity of honest work, a desire to get something for nothing, a desire to live at the expense of others.[Interruption]. Hon. Members are a little premature. After all, the right hon. Gentleman as an ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer, and as the man obviously marked out to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer again if there were another Labour Government, was using these words very carefully; and he ended up in this way—and this is a verbatim quotation:Social reform will be a curse rather than a blessing unless the result is to call forth reciprocal action and co-operation.That was in 1927. In 1928 the Chancellor of the Exchequer was making some remarks as the result of the Labour party's programme which was adopted at a meeting which, unless I am mistaken, was held in Birmingham, and he then pointed out in a speech that out of something like 63 or 65 items in the report before them:He thought that two-thirds of them would call for financial assistance from the State. He sometimes ran cold when he heard statements made as to the possibility of increasing taxation.774 Last year, he "sometimes ran cold"; this year, I am afraid the words are frozen in his mouth, because he has not come here to say anything at all about this measure of social reform. It is a matter which does require the very careful attention of this House. The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health, with great play and many gestures, on Friday tried to get from right hon. Friends on the Front Bench an answer to what he said was the question, which was: Do we or do we not want these people to have pensions? That is to say, the question he was putting was whether this great extension of the original scheme was desired or not. But it is an old game to ask the wrong question. That is not the question at all. The question is this, as I see it: Granted—I do not grant it, because I have not the information, but granted as the Treasury Bench say—that we have some hundred millions of pounds which we can afford to spend to-day on social services—granted that, in spite of the Chancellor of the Exchequer running cold—the question for this House to decide is whether that hundred millions, spread over 15 or 16 years, is most fairly and advantageously spent in relieving this particular fraction of the population? It is a question whether one lot of women or another lot of women, or one lot of old men or another lot of old men, should get pensions. The question is, if you have a certain limited sum, how shall you best and most advantageously distribute it. That is granting the first premise, about which one would have liked to have heard the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whether we can really afford it; but I take it from the fact that the Resolution is before the House that in the opinion of the present Government we can. Therefore the question is not whether one particular group of women should benefit by the scheme, but whether they are the people who most deserve it, granted that you have only that particular sum of money available for the purpose.
The Minister of Health said, "Of course, we had to bring in a scheme to introduce these extra widows because of the anomalies—because of the fact that in the original Bill, which became an Act of Parliament, a perfectly arbitrary date was fixed upon which it should commence, and therefore because you had an arbitrary date there is no reason why you 775 should not bring in people who were before that date if you want to deal with anomalies." If you grant that it is an arbitrary date—and any scheme introduced by anyone must begin on some date—is it not just as abitrary on the part of the Minister to choose 55 as the minimum age for the new widows to get pensions? There is nothing mystical or wonderful about the age of 55; it might just as well have been 57, or 59, or 52½ It is just as arbitrary as the date which my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench put into their original Bill, and it seems to me to be merely changing the quality of the arbitrariness from the date in the original Act to the age of a particular class of women in this country, and, what is even more arbitrary, including the question whether or not they are married.
I am glad to see that the hon. Member for Rochdale (Mr. Kelly) is in his place. In the last Parliament, in April, 1925, the first private Member's Motion which was moved dealing with the question of pensions—a Motion approved by the then Front Opposition Bench—was moved by the hon. Member for Rochdale, to the effect that pensions for all widows with children, or mothers whose family breadwinner had become incapacitated, should be introduced. In that Motion there was nothing except widows who had children, and that was the basis of our original Act. I think we should have some explanation from the Minister of Health and the Treasury as to how this particular group of fresh widows comes to be brought into the Bill. I do not know why this particular half-million widows should have been chosen. My experience, and I expect that of all other Members of the House, at the time of the Election, was that almost everyone in my constituency seemed to be a widow without a pension; and I can only suppose that at the Conference of the Labour party a large proportion of the delegates were also widows without pensions. What we want is some explanation of the financial justification for this Measure, and why the right hon. Gentleman, if he had this limited sum, should have chosen this particular class of beneficiaries without taking into account any of the needs of the persons concerned.
I would ask the right hon. Gentleman, in the absence of the Chancellor of the 776 Exchequer, to bear in mind that the rising cost of these services, which he says is a very good thing, must have some effect upon the question which we have been debating this afternoon—the question of unemployment. Taking the figures which have been collected by authorities who have nothing to do with politics in this matter, like Sir Arthur Balfour, if the cost in the year 1891 be represented by 100, by the year 1921 we were spending £306,000,000 on social services, and the index figure for that would be 1,357. In 1927, only six years after—and the right hon. Gentleman will agree with me that those six years did not show such a great increase in prosperity in this country, or such a great improvement in the employment position and in our general trading and industrial conditions, as to justify any very great increase in the cost of social services—in 1927, the cost had increased from £306,000,000 to £383,000,000, and the index figure from 1,357 to 1,700. Can it be said that in 1927 we were something like 25 per cent. better off than in 1921, or, furthermore, that to-day we are that much better off than we were as a nation in 1927?
Those are the points on which it seems to me the right hon. Gentleman might be asked to give some explanation as a matter of pure finance. The cost of the social services must in spite of what he says, have a great effect upon our industrial position. Whereas, in the course of the Debate earlier this evening we had frequent interjections about Scandinavia and other countries being better off than we are, the fact remains that we spend—again these are the figures of Sir Arthur Balfour—if our index figure is 100, £3 18s. 6d. in these services whereas France and Belgium, which are something like our competitors, at any rate in the heavy industries, the index figure would be in the case of France 17, and in the case of Belgium 7, and you have to remember that in the case of France it has been stated over and over again, and it is a fact, that there is practically speaking no unemployment at all. Therefore you are faced with this question: However good it is to have these different social services, however much one wants to see them extended within the limit of our income, the fact emerges, is it better to go on with the social ser- 777 vices, having a great burden of unemployment, than to be in the position in which France finds itself, of not having these great social services and having full-time employment for the people of its own country? I am sorry to detain the House. [Interruption.] If that is the spirit in which hon. Members opposite, at this early stage of the Session, are prepared to receive an apology from me, they are really laying up trouble for themselves in future. I apologise for detaining the House even for these few brief minutes, but I have no hesitation in doing it when I remember that the right hon. Gentleman on Friday moved, "That the Main Question be put," and that the Debate was not concluded at the time set. It is no light matter for this House to commit not only itself but its successors for a period of years to a large capital expenditure without a single word of explanation from the Chancellor of the Exchequer or any representative of the Treasury.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Arthur Greenwood)
I am not at all sorry the hon. and gallant Gentleman has raised his voice in this Debate. We have heard the question we hear on all these occasions: "Where is the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Why is the Financial Secretary not here?" I never remember the Chancellor of the Exchequer appearing and any experienced Member of the House knows it is true. It is one of these debating points which need not detain the House. Let me deal with some of the points of substance the hon. and gallant Gentleman has raised. I do not wish to inflict any simple, economic kindergarten lesson on hon. Members opposite as to what constitutes a drain on industry. There are drains on industry but, as far as I am aware, no one has ever yet proved that the major source of income for the national revenue is a source of loss and is a drain on industry. The one thing that the Colwyn Committee made perfectly clear, even to those who did not desire to believe it, was that a big measure of direct taxation is no burden on industry, and the bulk of this money will come from direct taxation. I think that what I said on Friday still stands—that this is no burden on industry.
778 We are back where we were on Friday and to what my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary called the "jolt." There are two kinds of jolt in pensions finance. One is our kind of jolt next year when we take on new obligations and meet them; the other is the kind of jolt that is left to posterity to meet. That is the kind of finance on which the 1925 Act was based. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary quoted the figures. In 1935–36, including War Pension Charges, the sum total of expenditure would go up from £85,000,000 to £91,000,000—£6,000,000 for nothing, to pay for what is being done now. That is a jolt. For people to pay their debts as they come is common financial honesty; and that is what the proposal is for the next financial year. Having undertaken new obligations, we ought to make immediate provision to meet those obligations. That is the difference in the two cases.
The hon. and gallant Member referred to the Budget speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) in 1925, where he said: "Of course we could afford this jolt in 1935–36, and in succeeding years, because War Pensions are going down." By the grace of God, I am not responsible for War Pensions, but I am responsible for the estimates of my Department. I have to look at this—and every Minister of Health must look at this—as a departmental problem. It is no satisfaction to me, responsible as I am for my Department, to know that in some other Department expenses have gone down. If this great claim of financial Mumbo-Jumbo is the basis of Tory policy, they are welcome to it.
It is hinted that there is no such thing as a Pensions Fund; it is merely a bookkeeping entry. That is not true. It is there. We are accused to-night of not making it a book-keeping entry and throwing the whole of the accounts of that service into the acounts for the rest of the service, or, as it happens, into the accounts of one particular service dealing with War Pensions. I say that that was not the straight way of dealing with the financial problem involved. I say that our way is the fair way of dealing with it. The hon. and gallant Member asks about future contributions. He knows, and everyone knows who has looked at the Bill, that we have assumed the future. We had to do it. I am not 779 saying that I am committed to it, but we have to assume, for the time being, the whole of the financial obligations for the 1925 Act, plus the obligations that we are undertaking now. But when I see the figures for 1945 and 1946 I smile to myself—nearly 20 years hence. Who can say whether the scheme will be alive at that date? Nobody can say. Nobody can commit themselves as to the future of the scheme so far ahead as 1935–36. A question has been raised about the actuarial estimates. We are told that there is not one. That is not quite true; there is one. What we have not been able to give up to the present time is the aggregate cost of the proposal. I see no virtue in such estimates, and I see less virtue when the hon. and gallant Member admits that the actuarial estimates of 1925 were grossly out of it when it came to actual operations.
The really important point, and it is not the first time that it has been raised, is the question of the social services. Hon. Members opposite seem to have no love for the social services. They do not like to say that they are against them: their new term is that they are full of apprehension at the rising cost of social services. Why they should be apprehensive unless they feel that they are not worth the money, I cannot understand. We have had a quotation from a speech delivered by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I do not think that any hon. Member on this side took exception to that speech. If expenditure on the social services does not result in an improvement of the human quality, they are no use. I accept that. We have never had one jot or tittle of evidence from the opposite side that they are not improving the human qualities, but if hon. Members can produce any kind of measuring instrument which will give us results, I shall be prepared to abide by their examination as to the effects of the social services on our social life. My blood would run cold at any expenditure of 8,000 millions on world war. My blood would run cold at any expenditure which I could not say would be wisely applied. But I have still to learn that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has ever said a single word which would lead any person to believe 780 that he lacked confidence in the development of the social services of this country. Proof is to be found in the fact that he is definitely associated with the Measure now before the House, and regards it as desirable and necessary that there should be this expenditure on behalf of an unfortunate section of the community. The hon. and gallant Member tells me that on Friday I put a wrong question. I put two questions, but he is more concerned about the second one. My first question was: "Do hon. Members think that this class of pre-Act widows should have pensions, or do they not?" The second question was: "Do they think that the country can afford it?" The hon. and gallant Member did not refer to that question openly, but the whole of his speech implies that, in his view, the country cannot afford it.
§ Captain CROOKSHANK
I suggested that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should tell us on what he bases the Government's view.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I will do my best to answer. The right hon. Gentleman did raise the question as to whether this sum, spread over a number of years, would be advantageously spent. I submit that it will. But the point is that we are dealing with widows' pensions, and if the hon. and gallant Gentleman can tell me how that sum of £100,000,000 can be better spent on pensions I shall be glad to listen to his views.
He raised the question as to the kind of people we were bringing in. We are bringing in the elderly widow who is finding it difficult to maintain a footing in the labour market; the woman who, economically, is becoming superannuated; and of all people the elderly widow is most entitled to assistance. It is not in the least arbitrary. If hon. Members look at the present Act passed by the late Government, and operating within the realm of that Act, what class of the community is more deserving of assistance from a pension scheme than an elderly widow? In his last words the hon. and gallant Member came back to what seems to be a King Charles's Head to hon. Members opposite—the social services. We are told that the cost of social services represented by 100 in 1891 had risen to 1,357 in 1921, and that 781 between 1921 and 1927 the cost had risen by another 25 per cent. Is he using that argument against all the previous Governments, Liberal, Conservative, Coalition, and Labour? I do not accept his figures, but I will not go into the elementary question that figures like that should not be used without regard to the value of money. The hon. and gallant Member does not appreciate that fact. It is perfectly true that the cost of social services during the last generation have enormously increased—and it is to the credit of previous Governments. You cannot argue that where social services cost little there is no unemployment, and for that that our present unemployment is due to the cost of social services. If you went to the Fiji Islands you would find neither employment nor social services. If the cost of social services had ever been an important element in the distribution of trade it would mean giving the world's trade to the most reactionary and uncivilised countries; which is not true.
We have never had a substantial case put against the Money Resolution of this Bill. This is a measure of justice. I am not pretending that it is a full measure of justice. What we have tried to do with the money available is to spend it as wisely as possible, in order to assist the largest number of the most needy section of the community. In my view, and I think in the view of the House, judging by the Debate on Friday, in that we have succeeded, and I think we should all agree now that the House might quite well give the Government the Report stage of this Resolution.
§ Major ELLIOT
There is one great line of argument upon this Bill which neither the Minister of Health nor the Parliamentary Secretary nor any of its advocates has ever discussed at all. Let me call the attention of the right hon. Gentleman to this document, which was presented to him as Minister of Health by the Chief Medical Officer, Sir George Newman, a Report "on the State of the Public Health," in which he refers to the changing character of the population and the enormous burden which is automatically going to be placed on the shoulders of the younger generations of this country as the change in the character of the popula- 782 tion proceeds and the older people become more and more numerous in proportion to the younger members of the community. The right hon. Gentleman says that he cannot understand when people speak to him of the figures of 1945 and 1946. He smiles. Let me call his attention to the figures for 1945 and 1946 given by the Chief Medical Officer to the Ministry of Health and see if he will still continue to smile when those figures are put before him. The Chief Medical Officer says:The age constitution of the population is undergoing great changes which must profoundly modify the death rates. For more than a generation, owing to the declining birth rates and death rates, the proportion of children has been decreasing, and of persons past the prime of life in' creasing. In 1901, 11.4 per cent. of the inhabitants of England and Wales were children under five years and 10.6 per cent. were persons more than 55 years of age. By 1911 the proportion of children had fallen to 10.7 per cent. and of persons beyond the prime of life had increased to 11.6 per cent…. The Registrar-General's estimate of population in 1928 gives 8.1 per cent. of children under five and 15.8 per cent. of persons over 55. Amongst the latter women outnumber men by more than half a million.And he says:There is no reasonable doubt that this change will continue; various methods of estimation suggest that by 1941"—Here are the figures that make the right hon. Gentleman smile. Let me point out to him that he is very ready to give other sides of the House a lecture in elementary economics, but let me commend to him a lecture in elementary biology. If we are to lecture each other, we may as well lecture from this side of the House as from that:By 1941 7.5 per cent. of the population will be children and more than 19 per cent. persons over 55. Instead of, as at the beginning of the 20th century, children outnumbering those in late middle and old age, the latter will be much more than twice as numerous as the former, by the middle of the century.To put it in a nutshell, at the beginning of the century there was a grandchild for every grandparent in the land, and by the middle of the century there will be two grandparents to every grandchild. Do these figures cause the right hon. Gentleman to smile? Does he realise that a population which is changing in this way is a population where the burden on the younger population carry- 783 ing these older people will be much greater by the mere influx of time, let alone any changes which he is introducing? These figures are of the utmost importance to the future arrangements of this country, and they have not been fully taken into account by either the Department over which the right hon. Gentleman presides or the Department of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, which is responsible for finding the money for these things. Why is the Chief Medical Officer bringing these things forward, and stressing them so strongly to his Department? Obviously because he feels that there are facts here which should be in the knowledge of every single Member of this House, and more particularly of Members responsible for the administration of the affairs of State.
What is the bearing of all this on the Financial Resolution which we have before us? It is quite simple. It is that any available money that can be given should be concentrated upon the children, and that was the basis of our provision for the pre-Act widow.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
The hon. and gallant Gentleman is going to another point now. What he said is quite irrelevant. My case was that it is absurd to look forward to 1945–46 in terms of money when nobody knows the scheme which will be in operation then. If the hon. and gallant Gentleman's figures prove anything, it is that there will have to be a different scheme then.
§ Major ELLIOT
That is a very interesting point, but the right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting that he is going to cut down these services and the amount of money to be spent on them? Nor are we; we are not suggesting that we are going to cut down the money. Whatever alteration is made, will be an alteration upward, and that is why we say that the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Financial Secretary could very reasonably be here, at some stage or another, to speak on these important matters. The Treasury is not usually flouted in these matters by the Department. The right hon. Gentleman must agree that these charges are continuing charges; they are not being reduced, and will not be reduced, and neither that side of the House nor this 784 side is contemplating reducing them. Any addition is a permanent mortgage upon the resources of the State, and what we are mortgaging here is the future of the children who will eventually have to carry this burden. We are voting ourselves pensions out of the pockets of our children.
Are not the figures of the chief medical officer statistics of what he considers might be?
§ Major ELLIOT
The hon. Member has raised another interesting point, but he is under a misapprehension about that. There is no doubt whatever that the fall in the birth rate means that there will be far fewer children, and the fall in the death rate means that there will be more old people. You cannot get away from that. There is nothing tentative about the number of children.
§ Major ELLIOT
I have answered it. The answer is that those statements are not tentative in the way that our financial estimates are. They may be called tentative in the close scientific sense that they may be a decimal point out one way or another, but the broad general conclusion of the Chief Adviser to the Ministry of Health is that in the middle of the century there will be more than twice as many old people as children. Nothing that we do at this stage can affect that.
§ Mr. SHILLAKER
Does the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggest that the grandchildren of to-day are paying the pensions due to those people in 1946? They are pensions for people who were left out under the old Act.
§ Major ELLIOT
The hon. Member does not seem to understand the provisions of the Bill. It is not merely dealing with the present condition of affairs, but also with the future. The right hon. Gentleman's policy is to maintain and extend this lowering of the pensions age and to develop the social services—to increase the number of people who are going to get these old age pensions and to reduce the limitations. That is the whole drift of his policy. He wants a further development and extension of the old age and widows' pensions schemes. I am 785 sure I am not misrepresenting the right hon. Gentleman. We are pointing out that as these schemes develop they are developing concurrently with a fall in the number of younger people who will have to pay for them.
§ Mr. GRUNDY
The whole scheme is to avoid poverty among the people, no matter how far you go with your statistics.
§ Major ELLIOT
Surely the hon. Gentleman will agree that we are now considering the finance of the scheme, for this is the Report stage of the finance of the scheme? It is necessary to deal with the statistics of the scheme and, if we were not allowed to do so, it would be impossible to elucidate the question. We are not dealing merely with the broad, general principles, as on Second Reading. Why should hon. Members suggest, in a somewhat truculent style, that we on these benches are opposed to social services and are trying to cut them down? [Interruption.] The hon. Member seems to be afraid of something. If he has any remarks to make and will get on his feet I am willing to give way to him. The difficulty before us was the same at the time when we were framing out Acts. We determined to concentrate relief as far as possible upon widows with children. That was the line we took. It may be that the right hon. Gentleman does not agree with us, hut it was an understandable line, a defensible line, and in face of these figures I submit that it was a justifiable line. The people whom we have to trust to carry the weight of these pensions in future are these children; the children of today will have to carry—
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Miss Lawrence)
§ Major ELLIOT
The hon. Lady shakes her head, but surely the working population of the future are the people who will have to carry the weight. Surely we are agreed that the working population of the country will in future consist of a smaller and smaller percentage of young persons and a larger and larger number of old persons. This stands out in the Report, and if my argument has helped to bring it home to right hon. and hon. Members, I am more than repaid. I am also repaid by the wide interest 786 which has been taken in these remarks, and I can only say to the right hon. Gentleman that if he will raise all these interesting topics at a late hour of the night he cannot complain if the Opposition follow him into the interesting avenues which he opens up.
§ 12 m.
§ Captain GUNSTON
I am sure none of us wish to prolong the Debate, but after the observations of the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health we cannot go home without making some protest. He suggested that we on this side of the House are against social services, and again indulged in his favourite method of argument—putting up ninepins and knocking them down again. We recognise the value of social services as much as do hon. Members opposite, but we also realise that the national purse is not bottomless, and we say that if the Government extend the social services without consideration for the national purse, taxation will become so onerous that unemployment will increase. Though we object to the suggestion that we are in any way against widows' pensions, we say that if you are going to spend hundreds of millions of pounds, and if you are to get away altogether from the idea of insurance, then you ought to follow the declaration of the Prime Minister, and spend the money according to the needs of the people. In Committee I think we shall have to be satisfied that need will be taken into consideration.
I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary about the figures she gave the other day when she said that under this scheme an extra £4,500,000 a year would be spent and about 500,000 more widows would benefit. The Parliamentary Secretary omitted to say that under our scheme we were providing not only for widows but also for orphans and dependents. The real comparison is that under the Government scheme you are spending £4,500,000 to benefit 500,000 people whilst under the scheme of the Conservative Government we spent £4,000,000 to benefit 1,500,000 people. I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary if she will answer the question put by the Noble Lady the Member for Sutton (Viscountess Astor), referring to the scheme initiated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley), who spoke about a scheme which was watertight drawn up by the Under-Secretary of 787 State for Foreign Affairs. I understand that the scheme which is now put forward will cost £98,500,000 for 16 years and it is going to provide a pension of 10s. a week for an additional 500,000 widows. I would like to know whether the Government have taken all thsee things into consideration? Have they considered the scheme drawn up by the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs who represents the London School of Economics. If they have considered it are we to understand that in their opinion it would not hold water?
§ Captain BOURNE
I should not have intervened in this Debate but for a remark which was made to the effect that we were accusing the Government of not paying something into the Pensions Account. The Parliamentary Secretary said in a speech on Friday last:The original Contributory Pensions Act was passed in 1925, and the provisions imposing payment by employers and employed persons of contributions for pensions purposes came into operation on 4th January, 1926, but the payment of pensions under the Act only became operative in stages."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 1st November, 1929; col. 496, Vol. 231.]As I understand her remarks, at the date mentioned she implied that the payments were made only by the contributors, by the employers and employés, and that Treasury contributions were paid in as and when required. I feel sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will recollect that there are pension schemes in regard to which Treasury contributions are made "as and when required." It is difficult to understand under which scheme the Government are working and that was the reason why I put my question on Friday last.
§ Captain BOURNE
The question is whether the figures set out in column 3 of the Financial Memorandum represent only payments made by the Exchequer to the Pensions Fund, or whether the Exchequer merely transfers so much money year by year as is necessary to meet the claim on that fund which arises in any given year, the other being merely a calculation of what the fund should be if the full contributions were in fact paid?
There is another point which I wish to urge. I listened to the speech made by 788 the Minister of Health on Friday and also to the speech of the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, with considerable interest. The hon. Lady dealt with the cost of this scheme, which she said would be about £1,000,000 in all, I think, although I was not quite clear on that point. The Minister said that a certain amount of the charges of this scheme would fall upon the Post Office, or at least that the administration would fall upon the Post Office. The question I want to ask is: Are the expenses which may fall upon the Post Office included in that Estimate? It is really an important point, because the Post Office renders to various Government Departments a very large number of services which it is very difficult indeed to trace in the annual Estimates. There is another thing which I wish to know: Is that sum of £1,000,000 included in the Estimate which has been presented to the House and which is included in the Financial Resolution, or is it a sum which appears bit by bit in the annual Estimates of the Ministry? I was not at all clear, from the explanation given on Friday last, under which heading that sum of £1,000,000 came.
Then there is another point which the Minister did not touch upon. Under paragraphs (b) and (c) of this Resolution we are taking an unlimited sum of money, but presumably the amount to be expended in any given year under these heads will appear in the Estimates of the Ministry of Health. In introducing this Resolution the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry said that it was perfectly impossible to make an estimate of the expenditure under this head. I may be extremely dense, but I cannot see how it is going to be possible for the Minister to present the annual Estimates to deal with these sums if he is not able to present estimates upon this Resolution. The money must appear somewhere. We may have difficulty in the future in tracing it in the Estimates of the Department, but some estimate must have been made by somebody of the amount which must be available, and I think the House should be put in possession of the information of how much it is estimated will be required at any rate in the first year under these heads. Surely, that information must be in the Department, as they have now, or very shortly will have, to make up their 789 Estimates for 1930–31. I think it is customary to send them to the Treasury before the end of the year so that they may be presented by the Department as soon as possible after the meeting of the House in January. When the hon. Lady replies, I shall be very glad if she will give us some answer on those points, which were not covered in the speeches made by the Minister and by the hon. Lady.
§ Lieut.-Colonel HENEAGE
As far as this side of the House is concerned, this Debate would not have arisen, if we had received what I might call a civil answer from the Minister. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank) raised a perfectly clear point, and I should have thought that the Minister would have been only too glad to have answered it, but, in fact, the right hon. Gentleman quite unnecessarily delivered a most provocative speech. Therefore, I think we are justified in raising fresh points which we desire to have elucidated. May I read the words of the Minister himself when a similar occasion arose in connection with the Measure of 1925:It does not facilitate business to treat Members of this Committee in the cavalier way in which they have been treated. We have asked for information, we have put forward points of criticism but we have got no reply. That does not tend to facilitate the passage of the Bill, and I submit we have reached a point where we ought to be in possession of information which will enable us to form a judgment on one of the most important features of the Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 2nd July, 1925; col. 2846, Vol. 185.]Why does not the Minister practise what he preaches? How can the country have confidence in a Government one of whose Ministers blows hot and cold in this fashion? Several very interesting points have been raised and I hope we shall have some reply to them. For instance, does the right hon. Gentleman consider that ten shillings is a sufficient sum. The object of the Bill we are told is to avoid poverty, but I ask Members on the opposite side if any one of them could live on ten shillings a week. During the last Parliament, Members of the Government when in Opposition said they could never bind themselves beyond five years, but we find in the White Paper provisions extending to 12 and even 20 years. There again hon. Members are going against principles 790 which they laid down in the last Parliament and we should like to have some explanation. I think we have been very patient with the Minister who is occupying this office for the first time and I ask him, if he wishes a smooth passage for this legislation, to treat the Opposition with a little consideration and give the House civil answers to the questions which have been asked.
§ Mr. REMER
Like the last speaker, I would not have risen to take part in the Debate, if we had had a civil answer from the Minister of Health. We have also had very discourteous replies from the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary on the occasions when she has seen fit to intervene. These things do not aid debate and I think if the hon. Lady couched her replies in words which were not objectionable it would facilitate matters. I heard the hon. Lady earlier in these Debates saying that we were afraid to vote against the Second Beading. I, for one, abstained from voting on the Second Reading solely in order that I might have an opportunity at later stages, of improving the obvious defects in the Bill. Those defects are apparent to anybody. Why should a widow of 55 receive a pension and a spinster of 55 not receive one? [Interruption.] There are grievances arising from every line, almost every word of the Bill.
§ Mr. REMER
I was tempted to get out of order by the taunts of hon. Members opposite, and I apologise to the House. As to the financial aspect of the Bill, there are very many people in this country—spinsters, tradesmen and others—who subscribe to this fund and who also pay Income Tax, who are placed at a grave disadvantage by the provisions which have been outlined this afternoon. It would be of advantage if we could so improve this Financial Resolution that the hon. Lady will be able to tell us exactly what is meant by it, and give us some information in reply to the many questions which have been put from this side of the House. It seems to me a great pity that, instead of our receiving replies to reasonable financial questions, the time of the House has been wasted, if I may be allowed to say 791 so, in flinging taunts at us. This is a Bill of far-reaching effect, not merely on people of this generation, but on, possibly, all succeeding generations, and it is of vital importance that we should see that the Financial Resolution is put into language which will protect their interests as well as those of the present generation. For these reasons I want to enter my emphatic protest, and I would ask the hon. Lady to give a reasonable answer to the questions which have been put.
§ Mr. HANNON
I rise to enter my protest against the charge which has been levelled against Members on this side of the House that we have no interest in the development of the social services. The process of expansion of the social services of this country has been directed and guided and maintained by a whole series of Conservative Administrations. If there is any claim which the Conservative party can legitimately make upon the public support of the democracy of this country, it is in respect of our contribution to the development of the social services. The Minister of Health, in that light and airy way in which he deals with questions raised on this side of the House, says that we do not care or the social services. Every Member on this side who has served in our party in past Parliaments has made a solid and substantial contribution to the development of those services. But we have tried to the best of our ability to establish some sort of relationship between the development of the social services and the charges which the country can bear in respect of those services. On the other hand, the Minister of Health and the Parliamentary Secretary, whose contributions to our Debates we on this; side appreciate so much, because her mathematical mind always comes down to exactitudes, apparently do not care in the least how much they burden the industries of this country with charges for further social services. While we on this side stand for a carefully conceived and developed expansion of the social services, we have always maintained that we must not burden the productive enterprise of the nation with more charges than it can legitimately be called upon to bear.
Every country in Europe is far below our level as regards the social services 792 maintained. Figures have been quoted, and they show that we give a lead to the whole world in that respect. The Conservative party has carried these services to fruition in Government after Government; we have really been the protagonists of the under-dog; and yet we, to whom the democracy of this country owes more than to any other party, are accused to-night by the Minister of Health of having no regard for the social services. The Conservative party will go down to history as having accomplished great results for progressive benevolent social evolution in this country. Can any other party make the same statement, taking the whole course of legislation, which in a way is all concentrated on the financial aspect? This Resolution imposes charges upon the country which the country, in these days, cannot bear; and we on this side, who have always been the protagonists of the social services of this country, wish to impress upon the Minister that there are limits beyond which this expenditure cannot go, and that there ought to be some understandable relationship between the capacity of industry to bear more burdens and the giving of industry a fair chance of affording people employment.
§ Major COLVILLE
I should like to ask if the Parliamentary Secretary would answer a question which was put by a Liberal Member in regard to the percentage of unemployment upon which the actuarial calculation was made. The number of people in employment who are paying their share of the quota will obviously affect the scheme considerably, and I hope that before the Debate ends we shall receive an assurance that that factor has been taken into account. When the hon. Member below the Gangway put the point, it seemed to me that the hon. Lady did not appreciate it, but perhaps, now that there has been time to consider it, an indication will be given that that factor has been taken into careful consideration. One other remark made to-night calls for consideration, and that is the one about taxation being no burden on industry and the reference to the Colwyn Committee's Report. I submit that taxation is a burden on industry, if not directly to the extent that some people may imagine, nevertheless indirectly. 793 My hon. Friend the Member for West Belfast (Mr. Allen) spoke of the evil effect of capital going out of the country, and apparently that view was received with acceptance by hon. Members opposite. Capital will most certainly go out of the country if it is penalised at home to the extent that hon. Members on the other side would penalise it if they got the chance. We say, if this money is to be spent, let it be applied wisely where it is most needed. We do not think that it is applied wisely in the scheme now before us. If you set out to capture the electorate with promises, you must, no doubt, consider how you can please the greatest number of people with the money available. I do not think that even judged by that standard the proposals which the Labour party put forward are good. Those of us who represent constituencies which are to a large extent industrial know very well the value of the social services, and I most strongly resent the claims of the Members opposite that the only honest keenness for the social services is to be found in that party. Last year, this country spent a huge sum on social services, more than it had ever spent before and considerably more than it spent when the last Labour Government was in office—a sufficient answer to the suggestion that this party has no care for these services. With all that, we have unemployment and destitution and hardship going on, which goes to prove that unless the industries of the country are in a sound position, no matter how you increase the social services, you will still have hardship and unemployment—[Interruption.] I should at once be called to order if I attempted to initiate a debate on the subject of Socialism. It is not before the House or the country, where there was a majority of seven to four against it. As far as facing things at the present time is concerned, we must realise that we have to relate the social services to the ability of the country to provide the money to pay for them.
§ Sir PATRICK FORD
My attention is particularly directed to the first paragraph of the Resolution:That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to make provision for amending the Widows', Orphans', and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act"—It is quite irrelevant—and I think the claim can hardly seriously be made on 794 the other side—to say that Members on this side have no interest in social ameliorative schemes. We have always taken what, as a Scottish Member, I may claim is the good, sound Scottish ideal of self-help. We believe that it is the function of the State—and I think that here, if I recall former speeches of his, I have the sympathy of the Chancellor of the Exchequer—not to dole out assistance from the public funds to those who have no claim on them, but to give facilities for all those who are willing to help themselves and their families and their dependants in a way that they could not do under modern conditions without the co-ordination that is necessary by the State. This has been the principle of our ameliorative social measures. Speaking as the representative of an industrial constituency in the capital of Scotland, the home of thrift, I always did my best to urge, both inside, and outside this House, the party to which I belong to embark upon a system of ameliorative social measures founded on the idea of real national insurance. The one thing in this Resolution which really encourages me at all is the suggestion that there may be some system for the entrance of people who are not: merely trade unionists and so on; that is to say, that the small trader has nor to forfeit his rights because by his enterprise and industry he has helped to buildup the prosperity of the country. It is contemplated that he may have a right to enter into the benefits of this insurance to which he is contributing as an employer for the benefit of other people. That is by the way.
The point I want to make is that the measures contained in the Budgets of the party on these benches for the last few years were all based on the idea of an increasing system of self-help in this country, and as times got better and as reasonable legislation not unduly taxing the industry of the country would help the production of the country, and the distribution would come after you had got the production, as that was going; on the Treasury would be in a position, without crippling productive industry and hampering the real development of all that makes for the vitality of the country, to take in increasingly larger classes of beneficiaries. It would then be possible to give relief at an earlier age, and on a more generous scale with- 795 out undue inquiry into means qualifications and so on. The Act which the late Government passed was based, and, if our theories were right, properly based, on the idea of contributions. Consequently, benefits were only available for people, and their dependants, under the contributory scheme. There was a slight additional contribution to entitle people to these new benefits. When we begin to make exceptions, as the Government are now doing, we are brought up against the difficulty of not having an unfathomable purse. It is departing from strict logic when you say: "Just because your husband died before the Act came into operation, and he had begun to pay, we feel it is only right we should make an exception and bring you within the limits of the Act." You cannot start pensions to people at 25 or at 50. You may say that you recognise that the principle is a contributory principle, but that there is a certain hardship on people who do not just come into the scheme; that it is fair and humane to make further alterations. If you put it a year back, instead of getting gratitude you get other people coming running and saying: "Why not put it more years back?"
Logically, there should have been no exception. We ought not to pauperise our people, but to encourage them by contributory schemes. Thrift is what has made Scotland what it is and England what it is. That is the principle, and there is no getting away from it. The whole of this Resolution, in so far as it evades that, is merely conferring a bribe offered to some people who are electors. If we on this side were going to degrade ourselves and say we would make it 54, or 44, we would be embarking on some sort of gamble such as has been going on in the New York Exchange. We would be buying shares which have no capacity and no financial foundation. Just as people bought up shares in the New York Stock Exchange far above their capacity because they thought some other "mug" would be left to hold them, so a party which would try to outbid the other party by giving so-called amelioration that the finances of the country could not stand would bring disaster on itself and the country.
Is this House going to say that in all these matter of pensions and out-of-work 796 benefits and health benefits we are going to adopt the principle that we are simply not going to take and dissipate the resources of the nation by doling out money to the people, but that we are going to carry on the well-thought-out system, capable under any Government of development, so that without overtaxing industry, but by encouraging thrift, it will give us eventually a great national system of insurance which will put people outside the fear of unemployment, ill-health, and old age? Under such a system we could feel that we had done nothing to restrict the output of our industry and the development of our resources. We would go on patiently, not trying to make a new heaven and a new earth at once, but patiently and progressively going forward. Thus we would be able to build up a system of real national insurance founded on sound finance and not on vote catching. We would be able to build up a system which would give every man, woman and child in our country security. That is our ideal. Do we want to get it by squandering and dissipating our resources before the nation's trade has recovered and will stand it? If the Government desires that, I say to the right hon. Gentlemen and the hon. Gentlemen opposite that they are living in a fools' paradise and that they are bringing not only ruin on their party but on the nation as a whole. It is our duty on these benches to support our sound policy of steady, progressive social amelioration and not to be led into a fools' game of trying to outbid reckless vote-catchers.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I beg to move "That the Debate be now adjourned."
I am going to suggest to the Minister of Health that he ought to take a leaf out of the book of the Attorney-General and note the way in which that right hon. and learned Gentleman introduced a Bill in this House last week. He did not, when introducing it, try to aggravate the Opposition by talking about their omissions and commissions. He introduced it in a manner which was likely to get a speedy Second Reading for that Bill. If 797 the Minister for Health had dealt seriously with the question put forward by the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Captain Crookshank), with a keen desire to obtain right and proper information, the Debate would have finished long ago. That has not been forthcoming. We have had no answer to the various questions put forward from the hon. Lady, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. I notice that she has taken down copious notes during the progress of the Debate, but we have had nothing in the way of a reply from her at all. I submit that we have a perfect right to ask for this information when we are voting the nation's money to the large extent that this financial Resolution covers. We have a perfect right to a clear elucidation of all points that arise. We have had questions raised as to whether in this financial Resolution we are making provision to cover anything like a tithe of the anomalies that have been pointed out in respect of the Pensions Act. We heard a great deal from platform after platform during the General Election of the anomalies of the 1925 Act and the difficulties of the Acts that had been passed in previous Parliaments, and we are asked to vote this money because we are told that it is going to clear away some of those anomalies. I am going to ask the hon. Lady if she is going to make a reply, what about the many anomalies that are going to be created by the very Bill to which this financial Resolution refers? No one has more sympathy with the pre-Act widow who was in need of assistance than I have, and my party have.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I understood that the hon. Gentleman was moving the Adjournment of the Debate. He should confine his remarks to that question.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I bow to your ruling in this matter and all other matters. I am going to suggest that because of the omission in the Bill to deal with this and other anomalies the Debate should be adjourned. One reason why the Debate should be adjourned is to enable us to get an answer either from the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health or the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary as to what they intend to do with regard to this class of person. I submit that Members of this House should agree to the adjournment of the Debate until the hon. Lady or the 798 right hon. Gentleman can give us an adequate answer to the queries and questions put to them to-night.
§ Rear-Admiral BEAMISH
I beg to second the Motion.
I must confess that the reasons given are adequate in the extreme. One has only to look at this half-sheet of paper, literally the road to national ruin; an utter disregard for somebody else's banking account. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is in charge of the purse strings of the nation, is not here. This is an extremely important matter. You have only to look at this to see that for this year and each of the next three successive years a sum of £21,000,000 has to be paid, and after there are such sums as Parliament may hereafter determine. Where is that money going to come from? It shows an utterly wicked disregard of the finances of this country that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should not be here. I have the greatest possible pleasure in seconding the Motion for the Adjournment of this extremely important Debate.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I understand that the Adjournment has been moved because no reply has been given to the questions asked by hon. Members opposite. I have taken note of every word from the lips of hon. Members opposite and have been waiting and wondering whether I should be allowed to rise to give my humble reply. I have been looking forward to that. If the mover and seconder of the Adjournment have moved it on the ground that they desire to extract information from me, I wish to point out that they have only delayed the moment at which I could answer, as it was impossible for me to do so when so many Members were anxious to speak. I do not want to delay the House. I only wish to clear myself as far as possible from any implication or any suggestion that I was not doing other than listening with the utmost attention to the views of the hon. Members.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
After the explanation of the hon. Lady, I beg to ask leave to withdraw my Motion. We always give way to Front Bench Members on any occasion, and, if the hon. Lady had got up long ago, we would have been pleased to hear her.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question again proposed.799
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I would not dare to rise until I was assured that I had heard all the remarks hon. Members wished to put forward. I saw hon. Members rising in their places, and if I had risen, it is possible that I might have cut short the Debate to the regret of everybody. The hon. and gallant Member for the Kelvingrove Division of Glasgow (Major Elliot) poured out on the House a mass of highly interesting though somewhat dishevelled and altogether irrelevant figures. He said there would be fewer children and more old people and that this would alter the basis of the contribution for children. I would point out that no part of the extra cost falls on the contribution of any part of the insured population.
§ Major ELLIOT
The power of the nation to carry the burden will certainly be diminished as the number of young, active people diminishes and the number of old people increases.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
With regard to the power of the nation to carry the burden, if the hon. and gallant Member looks at the financial return of 1905 he will see there a valuable table which shows that what happens is that the expectation of life is increasing at the age of 50 to 60. There are not so very many more older people. The bulk of the population is in productive labour at middle-age life. I refer the hon. and gallant Member to Table A of the Financial Memorandum of 1925. The hon. and gallant Member for Thornbury (Captain Gunston) said that the Conservatives spent about £4,000,000 a year and gave pensions to about 1,000,000 people.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
What I said was that the money was meant to provide for the extra cost and what we call the extra jolt in the year 1936. Now I come to the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne), and the curious thing is that all the explanations he asked for were explanations of the Act of 1925. It pains me to think that a Member who took such a prominent part in the old Parliament should have taken so very little interest in that Act. Particularly 800 bad is his point about the Post Office, because the hon. Gentleman occupied the chair, and he should have known the Rules governing Appropriations-in-Aid. If he will look at Section 12 of the Act of 1925, he will find that the money from the Post Office and Ministry of Health administrations appears in the respective Votes of those Estimates and that the money is paid to them out of the Pensions Fund. I cannot see any other definite question on a point of detail.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
Again, I am sorry. That is a question about the Act of 1925 about which I was asked on Friday and did my best to reply—[Interruption.]
§ Captain GUNSTON
This scheme is going to cost £100,000,000 and is going to provide pensions for pre-Act widows. In the last Parliament the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs told us that the Labour party had a scheme which was going to double the benefits. We want to know whether that scheme was all bunkum or not. [Interruption.]
§ Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution" put, and agreed to.