HC Deb 20 February 1940 vol 357 cc1193-209

Order for Second Reading read.

4.1 p.m.

Mr. A. Bevan

On a point of Order. My hon. Friend the Member for Spenny-moor (Mr. Batey) last Thursday afternoon drew your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the nature of the Money Resolution on this Bill, and I want to submit to you that the Money Resolution is too strictly drawn and that it violates the written instructions which, according to the Prime Minister's announcement on 9th November, 1937, were given to the Departments and to Parliamentary Counsel with regard to the drafting of Financial Resolutions. On the same day, on the invitation of the Leader of the Opposition, you were kind enough to give the House your views upon this matter, and you said: It would be a mistake for any section of the House to belittle the extent of the advance which the Government have made in their desire to meet the wishes of Members. The instructions which the Government have undertaken to issue for the drafting of Financial Resolutions will remain upon record, and every future case can be judged with reference to the standard therein laid down."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1937; col. 1599. Vol. 328.] Now the nature of the instructions which the Prime Minister gave to the Departments and to Parliamentary Counsel is set out in the Official Report for that same date, and there the Prime Minister gives an undertaking that Financial Resolutions shall be so framed as not to restrict the scope within which the Committee may consider Amendments further than is necessary to enable His Majesty's Government to discharge their responsibilities in regard to public expenditure and to leave to the Committee the utmost freedom for discussion and amendment of details which is compatible with the discharge of those responsibilities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1937; col. 3595. Vol. 328.] It is my submission that the Financial Resolution on the present Bill is drawn in such a manner as not only to violate those instructions, but to make it impossible for hon. Members to move Amendments upon matters contained in the Bill concerning which they feel very strongly and about which there is very great interest in the country. The Financial Resolution, particularly in paragraph (b), makes the supplementary pension and the principle upon which the supplementary pension is assessed part of the Financial Resolution, and when we come to the Committee stage of the Bill it will be impossible for us to discuss the principle of the household means test, because it is associated in the Financial Resolution with the supplementary pension in itself. I submit that this is a violation of the Prime Minister's undertaking and is an attempt to frustrate the House in a proper discussion of the Bill in Committee; and may I say, although I know that this is not strictly pertinent, that by manoeuvring in the House, by the manipulation of Standing Orders, and by the violation of the traditional use of the Money Resolution in this House for now nine years, the House of Commons has been prevented from taking a direct vote upon the means test itself at any time.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member is going beyond the terms of the Question of which he gave me notice.

Mr. Bevan

I said that it was not strictly pertinent, but I submit that when the Select Committee on Financial Resolutions was set up to deal with this matter it was in consequence of the very strong feeling which existed in all parts of the House that an improper use was being made of the Financial Resolution, and that far too much of the Bill was being included in the Financial Resolution, and I submit—

Mr. Speaker

That is the particular point which the hon. Member put in the notice of the Question which he sent to me. I have considered the terms of the Financial Resolution to the Old Age and Widows' Pensions Bill in relation to the declaration made by the Prime Minister which is contained in the instructions to which the hon. Member refers. I presume that the part of the Resolution which the hon. Member considers to be too strictly drawn is paragraph (b), which provides that the weekly payments to be made to recipients of supplementary pensions shall be based on their needs and also on the needs of their households, regard being had to the resources of all members of the household other than such resources as may be excepted by the said Act. The Question on which my opinion is asked is whether these provisions violate the declaration to which I have referred. That declaration was that it was: the definite intention of His Majesty's Government to secure that Financial Resolutions in respect of Bills shall be so framed as not to restrict the scope within which the Committee on the Bills may consider Amendments further than is necessary to enable the Government to discharge their responsibilities in regard to public expenditure, and to leave to the Committee the utmost freedom for discussion and amendment of details which is compatible with the discharge of those responsibilities. I do not think that the Financial Resolution is drawn so strictly as to prevent discussion and amendment of the kind referred to in the declaration, the terms of which I have quoted The Title and scope of the Bill provide that the payment of supplementary pensions should be made in cases of need Paragraph (b) of the Financial Resolution lays this down as a condition of payment. It seems to me that this may be held to be one of the principles of the Bill which the House will be called upon to decide at the Second Reading. I am of the opinion, too, that this condition is not laid down with undue rigidity, since, in view of the words: regard being had to the resources of all members of the household, other than such resources as may be excepted by the said Act, —that is to say, this Bill as finally passed—it will be open to Members at the Committee stage to propose the exception of any resources which they consider should not be taken into account in the determination of the needs of the household. The Financial Resolution by no means reproduces all the conditions of payment which are laid down in detail in the Bill.

Mr. Bevan

I am very much obliged to you for your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, but may I submit that the Ruling means that when we come to the Committee stage of the Bill it will be possible for hon. Members to move Amendments which will increase the charge, but it will not be possible for hon. Members to move an Amendment which would impose no charge at all, because if, when we came to the Committee stage, an Amendment were moved to leave out the assessment of the supplementary pension by reference to the needs of the family, there would be no way of assessing the supplementary pension at all, and it might leave a gap in the Bill and make nonsense of the Bill, though I suppose these is no reason why an Amendment cannot make nonsense of a Bill. Therefore, we could move an Amendment of that kind which would impose no charge at all, but we should be able to move minor Amendments that would in fact impose a charge, which seems to be a strange position.

Mr. Silverman

Is it not the truth that the manner in which the Financial Resolution is drawn fails to implement the undertaking that was given, in that it throws back from the Financial Resolution into the Title of the Bill the very question which some parts of the House are most anxious to discuss, so that although technically and in the letter the Financial Resolution is in accordance with the undertaking, it only succeeds in being so by putting into the Title of the Bill the very principle which we wish to discuss, and although it keeps it in the letter, it breaks it in the spirit by evading the question completely? Will not the result of it all be that the House will be rendered incapable of taking a direct vote upon the specific question whether this new principle should be introduced into this kind of social legislation?

Mr. Speaker

The point put by the hon. Members means that they would like to move an Amendment to the Bill to do away with the needs test altogether. It must be remembered that in the voting of any sum of money in a Financial Resolution any Motion which in any way creates a charge on the public revenue must receive the recommendation of the Crown before it can be entertained by this House. In this instance the Government of the day are only pursuing their duty in accordance with the Standing Orders of this House, in that they are putting a limit on the expenditure which can be voted in Committee.

Mr. Bevan

I understand that it will be possible under the last part of paragraph (b) of the Financial Resolution to move an Amendment in Committee to leave out certain resources of the family. The effect of that will be to increase the charge, but if an Amendment were moved in Committee which would leave out the household means test entirely it would increase no charge, because the fact that there would be no instruction in such a case as to how the supplementary pension was to be assessed at all would make nonsense of the Bill, but there is no reason why we should not be allowed to make nonsense of the Bill, and my submission, therefore, is that by incorporating the household means test as part and parcel of the supplementary pension, the House is frustrated from discussing the principle separately from the amount, although in point of fact, by another part of the Resolution, we are enabled to move Amendments which may increase the charge in this or that respect. I submit with all respect that therefore the Government have incorporated in a Financial Resolution a perfectly unnecessary principle that need not have been in the Resolution at all, and, further—and my hon. Friends, I know, feel keenly on this matter, as do people in the country outside—it is our view, with all respect to you, that by behaving in that way the Government are preventing Parliament in these circumstances from having a clean vote upon a principle which involves the livelihood and welfare of millions of poor people in Great Britain. I submit, therefore, that it is not in the best interests of Parliament that this abuse should be permitted.

Mr. Speaker

The drafting of the Money Resolution entirely conforms, in my view, to the instruction which was given. In fact, under the Money Resolution, as drafted, it appears that it will be possible to have a much more unfettered discussion of the principle to which hon. Members have referred.

Mr. Mander

There are several other points in the Financial Resolution, beside those relating to the means test, which will, by being therein contained, prevent discussion in the Committee stage. Is it your view, Mr. Speaker, that a discussion on those points, involving a number of Amendments being moved, should take place on the Financial Resolution itself, and therefore not on the Committee stage of the Bill? Would that be a proper time for the discussion to take place?

Mr. Speaker

I have given my Ruling on the question which was submitted to me. The hon. Member must wait for the Committee stage of the Bill before any Ruling is possible as to what Amendments are in order. A wide discretion is given to Members to move Amendments on the Bill.

Mr. Gallacher

Would it not be sufficient to say in the Money Resolution simply that the proposed supplementary sums should be paid on conditions hereinafter to be decided? Would such wording not leave the discussion during the Committee stage of the Bill completely free, so that hon. Members could have an opportunity to move Amendments of every character? That would leave them free to move to leave out this most iniquitous evil, the household means test. The fact of the matter is that we are forbidden to deal with the one thing which, above everything else, we desire to rule out.

Mr. Speaker

Hon. Members do not appear to understand that the purpose of the Standing Order is that the Government, in a Money Resolution, may put a limit to the expenditure which can be voted.

4.19 p.m.

The Minister of Health (Mr. Elliot)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

Whatever our view of the substance of the Debate, we all feel fortunate indeed in being able to discuss to-day constructive tasks, and to reach decisions which we all hope will benefit our country and bring ill to none. We are working, this afternoon, in fields which have been the very starting-point of social reform—care for the older and weaker members of the community, but we are working under conditions which in the past, would have made the very consideration of further progress, let alone an actual advance, almost unthinkable. What we do may be swept away; but we do it, for all that, and there is not one of us to-day who does not feel a certain exhilaration in the thought, a certain added zest from the challenge, which even the fixed dates of such a Bill as this, at such a time, give in the world of our time. Such a feeling, I know, is in the House this afternoon; and in spite of much that divides us, and many hard words that may be said, we share a certain pride as Members of a Legislature which has not been wholly diverted from its old tasks by the fierce necessities of war.

The pension schemes which began in 1908, within the active lifetime of many Members of this House, have developed into one of the most important features of our social structure and one of the most remarkable achievements of this century. The numbers benefiting under the original Old Age Pensions Act were about 500,000. They are to-day 3,000,000. The costs of the original old age pensions were between £6,000,000 and £7,000,000 a year. They are to-day roughly £100,000,000 a year. Although a considerable proportion of this is covered by contributions, yet, even from taxes alone, the sums which were, in 1908, some £6,000,000, are to-day some £65,000,000.

It has for some time been evident that there is a general desire, shared by Members of all parties, for a further improvement in the conditions of the older people of this country. The fact that it was a desire shown without distinction of party is evident in the fact that many of the local authorities, of the most widely different political complexions, had begun to make supplementation of the pension in a number of cases. It was, in fact, an item which was becoming a marked feature in their budgets. It amounted in 1939 to a 4d. rate in England and Wales, and to a 5½d. rate in Scotland. The local authorities lost no opportunity of stressing their claim that the responsibility for pensions was primarily that of the State and that this task should not have to be assumed by them. Repeated examination of the problem has taken place, in Debates in this House, by resolutions of various bodies, and by the production of actual schemes, the most noteworthy of which is, perhaps, the Labour pension plan, to which I shall refer later, because one at least of its leading arguments is embodied in the Opposition Motion on the Order Paper to-day.

In July, the Prime Minister announced that the Government intended to take up the question and were holding an inquiry forthwith. The course of events thereafter will be familiar to all Members of the House. The international situation made it impossible at that time to complete the intended investigation. Nevertheless, on 1st November, the Government announced that they intended to resume the investigation and would immediately get in touch with representatives of the contributors, that is to say, employers and employed. These consultations took place in November and December. Last month, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced the proposals which the Government intended to lay before the House. He promised then that the task of preparing the legislation would be pressed on with the utmost expedition. The Bill which the House is discussing to-day is evidence of the fact. The administrative tasks involved in bringing the proposed changes into force this summer are formidable, but, given expedition and good will, they can be completed. But they are formidable, and in several points in the Bill we have taken latitude to enable us to deal with them.

The Bill proceeds on two principles to which, I am sure, the assent of the House will be given. These are:

(1) that an improvement should be made in the general pensions scheme;

(2) that responsibility for the pensioners should be assumed by the State, and no longer shouldered by the local authorities.

How do we propose to accomplish these objects? In Part I of the Bill we propose to lower the general pension age for women to 60. This will give pensions to women who are insured in their own rights five years earlier than they secure them to-day. It will also give the wives of insured men the pension when they are still five years younger than their husbands of 65, and this single change, if the House passes the Bill, will bring up from 28 per cent. to 63 per cent. the proportion of cases in which husbands and wives both qualify for pension when the husband reaches65. In Part II of the Bill we propose to take over the whole responsibility for the pensioners and to carry, at State expense, on a non-contributory basis, all the supplements necessary, however numerous they may be or whatever the sums required. These are extensive projects, and many very technical Clauses and Schedules are required to translate them into fact. The House will forgive me if I do not go into these in great detail, and if I confine myself to giving a general outline of the Bill.

Under Clause 1, women become entitled to old age pensions under the contributory pensions Acts at the age of 60, five years earlier than they can do under the present law. This applies to all women who are themselves insured under the Act, whether single, married or widowed, or whose husbands are insured and have already qualified for their own pensions. From the age of 60, these women will become entitled to a pension of 10s., payable every week, sick or well, at work or unemployed, for life. That pension will eventually take the place of the benefits to which they might have become entitled under the scheme of national health insurance when sick or under the unemployment insurance scheme, when unable to get work. As the right to these benefits will normally cease at age 60, women will not, after that age, be required to pay contributions for health, unemployment or pensions insurance. The estimated value of these changes, as given by the Government Actuary, to a woman aged 40 on 1st July, 1940, is an addition of £42 2s. to the present value of her rights under the health and pensions schemes; for women aged 55 an addition of £87 4s., and for women aged 60 on that date an addition of £112 12s. These are very substantial benefits.

Mr. Stephen

What is the present value of their rights?

Mr. Elliot

I could not answer that question at the moment, but I will certainly find out and will let the hon. Member know. I would draw attention to the last sentence of the Government Actuary's report, in which he summarises these changes in the words: The outstanding feature of the statement, apart from the substantial amount of the net value to the contributor, is the fact that the value of the additional pension now granted is about ten times the value of the Health Insurance benefits which would have been payable between 60 and 65. The capital value of these added benefits for persons already insured is about £260,000,000. Towards this we propose that the contributions payable in respect of men and women shall be increased by 2d. and 3d. respectively, of which the employer will pay 1d. in either case. The present value of these additional contributions is about £100,000,000, so the additional liability assumed by the Exchequer for this part of the Bill alone, reckoned as a capital sum, is £160,000,000, which is a great sum at any time, and is specially great, in view of our many liabilities at present.

Time must be given to allow adjustments. For a period of five years after the new scheme of pensions comes into operation, we are making special provision for those women whose position might otherwise be prejudiced. Some women who are over 60 when the new Measure comes into force may not then have completed the five years of insurance necessary for title to an old age pension. We propose that such women, if not employed, shall be able to continue to pay voluntary contributions after attaining age 60 and until they have qualified for a pension. If they are employed, their contribution will, of course, be payable in the ordinary way, by the employer.

While they are completing their pensions qualification, they—and any other insured women who have not qualified for a pension at age 60—will been titled when incapable of work through sickness to sickness payments at the rate of 10s. a week. These payments will continue, within the transitional period of five years, for so long as health insurance would ordinarily have continued if these changes had not been introduced. When unemployed, they will get unemployment insurance benefit to the same amount, and for so long as they would have done under the existing law, by virtue of contributions paid up to age 60 or to 1st July, 1940, whichever is the later. Furthermore, it is proposed to allow women who become entitled to a pension at any time during this transitional period of five years to continue to draw unemployment insurance benefit after qualifying for a pension, until their existing rights under the Unemployment Insurance Acts are exhausted—but not, of course, after the present terminal age of 65.

As a result of the cessation of the obligation to pay sickness and disablement benefits at age 60, the approved societies will be relieved of their existing liabilities in respect of those commitments. They will, as a consequence, be left with surplus reserves amounting to about £3,750,000; and this £3,750,000 will be carried to a special fund, to be set up under the control of the National Health Insurance Joint Committee. The first charge on this fund will be the sums expended on the special sickness payments to be made to women over 60 who are not entitled to pension. The provision needed for that purpose may amount to between £750,000 and £1,000,000. The remainder is not to be swept forthwith into the Treasury, but is to remain in trust, to be used as Parliament may subsequently determine.

The lowering of the pension age and the proposed changes as to the cessation of contributions and benefits under the health and unemployment insurance schemes, and the increase in the rates of contributions for pensions will apply to voluntary contributors under the main pension scheme. Special voluntary contributors—people insured under the "black-coated workers" Act of 1937—will not be affected. They are insured under a separate contract. At the moment, also, the vast majority of them are people considerably older than the average pensions contributor, and they have been admitted under very favourable conditions indeed.

Mr. George Hall

With regard to voluntary contributors under the old Act, is it quite clear that benefits will also be given to the wives of pensioners if they are between the ages of 60 and 65?

Mr. Elliot

Voluntary contributors under the main Act will enjoy the benefits of the Bill. Voluntary contributors under the "black-coated workers" Act do not come into it.

Mr. Lawson

Those who come under the Bill do so at the reduced age?

Mr. Elliot

Yes, Sir. The proposals in Part I of the Bill will add to the beneficiaries under the pensions scheme on 1st July next, 140,000 persons in the uninsured wives of existing pensioners, 20,000 more, in the insured wives of pensioners, and a further 150,000, namely, spinsters and other insured women; making 310,000 persons in all. Thus this part of the Bill alone will cover more than 50 per cent. of the number of people that the whole of the original Act of 1908 brought in altogether. The cost of the present scheme to the Exchequer is some £65,000,000 a year. The scheme, as enlarged by Part I of the Bill, in its first full year of operation, 1941–42, will cost the Exchequer nearly £67,000,000; and this will rise to nearly £87,000,000 in 10years. There are calculations, given by the actuaries, which show higher and higher figures as we proceed down the years, but I am always a little dubious about bringing before the House calculations extending so far into the future, the possibilities of which none of us can foresee. It is enough to say that the £67,000,000 which the scheme will cost in the first year will certainly rise to £87,000,000 in 10 years' time.

The House will agree that the increased burden falling upon the Exchequer under Part I of the Bill is substantial. To this has to be added the cost of the supplementation proposals contained in Part II. Part II lifts the burden of supplementation from the local authorities, and places it, without qualification or reserve, upon the shoulders of the State. The executive Clause is Clause 8 and the operative words are in Sub-section (3). These supplements are, in general, to be paid through the Post Office, though the convenience of the pensioner may dictate otherwise; and, consequently, the Clause says "may" be so paid, and not "shall." They will be administered through the former Unemployment Assistance Board, which will be reorganised for this purpose, and will have a new member added, in view of the board's enlarged responsibilities.

Mr. Woodburn

Does that apply also to old age pensioners of over 70, who are at present assessed by the Excise Department?

Mr. Elliot

The assessment of over-70 pensions will continue as at present, but needy over-70 pensioners seeking supplementation will be covered by the board.

Mr. Bevan

Has the remuneration of members of the board been decided?

Mr. Elliot

The remuneration will be governed by existing arrangements. The appointment of this new member is in fact to fill a place on the board which is at present vacant; and it will be made within the four corners of the existing powers.

Mr. Gallacher

Will the Minister consider appointing an old age pensioner?

Mr. Elliot

This is a Second Reading Debate, and I think I had better be allowed to go on.

Mr. Arthur Greenwood

Are we to take it that in regard to the over 70's, who now have their first means test, that procedure will continue?

Mr. Elliot

The investigation of title to pensions will continue as at present, but the cost of, and all responsibility for, supplementary pensions will be taken over by the Assistance Board [Interruption]. The hon. Member is quite wrong; there is no additional burden being placed on a single soul under this legislation. There are improvements for everybody who comes under Part II. I hope to be able to prove that later. There is provision for special cases—the issuing of the pension to some other person, for instance—but it is laid down that this can be done only for the purpose of protecting the interest of the applicant or of persons dependent upon him. If any institutional treatment is deemed necessary, such treatment, also, can be recommended only in the interest of the applicant; and provision is made for appeals, and for the hearing both of the applicant and of any public assistance authority to whom the applicant might become chargeable.

Clause 12 specially provides that, notwithstanding anything in the regulations, determinations already made by any relieving authority may be continued by the Board. This should enable the Board to take over the whole mass of present determinations without any jar or upset, and reduces their administrative problem very greatly. By Sub-section (3), the Board may hold over for a period up to two months, the assumption from any local authorities of direct payments, if the weight of work or other circumstances would otherwise cause delay or confusion.

Who are to benefit, under Part II and under what conditions? All those pensioners are to benefit who are in need; and for that purpose any pensioner who shows need will have his or her pension supplemented by the Board. The actual conditions will be not less favourable than the present scales of the Board, worked with the full and sympathetic discretion of the officers of the Board, who, I can assure the House, will take into full consideration the special circumstances of old age. It is not doubted by anyone that certain infirmities are the normal accompaniment of old age; and the Board will, I can assure the House, take that into consideration.

Mr. Ness Edwards

Does that include medical benefits?

Mr. Elliot

No, we are talking about supplementation. For existing cases, the Board may carry on the provisions of any order of the local authority then in force. For new cases, the Board will, in the light of the investigations which it is now carrying out, draw up new regulations suitable for the new persons coming within its care, should such regulations prove necessary in order to bring its practice into conformity with the practice of good local authorities, which will be its goal. Any such regulations will be laid before Parliament, and will have to be sanctioned by an affirmative vote of the House.

Mr. Bevan

What does the Minister of Health mean by "good" local authorities? Those authorities which the Minister of Health regards as good may be those which pay less, while he surcharges those who pay more.

Mr. Elliot

I will mention a good local authority, which I am sure will appeal to the hon. Member. I will give him the capital of the Empire, which has a Labour majority sitting on its council. [Interruption.] I do not think that on the opposite benches the local authority of the capital of the Empire will be regarded as a bad one.

Mr. Ness Edwards

In dealing with need, is there to be a distinction between the needs of the pensioner and the needs of his household? Public assistance is determined by household needs. Unemployment assistance is given on a basis of household needs.

Mr. Elliot

The hon. Member is wrong. Public assistance is determined according to the family, not the household.

Mr. Edwards

What about the pensioner's needs?

Mr. Elliot

In determining the needs of the pensioner—as I have said, and as was said in the Chancellor's statement and in all the other Government statements about this—the household will be taken as the unit.

What is the cost of the scheme, and what may the future cost be? The total number of persons drawing old age pensions is about 3,000,000. Of these, about 375,000 have continued in employment. This leaves about 2,625,000, and of this number about 275,000 have recourse to the Poor Law authorities for additional help. It may well be that there are many old age pensioners who are enduring privation rather than go upon the rates, and it is this further class that the proposals will bring in. The present cost to the local authorities is of the order of £5,250,000 a year, and the proposals in Part II of the Bill will benefit them, and through them the rates, to the extent of over £4,000,000 a year. [AN HON. MEMBER: "Why not £5,000,000?"] Surely the hon. Member will realise that, if the odd £1,000,000 is given by the House already to old age pensioners through the local authorities, when the House is giving the money to the old age pensioners direct, it would be anomalous that it should pay to the local authorities as well.

It is reckoned that the future cost will be substantially in excess of the present. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. G. White) suggested that as many as 200,000 more pensioners might apply for supplementation. Whatever their number, for all this liability the State here and now assumes the charge. Furthermore, by taking over on behalf of the community as a whole the responsibility for this supplementation of the pensions of those who have no other resources, the State is, in effect, taking over the uninsurable risk, the risk of destitution, against which it is unfair to expect a section only of the community to provide, as would be the case if this burden were thrown wholly upon the insurance schemes. The responsibility is being assumed by the community as a whole, and the insurance schemes are relieved of the responsibility. It has often been suggested in this House and elsewhere that these poor people should not, at the end of their lives, have to suffer the indignity of going before a public assistance committee every week or so to obtain the wherewithal to live. With the passing of the Bill that will cease.

It is suggested in the Amendment on the Paper that a new principle is being brought into the pensions scheme. That is not so. There will in future be, as there are to-day, two systems, one applying to contributory pensions and the other to non-contributory. Contributory pensions are the outcome of contributions paid by the pensioner and his employer, and they are payable without conditions. Non-contributory pensions, which are payable wholly from the Exchequer, have, since the inception of the pensions system in 1908, been subject to various conditions, including a condition as to the means of the applicant. The circumstances of the applicant—I looked this up very carefully before I came to a decision—are taken into account, and sums received by the applicant from outside are, and must be, reviewed by those who are determining whether a non-contributory pension should be given or not. The supplementary pensions now proposed are non-contributory, and they will therefore be paid on the basis of need. It may well be that the rules will differ from the rules of the non-contributory over-70 pensions, but these are rules governing a maximum of 10s. The new rules are to dispose of a sum adequate to the whole needs of the applicant—a very different thing.

It is desirable to examine this question a little further, in view of some misconceptions and some misrepresentations. The change effected by the present proposals is to transfer a duty from the local authorities to the State. That does not mean that a test of need will be imposed which was not previously imposed. It does not mean that a household means test is being introduced for the first time. On the contrary, it can be said that the practice of the Assistance Board is in many respects more considerate than that of local authorities. For instance, the provisions of the Determination of Need Act in regard to the treatment of the applicant's savings are mandatory upon the board. They are optional in the case of local authorities, and they have only been adopted by 23 of the 145 public assistance authorities in England and Wales. More than two-thirds of the country are living under rules generally more stringent than those they will be living under when this Bill reaches the Statute Book.

Mr. Dingle Foot

Will what used to be called the "statutory disregards" apply in this case?

Mr. Elliot

Yes, certainly. The conditions will not be less favourable than the present scales of the Board. In fact, I consider they will be more favourable having regard to the nature of the case.

Mr. George Hall

That will be very much less favourable than the conditions that are attached to the personal means test under the non-contributory pensions Act.

Mr. Elliot

They will be much more favourable in this respect, that they will give an award up to the full needs of the applicant. Under the non-contributory pensions scheme all that can be awarded is 10s. There will be a very much larger award to needy persons under the new proposals of the Government. You may say that the actual rules for the 10s. are more lenient than the rules for the larger sum. That may well be, but the applicant stands to gain a very much larger sum than the 10s.of the over-70 pension. Any authority purporting to meet need would lay itself open to com plaint if it provided no more assistance to a man who was living friendless and alone, and obliged to bear the whole burden of rent, lighting and heating, than it would give to another man who was living as a member of an active and flourishing household. Nothing struck me more during the preliminary discussions on the Bill than the emphasis laid by local authorities on the humanitarian aspect of their relief work under the Poor Law, and their anxiety lest this should come to an end. This all arose, not by Act of Parliament, but by the natural working of administration. The same humanity which has become a feature of enlightened local authorities—no one denies that humanity has become a feature of their working—will, I am certain, be a feature of the Board's administration. The best proof I can give is the name of the new member of the Board now to be added in respect of these larger duties—Mr. J. J. Mallon, the present Warden of Toynbee, who surely is the very antithesis of Bumbledom. It will be his main occupation in future—

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