HC Deb 16 February 1938 vol 331 cc1986-2027

Postponed Proceeding resumed on Question: That, in view of the widespread feeling that unmarried women have legitimate grounds for complaint against their treatment under the National Health Insurance and Contributory Pensions Acts, this House is of opinion that a committee should be appointed to enquire into the justice and practicability of acceding to the claims made by organised spinsters for a pension of 10s. per week at 55 years of age and the inclusion in a contributory pensions scheme of all those who do not come under the Acts in question.

8.27 p.m.

Mr. Leach

I hope the House will permit me to start afresh after the interruption for Private Business to which I was subjected. I have no doubt that hon. Members have had their correspondence very largely increased since my Motion appeared on the Order Paper, and that, I think, is clear evidence of the enormous public interest that is being taken in this subject. The aims of the organised spinsters of this country may be briefly stated under two heads—first, to secure that all those unmarried women who are in National Health Insurance should be pensioned at 55 instead of at the present legal age of 65, and, secondly, to secure for those spinsters who for any reason are not in National Health Insurance a contributory pension scheme. I want it to be clearly understood that no spinster in the country seeks to take away a single pension from any present recipient. What they are seeking is to be placed on an equality with the widows who are now in receipt of pensions.

Perhaps it is not so generally understood as it might be how far this inequality extends. In round figures, so far as I have been able to ascertain, there are some 400,000 health insurance widows at present in receipt of pensions. Some achieved them in their early twenties; some had to wait till they were nearer the 65 of the married woman. The average age, however, at which those pensions have been granted is round about 55. In addition, there are the pre-Act widows, created by the Act of 1929. In many cases these widows never paid a penny of contribution to the pensions that they receive, and as far as I can learn these widows number round about 300,000; they also receive the pension at 55. There you have 700,000 or so widows who may be said to be in receipt of pensions at the age of 55. I want most emphatically to repeat that no spinster seeks to deprive a single one of those widows of the pension which she now receives. This 10s. pension is not adequate to keep that widow, and her need, therefore, to work exists. Most of them are therefore competitors with the unpensioned spinsters in the labour market, and they can if they care undercut them for a job.

It can certainly be said that, broadly speaking, though both are poor, the widow is slightly better off than the spinster. The younger widow, with children of school age, reseives an allowance for those children of 5s. per week for the first school child and 3s. a week for each younger child. The older widow, whose family is grown up, may be looked after by her sons and daughters. These widows can, therefore, compete for jobs in an overstocked labour market on better terms than can the spinsters. As far as I can ascertain, some 175,000 spinsters between the ages of 55 and 65 are in insured occupations, and of that total only 80,000 ultimately qualify for pensions at 65. What is it that happens, therefore, to the other 95,000? Some of them die, in the proud consciousness that they have contributed to the reduction of national taxation and got nothing from the State in return. They are not, of course, listed in the public rolls of honour as having saved the taxation of the nation. Most of the others, however, lose their pension rights by poverty and unemployment.

The Ministry of Labour Gazette published about a fortnight ago draws attention to the fact that of the women applicants for unemployment relief, only a very small proportion are married, the majority being elderly spinsters; and a Lancashire return is quoted to show that between the ages of 55 and 59, while 12 per cent. of men are unemployed, there are 30 per cent. of women unemployed. An unmarried woman of 55 seeking a job stands about the smallest chance of any competitor in the great industrial army, so that scores of thousands of unmarried women between 55 and 65 go mider, unsaved by the State, to which they have paid their money, some of them for a quarter of a century. They have lost their insurance rights, and they have had no husband to pay their contributions for them.

No one will dispute that the laws of Nature are directed more harshly against the woman than against the man. There comes a time when her physique and general health are subjected to a tormenting trial by Nature, which often results in a complete breakdown of health. In the teaching profession provision is made for this special risk of women, but in ordinary industry no such provision is made. The matter is ignored and the victim is left to go under for anything that pensions may have to say on the subject. The fact that the 175,000 spinsters who are in insurance at 55 become 80,000 at 65 throws an unhappy light upon these casualties. An important factor in this problem was created by the Great War. About 1,000,000 young men perished in that unhappy tragedy, most of them being unmarried. That tragedy made a vast and vital difference in the lives of a large number of young women, who must number something like 750,000. What is left of those women who were defrauded of husbands are now in middle age. It is their problem we are discussing to-night.

They have not been made the subject of any social investigation. Little is known statistically of their economic conditions, or of their income or poverty standards. We know enough about the middle-aged spinster in industrial employment, however, to enable us to draw some conclusions. Generally speaking, she is poor, thrifty, hard-working and very law-abiding. Often she has dependent on her an aged father or mother. I would certainly claim that, as a class, she occupies a premier position as a decent citizen. She ought, therefore, to head the list of those people who have grievances to redress. The law has helped the mother and the father of the dead soldier. The law has helped his children and his widow. Even his unmarried lady-love has been helped, but it never occurred to any of us to help his sweetheart although her whole life may have been tragically altered by his death. Moreover, unlike the married woman when she falls sick, she is in terror of ceasing work and claiming sickness pay for fear of losing her job. The middle-aged spinster's hold on jobs in the industrial market is precarious at best. I will quote from a letter in my possession: I have been insured since the commencement, and during that time have only drawn 10s. £d. sick pay. Frequently I have had to visit my doctor, but in the strain of life have been afraid to stop work even against his wish, in case my job would be given to someone else. The House will realise that that is a typical case. On 14th November, 1929, we had an interesting Debate in this House on spinsters' pensions. It was during the passage of the Bill giving to some 300,000 widows a pension for the first time at 55. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Oxford (Captain Bourne), who now acts as one of the distinguished Deputy-Chairmen of this House, moved an Amendment to include in the Bill spinsters of 55. I am sorry that the right hon. and gallant Gentleman is not present, because I feel sure that he would be my foremost supporter to-night. Supporting that Amendment also was the right hon. Gentleman who is the present Minister of Health, whose absence I deplore even more. He complained that the claims of the spinsters had been omitted from the Bill and spoke of the spinsters as being as deserving as the widows of 55. Another Ministerial supporter was the hon. Member for Norwich (Mr. Shakespeare). He said it would be a great boon to a large number of deserving cases. He was right, and I regret his absence to-night because I hoped to hear him repeat that admirable sentiment. Into the Lobby went 97 Members in support of the Amendment, and they consisted of a perfect galaxy of present ministerial talent. They were led by Lord Baldwin, and following him was the present Colonial Secretary, whose absence I also deplore. My most distinquished supporters to-night are conspicuous by their absence. He was followed by the present Minister of Labour, the Minister of Transport, the Minister of War, the Minister of Agriculture, the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and a number of others who are now under Ministers, whose absence is significant.

The Labour Government of that day resisted the Amendment because they feared to face the added expenditure which would be entailed in an already very expensive Bill. I am sorry to remember that I voted with them. I will not repeat that offence to-night. I offer the excuse, however, that it was a very short and totally inadequate Debate. There was little or no attempt to deal with the merits of the case. No examination into the financial aspects of it was suggested by anybody. The idea of Government actuaries being called in was never remotely referred to. It was a whole-hog Amendment supported by this great galaxy of ministerial talent. It may have been put forward for the purpose of embarrassing a Labour Government insecurely placed in a minority position, but I should hesitate, in view of the influential support given to it, to describe it as a manoeuvre in parliamentary insincerity. Surely the seven Members who later became Cabinet Ministers who supported it knew what they were doing. I cannot for a moment doubt their sincerity, regretful as I am of their absence to-night.

The Amendment asks for an actuarial examination. I regret that I cannot accept the Amendment. These Cabinet Ministers did not want any actuarial examination. They were satisfied that the case was good without that necessity. That was nine years ago, and everything that has happened since confirms the righteousness of this case. I fear the Amendment would just simply shelve the problem. This problem is much more than an actuarial one; it is one concerning justice and the redressing of hardships. The Minister of Health did not seek it in 1929, and I am not seeking it now. He was satisfied that the case was made out, and so am I. But if my Motion is carried to-night an actuarial examination of the problem by the Government actuaries is bound to follow, and I have no objection whatever. What I want to secure is that the findings of the Government actuaries are presented to a committee for examination pro and con. The Amendment provides for no such thing.

In this matter my greatest catch of all is no less a person than the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and again I have to deplore his absence to-night. He is the leader of the Liberal National party. I know that it would be possible for me to exaggerate the importance of that party, although I am bound to admit that its existence affords the last shred of excuse for the word "National" used by the Government. It would not be so easy to exaggerate the importance of its leader. The party led by the Chancellor of the Exchequer has now inscribed upon its banners: Item No. 15, Pensions for Spinsters. So the Chancellor of the Exchequer has no doubt as to its financial practicability, and he is the custodian of the national purse; and he is ably backed in this matter by the Minister of Transport and the Minister for War. If the Chancellor of the Exchequer endorses these proposals, as he does, there should be little difficulty in their early march to the Statute Book.

As to the finance of this question, I will give the figures as rapidly as I can and from the best available sources. At any given moment we choose to take a census there are some 4,000,000 unmarried girls and women of 16 years and upwards paying health insurance contributions. Their contributions and those of the employers together total £4,500,000 per annum paid to the pension fund. The rate of contribution is 5½d., out of the total of 14d., the other 8½d. being for sickness and maternity benefits. The total amount annually paid as pensions to unmarried women is about £2,000,000. Clearly, therefore, on these figures, the spinster is contributing annually £2,500,000 more than she is getting back in pensions. I understand the Minister of Health combats the validity of the argument I have just used, pointing out that of that 4,000,000, starting at the age of 16, unmarried contributors some marry and therefore leave the ranks of spinsters. That is perfectly true, but as married women they cease, in large numbers, to contribute at all, unless they work as married women; and such as have the misfortune to become widows not only cease to contribute but come on to the pensions fund as recipients. So I think it is justifiable to claim that the contribution drawn from unmarried women is actually the figure I give and should be credited to the spinsters. That is my conception of the arithmetic of the matter. In other words, my claim is that the spinster is subsidising the pensions of other recipients.

If an insured man dies, whatever the age of his widow she gets a pension. If a spinster dies before 65, no matter what dependants she may have, nobody belonging to her gets a penny piece. If pensions are granted at 55 to the 175,000 spinsters who will be eligible the cost will then go up from £2,000,000 to £4,500,000. I understand that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, upon whom I rely to-night, has confirmed these figures. The spinsters, it will be seen, would then be getting a reasonably square deal, financially speaking—£4,500,000 paid in and £4,500,000 drawn out. But the Government would have to find £2,500,000 more per year than they are doing at present. Would that involve new taxation? Not necessarily. We have to bear in mind the case of the pre-Act widows of 55 and over, those who are receiving pensions of 10s. under the Act of 1929. The annual cost of that, I believe, is about £9,000,000, but it is a stop-gap provision, and it is a reducing amount each year, and will in time totally disappear, and these disappearing non-contributory widows will be replaced by contributing widows. It does not therefore seem to me that there is need to introduce new taxation at all. The Minister of Health, whose absence I am going once more to deplore, has expressed the opinion that if pensions are granted to spinsters other classes of recipients will have to have similar rights granted to them. That does not in the least degree follow. We have seen, I hope, that the widows already get it at an average age of 55, and they can be ruled out. The case of the married woman, who does not get it till she is 65, affords no ground for reduction in the age. She still has a husband, and she is making no demand whatever for any alteration of the age at which she receives pension, notwithstanding that a far larger number of widows are getting it at 55. There then remain only the uninsured, unpensioned widows. Their numbers are small enough to make little difference to the total cost, and I for one would be very glad to see their claims met when this scheme covering our demands is under consideration.

There is another aspect of the matter to which I think attention should be devoted. When an unmarried insured woman reaches the age of 45 it can be generally assumed that she will neither marry nor bear children, but she has to go on for another 20 years making her weekly contribution both to maternity benefits and to orphans' pensions. I cannot recall in any of our insurance laws or schemes any similar case where it can be said that an insured person has to go on making contributions towards benefits that are absolutely barred to the contributor at any future time. If I am wrong about this, no doubt the Government spokesman will be able to tell me my error.

An inquiry into the amount paid by unmarried women from 45 to 65 for benefits that they can never possibly receive or enjoy would probably produce an interesting and surprising result. I venture to make on my own account an arithmetical calculation of what the amount might be under this heading. It is quite possible that the spinster's own contribution plus that of her employer might easily amount to £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 a year. Let us not forget that the records of approved societies show that spinsters claim less in sickness benefits than do married women. A proper inquiry into this aspect of the subject will assuredly bring to light the harshness of the lot of the average middle-aged spinster and the urgent need for earlier pensions on her behalf.

The final point of my Motion relates to the spinster who is not in insured employment or who is over the income standard. Her numbers may be large but I have no figure relating to her, because she may be the household drudge in a poor family or the untrained stay-at-home plunged into poverty late in life. In any case, the position of such women demands examination, and I am asking that their case shall be examined. A few months ago a petition was presented to this House. It contained the signatures of more than 1,000,000 of His Majesty's subjects in favour of the spinsters' case. Why had those people signed? Because they believed that here was a grievance which Parliament alone could redress. They were not by any means all spinsters. Members of this House of all parties signed that petition because they were convinced, as the Minister of Health was convinced nine years ago, that the spinsters' case was just and sound, and that she had been receiving a raw deal at the hands of the pensions law. They desired that Parliament should examine the case and take action, and they were convinced, in the words of the Minister of Health, that spinsters of 55 are as deserving as widows of 55.

8.59 p.m.

Mr. Simpson

I beg to second the Motion.

I have to congratulate my hon. Friend upon his well-documented and, for him, quite moderately-phrased speech. My hon. Friend has been characteristically frank, even in regard to his historical researches, which brought forward an admission as to his own previous vote in the House; but that reveals at any rate, the progress he has made in the meantime. I am sure that hon. Members would not regard the Mover of the Resolution as a sentimentalist, but would agree that he has a very keen sense of social justice—not that social justice, in its strict and narrow sense, is by any means adequate to meet many of our human problems.

The Motion might be considered in two aspects. First there is that of actuarial justice, the problem as related to the economics of the present scheme and the relationship between payments made by these women and benefits they receive. The Amendment is strictly confined to that point, but we are concerned also with the adequacy and scope of the present benefits to meet the needs of this special group of a very deserving portion of the community. On the face of it, unmarried women do not get a good insurance bargain under the present scheme. It is true that the data which we have in our possession may not be complete, but with the figures we have it is clear that the existing rate of payment should entitle the spinsters to a pension at an earlier age. The arithmetic and the calculations associated with the matter can be made only by actuarial examination, for which we ask. It will be argued, and it has been argued, against the proposal that, taking the insurance scheme as a whole, the women for whom we make these representations, are, in their earlier years, potentially wives and widows. It is clear also that under the insurance scheme women are covered by insurance for those other eventualities; but the fact remains that there is a substantial residuum who inevitably, and in the nature of existing circumstances, will never qualify for the married women's benefit. It is fortuitous which particular women finally constitute the spinster category, but there is a very large number of women who are finally left in that position. They cannot be a liability as widows and they can never qualify for the inclusive benefits. It seems clear that there is a justification for this Motion on grounds of financial equity and the arithmetic of the position.

I wish to deal with another aspect of this case and with some of the arguments that have been advanced against the spinsters' claim. Most people would agree that 55 years of age is not too early for women to look for relief from toil. Some industrial undertakings make that the retiring age, and women are not kept in their employment after that time. Some of the more progressive industrial concerns make a small provision for superannuation at that time, but 55 today is nevertheless regarded as a reasonable figure at which women may retire from industry. It may be argued that 10s. a week is not sufficient to enable a woman to retire from industry and in that way the scheme is insufficient. We are asked, in some correspondence and some propaganda which has taken place against the proposal: "Would women gain or lose by this arrangement?" They would gain 10s. a week, which may not be an adequate sum, but nevertheless would be a very substantial improvement on the existing position and give these people some hope which they do not possess at present.

In any event, if 10s. would not enable them to retire, they could, in some industries, like the cotton industry, take some respite by working fewer hours, or having a day off each week, and lighten their toil to that extent. If they were fortunate enough to have some other means, this additional 10s. would enable them to retire in that way; or again, if they remained in employment, they could fund or save the 10s., which, in addition to their wage, would enable them possibly to save sufficient to retire on at 60 or earlier. There are many hypothetical objections that can be raised against this proposal, some of them of course, quite encouraging in character. It is suggested that it would be prejudicial to an improvement in women's rates of pay, and so on. But many of these arguments could be adduced against any insurance scheme and any improvement in people's position in this world. Let us have these improved rates of pay and improved industrial standards by all means, but, after all, the trade unions, which in the main are responsible for these improvements, if they could secure them, could surely do something to prevent any exploitation of this pension if it were secured. These improved standards are achieved by organised effort rather than by any new form of benevolence, and I think we could depend upon those authorities which have been in the past, and which are at present, responsible for these improvements, to resist any expropriation of the advantage that would accrue from this pension.

Moreover, the degree and date of any of these improvements is problematical, but the need of the spinsters is immediate. Within the insurance scheme and this present proposal there are possibilities of relief now, and some prospect of a modicum of security and comfort for this section of the community. My hon. Friend who moved the Resolution referred to the character of this section of the community, their desire to be self-helpful, their spirit of independence. What he said is undoubtedly true, and that is one of the special reasons why they resent very bitterly the idea that they might be compelled to seek public assistance, whereas a scheme of this contributory character, in the payment for which they were partners, would make them feel independent and self-respecting in the receipt of the pension which they now seek. I think the House will agree that life generally has dealt very hardly with the unmarried women. I will not detain the House with any elaboration of that argument, which hon. Members will readily appreciate, but will only say, in conclusion, that in my opinion the spinsters are frequently a sort of social buffer in the community, and not infrequently a refuge and help to the married folk who have attained another kind of status. The spinsters have frequently sacrificed themselves to help and maintain their parents, and I think that possibly it would not be unfair to describe this section of the community as universal aunts. They certainly deserve better of the community, and I hope that the Motion will be carried in the House to-night.

9.10 p.m.

Captain Conant

I beg to move, in line I, to leave out from "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: this House, recognising that the practicability of financing extensions of contributory pensions is a matter for His Majesty's Government, is none the less anxious that no class of contributors should suffer injustice under the present scheme, and is of opinion that His Majesty's Government should present to the House a report by the Government actuary on the position of spinsters under the Contributory Pensions Acts. I think the House would wish that my first words should be to thank the hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Leach) for putting down this Motion, which has enabled us to discuss a matter of considerable interest to all sections of the House. It is unfortunate that our discussion has been somewhat delayed, though, owing to the private committee upstairs, perhaps not for so long as some hon. Members expected. The claim that we are considering to-night has received widespread publicity throughout the country, and I think that hon. Members who have listened to the speeches of the hon. Member for Central Bradford and the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Mr. Simpson) will agree that, in selecting those hon. Members as their champions, the spinsters have made a very happy choice.

All parties are sincerely anxious to extend the social services of the country, but most Members will agree that the extension of the social services, in so far as such extension costs money—and very few such extensions do not—must depend upon the financial position of the country as a whole; while the direction of any particular advance must depend, of course, upon the relative merits of the particular claims submitted. The financial position of the country at a given moment seems to me to be the concern of the Government, and I think it is for the Government to decide upon the practicability of financing an extension of the Contributory Pensions Acts. The Motion suggests the setting up of a committee to examine the practicability of the claim, but it seems to me that such a committee, with the limited material that would be available to it, would not be able fully to examine this aspect of the case.

What would be the cost of this claim? The hon. Member for Central Bradford has told us, as I believe we were told in November, that the cost of a 10s. weekly pension for spinsters at the age of 55 would amount to some £4,500,000. The claims of these ladies have been submitted, as hon. Members will recollect, very largely on humanitarian grounds, and if we are considering these claims on humanitarian grounds, which occupied a considerable portion of the speeches of the hon. Member for Central Bradford and of the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne, while that is an important part of the case which certainly appeals to me, we have to consider the claims of other sections of the population who have an equal right to have their claims examined.

Mr. Leach

My key word is not "humanitarianism," but "justice."

Captain Conant

I quite agree: the hon. Member is arguing the case on the grounds of justice. But a great part of his speech was devoted to pointing out the hardships to which spinsters are submitted. It is on humanitarian grounds, in part, that he is arguing. On those grounds, I would submit that there are other sections of the population whose-claims also have to be considered. There are the uninsured widows or the wives of uninsured men; wives who have been deserted by their husbands, or whose husbands, for some reason or other, are unable to support them. These are in exactly the same position as spinsters. There are the wives of pensioners who, under the law at present, are unable to receive old age pensions until they reach the age of 65. All these sections are claiming that their rights ought to be considered. We were told by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury on 1st December, 1937, that the cost of these other schemes, if included, would about treble the original cost of the proposal. That brings it up to £13,500,000. It is not for me to decide whether the country can afford that at present; but I am rather doubtful whether we ought to spend so large a sum on one section of the population, because we are already committed, without further legislation, to a substantial payment on account of the automatic increase in the pensions scheme, apart altogether from the enormous increase in expenditure for Defence.

I am not so heartless as to turn down the claim on the grounds which I put forward: I have not the information before me to justify my doing so; and I am extraordinarily sorry to find that the party opposite have decided to turn down this scheme. In an interesting document entitled "Labour's Pension Plan," which offers pensions of one sort or another to practically every section of the community, almost the only claim which is turned down definitely is that of those worthy ladies whose case has been so well presented this even by a Member of the Labour party. The cause for this action is, as the document says, the prohibitive cost, and, while I cannot agree with the action which hon. Members opposite have taken, I think I might congratulate them on their unique forbearance.

The claims of spinsters differ from those of all other sections in one respect. As the hon. Member for Central Bradford has told us, they are claiming to be paying more in contributions than they can receive in benefit. That is the distinction between their claim and the claims of other sections of the community. It seems to me that the justice of that claim cannot really be determineed by a debate here, nor even by a study of the propaganda which is circulated among Members of this House and in the country. It seems to me that the only correct manner to determine the justice of the claim is by an actuarial calculation. Hon. Members may feel that the Government Actuary, because of his title, is in some way subservient to the will of the Government. I can assure the House that that is by no means the case. The Government Actuary is a leading member of a very great profession. He holds a very high position and has a professional reputation at stake, and he is as competent and as willing to criticise, and, if necessary, condemn, proposals which originate from the Government as those which originate from other sources. I think, therefore, that we should be taking the wisest course if we asked the Government to obtain a report on the justice of this claim from the Government Actuary. The hon. Member for Central Bradford referred to an argument which is repeated in a document sent round to hon. Members two days ago, described as: "A concise case." The document is, to my mind, extremely misleading. It says: 4,000,000 spinsters contribute annually £4,500,000 to the national pension fund and the 80,000 spinsters who reach the pension age of 65 receive only £2,000,000 in pension benefit, therefore £2,500,000 is paid annually in excess of benefits received. The deduction which hon. Members might draw from that is that the surplus morally belongs to the spinsters. The argument is misleading, because the majority of the 4,000,000 who contribute get married, and leave industry at an early age. There is no reason why the contributions of those who marry should be allocated to those who do not and who remain in industry. What has happened, in practice, has been that these contributions have been regarded as a windfall for the pension fund, and have been used to provide pensions for the wives and widows of insured men at a later stage. I think the fallacy of the argument arises from the idea that spinsters are a static class, whereas a person may be a spinster one day, a wife the next, a widow the next—and I was going to say, an old age pensioner the next. If one could go to a factory and look around and say, "This one is a spinster for life, this one is a certain wife, and this one will become a widow," our task would be considerably simpler.

I notice that at Birmingham the national organiser for the National Spinsters' Pension Association made the astounding statement: At present, only one spinster in ten lives long enough to attain her pension. When I read this, I wondered whether my hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions was responsible for such an appalling rate of mortality. But I am happy to be able to absolve him from responsibility, because I find that the other nine spinsters have not died at all, they have merely got married, or the majority of them. Whatever hon. Members may feel about this propaganda, still it does not seem to me fair to condemn a case merely because misleading statements are made in putting that case forward. Even hon. Members sometimes find that their cases are pulled down to the ground and yet their faith in their cause is not in any way finished. So I feel that we should not be acting fairly if we were to turn down this cause on the ground that the propaganda which has been employed on all sides is not altogether free from criticism.

Mr. Holdsworth

What proof has the hon. and gallant Gentleman that nine out of ten spinsters get married? How many of them die?

Captain Conant

Does the hon. Member really think that the majority of spinsters do not get married? Of course they do.

Mr. Holdsworth

I am not saying what I think at all. The hon. Member made a definite statement that the remaining nine got married.

Captain Conant

If I said that, I apologise, but I think what I said was that the majority got married. Obviously some of them may die, but the greater number get married. I believe the best course we can take is to ask the Government if they will obtain a report from the Government actuary. I believe that by that method we should obtain as unprejudiced an opinion as we could possibly hope to get from any source. It would be entirely in accordance with precedent to take such action, because the Government actuaries' are always called upon to report when any alteration is made in pensions. I would therefore ask the House to support my Amendment, which I believe points to the better way of dealing with this claim, genuinely and sincerely made by so many people in the country, so that we may really have the true facts before us.

9.27 p.m.

Mr. Fleming

I beg to second the Amendment, and, in doing so, I would like to thank the hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Leach) for bringing forward this question, because there is no doubt that during the last few months it has been debated up and down the country, I should think, more than anything else. But the debate has not been all on one side, even among the spinsters. I think there is general agreement among us on that, because in my Division, the Withington Division of Manchester, there are a great many spinsters of what I call the educated class. [MR. GALLACHER: "Oh!"] In making that distinction I am not referring to the wealthier class at all; I am referring to the type of spinster who has had a good education. If the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) will allow me, he will understand that I am referring to some people who may possibly support him in other directions—to the class which he often refers to as the intelligentsia, and I do not think it is because of their wealth that they are referred to under that style. But even those are not unanimous on this question, and some of them have brought out a pamphlet, issued quite recently, practically opposing the idea of spinsters receiving pensions at 55. But I am not going to deal with the discussions among the spinsters themselves; I shall leave them to fight it out, because I have deeply considered this matter, and I have come to the conclusion that the spinsters undoubtedly have made out a very good case on humanitarian grounds. The hon. Member for Central Bradford put it on the basis of justice, but I am sure he did not exclude the humanitarian principle entirely.

The hon. Member who seconded the Motion seems to have the same view that I have on this matter. He said the data we have may not be complete. Where he used the word "may" I definitely say it is not complete. Then he went on to say that precise calculations can be made only by actuaries. I entirely agree. I want the House clearly to understand that I am in favour of the principle of pensions for spinsters at 55. I am not opposed to the principle at ail, and nobody who supports either the Motion or the Amendment will jeopardise the principle in the least. The word "practicability" appears in both Motion and Amendment, and practicability is the vital point. In the Amendment we suggest that the practicability of this proposal should be tested by an actuarial report. That is the proper business way of tackling any problem where finance comes into the question.

Mr. Morgan Jones

To whom have the actuaries to report?

Mr. Fleming

I take it the hon. Member has read the Amendment. It is a Government actuary, who would report, I take it, to the Government Department concerned, and his report would eventually be presented to the House. The hon. Member rather sneered at the idea that the Government Actuary would report in the first instance to his own Department. He rather sneered at the idea, but I think one of his hon. Friends has already remarked that Government actuaries always back up the Government. They do, and they take no notice of what kind of Government is in power. They back up the Government in this sense, that the material is put before the Government by a Department, which, of course, for the time being is under the control of the Government in office. In that sense the report will back up the Government, because it deals with matters put before them by the Government in power at the time. But if the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) means that the Government Actuary in any way is biased so that he will go out of his way to fabricate a report and back up the Government, I part company from him there.

Mr. Buchanan

I have seen the reports of actuaries both on National Health Insurance and Pensions and Unemployment Insurance, and each time the actuary's report has been so wide of the mark that it was not worth the paper it was printed on. That is the experience of the past.

Mr. Fleming

I do not see how that justifies the assertion that the Government Actuary always backs the Government. I frankly confess that I do not follow that at all. A report may not be worth the paper it is written on, but that does not justify the remark of the hon. Member that the Government Actuary always backs up the Government, whatever that may mean. I am satisfied that the gentlemen from this Department of the Civil Service are among the most reliable in the world. I am confident that, whatever be the type of Government in power or in office at the time, they can always rely upon these servants to do their best in the interests not of the Government, but of the country as a whole on the details put before them. So that on that account, if there was any credence to be put upon the remarks of the hon. Member for Gorbals, I should certainly not support the Amendment. I am independent enough to do that, but in my opinion the Amendment expresses the correct way of approaching this question of pensions for spinsters at 55. Recently I saw a brochure issued under the auspices, I think, of the Labour party, entitled "Labour's Pension Plan," and on page 18 of that booklet, the Labour party do not turn down absolutely the idea, as far as my reading goes, of pensions for spinsters at 55, but they say that for the time at any rate the very prohibitive cost of such a scheme puts it out of court.

Mr. Vyvyan Adams

Does it not occur to my hon. and learned Friend that the Labour party may be wrong?

Mr. Fleming

I do not always express my opinions of the Labour party, though I may think a lot about them. I am not saying whether that particular statement is right or wrong, but merely stating, for the benefit of the House, what I have read in one of their booklets. It is our duty when considering a pensions scheme, first and not last, to find out whether the cost would be prohibitive. That is the real function of the actuarial report. It is the ordinary process of the business man launching a new venture. If he wants to land himself in the bankruptcy court he makes no inquiry at all into the financial cost of his new venture, but if he is a wise man he certainly makes inquiry' into the financial cost of his scheme, because it is that part which, if it goes wrong, usually puts a man into Carey Street. The proposal that we should consider an actuarial report prepared by the Government Actuary meets entirely my ideas of how these schemes should be approached in the first instance.

Mr. Denville

It is not so much a question of cost as the justice of the case.

Mr. Fleming

That is just the type of business man I have been attacking. My hon. Friend, I am afraid, had better take notice of what I said if he launches any new venture. I think that he is interested in some financial ventures at times. This is all that is guiding me in approaching the Motion and the Amendment, and it is what a really sound business man would do in approaching these schemes. As I am not a sound business man myself, I naturally look round to see what they do. They even do this in trade unions. They consider the cost not after they have plunged into a scheme, but before doing so.

Miss Rathbone

If the Motion were carried instead of the Amendment would not the committee proposed to be appointed have the benefit of the actuary's advice?

Mr. Fleming

I think it is far better that we should pass the Amendment because it distinctly suggests what any sane business man would do. You should get the actuary's report first, and then you could have as many committees as you like afterwards. I am satisfied personally on this principle, but I do not yet understand what would be the cost of such a scheme. I have listened to the figures given by the hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Leach), who spoke of £4,500,000 or so, and to the figures given by my hon. Friend. There is no doubt that nobody knows exactly what the scheme would cost. That is obvious from the discussion. There has been no actuarial report upon this matter yet, and I want to see one before a scheme is launched. What I and a good many hon. Members in this House are afraid of is that anyone who supports this Amendment, as opposed to the Motion, will be dubbed in the country as being opposed to the idea of pensions for spinsters.

Mr. Stephen

And rightly so.

Mr. Fleming

It is an utterly false idea, and very unfair to say such a thing.

Mr. Gallacher

Oh, no.

Mr. Fleming

I made it quite clear, I thought, that I am in favour of the principle of such a scheme.

Mr. Gallacher

Then vote for the principle.

Mr. Fleming

Perhaps the hon. Member for West Fife will allow me to continue. I am in favour of it. [Interruption.] I am speaking of England, and not of Russia.

Mr. Gallacher

Vote for it.

Mr. Fleming

I want to know and am entitled to know the cost of such a scheme. It is for that purpose that a report by the Government Actuary should be presented to this House. It is clear from the expressions of opinion that I have obtained from some hon. Members opposite—not all, thank goodness—that this Debate is going to be used in a way in which I thought it would not be used. I am afraid that it is going to be used in the future against Members like myself who have the courage to vote for the Amendment. My division of Manchester has, I should think, without an actuarial report, more spinsters than any other division in that city which would be affected by the Motion. A great many of them belong to the intelligentsia, and do not seem to be very active in the marriage market. I am perfectly satisfied that in adopting the attitude that I have taken on the Amendment, although I may be turning great numbers of spinsters against me and may be helping hon. Members in opposition to me, I am adopting the same procedure that any business man would adopt. Let us get an actuarial report first, let us know what the cost will be and then let the Government consider whether it can bear the cost.

Mr. George Griffiths

Did the hon. Member inquire for an actuarial report when he voted for the £1,500,000,000 for armaments?

Mr. Fleming

We are not discussing that subject. Even if I did not ask for any actuarial calculation on that occasion, and even if I made a mistake in that instance, that is no reason why I should make a mistake now. If hon. Members can prove to me that it would be saner to launch out on a scheme like this without considering the cost, I should be agreeable to support the Motion.

9.47 p.m.

Mr. Holdsworth

The House will have been interested to hear from the last speaker that he is in favour of spinsters' pensions and that he is the real representative of spinsters in this House, seeing that there are more spinsters in his division than there are in any other division in England.

Mr. Fleming

I did not say that. I said that I thought there might be more spinsters in my division than in any other division in Manchester.

Mr. Holdsworth

Whatever the Seconder of the Amendment believes, it is obvious from what the Mover of the Amendment said that he had already prejudged the issue. He said that the country is spending so much money on armaments that he was very doubtful whether we could afford the money for these pensions. If that be the case, would an actuarial report alter his opinion? He knows the amount that is to be spent on armaments. I am not saying a word about the spending on armaments, but when one thinks of the tremendous amount that is being spent on armaments, compared with the £4,500,000 a year expenditure on giving these people who are really suffering, and the hon. Member doubts whether we can afford this extra cost, he is prejudging the issue before he begins. The whole point of his speech made it clear that the Amendment was not put down simply to get to know the finance of the scheme, because that is known, but for the purpose of shelving the question.

If hon. Members vote for the Motion, there is nothing to prevent an actuarial report being presented to the committee. Some of us attended on a deputation to the Minister of Health on this subject. I am not going to criticise what the Minister said, but he told us exactly what the scheme would cost, and the House is well aware of what it would cost. What the House has to decide is whether this particular class of person is really in need of 10s. a week at 55. I have great admiration for the way in which the Mover of the Motion put forward his case. He founded his case upon justice, but there is no reason why humanitarian principles should not be added. I get rather tired in this House of the denunciation of emotion. Emotion is the greatest thing in our lives, and I shall not apologise for putting this case on humanitarian grounds.

Since I have been interested in this movement I have interviewed scores of spinsters. One hon. Member who has the honour to represent another constituency in Bradford, now sitting below the Gangway, was kind enough to extend an invitation to hundreds of spinsters in the summer and provided them with facilities for a garden party. I was astounded to see the number of hard-working women in the grounds, women who had given their best years to work. Let us remember that not only have these women to work so many hours a day in the factory, but more often than not they have to start work again when they reach home. I was astounded at the circular that has been sent round, which makes the following statement: To give old age pensions at 55 to spinsters would provide a plausible excuse for getting them out of the labour market earlier than 55. I sincerely wish they could get out of the labour market earlier than 55. I know something about the textile trade, and I think every employer of labour would be glad to see every woman able to get out before she reached the age of 55. The nonsense that is talked by some organisations in saying that if we give pensions at 55 we shall encourage these people to work for smaller wages and to undermine the wages of the remainder, makes me feel ill. Let us be honest about it. We who are employers of labour do not employ these people out of charity. Many of these women lose the ability to follow the speed of the machine, although they have the desire and go to their work hundreds of times when they ought never to be there. They have lost the physical ability to do the work. I know that employers of labour use a good deal of mercy, but there is a point when the machine is going at a certain speed and you cannot keep in employment the person who cannot follow it. It is sheer nonsense to say that this proposal will undermine the wages of the workers. The hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Leach) dealt with that very serious point.

I asked the hon. Member for Withington (Mr. Fleming) why there were so many spinsters in Manchester. I was not sneering at spinsters. Thousands of them missed their opportunity during the War, and as to their studying finance very often the girl who refused to marry did so because she was not certain of her fiancé returning from the War, was not certain of an assured position and turned down the offer of marriage until she was sure her husband would remain with her. The penalty that she is paying is to have to continue to work during the whole of her remaining life until she reaches the age of 65. I have no medical knowledge, but I have always said, "Thank God I was born a man." Physically I think we have an easy life as compared with a woman. On reaching a certain age there must be a terrible demand on her physical vitality to get up at 6 o'clock in the morning and be in the textile mill at 7. Very often women are afraid of staying away because they might lose their job. I am not afraid of putting a case before the House purely on humanitarian grounds. I say that a great country like this ought not to find it impossible to afford £4,500,000 to ease the burden of these women.

There is a lot to be done as far as pensions are concerned. We treat this problem in a patchwork manner, and it is time there was some co-ordination of pensions. I am not saying that there are not other classes who deserve pensions, and my experience is that it never keeps one class back if you give it to another. The more people who get pensions the greater light is thrown on those who do not. I know it is easy to say that A is entitled to it, and so also is B and C but I contend that if you give it to A, then B and C will receive it much more quickly than otherwise. I should have liked to have developed the idea that we should really get down to considering a national all-embracing pension scheme. It is a great mistake to segregate funds to this and that particular thing, and the House would well occupy itself in studying the whole pension scheme. I beg hon. Members to support the Motion. If they do so there is no reason why an actuarial report should not be made to a committee of inquiry. I am sure the hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Leach) would never dream of having a committee unless he was prepared to take all the evidence necessary to come to a reasonable decision, and he has had too much experience of municipal work to think that a committee would reach a decision at its first meeting.

There is one other class to whom I want to refer. It is true that the insured spinster has a terribly hard life, but there is another class of spinster about whom I am worried. There are thousands of spinsters who have remained at home looking after their parents, never able to earn a penny, with little or no pocket money out of which they might have insured themselves, and with no provision whatever at the age of 40 or 50 when their parents are dying off. Usually their parents are not well off, and these particular spinsters are left at a most awkward age in life, with no business experience, without a penny in the world, probably saddled with overhead charges on a house, and I appeal to the Government to consider the case of these uninsured spinsters so that they might have the benefit of a pension at 55 as well as insured spinsters. That is my case. I am not reviewing anything said from the actuarial and arithmetical point of view, but I repeat that the greatest reason why we should give pensions to spinsters at 55 is on humanitarian grounds.

10.1 p.m.

Viscountess Astor

The claim for pensions for spinsters has, I think, been admitted by the whole House, and I hope it will never be made a party cry. I would remind hon. Members opposite that this question was first brought up in the House not by the Labour party but by the hon. Member for Edinburgh Central (Mr. Guy) and while I hope they will not try to make it a party question I would recall to their attention that they promised all women pensions and won an election on it. I think we ought to be very careful not to make this question of pensions a party matter. Spinsters have a really good case, not only in justice but because there is no class of people in the country who are more deserving of pensions. I am sure that actuarially we can do it. We certainly ought to have some co-ordination of our pensions schemes. Everyone knows that that is coming. I could give the House heart-breaking cases of spinsters who have fallen out of work at 55 on account of health, women who have spent their whole lives in working for others, and just when they should have someone to look after them are generally left entirely alone. They provide some of the most tragic cases in the country.

I hope the Government will realise that pensions for spinsters are bound to come. It is no good putting it off; it will certainly come. Some of the spinsters have to compete in the labour market with young widows with pensions. There is no justice in that. Nobody can pretend that there is any justice in denying spinsters their right. I am referring only to genuine and permanent spinsters. People very often make fun of unmarried women and spinsters, but I think that on the whole they are less pathetic than old bachelors. Financially they are more hard up, but spiritually they are better than old bachelors.

I beg the House to take this matter seriously and to go into the Division Lobby in favour of the Motion. If hon. Members vote for the Motion, it will start the Government thinking. I assure the Government that thousands of their supporters feel strongly about this matter. We have an overwhelming case, and I hope that we shall hear no nonsense about the country not being able to afford these pensions. The country that can give £7,000,000 a year for sugar beet can do this. [Interruption.] Everybody is guilty about that. The Labour Government knew what a ramp it was, but they continued it. As long as the country can go on wasting money in that way, I shall go on pushing the Government to give these pensions. If they say it is impracticable, my reply is that it cannot be impracticable when they go on wasting money on sugar beet. I beg hon. Members to vote for the spinsters, and to know that in doing so they will vote for some of the bravest, most courageous and most worthy people in the world.

10.7 p.m.

Mr. Salt

In supporting the Amendment, I wish to draw special attention to the statement which it contains that no class of contributors should suffer injustice under the present scheme. It is because I believe that spinsters have an absolutely just case that I rise to speak and to add one or two arguments to those made by the Mover of the Motion, the hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Leach), with which I entirely agree. Out of the £4,500,000 that are paid for the spinsters to get £2,000,000, at least half of the difference will not be likely to go to the spinsters, since, after 40 years of age, there remain 25 years during which they have to pay contributions at the same rate as they have already paid, and there will be a very small number likely to benefit by marriage and the possibility of widows' pensions. I would like particularly to refer to the 1925 and 1929 Acts, and also to a statement made by the then Minister of Health, the present Prime Minister, with regard to the 1925 Act. He said: Surely, a scheme of insurance which puts a heavy charge upon the whole community and only brings benefit to a certain portion of the community is not complete. The 1925 Act first brought widows and orphans into benefit, and by 1933 no fewer than 264,000 benefited. But the Minister of Health at that time was not satisfied that the contributory pensioners should only receive the benefits, but included those whose husbands had died previous to the Act, if they had been in insurable occupations, provided that there were children less than 14½ years of age. When the 1929 Act, which was a non-contributory pensions Act, was brought in, the age of 55 was specifically mentioned as the one at which those who came in from the 1925 Act should receive 10s. a week. The cost of that Act to the country was no less than £93,000,000, for which no contributions were made.

What we have particularly to consider as a matter of justice is whether the widow of 55 is more in need than the spinster of 55. The widow is likely to have children who are able to support her. Probably she has some resources from her late husband, such as furniture, a house, or some insurance money which comes to her. On the other hand, probably the spinster has some aged parent or other person dependent upon her, and every year her old mother or father may become more and more dependent upon her. When we compare the position of widows and spinsters, we cannot fail to come to the conclusion that in justice the spinsters need support. We must also remember the spinsters who drop out of their insurance rights because they cannot keep the contributions going after they are 55 years of age. They may lose their employment, and be unable to pay the contributions. The spinsters desire only that a proper actuarial examination should be made, and they feel that if they obtain that, the justice of their claim is such that the Government will be bound to accede to it.

10.14 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Lieut.-Colonel Colville)

I see there are still several hon. Members who wish to speak, and my intervention will be a very brief one; but I feel that it is proper that at this stage I should express the Government's view on the discussion that has taken place. The hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Leach), who moved the Motion and urged in such persuasive terms that the House should accept it, based his speech very largely on the two points of justice and practicability. He was anxious to keep to the word "justice" rather than to anything which suggested sentimentality, and he also dwelt at some length on the word "practicability," which appears both in the Motion and the Amendment. I see no other meaning which can be given to the word "practicability" than the possibility of providing money for an improvement of contributory pensions in the direction suggested. That is the responsibility of the Government. Why I cannot recommend the House to accept the Motion is that it would be impossible for a Government to lay aside that part of their responsibility which deals with deciding the most important issue of all, namely, "Can we or can we not finance a particular project?" The claim that the justice of the case should be examined is one which, I think, the Mover and Seconder of their Amendment had fully in mind. But on the point of practicability I wish the House to realise that no Government could divest itself of the responsibility which I have indicated.

The hon. Member who moved the Motion did so with all the fervour of a convert—for he was frank enough to tell us what his attitude was on this question in 1929—and he explained that the Labour Government which was then in power rejected the proposal at that time on the ground of financial impracticability. It did not do so at the instigation of any committee or other outside body but in the exercise of its function as the Government of the day. Hon. Members opposite went into the Lobby against the proposal at that time, and if I wanted to make a speech on small party points like that I could readily do so. But I merely wish to demonstrate that what was true then is true to-day, and hon. Members opposite who, some day, expect to sit on these benches would not, I am sure, wish me to put aside the principle that a Government must be responsible for saying whether or not they can finance an improvement in the social services. I had intended to dwell on the money which we are spending today on pensions and social services and the automatic increases which are taking place. It is my duty to scrutinise the Estimates, and I am very busy at present in doing so, and I wish to repeat what I have said on previous occasions, namely, that the automatic increase in the money spent in pensions is a matter for careful consideration.

Mr. Leach

Is the right hon. and gallant Gentleman treating me fairly? I am not asking for the expenditure of money at all. I am asking for a committee,

Lieut.-Colonel Colville

The hon. Member cannot get away from his use of the term "practicability." What is the meaning of that word in this connection, if it does not mean taking out of the hands of the Government the determination in this matter? This question goes far beyond the question of spinsters' pensions. It goes to the very heart of the function of government and I could not possibly advise the House to accept a Motion that appears to put aside our responsibility in this respect. Some play has been made this afternoon with pamplets. I would remind the hon. Member that the party to which he belongs not only voted unanimously against pensions for spinsters in 1929—and most of the hon. Members who are now on the Opposition Front Bench went into the Lobby against that proposal—but much more recently than that they drew up their pensions scheme and, without going into details, I need only say that in that scheme they definitely placed the spinsters at the very back of the queue.

Mr. Gallacher

You want to push them out of the queue.

Lieut.-Colonel Colville

When the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply to-night explains the position of the Labour party I hope he will explain his own attitude, his presence in the Lobby in 1929 and also the attitude of the Labour party as expressed in their own pamphlet. The Amendment recognises that the House does not desire that any section of the people should feel any grievance in this matter of pensions and there is, undoubtedly, a feeling among a certain number of unmarried women that they are not getting fair treatment under the pensions scheme. I do not express my view on it one way or the other, but I admit that there is that feeling. The Movers of the Amendment admit that, too.

Mr. Gallacher

Then why——

Lieut.-Colonel Colville

Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to continue. It may not be a matter of great importance to him, but it is of importance to the rest of the House. The Amendment proposes that the course should be taken of submitting this question to the Government actuary for an inquiry and report. If that proposal is adopted, I can undertake, on behalf of the Government, that such a report will be made and laid before Parliament in the form of a White Paper so soon as it is ready.

Mr. Holdsworth

Should we be able to discuss it?

Lieut.-Colonel Colville

That is hardly a matter on which I could pronounce tonight. The hon. Member will appreciate that it is not within my competence, but I will undertake that if the Amendment is passed and such a report is called for, I will see that it is laid before Parliament in the form of a White Paper. I can do no more than that. I had intended to discuss the question at much greater length, but I know that our time has been curtailed. I feel that the offer that I have made of acceptance of the Amendment and a White Paper to be laid before Parliament indicates the proper course to take in the circumstances to-night.

10.22 p.m.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

The right hon. and gallant Gentleman has been com-mendably brief, because there is a large number of Members who desire to take part in the Debate, and I intend to follow his example. What is actually the proposal before the House? If the House votes for the Motion, for what is it voting? The Motion starts with the phrase: That, in view of the widespread feeling that unmarried women have legitimate grounds for complaint against their treatment under the National Health Insurance and Contributory Pensions Acts … I have listened to the whole of this Debate, and with one or two doubtful exceptions I have not heard a single hon. Member who has taken any other view than that spinsters have a legitimate ground of complaint. I have taken that view ever since the right hon. Member for Epping (Mr. Churchill) first mentioned pensions insurance, and I should have thought that it was clear that they had a legitimate ground of complaint. I have always thought that they have had a raw deal. They have had a raw deal because young widows have been able to compete against them with 10s. in their pocket. They have had a raw deal because they are liable to be pushed out of industry between the ages of 55 and 65 and to have to leave all their pensions contributions and get nothing in return. I think that is the most tragic fact that has been brought out by this discussion.

The hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Leach), who moved the Motion, pointed out that out of 175,000 spinsters at the age of 55 only 80,000 are able to get pensions when they reach the age of 65. A few may die, but the great bulk of them, who have contributed for a great part of their life to pensions, are pushed out of the scheme because they cannot hold down their job in those years when their health is being affected. I should have thought that the great bulk of the Members of this House would agree that spinsters have a legitimate ground of complaint. This Motion does not even go as far as that. It asks the House to agree only that there is widespread feeling that unmarried women have cause for complaint. I should have thought that was at least common ground. The second half of the Motion says that a committee should be appointed to inquire into the justice and practicability of acceding to the claim. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman who has spoken from the Government Bench alleged that this Motion would take out of the hands of the Government a decision on the matter. There is not a word in the Motion to support the right hon. and gallant Gentleman in that claim. He only -made the claim by distorting the wording of the Motion, and by altering the word "inquire" into "determine." All the House is asked to do is to agree to a committee to inquire into the practicability.

There is no suggestion that the final decision of the Government should be taken away. That could be taken away only by breaking the Rules of the House. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman knows the Standing Orders as well as I do, and he knows that it would be impossible for the House to take from the Government the final decision. There is nothing in the Motion to which the right hon. and gallant Gentleman could possibly take exception. Other hon. Members have alleged that in order to determine this matter satisfactorily we must have an actuary's report. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Bradford himself said that the committee which he is asking to be set up would have an actuary's report, and I imagine it would be the Government Actuary who would make the report. The Amendment proposes to omit the committee and leave it to the Government Actuary to report to the Government. In our opinion, we should have a committee in addition to the actuary's report. The committee is needed to consider not merely figures, but arguments on public policy, and to make its report accordingly. I shall ask my hon. Friends—and other Members of the House, too—to vote for this Motion as against the Amendment because the Motion is on broader lines. Should the House, however, feel disposed to reject the Motion, I hope that the Motion as amended will be carried. My hon. Friend who moved the Motion agrees that in that event we should support the Motion as amended, although we would much prefer and shall vote for the Motion as it stands.

I wish to add a word which relates, not to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman who spoke for the Government, but to his chief. I really think that the House ought to know where the Chancellor of the Exchequer stands in this matter. The hon. Gentleman who moved the Motion made a reference to this, but many Members were not present and there is much more to be said than he said in regard to it. According to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman, the Government have not made up their mind. They are going to wait for the Government Actuary's report and it will then be for the Government as a whole to give a decision on this matter. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, however, has apparently made up his mind already, and, in a written document, takes up a definite position. This is called "Twenty Liberal National points of policy," and I would ask hon. Members to note the words on the front page: The following points are taken from a Resolution accepted by the National Liberal Conference at the Central Hall, Westminster, 24th and 25th June, 1937, and by the executive committee of the Liberal National Council. I am aware that we cannot all be committed by some stray resolution passed by a body of which we may be members; but when we are members of an executive committee, and it is expressly stated in the text that the resolutions are accepted by the executive committee, we are entitled to assume that the members of that executive committee, when they are responsible people, do at least stand by the statement made in them. It is very common in political documents to make a number of loose statements that can be "got away with" when the time comes. I see quite a number of them here. There is the general phrase "Increase of old age pensions." That is a general phrase, and the making of a very small concession can be held to redeem it; but surely that argument does not apply to a perfectly specific statement, and I find that No. 15 among these 20 points of policy says specifically and definitely: Pensions for spinsters at 55. We have not got the Chancellor of the Exchequer here to-night. We have had his deputy, in the person of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, but I think we are entitled to know, if not to-night at any rate at some early date in the future, where the Chancellor of the Exchequer does really stand in this matter. After all, the president of this executive committee is no less a person than Viscount Runciman, the chairman is Lord Hutchison, and I notice that in addition to the Chancellor of the Exchequer there is the Minister for War. Here is a definite statement, a specific item of policy, and it is specifically announced on the cover that it has been accepted by the national executive, and we shall certainly want to know where the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his other colleagues in the National Government who belong to the Liberal National party stand on this important matter.

10.34 p.m.

Sir Henry Fildes

I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his speech. It appears to me that the very slight difference between the Motion and the Amendment affords no justification for proceeding with the Amendment. The whole point at issue is whether the actuary's report shall be laid on the Table of the House of Commons and little done with it, or presented to a committee who are making inquiries as to the humanitarian and other grounds on which this proposal shall be put forward. It commits the House to nothing. It is merely an inquiry into these things, and I prefer an inquiry proceeding on much wider grounds than the simple facts in an actuarial report. If this Motion goes to a Division I, for one, shall certainly vote in favour of it. In view of the fact that the difference is so slight, only a question of whether a report shall be made to the Government or made to a Committee of this House, I would appeal to the Mover and the Seconder of the Amendment to withdraw it, so that we can give proper recognition to the desires of a great many people.

A petition was brought into this House signed by over 1,000,000 people, making the request that this matter should be looked into. Quite a long time has elapsed since then, but we are asked to believe that the Government have not made the slightest inquiry actuarially into what the proposal would cost. The Government ought to have been in a position to tell us to-night what the cost would be. There has been an agitation for some years on this matter and it is very lamentable for the Government to say that they want to make further inquiries before they know anything about the position. We are not proposing to say what should be done; the idea is to appoint a non-party committee and to see whether anything is practicable or not.

10.37 p.m.

Sir Joseph Nall

I usually agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, but I do not agree with him to-night. I would also like to urge my hon. Friends not to proceed with their Amendment. I most seriously want to press upon my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench that we are dealing with a subject involving one of the greatest anomalies in one of our social services. Not only is there a gross anomaly but the most extraordinary hardships ensue from it, with the result that there is a feeling of resentment which ought to be allayed by amending action. There can be no justification for indefinitely perpetuating the present system whereby a young and childless widow in her twenties or, at any rate, in her early thirties, is endowed with 10s. a week for the rest of her life by the sheer accident of marriage, while those who did not marry can get no pension or provision of any kind until 65. What is worse, they may pay contributions to the scheme through many years of arduous work, at the end of which, by some failure of health, they are unable to complete the final years, and are left without any provision at all. Their contributions are confiscated, from their point of view, and they may never get any benefit from what they have paid. A whole series of the most absurd anomalies exists in the system to-day, and there is a widespread feeling of bitter resentment against these inequalities and anomalies. I beg my right hon. Friends to review the matter and to set up a committee. The Motion does not ask for a Select Committee of this House or for a particular kind of Departmental committee. The matter is left open for whatever may be the most convenient kind of committee.

I would reinforce the argument that this is not a party question. Whatever action we take cannot possibly accrue as a Labour party triumph, because nobody has been more lackadaisical in getting on with this job than they have. I hope that my hon. Friends, in deference to those who feel so keenly on this question, will not proceed with their Amendment.

10.40 p.m.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

I desire to support the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Fildes). There is not very much difference between the Amendment and the Motion, but I think the Motion ought to be accepted by the Government, for the reason that it includes something which the Amendment deliberately excludes, namely, an examination, not only into the finance of the problem—what is called the practicability of granting this pension—but also the-justice of acceding to the claim. It is all very well to ask the Government Actuary to tell us what this is going to cost. That, of course, is essential. But there is another side to the story, the side of justice; and, having made it my business to inquire into this matter, I contend that, if the Government could be made aware of the justice of the claim of these older spinsters, they coul not resist the demand which has been placed before them tonight.

I will give the House one picture which seems to me to justify the passing of the Motion, with all the words that it includes. There is in my constituency an old linen mill, which is one of the oldest establishments in the country. Its machinery is rather out of date, and some of it has been laid aside. The people working in that mill are mostly old women of 55, 60, 65, and older. I really feel ashamed, when I go near that mill, to see those poor old women still having to work at this time of their lives. It makes one feel that we are not playing quite fairly by them. The Motion demands that the committee shall look into (a) the cost, and (b) the justice, of this proposal. I contend that the claim of justice is so great that it must be included in any terms of reference given to a committee of inquiry. I am sorry to disagree with my right hon. and gallant Friend the Financial Secretary, because I know that in his heart he is entirely sympathetic with the case we are making. I would beg him to indicate to us that on reflection he would not object to the setting up of the committee for which we are asking. I do not deny the extract which was read from the statement of Liberal National aims and policy. That is what I personally stand for, as do my hon. Friends who are here to-night.

Mr. Morgan Jones

What about the Chancellor of the Exchequer?

Mr. Stewart

I cannot speak for my right hon. Friend; I speak for myself, and I shall vote for the Motion. But I would beg my right hon. and gallant Friend not to divide the House on this matter. We are all one. I would ask my hon. Friends who have moved the Amendment to prevent this from becoming a party question, and to let the House of Commons as a whole declare that we all desire an improvement in the conditions of these women, and that the justice and practicability of the matter shall be looked into. I beg my hon. Friends to save dividing the House, and so make the Motion a unanimous Resolution that something shall be done.

10.44 p.m.

Mr. Higgs

As I understand the feeling of the House, the spinsters will get a pension very soon whether the original Motion or the Amendment is passed. I rise to support the Amendment, because I consider that it would give the spinsters a pension on business lines. The hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) referred to armament expenditure. I would refer him to the Budget returns, to see with what accuracy the armament expenditure has been forecast. Surely, expenditure of all descriptions should be considered from a business and actuarial point of view. The hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Leach) said that he wants equality with widows who are now in receipt of pensions. I do not agree with that. Widows' pensions are being paid from the age of 25, and I do not think that the House would wish to pay spinsters at that early age. I support payment at 55, after the matter has been properly considered by the Government Actuary. We recently had a public meeting in Birmingham, in one of the largest halls, and it was filled with spinsters advocating payment of pensions. They want it at 55. I consider they are entitled to it, but I think we should go about the matter in a businesslike manner. There is opposition propaganda with regard to this request, and I notice that one paragraph runs: It would be a powerful lever for pushing women capable of good work out of their jobs. Recently, I found that I had personally signed documents for widows who are entitled to widows' pensions. I made inquiries, and found that one or two of them are between 30 and 40 years of age and are in employment, earning from £2 to £3 10s. a week, in addition to which they get their widows' pensions. How it is possible to suggest that pensions would put them out of a job when that state of affairs exists, I cannot follow. I was opposed to pensions for spinsters originally, but my supporters have reformed me. I now think that it is the business of those who consider the spinsters entitled to a pension to state our case to the Government, and endeavour to reform them in a similar way. From time to time, additional benefits are being granted, and I have no doubt that, as a result of this Motion, the powers to be will consider this most important proposition when additional benefits are being granted. I sincerely hope the Amendment will be carried. If there were not sufficient money to pay the spinsters the pensions, I, as an employer, would be very pleased to contribute my quota in order that the money might be found. This is an insurance problem, not a gift; and I think it most necessary that it should be properly investigated before the Government accept the responsibility of paying these pensions. I, for one, again emphasise the necessity of putting the question of spinsters' pensions on the right lines and dealing with it in a business manner.

10.50 p.m.

Miss Horsbrugh

The question before us now is not whether we are in favour of or against spinsters' pensions, but whether we are to have a committee to go into the matter or first to have an actuarial report and a White Paper laid before this House. Personally, I support the latter course for this reason. I believe it has been stated, and I quite agree, that the committee would have to decide two things. First they would have to consider the practicability of pensions from the financial point of view, but they would also have to consider the wider policy, the question whether it is just, and whether these pensions should be paid, whatever the cost may be. I think it is Parliament which should decide that question of justice. A committee may be set up of people who may be quite able to pronounce an opinion on the financial question. They may be able to state what the cost will be, they may be able to tell us that women are now paying more into the insurance scheme than they are getting out of it. But it will be left to the members of the committee to judge what is just. If there is a majority report against the scheme, do not hon. Members agree that it would be far more difficult to get that scheme adopted? We ought to have the facts put before us, and then those who have said to-night that they are in favour of spinsters' pensions on the wide principle of justice would be able to advocate their cause with the support of the facts brought out by that report.

The Motion of the hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Leach) favours the setting up of a committee who would be asked to report on the practicability—that is, the financial question—and also on the justice of spinsters' pensions. I do not consider that the members of that committee ought to decide on the question of justice. You might have on it people who do not think it is just for anyone to get a pension at 55, and that committee might turn down the scheme. I have been working on this question, and I wish to state that I am in favour of an all-in pension scheme, but when I am told that the committee is necessary I want to say this, and particularly to the right hon. Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence). A Labour Committee went into the whole pension scheme. We were told that a pension scheme was passed by the Labour executive and the whole party, and then we found it was put off with these words: Among other reasons, the cost will be prohibitive. I suggest to hon. Members opposite that they should issue a new reprint of their pensions scheme and those words should be left out. That Labour committee sat to go into the cost of all the pensions. On every other single item of pensions they gave us the figures. Why did not they give us the figures and the facts on spinsters' pensions? And why did not they in the pamphlet show why the cost is prohibitive? They have done more against the proposal by that pamphlet than anything else that has been done in this House. If we can get the facts, I believe it will be brought out that women have been paying into the National Health Insurance scheme more than they could justifiably be called upon to pay. If these facts and the cost can be put before us, it is for this House to judge the justice, and I do not wish to give up my right to judge that justice to any committee. A committee may be biased against it or for it, and it is not for a committee to judge the justice. It is for the committee to put the facts and the person to present the financial facts I believe is the Government Actuary. I shall vote for the Amendment because I believe it is giving the best chance.

10.56 p.m.

Mr. V. Adams

May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee (Miss Horsbrugh) in supporting a moribund and a wholly superfluous Amendment? She said that we should be the judges of justice, and with that I entirely agree. My right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary will hardly be surprised to hear me reinforcing the appeal that was made earlier that the Government should accept this Motion to-night, and he will also forgive me if I say that some of us are not primarily interested in the massive inconsistencies committed by the Labour party. Our chief concern is for justice and fair treatment for spinsters. My right hon. Friend said that the criterion of this proposal was its practicability, but why has not its practicability been determined long ago? Why, many of us Government supporters in this House, some of whom, I believe, are going to vote for the Motion to-night, have been advocating this proposal for the past three years and even before the last election. The Government have had abundant time to give an answer "yes" or "no" to-night instead of pleading for delay.

I tried to come to this Debate quite objectively and in no party spirit, and I have been unable to find anything wrong about the somewhat surprising Motion of the hon. Member for Central Bradford (Mr. Leach). With the best will in the world I cannot see that anything materially is either added or subtracted by the somewhat flaccid Amendment which emanated from Bewdley—an Amendment which was quite unworthy of the speech which proposed it. The substantive Motion before the House is, in all conscience harmless enough. I think it might command support if it were worded and phrased in far fiercer terms. I almost tremble to think how I might have tabled it had I been in charge of the Motion. I think that the justice of the spinsters' claim is beyond all argument. I do not believe it is necessary to have a single hour's further actuarial investigation. The Government know beyond question that 999 out of every 1,000 spinsters over 55 neither hope nor can they expect to become wives. In the case of the 4,000,000 spinsters who contribute to the national pensions fund, seven-elevenths, of their weekly pension contribution goes to swell the widows' and orphans' fund. Only 80,000 spinsters are

at present in receipt of pension at 65, and as a class they are bound to feel that nearly one-third of their contributions is being diverted to the pockets of certain women and children who certainly are no more deserving than they are themselves.

Mr. Leach

rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.

10.59 p.m.

Colonel Clifton Brown

I have taken in the past some part in Debates upon women's questions, and I do so to-night because I do not think that the women's point of view has been put during the Debate. If the Motion had been worded in wider terms one might have supported it. At the present moment large bodies of women are opposed to a sectional inquiry of this kind. It was opposed by the Women's Industrial Organisation, representing over 1,000,000 women——

Mr. Leach

rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."

Question put, "That the Question be now put."

The House divided: Ayes, 150; Noes, 98.

Division No. 101.] AYES. [11.0 p.m.
Acland, R. T. D. (Barnstaple) Evans, D. O. (Cardigan) Jones, A. C. (Shipley)
Adams, D. (Consett) Fildes, Sir H. Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth)
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.) Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H. Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)
Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.) Foot, D. M. Kelly, W. T.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.) Gallacher, W. Kirby, B. V.
Ammon, C. G. Gardner, B. W. Lamb, Sir J. Q.
Asks, Sir R. W. Garro Jones, G. M. Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.
Astor, viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton) George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke) Lathan, G.
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R. Gibson, R. (Gresneek) Lawson, J. J.
Banfield, J. W. Gledhill, G. Lee, F.
Barr, J. Gluckstein, L. H. Leech, Sir J. W.
Batey, J. Graham, D. M. (Hamilton) Leonard, W.
Bellenger, F. J. Green, W. H. (Deptford) Liddall, W. S.
Bonn, Rt. Hon. W. W. Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.) Lipson, D. L.
Bromfield, W. Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth) Logan, D. G.
Brown, C. (Mansfield) Griffiths, J. (Llanelly) Lunn, W.
Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (S. Ayrshire) Graves, T. E. MacDonald, Sir Murdoch (Inverness)
Buchanan, G. Hall, G. H. (Aberdare) McGhee, H. G.
Burke, W. A. Hall, J. H. (Whiteshapel) Maclay, Hon. J. P.
Butcher, H. W. Hardie, Agnes Magnay, T.
Charleton, H. C. Harris, Sir P. A. Mainwaring, W. H.
Cluse, W. S. Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton) Markham, S. F.
Cocks, F. S. Henderson, J. (Ardwick) Marshall, F.
Daggar, G. Henderson, T. (Tradeston) Mathers, G.
Davidson, Viscountess Hepworth, J. Maxton, J.
Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill) Hills, A. (Pontetract) Messer, F.
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr) Hills, Major Rt. Hon. J. W. (Ripon) Milner, Major J.
Day, H. Holdsworth, H. Moreing, A. C.
Dobbie, W. Hollins, A. Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)
Dunn, E. (Rother Valley) Hopkin, D. Nall, Sir J.
Ede, J. C. Horsbrugh, Florence Nathan, Colonel H. L.
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty) dagger, J. Naylor, T. E.
Elliston. Capt. G. S. Jenkins, A. (Pontypool) Noel-Baker, P. J.
Entwistle, Sir C. F. Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath) Oliver, G. H.
Parker, J. Sexton, T. M. Ward, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)
Parkinson, J. A. Silverman, S. S. Watkins, F. C.
Pearson, A. Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's) Watson, W. McL.
Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W. Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe) Westwood, J.
Pritt, D. N. Smith, E. (Stoke) White, H. Graham
Radford, E. A. Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly) Whiteley, Major J. P. (Buckingham)
Rathbone, Eleanor (English Univ's.) Sorensen, R. W. Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)
Richards, R. (Wrexham) Stephen, C. Wilkinson, Ellen
Rickards, G. W. (Skipton) Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.) Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
Riley, B. Stewart, W. J. (H'ghfn-le-Sp'ng) Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)
Ritson, J. Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.) Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens) Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth) Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury) Tinker, J. J. Young, Sir R. (Newton)
Salter, Dr. A. (Bermondsey) Tomlinson, G.
Sanders, W. S. Turton, R. H. TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Scott, Lord William Viant, S. P. Mr. Leach and Mr. Simpson.
Seely, Sir H. M. Walkden, A. G.
Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J. Fyfe, D. P. M. Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J. Pilkington, R
Bernays, R. H. Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester) Porritt, R. W.
Bird, Sir R. B. Grimston, R. V. Raikes, H. V. A. M.
Bossom, A. C. Gunston, Capt. Sir D. W. Ramsbotham, H.
Boulton, W. W. Haslam, H. C. (Horncastle) Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.
Bower, Comdr. R. T. Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth) Russell, Sir Alexander
Boyce, H. Leslie Higgs, W. F. Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)
Broceklebank, Sir Edmund Holmes, J. S. Salmon, Sir I.
Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham) Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J. Salt. E. W.
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury) Hopkinson, A. Savery, Sir Servington
Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.) Hudson. Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.) Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)
Campbell, Sir E. T. Hutchinson, G. C. Smith, L. W. (Hallam)
Carver, Major W. H. Jones, L. (Swansea W.) Somervell. Sir D. B. (Crewe)
Channon, H. Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose) Spears, Brigadier-General E. L.
Chapman, A. (Rutharglen) Kerr, H. W. (Oldham) Stourton, Major Hon. J. J.
Colman, N. C. D. Kimball, L. Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)
Colville, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. D. J. Loftus, P. C. Stuart, Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)
Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.) MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G. Sutcliffe, H.
Groom-Johnson, R. P. McKie, J. H. Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)
Cross, R. H. Macnamara, Capt. J. R. J. Thomson, Sir J. D. W.
Crossley, A. C. Makins, Brig.-Gen. E. Titchfield, Marquess of
Cruddas, Col. B. Manningham-Buller, Sir M Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.
De Chair, S. S. Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R. Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan
Denman, Hon. R. D. Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J. Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)
Dugdale, Captain T. L. Morgan, R. H. Waterhouse, Captain C.
Duggan, H. J. Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester) Wedderburn, H. J. S.
Duncan, J. A. L. Muirhead, Lt.-Col. A. J. Wilton, Lt.-Col. Sir A. T. (Hitchin)
Edmondson, Major Sir J. Munro, P. Wise. A. R.
Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Neven-Spence, Major B. H. H. Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Emrys-Evans, P. V. Nicolson, Hon. H. G.
Fox. Sir G. W. G. O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh TELLERS FOR THE NOES,—
Fremantle, Sir F. E. Orr-Ewing, I. L. Captain Conant and Mr. Fleming.
Furness, S. N. Patrick, C. M.

Question, "That this House do now adjourn," put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That, in view of the widespread feeling that unmarried women have legitimate grounds for complaint against their treatment under the National Health Insurance and Contributory Pensions Acts, this House is of opinion that a committee should be appointed to inquire into the justice and practicability of acceding to the claims made by organised spinsters for a pension of 10s. per week at 55 years of age and the inclusion in a contributory pensions scheme of all those who do not come under the Acts in question.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.