HC Deb 02 November 1938 vol 340 cc202-4
Mr. Stephen

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Widows', Orphan and Old Age Pensions Act, 1936, and other Pensions Acts. During this Parliament there has been continual pressure on the Government to introduce legislation to improve the conditions of old age pensioners. Before the Recess I presented a petition on behalf of the Sunderland Old Age Pension Association in which the matter was put before the House, and questions which have been put to-day show that there is a widespread desire on the part of hon. Members that something should be done to improve the conditions of people who are in receipt of these pensions. I am not sanguine enough to believe that the Bill I propose to introduce will reach the Statute Book, but one of my objects in introducing it is to make it plain to the Government that there is a widespread desire for an improvement of the pension system. The Government in the course of next week will introduce a King's Speech showing the programme for next Session. I hope they will take the opportunity to do something in this matter. The needs of people in receipt of these pensions are very great in view of the limited income which the pension gives them. I am sure many people are asking how these people manage to live on 10s. a week. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury to-day said that nobody supposes that they can live on the 10s., but that the pension is supplemented by other income, and he suggested that if there were no other income they might go to the local authority and get the pension supplemented.

This puts a very big burden on local authorities especially in the distressed areas, and it is a burden which local authorities are more and more finding it impossible to carry. The consequences are that many of these people are left to maintain themselves on this utterly inadequate sum. There are thousands of people who have no other resources than the 10s. per week, and they are not having this amount supplemented in any way, but are struggling along to make a living out of this pitiful little sum. The Government a few weeks ago offered these people gas masks. In view of the fact that so many of them are being half-starved, I do not know whether a gas mask was in the circumstances an appropriate gift. Certainly something ought to be done to improve the position of these people. Again, there are others who, because of the anomalies under the Pensions Acts, are not receiving a pension at all. There are many cases where the stamp qualification is short by a few stamps and the pension is refused altogether.

The purposes of my Bill are threefold: first, to increase the pensions from 10s. to 20S. a week; secondly, to remove the stamp qualification as an essential statutory condition for the receipt of pensions; and, thirdly, to make it plain to the Government that in the House of Commons and in the country there is a widespread desire for an improvement in the conditions of these pensions. The question will be asked—it is always asked—Where is the money to come from for this improvement in the conditions of these people? If this country had been involved in a war a few weeks ago we should have found thousands of millions of pounds to carry it on, and if the country can find thousands of millions of pounds to carry on war, then it should also be in a position in a time of peace to provide a decent maintenance for the veterans of industry and for widows and orphans who are in needy circumstances.

Unfortunately, by the Standing Orders of the House I am unable in my Bill to introduce a Clause putting the charge for this improvement upon the Treasury, and consequently I have had to take the only other possible step, and that is to increase the contributions. The contributions of the employÉs are now as much as they can pay and, therefore, I propose to put the total charge of the proposed increase on the employers. The workers of the country have very little influence on the Government, but the employers, on the other hand, are able to do with them very much what they will, and if this charge is put on the employers in the way of increased contributions, I have no doubt that they will use their influence with the Government to get it made a charge on the Treasury. The objects of the Bill are to increase pensions to 20s. a week and to remove the stamp qualification which is a statutory condition for the receipt of pensions.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Maxton, Mr. Buchanan, Mr. McGovern, and Mr. Stephen.