§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The MINISTER of HEALTH (Mr. Arthur Greenwood)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
I should like to refer to the question of the pledges of the Labour party, which the Opposition are now taking up, not, I imagine, with the purest motives.
§ Mr. SKELTON
On a point of Order. Is an hon. Member in order in attributing motives to his opponents?
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I was using the term politically, not morally, and I am delighted to withdraw. I am glad to think that there has been a wholesale conversion of the party opposite, and, if they are so wholeheartedly in support of our pledges, I welcome them into our ranks. Let me give the House the immediately operative pledges of the Labour party. I am not disposed in the least to run away from any item of the considered policy of our party and if hon. Members opposite pay us so great a compliment as to think that we can complete the whole of our programme on all subjects in one session we are grateful to them for their opinion of our ability. In the election programme on which right hon. and hon. Members on this side of the House fought the last election there are these words:The grave injustices of the existing Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Pensions Act would be immediately remedied and as soon as the urgent legislation for dealing with unemployment had been carried through a comprehensive co-ordination and extension of all the pension schemes would be undertaken so as to give an opportunity to many classes of persons now excluded to come in.From that pledge we have not receded. Then I draw attention to the terms of 366 the King's Speech, so far as it relates to this question of pensions:My Ministers are engaged on a general survey of the various National Insurance and Pensions schemes. Meanwhile a Bill is being prepared to amend the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, 1925, so as to modify the conditions applicable to certain pensions, and to make some increase in the classes of persons entitled to them.4.0 p.m.
It is in accordance with the election pledge and with the statement in the King's Speech that we have brought for-ward this Bill and undertaken this comprehensive inquiry into the complex system of social insurance which now exists. This Bill is, of course, merely an instalment of a large policy. During recent years in this country we have developed a complex system or systems of social insurance, side by side with social services, and they all cover a very large proportion of the population. I do not intend to weary the House with any de-tailed recital of the various schemes that are now in operation. It will be sufficient if I remind hon. Members of the National Health Insurance Acts, the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act, the non-contributory Old Age Pension Acts, 1908–1920, the Unemployment Insurance Acts, 1920–1929, and the provision that is made for War pensions. Those measures do not represent the full story, because in addition to those schemes there are the Workmen's Compensation Acts and similar legislation, and a large body of special legislation dealing with the superannuation of various classes of employés of local authorities.
That is a very complex body of legislation. There are important differences in scope between the National Health and Unemployment Insurance Schemes. In so far as the same or similar problems arise under both of them, there is to-day the closest possible touch between the two departments concerned. On the questions of insurability and of enforcing compliance with the statutory provisions as to payment of contributions, there is a joint administration. The Health Insurance scheme, on the one hand, and the Contributory Pensions Act on the other, are closely interlocked as regards the range of insurance and the collection of contributions, which is done in the same way. In funda- 367 mental matters of finance and of general organisation, there are quite distinct principles at work. Each of these was designed to provide for a particular contingency when the demand for the pro-vision of the service became a matter of public interest. As a consequence of the system growing up piecemeal—I am not complaining of that—different principles have entered into the conception of the services provided for closely related forms of need, and we have had distinct forms of administrative machinery set up for services which are broadly similar in purpose.
Because of that, and because of the other problems which are now in the forefront of public opinion, it is the view of the Government that the time has arrived when we should take stock of the existing systems of social insurance and, as has already been announced, a committee of the Cabinet is now engaged on a survey of the various schemes and an analysis of the varied and complex problems which schemes developed on independent lines have inevitably brought into existence—an examination of the gaps and in-adequacies in the present system, as well as the overlapping that now takes place—and finally an inquiry into the very large and very important question of the relations between insurance on the one hand and the various forms of social pro-visions made outside insurance on the other.
There are three major problems to which the Government at present is giving its attention. The first is the problem of the inclusion of classes of persons who to-day are either wholly or partially excluded from the existing schemes. The second is the problem of ex-tending the existing services. The third is the very large question of the financial aspects of social insurance. As regards the first question, the demands for the inclusion of a larger number of people within the range of the social insurance schemes are in-creasing partly because of the stress and complexities of modern life, and partly because people are realising increasingly the cumulative advantages which have accrued to the workers by association in schemes of insurance supplemented by the financial intervention of the 368 State. And, of course, force has been added to these demands because, after the provision of the limited scheme of contributory pensions introduced by the late Government, it was found that there were numbers of people of limited means whose economic circumstances were no better than those of people who were in the schemes, and demands were made for their inclusion in any development of the system of social insurance.
The Bill now before the House professes to deal only with the more important problems affecting the insured classes arising out of the Act of 1925, passed by the late Government. The other issues and the larger issues are precisely those questions which are now being examined by a committee of the Cabinet. As regards the pensions schemes, a number of difficult points arise in connection with what appear to be hard cases. I need refer only to deserted wives, to invalid husbands and to elderly spinsters. These and other points which cannot come into the scope of this Bill have been tabulated and are now under the careful consideration of the Cabinet committee. In connection with Unemployment Insurance, the Cabinet committee—it is part of the great problem on which we are working—will have to bring into its general purview the question of the ex-tension of the scheme to other classes of persons than those who are now included in it but who happen to be included with-in the National Health Insurance scheme. The special problem of unemployment insurance for agricultural workers is also receiving the immediate and serious consideration of the Government.
A question with which most hon. Members are familiar is that of determining how far people who have failed to keep up their contributions by reason of pro-longed unemployment, can be regarded as proper subjects for insurance, and, if it should be that they cease to be protected by insurance, what kind of provision should be made for their protection in sickness and unemployment. That it-self is a very large problem, one aspect of which I hope to deal with very shortly. The second problem is the problem of extending the services which are now provided. As an illustration of that, I take the recommendation made by the Royal Commission on National Health Insurance and the more re- 369 cent report which has been published within the last two or three weeks of the Departmental Committee on the Training of Midwives. Both those reports point to an extension of the services now provided by the National Health Insurance Acts.
Among the more important of the possible extensions that we have to consider—I mention these because the big problem of insurance is far wider than the problem of pensions—is the question of providing medical and midwifery services during pregnancy and childbirth to insured women and wives of insured men, extending the scope of medical benefit to include specialist and consultative medical service, laboratory aids to diagnosis and the possibility of making dental benefits one of the statutory benefits, and the problem of the provision of allowances for the dependents of insured persons. That gives the House some indication of the many large problems which are still awaiting solution and which in our view can be settled only by the comprehensive survey which we have undertaken and on which we have begun serious work. The third problem, of which I need say very little, is the financial problem. It must be obvious that any extension or development of social insurance benefits involves very far-reaching and wide financial consideration.
The task of overhauling systems of social insurance is one of considerable magnitude and complexity, as I know the House will believe. The desire of the Government is to build by stages to-wards a comprehensive, adequate, and harmonious system of social insurance which will enable all our citizens effectively to meet the ills, misfortunes, and risks of life. To that task we have put our hands and we shall not consider that we have completed it until we have fulfilled that obligation. The need for a survey of this problem has already been recognised. I remember that when Mr. Sydney Webb, now a member in another place, raised the question of the gaps and overlaps in administration a Conservative Government appointed a committee under the chairmanship of a distinguished Member of this House, and when they were surveying this problem of gaps and overlaps they came up against a major question—the question of taking a broad constructive view and 370 putting all these various schemes into one constructive national policy. I would remind hon. Members of the words of the Betterton Report to which I commend their attention— "As a result of the restricted scope of the specialised schemes and of the limited liability undertaken by them, there are undoubtedly cases, illustrated in the pre-ceding paragraphs in which the full needs of an individual may not be covered by them, or in which, indeed, no claim under a specialised scheme may be admissible. The existence of such cases appears to have been made the basis of allegations of serious failure of administrative co-ordination. It is however clear that even if such cases can be described as 'gaps' at all, and we think that the general application of such a term highly misleading, they are in the main 'gaps' of statutory or quasi-statutory origin such as could only be bridged by a revision of the statutory basis upon which the services are founded, or by a reconsideration of the principles of administration which have hitherto been followed with the sanction of Parliament. While an inquiry into the possibility or desirability of the closer statutory co-ordination of the assistance services of the country is, we think, a task which must sooner or later be undertaken, we do not consider it to be the subject of inquiry within our reference."
That was the view of a body concerned with the various aspects of this problem, and their considered view was that the survey would, sooner or later, have to be undertaken. That survey is being undertaken now. I appreciate perhaps more than most hon. Members the difficulty of proceeding by the method of instalments, because if you proceed by the instalments method, there remain unremedied certain injustices and hard-ships. But a long complicated Bill would have meant delay, and numbers of people who will, at the earliest possible moment, be brought into benefit would have had to wait. This Bill, as I have said, is but a beginning called for by the glaring anomalies created by existing legislation.
Before I come to the principles of the Bill I wish to refer to one point which has a bearing upon our proposals. It is a matter of concern to all of us to know that there are a number of people who have suffered through long unemployment, and to know that they will have their insurance terminated on 31st December this year. That arises because of the repeal of the Prolongation of Insurance Act, and because the transitional arrangements will end this year. I think in view of the great survey on 371 which we are now engaged, it would be regrettable if we were, at the end of this year, to allow these people to fall outside the range of our present pension scheme, and I propose therefore to make transitional arrangements to keep such persons in insurance until 31st December, 1930. That means that those people will retain their title to sickness, disablement, and medical benefit, and it means that they will keep alive their insurance for pensions. I say that because the regulations which it is proposed to issue will help to ease the difficulties.
I come now to the major principle on which this Bill is based. While the large questions to which I have referred require very careful consideration, and while they are being examined now by the Cabinet, there are certain amendments of the Contributory Pensions Act that can and should be made at once. It is those amendments of the existing Act which are the object of this Bill. The Contributory Pensions Act stands upon the National Health Insurance Acts, and provides pensions and allowances for insured people within the National Health Insurance Acts and their dependants. But in establishing, as the late Government did, a contributory scheme of pensions and allowances, people of the same type as those for whom the scheme was intended, were inevitably excluded. That arises from the fact that an arbitrary date is fixed, from which the pensions scheme is made to operate. There are to-day a large number of widows who, had some previous Government introduced a similar Measure, had there been an earlier starting date fixed for the scheme, would now be receiving pensions, and the main principle of the Bill is to bring within the scope of the pensions scheme persons of the class for whom the original Act was intended, but who, by a pure accident of date, are excluded from its provisions.
I put it to this House that if, in the wisdom of Parliament, insured persons should be brought into a scheme to provide pensions, we should within our limits, within our possibilities, try to apply the same principle to an exactly similar class of people who, because of the misfortune of a husband's death before the appointed day, are at present excluded. The adoption of this scheme and this principle will bring within the pensions scheme as a 372 whole all those women whose husbands could not participate, because they were over 70 when the Act came into operation, or because they died before the appointed day in the 1925 Act. That is the major principle of the Bill. At the same time the opportunity has been taken to relax certain restrictions which experience of the working of the Act has shown to be unnecessary, and to enlarge some of the provisions which experience has shown to be desirable.
The House will not expect me this afternoon to enter into a detailed examination of all the Clauses of the Bill. We shall have opportunities for that at a later stage, but I may refer to some of them in order to illustrate the lines which we have taken in these proposals. The Clauses of the Bill fall into three categories. In the first place, it has been found that a number of persons—not a large number—who were certainly intended to be included in the original scheme were, by a pure mischance, left outside. That will be remedied by Clause 19 which opens voluntary insurance to two small classes of people who were excluded—I think I am right in saying unintentionally excluded—from the Act of 1925. In the second place the Bill contains a number of Clauses which are designed to remove obvious hardships, and to make improvements in the conditions of the original scheme of which most people, I think, would approve. For example, in Clause 19 we give to certain people who are insured for limited purposes the right to come in fully under the whole national health and pensions scheme.
Attention has been drawn in this House before to the unfortunate case of people who emigrate to British territories beyond the seas. These people have contributed for their pensions and once they become entitled to those pensions they are, in the case of old age pensions, entitled for life, and, in the case of widows' pensions, entitled for life or until remarriage, yet, if they go beyond the seas, they are immediately deprived of their pensions. There can be, I submit, no justification for that state of things. These people paid their contributions on the understanding that when they reached 65 or became widows, as the case might be, they would enjoy the same rights as everybody else 373 under the 1925 Act. But if they go to British territories beyond the seas, they are deprived of their pensions and allowances under the present system. That, I submit, is a hardship, and in Clause 3 of the Bill we propose to remove that-restriction, and to retain pensioners' rights subsequent to their going to British territories overseas.
Then, in order again to ease the shoe, and do a measure of justice, we have altered the law with regard to work-men's compensation pay. Under the present law the orphans of. a man who has been killed and who is receiving workmen's compensation are deprived of the whole or part of the orphans' allowances. I submit that that cannot be defended, either on the grounds of humanity or justice because the employer, no doubt, has insured in respect of that man against his loss, and that man is entitled, or his children are entitled, to the full benefit which that insurance can give. But the father himself has also contributed to the scheme in order that there may be provision made for his children should he die, and where you have two contracts like that, it seems monstrous that the orphans of a worker who has lost his life should be penalised. We are proposing therefore that in future orphans' allowances given in respect of those children shall neither be reduced nor withheld because of the payment of workmen's compensation.
Another illustration I may give is one which is dealt with in Clause 6 of the Bill. The experience of all of us in this House who have kept in touch with this problem is that unmerited hardship has fallen on a number of elderly contributors who have been in insurance for many years but who have just failed to satisfy the average contributions' test during the last few years of insurance because of prolonged unemployment, and who have thereby lost their pension rights. It is, of course, true that under the present Act weeks of sickness and weeks of unemployment may count as weeks of contribution, but a good many elderly people, finding it useless, or next to use-less, to go on the hunt for work, have not taken the necessary steps at the proper time to obtain credit for the contributions due to them, and have consequently, without realising it, lost their 374 right to pension. It seems to me that in those circumstances, with a relatively new scheme, and having regard to the prolonged depression of trade, we ought to ease the regulations with regard to those elderly contributors, and therefore it is that in Clause 6 we provide for the waiving of the average test as regards this class of elderly contributors, a test which has kept out from the advantages of the old age pension a considerable number of people.
Then, again, I know that many Members of this House have come across cases where widows have lost their pensions for a period of time because they did not make their claim within the statutory period of one month from the date when they lost their husband. If one realises the distress and the upheaval there is in the home at the period of the death of the breadwinner, one cannot be surprised that in large numbers of cases the poor distressed widow has not taken the trouble to make application for the pension, though her claim is a perfectly sound one. The object of Clause 15 is to deal with that problem by extending the period within which claims may be made, without any loss of pension at all, to three months, and if the claim is not made even within that time, because these people are morally entitled to a pension, to ensure that only the pension for the period in excess of the three months shall be lost. There is something to be Said for putting a time limit to the statutory period within which application should be made, and three months, it seems to me, is a reasonable period, having regard to the fact that should it be four months the only pension the widow will lose will be the one month above the three.
I have hardly time, and the House would not wish me, to go into details over a great many of the provisions of this Bill, but I might perhaps refer to one more. On a strict view of the law, it has been held that the Minister of Health is debarred from reviewing an award even when he is entirely in the wrong. I have no doubt that the general provisions of the 1924 Act were based on the theory that the Minister at that time was infallible. I can claim no such infallibility, nor indeed can he, for such cases have arisen, and in an enormously large Department, where large numbers 375 of people are dealing with awards, a mere clerical error of which anybody may be guilty may result in an award being given which it appears that the Minister him-self cannot alter. I submit that that is an intolerable position for any Minister to occupy, and I propose therefore to guard against what I admit is the doubtful contingency of an award being made as a result of a mistake.
Let me now come to the major provisions of the Bill and those against which I understand a certain amount of criticism has been directed. I refer to the case of the pre-Act widow. Every Member of this House, on whichever side he sits, is familiar with the glaring anomaly of the present Act as regards the elderly pre-Act widow when the post-Act widow, however young, may receive a pension for life, and there is the equally hard case of the woman who has to wait until she is 70 for her pension simply because her husband happened to be over 70 on the 2nd January, 1928. It is even possible in those cases that the husband might have paid into the present contributory scheme contributions for two years, but by the mere accident of his birth and the unfortunate choice of his wife, the wife is deprived of pension until she is 70. It is proposed to remove these two great anomalies in Clause 1 of the Bill.
I should like, had it been practicable, to have brought those people into benefit almost immediately after the Bill was on the Statute Book, but I have to say, as my predecessor had to say in 1925, that for administrative reasons, because of all the submission of claims, the examination of claims, and the issue of awards which lie behind, it is impossible to do this as early as one would have wished. It is proposed to bring within the scope of the Bill for pensions purposes on the 1st July next something like 210,000 pre-Act widows—those widows will be the elderly widows who are over 60—and on 1st January, 1931, to bring in the class between 55 and 60, amounting in all to something like 85,000, and thereafter something like 200,000 widows will begin to benefit as soon as they reach the age of 55. In other words, we are making provision for round about half a million pre-Act widows in the present Bill. I emphasise that because to-day 376 there are about 200,000 post-Act widows receiving a pension, and the proposal of this Bill is to multiply by two and a-half the number of widows, and all of those elderly widows, who will come within the provisions of the pensions scheme.
Then we propose to do something for the case, which was recognised by the late Government, of the pre-Act widow with dependent children, and Clause 9 of the Bill prolongs the rights of those widows to a pension until the youngest child reaches the age of 16. Something like 18,000. widows will receive this benefit. In a number of cases, by the time their children become 16 they will be 55 and will then come within the operation of the new provisions, and all of them, as their children have grown up and as they are being left more and more to their own resources, will at 55 come within the scope of this scheme. Finally, Clause 2 will give old age pensions at 65 to those 24,000 wives of men who happened to be over 70 before pensions began to be paid. Those are the main provisions of the Bill.
I do not propose to say much this afternoon, in view of the Financial Resolution to-morrow, about the financial aspects of the Bill, but, broadly speaking, it is true that for the period up to 1936 the additional expenditure will mean on an average something like £8,000,000 per year. It is an expenditure which will grow and which will then decline, but it does mean a substantial addition to the provision made from the Treasury, and if I might do so without embarrassing the Chancellor of the Exchequer, I should like to thank him for the generosity of his provision. As the House is aware, the existing Act pro-vides for the first 10 years a Treasury contribution of £4,000,000 per year. That now becomes hopelessly inadequate, and the additional expenditure which is needed to make provision for the new classes who are brought within the scope of the scheme will have to be met by an increased Treasury contribution. My right hon. Friend therefore proposes next year to increase the Treasury contribution from £4,000,000 to £9,000,000 per year, but in 1936, with the flat £4,000,000 contribution, a very substantial increase in the State contribution would have been required, and in order 377 to ease the burden towards that day and to step to the day of larger contributions by easy stages, my right hon. Friend proposes each year to increase the State contribution by £1,000,000 until it will rise to a maximum, under these new proposals and the present Act, of £21,000,000 per year. That is a matter which I have no doubt will be debated a little more fully on the Financial Resolution.
Let me come to certain of the criticisms which I have seen in the public Press resulting from the impatience of right hon. Gentlemen and hon. Gentlemen opposite, who could not save their powder and shot until they came to the House. In the first place, let me say this: The proposals of this Bill have the strong support of the country. Hon. and right hon. Members opposite know it because they are not going to divide against the Second Reading. If their criticisms mean any-thing, let them go into the Lobby to-night. I say they dare not do it. It is true that we have had certain individual criticisms, mutually destructive criticisms, which only show the state of bewilderment into which the party opposite has fallen. I am not concerned about their internal difficulties; I am concerned about their intellectual confusion. On the one hand, we have been gravely assured by organs supporting the Opposition party that after all this Bill is only a logical development of the great Act of 1925; on the other hand, we have been told that it is illogical and founded on no principle at all. Behind the financial criticisms is the view that we are doing too much, and another view that we are doing too little. Even more curious when it comes from Tory lips is the criticism that the Bill leaves anomalies in its trail. Then there is the criticism, which is emphasised by the party opposite—to use the words of the right hon. Gentleman my predecessor—of the staggering cost of these proposals.
Let me deal first with the question of principle. This Bill is definitely founded upon a principle—the principle that the scheme of pensions laid down in the contributory insurance Act should, as far as possible, apply to people of the same class as that for which the Act was designed, who by the accident of date are excluded from its provisions. It is no use hon. and right hon. Gentlemen 378 opposite standing on the pure milk of their own gospel—[Interruption]. This is apparently an occasion on which I should unhesitatingly withdraw. The principle of the Act of 1925 was that nobody should receive pensions or allowances except in respect of somebody's contribution. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] It is all right saying "Hear, hear," but when the party opposite were in office, they could not live up to that principle. I was taught the principle which I have applied by the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Minister of Health. What did he do about the pre-Act widow with dependent children in respect of whom not a penny contribution has been paid? I know the explanation. The explanation was, "We are not helping the pre-Act widow, only her children." I am not complaining about this principle; I am merely complaining about the illogicality of Members on the other side. They said, "We are going to put the children of the pre-Act widow in the same position as the children of the post-Act widow." That is quite right, and it is the principle on which this Bill is built, and there is as strong a case for bringing in the elderly widow as there was for bringing in the pre-Act widow who had children growing up who might support her.
The right hon. Gentleman who formerly stood in my place admitted that in his Bill. He said: "This is an insurance scheme; it is based on the contributory principle, but there is an exception to the contributory principle in the Bill, and that is the one which applies to the pre-Act widow. I agree with anybody who says that that exception has undermined the logic of the whole Act, but I put it to the House that we were justified in de-parting from the principle of the Act in that case. We were not thinking of the widow. The widow's pension, therefore, was not a pension for the widow's sake; it was a pension to enable the widow to give the same care to her young children as the post-Act widow." The principle which we have applied to the elderly pre-Act widow is precisely the same principle. Her case is a hard one. I re-read the other night a story which was in-tended to pluck one's heart-strings, called "Heart to Heart," by Elizabeth East-wood, which appeared in a periodical which was only issued once, called "Woman of To-day and To-morrow." I 379 find it is published by the National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations. This is the tragic story of Annie and her three children who were left because of the untimely death of Tom, her husband. I am not criticising the story; I do not know Elizabeth Eastwood, and I would not criticise her story, but here are the ending words:The little home that an hour ago Annie had seen falling in ruins about her had been reconstructed in an almost miraculous manner. She had never known of the Widow's Pensions Act, never known of the splendid thing the Unionist Government had done in providing for those who were faced with poverty and want, with little children at their knees. She had thought that everything seemed dark, but there was a lot of good in the world after all.Then comes the dramatic climax of the story in the words:She went out into the sunlight.With that story I am in hearty agreement, but what a story might be written of the aged woman sitting by the cold, cheerless fireside with no income of her own, and knowing in her heart—and that is the real grievance, not poverty—that had her husband lived a little longer she would have had it. That is a tale just as tragic, and indeed in many ways more tragic, than that of the widow with a family growing up around her.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
The Noble Lady has not understood my argument. It is the principle of this Bill to bring in the same kind of treatment. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Wool-wich (Sir K. Wood), in his impatience and indignation, has talked of anomalies. Anomalies are inherent in the Act of 1925. Nothing within the limits of amending that Act could rid it of the anomalies created by the late Government, but taking the pre-Act widow alone, this Bill reduces the anomalies by something like half a million. If hon. Members opposite tell me that it is an anomaly that the pre-Act widow of 29 will not receive a pension, I say that that is an anomaly created by the Act of 1925, and when she becomes 55 she will enjoy the advantages of the present Bill. It is absurd for hon. Members opposite who created the Measure which this Bill is designed to amend to speak about anomalies, and what we have 380 been able to do is to diminish the number of anomalies by a very considerable number.
A further criticism is the criticism in-tended to scare the public about the cost of this proposal. The right hon. Gentle-man in a statement issued to the Press said:Probably the first thing that will strike the public mind will be the staggering cost of these new proposals in proportion to the number of persons likely to be affected.The first thing that struck the public was that half a million widows were coming into the Bill. The question which the right hon. Gentleman and other persons have raised is whether the nation can afford this, and they ask, "What about this terrific burden upon industry—£8,000,000 a year for a number of years?" I put this to hon. Members opposite—if, instead of wanting £8,000,000 next year for pensions, we had wanted it for battleships, they would have given it to us. Broadly speaking, whether a nation can afford a thing or not depends upon how much it wants it. [Interruption.] I must, when I have a little more leisure, give hon. Members a little lesson in economics. Is it not clear that an additional charge immediately imposed on workpeople and employers to meet this cost might be a greater drag upon the community and a greater real burden than putting it on the large body of taxpayers? I would remind hon. Members opposite, when they say that it is a drain upon industry, that it is a drain upon the profits after they have been made. The financial criticisms of this Bill which are being made are only part of the larger criticisms which are being made with regard to the enormous cost of social insurance and social services. I would like to put this point to hon. Members whose first consideration is invariably pounds, shillings and pence: Is the implication of their criticisms about the cost of these schemes that these schemes should be scrapped? Is the implication that there should be no extension of them even where hardship has been proved? Is it that those who raise financial difficulties do not wish elderly pre-Act widows to receive pensions? We are entitled to an answer to those simple questions. So far as I am concerned, I am prepared to trust the judgment of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, 381 that the expenditure which we are now undertaking is worth while and in the public interest.
Hon. Members opposite must not try to ride two horses at once. They cannot complain in one breath about the anomalies, they cannot allow their hearts to bleed for people who are left out, and then complain about the cost of the scheme. I should like to know which argument they are going to use, for they cannot use both at the same time. I think it is obvious that, if hon. Members opposite point to anomalies, by which they mean that persons are left outside the scheme, they have no right to come to the House and complain about the financial burden. Therefore, I do not think we need attach an enormous amount of importance to this scarifying criticism about the destruction of industry through the new burden which is being placed upon it. The truth is that hon. Members opposite are willing to wound but afraid to strike.
This Bill is a Measure—and I put it no higher—to deal with the more flagrant cases of social injustice which have arisen since the Act of 1925; but it is also a contribution to a comprehensive policy of social insurance. It is a new beginning of a constructive programme for the amelioration of the lot of a large number of our fellow-citizens. This Bill is the beginning of a sincere and continuous attempt to fulfil the pledges which were made to the people. They cannot be fulfilled in one Bill. It is a great tribute which is paid to us that that should ever be dreamt of as being possible. I put the Bill no higher than that—an attempt at the earliest possible moment to do the maximum amount of good. If I have done that, and can convince others who are interested in these large problems that this is but the beginning of a large and developing policy, then I and my colleagues will be perfectly satisfied. I move the Second Beading of this Bill in the sure and certain knowledge that there will be no Division against its Second Beading, and also in the sure and certain knowledge that the opposition to it will be half-hearted, and that at the bottom of their hearts the Opposition are a little jealous of the popularity of the Bill.
One word I wish to say in conclusion. This Bill is worked to a time table. It 382 will begin to operate for a large number of people at the beginning of next January. Even now we are very late. I am looking to the House to help the Government to get the Bill through in the shortest possible time, for any unnecessary delay in getting the Bill through means inevitable delay, over which I have no control, in its operation. I do not think that there is any Member of this House who would wish to postpone for one single day the benefits which will be bestowed by this Bill, and I hope that I shall be able to carry the House with me through the various stages of the Bill with the minimum of disagreement and the maximum of speed.
§ Sir BERTRAM FALLE
The right hon. Gentleman has been very clear about the widow whose husband was a civilian workman who was killed, and who gets compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Act, but will he consider the case of the naval rating killed in action whose widow gets a small pension from the Admiralty, but receives nothing what-ever for the pension for which her husband paid compulsorily before he lost his life for his country?
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
That is hardly a point for the Second Reading, but I shall be perfectly ready to discuss that at a later stage.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health, after a somewhat unhappy opening, devoted the first portion of his speech to a general disquisition, not upon the Bill, but upon a large subject which he informed us had been referred to the careful and exhaustive consideration of a Cabinet Committee. I welcome this announcement. I think everybody who contemplates the various schemes for providing greater security for the workers must recognise first of all that they have been created and developed independently of one another, that there are gaps and deficiencies which have not been wholly made up, and that there are divergencies of administration the removal of which if it were possible might conceivably lead to greater efficiency and economy. The idea that you can combine these several kinds of insurances is no new one. I remember that in the days of the Coalition Government a then member 383 of this House, Mr. T. T. Broad, particularly interested himself in the idea of what was known as an all-in insurance, and I myself was one of those who were very much attracted by the idea of something of that kind, but I found that there were most serious, if not insuperable, difficulties in the way, and I have not heard anything since then which would lead me to believe that up to the present at any rate any method has been found of overcoming them.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
On a point of explanation, I do not think I ever used the words "combined insurance," and I never led the House to believe that I favoured any all-in insurance.
I am afraid I must have misunderstood the right hon. Gentleman, and I think I am not alone in that. I am really at a loss to know what is expected to come out of this general survey of the insurance schemes as a whole, if it is not a combined insurance. I had understood that the right hon. Gentleman did hope to produce a unified scheme which would embrace not merely Pensions and Health Insurance but also Workmen's Compensation, Un-employment Insurance, and other forms of security. But at any rate I would say this: that the subject upon which this Cabinet Committee has embarked is obviously one of very great complexity and difficulty, and it cannot be expected, with the other occupations of the Cabinet, that they will be able to produce any workable scheme within any measurable distance of time. I am afraid, therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman says that the appointment of a Standing Committee to make this survey is to be interpreted as a fulfilment, or the be-ginning of a fulfilment, of the pledges which his colleagues gave at the time of the General Election, what he is in effect doing is asking for a sort of discount for cash on promises given: "We will give you something to start off with if you will give us a rebate or reduction, and you must not expect the other promises to be kept however long this Government may last."
The right hon. Gentleman, feeling the vulnerability of his party on this subject, tried to ride off by quoting to us some 384 vague declaration that the grievances and injustices of the Act of 1925 were going to be remedied. Of course, that is a sort of vague declaration which many Members of the party, especially those in more responsible positions, did give, and it was so couched that their audiences could interpret it practically in any way they liked; but I am sorry that we have not the Foreign Secretary here this afternoon to listen to this Debate, because he did not confine himself to general and vague declarations of the kind quoted by the right hon. Gentleman. For instance, there was in April, about a month before the General Election, a letter written to the leaders of the three parties by the Secretary of the National Conference on Widows', Orphans', and Old Age Pensions, and in that letter certain demands were specifically set out, and an answer demanded from the three leaders to the question whether those demands would be met. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, with characteristic honesty, gave a reply which was certainly meagre in promises, but which did point out the difficulties which would be encountered if it were attempted to carry the demands into effect. He mentioned, among other things, that if the first demand, which was a demand for the total abolition of the means test, had been adopted when the Contributory Pensions Act came into force in January, 1926, an additional annual liability of £14,000,000 would have been placed on the Exchequer, rising in 20 years to about £19,000,000. The Leader of the Liberal party confined himself to saving that he would give very careful consideration to all these questions with a view to removing grievances if he were returned to power. But the Foreign Secretary, who answered instead of the Prime Minister for the Labour party, gave specific assurances about these demands. With regard to paragraph A, which referred to the total abolition of the means test, he did not say "We are going to make a survey of this question," he did not say "We are going to set up a Cabinet Committee to look into it," he did not say "We are going to give an instalment of our promises, but this will not be one of them." What he did say was: "In the event of a Labour Government being returned to power at the coming General Election"—
Is the hon. Member going to try to get out of it on a quibble of that kind? Let him try to fulfil his promises and see whether he is in power or not. The statement continued:it would take the earliest opportunity of entirely abolishing the means limit.The second demand had reference to persons who, because they were uninsured, were excluded from the purview of the Contributory Pensions Act and demanded that it should be so amended as to afford an opportunity to all uninsured persons to become insured upon equal terms with those already insured for other pensions. On this the Foreign Secretary said:The Labour party now undertakes that provision will be made for uninsured persons to become insured on equal terms with those already insured.That was in April of this year. But as the time of the General Election approached, and the Foreign Secretary, as the chief of the party machine, got more and more uneasy, he felt that he had not bid high enough, and he raised his terms, until at Burnley on 21st May he said:The Labour party said that if they were sent back to power they would guarantee every widow in the land a pension and the Labour party would increase the pension of 10s. to £1 or more.Not one of those pledges has been kept in this Bill—not one of them.
§ Mr. VAUGHAN
May I ask whether the Foreign Secretary specified that those promises would be carried out by Christmas 1929?
He said the party would "take the earliest opportunity." I leave it at that. Is the hon. Member going to the constituencies to say, "When we said we would take the earliest opportunity, we did not mean the earliest opportunity, but an opportunity which will suit us after we have made a survey which will probably take many years to complete"? I must say I think it is a most discreditable incident that a man in the position of the present Foreign Secretary, with his responsibility to the country, should have made statements of this kind at an election, statements which, if he had really had any knowledge of the subject, he must have 386 known could not possibly be carried into operation.
I want to examine the Bill which we actually have before us. [An HON. MEMBER: "It is about time."] I hope to have the usual courtesy from hon. Members opposite. They permit the right hon. Gentleman in introducing the Bill to discuss all sorts of matters which are not in it, and I have been making comments to answer the observations made by the right hon. Gentleman. The Bill, like the Government which has produced it, is a mixture of good and bad, and, as in the case of the Government, the bad predominates very greatly over the good. Of course it was only to be expected, as I think the right hon. Gentleman himself fully recognised, that experience of the working of such a new and complicated Measure as the Contributory Pensions Act, 1925, would show that everything had not been foreseen, that some of the intentions of the framers had not actually been provided for, and, moreover, that those inequalities which are inevitable when you have to draw a line and say that the people on one side are to be in benefit and the people on the other side out of benefit, would prove in some cases sharper and more irksome than had been anticipated.
In looking through the 24 Clauses of this Bill, one finds at least half of them devoted to correcting errors or defects which have been brought to light by the working of the Act. They are amendments which any Government might, and probably would, have brought in as soon as experience had been sufficient to demonstrate the need for them. There are two of these provisions which certainly commend themselves strongly to me. First of all there is Clause 3, which deals with the pensions of those who go to the Dominions, and then there is Clause 22, which applies to children adopted under; the Adoption of Children Act the provisions of the principal Act. The Adoption of Children Act was passed in the year after the principal Act was passed, and therefore this Clause could not have been included in it, but it seems to me to be fit and proper that it should come in now. With regard to pensions in the Dominions, it is obvious that the administration of the Clause will give rise to a good deal more difficulty than adminis- 387 tration in this country, and I confess I am not sanguine that it is going to increase very much the migration from this country to the Dominions. That would be done more effectually if persons going to other parts of His Majesty's Dominions could carry with them not merely their pension rights but their rights as regards unemployment and national health insurance. But we are assured that certain persons have, in fact, been deterred from migration, and if that! be so, and on the general ground of desiring to make it as easy as possible for persons to move about in any part of the Empire, I myself am in favour of that Clause.
There are a number of other minor Clauses, which do not raise important points of principle, and with which I do not think it is necessary to trouble the House on the Second Reading of the Bill. It was my fate while I occupied the position which the right hon. Gentleman holds to-day to introduce a number of Measures, some of which were very severely criticised by himself and his colleagues on the score that they were difficult to understand. I must tell him that I think the present Bill will bear comparison in that respect with any of its predecessors. I was at one time very familiar with the subject with which this Bill deals, but I am bound to say that even my old familiarity with the subject does not enable me very easily to unravel the meaning of some of these Clauses out of the rather obscure verbiage in which they are involved, and we shall have to ask the right hon. Gentleman or his Parliamentary Secretary to enlighten us upon many of these minor points.
There is, however, just one small point on which I will ask a question now, because it may have some bearing on our discussions to-morrow. Sub-section (2) of Clause 6 introduces Amendments to Sections 5 and 8 of the principal Act, and it waives the average test in the case of persons who have been continuously insured for long periods both as respects widows' pensions and old age pensions, but I notice that whereas the Amendment with regard to old age pensions is printed in italics, the one with regard to widows' pensions is not. I am puzzled by the difference between these two cases, which is not at first sight apparent. I should have supposed that 388 both these Amendments would have imposed a fresh charge, and it is not clear to me, therefore, why there is this difference. A similar observation applies to Sub-section (3) of the same Clause, where there is printed in italics a provision which appears to limit and not to increase a charge, because it is a provision which Says that in determining whether the statutory conditions for pensions have been fulfilled no account is to be taken of contributions paid after the date on which the pension matured. I do not understand why those words are italicised, and I shall be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary will later clear up that point.
I will come to what the right hon. Gentleman called the major Clauses of the Bill. I think one may say there are four, including the Clause which makes the financial provision. That Clause we shall, no doubt, be debating at some length to-morrow. I would refer first of all to Clause 9, which deals with Amendments to Section 18 in the original Act, providing for the pre-Act widow with dependent children. The right hon. Gentleman quoted at some length some observations of mine upon that original provision. They seem to me to be not only admirably expressed, but also to put quite clearly what was in fact the guiding principle of the Clause in the original Act, and I do not think it is unfair for the right hon. Gentleman to claim that he has in this Clause merely extended to some extent the principle which had already been accepted by the Government which preceded his. It is quite true that it was a deviation from the general principle of insurance, but it was a deviation which was justified on particular grounds, namely, the interests of the children concerned. The widow was given a pension and allowances until the youngest child had reached the age of 14½ years, and now it is proposed to ex-tend that period from 14½ years to 16 years. That is a very small extension. I am not prepared to 'admit that the provision we made in our Bill was insufficient, but I quite recognise the desire of the right hon. Gentleman to go one better. He has not gone very far, and, so far as I am concerned, I do not think I need feel any particular anxiety about this very small extension of the principle.
389 Clause 2 deals with the wives aged between 65 and 70 of men who were over 70 on the 2nd January, 1928. They were wives whose husbands under our Act were given benefits which were altogether disproportionate to the small amount of contribution which the men themselves could have paid. Those men were given old age pensions free of the means test, and their wives also were given the same privilege. In certain cases they might become entitled to a widows' pension if the husband died. Under this Bill those women are to have old age pensions at 65. That of course is a rather serious encroachment upon the principle of insurance, but here again we cannot say that this is not some extension of the principle which has already found its way into the original Act. The number of women concerned is not very large, and the privileges are confined to the wives of men who will benefit under Section 20 of the original Act. The grievance, however unjustified it may be in logic, is acutely felt, and I am not seriously disposed to resist a proposal of this kind.
When I come to the last Clause with which I want to deal this afternoon, which is the first clause in the Bill, then I feel bound to enter my strongest protest against a proposal which is not only going to put a tremendous new burden upon the taxpayers—and whatever the Minister of Health may say it is bound to add to the handicaps from which industry suffers to-day—but it is also a most grave departure from the principle of insurance and it is going to raise up a host of new and in my judgment well merited grievances. The Minister of Health said that this new expenditure will only come out of profits that have been made. Surely that view is inconsistent with sound economics. I think the right hon. Gentleman had better go back to his school. By taxing profits you are taxing the funds from which industry must be fed and developed, and it is in that way that when you pass a certain point of taxation you are bound to cripple and handicap any industry which has to compete with other countries.
Out of a total of £98,500,000 which this Bill is going to cost the taxpayers in the course of the next 16 years, no less than £81,000,000 is attributable to this one clause. I believe that hon. Members opposite are beginning to think about expenditure, and I am glad to hear that 390 the Cabinet Committee in the course of its survey is not going to leave out of account considerations of finance and what the country will be called upon to pay. I know that a great many hon. Members opposite think there is no more difficulty about raising £100,000,000 than there is in raising £1,000,000. [HON. MEMBERS: "NO!"] Presently, they will learn the truth of what was said by the Lord Privy Seal that there is no bottomless pit from which you can go on drawing money. The more you spend upon unnecessary or unwise schemes to-day the less money there will be here- after for better schemes when you have learnt wisdom. Will any hon. Member opposite deny that the most dangerous and menacing feature of the present time is the desire to get something for nothing, and the desire to live at the expense of others.[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear; Hear!"]
How can you reconcile the provisions of this Clause with the statement which you have just cheered. What are we going to do under this Clause? The sum of £81,000,000 is to be distributed amongst 500,000 selected widows. On what principle are they to be selected? They must be the widows of men who died before the 4th January, 1926. Some of these men may have died nearly 40 years ago, and the test which is going to be used is whether at some time within the three years preceding his death the man's occupation was such as would have attracted contributions under the Contributory Pensions Act of 1925 if that Act had been in force all those years before it was framed or thought of. I do not envy the position of the Minister who will have to take the responsibility of deciding upon meagre and imperfect evidence as to what took place a generation ago, whether or not he is going to withhold this valuable and unexpected gift of 10s. a week for life.
I can picture to myself the bitterness of soul of the woman who has presented her claim but who is unable to get the necessary evidence owing to some accident, it may be the death or disappearance of those by whom her husband was employed. That woman is going to be excluded from the benefit which will be flaunted in her face by her neighbour whose claim is no more morally justified than her own, but who has been lucky enough to lay her hands upon the evi- 391 dence which is necessary to satisfy the Minister. But I do not stop there. When you are about to distribute this large sum of money as a free gift to widows, why are you going to confine it to the widows of the men who would have been insurable if insurance had been in vogue at that time? I have quoted a pledge which was given by the present Foreign Secretary just before the election to the effect that all persons who are uninsured should be brought into insurance on exactly the same terms as those who were insured.
Supposing the Labour party had carried out that pledge, what would have been the position? The widows of men who could have been insured under the Conservative Act would be sharing in this great boon while the widow of a man who could have paid insurance contributions under the Labour Act would be cut out? How can you justify that? What justification is there when no contributions have in fact been made for saying that the widow of a shopkeeper, a costermonger or a jobbing carpenter whose circumstances may never have been as good as the widow of a well-paid artisan, shall be cut out from those who are to share in this vicarious benevolence. I ask the House to observe how the moment you depart from the sound anchorage of insurance and embark upon this uncharted sea of free gifts you are driven from one position to another, and it is impossible to see where you are going to stop.
Let me take another case. Under the Act of 1925 a widow's pension is subject to the fulfilment of certain statutory conditions. One is that the husband must have paid 104 contributions. Supposing a man has paid some contributions, but not all of them. That man is excluded, and when he dies his wife is not entitled to the benefits of a widow's pension. I think that is a hard case, and it may be a much harder case if he has paid nearly but not the full amount of the contributions required by statute. But it is recognised that you must have these hard cases, where a line is drawn, and there are cases on each side of the line.
But I would like the House to consider for a moment the new position created by the present Bill. It is a position under which a number of women are going to have these pensions given to 392 them without any conditions at all. What is the widow going to say whose husband entered insurance in 1926 when the Act was passed? It may be that he entered voluntary contributor, and it may be that he paid not merely the contributions of the employed but also the contributions of the employer. That man may have paid 103 contributions and yet his widow cannot obtain a pension. What is that widow going to say when she sees alongside her another widow whose husband never paid a penny getting 10s. a week for life? Instead of relieving injustices under this Bill you are creating new ones which never existed before and which can only exist because of the bringing in of this system of free gifts.
You cannot stop at widows; why should widows be the only people to be dealt with? Why should widows whose husbands have paid no contributions be separated out from other classes of the community whose circumstances may be much worse than theirs, and receive this beneficent gift from the State? There must be many cases in which women have actually refused to marry because they thought it was their first duty to devote themselves to the care of an invalid parent or sister. What have they to say? What are they saying now? The right hon. Gentleman prided himself on the popularity of his Bill, but let him wait a little while until it is realised what all this means. I say that the position of these single women ought to be taken into account if you are going to "dish out" £100,000,000 of State money to people who have contributed nothing towards it. Indeed, why should this matter be limited to sex? Why should a woman be treated so much better than a man? Picture the possible case—all cases will not be alike, but you must consider possible cases—of a widow whose husband died long ago. If she had any children, they are grown up and have left the home. She may have been left property; she may have been in affluent circumstances for years; but, if she can satisfy the Minister that at some time within three years before her husband's death his normal occupation, many years ago, was such that he could have been insured under the Contributory Pensions Act if that Act had been in force, she is going to have 10s. a week for life. What about the poor fellow who is a widower, who, perhaps, has ill health which prevents him from 393 earning a regular wage? He has to wait for his pension until he is 65, 10 years longer; and not only that, but during all that time he has to keep on paying his contributions.
I am bound to ask again on what principles is this Clause founded; on what principle is this selection made? I noticed that, a little time before the General Election, the Prime Minister laid down the principle which he declared was the one which the Labour party were going to adopt with regard to widows' pensions. He said:We will extend the system"—that is, the system of widows' pensions—in such a way that a widow in need will be the one test of qualification on the pensions register.Where is the fulfilment of that pledge in this Bill 1 A little while ago the Prime Minister embarked on his west-ward voyage to America, and the pledge went west with him. [HON. MEMBERS: "He is coming back!"] The principle laid down by the Prime Minister, and ignored and flouted by the Minister of Health, is not ours. It is a principle which involves the imposition of a means test; it involves the granting of a pension as a charity or a dole. We believe that we found a better principle in our Contributory Pensions Act, under which a pension could be claimed as a right and not as a charity, and which did not re-quire an inquisition into the means of the recipient. Once you depart from our principle, once you leave the principle of insurance and base your Bill upon a free gift, then there is no alternative but to adopt the principle laid down by the Prime Minister if you are to avoid the bogs and quagmires to which I have drawn the attention of the House.
To the extent and for the reasons which have already been stated to the House and quoted by the right hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Gentleman has twitted us because we have not put down a Motion for the re- 394 jection of this Bill. Why should we? It is not our business to get the Government out of the troubles and difficulties which they are laying up for themselves. But I say this, that, when we come to the Committee stage, we intend to oppose, and oppose with all our vigour, proposals which seem to us to be unjustified and ill-conceived, and to be calculated to arouse a well-merited and intolerable sense of grievance and injustice.
§ Mr. BIRKETT
The task of following the two right hon. Gentlemen who have surveyed this complicated and complex scheme must to many of us be a task of very considerable difficulty, and I am very glad to think that my purpose this afternoon is exceedingly modest. It is not to enter into any analysis in detail of the complicated matters contained in the Bill, but to indicate in a sentence or two the attitude which we on these benches take towards this Bill, and to make one or two observations upon it. I would like to say, too, that I do not intervene in the Debate at this moment with the slightest desire to become controversial. I could have wished, for my own part, that the Minister of Health had been a little more expository of the Bill, and had dealt with it a little less in the prose style of Elizabeth Eastwood. I am quite satisfied that hon. Members in all parts of this House, whatever particular view they may hold of any particular Clause or Section, or, indeed, of any major principle enshrined in this Bill, are really agreed about one thing, and that is that, when the Bill becomes law, whatever its final form may be, they are most anxious to render assistance to inquirers in their own constituencies who desire to know their position under the Bill. Therefore, I disclaim at the earliest possible moment the slightest desire to be in any sense controversial about this matter.
Perhaps the House will allow me to express the pleasure that I feel at being permitted to intervene at all, on, firstly, a general ground, and, secondly, a special personal ground. I hope I shall be allowed to say that we on these benches have a traditional interest and a particular pride in all matters relating to pensions, and I hope it will not be thought improper for me to say that we recall at this moment with particular 395 pride that in a very high degree the party with which we are associated were in the truest sense pioneers in the realms of pensions and of national insurance. Quite naturally, therefore, any Bill which deals with pensions in any sense related to that genesis of the matter affects us most closely and evokes our interest. The personal matter that I hope I may be allowed to mention is this: I was only a member of this House for a very little time in the short Parliament of 1923–24, but I am always glad that I was fortunate enough to make my maiden speech in this House upon this very topic, on a Motion which was proposed at that time calling for the inauguration of a system of widows' pensions. During the four years or more which have passed since then, my experience—and I am certain that it is the common experience of hon. Members in every part of the House—in contact with the people in my own constituency, with every subsequent day has ripened into a deeper and clearer discernment of the vital importance—I use the language of exactitude—to large numbers of people of this important question of widows' pensions.
My real task can be discharged almost in a sentence. The attitude which we on these benches take to this particular Bill may be said to be this: We welcome the Bill in that it removes anomalies which have been the occasion of great hardship and of a rankling sense of in-justice. We welcome the extension of the benefit, and, if we are permitted to do so, we would desire to co-operate in the later stages of the Bill in order that it may be shaped and fashioned into a Bill which, conceivably, may be better than the Bill as it now appears, but in any event a Bill designed to meet the needs of the people for whom it is actually brought in. That really discharges my task, but I should like to be permitted to add just one or two observations.
The attitudes indicated in the two previous speeches in regard to certain essential matters are almost diametrically opposed. For my own part, I think that, in coming to any considered conclusion as to the attitude to be taken on this Bill, there are two primary considerations which operate upon the mind— 396 firstly, and very important indeed, the financial consideration; and, secondly, the human consideration, which, if I may confess it, speaking for myself only and, to adopt the phrase of the right hon. Gentleman, standing upon the pure milk of my own gospel, I regard as more important still. It is not for me to attempt to harmonise the diametrically opposed attitudes of the two speeches to which the House has just listened, but I should like to say that I agree fully that financial considerations are really very important indeed. If it were not so, I confess I should be the first to say, "Let all in need have pensions; if you like, put them on a non-contributory basis; and certainly double them in amount." The temptation to say something like that must sometimes be very great in-deed. But the financial consideration is very important, and for this reason. The matter which we are debating here to-night is only a small portion of the field of public endeavour; and, in every part of that field, the demands for finance to assist are already great, and all the signs and portents seem to indicate that as the days pass they will become greater still. One must always keep in mind, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) emphasised, that there are limits of public expenditure and, therefore, I should like to make it perfectly clear that the financial side of any proposal of this kind is always a matter of very great importance, and it would be the greatest folly, in the interest of those things that we really have at heart, to ignore it in the smallest degree. Having said that, I should like to add that in a Measure of this kind the human consideration is very important too. There is no Member who takes the smallest interest in the needs of the people who have sent him here who does not almost daily receive letters which are poignant and tragic and pitiful, the burden of which is this. "Without a pension I am compelled to live in penury and want and difficulty, and with a pension I should have a modicum of comfort." A man would be less than human if he did not say, "So long as there are people in the world the circumstances of whose life compel them to write like that, who have 397 not a great deal of interest in other and larger and wider political questions, this country is rich enough and strong enough to assist them."
One other word. In this matter, I am rather speaking for myself, because I do not want to commit anyone to any view of mine, but I feel it strongly. Quite apart from that modicum of comfort which a pension of this kind can give and has given, and I hope will continue to give, there is something even greater still that has to be borne in mind when these conflicting considerations are being discussed. No matter what the status of life of men and women may be, if there is one thing more than another which destroys happiness it is the sense of insecurity. It is not confined to the poor, but in its terrible intensity, it strikes them strongest of all, and a pension for many people means that that dreadful, haunting spectre of insecurity is finally killed. Therefore, in approaching a matter of this kind, with its complicated Clauses, whilst I desire to give the fullest possible weight to every financial consideration, I take courage from this fact, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given his approval. While I recognise the folly of ignoring that, I yet say, for my own part, the supreme, dominating and paramount consideration is the human needs of the people who are going to receive the pension.
Having said that, I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman will allow me to endorse a word that fell from the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston, who spoke of the difficulty of understanding the Bill. Even with all his expert knowledge and his experience in this field, he confessed to the difficulty he felt in being quite sure as to the meaning of certain Clauses. Of course, there are some people who allege that the more difficulty there is in interpreting a Statute the better it is for a certain highly privileged class. This Bill seems to me to perpetuate the worst possible vice of the Statute Book—that is legislation by reference. There are, I think, 65 references in the Bill to the principal. Act and other Acts. In a given 20 lines of the Bill you can find references to eight other Acts of Parliament. I have some considerable doubt as to the meaning of some of these Clauses even now, and, as I said at the outset, I should 398 have been grateful if the Minister of Health had been a little more expository. But there are subsequent stages, where I am certain the desire of Members to be enlightened on the matter will be recognised. I emphasise again that this Bill affects and will affect a very large number of humble and poor people, and it ought not to be beyond the wit of man to devise words which would make it plain to all who read so that they may understand and, in default of that, I hope it may be considered possible, when the Bill becomes law, to translate it into English for the benefit of those most concerned.
I should like to say one further word about Government pledges. The idea of a pension for every widow in need is a great and a noble idea, and I certainly endorse it, but I think it a highly dangerous thing to use words of that kind if they are to be interpreted as meaning that it is going to be done at once. It may be that under a contributory scheme you could devise ways and means by which every widow in need should receive it, but the trouble, as I understand it, is that the information as to the number of widows in need is not available. My hon. Friend the Member for Leith (Mr. E. Brown) asked a question some little time ago as to the estimated number of widows, and I rather gathered the answer was that the information was not available and could not be obtained. Giving utterance to that great ideal that every widow in need shall have a pension must lead to the disappointment of people who believe it is going to be given immediate effect to when the plain fact is that the information as to the number of cases is not available at all.
I do not desire to be controversial, but I should like to ask one or two questions. I am rather concerned about Clause 15 (1a):If the claim is made within three months from the date on which the claimant becomes entitled to the pension.What I have never been able to understand is this. When the right hon. Gentleman made reference to the grief and disturbance in the house when the husband died, everyone felt that that was very true and very sad, and everyone in the country is quite willing to see that right is done in the matter. But why cannot the pension be paid from the date of death? As the Clause stands, if even 399 a few months from the death the claim is made, the pension will begin to be paid three months afterwards. [Interruption.] I shall be very glad to be corrected. I was always under the impression that if you omitted to make your claim you only received the widow's pension as from the date the claim was received. If that is right, this Clause perpetuates that, inasmuch as it gives a period of three months. I am satisfied that it would be the wish of all concerned that in those circumstances the pension should begin to be paid from the date of death, and possibly other steps might be taken in a situation of that kind to see that any hardship to the widow is effectually removed. I should have welcomed a little assistance from the right hon. Gentleman in what I have al-ways regarded as a difficulty—the reentry cases, which have provided in the past some of the greatest possible difficulties and hardships that could have been conceived.
I should like to say a word on the vexed question of Clause 1. I know it is a very easy matter to criticise that Clause, just as it was open to the right hon. Gentleman to criticise the principal Act on the ground that the inclusion of the pre-Act widow with children was a: departure from the logical principle enshrined in that Act, but I am not at all certain that in a matter of this kind one wants to follow logic too closely. If under the principal Act it was thought right to make some departure in order to benefit the children of pre-Act widows, it seems rather a strong thing to say that Clause 1, because it brings in rather a privileged class of 500,000, is a real departure from the contributory principle and that the Bill really ought to be condemned on that ground. I believe in the contributory system, largely for the reasons indicated a few moments ago. This is not the only field where money has to be found. There is education, the raising of the school age, housing and what not. But if under the contributory scheme an extension can be made to people who are really in need, I am quite prepared to be a little illogical in order that a real benefit may come to these people. I think the chief criticism about it is that it will create one or two very hard cases in the future of other people who have been excluded.
400 The argument of the right hon. Gentle-man the Member for Edgbaston appears to be this. Because there are people whom you have not included, you will find here a sense of grievance and injustice. Therefore, do not give the benefit to the others. I cannot subscribe to that. Conceive for a moment that there has been a departure from the contributory principle. It would not be the first time there had been a departure from a principle of that kind in that way. My own view about the matter, which I should like to ex-press to this House is that there is no going back in these matters of social legislation. It would be unkind for us to propose to do so. I would remind the right hon. Gentleman of the position when pensions were first introduced and of the attitude taken by certain sections of this House with regard to it. To look back that distance of time and then to think of the position to-day, after a matter of 20 years, one sees a perfect revolution of thought. I am satisfied that for the future there is to be no going back, but going forward, and an extension. There-fore, I am not too perturbed about a new anomaly having been created, but I still think that it is right and proper that everything should be done to see that that irritating sense of injustice is removed so far as it can be.
I will not detain the House with the particulars of certain matters which I desired to mention, but, for example, to the cases mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston there might be added one which has made a particular appeal to me. Take the case of the widower—an insured person—whose daughter has kept house for him—done everything for him, sacrificed herself for him. He dies. She is absolutely unprovided for, and, in spite of the very noble quality-her sacrifice—which has put her where she is, nothing can be done for her. She is the elderly spinster, the elderly insured person. These are cases which possibly—I know not—are receiving the attention of the Cabinet Committee, but I would like to say that it is no argument against this Bill to any, "Well, you know, people are being brought into this category and into that category—500,000 of them, the pre-Act widow, the widows of men who were 70 on the 2nd of January, 1928—they are to be brought in, but you are leaving out a 401 lot of people." It is no argument against the Bill but rather an argument, as I conceive it, for bringing in all people. I apologise for keeping the House for so long. That is all I desire to say. I am very much obliged to the House for allowing me to make an intervention on this question of pensions. I would like to conclude by quoting some words which seem to me peculiarly applicable to this legislation, and, though old-fashioned words, are still in their spirit perfectly applicable to this, practically the first great Measure of this Government. I welcome it, because in those old-fashioned words of John Bright, still so applicable to the present day, I do believe thatunless the light of your Constitution continues to shine into the cottage of the lowly you have yet to learn the first duties of Government.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
The first impression that would be left upon the mind of an impartial listener by the speeches delivered this afternoon is that all sections of this House are prepared to pass an extremely generous Measure if only pensions could be paid by sympathy. Unfortunately, they need cash, and the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for East Nottingham (Mr. Birkett) emphasised what had been said by the right hon. Gentleman the late Minister of Health, that we must be very careful lest we overstep our resources. He would gladly grant a pension to all widows in need if only we had the wherewithal. I wonder if it would help if I gave him a little assistance in his search for the means of carrying out his very excellent ideals. There are, speaking from memory, a small group of people in this country called super-taxpayers; I think they number less than 100,000. This small number of people take out of the annual income of this country something like £500,000,000 or £600,000,000. I submit that it would not be bad for the bodies of those people and it might be good for their souls if this House proceeded to take a substantial slice of that vast sum and use it to express the practical sympathy that is voiced by every party within this Chamber. I am quite sure that it would be good for the bodies of the people who would receive it, and it might not be bad even for the souls of the politicians of this country.
402 I had begun to ask myself this question this afternoon: "Who are the poor?" I am almost convinced that the poor are the millionaires who are threatened with poverty as a result of the super-taxation that this amazingly revolutionary Government are likely to impose. I can assure those timid gentlemen who boast financially of being the owners of wealth expressed in seven figures, that, as far as my judgment goes, there is really no great menace to the millions that they enjoy and that there is no need for them immediately to rush into insurable employment so as to protect their widows against the destitution that frequently follows in the footsteps of my constituents.
It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) did not like this Bill and I am not surprised. I am sure that whatever he may say to the contrary he is rather jealous and envious of the position to which the Amendments to his Act of 1925 will raise his successor in the public esteem. The right hon. Gentleman devoted a considerable amount of his time to a lamentation over the number of people who will be left out of the Bill—the subscriber of the 103 contributions and the various other people. If he were earnest in his expressions, then we may expect that to-morrow, when the Financial Resolution is submitted to the House, he will make an appeal to the Government to add a sufficient amount to the sum for which they ask to enable the people about whose future he is most anxious to be included in the blessings of the Measure. He might put down Amendment after Amendment proposing that all these unfortunate people be brought within the scope of the Measure. He said that one of the most menacing things of the present situation was that there was growing up in this country a large number of people who were looking for something for nothing. There is really nothing new about that. We had these people here, I think, even before the arrival of William the Conqueror. At any rate, they have been very numerous since, and I believe the right hon. Gentleman is right—they are actually growing in numbers. I submit that very few of them come within the terms of this Measure or within the scope of industrial insurance at all.
I want to pass from that to the past history of the insurance with which we 403 are dealing this afternoon. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the evil of gifts—the getting of something from the State in respect of which no contribution has been paid. Am I to take it that it is now the policy of the Conservative Party to refuse the pensions under the Acts of 1908 to 1924 on the ground that these pensions are gifts because the Act of 1908 and the various Amendments up to 1924 had a non-contributory basis? Am I to take it that that is all wrong? It comes strange at this time of day to be told that these are gifts. We on this side of the House do not regard them as gifts at all. We say that people who own the surplus wealth of the country are under a human and a moral obligation to provide for the needs of the aged poor. We say that society has. made them what they are. Society and not their personal vices is responsible for their poverty, and that society which has made them poor should come to their aid in their hour of adversity.
I want to remind the right hon. Gentleman, when he speaks so eloquently about the burden that this Measure will place upon industry, that he is largely responsible for that effect of the Bill, if, indeed, it will be the effect of the Bill. As I have already indicated, the origin of these pensions was the Old Age Pension Act, 1908. It was a non-contributory Measure. It was based on the principle to which I have already referred. It is a sound Socialist principle which was inserted by the Liberal party before they understood Socialism. Up to 1925, we proceeded on that non-contributory basis. It did not place any direct burden on industry. But in 1925 the right hon. Gentleman the late Minister of Health introduced the Measure which we are amending this afternoon, and he departed from the non-contributory basis and adopted a contributory course. He to a very large extent, for the first time, placed the whole burden of pensions on industry, and he excluded from their share of the cost a very wealthy section of the community who are not engaged in industry. In any contributory scheme we are relieving from their share of the burden such people as landlords, bankers and brokers, who are neither employers nor employed and who fatten on national industry to a greater extent probably than 404 any other section of the community. By the policy which the right hon. Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) adopted, he excluded these people from their share of the burden; he put it on to crippled industry, for whose misfortunes he shed tears this afternoon. Either the right hon. Gentleman's memory is very short or he has a very low estimate of the intelligence of the House to which his words are addressed. When he complains on the score that the burden is going to be placed on industry, I would remind him that it is one of the defects of its pedigree; that he was the father of the 1925 Act, and I have no doubt a proud parent of that Act, therefore, he is grandfather of the Measure now before the House. It is unkind and cruel of him to come forward now and to damn the newly born, because of the original sin.
I objected to the course taken by the right hon. Gentleman in 1925. I do not believe that this scheme will break the back of industry. I think it will assist industry rather than injure it. What is the position of the right hon. Gentleman? Having put the burden upon industry and being now confronted with the inevitable difficulties that were found as a result of the course he adopted, he does not say that we should retrace our steps or get back to the non-contributory basis, and relieve industry. He says: "The course that I adopted having revealed certain difficulties, we should come to a standstill in social legislation. The country cannot afford it." One would imagine that we were on the verge of ruin and that if we carry this Bill we shall have reached a stage where we shall all have to take up small holdings or become bankers, brokers or gamblers for whatever bit of wealth is left. I am sincerely sorry that the Government when they came to deal with this matter, adopted the Tory basis instead of the Liberal basis. I would have preferred that they had reverted to the non-contributory basis. I expressed that opinion in 1925, and I am repeating in 1929 what I said when the former Measure was before the House.
I would not have risen to criticise this Measure to any extent; I would have accepted it, as it has been presented, as a mere temporary Measure to deal with certain anomalies in the Act of 1925, had there been anything in the preliminary 405 statement of the Minister of Health to justify me in thinking that it was the intention of the Government to deal with the scale of pensions outlined in this Bill and the Acts of Parliament. I am not satisfied that 10s. a week is sufficient either for a widow or an old age pensioner. The Minister has not given the slightest indication that it is the intention of the Government, at a later stage, to alter the scale of pensions. He told us that they had appointed a committee to coordinate the present Acts, to consider extension with a view to bringing in others who were not included now, and to deal with the financial effect of this extension; but he carefully refrained from giving the slightest indication that it was the intention of the present Government during its lifetime to increase pensions beyond 10s. a week.
Therefore, I take this public opportunity of expressing my disapproval of the scale of pensions now being paid. There is not one hon. Member, particularly on these benches, who in dealing with the question of pensions, especially old age pensions, on the public platform, has pleaded with his audience that 10s. a week in these days is adequate for helping starving people. There is not one of my colleagues who would go back to the people who sent him to this House and argue that a country which could give £500,000,000 or £600,000,000 to a small group of Super-taxpayers cannot afford this year to pay more than 10s. to its old age pensioners and its widows. Not one of my colleagues and not one hon. Member opposite would dare contest an industrial constituency on the question whether or not 10s. a week is an adequate pension. Hon. Members may play around that subject as much as they like, but not one of them would dare to preach such a pension in their constituency.
In making this criticism I want freely to admit that this Bill is a considerable improvement on the Act of 1925. But the electors sent this Government to do more than dot the i's and cross the t's of Conservative legislation. They sent them to do something else. It will be very difficult to enjoy Socialism on 10s. a week. The industrial electors expected to get a few shillings more. They believed that the Labour Government was worth a few shillings a week more than 406 a Tory Government. Hon. Members may argue with one another across the Floor of this House about the basis of economics, but they may take it from me that the workers of this country have reached a stage where they judge legislation by the number of loaves in it. For those people who are getting 10s. a week now there is not an extra loaf of bread in the Measure before the House. It is well to be sympathetic, but we want to be more than sympathetic when we are dealing with a practical, material problem of this kind. The plea during the whole time has been that we cannot really afford it this year, but if the people will wait until next year something wonderful is going to happen in the interval that will enable this poverty-stricken community to express next year, in a practicay way, the sympathy of which they are so generously full at the moment.
Is there anything to justify us in thinking that we shall be richer this year than next year? Is there any sign of trade improving? Does any intelligent man, in his soul, think that the trade of this country is going to be better in 1930 than in 1929? If there is anyone on this side of the House or on the other side who thinks that, I submit, as one who understands this question as well as the average man, that we are more likely to be worse off in 1930 than in 1929. I will tell hon. Members why. [HON. MEMBERS: "The Labour Government!"] We shall be worse off until we take the step, which ought to be taken at once, of improving the scale of pensions. If we took a step that would enable the poor to eat more, to wear more, to order more—we could put them in that position by giving them more—we might hope for improved trade in 1930. Hon. Members are hoping that trade will be better, although they are starving the people who are their indispensable market. Hon. Members go on keeping the pensions at 10s. a week and hope that trade will increase and that somehow or another the people will be able with 10s. to purchase 20s. worth of goods. With all due respect to my colleagues, I submit that 10 Socialist shillings will not purchase more than 10 Tory shillings. Unless we are prepared to give the people more in pensions, we need not hope for an increase in the purchasing power of the people during the year that lies im- 407 mediately before us. It would be good for the country if we gave the people more than the 10s. outlined in this Bill.
If the Minister of Health had said: "We are considering giving them more. We are considering carrying out the pledge quoted by the late Minister of Health, given by the present Foreign Secretary when he said that we intended to make it 20s. a week." If there had been anything to indicate that the Government intended to pursue the policy taken by the Lord Privy Seal during the election, that one of the methods of dealing with unemployment was to make it easier for men to retire at an earlier age, by increasing the rate of pension. If we might hope that with-in a reasonable time such a scheme would be considered or that it was being considered now, I would accept freely and thankfully the Measure which I regret it is my duty to criticise. Does anyone think that 10s. a week is adequate either for an old age pensioner or a widow? When we were in Opposition, did not we night after night damn the late Tory Government because they proposed to pay 10s. a week to the unemployed girls? Did we not pursue the same policy during the election? The most damaging blow that was dealt at the Tory Government during the election was our reminding the electors that the Government had a 10s. a week mind for the members of the working classes. That won the election, and they sent us here. Now, we are told that the country cannot afford it. The country cannot afford it if we are not prepared to take it. I submit that the country could afford it if we had a Chancellor of the Exchequer who was as determined to get it as he was to get money out of the foreigners during the Hague Conference.
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
No, I am amply served at the moment. When the 1925 Act was before the House one of the great claims made on its behalf by its authors was that by granting these pensions you would remove the taint 408 of pauperism from the recipients. Wonderful pictures were drawn of the people who had to go to the Poor Law authorities for relief, but who in the happy days to come under the Act of 1925 would have handsome figures dealt out to them by a generous community which would put them far beyond the bounds of poverty. I remember the eloquent speeches—
§ Mr. WHEATLEY
No, not mine. I remember the statement made by the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) that when a Cabinet Minister grows eloquent we should distrust him. We were told that the Act of 1925 would remove the taint of pauperism. It has not removed that taint at all, because it does not provide a living income. In Glasgow at the moment the Poor Law authorities are spending annually over £70,000 in the relief of old age pensioners, and I am sure that this is going on more or less in every industrial district and every city and town in Great Britain. Who can say in face of this that the taint of pauperism has been removed from the industrial classes in their old age, either by the Act now on the Statute Book or by the Measure now before the House? In Glasgow an old age pensioner has his or her income made up to 18s. per week by the Poor Law authority, by a Tory authority. The Tories in Glasgow are voting 8s. per week more to old age pensioners than the Labour Government propose shall be paid to them. I want to go further. In Glasgow at the moment a Tory Poor Law authority is paying in relief to a widow and three children 31s. 6d. per week, and in addition to that she is getting occasional supplies of coal and underclothing and other necessaries of life. Under the Bill we are now discussing it is laid down that 21s. per week is sufficient for a woman and her three children.
In view of these facts it is not at all surprising that there are not likely to be any bonfires kindled in Glasgow over this Measure. There is nothing to be excited about. What has this woman and her three children to expect? You ask her to live on 21s. per week. What would have happened to her if the Poor Law authorities had not given her relief? She would have been driven into industry 409 in order to get the means of life for herself and her children, and she would have competed with other women in the number of jobs that are available for this class of worker under our present industrial conditions. Why should Parliament, which claims to be human and Christian, put a woman who has brought three children into the world in the unfortunate position of having to maintain them by her own efforts, in the position of having to leave these children and go out to work? Surely God and man and society intended that a mother should be at home to look after the health and welfare and character of the children she has brought into the world. Who will dispute that? She is given 21s. per week in these days of rising prices to maintain herself and family, and you are driving her either into pauperism or into the factories, in either case to the injury of the health and character of her children.
There are one or two other points on which I desire to say a word or two. It has already been pointed out that this Bill is intended to scatter little blessings—the major blessings are reserved for a more fortunate generation—but I am surprised that no provision has been made for spinsters. I should have expected that in this matter we should have had a considerable amount of sympathy from the Minister of Labour and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health. They are excellent examples of how a country may reap great benefits from a number of its women depriving a number of men of the blessings of their companionship, and conferring their services, their devotion and blessings on society as a whole rather than on one man. I thank them for the course they have taken, but I could have wished that in this their hour of honour and power they had remembered their less fortunate sisters. You have in this country thousands and thousands of equally worthy ladies whose future is not provided for, for whom they could have made some provision now that they have a reasonable opportunity. There is one other class which is apparently exempted from the consideration of His Majesty's Government, the unemployment man who reaches the age of 65. It is within the knowledge of every hon. Member that when an insured person reaches the age of 65 and becomes eligible for his old age 410 pension that, if he is unemployed, his insurance benefit ceases. If he is working—I cannot understand the reason—he is allowed to draw his pension while drawing his wages, but if he is temporarily unemployed he is allowed to draw his pension but not his unemployment insurance.
You have this position: An unemployed man may be drawing unemployment insurance for himself and his wife of 24s. a week. To-morrow he becomes 65 and becomes eligible for the blessing of the right hon. Gentleman's Act to the extent of 10s. It is difficult to understand the principle and the lofty political ideals which permeate the mind of the right hon. Gentleman, but what is quite understood by the man himself is that, whilst to-day his income is 24s. per week, to-morrow it will be 10s. per week. That is all he can understand. By the blessings of the Act of 1925 his miserable, meagre and inadequate income of 24s. per week is reduced by 14s. per week. That is Toryism as we understand it. I have actual cases of that kind in my own division. I am prepared to admit that as a general rule people in the industrial ranks are physically ready for retiring at 65, and I deeply regret that there is no evidence of the intention of the Government to carry out a policy of enabling these people to voluntarily retire at that age. There are exceptions, of course, to the general rule. You have working men at 65 years of age who are as physically fit as other men at 45, and who want to go on in industry as long as they have a reasonable chance of finding employment after they are 65. These men are usually physically robust and independent in character. They do not want to come down to the 10s. per week, plus the Poor Law relief. They would rather be allowed to work. Under the provisions of this blessed Bill they are driven, like the widow and her three children, either to actual destitution or to a reliance on Poor Law relief. I appeal to my right hon. Friend that if he cannot meet me in any other respect he will do something for this generous section of the people when he comes to consider the details of his Bill.
I welcome the improvements it makes in the Act of 1925. I am totally opposed, as I was in 1925 and as my party was in 1925, to the contributory basis of the policy which we are now discussing. I 411 would have liked the poor of this country to have had an assurance from His Majesty's Government that they are doing something more than appointing a Committee. A nation cannot live on committees alone. I do not accept the view that the Labour party was taken by surprise when the country put it in office. I take the view that this party knew quite well where it was going and what it would do when it got there. The path is still clear and open if they will only stick to the principles they have propagated throughout the country. They have only to give practical effect in the House of Commons to the pledges they gave to the electors in the month of May last year. The most popular amendment that could be submitted to the House this afternoon would be a proposal to increase the scale of pensions. I doubt whether any section of the House would have opposed it, but I am confident that if they had, and if the Government had gone down upon such an issue, the country would have sent them back with such a majority as would have made them independent in this House of the opponents of such a Measure.
I want the Government to have courage to adopt the advice given by the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) during the War, and to be audacious in their demands, to get rid of the inferiority complex, to remember that these poor whom we are discussing are now the ruling class in the country, and that we are demanding on their behalf the luxuries the ruling class of this country have always got and always will get, to remember that they are custodians of the rights of the working men. The country is prepared to back them in abolishing poverty. The country is intelligent enough to know that the unemployment problem which is baffling us can be seriously dealt with until it is finally abolished, that poverty is the great menace of the future, that this competitive system with its blunders, with its chiselling, and chipping down costs of production in order to put a German out of work and to put a Briton into work and in order to send the Germans to do the same thing again on the other side, is madness and is a system which is not creditable to an intelligent community. I am amazed that a House, which must 412 contain many educated business men, does not see that at the present moment you are not following the course which would get you a possible outlet for the goods that a rationalised industry can give to its people. You must prepare an outlet. You are looking to Canada and elsewhere for that outlet. There is an outlet near at hand among the old age pensioners of Glasgow, among the widows of Glasgow, among the orphans of Glasgow. Seventy percent, of our trade does not go abroad at all. You want to increase your trade by increasing the purchasing power of these people. You can do it, you can help trade, you can bless humanity and give practical expression to all those humane feelings and all that wonderful sympathy by expanding the incomes of the people whose circumstances you are discussing in the Measure now before the House.
§ Captain GUNSTON
Those of us who were in the House in the last Parliament always listened with great interest to the speeches made by the right hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley), but I do not think that we ever appreciated a speech of his as much as the one which he has just made. Whatever we may think of him in politics we agree that he is an honest man and is still a. Socialist in the House of Commons. We admire him for his consistency. He asked to-day if it was right that the Labour party when in Opposition should attack us for doing then what they, now they are in office, are doing to-day. I wondered what the attitude of the right hon. Gentleman would be on this Bill, and I looked up the speech which he made against the Second Beading of the original Measure. I assure the House that he was as consistent to-day as he was then. The right hon. Member for Shettleston must appreciate the progress that has been made on his side in appreciation of the great benefits contained in the 1925 Acts. I do not imagine the present Government would intend to extend the Act unless they realised what a great benefit it had been. The right hon. Member, in a speech made in Glasgow in 1925, referred to the Widows', Orphans', and Old Age Pensions Act as "the most heartless and fiendish fraud ever perpetrated on a helpless people." We can understand that he is a little pained this afternoon when he sees that his suc- 413 cessor, the Minister of Health, is imposing this heartless fraud on another half million helpless widows. We on this side of the House have always taken a great interest in and have been pioneers in social reform. We have at the same time realised that, when you go in for a great measure of social reform, you have to consider what the effect on industry will be. We do not want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs because there is a danger that, if you lay a burden on industry by a social reform scheme, for every person you benefit by the reform you throw a man out of work at the other end of the scale.
I was looking at the original Amendment moved by the right hon. Gentleman on the Second Reading of the 1925 Act. These were the words of the official Labour Amendment:This House, while it would welcome a just and generous scheme of widowed mothers' and orphans' pensions with a reduction of the age of qualification for old age pensions and the removal of the means limit, declines to give a Second Reading to a Bill which exacts contributions from wage earners and imposes an additional burden on industry, makes no provision for a large number of widows and orphans and families where the father is incapacitated, and, in the case of those qualified to become recipients, provides allowances which are wholly inadequate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th May, 1925; col. 93, Vol. 184.]The right hon. Gentleman is consistent and he still holds those views. To-day he has voiced his feelings because the Government have not carried out their election pledges. I suggest that, when he voiced those feelings, he was speaking for a large section of the country who are very dissatisfied at the failure of the Government to put into operation the pledges which they so lavishly gave.
We were entitled to expect a little bolder scheme from the Government. I have heard when I sat on those benches of the many wonderful things they were going to do when they came into office. May I again quote from the speech of the right hon. Member for Shettleston: "Taking credit for these savings my hon. Friend the Member for Peckham"— The savings referred to war pensions, and the hon. Member for Peckham is now the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs— 414has prepared a very interesting table. The table which he makes out is not one based on the allowances to be made by the scheme now under the consideration of the House. It is based on the pensions of widows and orphans being doubled. That is what is in the minds of Labour Members—doubling the pensions for widows and orphans. My hon. Friend points out that on a non-contributory basis, taking credit for the savings to which I have referred, the total expenditure of the State during the first nine years of the existence of the scheme would be a little over one-half of the £42,000,000 needlessly thrown away by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He goes on to show that for the whole period up to the year 1965–66, the whole cost of the scheme could be met by a grant from the State which would be always under a sum of £42,000,000. His statement shows that in addition to doubling the pensions of widows and orphans, the balance would be sufficient on a non-contributory basis to bring into the scheme all those widows and orphans who are left out of any provision proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, and would be also sufficient to pay the additional old age pensions which are proposed, instead of the deferred payments that are proposed.At that moment the right hon. Gentleman was interrupted by the late Sir Fredric Wise:
"SIR FREDRIC WISE: Has the scheme been before an actuary?
§ MR. WHEATLEY
I can assure the hon. Member that the reputation of my hon. Friend is such as will commend itself to the respect of any hon. Member who is familiar with him. … The hon. Member for Peckham has an appointment in the London School of Economics. Is there a man who would attach his name to a statement to be given to the public without seeing that it would pass any actuarial examination?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th May, 1925; col. 106, Vol. 184.]
We are entitled to ask what has become of that scheme. I hope the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary will inform us whether that scheme which was going to double the pensions and only cost £42,000,000 has been put before her Department and, if so, perhaps she can tell us in polite language what is her opinion of that scheme.
I think we can claim that the country has been grievously misled. In my own Division my Labour opponent made no extravagant promises and I have no cause for complaint, but there was a sort of atmosphere which seemed to spread throughout the country of all the wonderful things which were going to happen. I am credibly informed that every young lady believed that when the Labour party 415 got into office she was going to get 20s. a week as a right. One could put up a very good argument for it because, after all, they are the potential mothers of the country. If they were given it there is no reason why the young men should not also have it as the potential fathers. Eventually we may get to a stage when everybody may start life with a pension from the State. But let us face this issue fairly. This is not an insurance Bill. We are getting right away from the idea of insurance. It is a shower of gold from the State. The Government have, I presume, considered how much they can afford to spend and they have decided that they are prepared to spend nearly £100,000,000, about £98,500,000, in 16 years. We may or may not agree with that, but we are entitled to do the best we can to see that that money shall be spent so that those who are in the greatest need may be considered. I say that, by simply granting pensions to widows ad lib, you are not apportioning this money to the real needs of the people. It is quite true that this Bill will help many widows who were left out of the last Act and are in want, but it will also help many widows who are not in want. I am not arguing this on the question of insurance because you are getting away from the idea of insurance. You are setting up a fairy godmother with a sort of bran tub into which every widow is allowed to have her dip.
I want to put forward a claim for other sections of the community. After all, is there anything blessed in the state of widowhood? Some widows may be happier than others who are not widows—I mean in a financial sense. Surely, if you are going to spend this money and going to get up right away from the idea of insurance altogether we are entitled to ask what you are going to do for other sections of the community. Other sections of the community will say that you are not using this shower of gold in an equitable manner. Let me come to the class of small shopkeeper. Everybody appreciates that it is very difficult to bring the small shopkeeper into an Insurance Act. I do not believe you can do it without making him pay certain extra contributions. But this is not an insurance scheme, and I do not see what right you have to say that he must not share in 416 this shower of gold. Take the case of a man with a small shop who for many years has been paying contributions for a man he employed, and then along comes the capitalist with a multiple shop and drives him out; or he has to make room for a progressive co-operative society. It does not matter which way you look at it, he has to go to the wall. He will have to wait for a pension until 70. Has he not a right to be considered? What about the small-holder whom the Socialist party always supports, theoretically at least, with great courage if not in actual practice. Why should he not be included?
Then we come to the class of single woman, of which we have heard so much this afternoon. The hon. Lady, the senior Member for Middlesbrough (Miss Wilkinson) who occupies a position which I used to occupy in the last House, a position which I believe the Lord Privy Seal has described as bottle-washing, though I assure the hon. Lady I would not apply that ungallant term to her. She made a speech in the last Parliament and I have looked up what she said. She said:We all feel it would operate harshly in the case of single women in industries. There are something like 1,500,000 to 2,000,000 women who, owing to the War and other causes will not normally marry. Most of these women are going to be employed in industries all the days of their lives. They will pay twopence a week for benefit they cannot get. … During that time she may have had working alongside of her a widow who has been receiving 10 shillings a week although she has no children to bring up. That woman has paid also into the Unemployment Insurance Fund. She comes out of work, she exhausts her un-employment benefit. She is then driven about, as so many of the untrained and unskilled are, having all their lives been engaged in the blind-alley occupations for woman's labour that modern industry provides. … I ask the Minister to take into consideration the case of that woman. Her case is just as hard as that of the childless widow."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th May, 1925; cols. 185 and 186, Vol. 184.]I am sure the hon. Member's Parliamentary Chief has asked the Minister to take into consideration the single women who may be much more in need than many widows who will be getting a share in this shower of gold. Why should the Minister be so unfriendly to efficient single women? I am afraid that for the one hard case that there was under the 1925 Act there will be 100 hard cases 417 under this Measure. I have already had much correspondence on the matter. I am sorry to say that many of the writers of these letters are people who, while thinking they will benefit, will find that in the end they will not come under this Measure.
In politics there is more gnashing of the teeth over one person who is kept out of benefit of a scheme than there is rejoicing over 99 included. I remember, when we were discussing a Bill in the last House, the remark made by the Leader of the Liberal party. He ended by saying, as he pointed to our benches, "The right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are surely under no delusion as to the popularity of any scheme of insurance. I know from experience that if you seek popularity you had better not propose an insurance scheme." I am not suggesting for one moment that the hon. Lady is trying to get popularity by this scheme. I think she and her friends are trying to save their election pledges. But we do say, some of us, on these facts, that granting you are determined to spend this money, and granting that the Bill can be worked on an insurance principle, we will do all we can in Committee to see that the money goes to those who are seeking its aid.
§ Lady CYNTHIA MOSLEY
I must con-fess that I find it a trying ordeal to address the House; but as I find myself so wholeheartedly in favour of this Bill my task is not so alarming as it would otherwise be. I am delighted with the Government for bringing forward this Measure with so little delay. We think it a definite step along the road which all of us on these benches are eager to follow, and it is the road towards the total abolition of poverty and want. I welcome it especially because in it I see an approach towards the full acceptance of the fundamental truth that economic insecurity is socially created and it ought to be provided for by social services until it can be abolished by Socialism. I think it must be admitted that all the insurance schemes at present in existence are not on ordinary insurance lines. In the Conservative Bill of 1925, the principle was admitted of State intervention, but I am glad that this Bill goes a great deal further along these lines, and is a considerable effort to meet one of our social obligations, and does try to get away from that vicious circle of the poor 418 always paying for the poor. I would like all widows to be included, but it is obvious that one must recognise the many difficulties that the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health has to face. He said plainly this afternoon that this was only an amending Act and he made it clear that it was only a beginning.
I hope that it will be within the limits of this discussion if I say something with a view to trying to persuade the Minister to include one or two small categories, not within the limits of the present Bill. I would like to see included the case of a man who has been in insurable employment for a number of years but owing to ill health or some other reason has had to give up his normal work and to start a small business. After a year or two he dies and leaves a widow, and because the man had to give up his previous insurable employment his widow is going, as I understand it, to be refused a pension because he was at the time of his death no longer in insurable employment. That is a rather hard case, especially when we are giving a great many pensions to widows whose husbands died a long time ago, on the ground that they were engaged in employment that has since become insurable. Another category which is even harder is the following: I find that the widows themselves may have been in insurable employment, and owing to their husbands' efforts to earn an income of their own in a small business and subsequently dying, they are denied any advantage which their contributions ought to bring them. These two categories do not affect large numbers and would not cost a great deal, and I would like to see them considered. Perhaps they can be brought up on the Committee stage.
As to the objections to this Bill, I have listened to all the Debate this afternoon and I have read the Press references to this Bill, and so far as I can make it out these objections come roughly under three heads. The first objection is, from people who are appalled at the cost to the State. The second objection is that we are going to start pauperising the people by giving them something for nothing. The third objection is, that we are not keeping our election pledges. I want to deal with all these objections. First I will deal with the Number 1—that of the cost to the State. We are quite well 419 aware on this side of the House that the amount of money available for social services is determined by the taxable capacity of the country. Also we are aware that the taxable capacity of the country is dependent upon the prosperity of industry. But look at the position of industry after 10 years of Coalition and Conservative rule. Just look at the heritage which the Labour Government gets after 10 years, not of office but of power by the other parties. We have come into a thoroughly unsatisfactory state of affairs. Not only do we find industry in a bad way, but the working class have had systematic reduction of wages amounting to hundreds of millions of pounds in the last eight years.
What does that mean? It means that hundreds and thousands of people in this country at the present time are in a terrible state of poverty and destitution. We have got to do something about that, and so, while bearing in mind the essential condition for any return to prosperity, that is an increase in the wealth production of this country, we also bear in mind something that is just as essential, and that is the problem of wealth consumption in this country. What is the good of producing all the wealth that you possibly can unless you can get it consumed, and what on earth is the good of trying to increase the wealth production if one is for ever reducing the wages of the largest portion of the people of this country? This is only a small effort, but at least it is an effort to redistribute some portion of the wealth that has already been created.
Now I would like to come to the second argument, that in this Measure we are pauperising the people, that we are actually going to give them something for nothing. All wealth is socially created, and, as I have already said, this is only an effort partially to redistribute some portion of the wealth that has already been created, and it is only right and proper that these widows should be put in a position to bring up their children when they are young; they perform a very valuable service to the State in doing that function, and when those children get older it is also only right and proper that those widows should not be a burden on their children. After all, they do render the State a 420 great service. If they rendered no other service than that of being mothers to the children and bringing them up, that ought to earn them a wage from the State if the breadwinner is taken. Their job is infinitely important—it is as important, to say the least, as the job of many a company director—and yet the salary of the one runs into thousands of pounds, and these widows, with luck, are going to get a few paltry shillings a week. Yet people talk about the appalling cost to the State. Of course, it all depends on the construction that one puts on those words "something" and "nothing," and we on this side of the House think that the rearing of healthy and happy children is by no means nothing and that their widowed mothers ought to be given something to do it on. I cannot help saying how much one would have liked it had the sum they are to get been increased, but I feel perfectly convinced that will be done as soon as it is possible to be done.
It interests me to see all the heart-bleeding that is going on on the other side of the House. In 1925, when the Debates on this subject took place, I used to be up in the Gallery, but I certainly did not notice quite the feeling of pity for widows on the other side of the House that I have listened to this evening! There are many people who deplore the function of Government being extended to accept responsibility for the material welfare of the people, but I have no patience with all this talk that if one does extend that responsibility the working classes will become soft, will become dependent, less energetic, and less self-reliant. That is rubbish. It really passes my comprehension why a working man or a working woman should be deemed a better citizen if all their lives they are poor, insecure, harassed, and always producing a great deal more than they ever have a chance of consuming, while the criterion of good citizenship for the so-called upper classes is exactly the opposite, namely, absolute security, producing nothing and consuming a very great deal. That is, if I may be allowed to say so, one law for the rich and another law for the poor, with a vengeance.
I have noticed a word that has been greatly in use since this Measure was brought in, and that is the word "demoralisation," demoralisation of giving 421 something for nothing. That is ground on which I am very much at home. All my life I have got something for nothing. Why? Have I earned it? Have I deserved it? Not a bit. I have just got it through luck. Of course, some people might say I showed great intelligence in the choice of my parents, but I put it all down to luck. And not only I, but, if I may be allowed to say so, a great many people on the opposite side of the House are also in that same position. They also have always got something for nothing. Now the question is: Are we demoralised? I could not answer that question for anybody but myself—I would not dream of answering it for any of the hon. Members opposite—but if I may be allowed to say so they do not look physically demoralised. As to their mental or spiritual condition, that is beyond me to determine. I can speak for myself, however, and I stoutly deny that I am demoralised. I think that I am as good a citizen as I would have been if I had been born in much less fortunate circumstances. So much for that argument.
We come now to the third argument, which is that the Government is not keeping its pledges. All the criticisms that I have heard this afternoon from different parts of the House would only be applicable if this was the only Measure which we are going to introduce and if we were going out for good and all at Christmas. I do not anticipate that that will be the case. We have already had assurances from the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health that this is only the first part, that there is going to be a drastic overhaul of the whole great network of social insurance in this country—I might put it that this is the first instalment in a serial story with "to be continued in our next," at the end of this Bill. We have received the most plain assurances this afternoon that further measures are being taken and that an effort is being made to correlate this whole network. We know very well that there are at the present time five distinct measures of social insurance on the Statute Book. All of them differ in their scope, in their administration, and in their sources of income, and they differ also in the principle that governs their scale of benefits. Surely we have reached the stage when advantages can be obtained and 422 economies effected by the unification of these different Measures. We have received assurances that the whole question is being gone into, and we have been plainly told that this is only the first Measure and that subsequent Measures are going to be introduced. We very much hope, on these benches, that such Measures will be introduced as will provide against all the risks that attend working class life at the present time, and we hope that they will stop many of the gaps which allow thousands of deserving cases to slip through the meshes of the present uncoordinated muddle.
I hope that the Government will get on with that comprehensive survey as soon as possible; I hope that there will be as little delay as possible in the sitting of the Committee that goes into it; I hope we may look forward to the preparation of a scheme or further schemes that will be brought before this House as soon as it is possible to bring them forward; and I hope those schemes will remove anomalies and all legitimate grievances that may be brought up in the discussion of this matter; but in the meantime I do welcome this Measure as a great step and a long step forward in the direction in which we want to go, as a real effort towards keeping the pledges that we made, and I hope finally that all sides of the House will do their very utmost to facilitate the passage of this Measure so that it can become law at the very earliest opportunity.
§ Mr. MELLER
If I had nothing pleasurable to say on this Bill, at least my opening phrases must be of a pleasurable nature to myself, because, if there be a diversity of opinion on the Bill itself, at least there is unanimity of opinion that congratulations should be offered to the hon. Lady the Member for Stoke (Lady Cynthia Mosley), who has just sat down. She has given a speech in a manner which I think is not often permitted to Members who speak for the first time in this House. She has given it with a pleasurable tone, and she has so lightly skated over thin ice that we were almost persuaded that what she said was perfectly right. She said that, speaking for herself, she was not demoralised, and I was glad to hear it; I was glad that she had not been demoralised by association with certain Members of her party. She said you could only go so far as the country 423 was capable of being taxed, that you must have regard to taxable capacity, but she was not there following in the lines of the right hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley), who suggested that not only to 10s., not only to 20s., but to the full amount of the needs of the people should you go at the present moment. There is a diversity of opinion in that way, and if that be the view held by one Member only of the party opposite, at least the hon. Lady has not been de moralised by that Member and has taken a very reasonable view of the matter. I do not admit that when the Act of 1925 was being discussed in this House there was no feeling of sympathy for the widows. The hon. Lady said she heard the Debates from another part of the House, but I would suggest that if there were no very pronounced expressions of sympathy with the widows, at least, if we did not express ourselves in words, we did in deeds, because we did produce the goods, as an hon. Friend reminds me, and for the first time in any Parliament we did deal with this vast scheme of providing for the needs of widows and orphans in this country.
I have not any objection, so far as this particular Bill goes in the remedying of anomalies which have been found under the Act of 1925, and I think the whole House is in sympathy with that particular view, but the view I hold is that this Measure has gone beyond relieving the anomalies which were found under the Act of 1925 and has produced new anomalies and will, as it becomes known throughout the country, develop a great feeling of dissatisfaction on the part of those who entered into the scheme from a purely contributory point of view. I have not any objection at all if you find a means of providing for those who have not a right by way of contributions, either themselves or through the breadwinner of the family, if you do it in a separate and distinct Bill, but my objection to this Bill is that it claims to be an amendment of a contributory scheme. Therefore, it does ladle out money which might be used to much greater benefit for the relief of anomalies which existed under the Act of 1925.
Let us see what is the main feature of this Bill. The Minister laid great stress on the fact that 500,000 widows, who were 424 excluded under the Act of 1925, would be brought in. I should not object to that if the money were utilised to meet the cases of those widows who really want it, and who are cases of hardship. Instead of that, the Government are bringing in the whole body of widows who were excluded by the Act of 1925. A number of persons may be brought in whose only claim is that they can show that perhaps some time past, 20, 30 or 40 years ago, their husbands, if a scheme of widows, orphans, and old age pensions had been in existence, might have been qualified contributors. The Minister is going to study these cases on the very flimsiest of evidence; he will be daily approached by Members of the House who find hard cases, and he will have to determine by a fiat from which there is no appeal, whether such cases are to be granted this very valuable concession—a valuable concession in many cases to persons who do not want it. In the main, the widows who are brought in in this Bill are widows who have not children dependant upon them, and I hope that during the Committee stage this unsatisfactory introduction into the Measure will be removed, and that some other form of determining their claim will be introduced.
During the last Parliament I remember a considerable and heated Debate upon the question of legislation by regulation. This Bill, which leaves the Minister to determine, not upon evidence which is set down in the Bill, but merely upon his own whim and feeling at the moment, is a departure to which greater objection can be taken than even to legislation by regulation. I have tried to see how far this Measure has been brought in in order to relieve the great problem with which this Government has to deal, and with which the last Government had to deal, namely, that of unemployment. Will the granting of pensions to these widows relieve the labour market? In the case of a woman who is employed, a pension of 10s. a week will not encourage her to give up her employment. With regard to the person who is unemployed, is 10s. a week going to exclude her from the search for work in the labour market? The Bill does not even meet that case. What is the reason for the introduction of this Measure, which does not seem to meet the present needs of the great mass of the people? It does not meet the 425 anomalies and the objections of the original Act. I suggest that we should have borne in mind the maxim that it is desirable that you should be just before you are generous, and the Government should have extended their justice, in the amelioration of the anomalies that were contained in the Act of 1925, to those people who can possibly be brought within the ambit of the Bill.
This Bill would have been better postponed until the Government had had the advantage of the report of the Committee which is looking into the whole question, instead of trying to force upon the country something in partial satisfaction of those very wild promises which were made during the General Election. I am bound to say that my impression of the Bill is that it is mere political window dressing. It has been brought in solely for the purpose of trying to satisfy the people who were gulled into giving votes on the promise of large pensions and large payments. It has failed utterly to do that, and it would be in the interest of the country at large that it should be withdrawn until a really satisfactory and comprehensive Bill were introduced to deal not only with the anomalies existing under the Act of 1925, but with all those cases of persons in need of pensions at the present time. If the Bill is to be pressed through, I hope the House will see that the Minister only gets the power of determining the question of eligibility of pensions upon the basis of the need of the individual to a pension.
§ Mr. SHILLAKER
I can probably speak on a Bill of this character with even greater authority than the hon. Member who has just sat down, or with as great authority as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain), who gave that amiable sketch this evening of the heavy father; or with as great authority even as the Member for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood). I can speak as the one Member who has had more letters on the pensions question than any other. An hon. Gentleman opposite asked how we knew that people had grievances on this question. I have answered 10,000 letters in the past two years dealing with anomalies of the Act of the right hon. Gentleman the ex-Minister of Health. The hon. Member for Mitcham (Mr. Meller) said that we had to be just before 426 we are generous. What have the party on the opposite bench, and the party on the Liberal Benches done? They have given neither any justice nor generosity. This Bill is a small Measure and a little bit of justice. I do not agree with the contributory system, but I agree with a very eminent insurance expert, who said to me the other day: "The 1925 Act was a contributory system and started the way down the slippery slope, and it will take you all your time to get away from it." I agree that this Bill is a non-contributory Bill. The people who are to get benefit are of the insurable classes, but they are not paying any contributions, and I am very proud to help support a Bill of this character giving to 500,000 widows something that is not more than they are entitled to, but something that is better than nothing at all.
An hon. Member on the Liberal Bench referred to the Act of 1908. I have been advocating old age pensions for over 40 years, and my scheme is 30s. a week at 60 years of age. I did not make any pledge to the people of Acton that I would give them 30s. a week, but I said that I hoped we should be able to give pensions to widows at 60 and possibly, if we were fortunate, to widows of 55. The widows of Acton have known me for many years, and the Labour party are going to prove that my words were true, and that my pledges were justified; they knew from my past record of social service that, if they were not justified, I should not have made them.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston spoke about principle. The principle of the 1925 Bill was this. The Liberal Measure gave 10s. at 70 on a non-contributory basis. The principle behind the 1925 Act was to say that in 1956 industry will bear the whole burden, not only of the contributory pensions, but of the non-contributory pensions, I have the White Paper of the Act of 1925, and no one will deny that the object of that Measure was not so much to give a few pence at 65, as to secure for the Chancellor of the Exchequer another £40,000,000 in the Treasury from the contributions from industry. It is acknowledged in the White Paper. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Woolwich cannot deny that assertion, for he will find it on page 9 of the Paper.
427 That is not the principle behind this Bill. Our Bill is a gift from the Treasury to the poor. Everybody who knows the poor knows that they pay a bigger share of their income in taxes than any other section of the community. They are not getting this money for nothing; they are entitled to it, and it is a fair provision after a hard and heavy life of work. Does anybody suggest that the man or woman who works hard does not do as much for the State as the civil servant, who has a secure livelihood, no unemployment, and no risks; and we as the State show an example to private employers and give the pension at 60. It may interest hon. Members if I give a biographical note. I am sitting on these benches to-day because 40 years ago I came here on a deputation on behalf of one of the worst paid sections of the Civil Service. I went into a Committee room upstairs, and I met Liberal and Tory Members of Parliament, and, egotistical youth of 19 that I was, I said that I had as much brains as any of them, and that the working people of this country would not get justice until they had a party of their own. I went into that room a Tory and came out convinced that a Labour party was essential. I have had no reason to alter my opinion.
In a properly organised State, the first thing the State, which had had the utmost service from all members of the community, would do, would be to see that they were properly looked after when they were old.
The Bill does not do all that we like, but it removes 500,000 anomalies left over by the last Bill, and it puts back to a certain extent the non-contributory pensions; further pensions must wait until our bigger Measure. What is the good of increasing the capacity for producing wealth if you do not see that the community which produces the wealth has its fair share. That is all that this Bill does. It is the first instalment of a very great series of Measures; it is a thing which we hope to get and a thing which we shall get. The thing that I particularly like about it is the phrase "the insurable class." The Bill provides for a pension for the widow of a man who is "in the insurable class" within three years prior to his death. "The insurable 428 class" means everybody who, if he had been alive to-day, would have been insured—every clerk getting less than £250 a year, every manual worker no matter what his earnings may be, and all the men who were brought in by the last Insurance Act; they are all in the insurable class. Even though men died prior to 1912, if they were in the insurable class their widows come in, just the same as the small shopkeeper mentioned by an hon. Member who from these benches delivered earlier in the Debate a most admirable and pleasant speech. If the small shopkeeper were an insured person three years before he died, and when he started in business, his widow will get a pension. This Bill is a good Bill—a great Bill. I am very proud indeed to belong to the party which has introduced it. I thank the Minister of Health for bringing in the Bill, and I thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer for making it possible.
§ Major KINDERSLEY
I understand that the hon. Member for Acton (Mr. Shillaker), who has just sat down, was making his maiden speech, and I am quite certain that the whole House will agree with me in congratulating him upon his eloquence, and also upon his obviously deep knowledge of the subject about which he was speaking. His speech was interesting to me from this point of view. He said quite definitely that this in its main features is a non-contributory scheme, and that it is for that reason that he likes it. I would point out to him, as I think a previous speaker has already done, that this Bill is headed "Widows' Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Bill." [HON. MEMBERS: "Amendment."] No, hon. Members are quite wrong, it is not called "Amendment." The heading is "Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Contributory Pensions Bill" and there is no question of "Amendment." In the few remarks which I am going to make, I want to deal with that point. I was extremely glad to hear the right hon. Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) say that while we on these benches are not going to divide against the Second Reading of this Bill, we shall deal with it very drastically in Committee and especially with Clause 1, which to my mind is the pernicious part of this Measure. I must admit that it 429 is with some reluctance that I allow this Bill to get its Second Reading with out a Division, but one feels that there are in this Bill certain amendments of the Act of 1925 which are due and necessary, and if we destroy the Bill at birth, we shall also destroy those amendments of anomalies in the Act of 1925 which we all desire to see on the Statute Book. Therefore I think the right hon. Member for Edgbaston took the right course, but, as I said before, I welcome the very strong words used by him as to the necessity of removing some of the most pernicious portions of this Bill. I claim that it is on this point that we on these benches differ from hon. Members opposite; and, after all, why should we sit on opposite sides of the House unless we do differ? We differ because we believe in the contributory principle in regard to insurance, while hon. Members opposite admittedly do not; they believe in the distribution of largesse by the State, quite regardless of any contribution. In fact I think it was the right hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) who said that in future the working classes (I do not know that he used the words "working classes," but that is what he meant) would judge legislation by the number of loaves they enjoyed. He was perfectly frank: he was offering bribes. That is exactly what hon. Members opposite did at the last election: they went round offering cash bribes for votes. It is perfectly easy to do that, but when you have done it, it is extremely difficult to fulfil your promises, and that is what hon. Members opposite are going to find. These things cannot be done; and apart from the fact that they cannot be done from the economic standpoint, I consider that such a process is thoroughly demoralising to the community. The hon. Lady the Member for Stoke (Lady Cynthia Mosley), who made a speech which, I am sure, charmed us all, said, "Look at me! I have not been demoralised." My answer is that she has been; she is sitting on those benches opposite.
Clause 1 of this Bill violates the contributory principle, and it selects quite arbitrarily a certain class of people, and, with no regard to the need, makes them recipients of a dole provided out of public funds. What I want to know is why you should select widows particularly. It does not necessarily follow that a widow 430 is a very unfortunate person. In fact, I think it was the senior Mr. Weller who said that there were certain attractions about widows which spinsters have not got. After all, the lot of a spinster is very often to work very hard all through her life, and often her life is a very hard one. It has been said: "It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." There is another point upon which I believe that hon. Members opposite hold a very strong view: they support—I think not all of them, but many of them—an agitation in favour of the limitation of families as being one remedy for some of our present ills. I entirely disagree, but, if they support that, why do they not endow spinsterhood? From their point of view a spinster is one of the most patriotic creatures in this country, and they ought to endow spinsters, not widows. I offer that as a suggestion to hon. Members opposite, and perhaps they will adopt it when they next bring in a fresh form of dole.
There is another point to which I attach more importance than almost to anything else, and it is a point which has not been mentioned to-day. The Government are, to my mind, taking a very great responsibility in introducing this system which is non-contributory—a system, as I say, of distributing public funds on a purely arbitrary principle without any regard to need. They are taking this responsibility: That, if this thing continues and grows, means, as an absolute certainty, an end of democracy in this country or in any other country which practises it. It must mean that, and to my mind that is the worst feature of legislation such as this. Democracy must destroy itself if this is its logical conclusion. I say that by the introduction of Measures such as this, departing from the principle of contributions which we on these benches adopted, the Government are putting the first nail in the coffin of democracy, and that, I am perfectly certain, is the last thing that any man in this House wants to see. The history of this world is open to all men to read, and those who have read that history and have taken it to heart know what is the end of this sort of Rake's Progress. For that reason I shall do all I can to support the right hon. Member for Edgbaston in his determination to get 431 the pernicious Sections of this Bill expunged from it.
§ Mr. LLEWELLYN-JONES
I am sure that the House will grant me its indulgence in speaking for the first time; and may I say that I feel particularly privileged to be allowed to speak for the first time upon the Bill which is now before the House? For a very large number of years I have been associated with social work. Ever since the inception of the first National Insurance Act it has been my privilege to be associated with the administration of it in my own county, which is in Wales, and also in various other connections. I realise that the Bill which is before the House to-day, although it does not go as far as my friends on these benches and myself would wish it to go, is a distinct contribution to this aspect of social insurance. I think I am justified in saying with some pride that after all it was the party to which I belonged which laid the foundation of the possibility of anything in the nature of social insurance in this country. I was gratified to hear from the Minister of Health, when he moved the Second Reading of the Bill, that the Government had under consideration the question of extending the scope of the National Insurance Acts. For many years the insured population of this country and those who have been responsible for the administration of the National Health Insurance Acts have been urging upon the Government of the day the necessity of enlarging the scope of those Acts in various directions, and I do trust that the promise that has been made to-day by the Minister of Health, that he will introduce legislation in this connection, will be redeemed at a very early date.
I think we are all agreed that an enormous amount of interest is being taken in all parts of the country in the question as to what the Government proposed to do with regard to the extension of the Widows', Orphans', and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act. During the electoral campaign in the month of May there was no topic which elicited so much interest as the question of bringing within the scope of contributory pensions a very large number of widows, orphans and old people who were excluded, owing very largely to certain technical defects 432 in the Act of 1925. Since the election our post bags have been filled daily with letters from our constituents enquiring what was likely to be done, and, during the last few days, whether this Bill is likely to cover their own specific cases. I believe that oh the question of the extension of the Contributory Pensions Bill we on this side of the House are prepared to redeem to the full the promises we made at the election, and with a view to redeeming those promises we shall take every step in our power in order to improve and extend the scope of the Bill. That is the great difference between the attitude of the official Opposition and the attitude of the Liberal party. We have been told to-night that the Opposition intend to deal drastically with the Bill. If that means anything, it means that they are anxious to curtail it, to see that the number of those who will benefit under the Bill shall be reduced as far as possible. The attitude I venture to take, and I believe it is the attitude taken by my fellow Liberals, is that we shall do everything in our power to see that the Bill as it goes through Committee is enlarged, so that instead of leaving the House with its scope limited and restricted a larger number of persons will have been brought within its provisions.
I must say that in some respects the Bill as introduced has given us a great deal of disappointment. The right hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. Wheatley) criticised the Bill much more trenchantly than any of the critics on this side of the House, but mainly upon one aspect of the Bill. At the commencement of this Parliament, having regard to the pledges made by the leaders of the Labour party, we were prepared to expect something very much broader than the Bill which has been introduced. At the same time, we are anxious to see the Bill passed into law at the very earliest possible date, and if we on these benches can do anything to assist the Government in Committee we shall do it.
There are one or two points in connection with the Bill which I think ought to be dealt with on Second Reading. The speech of the Minister of Health indicated a desire on the part of the Government to bring in as soon as possible all the classes referred to in the first Clause of the Bill. It seems to me that unless something is done to amend 433 several Sections of the Act of 1925 the desire of the Government will not be attained. One of the necessary qualifications for a pension or allowance under the Act of 1925, still continued so far as this Bill is concerned, will be found set forth in Clause 3, Sub-section (1) of the 1925 Act. It says there:Subject to the conditions of this Act, the widow of a person who dies after the commencement of this Act and who is insured at the date of his death.Mark those words—"insured at the date of his death." Then turn to Section 7, Sub-section (1) of the same Act and you will find it stated:
My submission with regard to the point is this. In the case of an insured person in insurance at the time of his death the Bill certainly does provide very necessary alterations as to the period during which he has been in insurance and also as to the number of contributions paid; but unfortunately we shall find there are serious anomalies in this connection. I will take a specific case which came to me among the letters which I received this morning. A man went into insurance in 1912, and continued in insurance without a break until 1927. He dropped out of insurance in that year, after having been in the insurance for 15 years. A few months ago, in April I think, he died. His widow, who was left with two children, made a claim. It was sent to the Welsh Board of Health, but was rejected because at the time of his death he was not an insured person. That is not a solitary case, and if the Bill is to meet a large number of the grievances which insured persons and their dependants have had to put up with, the Act of 1925 should be amended so as to provide that in cases where a person has been in insurance for a long period it is not necessary that he should have been actually an insured person at the date of his death in order that a claim may succeed.
- "(a) if he or she has before the appointed day attained the age of 65 and not attained the age of 70 and was an insured person at that date; or
- (b) if he or she attains the age of 65 after the appointed day and is at the time of attaining that age an insured person; or
- (c) if … she is the wife of a man who is an insured person."
434 Reference has been made to another very large class of persons who are excluded from benefits. I am quite certain from my intimate knowledge of the district in which I have lived for a large number of years, and which I have the honour to represent in this House, that there are a large number of small trades-men, handicraftsmen, village blacksmiths and village joiners who are absolutely excluded from contributory pensions. You have the case of the small trader or shopkeeper employing an insured person, and he pays week by week his share of the contribution for national insurance and contributory pensions. The struggle in the case of small tradesmen and handicraftsmen has been very serious, and when they arrive at the age when an employed person receives his pension they find themselves excluded.
I trust that the Minister of Health will do something to meet the position of these men, because many of them are persons who at one time were employed in industries. I have known two or three cases of this kind. I know the case of a man who was employed in a fairly remunerative business, and four or five years ago during trade depression he was thrown out of employment. That man could have gone to the Employment Exchange to receive unemployment pay, but he did not do so because he preferred to find work in some other direction. The man I refer to had saved a little money and he started a small business as a village butcher, but after a few years he was not able to pay his insurance contributions. At the end of three years this man died leaving a widow, and he was out of insurance. By not throwing himself on unemployment benefit that man saved much expense to the community, and because he did that his wife has been penalised. I trust that something will be done with a view to dealing with cases of that kind.
More than one speaker in this Debate has referred to the fact that this Bill does nothing for spinsters. May I refer to a case which must be within the knowledge of every Member of this House. Take the case of a man who has a large family and his wife dies leaving him with an elderly daughter and a number of young children. In such a case the oldest daughter remains at home, acts as a mother to the younger children and looks 435 after the home. The father dies and the elder daughter who has practically been in the position of the mother and head of the family—who is practically in the same situation as the mother would have been had she survived—receives no benefit under the existing Act, and nothing whatever is done in the Bill which we are considering to deal with a case of that kind. I trust that the Minister of Health will be able to see his way to do something in those cases.
Allusion has been made to the necessity for consolidation. We all agree that it is almost impossible for anyone in this House, however well trained he may be, and however much he may have had to do with Acts of Parliament, to explain the meaning of many of the Clauses in the Measure which is now before the House. If this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament in the form in which it has been introduced, what is the position going to be? A very large number of insured persons and their dependants have to depend entirely upon the advice of the agent or secretary of the approved society to which they belong. I am satisfied that in a very large number of cases insured persons have been penalised owing to the intricacies of the Contributory Pensions Act of 1925, and those difficulties will be made even greater by this Bill, because the secretaries and agents of approved societies do not understand the Measure. In the past they have given insured persons advice upon which they have acted only to find themselves later on penalised for having taken that advice. Only a few months ago the Lord Chief Justice, in a case which came before him, stated how difficult it was for those who were interested in the Pensions Act to understand what it meant. I trust that some effort will be made at an early date to provide a Consolidation Act, and I hope that there will be issued memoranda and circulars which will make the law intelligible to the ordinary population. We are all aware of the large number of persons who feel themselves aggrieved because they have not been able to get their claim recognised by the Minister of Health and the Scottish Board of Health. I would like to ask if it is possible for the Minister of Health to have all these cases tabulated and placed before the House in order that we may know exactly the 436 grounds upon which the claims of widows and old persons have been rejected by the Ministry of Health.
I hope we shall be able to suggest amendments which will bring within the scope of this Bill a large number of the cases which on the grounds of equity ought to come within the scope of the Measure. One must realise, in connection with the bringing into operation of a Measure of this kind, that a certain amount of time must elapse before claims can be considered and adjusted by the Ministry. I am referring now rather to claims under the Act of 1925. I have seen cases where, without, probably, any desire on the part of the officials of the Ministry to delay matters, there has been a certain delay in connection with the admission of claims. Naturally one must feel, particularly as regards the cases of widows with dependent children, that the sooner the claims can be adjusted the better. One knows what the death of the breadwinner in a family means. The widow scarcely knows where to turn, and I do hope that something will be done in the future with a view to expediting a settlement of these claims, and to see that the investigating officer who has to visit the home of the claimant pays his visit as soon as possible, and that everything is done with a view to the claim being recognised without undue delay. I should like, before I sit down, to congratulate the Minister of Health upon the statement which he made in introducing the Bill. We on these benches are not here to do anything to block the Bill or restrict its operation. As I have said, we are anxious that it should be made as soon as possible a good working Act of Parliament, bringing as large a number of people as possible within its scope.
§ Mr. BROOKE
In addressing my first speech to this House, I hope the House will extend to me the indulgence which is usually shown to new speakers. I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity of congratulating the Minister of Health on introducing a Measure of this character, which, as he has said, is only an instalment of a larger survey of the whole system of pensions and insurance. I hope that the Minister and the Cabinet Committee who are considering this matter are going to be emboldened by the concern which has been shown from the opposite benches for the class of people 437 who are left out of the present Act, and whom we hope to see included at no very distant date. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) made sarcastic reference to the possibility that this Cabinet Committee may sit for a number of years, and that it may be a number of years before those people who are excluded from the present Act are brought under the proposals that we hope are going to be introduced. From that point of view I want to congratulate the Minister on having introduced a Measure of this character within no more than four and a-half months of his party being returned to office. I believe that, if the Cabinet Committee and the Minister are going to act with the same determination to push forward their comprehensive scheme that they have shown up to the present, it will not be long before more people get the benefits which we hope the Cabinet Committee are going to confer upon them.
I welcome this Measure, not only because it is an instalment and because we are fulfilling our election pledges, but because it is going to remove the flagrant and obvious injustices involved in the operation of the present pension schemes, and, limited though it may be, is at any rate going to bring some measure of justice and satisfaction to those large sections of our population who for some strange reasons were omitted from the original Act providing pensions for widows and old folks in this country. To me it is particularly gratifying that this Measure is going to give pensions to those who are known as pre-Act widows. A pre-Act widow to-day is in many cases a woman of advanced age, who has had a very severe struggle, whose adversities and hardships have been very great; and yet, under the present legislation relating to pensions, she receives no consideration whatever. The right hon. Gentle-man the Member for Edgbaston referred in tones of indignation to the fact that the Government propose to give pensions to widows whose husbands died 25, 30 and 35 years ago. An admirable speech has been made this evening by a lady Member on these benches, who referred to the fact that she was fortunate in the choice of her parents, and was fortunate in the circumstances of her parents. I also want to say that I was fortunate in the choice of my parents, but I was unfortunate in the fact that, only a few 438 years after I was born, my father died and my mother became a widow with a family of small children. That was nearly 30 years ago. She struggled through all the intervening years, she faced hardships and adversities and privations; and I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston by what right can he say that a woman who has gone through such circumstances is not entitled to a pension at 55 years of age?
The right hon. Gentleman evidently assumes that the widow who does not come under the contributory scheme should have been provided for by her husband while he was living and while he was employed, but why have such widows not been provided for in that way? Their husbands have worked in industry, they have given their best services to industry, and the reason why their widows are not provided for is that the return in wages which they got from industry was not sufficient to allow them to make that provision. Because, unless this Bill is passed by this House, no provision is going to be made for these older widows, I hope the House is going to give the Measure its immediate support. Many of these widows have, as I have said, had hard struggles during long periods of widowhood, and the very struggles of their widowhood have made it impossible for them to compete in the labour market. They may apply to an employer, but the very physical disabilities imposed upon them by their widowhood make it impossible for them to obtain employment. Therefore, in the past, they have had to depend either upon the generosity of their friends or upon sympathetic treatment by the Poor Law authorities.
The exclusion of pre-Act widows has been a great injustice and a cause of deep and bitter feeling throughout the country. Especially has that feeling been bitter when the widow has been able to see living in the same street a younger widow and even her own daughter receiving a pension because her husband was a contributor, while the older widow has been penalised owing to circumstances over which she herself has had no control. I am very glad, therefore, to welcome the Bill which is going to give the pension to pre-Act widows. I am unable to understand the political philosophy which 439 would grant pensions to the younger widows and refuse them to the older widows. I can understand a party saying "It is no part of our political faith, and we do not regard it as our duty to make provisions for widows and orphans." It is a definite point of political philosophy. We disagree with it and we can oppose it. But I can never understand the point of view of the man who says he believes it is the duty of the State to make provision for the widow because the widow is in need and then, when he comes to apply his principles, refuses to give the pension to the widow who is most in need, the older widow, who has had no opportunity of coming under the State scheme.
I hope the House will give a speedy passage to the Bill, not merely because we are going to grant a pension to people with no children under 14 years of age, but I want to make a special appeal to the humanity of the House on behalf of the older widows who have no support, who have no opportunity of coming under the provisions of the scheme and who are going to be benefited by the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston said there were going to be more anomalies and complaints under the operation of the Bill than there were under the operation of the 1925 Act. I see the Clause which grants pensions to pre-Act widows states that the widow must prove to the satisfaction of the Minister of Health that her husband was employed in an industry which would have been insured if the Insurance Act had been in operation. I hope the Minister, in the exercise of his discretion will always remember the type of person he is dealing with, the widow who has suffered with such fortitude and patience for so many years, and that he will show the House and the country that there is a difference between Tory and Labour administration. As one who represents a considerable section of the mining population, I know with what pleasure that section of my constituents will have received the information that where a father is killed and compensation is paid, the family are not going to be penalised by a reduction or stoppage of allowances on account of the compensation. I believe the mining industry bears the greatest burden of fatal industrial accidents and, as a consequence, has suffered most 440 severely under the penalty that was contained in the Act of 1925. I am glad that the Labour Government, after only four months of Office, is going to say that if a workman loses his life on the industrial battlefield, his dependants are not going to be penalised or deprived of the benefit they would have received if he had died an ordinary death.
Many speakers opposite have said that they have no objection to pensions, or to an extension of pension schemes, so long as they are on a contributory basis. If there is going to be an extension of pensions not on a contributory basis, and the pensions are going to be paid only by taxation raised in the ordinary way, hon. Members opposite seem to see a different moral effect upon the recipient. I can see no different moral effect between the case of a person who receives a contributory pension and another who receives an Old Age Pension, and I think I can understand the desire of hon. Members opposite that all pensions granted in any extension of the present scheme, shall be on a contributory basis, because it means that the working people are going to pay for their Old Age and Widows' pensions. As a matter of fact, the total amount of contributions which have been paid under the Contributory Act in England and Wales from the commencement of the Act to March, 1929, was approximately as follows. £33,250,000 were paid by the employers and £31,750,000 by the workers, and during the same period the State contribution was only £12,000,000. We know perfectly well at the week-end when we find the deduction from our wages as payment for the various social service schemes, that we are directly paying our own share of the cost. We also pay what is known as the employers' share. The employer adds the cost of all schemes of social service as a first charge upon industry, and we know perfectly well when we go into a shop to purchase the goods we have made in the factory, that we are paying the employer's share and, in addition, we know that we pay a considerable part of the contribution that the State is called upon to make. Therefore, we can understand the great concern of hon. Members opposite that all pensions should be on a contributory basis.
441 While these provisions, and the Amendments of the earlier Acts, may not be all that we desire to see in our ideal scheme, they are at any rate increasing evidence of recognition that it is the duty of the State to make provision against the insecurities of the economic system in which we are living. We find that the system of private enterprise creates the hazards and insecurities which face the widows and orphans and the old people to-day, and in past years we have been content to let private enterprise offer to the victims of that system some sort of security by selling them premiums, but always selling them on a profit-making basis. I am glad to say those days are past, and there is an increasing recognition that it is the first duty of the State to offer the individual citizen some communal security as an elementary right of their citizenship and as some security against the privations and the insecurities of the system under which we live. I welcome this Measure, and I hope it is only one of many more which will have for their object the same benevolent purpose as is contained in this Bill.
Countess of IVEAGH
I should like to congratulate the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. Brooke) on what, I understand, was his maiden speech and on the extremely sincere way in which he put his views before the House. It is not at all surprising that this Bill should excite the interest of the women Members, because it seems to confer certain benefits on a particular section of the female population. I hope I am not cynical if I wonder whether this solicitude for widows would have been as great in those days when women had no direct means of placing their views before us. This Bill departs from the contributory principle. A Bill on a contributory basis partakes of the nature of insurance and contains the cardinal features of insurance. The principal Act did that, except in one particular, which has been mentioned to-day, in the interests of certain father-less children. The cardinal principle of insurance is that some people pay a great many contributions and do not make a claim and others pay a few contributions and make a claim, and it is that fact which makes an insurance scheme actuarily sound.
One hon. Member speaking from the opposite benches referred to this Bill as 442 the logical sequence of the Act of 1925. I think that another hon. Member, also from those benches, referred to it more correctly when he said that it was a gift to the poor. This Bill, having departed from the contributory principle, is a Measure of State relief, or, as the hon. Member to whom I have referred very accurately said, a gift to the poor. That being so, it is very important that we should examine what are to be the qualifications of the recipients of that gift. The qualifications in the vast majority of cases are to be age, sex, and widowhood. A woman must be 55. She must have lost her husband, who must have been at some time in insurable employment or in employment which the Minister might deem to have been insurable if there had been a National Insurance Act at the time of death. What strikes me is that the qualification should be widows. After all, women to-day have reached a point where they are nearer that equality of opportunity with men which they seek, and they have asserted their desire not to receive any preferential treatment. Yet here we have a woman able to make a claim for State relief on no other ground than that she was at some time, perhaps long past, legally entitled to the support of a man. She may have achieved a very good position for her-self. I believe that a woman widowed young and a childless widow is quite as capable of doing work as any man. Again, a widow may have children who have grown up in good circumstances and who are able to support her.
As far as I can see from the Bill, she may have married again and been widowed a second time, and her second husband may have left her in good circumstances. If she is able to prove to the satisfaction of the Minister that her first husband was ever in insurable employment she can claim a pension from the State. Widowhood should not be the sole qualification in this first instalment which, we hear from the Front Bench opposite, is now to be given as an earnest of what is to come in the future. They have explained to us that this is all that they are able to get out of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the moment, and that there is more to come. If we are going to depart from the contributory principle and if a large sum is going to be spent, 443 taken from industry—yes, taken from industry eventually; even the payment of Super-tax eventually reacts upon industry—what about the large classes of needy persons who might be considered to have a prior claim over some of the widows in comfortable circumstances? We all know the case of the single women who have foregone marriage in order to support invalid relatives or to take the place of a mother to a widowed brother's children. There is the case of those who are not widows at all, the wives of invalid husbands; there are the very hard cases of the widows of non-insurable men; and there are the widowers. After all, I do not know why, except for the fact that the late Government enfranchised a very large number of women, there should be this particular solicitude for women. I know of cases of widowers, themselves perhaps not in very good health, who, having lost their wives, are obliged to pay somebody to take the place of the mother of their children, it may even be delicate children. Their position is quite as hard as that of some of the pre-Act widows who are coming under this scheme.
If this Bill is a first instalment, it is going to raise some very great misgivings in the hearts of many. A Bill which initiates the spending of a very large sum in State relief certainly lacks logic, and it lacks common sense, if it selects for its gifts only women who may perhaps be in comfortable circumstances, if it takes no account of any other sections of needy persons, and if it leaves out particularly that large class of needy women who, in the words of a spinster constituent of mine not very long ago, "through no fault of their own never got the chance of becoming widows."
§ Mr. PERRY
I am glad to have an opportunity of taking part in this Debate, because of the interesting experience I had a few years ago. I have been very much impressed this afternoon by the keenness of many hon. Members on the benches opposite for the development of this scheme. In the years 1911 and 1912 and subsequent years I happened to be an officer in the Ministry of Health. I was one of the inspectors under that Act, and it has been particularly interesting this afternoon to me to listen to the 444 tributes paid to the Act of 1911. Especially do I remember a hotly contested election in South-West Manchester, when a very distinguished Member of this House, who used to sit on the Liberal Benches, found some difficulty in obtaining a seat. It is noteworthy to hear the changed views that have been expressed here to-day. But there is a still deeper and more personal reason that concerns me. As a boy I won a scholarship at an elementary school in my own town. My father died, and my mother had to go back to work in the mill, and I had to sacrifice the scholarship and go half-time in a cotton mill, at half-a-crown a week. My mother, I suppose, would have been a pre-Act widow. That simple, personal experience, which can be multiplied by scores of hon. Members on these benches, causes me to welcome the introduction of this Bill, and the pre-Act widow.
I am sorry that the term "State relief" has been used by the Noble Lady the Member for Southend (Countess of Iveagh). It does tempt one to turn to those very much higher pensions that have been paid year after year, but we never taunt the recipients with being in receipt of State relief. I would remind the House that the Act of 1925 brought about a revolution in regard to bearing the burden of old age pensions. Up to the Act of 1925 the cost of old age pensions was borne by the National Exchequer, and the sympathetic Chancellor of the Exchequer could adjust his burden of taxation according to ability to pay. Those who recall the Act of 1925, of which this Bill is an amendment, will remember that in the report of the Actuary it was clearly pointed out that the young person entering into insurance for the first time would in due course not only pay the full cost of pensions for widows and orphans, but of old age pensions as well.
The late Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, whom I remember well in the old days in his work on be-half-of that Act, will recollect that the Act of 1925 brought about a revolution in regard to contributory pensions in this country. The right hon. Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) must not complain to-day if the door which he opened in the Act of 1925 is now pushed a little further. It was all very well for him to say this afternoon that the contributory principle is the sheet-anchor 445 from which we must not depart, but he himself departed from it—he tried to excuse it afterwards—in the Act of 1925, when he brought in the pre-Act widow. There is not one hon. Member on the benches opposite who will not bear testimony to the fact that there are in their own constituencies hundreds of widows who are looking forward in keen expectation to the coming into force of this Act.
I would like to suggest to the Minister of Health that in framing his regulations for the administration of the Act he should have some regard to the possibility of people understanding the regulations and, if I may say so with respect, he might get rid of some of the red tape. Those of us who had to try to administer the Act of 1911 very often felt that we were being regulated to death. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will have some regard to that point in drawing up the regulations. I cannot understand what happened when a person under the present Act claims a widow's pension, puts in her claim on the best information she has at the moment, and the claim is ultimately granted, and later finds from documentary evidence that she was entitled to a pension 12 months earlier than was shown by the evidence which she had been able to submit previously. There is a section which gives her the right of appeal to the Minister, but in no case that has yet been brought to my knowledge has the claim of a widow for consideration for back period been allowed. If a woman produces documentary evidence in regard to age and other particulars, her claim should be granted from the day that she really became entitled to the pension, and I hope the regulations will be amended accordingly.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Edgbaston that Clause 1 is the crux of the whole matter. That Clause in bringing in the pre-Act widows at the age of 55 makes a tremendous departure from the Act of 1925. Some hon. Members on these benches say, "Why start at 55? Why not earlier?" I have a case in mind of a widow whose pension will be stopped in November because under the present Act her youngest child has attained the age of 14 years. If this Bill goes through I presume pension will be resumed in January, and will be continued for a short period, and then it will 446 ultimately cease until she attains the age of 55. Whilst we cannot get all that we are asking for at the moment, I hope that it may be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to consider whether some transitional period could not be arranged so that widows should not come in and out in this way, because the position of uncertainty becomes worse than before. I am glad that the hardship in regard to widows and old people over 65 whose husbands were over 70 years of age is to be removed. There is not one Member of this House who has not had such cases brought to his notice.
With regard to the finance of the Measure, it will in the first instance mean an additional £8,000,000 or £9,000,000 a year. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has so arranged matters that by increasing the amount by £1,000,000 a year the charge will reach a maximum of £20,000,000 a year. While that may be a tax on the country, I would ask hon. Members opposite to remember that when they had their opportunity they thought it better to relieve the Super-tax payers, and the Income Tax payers. One hon. Member opposite shakes his head. That was what they did, whether he denies it or not. Whilst I would not deny the claims of the Super-tax payers or Income Tax payers to relief, I submit that the widows who are coming into this scheme have a far higher and stronger claim than those who were relieved under the policy of the late Government.
In regard to the First Schedule, dealing with persons who have been inmates of workhouses, the point I want to put is this. Under the present Act when an aged person goes into workhouse and his or her relatives pay full maintenance, the pension is discontinued after three months. I am told that it is discontinued because they go there on the order of a relieving officer, but I understand that this order is given as a matter of technical observance, and it seems to me a hardship that when relatives pay full maintenance the pension should cease after the person has been an inmate of an institution for three months. The other question I want to put is this. The Minister has to make a decision as to whether a person has been continuously employed with an occupation which would come under the Act of 1912. What exactly does he mean by "continuously 447 employed"? This point has been discussed over and over again, and I hope the Minister of Health will be in a much better position to give us a decision than some of his predecessors in the early days of the Insurance Act.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I should like to pay a compliment to the Minister of Health and also to the late Minister of Health on this account, that whenever a case has been brought to the notice of either of these two right hon. Gentlemen and it has been shown that hardship has been caused by the strict Regulations laid down in the 1925 Act, they have tried to get over the difficulty if they possibly could do so. I want to thank the present Minister of Health for dealing with the many cases I have sent him. There is no doubt that the bulk of the correspondence of any hon. Member during the last three or four years has been in respect of the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Pensions Act. There is no doubt also that a large number of anomalies came into existence when the 1925 Act was put into operation. I say, however, that this Debate has been the most unreal I have ever listened to in this House. The speech of the Minister of Health was unreal, because he knows that this Bill is not going to remove a tithe of the anomalies which exist. [Interruption.] It is not going to touch the fringe of the question.
He knows also that the promises made during the election campaign did gain votes for his party, and they raised in the minds of people expectations which he knew then, and certainly knows now, that it is impossible to carry out. [Interruption.] The very next week after the election I was receiving letters to this effect: "Now that we have a Labour Government in office, you will be able to get us that £1 per week that was promised to all widows." Nothing was said about being 55 years of age. The people really did believe it, and I say this Debate is unreal because, although you are going to help in the case of pre-Act widows, you are going to leave all the other anomalies untouched. It has been an unreal Debate as regards the speeches of many hon. Members opposite. They have tried their best to blow hard and keep up their courage by saying that although they did promise all these 448 things, nevertheless this is some small contribution. [Interruption.] Does the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health really believe that in the lifetime of this Parliament he will be able to bring forward the Report of the Committee he is to appoint and implement whatever recommendations they may make in an Act of Parliament? In the provisions he is making he shows that he has no great faith in the raising of the money. We have been told that he has a kind of friend in the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I want to know why it is that we have to wait until 1931 before widows of 55 begin to receive their pensions.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I listened very carefully to every word of the right hon. Gentleman's explanation. He said that there were so many things to do as regards administration; but I suggest that the real motive behind it is that the Government want to postpone the raising of the money—
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I must resent the imputation of the hon. Member. If the right hon. Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) were in the House at the moment he would know that I was speaking the truth about the administrative difficulties involved.
§ Mr. WOMERSLEY
I am suggesting that if it is possible to bring it into operation for one class of widows in 1930 it is just as possible to bring it into operation for another class in 1930. [Interruption.] I am sure the right hon. Gentleman is the last person to take exception to fair argument, such as I am putting forward. I want the Parliamentary Secretary when she replies to tell us why the raising of this money is going to come in the distant future. There will be no charge at any rate on this year's financial estimates, and I am rather of the opinion that the postponement is in order that somebody else will have to raise the money. Personally, I welcome even this small measure of relief. [Interruption.] Surely one can welcome even a small measure of relief and at the same time point out the reasons why the larger measure has not been given, after it was promised. When the Labour party's 449 programme was brought out at the General Election and the question was put to me as to my position in regard to various anomalies I told my constituents that I was prepared to vote even with the Labour party, simply because I was convinced that there are certain things in the Act of 1925 which require altering. But, in my opinion, we are not getting in this Bill anything like what I or my constituents expected to get.
The fact that there were anomalies in the Act of 1925 did mean the loss of a tremendous number of votes to the Conservative party, and when hon. Members opposite face the electorate again they will lose a considerable number of votes because they have not fulfilled their promises, nor are they likely to do so. After dealing with these controversial matters and having expressed my regret that we are not getting something better, may I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to deal with two or three little points which affect my own constituents. I want to ask whether she can give me any information as to what the position will be under Clause 19—voluntary contributors being able to come back into insurance—of the man who is the skipper of a steam trawler. The rest of the crew are held to be insurable persons, but, under a decision given in the Courts, it is held that the skipper of a steam trawler is not a workman within the meaning of the Act. From what I know of skippers of steam trawlers one can describe them as jolly good workers and they ought not to be kept out of this scheme simply because of a legal decision.
I had hoped that in any amendment of the Act we could get something put in to assist them, and I have made representations to the Ministry repeatedly. The late Government did indeed give us a great concession by including share fishermen in the 1928 Act, and the only class in the fishing industry now left out is the skipper. I am very anxious that they should be included, because I can quote some very hard cases. [Interruption.] I have as much right to put the case of the fishermen of the country as any hon. Member has to put the case of his constituents, and hon. Members opposite who laugh and jeer could not come into my constituency and do so, because they would get it in the neck. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will give me 450 an assurance that, if we can bring forward reasonable Amendments acceptable to her and to the Minister of Health, we shall be given an opportunity of introducing them into the Bill at a later stage. It is not a matter that should be treated with levity. It is a case that ought to have serious consideration. There are cases of men who have been skippers, but who, because they have reached a certain age and cannot carry on with that occupation, have taken up ordinary work on the dockside. Many of those men, after paying contributions for three or four years as dock workers, have not been able to draw pensions because of the requirement under the old Act that they should be insured for five years. Since the Ministry are taking power to decide in the case of widows what are insurable occupations under the Acts without any reference to any court, I submit that these cases ought to receive similar consideration.
I welcome the provisions dealing with people who go to the Colonies and Dominions, and I suggest that we should ask for some reciprocity from the Colonies and Dominions. I know of widows who have returned from overseas and who have eventually had to be kept by relatives or assisted from public funds. They have been entitled to widows' pensions but have forfeited them when they left the Colony or Dominion. As we are introducing this excellent feature into the Bill, it would be wise for us to suggest that some similar system should be put into operation in the Dominions and Colonies which have pension schemes.
The case of the small trader has been referred to from all sides of the House. I can speak with particular knowledge of this subject, because I have been connected for years with the National Chamber of Trade, an organisation which consists of retail traders throughout the land. They are very keenly desirous that something should be done for the small trader. Many of these small shopkeepers do not earn more than the average skilled artisan and would welcome the opportunity of paying the whole contribution like other voluntary contributors. Something ought to be done on their behalf. Many of them are men who have been workmen, but who, because of slack-ness in their own trade, and rather than 451 be idle, have started some small business. Let me take a case which I brought to the notice of the late Minister of Health and about which nothing could be done under the existing Acts or under this Bill as it stands. [Interruption.] Certain observations keep coming from the other side of the Chamber, but I am not going to be side-tracked into answering them unless they are really sound and sensible. This was the case of a workman whom I knew very well. He fell out of work. He said, "I am not going to be idle. I want to do something." Having a little knowledge of barbering, he opened the front room of his house as a barber's shop. He never made more than 25s. a week at that occupation. He was the sort of man who has built up this country, the man with an independent spirit who rather than draw the dole or poor relief, would sooner work for what he can get. That man died and his widow claimed the pension, but because of the Regulations under the 1925 Act—and I am not going to spare that Act—she could not receive it. Neither will she receive it when this Bill is passed, unless we can get the Minister to put in an Amendment to deal with these cases. The various cases of glaring anomalies which have been mentioned that will exist even when this Bill is passed ought to induce the Government to accept these and other reasonable Amendments. Some of them would not entail great pressure upon the Treasury and would remove irritating anomalies of which we all hear in our constituencies.
I would like to see something done as regards the 1911 Act and its administration. I have served for many years on a local pensions committee. The cases that are dealt with under the 1911 Act have to go before the local pensions committee to be decided. Time and again the committee of which I am a member has decided in favour of granting a pension to certain people. The chief argument brought by the inspector is the question of the means disqualification. Time and time again that local committee has decided in favour of a pension, and there has been an appeal. It has had to be dealt with by an old person who probably has never filled up an official form before in his life, and he experiences great diffi- 452 culty unless he finds a beneficent Member of Parliament to do it for him. In many cases the claim is turned down for technical reasons. Let me give an example. A man carried on a small business of boot repairing, and proved to the committee that he was not earning 10s. a week. He was able to do a little bit of work and potter along, and he employed a boy. [Interruption.] I said "earning," not gross income; surely you understand what I mean. He showed the committee his net income. I do not say he paid the boy out of the 10s. What I wanted to point out was that the committee granted him a pension of 10s. a week. The local officer appealed, and this pension was reduced by the Ministry. This Was only recently, and the pension was reduced to 4s. 6d. Then, because he sacked his boy and waited a week before engaging another, they took off the 4s. 6d. for a week. This is the sort of treatment you get from the official mind, and I want to see more power given to local committees. I hope-the Minister will give it. What is the use of a Member like myself or other Members going about the country to deal with these pension cases; what is the use of members of these committees wasting their time dealing with these cases when you get these appeals on trivial grounds?
The 1925 Act, despite all that has been said about it, was a splendid step forward; and I regard the contributory side of it as the soundest policy of all. You will find, if you question him, that the average working man would rather have something for which he has helped to pay than something for nothing. That is the real spirit of a British workman to-day. For this reason, I say you must keep, as far as possible, the contributory side. I agree that by granting pensions to pre-Act widows, even with dependent children, you opened a door which you could not close and you created this position. You set up a feeling of discontent in the minds of widows who could not receive a pension, and also among a certain class who could not possibly receive a pension. You will have the same difficulty in this amending Bill, in the case of women whose children attain the age of 16 long before the widow is 55. It was the giving and then the taking away that made a grievance. You will have the same grievance under this Bill; and it should 453 be reconsidered, and amendments put into the Bill on all these points of substance which are brought forward.
§ Mr. CARTER
This is my first speech, so I ask for the customary indulgence given by the House to a new Member. I shall not detain the House long, be-cause almost every question in the Bill has been discussed time and time again. But I want to congratuate the Minister upon bringing in the Bill, because I, as a new Member but as an old politician, speaking from platforms to the people, have stressed this question one of the most important. I put this case before the people and I said that the Labour party was prepared to go further with regard to pensions for widows, orphans, and old people. The people accepted what I said; and, because they took note of what I said, they removed the Conservative from that district and I am the first Labour representative from it. It is because of these promises about pensions that I now wish to congratulate the Minister upon bringing in this Bill; although it does not go so far as I would desire it to go, and it does not go so far as may be reached eventually for those who live long enough.
The last speaker said that this was an unreal Debate; unreal from every side without exception of party. I would remind him that, if it is an unreal debate here, it will be a very real thing for nearly 500,000 people who will receive the pension. A great many people are waiting for this Measure, and I hope that it will pass through Parliament as quickly as possible, so that they may receive its benefit as early as possible. It may cost money; it is said that it will cost £8,000,000 a year, and that this amount will increase to £51,000,000 in 1946. It may go on and increase from time to time, but I claim that the nation is wealthy enough to bear the burden of the expense.
With regard to the Minister's intention of extending the period for elderly contributors who have failed to satisfy the test of the last three years' contributions, I very much welcome the proposal, for the reason that it will reduce the power of the medical profession with regard to this particular class of person. We find that it practically rests with the medical profession whether or not an 454 insured person in certain conditions gets what is called a redeemed stamp. What has called my attention to this question is the case of a man who was entitled practically to the benefit, with the exception of this redeemed stamp. The doctor refused to give him the certificate entitling him to the old age pension. He had been insured for 13 years. The last three years before he was 65, he had been ill, in and out of work, and so forth, and we find that the doctor did not agree with the disease of this man. He had contracted a disease while he had been a leather cutter during the War, and the disease was such that the doctor was not able to understand it. He called it a certain disease, and we find that the man was persistent in looking after himself. He did not agree with the findings and the treatment of the doctor, and the doctor did not agree with the man.
Therefore, for three years at least, differences arose between the patient and the doctor, and the man went to other doctors. He went to the herbalist, to the chemist, to anyone who could help him, because he was dissatisfied with the treatment meted out to him by the doctor. He left the doctor's panel and went to another doctor, and then, when he sent a card to the first doctor, he wrote on the card and marked it "Incipient lunacy." When the Minister of Health wrote again asking for his opinion with regard to whether he could give the man a certificate for the three years during which he had been under his care, he said the man was not incapacitated, that he was off duty, but that he might have worked. He sent him to the medical board, who sent him back to remain on the panel indefinitely. The doctor was able to stop the man getting his pension, and he lost not only his pension but his sick pay of 9s. a week. Therefore, I say that the taking away of this power from the doctor by the Minister is a matter for congratulation.
We know that medical men are the Alpha and the Omega in practically all cases. I am not the only one to call attention to the inattention of the medical profession to their panel patients, because Dr. Edwin Smith, Coroner for the East end of London, has publicly been calling attention to these cases where they have had to come before him as Coroner, and I from personal experience, sitting in the same court and assisting to find out the 455 cause of death, found in one case alone that because the doctors had not attended to the case as they should have done, both were removed from the panel. On that score, therefore, I am pleased that the Minister has dealt with this question in the Bill.
There is another case to which I wish to draw attention, and that is with regard to widows who are unable to get pensions under the present scheme. Cases have been brought to my notice just lately of widows, whose husbands have just passed away, making application for a pension and finding that the insurance card has not been sufficiently stamped by the employer. The Ministry of Health has tried to find a particular card, but the employer has been unable to produce it, or the Ministry has been unable to find the employer. I have two cases of widows with children, who are unable to obtain a pension because the employer has either sold the business or gone into bankruptcy. I hope the Minister will pay special attention to these cases, so that the employers shall not escape by not stamping the cards, thus making the widow suffer. My care is not for the medical profession or for the employer, but for those who have to suffer because of neglect which is either deliberate or otherwise. It is to the cases of the old, the widow, and the orphan that I draw the attention of the Minister of Health, and I hope he will take note of them and see that they are remedied in the future.
§ Sir KINGSLEY WOOD
I am sure the House will desire me to speak in its name at any rate on this one occasion and to thank the hon. Member for South West St. Pancras (Mr. Carter) for the contribution he has just made to our Debate. I was particularly struck with the illuminating account which he gave of his election experiences, and I can well believe, after hearing his speech to-night, that his constituents, when they heard all that he had to say as to what was the policy of the Labour party at the last election on the Widows' Pension Bill, believed everything he said. I only hope that when he is able to return again to the contest in the particular division which he now represents he will still merit and retain that confidence.
I venture to speak for a few minutes on this particular matter of widows' pen- 456 sions because, as many Members of this House know, I have been, in the office that I occupied in the last Government, particularly associated with the administration of this scheme; and I suppose, as I dare say my successor has found out, that there is no subject at the Ministry of Health which has called forth so much interest, which has meant so many queries and so much correspondence, and which has cast so many duties upon the Minister as this particular subject of widows' pensions. It has interested the great mass of what we call the working people of this country, and when we extended widows' pensions upon a contributory basis, we raised very many questions of difficulty and many matters which had to be dealt with administratively. I agree very largely with an article, to which I shall refer in a minute, written by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer a few days before the General Election, in which he said that at the Election there was probably no more interesting subject and no matter which called for so many questions as the Widows' Pensions Act and its possible extension.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain), said to-night, the Conservative Government, with one exception—which I venture to suggest is amply justified—deliberately adopted a contributory pensions scheme. That was the subject of many days of Debate in this House and I would like Members who may have to deal with this matter on the Committee stage later on, to read the reports of those many days of debate, because almost every matter which has been discussed to-night, and every matter which was referred to at the General Election, was the subject of discussion on the original Bill. Many Amendments were proposed by the Labour Opposition for the extension of the Bill to various classes of people, and for the deletion of the means limit, and almost every conceivable way in which the original Bill could be extended was also discussed. It was the duty of my right hon. Friend and myself to state the reasons why various extensions of the Bill, and variations of the contributory principle could not be made. If I had to give the explanation why a very large number of Amendments were rejected and why various classes, which many people and many Members would have been glad to 457 see included were excluded, I would say that the short answer that we always had to give was one of finance. We gave in almost every particular the cost of what a particular extension or a particular variation of the scheme would mean. We had to adopt the same attitude at the General Election. Anyone who wants to see what was the position of the Conservative party with regard to the extension of this scheme and many of the matters mentioned here to-night, should read the correspondence of the three political leaders with the National Conference of Old Age Pensions Societies. My right hon. Friend the late Prime Minister addressed a reply to very many questions which were put to him, and which everyone would have desired to answer in the affirmative. He had to reply, for instance, to a question about doing away with what is called the means limit, and he had to point what the cost would be and why he was unable to give a pledge to have it carried out. That was his position at the General Election; and it was my position that, while I desired to see a good many changes made in this scheme, I was unable to give a pledge in that particular connection having regard, particularly, to the claims of other social purposes and I had to stand the racket of that reply.
My first criticism of this Measure, as the Minister of Health knows full well, is that it is a gross betrayal of the pledges which were given by responsible Labour leaders at the last Election. I have said elsewhere, and I want to say it in the presence of hon. Members who sit opposite, that that betrayal of pledges was all the more reprehensible because the leaders knew full well exactly what the cost of the proposals would be, and how it was impossible for them to be carried out. I say to hon. Gentlemen opposite, who for the most part desire to see fair play, that that was just the position of the two parties at the Election. What was the position of the people concerned in this matter? I will tell the House my own experience perfectly frankly about the position of widows' pensions in relation to the General Election. I give this to hon. Gentlemen opposite and they will be able to later find out for themselves whether they think it is a right assumption or not.
458 During the General Election, I could hardly find a widow who had received a pension, but I found scores of women who were smarting under the grievance that they had been excluded from the scheme. I was in the position to say to them by way of reply that this was a contributory scheme, and that with the exception of the fatherless children, the people who were receiving the pension were the people who had made contributions towards it.
I intend to tell the House why I say that this Bill is a betrayal of all those pledges that were given. The pledge about giving every widow a pension was not the statement of an isolated individual on the Front Bench opposite. It was given again and again, especially as the date of the Election approached, by almost every responsible Gentleman who sits on the Front Bench to-night. Take, for instance, the Home Secretary. He is regarded, I think, as a prudent man. Following up the statement which was made by the Foreign Secretary and subsequently by others, he said that every widow was to receive a pension. My right hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) read a quotation from the speech of the Foreign Secretary, but he did not give it as completely as he might have done. I have no doubt that it occurred to a great many people who heard these promises that what happened many years ago, when the present Chancellor of the Exchequer had to say that the state of the country did not permit at that moment of his doing away with the means limit, might happen again. I have no doubt that when these promises were made, that every widow in the land was to have a pension, there were a number of people who were suspicious as to whether the finances of the country would permit of that, and the Foreign Secretary, I suppose in order to dispel that suspicion, actually made this statement:The Labour party said that if they were sent back to power they would guarantee every widow in the land a pension";and then he went on to say how it was going to be done. There was no question of postponing it; he undoubtedly desired to give the impression that the pensions would be given at once, because he said this: 459After paying the present pensions, there were over £30,000,000 surplus in the Fund. The Labour party would increase the pension of 10s. to £1 or more.In other words—and this was said just a few days before the general election—not only did he say that they would do this, but he pointed to a surplus which, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would now agree with me to-night, was no surplus at all, and said that there was actually a surplus of 30 millions by which that could be done. Therefore my first observation—and I shall say it wherever I go—is that this is a betrayal of those promises. I was amazed to-night when the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health said that he had to thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his generosity in this connection. I hold in my hand an article written by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, no doubt a carefully written article, and issued in a paper circulated very widely amongst the workers of this country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Name?"] It was a Sunday paper, and was issued two days before the General Election. The right hon. Gentleman to-night referred to a pledge—a carefully written pledge—which was made in a Labour party manifesto; but I have found from a careful examination of the pledges which were made by Ministers during the General Election that as the General Election approached their promises got more wild, and more blind; and actually the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the man on whom would fall the responsibility for finding the money for this scheme, wrote this, apparently as a last effort to get the votes which undoubtedly the Labour party did obtain in this particular connection.
The article is entitled, "What the millions of electors are thinking," and in the article the right hon. Gentleman referred to the fact which I ventured to point out a little while ago, that this was, he found, probably the most important subject at the General Election. He said that if he himself did not speak upon widows' pensions, he found there was always someone ready and willing to ask him to deal with that matter. After referring to the anomalies and injustices of the present Act he actually said this; but before I read the exact phrase, I point out that there was no mention in 460 his promise of any survey by a Cabinet Committee, there was no question in this promise of the fulfilment of the promise by instalments, but a very definite phrase was used in this undertaking which I think the House will agree when they hear it would give people the definite impression that the fulfilment of the promise would be immediately undertaken by the Government. He said this:The Labour party was pledged to remove at once the hardships and injustices of the Widows' and Orphans' Pensions Act"—
§ Sir K. WOOD
Hon. Members cheer too soon. He went on to say this, and this is the paragraph to which I call attention:and, as soon as a scheme can be prepared, to introduce a universal Old Age Pensions Bill which would abolish the means restrictions and give more generous pensions.In other words the Chancellor of the Exchequer told the electors of this country two days before the General Election, when there was no opportunity of replying—what could anybody say in reply?—that as soon as a Bill could be prepared it would be introduced. Heaven knows four months is long enough; a Bill could easily be prepared in a much shorter time than that. He gave this definite undertaking. As a matter of fact, I suppose one can safely say that at any rate not during the next 10 years, as far as one can see—and that, I think, is putting it at a conservative estimate—would a Chancellor of the Exchequer be able to introduce a Bill which would do the two things which the present Chancellor of the Exchequer promised to do as soon as a Bill could be prepared. You have only to look at what the cost would be of doing both those two things—a cost running into many millions—to know how reckless, and I venture to say how disgraceful, a promise of that kind is.
I also say, and this is my second complaint against the major proposals in this Bill, that the Bill is a gross injustice. Tomorrow we shall pass the Financial Resolution. I hope hon. Members appreciate what that means, because when that Resolution is passed it will be of no use for them to make pathetic speeches about intending to do all sorts of things for the people who 461 are excluded. Their last opportunity will then have gone. Let nobody be under any misunderstanding as to that. Under this Financial Resolution there will be available the very large sum of £80,000,000 during the next 16 years, and it is going to be allocated not upon a contributory basis but it is going to be given, if you like so to term it, as a free gift. The hon. Gentleman who spoke on behalf of the Liberal party said, "Well, let those people have it, and we can move Amendments bringing in other people." When this Financial Resolution is carried there will be no opportunity of bringing in other people.
I would remind the House of one or two cases representative of large classes. These are not my suggestions; they were referred to in previous pension Debates. They direct attention to this very issue, that is, whether, if you have a large sum of money, you are justified in handing it over to a selected portion of the community, or whether, if you abandon the contributory principle, you ought not, as I think, to consider the needs of various sections of the people and apportion the money fairly between them. You can either have a contributory scheme or you can give the money to people in need, but if you are to give a large sum of money in this way you ought to apportion it fairly among all people, and not a section, who need pensions of this character. It is no good saying after this is all over, "I am very glad these people have got the pension and I am going to see that in the future, probably when the Cabinet Committee has done its work that other people get it." They will not be satisfied. As has been said by a number of speakers, the result of this free gift, welcome as it may be to a section of the people, many of whom, no doubt, are deserving, is that you will be creating a very great sense of grievance and in-justice among other large sections of the community.
I noticed that only four or five days ago the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health received a deputation from a number of women who presented a memorial asking that women of 50 should receive this gift. What is the answer to be made to that? You cannot say it is necessary to have a Cabinet Committee to overhaul a pensions scheme in order to decide whether women of 50, 462 in contradistinction to women of 55, should receive this gift. If I had been a woman of 50 on this deputation, I should have said to the Parliamentary Secretary: "I am just as much entitled to have some share in this £80,000,000 as some of the women of 55," because under this very strange, and as I suggest muddle-headed proposal, a very large number of women of 55—we can argue as to the number—may not need a pension at all, and yet at the same time women one, two, three, four or five years younger, and probably in very difficult circumstances are prevented from receiving any portion of this sum.
My last illustration is that during the Debates on the previous Bill, the Post-master-General told us what he thought was the most tragic figure in public life to-day, and he said it was to be found in the position of the single woman who had to fight, probably alone, to support other people. The Postmaster-General also said that young people had to make a certain number of contributions and many were breaking down in health and losing their contributions. Those people would get no pension at all. That is by no means an exceptional case, and yet not a single one of those women is entitled to any share of the £80,000,000 to be provided under this Bill. I say that as regards the major portion of this Measure its proposals are unjust to large sections of the community. This Measure has been introduced with the intention of meeting the election pledges of hon. Members opposite so far as finance permits, but my point is that those pledges cannot be redeemed, and on that account this Measure stands condemned as a great injustice to a large section of the community.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the MINISTRY of HEALTH (Miss Lawrence)
This Measure has been criticised from various points of view by hon. Gentlemen opposite, but there is hardly a speaker who has taken part in this Debate who has not urged that the Government should go further in the matter of pensions. I hope that when the complete scheme which is put forward by the Government comes to be considered, those hon. Members will recollect what they have said in their speeches. A great many small points have been raised, but I trust that I shall be allowed to leave a great 463 many of them over to be considered during the Committee stage. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Edgbaston (Mr. Chamberlain) asked for some explanation as to why a distinction had been made in certain parts of the Bill by printing them in italics, and the question has been asked whether it will be in order to move Amendments to those parts of the Bill. I understand that the italics will not interfere with the freedom of hon. Members bringing forward Amendments, but of course the decision in regard to those Amendments will rest with the Chairman of Committees.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
I think we ought to have some further information on this point. It will be very hard if hon. Members find any difficulty in dealing with those parts which have been printed in italics.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I think that those are points which come within the discretion of the officers of the House.
Do we understand that the Parliamentary Secretary cannot account for the difference between those passages which are printed in italics and those which are not?
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that he knows as well as I do that the matter of italicising Bills is not a matter for the Minister, but is a matter for the authorities of the House.
I was merely asking for information. What I wanted to get the right hon. Gentleman or the Parliamentary Secretary to do was to express their opinion as to whether there was really any distinction between the two parts to which I drew attention.
§ Mr. STANLEY BALDWIN
If the right hon. Gentleman will forgive me, we have been giving every consideration to the inexperience of Ministers on this question, but the Minister should be able to explain to the House why certain things are in the Bill.
§ Mr. GREENWOOD
It is not the business of my Department to italicise Bills, and I can take no responsibility for it; 464 nor is it my business to answer questions which ought to be addressed to Mr. Speaker.
§ Mr. BALDWIN
The right hon. Gentleman's Leader is not here, but he will forgive me for saying that he is in error. It is the duty of the Minister to explain to the House.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
The time is very short, and I am afraid I must cut short this conversation about the italics and come to the main subject of the Debate. It has been frequently said that this Bill does not carry out all the pledges of His Majesty's Government and of individual Members with regard to the question of insurance. No, it most certainly does not, and nobody in the world has a right to expect that this Bill would carry out all those pledges. I have here in my hand the Manifesto of the party, in which there are clearly set out two stages. It says:The grave injustices of the existing Widows', Orphans', and Old Age Pensions Acts would be immediately remedied, and, as soon as the urgent legislation to deal with unemployment had been carried through, a comprehensive co-ordination and extension of all the pensions schemes would be undertaken, so as to give the opportunity to many classes of persons now ex-eluded to come in.We have here in black and white the inclusion of the excluded classes, and the remedying of the existing injustices of the widows' and orphans' pensions scheme. There is the amendment of the existing Act, a comprehensive survey is promised, and further legislation in a separate stage is also put forward in the Manifesto. If I turn to the question of schemes relating to unemployment, I see that the very first place is given to housing and slum clearance as a means, among others, of relieving unemployment. That is where we start. I do not for a moment complain that hon. Members behind me and hon. Members below the Gangway opposite have been pressing cases upon our attention. It is perfectly true that the difficulty of dealing with a subject by instalments is that you have to make a selection among grievances, and if you do it in two instalments, you may take one class of grievance, and you have to leave over to the second instalment grievances 465 quite as great and quite as dangerous. It is perfectly true that the case of the widow who is not the widow of an insured man is a very hard one indeed, it is perfectly true that the case of the spinster is a very hard one, but some of those who are loudest in their pity now would not vote for those people whose cases are hard.
I do not wonder that Members who receive the letters that some of us do feel that these grievances must be remedied first of all. We know what it is to open our post bag and have a letter from a widow who was not married to an insured man, or from a spinster. We know how hard those letters are to receive. But we receive other letters quite as hard. We all receive letters from the man who cannot get a house, from the family who cannot get a house, from people who write to us because we are Members of Parliament begging us to get them a house. We have to say, "Wait a little." We receive letters perhaps even worse than that from unemployed people, and from the distress committees. They live among grievances and see them day by day. We cannot remedy all the grievances in four months. It needs more consideration, and preparation. But supposing we had an Insurance Bill ready. Would hon. Members desire it to take precedence of the long list of Measures announced by the Leader of the House? The Housing Bill is to come after Christmas, with the Unemployment Insurance Bill, the Bill dealing with mines, and the long list of Bills which we shall have to undertake in order to remedy, one after another, the grievances of people suffering from injustice.
I know and I sympathise with the feeling of hon. Members behind me who feel that these grievances are intolerable, who feel that there are these hundreds of thousands of people looking to the Labour party and trusting the Labour party—and their trust will not be disappointed. Step by step the party will work through the manifesto. [Interuption.] What are those laughs and jeers about? Do hon. Members suppose we can put this programme into force before Christmas? Does any intelligent person suppose it? With a fair share of luck and industry—[Interruption.] There are accidents which will upset the best organised programmes. With in- 466 dustry and an average share of luck, here is what we are going to do in four years. We are working through the programme step by step, first the Amendments to the existing Widows' and Old Age Pensions Act, then other Measures. As the Minister has stated to the House, the survey will deal with the extension of pensions to other persons, with the financial considerations necessary to in-crease the pensions, with the extension of the service and with the general co-ordination and extension of the National Health Insurance Acts.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
When these Bills are brought forward one by one we shall have those hysterics opposite, because it will be said that they do not fulfil all our promises, and when we come to the end of the Bills and the promises have been fulfilled we shall have the hysterics continuing because of the enormous cost. This is an instalment of the Widows' and Old Age Pensions. This is a particularly good Measure as an Amendment. I will show to the House what a good Amendment this really is. The original Bill voted £4,000,000 a year till 1936. We vote £9,000,000 the first year, £10,000,000 the next year, £11,000,000 the next year and £12,000,000 the next year, and steadily up to £21,000,000. The total in the first decennial period will be £47,000,000. This is not a bad Amendment to begin with. We begin by doubling the cost of the original Act—£9,000,000 instead of £4,000,000—then £10,000,000 instead of £4,000,000, and then £11,000,000 instead of £4,000,000. We are rising by a £1,000,000 a year, as against the steady level of £4,000,000. Thus it will be seen that this is an Amendment of the Act which is bigger from the point of view of money than the original Act.
This is not a bad Amendment as far as London is concerned. Up to the present 133,000 pre-Act widows have had 467 their claims for pensions awarded, and 229,400 odd post-Act widows have had their pensions awarded, making in all 362,000 odd pensions awarded. In a little over a year we shall have added 295,000 widows to the 300,000, and we shall bring the additional number up to 500,000 before we have done. If Members opposite had said that this is an Amendment which is larger than the original Measure and therefore out of order, there would have been some colourable pretext for opposing it. We shall be spending a great deal more money, over £47,000,000 more. We are more than doubling the number of persons who will benefit, yet the party responsible for the original Act, instead of holding up their hands in wonder at seeing an amending Bill doubling the number of persons, and more than doubling the money benefit given under the original Act, have nothing to say but to declare how small it is, compared, not with their achievement or their promises, but compared with the complete programme of insurance, of which this is only an instalment.
Duchess of ATHOLL
When the hon. Member says that this amending Bill is doubling the number of persons who benefited under the original Act, I think she has forgotten the orphans.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I gave the number of pensions awarded to widows, namely, 133,000 pre-Act widows, 229,000 post-Act widows, making 362,000 pensions awarded up to October. The additional pensions are granted as widows' pensions, and registered as such, and they are called widows' pensions in the Act.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I will withdraw the word "persons" and use the word "widows." We are doubling the number of widows who will benefit, and we are spending an average of £8,000,000 a year, instead of an average of £4,000,000 a year. We are doubling the money and very nearly doubling the number of widows who will benefit. It is not, therefore, the meagre or niggardly amendment of the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Pensions Act which hon. Members opposite would have us believe. If 468 I am challenged, I will give more figures. I have dealt only with widows, and not with other classes. There are 20,000 persons now deprived of pensions who will have pensions under this amending Act, in addition to the widows of whom I have spoken. There will be 24,000 wives aged 65 to 70 who will receive pensions. Widows with children, pre-Act widows, will benefit in 18,000 cases. The grant of the full allowance to children under the Workmen's Compensation Act will affect 10,000 cases. The additional number of pensions granted at the outset will be 372,500, and our estimates show a very considerable additional number of widows after that—another 200,000 widows. This is an amending Bill, and yet the child in the first year will be much greater than its parent. It will bring hope and happiness and a fair amount of comfort into a great number of homes. Hon. Members opposite say that the sums of money involved are very large. Yes, they are, and I am glad that this Bill is no niggardly contribution to social progress. The cost is large.
§ Miss LAWRENCE
There is a genuine voice, at last, from the other side. Cannot this country, where the evidences of comfort and luxury are so numerous, well afford 10s. a week for widows?
§ Miss LAWRENCE
I would advise hon. Members opposite not to try and ride two horses in the same speech; not to say, on the one hand that we are not spending enough, and, on the other, that the country cannot bear the burden. There have been Parliamentary performers in the past, there may be one or two now, who really can ride two horses at once, and it may be possible to ride one horse until he is tired, and then ride another, but to ride two horses at the same time, to have two contradictory arguments in the same speech, is not a sensible thing to do. To say in the same speech that the country cannot afford the expenditure and that you ought to spend a great deal more is not a sensible or reasonable thing to do. I have tried to explain until the House is really weary that this is but the first instalment of 469 an amendment to the Widows', Orphans' and Old Age Pensions Act. It is not an amendment of the general Insurance Act. It is not a Bill drawing in any additional classes, and spinsters will have to wait until the amendment of the Insurance Act is undertaken. If the House has not grasped that simple argument, I must leave hon. Members to read it in the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow.
I read the speeches of the right hon. Member for Edgbaston in Birmingham, and I read the speeches of his colleagues at Birmingham, and I said to myself, this is strong language, full of righteous indignation. What a fierce fight we shall have in the House over this. The only logical conclusion I could draw was that we should see on the Order Paper a reasoned Amendment for rejection, and I watched day by day for that reasoned Amendment for the rejection of this Bill. Such was the fire with which the attack opened this evening that I have been expecting to see a manuscript Amendment passed across the Table of the House. I have not seen it, and gradually it dawned upon me that no reasoned Amendment for rejection was to be moved, that none of the party opposite were going into the Lobby to vote against it; not one. Then what is all this about? What is the use of all these fiery speeches which are not followed up by votes? Do hon. Members opposite think the country will believe them when they make speeches like this and dare not carry them into the Division Lobby? Not a man, not a woman, on the benches opposite is going into the Lobby against this Bill, and there is no sense and no meaning in their speeches. They have been made simply for the sake of spending an evening. It is like the speech of the man in the play who, when he was thanked for giving good advice, said, "Not at all, I just like to hear myself talk." I do not think there is anything more contemptible in the world than a Member who speaks very bravely, saying that he knows that the Bill is going to damage the country and that it will ruin democracy, as one hon. Member said, and then, having told us all the evils the Bill will produce, goes home without registering his vote. The country will laugh at such speeches.
When I came into this House I felt that I was in a difficult position and I thought that all the practised speakers, 470 the leaders of the Opposition, would be thundering against me, making their points. When I saw it was a sham fight I felt perfectly easy in my mind. I am not a practised speaker trying to defend the Bill against the assaults of the Opposition, I am taking part in a sham fight. We are just spending an afternoon, just giving Members an opportunity to make speeches. There is no seriousness in a parliamentary debate which does not end in a Division. If Members do not think their own arguments worth voting for, what do they think the House and the country will think of them? We are going to get our Second Reading and our Financial Resolution without a Division, because Members opposite know that the country is serious and wants the Bill and that any Members who vote against it do so at the peril of their own political extinction. I never saw a Debate that was of better augury for the Government. Hon. Members opposite dare not vote against the Second Reading or the Financial Resolution. With all this brave talk we have got the Second Reading, and we shall get the Financial Resolution and that is all the Government are asking.
§ Mr. E. BROWN
What the hon. Lady calls a sham fight the Prime Minister called a Council of State. I suppose they mean the same thing. Like the hon. Lady I have also been watching the Order Paper every day for a Motion for the rejection, not from this side of the House but from the benches opposite. Let me remind the House what the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland said in this House:If there is one thing more than another that is certain about the opinions of the Labour party, it is that any proposal to introduce a contributory scheme of widows' pensions would have been thrown out holus bolus, without apology, and at once, by the Members of the Labour party, whosoever had the temerity to introduce it."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th May, 1925; col. 309, Vol. 184.]I think I was entitled to look for the name of the right hon. Member for Stirling and Clackmannan (Mr. Johnston) on the Order Paper against a motion of rejection. The Noble Lady, the Member for Sutton (Viscountess Astor) is a prophetess, and I will recall to the House what she said and what a Minister in the present Government said 471 by way of interruption. The hon. Member for Sutton said: "I believe if the right hon. Gentleman"— meaning the present Chancellor of the Exchequer— "was in power to-morrow, and if he brought in an insurance scheme, it would be contributory."
I am quoting from the OFFICIAL REPORT— "MR. DALTON: It would be chucked out to-morrow."
§ Mr. KINLEY
On a point of Order. I want to draw the attention of the House to the fact that there is a lady on the opposite side who is very unwell.
§ Mr. BROWN
I would like to draw the attention of the House to the fact that there were a good many lady members of the Labour party at the women's conference at Buxton, who heard the Prime Minister's promise for widows in need of a pension, who will feel unwell to-morrow when they read the news. Let me complete the quotation of the Noble Lady the hon. Member for the Sutton Division:I do not care what you political theorists think of the matter. Theories are very beautiful until we try to put them into practice, but they are quite different then. I am not dealing with theories but with people who have to administer these matters. I am dealing with the Front Bench, not back-benchers.472 The Labour party is pledged in the House and out of the House absolutely to a non-contributory system of pension, and the sham fight has taken place behind locked doors of this House. I welcome the Bill for two reasons; first, because of what it does by way of giving pensions to meet hard cases; and, second, because it puts the pledges of Members opposite in their true perspective.
§ Question, "That the Bill be now read a Second time," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the Whole House, for Thursday next, 7th November.—[Mr. Greenwood.]