§ 4.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Attlee
I beg to move,That, whilst this House recognises the difficulties occasioned by the exigencies of the war, it is of opinion that the rising cost of living renders more urgent than ever an immediate improvement in the position of old age pensioners.We have just had a statement dealing with the shortage of food and with rationing. The subject which I am introducing deals with people who in too many cases have both a shortage of food and, year in and year out, are rationed by their wholly insufficient purchasing power. The subject is one which, I am sure engages the attention of every Member of the House. There is no subject that is causing more discontent in the country than the position of the old age pensioners. In the midst of all the grave questions that face us to-day, the problem of evacuation, the dangers of war and the rest, there is still in one's correspondence—others no doubt have the same experience as I have—this constant question of old age pensions. The subject has been raised again and again in this House. It has been raised in questions put by many Members. I refer particularly to the admirable pertinacity of my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith). It has been raised also in full-dress Debate in the House.
We make no apology for bringing forward this subject to-day in the midst of the war. It is as important a matter as any that the Government have to face. The last full-dress Debate we had was on 27th July. It was on a Vote of Censure, because that was the only way in which the subject could be effectively ventilated. But the desire then was, as it now is, not just to attack the Government, but to try to get the opinion of this House focused on this question and to get the real opinion of Members of the House. I was not present at that Debate, but I do not think there is any doubt that there was a majority in favour of some advance in the amount of the pension. The direct issue was never faced by the House because a manuscript Amendment, I think inspired, was introduced after the Prime Minister's speech, and the Prime Minister himself expressed willingness to investigate the whole subject. But even then the House expressed 1972 the hope that some improvements might be made.
I have been reading the report of that Debate very carefully, and I find that the speech of the Prime Minister on that occasion was very largely taken up with examining the specific proposals that the Labour party has put forward in a scheme, the Labour Party Pension Policy. I still believe that that is a sound scheme, and I do not in the least abandon those proposals. If I am not putting the scheme forward to-day it is because I do not want the Government to ride off on the mere complaint of a particular scheme; I want them to face the issue of the need for an immediate advance. The rest of the Prime Minister's speech was mainly taken up with the contention that the country could not afford any advance under present conditions owing to the prior claim of the Defence Services. I do not think he made any attempt to deny, nor do I think any Member of the House would attempt to deny, the reality of the hardship from which our old people are suffering. No one suggests that the amount they are receiving is in any way adequate.
The only other argument I could trace was the argument that it would be wrong to make any advance now because we should be placing a very heavy burden on posterity 30 or 40 years hence. The Prime Minister rather rebuked us for not thinking sufficiently of our children. I do not deny that we should think of posterity, but I must say that I felt some surprise when I remembered that the same Government are putting enormous burdens on posterity to-day in respect of armaments. The millions of the National Debt will be a charge on posterity. I do not think that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is thinking very much about the Budget 30 years hence. In fact, I doubt whether he really thinks out the Budget for more than one or two years ahead. We must regard the matter in the light of the financial circumstances of the country; we freely acknowledge that. Since that Debate to which I have referred the country has been plunged into war. The promised investigation has been abandoned, but the sufferings and the hardships of the old people remain. [HON. MEMBERS: "They are increased."] They have been intensified by the rise in the cost of 1973 living and by many other things incidental to the disturbed conditions under which we live.
We have not put down a Vote of Censure to-day, and I hope the Government will not treat this Motion as a Vote of Censure. We have drawn the Motion in the widest terms so as to give Members of all parties an opportunity of expressing their opinion upon it. It is not a question that can be separated from the war issue. It touches very closely two things. First of all there is the question of the moral of the civilian population. I doubt whether the Government sufficiently realise the importance of that; I do not think they realise what effect it has on the moral of the civilian population if you have a great mass of unmerited suffering unrelieved. It also cuts closely into the question of what kind of society we are asking our people to defend in this war. That is a matter on which Members of the House can give the Government guidance. It is very important that Parliament should discuss these questions in a war, because Members are kept in close touch with their constituents and they can bring to the House an expression of the feelings of their constituents. I believe that this is a matter on which the House could give the Government instructions.
I shall not attempt to harrow the feelings of hon. Members with accounts of how old people are trying to struggle along on 10s. a week, or, in the case of married couples, 20s. a week. I have no doubt every hon. Member has received the kind of letters which I have received —letters which set out the pitiable details of the budgets of people who are struggling to maintain a respectable existence on sums which are, admittedly, inadequate. In July my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) said, very truly, that the present pension was inadequate. The position is far worse now with prices rising steadily. To-day this 10s. or this 20s. purchases less than it did a month ago and far less than it did three months ago. The increase in food prices alone in one month has been something like 10 points. I have here a long list of increases. I do not intend to burden the House with them, but they fall most heavily on those staple articles which are required, and indeed are the only things which can be had by people on a very low standard 1974 of life. It is simply impossible for people to live on these amounts. The mere cost of food for old people on a proper scale, if we take the opinion of an authority like Sir John Orr, was, prior to the war, something like 7s. a week. It is more like 8s. now. How is it possible for these people to afford rent and all the other payments which they have to make out of a paltry 2s. a week? As a matter of fact no one would expect people to live on that amount.
I shall not deal in detail with the vagaries of the Government's views on the amount on which people can live. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. T. Williams) showed those inconsistencies a few days ago in this House. Those anomalies and inconsistencies are noted by people outside. They know what one person is expected to live on and what another person is expected to live on. What happens is this. There are some people who pinch and struggle to maintain themselevs on the present inadequate pension. A great many others are helped by relatives, but a very large number have to go to the public assistance committees. That is to say, a large number of them are living in a state of semi-starvation. I say that the existence of such a state of affairs is a disgrace to the country. No one will try to defend it. No one will suggest that the old people should starve. If it is granted that they must be kept alive, the only question then is under what conditions shall they be kept alive and out of what purse.
The answer to my mind is clear. They must, in one way or another, be kept by the community. They must be given a sufficient share in the wealth of this country. It is agreed on all hands that we ought to aim at equality of sacrifice in war time. These people are having a very heavy burden of sacrifice put upon them. I say it is not true that the country cannot keep its old people. The question is what is to be the standard and as long as we can keep this country going on a reasonable standard of life, the old people have a right to share that standard. At present there are, so to speak, three partners keeping the old people. Taking it broadly, there are first relations; then there is the State scheme; and, finally, there are the local authorities. It is obvious that the burdens borne by these three partners vary according to the changes in the cost of living. The 1975 lower the cost of living, the more adequate becomes the State pension, and with every increase in prices, the less adequate becomes the pension and the greater the burden falling on the relations and on the local authorities.
We have to-day the disturbances of war which affect hundreds of thousands of families. There are thousands whose positions have been worsened. I agree that some have been bettered, but there are thousands as I say whose economic position has been worsened, owing to people joining His Majesty's Forces, owing to changes in industry, and owing to the general disturbance of wartime. Many family arrangements made in the past cannot be maintained to-day. The ability of relations to contribute has in many cases been limited. Take next the question of the local authorities. They are in a very difficult position to-day. Even last July they were complaining of the enormous burden placed upon them in connection with old age pensions and they were complaining particularly of the incidence of the burden. We should always think of the incidence of these things, not merely on a class but on the members of a class. Local authorities fall into different classes and, broadly speaking, the poorer the district the heavier the burden.
Since July there have been changes. Many local authorities are seriously embarrassed by evacuation, by movements of industry, by loss of rateable value. Others are embarrassed because people are being evacuated to their areas, causing increased expenditure out of the very slender resources of rural authorities. All of them are finding great difficulty in carrying on. The effect of the rise in the cost of living is to put a heavier burden on these local authorities and that is entirely unjust, because the poorer authorities will be the most hardly hit. There is only one fair way of dealing with this question and that is, that the community should shoulder the burden, and allocate it as fairly as possible.
We all recognise the financial position of the country. We have been told that you cannot add anything to those heavy burdens which the country is now bearing. I am not prepared to accept that position. I believe there are many things which the Government could do without. I believe there is a great deal of wasteful 1976 expenditure to-day, and I gather that that opinion is held in many parts of the House. Let us cut down some of that wasteful expenditure if we can. I do not believe however that the contention to which I refer is a fair contention because it really arises from the position of the purse of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and not from the position of the resources of the country. I press again the point that if the country is to keep these old people, the question is who is to pay for them, and the present position is growing more and more unjust.
On this occasion, I am not asking for the adoption of the scheme which we have worked out. If I did so, we should be told that that scheme involves many changes, and that we cannot embark on all these changes in the middle of a war, and this Debate would then run off to a mere discussion on a particular scheme. I am demanding an immediate increase. I am not specifying exact sums, though I am glad to see that some hon. Members have put their own suggestions on the Order Paper. If I mentioned a particular exact sum the Debate might then run off into a discussion on the question of what exact sum should be given. I am demanding an advance—not a derisory advance, but a real advance that will remove from these people the indignity of having to go to the public assistance committees and put them into a position in which they can carry on, in these days, with some degree of happiness. Do not forget that that is a very important matter. We are living in days which make for unhappiness and gloom. These old people have to live a great deal in darkness. Their lives are often sufficiently dull at present without these added disadvantages, and we ought to do what we can to bring a little happiness and a little stability into their lives.
I may be told that we cannot deal with old age pensions because there are many other questions which must be adjusted in view of the rise in the cost of living. I do not deny the existence of those problems. I do not deny that there are other claims which will be brought forward in due course and which must be considered. There is the position of all those people who have small fixed incomes, such as injured men who have received an award under the Workmen's Compensation Act, the unemployed, 1977 spinsters and others. Unless the Government can control prices, they must inevitably face this big issue: What are you going to do with the recipients of fixed incomes when prices are rising? But the old age pension question stands apart from the others. It was urgent before the war broke out.
I do not disregard the problems which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has to face, and I should be glad to know that the Government were considering the very big issues involved in the change in the cost of living. I should like to know that they were grappling with the whole question of organising the resources of the country so that we shall be able to get equality of sacrifice and a proper standard of life for all throughout this war. I do not know whether the Government have considered that vital matter, but I say that on this question of old age pensions the House ought not to be patient any longer. I do not think the country is prepared to be patient any longer. I do not think it will be put off by any dilatory Motion suggesting that the Government are looking into the matter and may, some time or other, find that something can be done. If I may borrow a phrase from the Prime Minister, which I think he borrowed from me—and which was used by somebody else before that— we want deeds, not words. This is a matter which the Government must take seriously.
This is not just an agitation got up by a few people here. It is a question which affects hundreds of thousands of our people and I would emphasise, again, the consideration of morale. The men in the trenches and the men in the workshops will be thinking of someone who is affected in this way. To those men the person affected is not just one of a number of figures in an official return but an actual living person, and the refusal to right this wrong will gravely affect us in the carrying on of this war. You cannot stand whole-heartedly for justice abroad, and tolerate injustice at home. There is another side to the argument about not burdening posterity. Do not forget that these people, or the great mass of them, are all people who have been worn out in the service of this country, that the resources and the wealth which we can employ to-day in this struggle have been built up by people who have 1978 worked under a social system which has left them nothing to spare and only just enough to live on. I say that they are entitled to this by services rendered to the community. They have a right to adequate support, and behind this demand is an immense feeling in the country. We on these benches are resolved to do all that we can to support that demand, and the Government will disregard that demand at their peril.
§ 4.31 p.m.
Mr. Graham White
I have so often in the past trespassed on the time and attention of this House on this subject that I feel I have almost exhausted my right to do so again, but I feel to-day a very strong desire to support the Motion which has been moved by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. I am glad that that Motion has been so framed that this may be made to-day a House of Commons question. When we discussed this matter at some length in July last, I believe the House was unanimous in its wish that something should be done, and I have no reason to suppose, from the information which has reached me since then, that that unanimity of desire is any less to-day. Indeed, the extensive correspondence which has reached me from the country, not only from old age pensioners, has convinced me that the matter is still a very live issue, war or no war, and that it is one which the country is anxious to see, if not finally settled, at all events so dealt with as to remove what is felt to be an intolerable reproach.
The situation is worse to-day than it was in July, from two points of view. It is worse, and it is made more difficult and aggravated by the fact that prices have risen, and I shall refer to that matter later. It is also worse from the psychological point of view. We, in this House, know the grave financial burdens which have been placed upon this country and which certainly do not seem to grow less or to be likely to grow any less as time goes on, but to these old age pensioners, and to those who are living on like means to those of the old age pensioners, that is no consolation. We understand the increasing difficulties that we have to face on account of these growing services, but the matter presents itself in another way to these people. They say, "There are millions for aeroplanes, millions for guns, tanks, new Ministries, salaries, and the like; there is money for everything, ex- 1979 cepting us." Therefore, from their point of view, the hardship is not made any the easier to bear, and that is a point that we have to take into account.
On previous occasions when I have ventured to speak in the House on this subject, I have felt it my duty to make suggestions and proposals as to where some of the money, at all events, that is needed to remedy the situation could be found. I have sought to point out the way in which our social services and wages have grown up, not according to any well-conceived or co-ordinated plan, but with additions, well meant and well meaning, grafted on from time to time, almost haphazard, in response to some social stress or economic strain, with the result that in their later development in particular there has been overlapping and there has been money spent in administration which need not have been spent. I have ventured to say in the past that this was not a matter with which we could attempt to deal to-day, but it is a matter which will become very urgent indeed post-war, and it is already one of the problems to which we shall have to give our attention. If I allow myself to refer to it again, it is merely for a reason which will be recognised by those in the House who are familiar with Lewis Carroll's "The Hunting of the Snark" and who recall that the Bellman, the leader of that famous expedition, used to repeat things three times and say, "What I tell you three times is true." For that reason, I will venture to say again that the thing which we need, and which we need immediately, is a headquarters staff for social services.
There is no body, there is no single individual, to-day whose sole duty it is to devote his attention to the social services as a whole, and that is a gap which has to be filled. Such a body would give thought in the course of its work to the basic principles governing the relationships of the various public social services to one another and of the social services as a whole to social and economic policy; it would be their business to consider the lines for overhauling the administrative and financial structure of the services, in order to secure more efficient and economic working; and, thirdly and lastly, it would draw attention to the main anomalies and gaps to be dealt with and recommend priorities for dealing 1980 with them. That body would take steps to cut out overlapping, and would advise whether it should be, for instance, the spinsters whose claims should be considered first in order. The system as we have it now is quite immune from logic and is built up in a haphazard way.
I should like to come now, if I may, to the matter of prices, which was dealt with by the right hon. Gentleman who preceded me, and I should like to remind the House, or those who were in the House at Question Time yesterday, of an incident which occurred when my hon. Friend the Member for East Middlesbrough (Mr. A. Edwards) asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, whom I am glad to see in his place,what increase in the allowance to old age pensioners would be necessary to enable them to enjoy the same standard of living as they did a year ago.The right hon. and gallant Gentleman replied:…it would be necessary to add about 7¾d. to the 10s. pension in order to enable old age pensioners to purchase as much with their pensions as they could have done a year ago.Whereupon my hon. Friend the Member for South Bradford (Mr. Holdsworth) put this question:Is my right hon. and gallant Friend not aware that the Ministry of Labour figures have no relation to the increase of prices?"— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October, 1939; col. 1746, Vol. 352.]The Ministry of Labour index has, in fact, little or no relation in that connection. If it has any connection at all, it has about as much as "the cow with the crumpled horn "had to "the house that Jack built." In the case of the old age pensioners, the range of necessities upon which their meagre income is expended has no connection or relation to the wider range of commodities on which the cost of living index is founded, and it is unfortunately the fact that this limited range of articles which they use, and to which their meagre incomes restrict their purchases, have risen more in proportion than the other things which are included in the Ministry of Labour index. The Ministry of Labour cost of living index has been under suspicion for some time past as not being an accurate indication upon which so very many important economic wage agreements and the like should rest, and for that reason the Minister of Labour 1981 has, as we know, appointed an investigation committee. That investigation has been completed, and it is quite time that the House was told the results of it. It is quite time that we should be told what deductions can be drawn from it, and, when the deductions are made, we should then proceed to action upon that basis.
I think it would be impossible to exaggerate the confusion into which our general system of allowances has fallen at the present time. We want a new approach to this matter. Why should there be a difference in respect of allowances as between the child of an evacuee, an ex-serviceman, a family contributing to the Widows' and Orphans' Contributory Pensions Act, the wife of an airman, and all those infinite varieties which are made? Surely the course should be for us. having discussed and considered the new cost of living basis, to decide the conditions of life we wish to provide for all these people, and relate that to our means for providing it. We should devote ourselves to that task, so that all these anomalies from which we are suffering at the present time may be smoothed out. Now we are just going to do something more to add to the general confusion by setting up an inquiry into children's allowances in connection with the dependants of ex-service men. All these matters require to be dealt with from a new point of view.
have wandered a little bit from the direct subject of the old age pensioners, who are the subject of this Motion, although not very far away really, because these are basic considerations, in my judgment. What is the position of the old age pensioners to-day? I have availed myself of an opportunity this last week of going round and seeing some of the old age pensioners of my acquaintance, in order to find out what difference, in their view, exists between conditions now and conditions before the war. I have found no grate without a fire in it, I have found no table without bread on it, but I have found in those households a most lamentable lack of everything else which makes life agreeable. They are living in their little world, but on their table there are no newspapers, in the hands of the wife there are no balls of wool, no knitting. You look around the room, and you see nothing of those things which we have in our own homes to 1982 make the hours pass easily and pleasantly. The amenities of life are completely absent in far too many of these places. As my mind goes back over these visits, certain odds and ends of phrases which are revealing stick in my mind, such as, from an old gentleman, of his wife, "I don't know how the old woman manages at all," and, from the wife, in another house, "If it wasn't for the married daughter, we could not live at all, and I don't know how she does it, because she has her own family to keep." In another case I was given the actual household budget, and one thing which was added was "something for the undertaker, because nobody shall put me into a pauper's grave," revealing that ill-founded but deep-seated horror of a public funeral.
That is the position. I hate dealing in sobstuff myself, and I never do it if I can help it, but this is a picture which is present in my mind and which I have tried to display to the House. I am fully aware of what I am saying. A man who is without sentiment is a poor thing, though sentiment in itself is seldom alone a wise guide to practical action. That is my case. The life of the old age pensioner at the present time is just one dreary calculation, of ways and means. It is tragic, but even in his own home, stricken as it is with penury, there is room for generosity, because I have found one partner making sacrifices, unbeknown to the other, for the benefit of the other. That is the problem which we are asked to solve, and, as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has said, it is merely a question of who is going to do the paying. The local authorities are already concerned. They are indeed hard put to it, many of them, but they are already beginning to feel that they must make a move. In fact, some of them have already done it.
For these reasons, which are, at all events, sufficient for me, and, I hope, will be sufficient for every Member of the House, we feel anxious to support the Motion. We do not support it in precise terms. The right hon. Gentleman has said that he did not want to put it into figures. The Government must be the judges as to what should be done to meet what is a widespread and unanimous national demand. It is now a question of the prosecution of the war and the morale of the people, and our case would 1983 be ever so much stronger and better worth fighting for if we felt that there were no longer people in this country who have nothing to lose.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Hamilton Kerr
I beg to move, in line 1, to leave out from "recognises," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:the unprecedented strain placed upon our finances by the demands of the war, it trusts that the Government will nevertheless pursue their investigation into the possibility of effecting improvements or adjustments in the present scheme of old age pensions as proposed by the Prime Minister on 27th July.The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition rightly said that all hon. Members are deeply concerned with the conditions of the old age pensioners. I like to think that when we discuss this question we forget the ballot box and the fact that party divisions exist between us. I believe that in the last 60 years or so an attitude of mind has grown up in this country which believes that society must shape itself to the needs of the individual rather than force the individual into the prevailing mould of society. In consequence, humanity has become the first principle of our law. It is our respect for the individual and the independence of character which springs from it, which form the very core and spirit of our national character. I believe that it was this fact which Herr von Ribbentrop failed to notice that led him to misjudge us. He never knew the people of England. Had he talked to them on their own doorsteps, had he seen them amongst the clatter of their cotton spindles, on their ploughlands, or at the pitheads, he would never have written to his leader that we were a weak-kneed people who would never defend ourselves.
The question of old age pensions has a long history, to which every party has made an honourable contribution. Hon. Gentlemen opposite rightly pride themselves on their interest in the welfare of old age pensioners. But I like to recall words of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) that no man did more to popularise the idea of the old age pension than Joseph Chamberlain. The Liberal party, too, performed a great service. I was reading only last night the words of 1984 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs when he addressed a wildly cheering audience in Edinburgh Castle on 30th July, 1909:I think it is a hard thing that an old workman has to find his way to the gates of the tomb bleeding and footsore, through the brambles and thorns of poverty.That is a sentence with which no Member in the House will disagree. The Liberal Government of that day, however, were faced with the same problem as that with which the Government are faced to-day, namely, that the resources which they hoped to devote to social services had to be diverted to a war which an Imperialist Germany had forced on this country. After the war we continued to carry out important social legislation. The Pension Act of 1925 by a Conservative Government is outstanding. But again to-day the thunder of guns across the North Sea forces us to divert the resources which we hoped would have been used to build up a better England to the needs of war.
What is the essence of the problem of the old age pensioner? Ten shillings a week was never intended as a living wage. It was meant to implement savings. But the tragedy is that in many homes to-day there are no savings. During the years after the war until rearmament started there seemed to be two Englands—the England of the home industries and the England of the export industries, and these two Englands barely knew the faces of one another. The England of the home industries, of Birmingham and the trading estates, enjoyed good wages, and above all, for the workers, the priceless boon of security. The England of the export trades was a tragedy of the empty shipyards of the Tyneside and Clyde, of the windswept Welsh valleys and of the great silent mills of Lancashire. The workers in those areas suffered all the hardships of men in the front line trench of the economic war. Another problem in those areas was the problem of the older worker. How many hon. Members have not, like myself, walked through the streets of some great northern town and seen those men for whom society no longer has any use standing in small groups at street corners, and how many of us have not vowed to ourselves that we would do everything in our power to try and bring these men greater security? We believe that, at all times, 1985 a workman has a right to security in his old age, to sit by his own fireside, and to command the few amenities which life can bring him. In proposing this Amendment I would like to insert before the word "investigation" the word "immediate," because I believe that the question of the morale of the home front in war time is all-important.
I would like to link this question to the larger question of the social services. We are rightly proud of our social services, but they have grown up over a period of years from haphazard beginnings, and often from voluntary services. I sometimes think that they resemble one of those great country houses of England to which each generation has made a contribution; they are beautiful to look at, but often uneconomic to run for the kitchen is many yards away from the dining-room. The time has come when we should look into the future. We do not know what fate has in store for us. We may enjoy a quick victory or there may be hard days ahead. I am certain, however, of one thing, that at the end of the conflict our purses will be slenderer and the demands on our charity greater. It was one of the favourite mottoes of the late hon. and gallant Member for Wells (Lieut.-Colonel Muirhead), whose death touched so many of us, that the time spent in reconnaissance is never lost. I believe that now is the time to have a reconnaissance over the whole field of the social services, and to ask ourselves, firstly, whether we are getting sufficient return for the great sums we are spending and, secondly, whether we could, by more effective administration, give greater benefits.
The question of the old age pension alone creates difficulties. The age composition of the population is changing. There are now in this country 3,500,000 people over 65—equal to the total population of Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. In 1961 the number will have increased to 5,500,000, while the number of workers supporting these old people will have relatively decreased. These figures show us the type of problem we have to face. If we know the ground which lies ahead of us we can tackle the problem much more easily. Now is the time to organise the reconnaissance. I cannot finish more aptly than with the 1986 words which the Prime Minister used on 27th July, when he said:I look forward to the time when the horizon is sufficiently clear to enable us, in spite of our accumulated debts, to embark upon fresh advances which will brighten and better the lot of our people."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th July, 1939; col. 1720, Vol. 350.]I know how deeply he felt that sentiment, and I am certain that the son of Joseph Chamberlain would ask no better fate than to be allowed to lead the people of this country into that promised land.
§ 4.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Butcher
I beg to second the Amendment.
A few months ago we had an opportunity of reviewing those classes of the population who were in special need of the attention and care of this House. In order of priority the old age pensioners were by no means the last in the rank. The blind, the aged, the child, the adolescent and the unemployed each have their own special problem. The duty of the House is by patient inquiry and sympathetic legislation to carry forward into a still more advanced stage the protection and help we owe to these and other people. On 3rd September a great class was added to those people with whose care this House is charged. It is a class which must rank before all others—the wife and children of the fighting man and, should the necessity arise, his widow and orphans. Next in their demand on the public purse are those who suffer personal injury as a result of enemy action. The House has already discussed the provision which has been made for the payment of compensation and on that occasion I indicated that I was not prepared to accept the proposals as adequate. We have, however, to bear in mind that the more generous we are in individual cases of this nature—and generous and fair we should be—the greater is the burden on the national revenue. There is no means of estimating the total liability for compensation to either the fighting man or those injured on the home front by enemy action.
When we review the question of the old age pensioner we must remember that for him, as for every one of us, the first essential is to win this war—this strange war of manoeuvre and of diplomacy, which is so ominously quiet, but which has already made plain to every one of us to which side victory will come. Gallantry, youth 1987 and courage, if they are to be victorious, must be supported by the massed production of the armament factories, and victory will go to the side which can supply and pay for the most fighters, the most bombers and the most anti-aircraft guns. The alternative to enormous expenditure on armaments is unnecessary loss of life for the sons and grandsons of those old age pensioners whose case we are discussing. The second claim upon the country is that the loss and suffering shall be shared, as far as possible, equally among all of us, and the third is that it is essential that we shall maintain our social services intact if we possibly can. Is it any wonder, then, that, confronted with this heavy strain upon the nation's finances, there was a kind of standstill order on so many forms of desirable activity, both local and national? On no class did this fall harder than on the children and the young people. The school-building programme was delayed, housing schemes for better homes suspended and the hope which so many of us had of the extension of health insurance and medical benefit to the relatives of insured contributors was condemned to cold storage for many weary months.
We are not debating to-day the needs of the children. We are debating the position of the old people in our midst. References in this House to those people make it clear that the House is eager, in some way, and within the limits of what is possible in these days, to lighten their lot. I was impressed and moved by the passages in the speech of the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) dealing with visits to homes of old age pensioners. I have had similar experiences. My letter bag, like those of many other Members has been representative of the difficulties which many of our elderly people have in making ends meet on the old age pension. I often think we are inclined at times to misjudge the old age pensioners in our midst. I believe that, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer were to take some of them into his confidence and say, "I have £50,000,000 surplus; how shall I spend it?" many of these old people would say, "We have managed so far. We can go on managing. Spend it on the boys, or the boys' children."
1988 This pension scheme was first on a non-contributory basis, but through the passage of years it has become more and more of a contributory nature. Whereas in unemployment insurance the proportions contributed by the three parties, the State, the employer and the worker, are about equal, under the pensions scheme, out of £95,000,000, the Exchequer share comes to £65,000,000. I do not believe that in any extension this proportion can be maintained. I believe that, if higher benefits are to be given—and I would desire to see them given—higher contributions must be required both from the worker and also from the employer.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Is the hon. Member aware that the workers have made it quite clear that they are prepared to make higher contributions if the Government will give higher pensions?
§ Mr. Butcher
We are, I believe, falling into a mistake if we regard the old age pensioners as a class. Each of us is inclined to think of the old age pensioner as some old gentleman or lady whom we know, but there are other people inside this class of old age pensioners who are equally to be brought into the picture when we discuss it as a whole. There are, for example, men receiving pensions by right of insurance at 65 still remaining in employment without any reduction in earnings. The number of these, in view of the demands of the war on labour, is likely to increase. On the other hand, some receive nothing whatever beyond the 10s. allowance and, with no relatives. have to manage as best they possibly can. They supplement it by resort to the public assistance committee. However high the general pension were to be fixed—I notice that the Leader of the Opposition carefully avoided making any suggestion of figures —we must, in fairness to the pensioner. reserve the right of supplementation from some source or another. If we think it right to reserve the right of supplementation, I am not able to see why there should be indignity or humiliation in having to resort to the local authority for the supplementation and no humiliation and no indignity in receiving money from the National Exchequer through the Post Office.
This matter has been debated on many occasions in the past, and as recently as 1989 July last the Government took the sense of this House that something should be done. One thing that has always appealed to me about the Prime Minister and those associated with him is that they appreciate the mind, the wishes and the will of the House of Commons. The feeling of the House on another matter was made clear to them last evening and they met the House honourably and well. I believe the House can look forward to being similarly met on such subjects which fall to be discussed in the weeks and months that lie ahead. But, if we expect the Government to accept guidance from the House, a heavy responsibility rests upon the House not to put forward demands which cannot be justified in the light of the national finances. I commend the Amendment to the House. I believe it recognises, on the one hand, the urgency which we all feel in all parts of the House that in this time of war, when we are fighting for freedom and for peace in its true sense, those who are entering into their declining years shall spend them in comfort and in security. I believe that an inquiry conducted on the lines indicated by the Prime Minister on 27th July will do very much to modify and remove many of the difficulties that exist at present. I believe that we can look forward to the days of social advance that lie ahead.
§ 5.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Woodburn
It is with some little hesitation that I intervene in an important Debate of this kind, but I am encouraged to do so by the knowledge that the sympathy of the House far exceeds its desire to criticise. Therefore, if I do intervene, I hope it will be recognised that it is because of the urgency and earnestness of the plea that I hope to make on behalf of the old people. My work in the past years has taken me into every part of my own land. I know no question which has agitated the minds of people of all political parties more than this need for increasing the pensions of the old people. I would respectfully warn the Government that this is not a matter which can be treated with smug complacency or self-satisfaction about the existing position. The House of Commons will be on its trial in the manner in which it deals with these old people, and no one dare go to the country and defend the 1990 conditions that exist to-day. My right hon. Friend, in opening the Debate, pointed out that no one lives on 10s. a week. I am sure the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not suggest that they do. Therefore, what they live on is a payment of patchwork portions, which come from all kinds of odd sources, which enable them to eke out their living. I think it is not in accordance with the dignity, either of the country or of the House of Commons that the old people should be asked to go about getting a little here and a little there in order to make up enough to live upon.
I was profoundly disappointed by the two speeches to which we have just listened. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the Amendment gave me the impression, rightly or wrongly, that the line that he was suggesting was neither honourable nor gallant. Again, I cannot understand young men and young women believing that it is the right treatment to give to the old people to humiliate them by forcing them to go to public assistance committees and to live with their relatives, destroying something which is perhaps greater than anything else that exists in our country, and that is the character of our people. I come from a race which is said to be half lawyer, half doctor, but also instinctive in the race of Scots is this principle of insurance and safeguarding against poverty and old age. The day that children are born in Scotland they are registered in some kind of insurance society, and, therefore, to suggest that the people are not willing to pay for this benefit is not in accordance with the facts. We are not asking the Chancellor of the Exchequer to spend more money at all; we are asking the Chancellor to organise the machinery of the State in order that money which is even now given to old age pensioners may be given in a manner which befits the dignity of our old people. We want him to collect from the country the money and pay it out in an honourable fashion to our old age pensioners. I am satisfied that the country is ready to pay that immediately the Government calls upon it to do so. Therefore, I beg the Government to consider this matter not from the point of scoring party points or carrying a flippant Amendment which would shelve the business for another six months or six years, but to treat it as one 1991 of serious urgency and to introduce at once some amelioration in the position of the old people in order that they can live in dignity and with that self-respect which I believe is something greater than even the question of their poverty.
I have intruded upon the House longer than is usual in an opening speech, but I hope that I shall be pardoned, because in the by-election which I fought this was the one question that was raised outside the issue of whether we should make an immediate peace with Hitler or have a proper peace once and for all. In every meeting this question of the old age pension arose. If I mention that, it is just to bring to the notice of this House that it is something beyond party promises altogether. It is something that is dominating the minds not only of the old people but of the young people, and of all kinds of people, who not only feel humiliated about their parents and their grandparents, but are shocked at the fact that our old folks cannot live.
May I make one short reference to the financial argument put forward by the hon. Members who moved and seconded the Amendment? They say that it would be diverting resources from the war to give the old age pensioners food. Are we to understand that it is the policy of the Government to fight the war by depriving old age pensioners of food, clothing and shelter? If that is not the policy, why do we not give them the food, clothing and shelter in a decent manner, befitting the dignity of this House? I thank the House for listening to me so courteously, and I hope they will take it as an earnest appeal, not from myself alone, because I think I speak not only for the people of our party but for the people of the country from one end of the land to the other.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Simon)
The House always listens with undiminished attention and interest to the first contribution of a new-comer, and it has become recognised as a privilege to be allowed to follow him and to express on behalf of the House our good wishes and congratulations. The hon. Member for Clackmannan (Mr. Woodburn) is obviously equipped with the apparatus for dealing good and lusty blows in future Debates, but the tradition 1992 requires that we should for the moment treat him as almost outside the combat, and therefore I will not be very combative in reply. I do agree with him thoroughly in one thing he said, and I am sure that he said it sincerely, and that is that the question we are discussing ought not to be a party one at all. It is literally true that every Member of this House knows of cases where the existing pension is hardly sufficient for the recipients. It may be that some of us have had occasion to study the details more closely than others, but we start at least with the genuinely common ground of a sincere desire to see that our arrangements about this important matter are as good as they can be made in view of the times in which we live.
I am going to say something from the Chancellor of the Exchequer's point of view, but that does not mean in the least that I do not share the feelings of other hon. Members on what they, no doubt, would describe as the more human aspect of the matter. The hon. Member for Clackmannan confirmed what was said by an hon. Member on that side earlier, that he was confident that the workpeople were willing to pay for an increase. He went so far as to say—if I took him literally it would be a certain comfort to the Treasury—that nobody was asking the Treasury to pay anything at all. I note that in passing, but I have found as a rule that when one comes to work these things out in detail it is not quite so comforting to the Chancellor of the Exchequer as that. In the course of making my statement I shall offer to the House a few facts and figures. They are not offered for the purpose of producing obstacles or piling up unnecessary difficulties. Anybody who wants to look at this thing seriously is bound to consider some of these facts and figures, because what we can do largely depends on the consideration of those facts and figures.
My hon. Friend the Member for Oldham (Mr. Hamilton Kerr), who made such an attractive speech, said that this matter had a long history. I do not want to go back into that long history, though I could go back even to the very Parliamentary beginnings of it, but I must go back a little over recent history. The Leader of the Opposition, when he moved his Motion, referred to our Debate on 27th July and said that the Prime Minister did discuss then what has been called the 1993 Labour scheme. I do not want to do that to-day, because we are not discussing a particular scheme at the moment, but I must observe that there was this justification for the action of the Prime Minister, that he was immediately following the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who in the course of his own speech had commended in considerable detail this very Labour scheme to the House. Therefore it was not very wrong of the Prime Minister to proceed to deal with it. I am not now going to deal with the Labour scheme or indeed any other scheme.
What the Prime Minister said at the end of July was that the Government had resolved that they would themselves undertake forthwith an investigation into this matter, would collect the information which it was necessary to assemble, and would ascertain in the proper fashion, that is to say by meeting the representative bodies, the views of those who would be contributors in an extension of the contributory scheme. As a matter of fact, we lost no time about it at all. The very next day, the 28th July, I assembled the principal officers concerned, the Government Actuary, and other principal officers from the Departments. The end of July is a time when people begin to think of holidays but I set them a pretty severe examination paper. They worked through the first half of August and sent me a mass of material and certainly everything was done to try to implement the promise of 27th July honourably and promptly. Of that there is no possible doubt. When we came to the second half of August we found ourselves in the midst of a most serious international situation, and I do not think anybody could blame me if, after that time, I did not find the time day by day to study these details as I had meant to do. After the war itself broke out I recall that the Prime Minister was asked in the House about the continuation of this inquiry, and he made the answer that he was afraid that the question of any general increase in the rate of old age pension must remain in abeyance for the time being. I gather from what the Leader of the Opposition said to-day that that was taken as meaning that the whole thing was shelved for the period of the war. I do not agree at all. That is not the sense in which the Prime Minister's words were intended to be taken. I also 1994 heard the Leader of the Opposition say that the promised investigation was abandoned. I reply by saying that is not so in the least.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Would the right hon. Gentleman mind reading the reply he gave to me about a week or a fortnight after that?
§ Sir J. Simon
I looked it up only to-day and it repeats the Prime Minister's answer. I am sure it will be a satisfaction to the hon. Member, if he was under the impression that we were seeking to shelve the whole of this business for the period of the war, to know that that impression is a mistake. I should like to take the opportunity of stating briefly two or three impressions which I received from studying the material which has been before me. I am not going to prejudge the issue at all, and certainly not going to multiply difficulties, but I assure the House that if we desire to deal with this in a practical way it will be necessary to do a good deal more than express a general view that the rate of pension should be raised.
I have been accustomed from time to time to deal with pretty complicated things, and the first impression I got was that our pensions' structure is extremely complicated. I should very much like to see it simplified. I am not at all sure that I agree with the suggestion that was made by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. G. White), because if we try to do too much at one time in the way of revision we shall only postpone the achievement of an immediate practical result. In fact, it is a very complicated system, beginning with the pension first given by the Liberal Government, which was not based on a contribution at all but was to some extent governed by tests of income limit. On to that has been grafted this contributory scheme, which is of a very elaborate character, and which itself has been revised and altered more than once. I would really assure the House that if we are to do a practical piece of business we must not imagine that it can be done by passing a simple resolution for a higher figure. It does involve very considerable detailed investigation.
The whole of the contributory scheme is based upon a precise actuarial calculation of what the contributions ought to be 1995 from a person entering industry at the age of 16, having regard to the fact that he will not acquire a pension until reaching the age of 65. Out of this fact arise many complications of the scheme and they undoubtedly need, I do not say a prolonged examination, but a really energetic and vigorous examination. By all means let us pursue this investigation as far as we can. I am making arrangements to ask the Trades Union Congress and the Employers' Federation to come and see me again, and we shall be able to see what the proposals for increased contributions really mean when they are worked out.
I beg the House to bear in mind one or two considerations. We shall need an Act of Parliament before any alteration can be brought about. We can never do such things as quickly as we wish. We shall have to redistribute a great many books. There are 20,000,000 cards that will have to be prepared, for a start. For my part I will do everything I can to bring this inquiry rapidly to its conclusion, but I should not be dealing rightly with the House if I led hon. Members to believe that it means a matter of only a few weeks work.
Other points impressed me when I was looking at this problem. It is all very well to say that we can leave the future to take care of it self, but we must have regard to one or two big considerations of a financial character. There is a continued and rapid increase in the cost of the present scheme. The cost is rising because of the increased longevity of the people of this country—a matter over which to rejoice—and because of the rapid increase in the number of births a couple of generations ago. Let me give some comparative figures to illustrate this point. What was the comparison in 1931 between the number of people living in this country over the age of 65, and those who lay between the ages of 15 and 65? The people over 65 at that time were 11 per cent. of the ordinary working ages. By 1955 that figure will be 16 per cent. and by 1975 21 per cent.
§ Sir J. Simon
No, but these things have to be considered. When we are dealing with such matters we must have regard to the facts that exist, and one thing that is true is that the finance is becoming heavier as the schemes go on.
Is it not the case that as the population is improving in that direction our capacity to produce wealth is improving at a far greater rate?
§ Sir J. Simon
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has quite followed my argument. The point is that the ages which are principally and directly concerned with producing wealth will, in a number of years, be a smaller proportion, and the number of persons above 65 to be maintained will be a larger proportion. The two tendencies are going in the opposite way. [Interruption.]I hope hon. Members will allow me to continue my argument because I have a great responsibility here. It is a serious responsibility and I am trying to discharge it by stating very plainly what the facts are. If no improvement were made in the present level of pensions in this country the cost of contributory pensions would rise from the present figure of £85,000,000 to nearly £119,000,000 a year in 25 years' time. We must, therefore, remember that if we seek to improve the scheme it is a scheme which, even as it stands, will put a bigger burden upon us as time passes on.
If I may, I should now like to give a few simple figures which will illustrate the nature of the problem. I do not in the least want to set them up either as bogies or obstacles, but it is foolish to go on talking in general terms, and without facing the inevitable financial questions that arise. For the sake of simplicity I will take the year 1940, that is to say, next year. How many people will be pensioners under our present scheme? They will number approximately 3,000,000, and they will be drawing pensions because they have reached the age of 65. In addition to that there will be widows' pensions, for widows who are under 65. They add another 650.000 and they draw a pension of 10s. a week by virtue of the contributions paid by their late husbands. Then there will be 275,000 allowances for dependent children and orphans, their fathers having died. Those are the figures of the pension-receiving population. It was pointed out by an hon. Member that the greater portion of those people will be obtaining their pensions under the contributory scheme. The numbers who will be getting pensions next year without contributions will be about 550,000. The contributory scheme has been running for some 14 1997 years so that a great many people who would previously have fallen into the non-contributory scheme and have received pensions at 70 years of age—the Lloyd George pension—will now be covered by the contributory scheme.
How does it stand about these people? My hon. Friend who spoke from below the Gangway was quite right when he pointed out that the position is not nearly so simple as is sometimes suggested. The letters that we get and the cases which we know ourselves undoubtedly raise our feelings of sympathy and pity for those who are not sufficiently provided for, but if you take the whole of the contributory pensioners it is not in the least true to say that everybody now drawing a contributory pension of 10s. a week is in a state of destitution. There is a large number of men pensioners in employment, probably 300,000—
§ Sir J. Simon
I am only saying for the moment, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will understand my point, that the problem is very much complicated by the fact that everybody is not in the same condition. Some of these people are in employment.
§ Sir J. Simon
These people have been paying their contributions week by week and year by year to the contributory scheme. Does the hon. Gentleman suggest that because one of them is in employment—
§ Mr. Grenfell
Does the right hon. Gentleman suggest that we should be a party to the starvation of other men because of that small obstacle in the way?
§ Sir J. Simon
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be good enough to allow me to develop this point in my own way. I was pointing out that every one of these old age pensioners does not present the same problem. A very large number of them are still employed, and a great many more are drawing supplementary assistance, it may be from works funds or some similar scheme to which they have subscribed for years, or from trade unions. I am entirely in accord with the feelings of hon. Gentlemen on this 1998 question that the real difficulty refers not to all these people but to some of them, who undoubtedly are in exceptional difficulty and do not receive supplementary assistance. It is a mistake to think that anything approaching the whole 3,000,000 of these old age pensioners are in destitution, and we shall be misled if we do not recognise that distinction.
That, therefore, is the nature of the problem. What will be the cost, as things are? I am sure that every hon. Member wants to examine this matter and to form a practical judgment about it. The total cost of the pensions payable under the various schemes now operating, contributory, non-contributory, or voluntary is nearly £100,000,000 a year.
§ Sir J. Simon
How much of that is for non-contributory pensions? About £14,500,000, and the whole of it has to be paid by the State. When you have taken away that £14,500,000 you are, therefore, left with the figure I mentioned just now for contributory pensions for the next 12 months. It is a figure, contributed from one source or another, of, say, £85,000,000. How much of that does the Exchequer provide? It provides £55,000,000. Those are the broad facts, and we, therefore, have to bear them in mind. I am anxious to resume the investigation and to do my best in the matter, but we have to deal with that set of facts. It is no use our imagining that the facts are other than they are. I think that any serious person looking at this position must agree that it is a serious one—all the more so when we are in the midst of financing a war like the present one.
It may be of assistance to the House if I now indicate the cost of various improvements that have been suggested from time to time. I am having the figures rechecked and may be they will be slightly altered. [Interruption.] I am not saying who should pay, but I am examining the cost.
§ Sir J. Simon
I am not trying to frighten anybody, but I assumed that hon. Gentlemen would want to know what they are, and I am telling the House what the facts are.
§ Sir J. Simon
Let us suppose that there were a general increase in the rate of pension of 1s. for all persons over 65 who are now receiving pensions. The cost of that increase would, at present, be about £8,000,000. That figure would rise in 10 years to £9,500,000, if the figures are correct. I believe that hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House will take particular interest in that calculation.
§ Sir J. Simon
I was just pointing out how much more money would be needed; I was not discussing the question how it would be provided. I am pointing out that if you wanted to add another 1s. a week to the existing pension it would require the production from some source or other of £8,000,000 a year. The amount will increase, for the reasons which I have indicated, to £9,500,000 in 10 years' time. If, in addition, you were to make an increase in the pensions to widows under the age of 65 then there would be a further increase of nearly £2,000,000 for each 1s. increase in the pension. If you were to reduce the age at which wives of pensioners and women insured on their own account should receive their pension to the age of 60, instead of 65 as it is at present, that would add another £8,000,000 next year, and that figure would rise to £10,000,000 in 10 years' time. That would be the increase on the basis of reducing the age, but not increasing the present rate of pension. That will give the House some kind of formula as to the sort of extra sum that would be needed if certain of the improvements which so many people have in mind were to be made.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
Is the Chancellor of the Exchequer suggesting that every pensioner who comes on at 65 has a wife of 60 and not 65? I do not know if my question is plain.
§ Sir J. Simon
I followed the hon. Gentleman's question. I dare say he is a little surprised that the addition should be so large for that single item. The reason is that you would be providing 10s. every week for a certain number of people at the age of 60 who under the 2000 present scheme do not get anything until they reach 65. It is, therefore, a case of adding not 1s. but 10s.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Would the right hon. Gentleman tell us what would be the cost of giving the extra 1s. at 70 instead of at 65?
§ Mr. Buchanan
Has the right hon. Gentleman calculated the cost of giving it to people who are now not getting a pension at all—people who are now refused?
§ Sir J. Simon
No, I have not. I admit that both questions are to the point, but it seems to me it would be better if I did not confuse the House with too many figures so that hon. Members will have some material for consideration. There is another thing which the House would perhaps like to know. If you were to add 1d. a week to the contributions in respect of insured male workers that would produce about £2,500,000 per annum. In respect of women workers 1d. a week extra would produce slightly over £1,000,000 per annum. The House, therefore, has some formulas which show on the one side how much it would cost for various improvements, and on the other side how much would be produced by 1d. being added to the weekly contribution.
§ Sir J. Simon
I am not saying who it is who makes the payment. I am saying that 1d. per workman per week, whoever pays it, amounts to that sum, and I think the main question which arises now is this: In the case of non-contributory pensions there is no question that any increase would have to be found by the State and by nobody else. I do not wish to express a final view, but I confess that I do take the view that any increase in contributory pensions would have to be made in non-contributory pensions also, because I can hardly imagine that you would raise one and not the other. As the House knows, the State already pays £14,500,000 a year to carry the non-contributory pensioners and, of course, in the case of any increase it would have to pay whatever the addition was.
2001 The main question which concerns us seems to be, to what extent would we be justified in throwing burdens on employers on workers and on the State, and how could any additional funds so obtained be used to the best advantage? I heard a statement just now that organised labour was prepared to accept additional contributions. That is an important statement. It has been brought to my notice before, and I am making arrangements to go into that matter again with the representatives of contributors. For every adult male worker there is a contribution every week by stamps of 3s. 2d.; of this 1s. 6d. is unemployment insurance, 9d. is health insurance, and 11d. is for pensions. The 11d., as we know, is divided, 5½d. being paid by the worker and 5½d. by the employer. If an investigation were conducted now the first question to be decided would be, what additional contribution would the worker in the circumstances be prepared to make? The younger and the active man should, perhaps, make an additional contribution to carry the old, remembering that he, too, will be among them at some time. Anything that I can do to further an investigation into that matter, without any sort of bias or prejudice, will be very willingly done. There is an equally important question, namely, how much in the circumstances can employers be expected to add to their contributions? Beyond all question, an increase of that sort would mean an increase in working costs. I had these simple figures taken out. An employer who employs 5,000 male adult workers continuously for 52 weeks in the year has, under the existing scheme, to affix stamps for unemployment, health and pensions cards, costing in all slightly over £41,000 per annum. Of this amount he recovers £20,500 from wages. The other £20,500 is an additional cost on industry. Each worker in a case like that has over £4 per annum deducted from his wages in respect of these contributions. The most practical thing to do would be to resume this investigation, no doubt consulting representatives of labour and employer organisations, so chat this question may be put straight to them as I put it to the House this afternoon. Undoubtedly, if we could get increased contributions that would help to build up a fund out of which 2002 increased benefits could be paid. There would then arise the question, can the State pay something towards it? As I said, the State would have to pay the whole of the extra amount which would be needed for the non-contributory pensions. I do not rule out the possibility of the State having to make some contribution to the others as well, but I do say, with whatever authority I have in my present office, that it will become impossible if you are going to put the main burden of increased contributory pensions upon the Exchequer. If the contributor will come forward and make good the suggestions which have been made in some quarters, I will be very glad to see what can be done, and as soon as we reach that situation we will again have to discuss with the representatives of labour and others what is the best way to use the additional amount. There are some hon. Gentlemen like the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway, who think it is more important to provide for the 70's than for the 65's. Others think we ought to provide for spinsters. There are all sorts of views. It is no use saying that we recognise the financial position unless we really face it, and I have tried to state it with complete frankness. Hon. Members must know what has to be overcome before there can be any practical improvement.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I would like to intervene at this point, if I may. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has provided the House with a large amount of statistical information and has indicated that an investigation has all ready been commenced. Can he give an assurance that in view of the urgency of this matter the investigation will be expedited and an announcement made as soon as possible?
§ Sir J. Simon
The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) has put a question of importance, and I think the question was involved in the speech made by the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Kerr) when he moved his Amendment. He said that the reference there to the investigation meant in his mind an immediate investigation. I will reply to the hon. Gentleman opposite by saying, certainly. I have warned the House that there is a good deal to do, but as far as the Government are concerned we wish to pursue this inquiry as rapidly as possible.
§ Mr. A. Jenkins
Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman what he proposes to do in the meantime? The question is, what are the Government going to do to meet the problem at the present time, and we would like an answer.
§ Sir J. Simon
Nobody is suggesting that 10s. is adequate to maintain an old age pensioner, but I think the best way to deal with the matter is the way that I have suggested.
§ 6.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Tinker
On a matter like this it is very difficult for us to escape our feelings. It would be wrong for us to sit here complacently listening to the Chancellor's speech, which, after all, has shelved the whole question. The Chancellor, in his usual way—and one cannot get away from the fact that he has a very nice manner—has told us how sympathetic he is, and then he has given us figures in order to show that it is impossible to do anything. He talked about an investigation. One would imagine that we did not know the facts. The question actually is: Are we now prepared, in the light of the knowledge we have, to do anything for the old age pensioners? It is no good hon. Members opposite hiding behind the Chancellor's speech, and trying to get away from what is happening throughout the country. I hope that they will face up to what it means. We intend to force the issue and drive the Government to do something about this.
The Prime Minister has had, up to the moment, a united House of Commons: we have voluntarily given up our rights in order to prosecute the war to a successful conclusion; but I hope that the Prime Minister will not forget that we expect some justice for the people we represent—and nobody has a greater claim on the consideration of this House than the old age pensioners. We established their claim before the war broke 2004 out. There is not a Member opposite but agreed with us. Then came the war, and we were told that we must shelve the matter for a time. Now comes the increase in the cost of living. Yet the figures given by the Chancellor are designed to show that nothing can be done for a considerable time. It is an impossible situation. I feel sorry for the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hamilton Kerr), who moved the Amendment. He was apologetic, and obviously felt his position. I wonder what happened behind the scenes to induce him to move that Amendment. One could imagine a secret meeting being held in order to find a Government supporter who was courageous enough to move the Amendment. His speech gave away the case for the Amendment completely. If there is justice behind this claim the money must be found. The hon. Member for Boston (Mr. Butcher) went even further than the hon. Member for Oldham. He tried to justify the attitude of the Government, and to give reasons why the pension should not be increased. He apologised for the length of his speech. I took that to be an apology to the House for having dared to second an Amendment of that kind.
I want to tell the House that this is a popular demand throughout the country. The Trades Union Congress examined this question thoroughly, and brought forward a scheme by which they think the money could be found. They met the Chancellor and put this scheme before him, and he promised them that he would examine it. The organised Labour movement throughout the country is satisfied that this pensions increase is needed. There is the opinion of organised Labour. If hon. Members will study the Order Paper they will find that from all sections of the House there are demands for an increase. Attached to the Motions in favour of an increase are the names of many hon. Members, I am glad to say, on the other side. One Motion has the name of five Conservative Members and one Labour Member; another has the names of six Conservative Members. It is clear that in this House there is a genuine feeling that the old age pensioners are entitled to more than they get. I hope that those hon. Members will have the courage to stand by their opinions, and not allow themselves to be stampeded by an Amendment put down by the henchmen 2005 of the Government. I have had scores of letters on this matter. There is one, which I think typical of the feeling of people in my constituency, that I want to read to the House. It is dated 19th October, which is quite a recent date, and it says:Seeing there is going to be a Debate on old age pensions, allow me to state my own case, and I think there are many more like it. My wife is 74 and I am 71. When I applied for relief I was told that my children should support us, and support was refused. We have a family of six sons and four daughters—10 in all—living, married and bringing families up Some are working in the pit. Four of my sons went through the last war and I myself served three years and eight months in the war and received no pension, but I am not troubling about that. We have managed nicely up to now. We had a bit of money, but it is all gone, and we find we cannot live on our old age pensions at the present time. It does seem very hard on us, going through life and bringing up 10 children out of pit wages, and now we are old we are thrown on the scrap-heap to wither and die of starvation as our chilidren are not in a position to assist us.Could you have anything more striking than that read in the House? You are asking for large families. The Noble Lady, who has just gone out, advocates large families. Most people recognise that unless we keep up our birth rate Britain will become a decadent nation. Here is a family with 10 children. Those children go out into the world and marry, as we expect them to do. They have their liabilities. Then the old man and woman, in the winter of their days, having done their best for the nation, are told, on going to seek relief, that their children must support them. Everybody knows that those who work in the mines have nothing to spare. I hope hon. Members will treat this as a great human question, put party considerations on one side, and vote for this Motion.
When we brought this matter forward before, we were told by the Chancellor that the Exchequer would not stand it. The Budget was then £900,000,000. It has gone up now to £2,000,000,000. The Chancellor can and must find the money. He can easily find £30,000,000 or £40,000,000 for war purposes. I am asking to-day for an immediate grant of 5s. a week for old age pensioners. I say that the Exchequer ought to find that money immediately. I am not saying that that will help to win the war, because we shall win the war in any case; but I say that 2006 we should do all we can to show the world that we are not going to let our old people starve. A gesture of this kind would be one of the greatest we could make. I make a last appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Do not let him go away thinking that the Amendment will be carried, and that he can then rest on his oars. Let him be brave, and say that he has been convinced by the argument and will grant the extra 5s. a week. That would be the greatest thing that he could do in this House.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Major Procter
I rise to support the Amendment. I profoundly believe that old age pensions should be increased, but I cannot support the Labour Motion, because I think that that would be a wrong way to go about it. I should like, however, to pay a tribute to the Leader of the Opposition for recognising that there are difficulties occasioned by the exigencies of war. It seems to me, however, that he made a tactical error in relating the question of an increase in pensions merely to the rise in the cost of living. That seems to me to give the Civil Service officials an opportunity to pay an inadequate pension. Yesterday one of the Opposition Members asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasurywhat increase in the allowance to old age pensioners would be necessary to enable them to enjoy the same standard of living as they did a year ago?The Financial Secretary to the Treasury replied:With the Ministry of Labour cost-of-living index figure of 165 for 1st October, 1939, it would be necessary to add about 7¾d. to the 10s. pension in order to enable old age pensioners to purchase as much with their pensions as they could have done a year ago, when the corresponding figure was 155."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st October, 1939; col. 1744, Vol. 352.]
§ Major Procter
It may be untrue, but here is the only Government source as to the standard of living. It is the one used for statistical purposes by the Opposition when they are the Government, and it is because I want for our old people a larger amount than the small sum they receive to compensate for the rise in the cost of living, that I am in favour of the Amendment rather than of the original Motion. In our Amendment we ask the Government to 2007pursue their investigation into the possibility of effecting improvements or adjustments in the present scheme of old age pensions as proposed by the Prime Minister on the 27th July.It is well that the country should know precisely what the Labour Motion really is. There is a feeling in the country that in some way, if the Labour Motion were to be carried, then, to-morrow morning the old age pensioners would receive increased pensions. It would do nothing of the kind. Those who are responsible for moving this Motion know full well that is merely an expression of opinion without legislative effect. Even if it were passed a scheme would have to be prepared and a Bill presented giving the scales of benefit, and contributions to be paid. This would take some time. We ask in our Amendment that the Government should immediately get on with the job of putting into effect the result of their investigations as soon as those investigations are completed. Careful investigation is necessary if the scheme is to be a sound one.
I am sure that the whole House is indebted to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for setting out the actual cost. Some one said this afternoon, when the increasing cost of old age pensions was pointed out and what they would cost 20 years from now, that it "does not matter; we shall not be here." It is our duty as Members of this House to pass sensible legislation that will not only be beneficial to those who are now living but beneficial to our children and to their children. Some one has said that the difference between a politician and a statesman is that the statesman works for the next generation and the politician for the next election. We must take into consideration the rising costs, and time must be given to investigate and to prepare a scheme which, if it is started, will continue to function and not have to reduce benefits like some of the social legislation after the Labour Government in 1931. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White), who supported the Motion, pointed out the necessity for establishing a committee to study and deal with the administration, the overlapping and anomalies of the matter. Surely if it is recognised by the hon. Member that it is essential to set up a committee to study these things, why can we be blamed for asking the Government to investigate, 2008 and, having investigated, to bring out a scheme that will stand not only the financial strain, which the Leader of the Opposition recognises as existing now, but will also continue to function, so as to benefit the young men when they are due to receive their pensions?
§ Mr. A. Edwards
The present line of argument of the hon. and gallant Member is interesting, but is he aware that, when we needed to buy aeroplanes the Minister told us that he must place the orders at once as there was no time for investigation as to cost, and that the ascertainment of the cost would have to come later? This is a question of dealing with human lives that are rotting, and would it not be better to give these old people something and go into the cost later?
§ Major Procter
I do not object to an interim payment. I believe in giving old age pensioners as much as the country can afford, but how much, is precisely the question for investigation, and that is why I am in favour of the Amendment. A sum merely to pay for the increased cost of living is not enough. Whatever increased pensions are to be granted, they must be related not so much to the present cost of living as to the whole future of the fund out of which they are to be paid. Once fixed the pensions must be paid year after year. Furthermore, investigation must find out how the revenue is to be found from a smaller number of taxpayers. In 1980 our present population of 41,000,000 will have fallen to 30,000,000, but in 60 years from now —in the lifetime of our children now living—the population will have fallen to 20,000,000. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"] If the population decrease continues at the present rate. Of these 20,000,000, over 9,000,000 will be over 60 years of age. In 1921 there were 12,000,000 school children under the age of 15, and in 1951, if the population declines at the present rate, there will be only 6,000,00,0. These are the facts that real statesmen must consider. If the Opposition will not give their attention to it, then they are not considering the future of this country, for the problem of population decline is a very serious one. In 1875 the birth rate was 35 per 1,000, and in 1933 it had fallen to 14.7 per 1,000. If these things continue it means—
§ Major Procter
Yes, but I have my doubts about you. If this decline in population continues it will mean that, on the one hand, there will be 9,000,000 people over 60 supported by a largely diminishing population of young men. That is a disquieting situation. It looks as if legislation in the future will be largely concerned in looking after the aged, on the one hand, and the young on the other. We have to contemplate a scheme, keeping in mind the fact that year by year there will be more pensions to pay out and a smaller income with which to pay them.
§ Major Procter
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman in expressing in one word what he has in his own mind; but I do not mean to be drawn aside. What I have suggested is a very serious fact, and no Government can know what is the highest possible pension it can pay and continue to pay, unless it makes careful inquiry. I ask the Government to complete their investigation quickly and with the cooperation of the trade union leaders to sec how much our young men can pay and how much the masters can pay. Let the Government give as big a pension as national financial safety permits. It is not right to expect old age pensioners to-day to get along on 10s. a week, and we as a House, and the Government, should do everything possible to alleviate their position. I would ask the Government in these investigations to consider whether it is not possible to supplement the old age pension of those persons who are in receipt of public assistance and enable them to call it their pension, thus taking away entirely the stigma of the Poor Law from the lives of our aged people. Because the Opposition have seen fit to base their arguments merely on the cost of living as it exists to-day, I intend to vote for the Amendment which, I believe, is the quickest and best way to bring about a permanent increase in the old age pension.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Dobbie
I rise to support the proposal which was admirably placed before the House by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, as against the proposal of the Amendment, which, in my opinion, after hearing the speeches of 2010 the Mover and other supporters, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer, is a deliberate attempt to shelve the whole question until the war is over. I believe that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has deliberately endeavoured, in a glib and nice manner, to overawe the House of Commons to-night by the figures he gave in regard to costs. I would ask him to remember that we have been talking about and voting hundreds and thousands of millions for war purposes and we have never said that we must think a long time over the ways and means of getting the money. We made the decision and found the money afterwards. That is what we are asking the Government to do to-day in regard to old age pensions. Speaker after speaker in defence of the Amendment has asked for time. The hon. and gallant Member for Accrington (Major Procter) made a special appeal that there must be more investigation and that the Government must have time. If I were the judge, and he were in the dock, he would get it; there is no mistake about that. But the people of the country are the judges, and the Government are in the dock at the moment. We are making a demand to-night for something in respect of which, I believe, the voice of the country would be overwhelmingly for us to-day if an opportunity were given for the votes of the people.
I am beginning to believe that, now that the Government have got the eyes of the people of this country focussed on the struggle overseas and at home between the Nazi Government of Germany and our Allies and ourselves, they are beginning to believe that they need not trouble at all about home affairs or domestic policy. We would ask them to remember that we are quite definite in saying to them that the decent treatment of our aged people is one of the things that we include when we talk about freedom and the opportunity to live a decent life. There are many people, supporters of the Government in many of our constituencies, who are beginning to wonder where the idealism of the Government is, and whether old people are to starve while their young people are fighting. The old age pensioners are asking that, and the young men in the Army when they see their grandparents in this position are also beginning to wonder where is the idealism for which they have been called upon to fight. When we turn to 2011 the position of these aged people, the veterans of industry, men and women, we find that, probably because they have not taken a great deal of interest in politics, and do not understand the Government as well as we do, they fail to understand why colossal sums of money can be found for war, while it is so difficult to raise a few million pounds to help to make life human, decent and possible for them in their declining years.
There is another thing that is beginning to make people in the country and Members of the Opposition, Members of the Labour party, in the House and outside, wonder whether the Government is worthy of the whole-hearted support of the Opposition in the prosecution of the war. They are wondering whether the Government are beginning to think that they can laugh at every request or demand from this side of the House in regard to old age pensions, the review of the Workmen's Compensation Act or other domestic sides of the lives of the people. We warn the Government that the men and women of the working class in this country, as represented by the Opposition, cannot afford to continue to support a Government which is supposed to be waging war against aggression abroad, while we have this aggression and growth of poverty in our own country. The attitude of the Government towards the old age pensioners is an act of aggression, and the 10s. per week is an insult to the old people and the country. Those of us who have worked with these people in their working days, who live amongst them now and who associate with them every week when we go to our constituencies—I say without egotism that we understand the lives of these people far better than any hon. or right hon. Members opposite—say that the Government do not understand the struggles of these people, despite their fine words, their platitudes and their expressed desire to do something some time for them in the future, but never to-day.
Last Saturday in my constituency I met the old people. I have in my division a thousand men and women, as good as any in this House, who are in receipt of old age pensions, who have given lives of sacrifice and service to the nation, and are also in receipt of public assistance relief. There would be hundreds of thousands more in every 2012 constituency if it was not for the fact that sons and daughters, many of them very badly able to do so, have had to come to the assistance of their aged parents, and in many cases as a result their young families are suffering. I had a meeting with a large number of these old people last Saturday, and they submitted to me their budgets, which I do not intend to present to the House, because we have had budgets of old age pensioners presented too often. Those who do not understand those budgets from experience understand them by theory. One old lady asked me whether I would put a question to the Prime Minister and without thinking I said, "Yes." It was a question which I have been rather timid about putting, but this is a good opportunity for putting it because the Prime Minister is not here, and I would put it to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The old lady said: "Will you ask Mr. Chamberlain if he could live on 10s. a week"? I said," I do not know whether he could, but I could not. "The old lady added: "If he cannot live on 10s. a week, why should I be compelled to do so." That is the way in which these aged people are looking at the situation.
The Government cannot hide behind the excuse that they will have a committee of inquiry. We know, and the people in the country are beginning to understand also, what these committees of inquiry mean. In the plain parlance of the working class I say to the Government: "You have been rumbled, and you ought to come out and face the situation fairly and squarely." Any Government which would treat the aged people in the way this Government are treating them is unworthy of the confidence of the people of the country and unworthy of the sacrifices of the young men who will die and those who already have died in the struggle against aggression, and for freedom and a life of decency. The Government are proving themselves unworthy of all this sacrifice for ideals.
Those who remember the speech of the Secretary of State for War just after the war began will recollect that it was full of idealism. It called for sacrifice for a great ideal. We feel that he was not speaking the voice of the Government or voicing the ideals of the Government but rather that the Government are fooling the people of this country. Therefore, I 2013 ask whoever replies for the Government to remember that we will not accept this suggestion of an inquiry. I go further and say that it is the duty of the Opposition now to tell the Government: "Up to this moment we have been behind you in the prosecution of this war, but what is the position?" There are those of us who have a lively memory of service in the last war and who if age had not been against us would probably have been with the Forces to-day, and we say: "There can be no truce between the Opposition and the Government and there cannot be that wholehearted support of the Government by the Opposition in the prosecution of the war, if we find that in the midst of the struggle there is a continuance of this aggression against the people of the country who are least able to defend themselves."
I ask the Government to remember all these things, to remember that we are not making these speeches just for the sake of talking. We are making these statements on behalf of the people because we see their struggle every day, because their lives are our lives, because they are men and women who live alongside us, who have worked with us, and who have grown grey with many of us. It is because we know their lives and their struggles that we appeal so earnestly to the Government. I understood the Chancellor of the Exchequer to say that he did not want to shelve this question until the war was over. Let us see how that statement squares with an answer that he gave on 19th October. He may have changed his mind and the Government may have changed their mind. We shall be glad if they have, and if so I hope they will tell us before the Debate ends. On the 19th October the Chancellor of the Exchequer was asked by me:Whether, in view of the fact that the increasing number of old age pensioners making a call upon the public assistance authorities owing to the rise in the cost of living is causing a serious increase of rates in industrial centres, he will consider taking over this responsibility by increasing the payments to old age pensioners, so that they may live without recourse to the public assistance committee.The Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who replied, speaking for the Government said:No Government has ever claimed that the rate of old age pension is sufficient to enable a pensioner to maintain himself without any other resources.2014 That means that the Government are asking us to say that the old age pensioner is to be dependent upon his friends or relatives or he must go to the public assistance committee.The cost of living has not risen by more than was to be anticipated on the outbreak of war, and the cost of living index is substantially lower than it was either in December, 1919, when the rate of pension was raised to 10s. or in August, 1925, when the contributory pension scheme was passed.Our answer is that we do not care a rap what the alteration has been. The standard of life for our people is too low and the life that 10s. a week can give them is one of which we ought to be ashamed.In view of the very large expenditure involved in even a small general rise in the rate of old age pension, the Government regret that they cannot see their way at the present time to introduce legislation with a view to increasing the rate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th October, 1939; cols. 1075–6, Vol. 352.]I should be glad if the Chancellor of the Exchequer would elucidate what was meant by the words "at the present time." My impression was that they meant during the period of the war, and that was the impression of a very great number of people who have spoken to me on the subject. Answers like this we cannot accept. We know and the Government know that there are 300,000 men and women in receipt of old age pensions who are also in receipt of public assistance relief. Those old age pensioners are mostly living in working-class areas, for it is in the working-class areas that the poorest people live. Those 300,000 old people have to depend on the assistance that comes from the public assistance committee, and that means an added contribution from the rates. We say that no section of the community, certainly not the poorest section, should be saddled with that extra charge but that the whole charge should be put upon the nation. The only way in which that can be done is to raise the old age pension to a standard which will allow these old men and women, who have given their lives in the building up of the wealth and strength of the nation, and have made it possible for the country to prosecute this war, on which so much money is being spent, in the eventide of their lives to expect from a grateful nation, not as a charity but as a right, such a pension as will allow them; 2015 to pass the evening of their days in safety, security and comfort.
I ask the Government to take the Whips off to-night and to allow the House to have a free vote; and if the Government will not do that, then I ask hon. Members who are supporters of the Government to let the call of humanity be greater than the call of a reactionary Government, and come into the Division Lobby with the Opposition in defence of a proposition which I am confident, if carried, would meet with the overwhelming support of the whole country.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Sir Henry Fildes
There is one point on which I should like to obtain an expression of opinion from hon. Members opposite. Suppose that the Government were able to announce that within two months their inquiries would be completed and they would then come to the House with their proposals, whatever they might be, would that be a helpful contribution in assuaging the natural canxieties which we all feel with regard to the old-age pensioners? A further point that I would like to put to hon. Members is this: I cannot for the life of me understand why anybody has the slightest compunction about receiving public assistance. They have contributed year after year as ratepayers and when distress comes upon them, this is the way which up to now—I am not saying it is a perfect way—the State has provided to help people in their hour of need. I cannot see that it is any worse than going to the Prudential and claiming a pension which has been paid for year by year.
§ Mr. Messer
What about the rude examination which people have at the hands of the public assistance committee?
§ Sir H. Fildes
Let me say at once that the committee comes under the local authority, and if there is anybody who submits a person to a cruel examination, in this age of democracy the electorate can at the election turn out the people responsible.
§ Sir H. Fildes
I do not want to strike a contentious note; I was striving to find some way out, because I assure hon. Members opposite that they are pushing at an open door. There is no hon. Mem- 2016 ber who does not appreciate that 10s. a week is not enough to give a person a decent life. That is something which is admitted on all hands. Let us hear what are the Government's proposals after the Chancellor and Treasury officials have met the trade union leaders and the employers. This is a national question and not a party question. I think it would be very helpful if we could have some assurance that this question is not being put off until the end of the war, and that we are not calling upon these people to go on—I will not say starving, for there is no need, with our poor law institutions, for anybody to starve—to go on in their present condition; and that, within a couple of months, the inquiries will be completed and the Government's proposals will be put before the House, and that the Government will be prepared to sink or swim by them. We all agree that the position of the old age pensioners is a tragedy. Probably I know as many cases of desperate hardship as do hon. Members opposite. I am trying to see what is the best way of remedying the position. If the Motion were passed today, it would be months before the necessary financial provisions were made, and if we can get an undertaking that within two months—
§ Sir H. Fildes
I am only saying that if we could get an assurance of that kind, it would go a long way to meet the situation. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie) said that he believed that the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer was simply an effort to push this question over to the end of the war. I do not believe that, and I think that if we could get an assurance of the sort I have mentioned, it would go a long way to meet the position.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I think that most hon. Members will agree, at any rate, in part with the speech of the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Fildes). Clearly, it is only a difference in degree between one individual and another, when it comes to accepting money from a public authority, for when all is said and done, even the officers of State, judges and so on, receive pensions that are paid from public money, just as much as do the poor souls who go to the Unemployment Assistance Board to draw relief. Of course, the great 2017 difference is that it is inherent in the common people of this country that anything which pertains to the poor-house has to be avoided, and I think we can appreciate that fact, even though we sometimes wish that some of our people were not so proud, but would put their pride in their pocket and take what, after all, they are entitled to have.
If this Debate does nothing else, it will have brought the Government up to scratch, for in spite of what the Chancellor has said, I am convinced that if this Debate had not taken place, we should have gone through the war without hearing anything more about the inquiry that was promised on 27th July. That inquiry is now promised, and it is obvious that, as the result of it, something will have to be done; but I think that all hon. Members on these benches—and, judging from the speeches that have been made, Members of the Liberal Opposition too— are resolved not to leave the matter purely on the promise of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I hope that our leaders will press this Motion to a Division to-night.
I listened very carefully to the figures which the Chancellor gave, and although they sounded impressive, they were, in fact, not as impressive as they sounded. I speak subject to correction, but from what the Chancellor said, it seems to me that it would cost about £40,000,000 to give another 5s. at the age of 65, if it were given now. Frankly, £40,000,000 a year is not a great sum. It is obvious that, if the money is not to come from the Exchequer, it will have to come from somewhere. If the old people have not the money and cannot get help from their relatives, they have to go to the public assistance committee for relief. Therefore, it is only a question of where the money has to come from. The State itself. in one shape or another, will have to find most of the money. I ask the Chancellor to realise the feeling that there is on this subject throughout the country, and to realise also that £40,000,000, although it may sound a lot, is very little in terms of human happiness and comfort, especially at that time of life the old people have reached. It is right and proper that this money should be given. Being a firm believer in the taxation of land values, and realising that the Chancellor himself at one time was also a believer in the same remedy, I could 2018 easily show him where he could get not only this money, but a great deal more; and I should like also to remind him that when it comes to other relief, such as de-rating, there are sections of the community which, in the course of the year, are getting away with a great deal more than the £40,000,000 which would be involved if an extra 5s. were given at the age of 65.
Having fought a recent by-election, I am able to speak at first-hand of the enormous feeling that there is in the country on this issue. It seemed to me proper, therefore, that if an opportunity occurred, I should take part in this Debate. In the by-election which I fought, in a constituency which, curiously enough, adjoins the constituency of the hon. and gallant Member for Oldham (Mr. H. Kerr) on the one side, and the constituency of the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the other, it was interesting to note that, although the by-election began in the orthodox way of all by-elections, just before the war—that is to say, a conflict between those who were for and those who were against the Prime Minister—very quickly one issue dominated all others, and that was the issue as to whether 10s. was or was not enough as a pension for the aged people of this country. All three candidates found that they could not ignore the feeling on that subject, and I may say that all three of us indicated, both in our addresses and in our speeches, that if we were returned to the House, we would do our best to impress upon the Government the desirability of increasing the amount now allowed. The Chancellor will remember that some time ago I put a question to him on the subject of the inquiry which has been set up, and in the course of his reply to me he was perhaps less cautious than he usually is, for, in answer to a supplementary question, he rather queried whether the cost of living had gone up.
§ Sir J. Simon
I am glad of the opportunity to correct the hon. Member, for my reply has very often been misquoted. I 2019 did not say that the cost of living had not gone up. What I said was that I could not accept the statement that the cost of living was rapidly rising. Is not that so?
§ Mr. Hall
The right hon. Gentleman, in answer to my question, said:I cannot accept the statement that the cost of living is rising rapidly. In any case the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that this matter has been very carefully considered."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th September, 1939; col. 1207, Vol. 351.]It does, anyway, not affect the point I was about to make, which is that the cost of living has risen very rapidly. As a result of that observation by the right hon. Gentleman, which must have been quoted very widely in the Press, I got a very large fan mail from all parts of the country. People in the constituency which the right hon. Gentleman now represents sent me letters, and, curiously enough, most of all I got letters from the constituency which the right hon. Gentleman hopes to represent next time. This may, therefore, interest him particularly. People have written to me to point out— whether the cost of living is rising rapidly or slowly, and whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer accepts the fact or not— that they know from their own budgets that the cost of living has gone up considerably. One old age pensioner from the right hon. Gentleman's constituency sent me an account of what she had spent on certain articles during the week which ended on 13th September, and what those articles cost in the following week. Since then, of course, the cost of living has gone up a good deal more. It was perfectly obvious from the figures which she sent to me, that 7—d., or whatever the figure quoted yesterday is, is grossly inadequate and inaccurate as an indication of the actual rise which has taken place. In actual fact, in the case of household necessaries, groceries and things of that kind, where people previously could get goods at a cost of 7s. 6d., those same goods are now costing them 9s. 6d. to 10s. —if they have the money to spend.
I hope that, in spite of all that has been said to-night, the House will realise 2020 that behind this question there lies a great human problem and that Members irrespective of party will refuse to accept the promise which the Chancellor has made. I hope Members will realise that while £40,000,000 is £40,000,000, nevertheless, if it has to be found, this House can find it, and that it ought to be found now. It is not the fault of the old age pensioners that there is a war and we should not make them shoulder a burden which is greater than they can bear, because, through the follies of statesmen, we are now involved in a great conflict. I would ask Members of other parties to join with the Labour party in the protest which I am positive we are going to make against the Government's handling of this matter and to show by their votes their belief that the present old age pension is inadequate and that it is our duty as the elected representatives of the people to see that it is increased, immediately, at any rate to 15s. a week.
§ 7.3 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Harbord
By way of preface to the few remarks which I intend to offer, I may say at once that I am a strong believer in an immediate increase of the pension for old people of 70 and over. They have a hard life indeed in this period of rising prices and their hardships are increasing week by week, so that it behoves all of us to see that something is done to meet their case. I would be satisfied if we could get from the Chancellor of the Exchequer a promise such as that suggested by the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Fildes), that within two or three months there will be a report upon this matter by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The right hon. Gentleman must, necessarily, closely examine all points of view on this question and consider the liability which will ensue to the finances of the country from an increase in the pension and the nation's ability to bear the additional burden. I suggest that the Chancellor should give a pledge of that kind accompanied by another pledge, namely, that he would give now an addition to those who are now entitled to old age pensions, which would more than cover the increased cost of living.
The case of these people is very hard indeed and, as I say, it grows worse week by week. I do not think a certain amount of delay in the consideration of 2021 the question can be avoided and the House does not know how long that delay may be. That is why I suggest that the Chancellor should say to-day, that there will be an immediate increase, however small, even if only 1s. or 1s. 6d. in the meantime, until the general report on the question has been presented. I believe if he did so, every Member here would go away better pleased in the thought that something, however little, had been done to lighten the load on these poor people. The promise that there should be a presentment of the Government's case after full examination should carry that further undertaking. I think that the State, the trade unionists and the employers—and I speak as an employer myself—would do their share and do it gladly to help to alleviate the conditions of those whose lot has been most miserable indeed and I make this suggestion. While the war lasts, there should be a declining number of unemployed, with the mines in full blast, as they should be, with many men in the Forces, and others doing war work and there should be a much lessened demand on the Insurance Fund. Could not the millions which are going into that fund be drawn on, in the meantime, for some contribution for this purpose? There is a fund into which you can put your hand at once to meet the increased cost. I suggest that that is a way of giving the immediate help required, and in two months or three months, or whatever the time may be, let us have the promised report. If it does justice and provides a higher standard of living for these poor wretched people, it will gladden the heart of all of us and earn our full support.
§ 7.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Daggar
It was very interesting to follow the arguments which were advanced earlier in this Debate dealing with the number of people who will be in this country 20 years hence, but I am unable to appreciate the connection between the number of people who may be here after we have gone, and the question now before the House. Nor am I able to appreciate the observations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer with regard 1o what should be paid as pension to a person who has attained the age of 60 and the relationship between this matter and the question of pensions for spinsters, and contribution books, and contributory pensions. All this seems to have little con- 2022 nection with the issue now before us. I assure the House that there are few questions of greater interest to our people to-day than the question of an increase in the old age pension. It is a question which ought to be of some interest to us because, psychologically at least, it may have some effect on the prosecution of the war.
I attended a conference which discussed this subject on Saturday last. Strange as it may appear to hon. Members opposite, we were condemned in some quarters at that conference for giving our complete support to the Government in the prosecution of the war without laying down the condition that there should be an increase in old age pensions. It may also be of interest to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to know—and there is no reason why I should not state it—that another condition was suggested, namely, the abolition of the means test. This issue has been raised in the ordinary manner continuously in this House, and week by week, almost day by day, we have been referred by Ministers to whom questions were put, to previous replies on the subject. Last Wednesday the Financial Secretary to the Treasury referred us to a reply which he gave on 19th October. We are entitled to assume that he was expressing the views of the Government when he suggested that no Government had ever claimed that the old age pension was sufficient to enable the pensioner to maintain himself without any other resources. He also stated:The cost of living has not risen by more than was to be anticipated on the outbreak of war, and …is still substantially lower than it was …in December, 1919, when the rate of pension was raised to 10s."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th October, 1939; col. 1076, Vol. 352.]I submit that there is a much more effective reply to our demand than the reply for which the Chancellor is responsible. To state that "the cost of living has not risen more than was to be anticipated" is poor consolation to those who are expected to exist on the pittance of 10s. a week. Such an observation is not only cold and comfortless, but in some respects it is cool and callous. If demands for increases in wages are necessary and just because of an increase in the cost of living, obviously the demand of the old age pensioner is also just and reasonable, and with this disadvantage as far 2023 as he is concerned, that the man who is employed can withhold his labour, whereas such means are not at the disposal of the old age pensioner. I suggest that it is imperative that the conditions of our aged people should be immediately improved. To say that no Government ever claimed that the rate of the old age pension is sufficient to enable a pensioner to maintain himself is of no advantage to the pensioner, and it naturally invites the retort, "Why should it not be made sufficient?" Why should this person be a charge on the funds of the local public assistance committee? If there was a will, the money to meet this demand could be found.
To say that the cost of living index figure is substantially lower than it was in December, 1919, when the 10s. pension was first paid, is a very weak defence, because the obvious retort is that it was too low a figure in 1919, and if the right hon. Gentleman is as adept at comparisons as he appears to be, he could have informed the House that the present figure of 65 is the highest since January, 1930. We all know that it is the most serious figure that we have had in this country since 1930, and that the index figure was 165 in 1921, so that the inference to be drawn from the reply given in this House by the right hon. Gentleman is a condemnation of the old age pensioner for not having made an earlier demand for an increase in his pension. The Government, in my opinion, could not have selected a more efficient apologist for political and legislative inactivity than the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, because many Members of this House knew him as one of the most capable obstructionists in 1929 and 1930, though I am yet to be convinced that it is to his credit, because to retard the machinery of Parliamentary procedure by gabbling a lot of fatuous nonsense, even if it is achieved with a distinctive accent, is not an honourable method of earning a living.
Whenever the index figure of the cost of living and the standard of living are raised in this House, I am reminded of the note which accompanies the statistics which appear in the "Ministry of Labour Gazette" in every issue, to the effect that particulars regarding the scope and 2024 method of calculation of the statistics relating to changes of working-class costs of living should be obtained by reading a document called "The Cost of Living Index number." I have procured a copy and have found it, not only illuminating, but extremely interesting. It shows that much of the information collected, upon which it is now possible to ascertain any variation in the cost of living is 35 years old, so that we ask as we ask to-day, for an increase of the old age pensions, we base the request upon a standard of existence, part of which is 35 years old. The rate at which the workers progress makes one dizzy. That is not the worst part of the position which we occupy to-day, because the demand that we are now making is based on the assumption that even that standard, which is 35 years old, was satisfactory. But was it? This is the first paragraph in the document to which I have referred, and which we are asked to read when studying the statistics in the "Ministry of Labour Gazette":As the phrase increase in the cost of living can be interpreted in various ways, it should at the outset be observed that the statistics prepared by the Ministry of Labour are designed to measure the average increase in the cost of maintaining unchanged the prewar standard of living of the working classes.By this is meant the standard actually prevailing in working-class families just before the war"—and these are the words to which I wish particularly to direct attention—irrespective of whether or not such standard was adequate.We are, therefore, compelled to conclude from a perusal of this publication that the only quality that the accepted standard possesses is the one of age, and it appears that we have now reached a stage when it is expected that conformity to such an ancient and obsolete standard of existence should be accepted, and that it should be used by any Government to bolster up a case against the demand to maintain a measure of comfort for old people.
On previous occasions, when this question has been discussed, we on this side have expressed our disapproval of old age pensioners being forced to have recourse to public assistance, and this has been discounted on the ground that only 10 per cent. of the old age pensioners were so affected. In fact, in a letter sent to the Press on 12th July last by the Prime Minister, we were told that 90 per 2025 cent. of these "managed to live without recourse to the rates." The Prime Minister generally exercises great care in his selection of words, and it is to be noted that the two hon. Members who moved the Amendment to-day used precisely the same language, namely, that some old age pensioners "managed to live without recourse to the rates." I think the word "managed" is extremely appropriate. It describes the condition of these aged people perfectly, and that is that they are able to manage without recourse to the rates, but in many instances it is real pride, and not need, which prevents our aged people having such recourse. But 10 per cent. of them are obliged, we are told, to have recourse to the rates. I suppose it is because they are not able to "manage" without doing so.
In this connection it is interesting to note that 10 per cent. covers some very pertinent particulars. It means that in Scotland, on nth March of this year, there were no fewer than 42,387 of the old age pensioners in receipt of Poor Law relief, and the corresponding figure for the same period for England and Wales was 265,493. This gives a total for Great Britain of 307,880. These figures are taken from the Parliamentary Debates for 6th April this year, and they put the 10 per cent. in an entirely new light. With their dependants, these persons involve a charge on the public assistance committees, disregarding the reduction due to the block grants, of £5,784,000 a year. In other words, the charge involved in relieving these old age pensioners is nearly £6,000,000, which, with the increase necessary to meet our present demand, ought to come from the National Exchequer. The existing expenditure on this relief means a rate charge of 1s. 2d. in the £in some areas, and of as much as 2s. 0.3d., 2s. o.5d. and 3s. 4.8d. in Durham, Monmouth and Merthyr Tydfil, respectively. The failure of the Government to meet the demand to increase the pension is amazing when consideration is given to other of their actions. The weekly rates payable for billeting accommodation for persons evacuated under the official scheme and for civilian billeting by the Government are 10s. 6d. for boarding and lodging children—6d. more than the amount paid to maintain an old man or old woman; and 21s. for board and lodging, or lodging, breakfast and 2026 dinner for adults. It is a strange fact that the 6d. per week more for the keep of a child than an old age pensioner, and the 11s. more for the billeting of adults, are due to the war, because the promise to improve the lot of these aged persons cannot, it is claimed, be due to the war.
The tolerance shown by the people is amazing when it will permit the old age pensioner to exist on a pittance of 10s. whereas, but for the fact of observing a standard of respectability, he might be an inmate of a casual ward, when he would cost the country no less than 30s. a week. Even if you violate the laws and become an inmate of a penal establishment, the nation would be called upon to pay no less than £3 3s. 6d. for maintenance. Yet the Government are defending the payment of 10s. per week to respectable people. I recently read the Debates on this question which took place in the House in 1907. It is a coincidence that the brother of the Prime Minister made this observation:He who wills the end must will the ways and means.That is simply a variant of the slogan: "Where is the money to come from?" To double the amount of the pension would be a small thing compared with the resources of the country. I am tired of hearing Members on the opposite side saying that the money cannot be found. They will not persuade the aged people that the money cannot be found. It can be found in a country where we have 917 millionaires. Last year the number had increased by 42 as compared with the year before, and 66 as compared with the year before that. It is futile for Members who defend the Government to say, that the money cannot be found. The money can be found to destroy life. It is imperative that we should find it in order to maintain life. Members talk about what may happen in 20 years' time. Whatever might be the increase in population, if we can increase the productive capacity of industry by 27 per cent. in five years, we need not be concerned about finding the money. The Chancellor took exception to an observation that we should leave the future to look after it self. I would only say in reply to that, that this country will cease to be great when it refuses to have regard to those who have made their contribution to the industrial and commercial prosperity of the country. If the people who 2027 live in the future cannot do more for the old age pensioner than the Government are prepared to do, the country deserves to cease to be great.
We hear a lot about the enormous expenditure on public social services. I wonder whether Members have given the attention to that subject which it deserves. If they have they will find this fact in reference to the amount of money spent on those services. We are informed that of each £1 of national expenditure, excluding the self-supporting services, 11s. 1d. is required for war purposes and 8s. 11d. for the whole of the social services. Of that 8s. 11d., pensions of all kinds take 1s. 6d. The figure of 8s. 11d. shows an increase of only 4d. since 1932. It takes 11s. 1d. to defend the miserable payment of 1s. 6d. in the £for pensions, including old age pensions. There are other things, we know, that have to be defended, but old people are asking whether it is worth while spending 11s. 1d. out of every £of national expenditure in order to preserve intact the payment of a miserable 10s. a week.
Sir Gwilym Gibbons recently read a paper before the Royal Statistical Society. He is now the occupant of an important office under the Government. He said that the total paid in pensions averaged, per head of the population, nearly 19s. in 1935–36. Most people, I think, would agree to double that sum in order to provide adequate maintenance for the aged people of the country. No excuse and no defence is legitimate in view of the demand we are making. If it is just, as the Chancellor has admitted, it becomes the responsibility of Parliament to meet that just demand. The right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Financial Secretary says that a mere 7½d. increase is necessary to meet the increased cost of living, but let him come to my division and tell them that. The money, if the desire exists, can be found.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Captain Elliston
At the opening of this Debate we were assured by the Leader of the Opposition that the Motion was not to be regarded as a Vote of Censure, but, since the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and others have unmistakably condemned those who feel bound to 2028 await the completion of the investigations now in progress. Even those of us who are convinced that large numbers of old age pensioners are enduring pitiful privations, often because of their proud reluctance to accept public assistance, must recognise the significance of the facts stated by the Chancellor. After all, the House has a serious responsibility in matters of finance and we must not be swayed entirely by a desire to be generous at a time when our national resources are bearing what the Prime Minister described as an unexampled strain. For my part, therefore, I accept the assurance of the Chancellor that the possibility of an increase in old age pensions shall be the subject of immediate and continual investigation, in the confident expectation that some substantial advance will be granted at the earliest possible moment.
The Chancellor quite reasonably asks us for sufficient time for negotiations regarding the contributions of employers and workers to be investigated, for such contributions must be the basis of any sound scheme. He warned us, also, that efficient methods of administration cannot be devised on the spur of the moment. Surely, when such big decisions are at stake, unreasonable impatience on the part of those who are striving to help the pensioners cannot advance their cause. But there are many on this side of the House who would be seriously concerned if there was any undue delay in reaching a solution of the matter. Rather than that that should happen, many Members, like myself, would prefer to see some: temporary scheme for the relief of the pensioners during the war period, to meet at least any increase in the cost of living. In that case we should ask for an assurance that at the end of the war period the position of the old age pensioners should be thoroughly investigated.
I agree with the suggestion of the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) that the time is long overdue when we should have a complete reorganisation and co-ordination of all our social services to avoid the overlapping and waste which undoubtedly occur at present. I hope also that, in the event of a further and more prolonged investigation, consideration will be given to the proposal of the Association of Municipal Corporations, the County Councils Association and other bodies that the cost of public assistance should be a national charge, because 2029 undoubtedly at present the burden falls most heavily on those areas where there is poverty and unemployment. Finally, I hope an opportunity will be found to consider the claim of unmarried women for an earlier payment of the pension. There are a great many Members—over 200 signed a Motion to that effect—who believe very strongly that those women are deserving of special treatment and that they have established a claim which this House cannot ignore for earlier pension benefits. It is a tragic thing that, out of 175,000 insured women at the age period 55–65, only 61,000 qualify for pensions—
§ Captain Elliston
I hope I have said enough in this connection to remind the House of what is in the mind of many of us. I would urge on those Members of the Opposition who are showing impatience and disappointment to realise that there is a general feeling in the House that these unhappy pensioners should have assistance. But we must recognise the great responsibility of the Government from the financial aspects of the problem. We regard it as important and urgent because we believe that the comfort and security of our people are essential to maintain the spirit and strength of the nation, on which the triumph of our Forces must ultimately depend. But we recognise that we are engaged at this moment in a life-and-death struggle, and that the Government are bound to give very deliberate consideration to anything which calls for a further tax on our national resources. Before the Debate opened we had had in the newspapers most unusual publicity for the probable course of events. We were told of the embarrassment that would be felt by people like myself who are definitely anxious to advance the cause of the old age pensioners but who would lack the courage to vote against the Government. I am not conscious of any feeling of embarrassment at all. The people who would be embarrassed are the Opposition if by any chance they succeeded in defeating the Government. It might help them in their constituencies, but they know perfectly well that a Government reverse at this time would be misunderstood by our friends and foes abroad, and that, by taking such a stand 2030 at such a moment they would inflict definite damage on our national cause.
§ 7.39 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Wilmot
It is extremely important that the House should realise that this matter is one of extreme urgency which cannot await the very thorough investigation which the Chancellor of the Exchequer very properly said must precede any major overhauling of the complicated system of pensions and allowances. We appreciate to the full the illuminating figures and facts which the right hon. Gentleman placed before the House. We know very well that the present system, rather a patchwork one, which has grown up in the way the Chancellor described, will need a very thorough inquiry before it can be made perfect in the new circumstances. I beg to submit that the condition of the poorest old age pensioners, who have to live entirely upon their pensions, is so desperate that it cannot await that inquiry, and the Leader of the Opposition and my hon. Friends on this side of the House urge the Government to do something now to relieve the terrible distress in which those poor old people find themselves. I was amazed at the answer which the Financial Secretary to the Treasury gave the other day about the effect of rising prices. We all hoped, I think, that we should not again have to go through the vicious spiral of rising costs. The Government said it was their intention to control prices and to hold down the cost of living. They have failed to do it, and the fact is staring us in the face that the cost of living for the poorest people has risen by alarming proportions.
§ Mr. Wilmot
Since the war started. I am dealing with the special hardships inflicted upon them by the onset of the war. The cost-of-living index figure is no help to us in assessing this rise, because the incomes of old age pensioners and the poorest of the poor are wholly spent upon the barest necessities, and it is tragically true that if is those necessities which have risen in price the most steeply. If the Chancellor had been thinking about the expenditure of the old age pensioner he could not have said that the cost of living was not rapidly rising.
I have ventured to make a somewhat exhaustive examination into the position 2031 of old age pensioners in my own constituency, in the Borough of Lambeth, and I find the most surprising and terrible state of affairs. Vegetables, upon which such an old man and his wife are accustomed to spend 2S. a week, now cost 2s. 3d. Their bread has risen from 10½d. to 1s. 0½d. Their four pints of milk cost 1s. 2d. Their tea has gone up from 1s. 4d. to 1s. 6d.; a quarter of a pound of butter from 7d. to 8½d.; 2 lb. of sugar from 5½d. to 9. Their half crown's worth of meat per week now costs 3s., the tin of condensed milk has risen from 3¾d. to 4½d., the coal, which previously cost 2s. 6d. now costs 2s. 8d. The standing charges coming before food—rent, coal, gas and that essential and tragic item found in nearly every budget of this kind, burial insurance—account in the average of the cases which I have examined for 11s. 7d. Out of £1 a week, the pension of the two old people, that leaves only 8s. 5d. for food for the week, and that is totally insufficient to provide the minimum amount of food of any kind upon which two human beings can maintain life. I found that on the average they used to spend 9s. 6d. a week on food, and that that quantity of food now costs 11s. 9d.
This is evidence—upon which I can absolutely rely, for I have checked it exhaustively—that there is a state of semi-starvation among the old age pensioners. They cannot cut down the rent or the insurance, and they must pay the gas and the other standing charges, and the consequence is they are reducing the amount of food they are eating by one-third. It may be asked why they do not go to the Poor Law. The answer is, whatever we may think of it, that among very old people objection to the taint of the Poor Law is very strong. It is not so strong among younger people. Younger people have learned that there is nothing dishonourable in accepting public assistance, but that is not true of the old folk, whose character and impressions were formed in a different epoch. They still regard the poor house as the last stigma of degradation, and hope they will be able somehow to end their lives without having to resort to parish relief, as they still call it. In many hundreds of thousands of cases they would rather starve to death than apply for parish relief or be buried by the parish.
2032 Those are facts which seem to me to be terrible facts indeed, and this House, which represents this country in a war to preserve the essentials of civilisation, would be neglecting its duty if it did not say that we must, here and now, find the money to remove this dreadful state of affairs. It will be argued that the Chancellor has had terrific burdens cast upon him by the war. We appreciate that, but the old age pensioners also have had terrific burdens cast upon them by the war, and all hon. Members must feel in their hearts that we have no right on enjoy an existence which, compared with theirs, is comfort, while these terrible conditions continue, and that as long as any taxpayer has any degree of comfort in his life he ought to be prepared to pay an extra 6d. or 1s. a year to relieve this terrible privation which is visiting the homes of those least able to bear it.
I am very lo th to paint pictures of this privation, because other Members are capable of doing that for themselves, but in these dark, cold and dreary nights which are going to be the lot of all of us during the winter of war let us think for a moment of the state of affairs in those old age pensioners' homes. Many of them are the fathers and mothers of men who are fighting in this war. Many of them are facing not only discomfort, not only cold, but the most hideous scourge of the poor, hunger, and in some cases actual death from starvation. In these circumstances I do not believe that we can await the deliberations of a statistical committee. The position must be dealt with now as a matter of emergency and of urgency. The inquiry should proceed and at the earliest possible date we should replace the emergency action we have taken by a more properly considered and balanced scheme.
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Loftus
A speaker in these Debates often commences by saying that he had not intended to intervene. I can honestly say that it is only during the last half-hour that I have felt it desirable, Mr. Speaker, to seek your eye and to join in this Debate. I have listened to the whole Debate. I have not been out of the Chamber for five minutes. Listening, I felt that it was exactly like the pre-war Debate, and that any foreigner in the Gallery to-night listening to us would never realise that this nation is in the 2033 midst of the most dangerous period of its history when all that we hold dear is at stake. I refer not only to wealth—and I do not mean individual wealth, but the wealth of the nation which gives us our social services—but things more valuable than wealth—our liberties. I feel that all the talk of national unity is a vain thing, because, instead of having such a Debate, there should have been a consultation between the Leaders of the Opposition and of His Majesty's Government. The Opposition Leaders should have said that there was this strong feeling and urgent necessity in the country. There should have been a readiness to sit round a table in conference in order to settle upon the best solution. That would have happened if the talk about national unity were a reality. To-night's Debate will, I fear, cause despondency among our friends in Europe and joy among our enemies, because it shows that the talk of national unity is not really true.
When I listened to the Chancellor of the Exchequer I realised to the full the weight of the financial argument that he used and the difficulty, at a time like this of vast and necessary expenditure, of finding £40,000,000 a year to increase these pitiable pensions by 5s. a week. I realise what we are so inclined to forget, that the financial position of this country will be extremely difficult if the war continues two or three years. The National Exchequer will be in the midst of awful difficulties. The right hon. Member for South Hackney (Mr. H. Morrison) has just entered the Chamber. He realises that the financial position of our cities, including the County of London, will be bad, because shops and houses are being emptied every day and offices are being abandoned, and rates are, therefore, falling more heavily upon the decreasing number of inhabited houses. If the war goes on for several years that position will prove a commonplace, and I warn hon. Members that we may have to face a very bitter lowering of the standard of the life of the country.
I feel very strongly indeed the case for these old age pensions, but I recognise the truth of the argument of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that when you are dealing with this vast and complicated scheme you must investigate and plan very carefully, and you cannot do that at once. Something ought, if possible, 2034 to be done by way of a temporary measure, perhaps purely as a war measure. There might be some small increase to these people, especially to those who are over 70. Before the Debate closes to-night I hope to hear that some proposal of that sort will be considered, and some statement made during the coming week. The hon. Member who spoke last said, with great eloquence, that the old people still feel strongly about the Poor Law and would endure extraordinary privations rather than go to public assistance. My main reason for rising is to ask whether some temporary and immediate measure can be provided to supplement the pension so that these old people need not go to the public assistance committees. The cost of this relief would have to fall upon the Exchequer because local rates are already heavily burdened. I suggest that, as an immediate step, the supplementary payments to pensioners should be transferred from the public assistance committees to the old age pensions committees, and that, during the next few weeks, some supplementary payment, as a temporary war measure, should be decided upon in respect of the old age pensioners over 70 years of age.
§ 7.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen
I think the House was disappointed with the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) and the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Fildes) sought some assurance from the right hon. Gentleman that, within two or three months, there should be proposals by the Government to deal with this matter. The right hon. Gentleman made it clear that the inquiry which was taking place would occupy a considerable time and that it would not be a matter of weeks. Consequently, I have very little hope from the statement that was made by the right hon. Gentleman. The fact of the matter is that the treatment of old age pensioners has been a scandal for years, and this question was not first raised only a few months ago, in July. I raised the matter last Session by introducing a Bill. Immediately this Parliament met, hon. Members on all sides of the House pressed the Government for action. Therefore the hon. Member who preceded me should not have been so full of indignation at the matter being raised in this way to-day.
2035 If there is any fault in connection with this question being raised it lies with the present Government. They have disregarded the needs of the people for a long time. The right hon. Gentleman said that we had misinterpreted the answer which he gave by thinking that it was the intention of the Government to postpone the matter till the end of the war. Certainly the answer was very vague and hon. Members in this House were fully justified in their fears that nothing was really going to be done. The Chancellor's statement contained a long array of figures with a view to showing the difficulty, from the financial standpoint, of doing anything. The Chancellor said those figures would be interesting to hon. Members, and he was not introducing them to suggest that it was impossible to make some alteration. Hon. Members, however, are justified in coming to the conclusion that those figures were put before the House in order to try to frighten hon. Members on his own side who were joining with the Opposition in pressing for something to be done to help these people.
There was another statement made by the Chancellor, of which I took a note. He said that until we know how much is needed we cannot get anywhere in dealing with this question. If the Government had always acted on that principle there might be something to be said for it, but when it was a question of rearmament and of entering a war, the Government did not act on that principle. They did not know how much the war was going to cost; they did not know how many years it was to go on, but they went into it. They also embarked upon the programme of rearmament, but they could give no indication of how many thousands of millions would be involved in the expenditure. It seems to be a very different proposition when it comes to dealing with the needs of the poor old people in this country. In that case we have to know exactly how much it will cost, what the figure will be in 1980, and all the rest of it.
The way in which the Government have treated those old people is shameful in the extreme and there will be disappointments throughout the whole country at the way in which the Government are dealing with the matter. I want to join my voice to those who have pressed for a definite 2036 statement from the Government that something shall be done now. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) suggested that the Government should intimate an increase of 5s. per week in the pensions. I think the Government should intimate an increase of 10s. a week and make the pension £1a week. If hon. Members asked me where the money is to be found for this additional expenditure, I would say the money could be found for it just as easily as the money can be found for the instruments of death and destruction. If necessary, stop the war in order to provide for the poor people in this country so that they may be able to live in peace, safety and comfort.
One point in this Debate, which was dealt with by the hon. Member who preceded me, was the way in which the Opposition had pressed the matter and the fear that there was no national unity if the Opposition were going to act in this way. The one feature of this Debate which pleases me is the way in which the Opposition have made this a matter of such first-class importance, and the fact that they do not seem to intend to give the Government the co-operation in the future that they have given them in the past unless the Government are prepared to treat this section of the working-class people much better than they have done. The need of these people is very great. An hon. Member on the opposite side tried to find some justification for not supporting the Opposition by referring to the increased burdens caused by the war. It was obvious to me that hon. Members might try to find an excuse with regard to that particular point, but it is only an excuse.
The need of the old people is known to all. The Chancellor of the Exchequer himself said that there was no one who believed that 10s. a week was a subsistence figure, and he pointed to the fact that there were three ways in which it might be supplemented, by relatives, by the local authority or by the State. The State, obviously, is in the best position to make the supplement. In my own district, in Glasgow, we have had to carry a great volume of unemployment and that volume of unemployment has forced up the rates. We have a lot of old age pensioners and the supplementing of those pensions means a very great burden on a district which is so 2037 badly hit owing to the unemployment during these years. The fact of the matter is that the districts in which there has been little unemployment have been escaping their share of the burden of providing for the need of those old people, in some places, such as Merthyr and Glasgow, the rates have been increased by a very large amount because of the need for supplementing the 10s. a week. In places like Bournemouth, however, there is practically no addition at all to the rate in connection with supplementing the pensions.
With regard to the relatives of the old people, a lot of younger people who have been supplementing the pensions of the old people are not supplementing the pensions to-day because they are now serving in the Army. Their own income has been cut down to a very small figure and they are not able to maintain their own homes, their wives and families with the allowances that are being given to them. How are they able to continue to supplement the needs of the old people? The State has a great responsibility in connection with the old people and the Treasury has always refused to fulfil its responsibility with regard to the old age pensioners.
I hope the Opposition will press this matter and that they will become a real opposition to the Government in this House. They have given so much cooperation to the Government in the prosecution of the war and they have received nothing in return with regard to providing for the needs of the workers in the country. It has been altogether a one-sided bargain, and the Government to whom they have been giving their cooperation is one of the most futile and miserable Governments that we have ever had in this country. There is not a branch in the Government which has not brought forth chaos and muddle. Chaos and muddle have been characteristic of them throughout, and I hope this Debate to-day is the beginning of a real opposition to the Government in the House by the hon. Members on the bench across the Gangway. It will be encouraging to see that party display some of the old spirit that was characteristic of the Labour party in years gone by. I hope that this Debate will be a warning to the Government, and that before it ends the spokesman of the Government will intimate to 2038 the House that the old age pension is to be immediately increased to £1 a week.
§ 8.11 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipson
One is sometimes warned to beware of one's friends, and I could not help feeling, as I listened to the hon. Gentleman who has just spoken, that although I sympathise very much with the purpose of his argument, and, like him, am in favour of an immediate increase of the old age pension, I could not accept some of the arguments by which he justified his case—in particular, when he urged the Opposition to cease to co-operate with the Government in the successful prosecution of the war. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that if the Opposition are cooperating with the Government to that end it is not out of any love for the Government, but because they realise that in the successful prosecution of this war the Government and the Opposition have a common cause; and I would also remind the hon. Gentleman that if we were to lose the war the question of old age pensions, and many other questions in which he is interested, would be settled in a way of which he would be the last person to approve.
Having said that, may I add that I am one of those who are glad that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition has raised this question of an increase in the old age pension in the House to-day, because I believe that it is an immediate and urgent problem. I do not think for a moment that you ever solve a problem by pretending that it does not exist, by ignoring it, or by shelving it. What is worrying some Members of the House is whether the Amendment which has been put down to the original Motion is an attempt to shelve the problem of the old age pensioners. My hon Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) regretted, and I think quite properly, the effect which a Debate of this kind might have on national unity. I hope that the Government will not under-estimate the strength of the feeling in the country on this question, and the effect their decision is likely to have. Therefore, I would ask them to show that they have no desire to shelve this problem, that they do realise that it exists, and that they want to deal with it. They could do so on the lines suggested by previous speakers: first, by fixing quite clearly a definite time limit for the inquiry 2039 which is being held; and then, by providing for the period of the inquiry, until they are able to produce their new scheme, some immediate relief, at least for those old age pensioners who have no other source of income. I think that if the Government would agree to that there would be no Division in the House tonight, and national unity would be preserved.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer said, quite truly, that this is not a party question, and one hon. Member on the other side of the House expressed the hope that no party Whips would be put on. Party Whips have no terrors for me, but I think it would be a pity if there were any need for the party Whips to be put on. I appeal to the Government, in the interests of national unity, to recognise the strength of the feeling on this matter, and to make a concession on the lines I have suggested. It has sometimes been said that language is given us to conceal our thoughts. I think that in dealing with many of our problems we do not altogether realise what exactly is behind some of the phrases that we use. In this connection, I think we should appreciate this problem better if, instead of talking about the old age pensioners as a class, we could visualise one individual old age pensioner, and see what happened to that person if his or her income were limited to 10s. a week. I think we should all agree that if a person were in that position it would be impossible for him to live on the 10s. alone, and that if that is all he has he has to go short of food and short of warmth, to have insufficient light, and to be inadequately clad. I do not believe that there is a Member of this House who wants that sort of thing to continue, even if there is a war on.
Therefore, we have to ask ourselves, how do these people get their income supplemented? Some go to the public assistance committee, but not all of those who ought to go to the public assistance committee do so. There are some people who prefer to continue to suffer privation rather than to seek public relief. I have often tried myself to persuade people to apply for public relief and they have refused to do so; although, in their own interests, they ought to have gone. I have admired their spirit, and, from the national point of view, we want to maintain that spirit. I cannot see that 2040 it is any advantage to the State or the public funds if the money is paid out as public assistance rather than through taxation. I should have thought that, from the point of view of the national finances, it would be better, and certainly fairer, that these old people should be helped by the State, through an increase in the old age pension, rather than having to have recourse to public assistance, because rates are a heavier burden than taxes.
One pays Income Tax only if one has an income, and after one has paid direct taxation one has still some income left over; but one has to pay rates whatever one's income. If one has no income at all, one is still liable to rates; and the amount of rates that one pays may have no relation to one's income. You may have two men, one much better off financially than the other. The one may be a bachelor, so he can live in a small house or a flat, and pay a small amount in rates. You have another man whose income is not so great. He has a large family, and therefore has to live in a much bigger house and has to pay more in rates. Apart from the fact that to impose a burden upon rates, which ought to be borne by taxation, is unfair as between particular localities, because the burden falls more heavily on some localities than on others—and in point of fact it falls more heavily on the comparatively poor district than on the wealthier community—it also works out unfairly as regards individuals.
Another way in which these people may be helped may be by members of their family or friends. We have been reminded that, owing to the war, it is not so easy for these people to give that assistance in these days, because the war has created financial problems for them which make it difficult for them to help their aged relatives. Here, again, many old age pensioners refuse to receive assistance from their sons if they think that their sons are not in a position to give that help, when they know that the son can only help the father at the expense of himself, his wife or his own children. Such help really is a kind of taxation of the poor, because it is not the well-to-do who have parents who are old age pensioners whom they have to help: it is those of the poorer classes. Therefore, because old age pensions do exist somehow, I do not see why the State is 2041 necessarily going to be financially worse off because it says that it will accept the responsibility which is really the State's, and which at the present time is borne by individuals who are very often not in a position to bear it.
All that the original Motion asks is that in this time of war the old age pensioner should be put into the position to obtain what is his or her share of the food and the other necessities of life that are available, and that can only be made possible by some increase in the amount of old age pension. The old age pensioner would not hoard this extra money. It would be circulated and, in particular, in practice a great many old age pensioners do their shopping at the small shop. The small shopkeeper has been very hardly hit by war conditions, and I believe that the increased purchasing power of the old age pensioner would not only help the old age pensioner but also the small shopkeeper. The Chancellor of the Exchequer might be justified in saying that owing to the demands of the war he is not able to give an increase to all old age pensioners independently of whether they have other sources of income or not, but for the immediate period of the inquiry I would like him to say that there shall be some increase for those whose sole income is the old age pension, and also to agree that where the man is 65 and has ceased work, his wife, if she is 60 or over and is unable to go out to work for her living, shall be entitled to the old age pension.
If it were not for the war I think that the Government would already have brought forward their proposals, because on 27th July, when the last discussion was held, the Government promised us that an inquiry would be held. I believe that we are not wrong in assuming that the Government promised that inquiry because they were convinced that a case had been made out for an increase, and that they were prepared therefore to grant it. The position is immeasurably stronger for an increase now than it was then. and pending the fuller investigation, which, I admit, is necessary, and as an earnest of the good intentions of the Government to deal with this problem, and as a proof of their determination to preserve the national unity, they would be well advised to act now as if they had been able to make some recommendation by this time. We have been promised 2042 that as a result of the war we shall have a new world. We would like something on account, and the Government ought to say that they realise the immediate urgency of this problem—the need of the old age pensioner—if only as a gesture in the interests of national unity and for the preservation of our morale for the great struggle that is in front of us, and ought to grant some immediate increase in the old age pension.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Mr. McLean Watson
If the Motion which is before the House to-night has caused some Members on the Government benches to feel uncomfortable, they have nobody but their own Government to blame. We have kept this matter before the House of Commons now for a number of years. The Labour party has been at very considerable pains to get at the facts with regard to this question, and those facts have been stated in this House. It is true that the Leader of the Opposition, in introducing this Motion to-night, indicated that he was not putting forward the plan of the Labour party, which he said had been before the House on a previous occasion, and that all that we were asking to-night is an increase in the old age pension. In that demand he has the whole of the Labour party behind him, but we would have been justified in putting forward a demand for the whole of our claim, the whole plan that has been outlined by the Labour party. I remember that when we had a Debate on this question on a previous occasion the plan of the Labour party was a matter for jest on the other side, but it is not a matter for jest tonight. Since then we have had in this country the building up of the most remarkable organisation that I have ever known in my lifetime. It is an organisation called the Old Age Pensioners' Association, which has hundreds of thousands of members, all of whom are old age pensioners. I remember the beginning of this organisation. A few small organisations were formed in Edinburgh over two years ago.
§ Mr. Watson
I am coming to Fife. Over two years ago one or two branches were in existence in the Edinburgh district, and I can remember the first meeting of old age pensioners that was held in the county of Fife. I addressed that 2043 meeting, and I told the old age pensioners that if they wanted anything to be done on their behalf they had better buckle to and do it themselves. Since that time that organisation has spread not only over all Scotland but over England and Wales as well, and to-day all parties in this House had better recognise that in that organisation there is a political power at least equal to the strength of any of the parties in this House to-night. The fighting strength of that organisation, of the individuals who are in the movement and those who are behind it, is quite sufficient to influence any Government. Not only the old age pensioners themselves but their families are keenly interested in this organisation.
I had no hesitation in asking that meeting to form an old age pensioners association. It was a meeting in a mining area. The men were miners, members of a trade union, and on the platform were men who had built up the trade union movement, the co-operative movement and the friendly society movement in their localities, three of the great organised movements of the country. I had no hesitation in asking them to join together and form an organisation for the purpose of getting an increase in the old age pension. About that time the Labour party's plan for an increase in the old age pension was published, and since that time we have gone from strength to strength in the building up of an organisation that cannot be ignored by this House. That organisation to-night is demanding an increase in the old age pension. While we are not asking for the full £1 a week for a single individual or 35s. for the married couple living together, we are demanding now, in the present circumstances, a definite increase in the pension, and I hope that, in spite of the promise made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we shall press this matter to a Division.
During the past two years this matter has been up time and again. I would remind the Financial Secretary, who is now representing the Government, that not only himself but his predecessors have been interviewed and have been pressed over and over again to deal with the question before the war came; before we had appeals for national unity. It is all very well to appeal for national unity, and I agree that there is need for national 2044 unity at a time like this, but if there is to be national unity there must be some attention paid to the condition of the old people. This is no mere stunt so far as we are concerned. We are living with these old people and we know intimately their circumstances and conditions. We know that since the war started their condition has become progressively worse, and that condition requires to be attended to and relieved at once. I remember going on a deputation to the right hon. Gentleman the predecessor of the present Financial Secretary, who is now Secretary of State for Scotland. Long before the war he was told that we ought to have this matter discussed and decided in better circumstances than those in which we are discussing it to-day. We emphasised the need for dealing with the question of old age pensions. At that lime everybody knew that the old age pension was not sufficient. The organisation to which I have referred has become so strong, that hon. Members opposite are having representations made from the organisation in their constituencies that this matter must be attended to.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us this afternoon the amount of money that it is costing the State in old age pensions and what is being contributed by the workmen, and the employers of labour. We are not prepared to dispute those figures, which may be perfectly correct. We all know that for those pensioners over 70 the money has to be found by the State, but do not let the House forget that so far as contributory pensions are concerned it was an agreed plan put forward by gentlemen who are still holding office in the present Government. It was the Prime Minister, when he was Minister of Health in 1925, who brought in the contributory pension system, with its proportion to be paid by the Government, the workmen and the employers.
With regard to the contributory pensions system, I have addressed many public meetings since the Labour party plan was published. At those meetings, attended by workmen, there were many young men who were not thinking about old age pensions for themselves, because they were working and earning wages, but when we discussed the Labour party's plan at those meetings I never found one man objecting to an increase in his con- 2045 tribution, if the object was to increase the old age pension. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer meets the representatives of the trade unions I believe he will find the trade unions willing to agree to an increase in contributions, so that the old age pensioner may have an increased pension, whether that increase be 5s., 7s. 6d. or the full 10s. which the Labour party has asked for in the past.
If the Chancellor of the Exchequer means that, in the increase that is put forward, the State is not going to bear the same proportion as it is bearing at the present time, then so far as I am concerned I will not approve of a system of that kind. I am willing, as far as the workers are concerned, to agree that they should make an increased contribution, and I hope the employers will agree to an increased contribution and that the State's contribution will be proportionately as great as it is under the present contributory system. I gathered from the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that he was inclined to accept the view that the workers and the employers will pay a larger proportion of the increase than is to be paid by the State. It would only be fair that the State's proportion of the increase, whatever it is, should be in the same ratio as the present contributions made by State, the employers and the workmen. I hope the Chancellor of the Exchequer will tell us whether it is really the intention of the Government to ask the workmen and the employers to pay a larger proportion of the increased contribution than they are paying at the present time.
I hope that in the interests of national unity, which has been emphasised in the last few speeches, we shall get this matter settled satisfactorily and speedily. I ask the Financial Secretary and the Government to listen to the appeals that have been made from their own side that something should be done now rather than in two or three months' time. I should prefer them to do now exactly what they intend to do in two or three months' time, and they should be prepared immediately to give an increase of not less than 5s. a week. That increase, at the very least, ought to be given now. If in two or three months' time the Government found that they could make it 7s. 6d., well and good, but there should, at any rate, be an increase of not less than 5s. a week at once. If we 2046 could get a promise of that sort to-night from the Government, they might find more national unity than they will find if the matter has to be dealt with in one, two or three months' time. I hope that the party to which I belong will keep this matter before the House and the country. For the first week or two of the war there was a quietness on the old age pensions front, but the old age pensioners are active once again, and at this time they are carrying on their agitation as though no war was going on. One or two hon. Members opposite have expressed annoyance that the matter should have been raised at a time when we are at war. Very well, the responsibility lies on hon. Members opposite. It is no business of hon. Members on this side to damp down that agitation throughout the country by people who require at once the sympathetic attention and support of the House. I hope that to-night we shall have a definite assurance from the Government that an increase is to be granted now, and if a bigger increase can be given in two or three months' time, well and good.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Sir Thomas Moore
When I read the Motion on the Order Paper to-day and when I read the Amendment, I decided that I would come to the House and support the Motion.
§ Sir T. Moore
I have changed my mind, and perhaps the hon. Member will wait until I have finished my speech before expressing an opinion. When I heard the Chancellor's speech and realised, as I did, that there was a sincere and an honest determination to achieve something quickly, I felt that we had the hope, and even the confidence, that justice would be done to the old age pensioners, and done quickly. The Chancellor told us that he was going to invite the trade unions and the employers' federation to meet him with a view to ascertaining to what extent their respective organisations were able or willing to increase the contributions so as to ensure that there would be a definite fund at the disposal of the House to allocate as desired, and that then he would be in a position to say what the Government's contribution might be, so that we would know exactly what increase could 2047 be given, at the earliest possible date, to the old age pensioners.
For the benefit of hon. Members above the Gangway, however, I may say that in no circumstances, despite my support of the Motion, could I have voted for it, and I will give two reasons which I hope will appeal to them. As I understand other hon. Members have said, I believe that this Motion should not have been put on the Order Paper at this particular time. The Government know the facts perfectly well, the Opposition know the facts perfectly well, the Opposition know that the Government know the facts perfectly well; and, therefore, there are no more facts to be gained by this Debate. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us this afternoon that the facts are known, and that it was merely a matter of ascertaining how the facts could be used so as to ensure that the employers, the workmen and the State could combine to give some essential assistance to the old age pensioners. I believe that in those circumstances it was wrong to put this Motion on the Order Paper at this particular time. At any other time, I should have said that this was a matter of urgent importance which demanded the immediate attention of the whole House, but I feel that any disunity, even on a domestic issue such as this, may be misunderstood, and certainly will be misinterpreted and equally certainly misused, in other countries.
There is a second reason why, with all due deference to those who have placed the Motion on the Order Paper, I feel that it should not have been placed there. If it were carried, it might well mean that the Prime Minister might feel, with the vote against him, that he should resign his office, and, to my mind, that would be the greatest catastrophe that could happen to our country, our allies and our hope of victory in this war; and certainly it would be the greatest catastrophe to our hope, under the Prime Minister's wise and sane guidance, of ever securing a humane and just peace afterwards. For those two reasons, as to the Tightness of which I am absolutely convinced, I shall endeavour to show my complete sympathy with and support of both the Motion and the Amendment. [Interruption.]Evidently hon. Members above the Gangway have not listened to the Chancellor's 2048 speech, or they would have seen that it is very likely that, by the Chancellor's undertaking, they will get far more of what they want far more quickly than they will if they go on agitating for something as to the meaning of which they are not quite sure.
During the last year, we have had two or three Debates on this subject, and invariably we have had from the Government a twofold reply—first, that we could not afford the expense, and secondly, that statistics showed that the cost of living was still lower than it was when the increase in the pension was originally granted in 1925. Those were the two arguments with which the Government faced this issue before the war. Before the war, they were valid arguments, but I do not believe they are valid to-day. I think they are out of date. I think they have ceased to be of value. The war has shown us definitely that we can afford anything we want, provided the need exists. The war has also altered the whole balance of the cost-of-living ratio. In any case, as I have said on many occasions before, I agree with those economists who say that statistics can prove anything or prove nothing, according to the way in which they are used. Like many other hon. Members I do not place much faith in them.
There is a further argument which, I think, after the Chancellor's speech, the Government now realise to be a very realistic argument. It is that those who received a pension originally nearly 15 years ago—the contributory pension—do not know the terms and conditions under which that pension was originally granted. Many of them are dead, but those who survive to-day simply find that the pension of 10s. grows less day by day, and is less capable of procuring food and other necessities. We know that the cost of living has increased and that the purchasing value of the 10s. is decreasing daily. That is one thing which I was happy to realise was appreciated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Treasury. I am sorry that there is no representative of the Treasury present, because the last time I spoke on this question I was unfortunately unable to speak while the Chancellor of the Exchequer was present, and therefore my contribution did not receive that con- 2049 sideration which I—no doubt unnecessarily—thought it should have received. I trust that the two no less distinguished Members of the Government who are on the Front Bench will convey some of the ideas which I have in mind, to the representatives of the Treasury.
As I say, when I last addressed the House on this question the Chancellor of the Exchequer was unable to be present owing to a Cabinet meeting, and therefore some of my remarks failed to find that sympathetic consideration in the Treasury which I would have liked. As the Financial Secretary is again in his place I would point out to him one or two features about the possible increase, which hon. Members above the Gangway want the Government to grant at once. I desire to show how this increase might affect, not only the old age pensioners and the community in general, but the Treasury itself. In the previous Debate I pointed out that this question of old age pensions was, to many minds, one of sentiment. There are many who do not know how the old age pensioners live, but who feel a sentimental regard for old people who have little comfort or happiness in their lives. Without knowing the actual conditions under which the pensioners live, they have a general good will for them which arises from a feeling of sentiment. I believe that to be the wrong line on which to attack this issue. We ought to approach this as a question of logic and economics more than of sentiment. When one has been into the homes of old age pensioners and has seen the quiet courage and the uncomplaining resignation with which they carry on under difficulties; when one realises their drab and dreary existence, one is moved to do something for them—it does not matter very much what, but to get a move on. While sentiment is a powerful thing and a proper thing, which should have its full place and fair play in all our life and work, at the same time I believe it is not an emotion which makes a profound appeal to the Treasury mind. Therefore, I feel that a better approach to the problem is on the lines of logic and economics.
Suppose that while these negotiations with the trade unions and the employers are going on, and while, no doubt, difficulties and setbacks are being. met with, 2050 the Government were to say, "We believe this case demands immediate attention. What shall we do about it? Shall we give something for the moment to carry these old people over until the time has definitely come when employers, trade unions and the State can combine to make a general agreement about what can be contributed and therefore what can be given?" Suppose the Treasury were to say, "For the moment, as a temporary measure, we will give an increase." Such an increase could not, by any stretch of the imagination, be lost to the Treasury. As a result of the obvious increase in the cost of living, any increase in the pension awarded as a temporary measure could not be squandered, hoarded or wasted. It must be used merely to live. It must be spent on the necessities of life. The increase, such as it is, must inevitably find its way into the till of the grocer or the middleman. It cannot lead to profiteering because the Prices of Food Bill which we passed yesterday ensures that no middleman can make undue profits. The Board of Trade will be on his track. Therefore, the increase given to the pensioner goes on inevitably to the producer—to the farmer, to the manufacturer or even to the shareholder. Then we come to the Budget. We all know what the Budget has done. We all know that the Chancellor by his Budget proposals has made it impossible for anyone to secure anything out of any profits which may be made owing to an increase such as I have described. So, if we follow the journey of that increase from the moment it leaves the Treasury and goes to the old age pensioner and is paid by him to the grocer, and by the grocer to the producer, we find that it comes back again, by taxation, to the Treasury.
§ Captain W. T. Shaw
Does not my hon. and gallant Friend's argument lead to the conclusion that you could increase the pension to any amount?
§ Sir T. Moore
There must be a certain restraint observed. I am merely showing that as a temporary measure the Treasury need not view the possibility of an increased pension with that suspicion which they might otherwise feel, because under the war conditions and under the legislation which the war has brought about it is practically a certainty that 2051 whatever increase is granted must inevitably find its way back to the Treasury. All that I ask is that this House and the Treasury should consider exactly what that increase has done during the course of its journey. It has circulated vast sums of money, it has promoted trade in practically every industry, and it has developed production, all of which is what the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the President of the Board of Trade have stated over and over again they desire, but at the same time it has given comfort and happiness to the old age pensioners, which is what this House and the country desire to do.
Hoping that I have made my case, as I think I have, I would like to ease the Chancellor's difficulty by making a suggestion as to how any such increase which he might consider temporarily advisable could be granted without creating an unnecessary or substantial charge on the taxpayer. I quite understand that it is with great reluctance that the Chancellor would face placing an increased burden on an already overburdened people. That is a natural feeling and a feeling with which, as one of those who, like the rest of us, contribute, I sympathise, but I believe there is a way out. My view is that sooner or later, and probably sooner, the Treasury will have to issue a very large war loan. It seems to me that it might well be possible for each of the old age pensioners of this country—of whom we have been told there are 3,000,000, although that number obviously would be very much reduced owing to the numbers who would not be in any particular difficulty—to be issued with a coupon entitling them to go to their grocer and get 5s. worth of food per week. I would follow through that suggestion with the further suggestion that the grocer should then go to the bank and get, in exchange for each coupon, 5s. worth of War Loan. [Interruption.] If hon. Members above the Gangway will study this proposal at greater length than they are apparently prepared to do at the moment, they will find that there is far more than common sense in it and that there is a certain amount of financial originality about it.
I may say that I have submitted the suggestion to one or two financiers of my acquaintance as to whether or not it is a feasible proposition, and they are inclined to think that it is. Therefore, with 2052 humility, because I am not a financier, I offer the suggestion to the House. It would mean that these middle men would receive from the bank 5s. worth of war loan per week for each coupon they had received in exchange for food and so on. The result is that the Government would not be faced with this very heavy outlay on old age pensions at the moment, when there are so many other demands made on them for war material, armaments, and so on, because they need only pay the interest on that war loan, which I estimate would come to less than £2,000,000 a year, because the increased sum, as we have been told already, would be about £40,000,000. Well, I put it at £50,000,000, and, therefore the interest on that amount would be approximately —probably less than—£2,000,000 a year. In that way you would give the Government a way out, and you would enable them to give to the old age pensioners the increase of food and other comforts that we all want them to receive, at an annual charge of rather less than £2,000,000, leaving the capital sum to be redeemed at a time when our finances are easier, when disarmament has once more become a possibility, and when the war is over and all these colossal demands that war makes on the nation will be ended.
That is a proposition which, although it may be brief and sketchy—as I say, I am not a financier—I believe is worth consideration and an analysis of what could be done with it. I do not say that it is a cut-and-dried proposition that must be accepted off-hand, but it does offer something to the Government by means of which they can secure what the nation wants to give to the old age pensioners without laying an intolerable burden on the taxpayer, already overburdened, as he is, beyond bearing. It is a matter which I believe would receive good will and support from all those in this House and outside it who feel a sense of shame that something has not been done, especially since this drastic increase in the price of certain commodities has taken place, particularly those commodities, such as tobacco and sugar, which the old age pensioner regards almost as part of his daily life. I therefore suggest that, pending the negotiations and the consideration which, after the Chancellor's speech, I take it for granted will take place, this further proposition that I have made may, lead to a possibility of doing 2053 what we want to do and what the country wants to do and thereby relieve a distress such as none of us likes to leave as it is.
§ 9.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Cassells
We who are Scotsmen must feel proud to-night, after having listened to the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore). It is the first occasion on which I have realised that within the ranks of those of us who come from the North country we have what would appear to be a budding Chancellor of the Exchequer. I wish to associate myself with the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson), who referred to his contact over a long period with the Old Age Pensioners' Association. I have had close contact with that organisation in the same way. It is a powerful organisation and a non-political body reflecting the concensus of opinion not merely of the old age pensioners and their immediate families, but of the community. I submit to the Government that the opinion of such a large body of people should not be cast aside too lightly.
For three or four years I occupied the position of convener of public assistance in Falkirk, and I came into close contact with the invidious position of old age pensioners. As a result of my experience, I put a series of questions to the right hon. and gallant Gentleman's predecessor, the present Secretary of State for Scotland. One asked him if he were prepared to make application to local authorities in an effort to ascertain the number of old age pensioners who were in receipt of public assistance payments. The answer which I received was astonishing in the light of subsequent events. The right hon. Gentleman stated that he considered the figures were not available and indicated, in answer to a supplementary, that he was of opinion that local authorities were not acutely concerned in this problem. Thereafter, I communicated direct with the Prime Minister asking him, on the facts as I knew them, what steps, if any, he was prepared to take. The only reply I received was that nothing could be done in the light of the tremendous financial commitments which would be required annually to meet the cost.
I positively mistrust the Government on this problem. I distrust their bona 2054 fides. The Amendment and the speech of the Chancellor are couched in such language as to compel Members on these benches to believe that this is another attempt to shelve what undoubtedly is a very acute problem. Are the old age pensioners asking something to which they are not morally entitled? If we endeavour to analyse the position of local authorities in Scotland, it is significant that in August communications—which, I believe, originated from the Financial Secretary's Department in Scotland, if not from the Secretary of State's Department—were addressed to every local authority asking for information on the lines that I suggested as long ago as three years. That information, I believe is now in the possession of the Treasury. What is the position? Take, for example, the case of Glasgow. There are 55,000 people in receipt of old age pensions, and of that number 15,306 receive supplementations from the local authority. It costs the corporation of Glasgow £363,384 annually for these supplementary payments. In addition, allowances are made for clothing, giving a gross annual outlay of £378,384. I endorse the suggestion of an hon. Member earlier that this should be made a State charge instead of a charge against the local authorities through the rates. In Glasgow the average per week paid to old age pensioners who receive supplementary payments is 11s. 6d. In Greenock it works out at the same figure; in Coatbridge, with a population of 43,000 and 717 people on the old age pension list, at 9s., and in Clydebank, with 600 people on the list, at 11s.
Why cannot the Government come out in the open and meet us on this problem? We are asking that this charge, instead of being leviable against local rates, a system which raises difficult local problems, should be accepted by the Government as a State charge. It is shocking to believe that in this age of alleged educational enlightenment old age should be looked upon as a sin and that these old people, who have served their day and generation nobly, should be compelled to run the gauntlet of applying for parochial relief. Every Member in the House Possesses a conscience, something within every one of us which determines the difference between right and wrong, and good and bad. Why cannot the Government immediately come into the 2055 open and show not only to the House and to the country where they stand and allow people to judge for themselves?
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Mr. R. Morgan
I hesitate to enter in the Debate at this stage, but if I do so it is because I want to shorten it rather than to prolong it. I will not paint any of the pictures that have been conveyed to the House of the sufferings of the old age pensioners, but I want to put forward a proposal to the Financial Secretary. There is no need for this long Debate, because the case for an increase in the old age pension has long been made out. The only thing that is before us now is how we are to do it. I do not think that, if it were put to a straight vote, there would be a Member who would vote against an immediate increase of at least 5s. Is it not possible for the Chancellor to-night to give an assurance to the House that within one month from this date a scheme shall be submitted to the House for its acceptance? My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Ayr Burghs (Sir T. Moore) said that the Government knew all the facts. I agree with him, although I could not follow him to the conclusion of his sentimental journey. If they know all the facts, why have we to have a further delay? Why the inquiry? The facts are known. Now is the time to see that these old people do not suffer. I should like the Financial Secretary to tell us frankly what would be the impediment in the way of submitting such a Bill as I have suggested within a month. Then we should know that we were going to take a step forward. We are discussing whether these old people should have this increase in their pensions. I believe they should, and I believe I have suggested a way in which it might be done. This is a very good day—All Saints Day. Let us do a saintly work and increase these people's pensions.
§ 9.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Brown
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) certainly made a very interesting speech, and there are three points arising from it which one might stress. First of all, he seemed to make out a case for an immediate increase; secondly, his speech revealed the fact that there sits on the benches of the House a hitherto unknown financial genius; and, 2056 thirdly, he added another reason why we should go enthusiastically into the Lobby in support of our Motion. It was that, if we carried it, it would involve the resignation of the Prime Minister. He can rest assured that that would not cause any regret at all on these benches because from both points of view, as regards his conduct of the war and affairs on the home front, we think it would be far better if he left his present job.
The hon. Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) made a very vehement speech accusing us of breaking what he calls the national unity. I was very interested in listening to him because I remembered that on occasion he advocates the cause of the herring industry, and he does it very effectively. Not so long ago he was talking about a glut of herring at Lowestoft, and he has told us that herring are a very nutritious food. It is curious that so many people think in watertight compartments and there are few who seem to understand that surplus commodities and poverty are closely related. I am certain that the hon. Member was not thinking about his herring at all to-night when he talked about the delay in giving a pension increase, because if they had more money, they could buy more of his herring and a great many other things which they need very much.
I wanted only to join my voice to those of my colleagues to ask that something should be done at once for the old age pensioners. One hon. Member has said that we are swayed on an occasion like this by sentiment. Sentiment is not altogether a bad feeling. Noble feelings of sentiment do things sometimes which seem to be imprudent at the moment, but in the long run you find that you have done the right thing. I ask hon. Members to let their sentiment actuate them to some degree when the question is put from the Chair to-night. We do not base our case merely on grounds of sentiment but on two other grounds. We base it, first, on the ground of social justice, and also on economic grounds. As regards social justice, I would ask hon. Members not merely to think of old age pensioners as tired, worn-out old men having spent a lifetime in industry. I should like to think of them as men who have helped to build up all the material content of the civilisation in which we live and have created those capital values from which we derive the revenues that 2057 we need at the moment, who have created this civilisation in such a form that, as it exists, we are able even to get credit out of the community which these men have helped to create. If we think of them in that way and remember the debt that we owe to them, I am certain that no one would begrudge them an increase at this moment in the totally inadequate pensions that they receive.
We can make our case good also on economic grounds. It makes me almost sick to hear the talk about the ratio of the young population to the old in the days that are to come. Hon. Members talk as though in the future the one thing that will remain static is the power of the State to raise revenue. They fail to recognise that society is dynamic. Changes are taking place over the whole range of human society and the power to produce wealth is constantly on the increase, and it will constantly increase, and we need not shiver in our shoes about burdens in the future which we shall not be able to carry. Society is quite able to shape the future as occasion demands, and I do not think we ought to be actuated for a moment to-night by thinking of conditions 20, 30 or 40 years hence. I feel that everyone who has given impartial and careful consideration to the question will accompany us into the Lobby because they will feel that the pensioners are entitled to an immediate increase.
§ 9.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart
In saying that he feels that every Member of the House will join them in demanding an immediate increase for aged pensioners the hon. Member expresses the unanimous feeling of the whole House. I yield to no one on that side either in sympathy or in the work that I am prepared to put, and have put, behind the old age pension movement. I took my part in initiating it, and I supported the Opposition on the Motion of the hon. Member for Mary hill (Mr. Davidson) not so long ago and I did vote with them against my colleagues and friends here. I most warmly support the claim for increased benefits for old age pensioners. Not only is that my view, but it is the view of every party in the State not only in this House but, what is probably more important, outside the House. I reminded my right hon. Friend 18 months ago that every party at its annual conference had passed resolutions 2058 in favour of an increase in the pension— the Conservative party, the Liberal-National party, the Opposition Liberals and the Labour-National party. Therefore, in desiring to do something useful, we are in fact representing the desires and expressing the wishes of all those whom we represent. At a time when we are demanding better marriage allowances for soldiers with wives and children, when there are even allowances supplemental to those marriage allowances, when the allowances going to unemployed men and their wives are still very substantial, we cannot begrudge these old people some increase.
Therefore, on the general objective we are all at one. It is when we come to the practical application of this desire that the difficulties arise. I ask the House four questions. What form is the increase to take? Who is it exactly that we are seeking to assist? How is the money to be provided? When is it all to come about? We are not all agreed upon the answer to those four questions. Not all the members of the Labour party are agreed about them. The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) advocated an immediate all-round increase of 5s. a week in the pension; but that is not the view of the hon. Member for Gower (Mr. Grenfell). He is critical of the whole system of contributory insurance and critical of universal payments to all kinds of old age pensioners. Therefore, do not let us pretend that we are at one about that, because we are not, and it is a difficult question. Nor are Members in any party really agreed upon the exact sum that ought to be given, nor the contributions which are to go to make up that sum.
For my part, I approve of every word in the Motion, but no one will say that the Motion is very precise. The Leader of the Opposition admitted that it was vague. Suppose we were to pass this Motion to-night. It would have to be followed by some kind of inquiry and investigation to see how to put it into practical operation. Let us assume that the Labour party were in power and that there was a Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer. Could he to-night have made any other statement than that made by my right hon. Friend? Could he have said other than" I will immediately meet those who are concerned 2059 —employers, the trade unions, Treasury officials and so on—and will immediately report to the House when a scheme is prepared "?
§ Mr. Silverman
Can the hon. Member not see the difference between an inquiry as to how a thing may be done and an inquiry into whether it shall be done at all?
I am glad the hon. Member has raised that question, because it leads me easily to my next point. I am not sure that the House has fully appreciated the great value of the Chancellor's statement. First, the Chancellor said there is to be an immediate inquiry. His next indication was that he is ready to accept a new scheme based upon increased contributions from those who are represented by the trade unions and from the employers, who represent themselves. That is of considerable interest. As I understood him, he is ready to prepare a scheme if this offer comes from those two quarters. Thirdly, he said in effect, as I understood him, that if such a scheme were prepared he would undertake to provide Treasury funds to meet the increases necessary for the non-contributory old age pensioners. That is a very substantial offer. I am stating it as I understand it, and if I am misrepresenting my right hon. Friend I shall be happy if he will correct me. As he has not intervened I take it that I understood him correctly. I do not know what figures we have in mind. The figure of 5s. has been suggested. That would involve a sum of £7,000,000 for the non-contributory old age pensioners. You may say that that is not very much, but I say that it is a good deal. It is a good deal more than has ever been offered by any previous Government to assist the old age pensioners, and I, theretore, thank my right hon. Friend.
I did not say that he had. I was considering what the offer meant. [An HON. MEMBER: "Nothing."] It is no use saying "Nothing"; it means a substantial sum of money. I beg the House not to ignore the new offer. It is the biggest forward step which we have ever had from the Government on this question of old age pensions. I should 2060 like the Government to provide funds at once for helping the needy old age pensioners, but I have too much concern for these pensioners in my constituency and elsewhere to ignore the opportunity which we have been given to-night, or to refuse to my right hon. Friend the time which he asks in order to examine his scheme and present it to the House. If I were to refuse that opportunity I should feel that I was doing a disservice to those whom I represent. I have not the slightest twinge of conscience in saying that while I support every word of the Motion I propose to vote for the Amendment.
My right hon. Friend was not in the House when my hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Fildes) and my hon. Friend the Member for Lowestoft (Mr. Loftus) put a question to him. I would like to repeat them, therefore. Would my right hon. Friend give us some indication of when he feels he may be able to report upon the negotiations with those various bodies? I remember that on 27th July the Prime Minister gave us a time, and said: "I will be ready with this scheme before the end of the Recess." That was a matter of a few weeks.
If you like. The hon. Member for Gower to-day and upon the previous occasion made a suggestion to the Government which seems worthy of consideration. He suggested that the people who needed an increased pension most were the retired old people and the idle old people. Those of 65 years of age and upwards who are in work and drawing good wages do not need an increased pension, because they are receiving wages. Suppose that the House were to agree that there should be an increased of 2s. 6d. in the pension. [Laughter.] Hon. Members may laugh, but I am trying to make an assumption. Say 5s. I do not know what we might make it. Let us leave it at 2s. 6d. Why should we give that 2s. 6d. to the whole 3,000,000 pensioners when many of them are in employment? Is it not possible for the Government to invent some method by which to withhold that extra pension from those in employment, but give it to those among the old age pensioners who are out of work? If you can give to those who are out of work more money as a result, then by all means let us do so.
Yes, there is a contract in respect of the 10s., but if it should be possible to offer an increase we should withhold it from those who are in employment and give it to those who are out of work. My right hon. Friend must realise that hon. Members feel most strongly on this matter. Scotland feels deeply about it and has felt deeply for the last two or three years. I beg the Chancellor, as one of his own supporters—I hope that I am a loyal supporter—to come to this House at the earliest possible moment with a plan. If it is not sufficient to satisfy all of us, never mind, let us have something. I can tell my right hon. Friend from my own intimate knowledge that some old age people are now suffering the direst distress. It makes me sick and sometimes ashamed to think of these people in these conditions. I beg my right hon. Friend to do what he can quickly to give some satisfaction to those of us who like to think honourably of this House.
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Whiteley
I think every hon. Member in the House will agree that we have heard some excellent speeches in the course of this Debate. I do not think I have heard from my hon. Friends speeches of such a high standard on a subject which has been discussed over so long a period of years, and we have also had many interesting speeches from the Tory benches to-night. The most disappointing thing has been the speech of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I was rather sorry that the Chancellor of the Exchequer tried to hide himself behind an Amendment that is on the Paper. He came rather jubilantly and said that the Prime Minister promised on the last occasion, 27th July, that he would instigate an inquiry, and he said "I can tell the House that the inquiry began on the 28th July, that it went on into the middle of August and then ceased because of other reasons." May I remind the Chancellor of the Exchequer that when the Prime Minister spoke in this House on 27th July he rather twitted my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) by suggesting that the kind of inquiry that he was going to set up would take the Labour party three years, but 2062 that it would take the Government less than three months.
With regard to what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has told us to-day— all those interesting figures, the points that he said arose, the confusion as to people not being in the same need, the need for all these things having to be carefully examined, and the fact that the contributions in the future may be so lessened that the higher pensions in future days could not be realised—I would not suggest that an inquiry of that kind is going to take more than three years. One important thing that the Chancellor of the Exchequer forgot is that he was immersed in cold figures that are static, that cannot respond, and he kept his mind in that static position all the time; he forgot to look at the future years and he forgot even to look at the past years. He forgets about the progress of science that has been responsible during the last 25 years for the increased wealth of this country. He forgets the possibilities of science in the future years when the world begins to turn to something constructive rather than destructive, when the world makes up its mind to utilise that scientific power in order to produce the requirements for life in abundance, and when it will be easy to forecast that in the future we may not have 1 per cent. of the difficulties to which the Chancellor of the Exchequer referred to-day.
That was a most important omission from the speech which he placed before us. He also said that there were no starving pensioners. I only wish I could believe that he is correct. I do not think he is correct. I think the Government are merely looking at this question from a selfish point of view. On the last occasion that we debated this matter I remember that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) made his maiden speech and said:I have noticed that this Government has never failed to find the necessary money for the objects of which it approves."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th July, 1939; col. 1725, Vol. 350.]I think he was right. Apparently this is not an object of which the Government approve. The Government, instead of thinking of the citizenship of the old age pensioners, think of the financiers, of all the vested interests, of everybody except their own fellow-citizens who are in need. My hon. Friend the Member for Aber- 2063 tillery (Mr. Daggar) made an excellent speech, showing in detail the cost to the local authorities of having to subsidise the pensions which the Government refuse to increase. The Chancellor has said not a word on that important matter. I do not want the Government to hide behind the political truce. Let them make no mistake; this is not a demand from our party alone; the public are interested. While there is a political truce, that can be broken. The Government have to bear in mind the statements of their own supporters to-day, that this matter cannot be delayed. The Chancellor has not told us to-day that this inquiry would be concluded within a few weeks, or that it would start as from 1st August last or any other specified date. He gave us no idea of what the Government had in mind in considering this very important problem.
It should not deal only with the cost of living, because this is a matter outside the cost of living. We have been told by the Financial Secretary that, on the cost-of-living figures, 7¾d. a week was necessary to bring the old age pensioners' standard of life up to what it had been before. I can quite understand the Chancellor not relating his speech to the cost of living. We all know that the old age pensioners, the unemployed, the people who are receiving money from the Unemployment Assistance Board and the people who are receiving workmen's compensation have all been thrown nearer the poverty line in consequence of the increased cost of living. But we can deal with the matter from the point of view of the cost-of-living figures only if the House has made up its mind that the old age pensioners have a standard of living which ought not to be altered. We do not agree that that is the case. We say that their standard is far too low. We have to regard this as a basic problem. We have been told about the tremendous cost of carrying on the war and the initial costs in connection with the social services. All these estimates have been made in order to prove that we cannot afford to give these old age pensioners anything at all. We ought, as a House of Commons, to consider the people whom we are discussing. We cannot discuss this question properly, as the elected representatives of the democracy of this country, except on a basis of citizenship.
2064 Take the case of a young married man and his wife starting out in life. The husband happens to be engaged in industry. That fact relegates them to the poorest housing conditions and the most sordid grimy surroundings in which it is possible for them to live. The fact that the husband is an industrialist means that. Out of the meagre income the man gets in return for his services, they cannot participate in those real joys of life to which they are entitled as man and wife, and yet, in spite of that, the woman may be houseproud and try to make the best of a very bad situation. The man likes the comfort of the home after his day's work. They make their contributions to all kinds of needy things essential in human life, and they raise up a family and seek to provide opportunities for that family of which they themselves never had the advantage in their day.
I have here letters showing that these are the type of people which we are considering to-night. It is their case. The fathers fought in the last war for the preservation of democracy, freedom, liberty and security. Their sons are fighting in this war for the same principles. These people also have had 50 years of industry, and in co-operation with their fellows they have seen the national wealth steadily but surely increase year by year, and they ask us to-night as their elected representatives, "What is our share of this increased wealth?" I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer heard the speeches of a number of his own supporters, but various suggestions have been made by them to-night, and the fact that they have made those suggestions shows that they are very concerned about the position in which they find themselves. I am hoping that not only will they not be content with making those suggestions, but that they will go into the Lobby to see that they are put into operation at the earliest possible moment.
We are living in a time of rationing, which is being introduced in order to secure a fair allocation of food to the community, but this will be completely stultified unless there is an adequate distribution of the purchasing power in this country. That is the important thing which the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself must have in his mind. There are at the Bar of this House to-night old 2065 age pensioners. They are standing there looking round at their elected reprsentatives, and, what is more important, they are not standing there alone. There is the great mass of the public of this country behind them, and they are saying to us to-night, "We share with you that freedom and liberty which we at present possess, and for which we have made great sacrifices in past days, but we lack security. We have played our part in national affairs. We have made our contribution to the increase of the national income and the national wealth through the years. We have made our contribution to the security of the great British Common wealth the world over. What is to be our reward? Are we to be pauperised for such services, or are we to receive real justice?" That is the question that this House of Commons must answer to-night. They ask for justice based upon citizenship. It is for us to respond.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ Sir J. Simon
I have already taken part in the Debate, and it is only by your leave, Mr. Speaker, and with the consent of the House, that perhaps I might add a few words before we divide. I do not desire to repeat the arguments or the figures which I put before the House earlier in the day, but there are one or two questions which have been put both from the other side and also from some of my hon. Friends behind me with which I should like briefly to deal.
Let me be perfectly clear as to what it is that I propose should now be done. The hon. Member has just said that I have given no idea how I propose to proceed. I want to make it quite plain. I do not object to being criticised, but do not let it be said that I have not made the matter clear. The proposal made by the Prime Minister in July is well in the memory of the House, and I think the great majority of the House were very glad that there should be set on foot an inquiry such as the Prime Minister described. As I told the House earlier in the Debate, that inquiry was set up without any delay. It is true that it became suspended when we found ourselves approaching the conditions of war. What I propose now, is that that inquiry should be most promptly resumed. When I say "promptly," I do not mention a date.
2066 I do not think it would be possible, and I do not think it would be wise, to give an exact time table. There are very important interests of different kinds to be met and negotiated with, and the worst thing would be to lay down a cast-iron time table into which you would try to force important representative bodies of both employers and workpeople. Everybody, surely, knows what is meant when I say that the inquiry shall be resumed and shall be resumed immediately and pressed forward with every possible expedition. The hon. Member opposite, in a humorous passage, said he almost thought that it would take me more than three years to deal with the matter. At least, let it be said to my credit that it shall not take as long as that. [HON. MEMBERS: "How long?] Let me go on a little. Hon. Members on this side of the House, for instance, the hon. Member for Dumfries (Sir H. Fildes) wanted to know whether it was possible to state a period. I think the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) wanted to know the same thing. This is a matter which is bound to take a little time, and I should say that in my conception this inquiry should not take any longer than the Prime Minister thought it would take when he made the proposal in July. The hon. Member opposite quoted the Prime Minister's observations at that time, in which he said he hoped and expected that there would be results which would have been reached and could be reported as soon as the House resumed. I am not measuring the period by days or weeks, but my own view is that within two months, say by the end of the year, we ought to have got to that position; it may be a little more or less.
In plain English we desire to enter into this inquiry as rapidly as we can, but I do not think that in a matter of this sort you can lay down a definite time table. Either hon. Members are prepared to recognise that this is a genuine effort being made by the Government on a very important subject, or they are not. To anybody who does not recognise that, no figure and no time table would make any difference. I believe myself that the great majority of the House, not only supporters of the Government, but others, are honestly glad that this effort should be made, and all that they want is that it should be made quickly, and as soon as possible.
§ Mr. Attlee
The House wants to be clear. Is the right hon. Gentleman's inquiry going to be as to whether there shall be an advance for the pensioners or is it to be as to the method by which the advance will be made and the exact date of the advance? Are the Government accepting in principle that there should be an advance?
§ Sir J. Simon
I will reply very gladly to the question which the right hon. Gentleman has put, and I will reply to it, as I must do, by dividing the subject into two parts. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] For reasons which will be obvious to anybody who has considered the subject seriously. As far as contributory pensions are concerned—and they are much the larger part—the conclusion that is reached must depend upon whether the contributors are prepared substantially to increase their contributions. If they are not prepared to do so, it is quite impossible for the Government to say, "That does not matter; we will do it entirely out of public money." This is a contributory scheme, and the most important question to find out is what is the extent of the additional weekly contribution which can be got from the contributors themselves. Therefore, when the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition asks me what is the Government's position in the matter, on that part of the question, my answer is that I must ascertain what is the extent to which additional contributions are agreed to by the contributors, and I repeat what I said earlier in the Debate, that if I do get the satisfaction of agreement on that point, I do not rule out the possibility of there being some additional contribution from public funds.
The second half of the question is an entirely different matter. As anybody who has listened to the Debate must know already, the second part has to do, not with contributory pensions, but with the non-contributory pensions of people of 70 years of age and over. Some people may feel that those are almost the hardest cases, but at any rate they are a very important class. As I pointed out earlier in the Debate, at this very minute public funds are paying for the whole of those pensions—£14,500,000, I think—and I repeat what I said this afternoon, that if we do get a scheme by which, owing to the increase of the contributions, we can 2068 improve the contributory pensions, then I take the view that we must improve the non-contributory pensions, and that has got to be done, and done entirely, out of public funds. I am perfectly honest about it.
I must make one reference to an observation that was made by the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall). He made a rapid calculation, quite accurate enough for the purpose, as to how much extra would be needed in order to increase old age pensions by 5s. a week, and he gave the figure as £40,000,000. He said, expressing a view which to me at least is disconcerting; that £40,000,000 a year is not a great sum. May I ask the House to consider that for a moment from the point of view of the Exchequer? It is not £40,000,000 paid once and for all; it is £40,000,000 paid year after year; and indeed, it is £40,000,000 which will increase and become more than £40,000,000 as time goes on. Suppose that, instead of calling it £40,000,000 a year, one were to express it in the form of taxation; it would mean 2s. a lb. on tea, or another 2½d. on sugar, or nearly 4d. an ounce on tobacco, or approximately 9d. on the Income Tax. It is impossible for anybody, whatever his view of taxation may be, not to regard that as a very serious addition.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
May I point out that I did say there were ways and means of finding it, and I mentioned, among other things, the amount which is being spent now on de-rating, which the right hon. Gentleman does not think to be wasted.
§ Sir J. Simon
With great respect, that is not the point. The point is whether it is right that, in dealing with a subject which, of course, touches our poorer constituents and upon which strong feelings may be held, it should go forth that, in the view of this democratic assembly, £40,000,000 a year, if raised out of taxation, is no great sum. I ask the House to consider that £1,000,000,000— these figures are difficult to grasp in any intelligent sense, but I know them as an arithmetical truth—which is the whole amount we are trying to raise in taxation this year, is, as a capital sum, the same thing as £40,000,000 a year. How can anybody say that it is a matter of indifference whether an enormous sum of that kind is to be got out of public taxation or not? If hon. Gentlemen 2069 opposite ever find themselves on this side and if they find another Philip Snowden as their Chancellor of the Exchequer, they will not find that he will take the view that £40,000,000 every year is a small sum.
I ask the House to recognise that the proposal which I have made and which I will do my best to discharge is a reasonable proposal which ought to be accepted. The hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the Amendment, though he did not introduce those words into the terms of his Amendment, insisted, I think rightly, that the spirit of the plan should be that we would enter upon these matters immediately. There are many urgent things which are bound to occupy the time of all of us in these difficult days but that is no reason for postponing this matter and I am not seeking to postpone it. What I am saying, with great respect, to the House is that I think we ought to consider seriously the nature of this problem—not only its pathos but its difficulties. It is a very difficult problem. There can be no more practical way of dealing with it than the way which I have proposed and I invite the House to reject the Motion and accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. Whiteley
Will the right hon. Gentleman convey to the House this information if he can? If in his inquiries he finds that the employers are unwilling to pay any increase towards pensions, does that mean that the inquiry is finished and that nothing further can be done?
§ Sir J. Simon
I am not going to speculate about that. I cannot imagine a greater disservice to the cause of trying to get this amicably arranged, than for me to make observations which might start bad blood.
§ Mr. Grenfell
We are going to a Division and I do not think we ought to go to that Division under a misapprehension of any sort. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would not like to mislead the House. He has said that the Treasury
§ will be called upon to find an additional £40,000,000 a year if a certain advance is made. Now the right hon. Gentleman himself told us earlier that the cost to the Treasury of all forms of old age pensions at the present time is £40,000,000. He will recognise that, if he makes an additional £40,000,000 of contribution, and if the workers and employers contributions are raised in proportion, old age pensions could be doubled.
§ Sir J. Simon
I will answer the question although I think in the end it was an argument rather than a question. The hon. Gentleman has not got the figures right. What I said was that, as far as contributory pensions were concerned, the Treasury were contributing £55,000,000 annually and that in addition there were non-contributory pensions for which the Treasury have to pay as a whole, and that is another £14,500,000. If the hon. Gentleman adds the two figures he will see what contribution is being made now. With regard to the £40,000,000, that referred solely to the figure given by the hon. Gentleman below the Gangway.
§ Mr. Grenfell
But the £40,000,000 is composed of three parts—the first the workpeople pay, the second is the employers' contribution, and the third part is what the Treasury pay.
§ Sir J. Simon
I cannot see in any case that it is necessary to argue that that is not a great sum to provide.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
My argument was that one shilling on the pension at 65 makes £8,000,000 a year, and on a rough calculation that makes £40,000,000.
§ Sir J. Simon
I see. If I misunderstood the hon. Gentleman, I am glad to have the matter put right.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 144; Noes, 264.2073
|Division No. 307.]||AYES.||[10.14 p.m.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Barnes, A. J.||Burke, W. A.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Barr, J.||Cape, T.|
|Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford)||Beaumont, H. (Batley)||Cassells, T.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.||Charleton, H. C.|
|Ammon, C. G.||Bevan, A.||Chater, D.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Brown, C. (Mansfield)||Cluse, W. S.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Buchanan, G.||Clynes, Rt. Hon. J. R.|
|Cocks. F. S.||Jagger, J.||Quibell, D. J. K.|
|Collindridge, F.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Richards, R. (Wrexham)|
|Cripps, Hon. Sir Stafford||Jenkins, Sir W. (Neath)||Ridley, G.|
|Daggar, G.||John, W.||Riley, B.|
|Dalton, H.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Ritson, J.|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)|
|Davies, S.O. (Merthyr)||Kirkwood, D.||Rothschild, J. A. de.|
|Dobbie, W.||Lathan, G.||Sexton, T. M.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Lawson, J. J.||Shinwell, E.|
|Ede, J. C.||Leach, W.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwelty)||Leonard, W.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)|
|Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Leslie, J. R.||Sloan, A.|
|Evans, D. O. (Cardigan)||Lipson, D. L.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Foot, D. M.||Logan, D. G.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Gallacher, W.||Lunn, W.||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)|
|Gardner, B. W.||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Garro Jones, G. M.||McEntee, V. La T.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||MacLaren, A.||Stephen, C.|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Maclean, N.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Mainwaring, W. H.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Grenfell, D. R.||Mander, G. la M.||Summerskill, Dr. Edith|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Marshall, F.||Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)|
|Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Maxton, J.||Thurtle, E.|
|Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Messer, F.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Groves, T. E.||Milner, Major J.||Tomlinson, G.|
|Guest, Or. L. H. (Islington, N.)||Montague, F.||Viant, S. P.|
|Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Morgan, J. (York, W.R., Doncaster)||Watkins, F. C.|
|Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)||Watson, W. McL.|
|Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S. )||Welsh, J. C.|
|Hardie, Agnes||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||White, H. Graham|
|Harris, Sir P. A.||Muff, G.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Harvey, T. E. (Eng. Univ's.)||Nathan, Colonel H. L.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Hayday, A.||Noel-Baker, P. J.||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Oliver, G. H.||Wilmot, John|
|Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Owen, Major G.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Hicks, E. G.||Paling, W.||Woodburn, A.|
|Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Parker, J.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Hollins, A.||Pearson, A.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Hopkin, D.||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Isaacs, G. A.||Price, M. P.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Jackson, W. F.||Pritt, D. N.||Mr. Mathers and Mr. Adamson.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Caine, G. R. Hall-||Eden, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Campbell, Sir E. T.||Edmondson, Major Sir J.|
|Alexander, Brig-Gen. Sir W.||Carver, Major W. H.||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.|
|Allen, Col. J. Sandeman (B'knhead)||Castlereagh, Viscount||Ellis, Sir G.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir W. J. (Armagh)||Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Elliston, Capt. G. S.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C. M. S.||Chamberlain, Rt. Hn. N. (Edgb't'n)||Emery, J. F.|
|Anderson, Sir A. Garrett (C. of Ldn.)||Channon, H.||Emmott, C. E. G. C.|
|Anderson, Rt. Hn. Sir J. (Sc'h Univ's)||Chapman, Sir S. (Edinburgh, S.)||Emrys-Evans, P. V.|
|Assheton, R.||Christie, J. A.||Errington, E.|
|Astor, Major Hon. J. J. (Dover)||Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead)||Erskine-Hill, A. G.|
|Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton)||Clarry, Sir Reginald||Evans, Colonel A. (Cardiff, S.)|
|Baillie, Sir A. W. M.||Colfox, Major Sir W. P.||Everard, Sir William Lindsay|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Colman, N. C. D.||Fildes, Sir H.|
|Balniel, Lord||Colville, Rt. Hon. John||Findlay, Sir E.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Conant, Captain R. J. E.||Fleming, E. L.|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Fremantle, Sir F. E.|
|Bennett, Sir E. N.||Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L.||Furness, S. N.|
|Bernays, R. H.||Critchley, A.||Fyfe, D. P. M.|
|Blair, Sir R.||Croft, Brig-Gen. Sir H. Page||George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)|
|Blaker, Sir R.||Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Gibson, Sir C. G. (Pudsey and Otley)|
|Bossom, A. C.||Cross, R. H.||Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir J.|
|Boulton, W. W.||Crowder, J. F. E.||Gledhill, G.|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Cruddas, Col. B.||Gluckstein, L. H.|
|Brabner, R. A.||Culverwell, C. T.||Gower, Sir R. V.|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N. (Buckrose)||Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Graham, Captain A. C. (Wirral)|
|Braithwaite, J. Gurney (Holderness)||De Chair, S. S.||Grant-Ferris, Flight-Lieutenant R.|
|Brass, Sir W.||De la Bère, R.||Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.|
|Broadbridge, Sir G. T.||Dodd, J. S.||Gridley, Sir A. B.|
|Brocklebank, Sir Edmund||Doland, G. F.||Grimston, R. V.|
|Brooke, H. (Lewisham, W.)||Dorman-Smith, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir R. H.||Guest, Lieut.-Colonel H. (Drake)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)||Duckworth, Arthur (Shrewsbury)||Guest, Maj.Hon.O. (C'mb'rw'll, N.W.)|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Sir D. H.|
|Browne, A. C. (Belfast, W.)||Dugdala, Captain T. L.||Hambro, A. V.|
|Bull, B. B.||Duggan, H. J.||Hannah, I. C.|
|Bullock, Capt. M.||Duncan, J. A. L.||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.|
|Burgin, Rt. Hon. E. L.||Dunglass, Lord.||Harbord, Sir A.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Eastwood, J. F.||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)|
|Butler, Rt. Hon. R. A.||Eckersley, P. T.||Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)|
|Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.||Medlicott, F.||Simmonds, O. E.|
|Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.||Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham)||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.|
|Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-||Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)|
|Higgs, W. F.||Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)|
|Hoare, Rt. Hon. Sir S.||Mitchell, H. (Brentford and Chiswick)||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Holmes, J. S.||Mitcheson, Sir G. G.||Somerset, T.|
|Hopkinson, A.||Moore, Lieut.-Col. Sir T. C. R.||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald|
|Hore-Belisha, Rt. Hon. L.||Moore-Brabazon, Lt.-Col. J. T. C.||Somerville, Sir A. A. (Windsor)|
|Horsbrugh, Florence||Morgan, R. H. (Worcester, Stourbridge)||Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.|
|Howitt, Dr. A. B.||Morris, J. P. (Salford, N.)||Spens, W. P.|
|Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)||Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|Hudson, Rt. Hon. R. S. (Southport)||Munro, P.||Storey, S.|
|Hume, Sir G. H.||Nall, Sir J.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|Hunter, T.||Nicolsan, Hon. H. G.||Stuart, Lord C. Crichton- (N'thw'h)|
|Hurd, Sir P. A.||O'Connor, Sir Terence J.||Stuart, Rt. Hon. J. (Moray and Nairn)|
|Jarvis, Sir J. J.||O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.|
|Jennings, R.||Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Sutcliffe, H.|
|Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)||Peake, O.||Tate, Mavis C.|
|Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)||Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Taylor, C. S. (Eastbourne)|
|Kerr, Sir John Graham (Sco'sh Univs.)||Plugge, Capt. L. F.||Taylor, Vice-Adm. E. A. (Padd., S.)|
|Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R.||Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Thomas, J. P. L.|
|Kimball, L.||Power, Sir J. C.||Thomson, Sir J. D. W.|
|King-Hall, Commander W. S. R.||Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton||Titchfield, Marquess of|
|Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.||Procter, Major H. A.||Touche, G. C.|
|Lamb, Sir J. Q.||Pym, L. R.||Train, Sir J.|
|Leech, Sir J. W.||Radford, E. A.||Tryon, Major Rt. Hon. G. C.|
|Leigh, Sir J.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commandar R. L.|
|Leighton, Major B. E. P.||Rawson, Sir Cooper||Walker-Smith, Sir J.|
|Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.||Reed, A. C. (Exeter)||Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. Euan|
|Levy, T.||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Lewis, O.||Remer, J. R.||Wardlaw-Milne, Sir J. S.|
|Liddall, W. S.||Rickards, G. W. (Skipton)||Warrender, Sir V.|
|Lindsay, K. M.||Ropner, Colonel L.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Llewellin, Colonel J. J.||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Watt, Lt.-Col. G. S. Harvie|
|Lloyd, G. W.||Rowlands, G.||Wayland, Sir W. A.|
|Loftus. P. C.||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.||Webbe, Sir W. Harold|
|Lucas, Major Sir J. M.||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.||Wells, Sir Sydney|
|Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Russell, Sir Alexander||White, Sir R. D. (Fareham)|
|MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|M'Connell, Sir J.||Salmon, Sir I.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|McCorquodale, M. S.||Salt, E. W.||Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross)||Samuel, M. R. A.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|McKie, J. H.||Sandeman, Sir N. S.||Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount|
|Macquisten, F. A.||Sanderson, Sir F. B.||Womersley, Sir W. J.|
|Maitland, Sir Adam||Scott, Lord William||Wood, Rt. Hon. Sir Kingsley|
|Makins, Brigadier-General Sir Ernest||Shakespeare, G. H.||Wragg, H.|
|Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Markham, S. F.||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)|
|Mason, Lt.-Col. Hon. G. K. M.||Shepperson, Sir E. W.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Shute, Colonel Sir J. J.||Captain Margesson and Lieut.-|
Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Proposed words there added.
That, whilst this House recognises the unprecedented strain placed upon our finances by the demands of the war, it trusts that the Government will nevertheless pursue their investigation into the possibility of effecting improvements or adjustments in the present scheme of old age pensions as proposed by the Prime Minister on 27th July.
§ The remaining Orders were read and postponed.