§ Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment to Question [20th February], "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
Which Amendment was, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:
this House notes with approval that in response to public pressure His Majesty's Government have at last agreed to lower the pensionable age for a certain number of women, but regrets their refusal to recognise the urgent necessity for a flat increase to all old age pensioners who have retired from work, and strongly condemns the proposal for supplementary pensions based upon a household means test which is repugnant to the pensions system, odious in its administration, and will leave an unjustifiable burden upon selected households."—[Mr. George Hall.]
§ Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ 4.14 p.m.
§ Mr. Lawson
In opening the Debate yesterday, the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health said that we all shared a certain exhilaration because this Legislature has not been wholly diverted from its old tasks of legislation even by the war. The Secretary of State for Scotland emphasised that point. That, of course, is a tribute not so much to the Government as to public opinion in this country and to the campaign which the Opposition have carried on with regard to this question of old age pensions. We of the Opposition in common with representatives of public opinion outside who have been enthusiastic in dealing with this question of old age pensions are conscious of the fact that we owe free public assembly in the country and in this House and the right of free speech to brave men who are patrolling the skies and the seas, and that our freedom to exercise our rights is well defended by them. While they defend this freedom we can assure those in the Forces and the public that we will exercise that freedom in order to defend the standards of the people's life. I say that because I thought that in one or two speeches from the Government benches last night there was a certain tenderness and fear that 1394 what we said in criticism in this House would be broadcast by an enemy nation. We of the Opposition and I think people generally in the country care not what they broadcast. We are indifferent to it. We shall exercise our rights with all the greater virility because of the knowledge that the enemy dare not allow such freedom to their own people, and it may be that broadcasting of criticism will do good to the German people.
My hon. Friends on this side of the House have welcomed Part I of the Bill mainly because it decreases the age at which women may receive pensions from 65 to 60. That, of course, is an improvement long overdue. This question of age has created a good deal of bitterness. Sometimes a woman may be 66 or 67 years of age and her husband 63 or 64, and there would be no pension for either. Sometimes the husband may be 65 and the wife 63 or64. An old friend of mine came to see me on this matter about 12 months ago, and he was rather bitter but at the same time humorous and waggish about it He said that he had had to stop work. When Ministers are arguing on the question of men leaving work by compulsion if a really good pension is created, they might remember the fact that in the great bulk of the industries in past years men have had to stop work at 65 whether they liked it or not. This man was in this position. His wife was only 63, but he had a friend who was 63 and whose wife was 66. He asked me if I thought the Chancellor of the Exchequer would have any objection if they swopped wives. That was only a humorous way of putting what was a very great grievance on the part of these people. This is a very real improvement for which we of the Opposition as well as public opinion outside can claim a good deal of credit. While my hon. Friends have analysed the Bill and have made their criticisms, we accept Part I as a tribute to that long battle which has been waged in this House and in this country.
I now wish to deal in the main with Part II. It is proposed that a means test shall now be applied to the old age pensioner. I do not know whether hon. Members opposite think that the speeches of Ministers yesterday represented the public's attitude to this question of the means test. This application of the means test cannot, be separated from the fact that 1395 the means test has already been applied to the unemployed. The intention now is to apply it to workmen's compensation. It is already being applied to soldiers' dependants, and it appears not merely that the Government have decided to deal with this matter because of the war situation, but that the Tories have definitely adoted the principle of the means test in its application to working-class life. First it was adopted with regard to the unemployed, and now it is to be applied to old age pensioners. Now there is the promise that the same principle is to be applied to the men broken in industry and their dependants as it has already been applied to the dependants of soldiers. Where humble people are concerned, according to the Government this means test is a good, just, and equitable principle. But the means test must stop. When railway shareholders are destitute, there is no means test. Incidentally, when I saw the benches opposite full last week when the railway agreement was being dealt with, I wished that some of these City and financial interests could be linked to the interests of the old people in this country. Of course, the means test must not be applied to railway shareholders, to farmers, shipowners, and armament kings. It is shocking to suggest that the means test should be applied to them.
I have often been told—and we have heard very often in this House—that the writer of the well-known novel dealing with the two nations, the founder of what was in his time called the New Toryism, said that Toryism is different now from what it used to be. For that purpose, of course, I label the Chancellor as a Tory, but if there is one thing which is certain it is that when you are dealing with these matters there are two nations. There is one law for the wealthy, and there is another for the poor. In these last few weeks a calm announcement has been made concerning the application of this principle. In the light of the present circumstances I have been amazed, but step by step I have been forced to the conclusion that the saying of the old writer in Proverbs is as true to-day as it was in his day:The rich man's wealth is his strong city; the destruction of the poor is their poverty.Here is an insurance scheme including the industrial workers of the nation. Every- 1396 body in certain conditions must be insured. I remember in 1925 when the Contributory Insurance Bill was introduced how thrift, self-sufficiency and independence of the British workman were eulogised, but now there is to be grafted on to this scheme a principle which has caused very real ill-feeling in reference to unemployment. Nobody should be under any illusion; do not let the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health or any officer be under any illusion. There is very strong and bitter feeling among the working classes with respect to the application of the means test in regard to unemployment and there are good grounds for that feeling. If there is any doubt about it, I have with me two letters out of a bundle of letters which I have received. Here is a letter from the secretary of one of the northern branches of the National Old Age Pensioners' Union:The following resolution was passed unanimously by this branch: 'This meeting condemns the Government's proposals to pay supplementary pensions through the U.A.B. and demands that an all-round flat rate increase should be given to old age pensioners. We also strongly condemn the Government's policy in trying to introduce a means test for a benefit which we have already paid for by our contributions to the pensions fund during our working days and we call upon all Members of Parliament who have the interests of the workers at heart to oppose the Government's mean attempt to humiliate the aged worker.'That is only a slight sample of the feeling that exists on this matter. It arises from the actual administration of the regulations, and from the investigation that takes place under the Unemployment Act.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the administration of the Unemployment Assistance Board was generous. I challenge that. It is true that here and there a man gets special consideration, because of discretion; but for one who gets that special consideration—which is probably window-dressing more than anything else—there are scores who are refused anything at all, although their conditions are, to say the least, lamentable. I do not know how many Members have read a very fine book which was published quite recently, written, I understand, by a young Welshman. The book is called, "How Green was my Valley. "If I may say so, as a layman, it is written in perhaps the best English that has been written in this country for a long time; 1397 but its charm consists in the description it gives of a mining family. Those who have read it will probably have been amazed at the warm bond of fellowship there is in that family. Now, one finds conditions not quite so good as those described in the book, but it is well known that in the great industrial areas, which have been hit by this means test, there are families whose members are bound together by this fine bond. But there was no means test in the time about which the author writes.
If hon. Members could see this means test, working like an acid, dissolving families, breaking them up, they would never suggest that that principle should be applied to old age pensions. I have described before how you may get a man of middle age, in the prime of his skill and strength, whose family have grown up around him, and whose boys almost adore him because of his strength and skill at his craft. The father and sons, perhaps, work together in the workshop. Then the father gets his notice. Everyone knows that that is quite a common thing now; apart from the circumstances created by the war, we have no use for the middle-aged man. This man is unemployed. He feels that, whereas before his sons admired him and he had their affection, now he is nobody. The boys try to put it right, but they cannot. The man wants to stand on his own legs, as he has always done. There is a spirit, in spite of all their efforts, which permeates their home, and breaks up the home. The father wants to stand on his own legs and to feel that he is keeping himself. Unless the sons leave home, he can get nothing; so they leave home. When a boy goes away in such circumstances, the Unemployment Assistance Board call it collusion; we call it tragedy. Even when the boys do go away, there is often nothing for the father, because of the conditions that prevail. On the other hand, consider the case of a young fellow who is unemployed, and who leaves home. How is the Unemployment Assistance Board's representative going to deal with a situation like this? A young fellow came to see me the other day, and said,I have been unemployed. I am registered for the Army. I cannot let my father keep me, so I have left home." There was nothing else for him to do. The employers say, "There 1398 is no work for you; we do not want anybody who is registered for the Army.This means test has caused great bitterness among the mass of the people. Now it is to be applied to old age pensions. There is no doubt that the principle breaks up homes. When, at the age of nearly 20, I used to speak from orange-boxes in various parts of the country, it was a recognised Conservative claim that our Socialism was going to break up the home. It is strange that a Tory Government should be responsible for a system which breaks up the home, as this does. If anyone doubts that it does have that effect, let him get the last report of the Unemployment Assistance Board. They state the fact, and they give the numbers; but, of course, they say, "It is collusion." But it does not happen because the people want it to happen; it is the result of the spirit created by this vicious principle.
It is a fact that thrift is penalised by the Bill. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) drew attention yesterday to the fact that among those who would be punished were those who had had regard to superannuation. Many of us know the work of clubs for this purpose. I have in mind an outstanding instance of social thrift. I do not think anyone who knows about it would, for a moment, wish to penalise such a movement. I refer to the aged miners' homes movement of my own county. So striking have been its results that Royal visitors and Ministers have gone to see it. Indeed, there is now a Bill on the Statute Book which is based on the achievements of that organisation. Beautiful homes are built, not out of charity, but out of the workers' pennies, by regular contributions. They live rent free; they get their coal; sometimes the workmen give them a few shillings a week. Mark you, this is not charity; the people who live in the homes have paid their contributions, and they are there by right. They are surrounded by all the love of the village. Indeed, if the freedom of a city, or the freedom of a village, ever meant anything at all, it is a very real thing to those old people. What is to happen to those people? When the investigating officer goes, he finds that they have no rent to pay, that their coal is free, that they have a little garden, and that they get a small contribution from the miners. The investigator will zealously put all those facts 1399 down. Will old people of that kind get pensions? They are the type to whom you are to apply the means test.
I believe I have seen in my time a continual increase in kindliness in the hearts of the people of this country, irrespective of sections or classes. But it is not what we feel that matters, so much as what actually happens, so that we look after those who are in need. When you submit people who are thrifty, who have patiently saved and done their best to provide some little shelter for themselves, to these investigations, you punish the most virile elements of this nation. I am old-fashioned enough to believe that the very backbone of a nation are the people who have striven with great courage to provide for themselves in their old age. I remember a very humorous interview I had once with a gentleman when I was in the Army. He became a very good friend to me. He asked me what "lot" I belonged to. I asked him, Did he mean what my family were? I told him that my father had worked in the mine for nearer 60 years than 50, and that if any woman could make a penny go further than my mother, I should like to see her. I would like to see the man who could do a better day's work than my father, and, after 60 years, all that they had been able to do, by being temperate, patient, self-denying, was to scrape together just enough to keep them going. It is people of that kind that the Government are going to punish. There is no exception to an instance of that kind. I am glad to say that it is the common lot of the average British man and woman to have parents of that kind, and yet that vital element in our life is to be discouraged by the knowledge that some person may come along and ask the most insolent questions about their private affairs.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health said yesterday that we need not fear that kind of thing, because they were going to apply the best possible conditions that prevail in the country and express them in regulations. It is recognised that there are people in different parts of the country who have had to apply for public assistance, and that the public assistance committees have been very generous. But even taking this fact into consideration, how will it work out in the future? I am assured by the authorities in Dur- 1400 ham—and I have the information here, if necessary—that they can now make up the amount to the old people to 35s. a week for the two of them, but under the regulations of the Unemployment Assistance Board they cannot get more than 30s. If you gave these people the preference of being subjected to the Unemployment Assistance Board or the public assistance committee, I imagine that they would choose the public assistance committee rather than the Unemployment Assistance Board. Give the local authorities the choice of agreeing to an all-round increase of pensions, or of leaving them with some financial responsibility, and they will choose the giving of an increase of pension. The Secretary of State for Scotland said yesterday that there was to be a reduction of rates, and that the local authorities were to be relieved of a great weight. He even mentioned a certain number of towns where the rates would be reduced. Who told him that?
§ The Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Colville)
I ought to have made it plain that we have in Scotland reached a provisional agreement upon this question, and that the figures I gave were the result of that agreement. I do not think that in England and Wales negotiations have advanced quire as far.
§ Mr. McLean Watson
What does the right hon. Gentleman mean by a provisional agreement? We had a meeting with the representatives of local authorities of Scotland this morning, and we asked specifically whether any agreement had been reached, and we were, assured that nothing but preliminary discussions had taken place between the local authorities of Scotland and the Secretary of State.
§ Mr. Colville
The agreement which we have reached in Scotland, we understand, will be the basis to be followed in these adjustments.
§ Mr. Lawson
I think that the point I have made has been emphasised by the interruptions. Everybody knows that the block grant is a kind of game of financial chess and that very few people can play it. I would remind the right hon. Gentle- 1401 man that only one can win. When the various factors are weighed in the balance, the local authority as a rule is not quite sure whether it has lost or gained. In the light of experience, estimates of a reduction of so much in rates as the result of a block grant have no value at all. I think that the figures of the Secretary of State were for Press consumption.
§ Mr. Lawson
It struck me that the right hon. Gentleman was rather keen to get them out, and I would be very much interested to know how much the local authorities will be improved as the result of what is called the benefits they are to gain from this proposal. There is one thing that is quite certain, and it emerges quite plainly. Those who are afflicted and need consideration will, instead of receiving consideration from the elected representatives, who are their neighbours, now, more and more, become subject to the consideration of the representatives of the Unemployment Assistance Board. The machine is taking the place of men. It is the introduction of a kind of national Poor Law board, which will take away the personal touch of the elected authority. Whitehall is undermining local authorities. It is substituting regulations for the personal care of elected representatives, who are the neighbours of these old people. If this sort of thing is to continue, we shall be well on the way to becoming a regimented nation instead of a neighbourly nation. Will the hon. Lady who is to reply tell us what kind of regulations are to be imposed? The Minister yesterday made a general statement that we are to have regulations to give the best conditions possible, as applied by the best authorities in the country. That statement was rather vague. Is he going to bring the Glamorgan, the Durham and the London conditions together and make conditions general throughout the country? Are we to have a kind of regional regulations?
I want to put another question to the hon. Lady. I understand that it is to be the household means test, and that relatives will be excluded. Take the case of a soldier whose mother is receiving an old age pension of 10s. I know of a case of this kind. She receives from her son, who has a stripe, 10s. 6d. He is serving at the front. That mother 1402 receives altogether 20s. 6d. Is that soldier to be regarded as a relative or as a member of the household? That is very important, because it will affect a great number of people in one way or another. I believe that for Unemployment Assistance Board purposes such a soldier would be excluded, and if, in this connection, he is excluded, it will mean that many soldiers will be excluded. I hope that that is so, but I should like an answer to the question.
I want to conclude on this note. The Government can take it that we shall fight this Bill every inch of the way. We shall use all the resources at our disposal to fight the attempt to graft the means test on to the Old Age Pensions Act. We shall use all our power, in this House and out of it, to prevent this attempt to substitute charity for right. Over 2,000 men and boys are killed in industry every year, and hundreds of thousands are injured. Those who are fortunate to avoid death or injury go patiently backwards and forwards from their homes to their work day after day, earning their living, and serving the State. They and their wives are serving this nation just as really as men who are in the Defence Forces, for without them there would be no Defence Forces. We who come from such homes will not silently stand by while their pension, which ought to be sufficient to keep them in their old age, is subjected to this sort of thing which has caused so much evil already in the homes of the great mass of the people. We will, as I have said, fight this Bill every inch of the way, because we claim that the veterans of industry ought as a right to receive a pension that will keep them in decency and in comfort when their day's work is done. Members of this House can take it that the fight began yesterday, and that there is to be no black-out here to-night as far as Members are concerned. There is certainly going to be no black-out of the old people's cause, for, in so far as we can, by word of mouth and by argument, we shall express the loathing of the great mass of the people at the application of this principle to them.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Miss Horsbrugh)
As I listened to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), I was glad that he had started 1403 on the same note upon which my right hon. Friend started his speech yesterday, by reminding us that, even in this time of war, when there is much expenditure, not only of money and of lives, but of initiative and energy, and when all that the people of this country can give is being given to the war effort, we are able in the House to consider one of our greatest social services, our service for the old people. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman went further. He reminded us, both at the beginning of his speech and at the end, of the work that is being done for the defence of the country by the airmen, the soldiers, the men who sail the sea, and, he also pointed out, by those who are working to provide the means of defence. I think it is well that we should bear those facts in mind, because over and over again in the Debate one is almost led to forget in what circumstances we have brought forward this Bill. We are almost led to leave out of our calculations how much each one of us honestly thinks can be done at this time. Hon. Members have congratulated us on this side that we have at any rate been able to take a step forward.
We have produced a Bill some parts of which at any rate are approved by everyone in the House. As I stand here to take part in a Debate at this Box for the first time, I am supported—[An Hon. Member: "Not much support."] The support is very great for me. [Interruption.] I am not talking about the benches. I will tell hon. Members where the support is. I know there is support for this Measure in the country, and particularly among the women in the constituency which my hon. Friend and I represent, and it is, I think, fortunate for me that I am speaking on a Bill concerning particularly women's interests. In Dundee there is a larger proportion of women workers than anywhere else, with one exception. I find in the 1931 Census that 55 per cent. of the women in Dundee are what is called gainfully occupied. I believe the figure for Blackburn is 60 per cent. That is above the 32 per cent. for the country as a whole. In Dundee the figure of women compared with men is 75 per cent., and we are beaten only by Blackburn with 80 per cent. The support that I feel for the Bill is in the fact that I realise that women in industry are going to be better off in many ways by its passing and that 1404 it is going to lift from the minds of many the great, ever-present anxiety that they feel. I know among those whom I may call my personal friends the anxiety of those years before they reach the pension. That anxiety is to a great extent being allayed.
The hon. Gentleman who spoke last talked at times, it seemed to me, as if he was almost leading people to believe that the present 10s. pension was in some way to be connected with the means test. I know he did not mean to put that idea forward. We all in this House know the scheme, but I think anyone reading what he has said would be led to believe that any old person receiving the 10s. in future would be undergoing a means test. We know that that is not the case but, if someone who is out of industry with no wages and no personal resources applies for more than the pension he has under the contributory scheme, a test of need is taken. The hon. Gentleman gave us a very vivid description of a home that he knew which, with the help of the aged people's own contributions and that of other people has been built and equipped, and the old people are living there and the rent is paid. He said that by this scheme we were definitely making the case of those people worse and were punishing them. I cannot see that, because I agree so much more with the proposition that he put in the earlier part of his speech, when he told us that the actual feeling of the people of the country is to stand on their own feet if possible. If there is a case of another couple living in a house for which they are paying rent, for which they have no help whatever, is it right to say that they are not to get more than the people in the home that the hon. Gentleman spoke of? That couple may have extra need. They may be more infirm and may have various expenses. Surely it would not be right to say that, because the other person has a certain definite sum, we cannot give this one any more. The hon. Gentleman asked me a definite question about the regulations. The Secretary of State for Scotland pointed out that, if it were found that under the present regulations it was not possible to do what we have set out to do, to bring these people up to the standard of good authorities, if there is not sufficient discretion, further regulations will be laid before the House. The hon. Gentleman asked me if my right 1405 hon. Friend included London among the good authorities. My answer to him is in the affirmative.
We were told by hon. Members opposite that what they objected to in the Bill is that there is to be supplementation and not a flat rate. I want to take this up and see where exactly we part company with them. We were told yesterday that, if the Government had introduced a Bill under which higher contributions would be paid and a flat-rate pension of 15s. given, the party opposite would have supported it. But during the Debate there came out quite clearly the point that we are not going, surely, to say that no poor person having reached the age of 65 can have more than 15s. if he has no resources of his own. We come straight away, surely, to the idea that there must be supplementation of some sort in those cases. I do not for a minute wish to misrepresent hon. Members. I know they do not mean the people of this country to think that they are clapping down a maximum of 15s. as the amount that any old person should receive. It seems to me that, if that is put forward as what would have been acceptable, the next point to decide between us is this. There must be supplementation in some cases. How should we arrange which cases? That seems the argument to which we have to address ourselves.
If it were possible to give a flat-rate pension of 15s., how are we to give supplementation to people with particular difficulties? There must be difficulties, especially in old age, and some will want more help than others. Some cases need supplementation and there must certainly be some inquiry to find out which cases. Then we come to the question, What authority shall review the supplementation? In practically every Debate on old age pensions which has taken place since I have been in the House in the last eight years hon. Members on all sides have put it forward that the old people do not wish to go to the public assistance committee. We have also been told over and over again that the local authorities want this burden taken away from them. Members in every part of the House have said that there should be a centrally organised fund and it should not be left to the local authority. The local authorities have appealed for it to be taken from them. I could not help thinking that yesterday's Debate was different 1406 from all the others that we have had, because some public assistance authorities came in for more credit than they have ever had before. There is a proverb that every dog has his day, and yesterday was the day of the public assistance authority.
§ Mr. Messer
Was it not because of the comparison between the public assistance committee and the Unemployment Assistance Board? Had it not been for the transfer to the Unemployment Assistance Board there would have been no question about it.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
We have always been told that the old people did not want to go to public assistance. We are all agreed that there must be supplementation. If it is not to be the public assistance committee and not the Unemployment Assistance Board, what other board would be set up to do it?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I would like to say to the hon. Gentleman how many of our needs can be satisfied, unfortunately, in war-time? There are a lot of things that have to be done in war-time that do not satisfy us. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) in his speech last night made it clear that because of war-time and of conditions of which the hon. Gentleman the Member for Chester-le-Street has just reminded us, the 15s, plan would have been acceptable.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady but that is not the statement my hon. Friend made. It was a statement to the effect that the Trades Union Congress, over which we have no authority, said they would themselves be prepared to recommend to their constituent bodies the scheme based upon that rate. There was no decision by this party and no intention of committing the trade union movement to the acceptance of scales which might have been recommended by themselves.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I understand the point which the right hon. Gentleman has put forward—that the Trades Union Congress was going to make a recommendation and that his party would not accept. I am willing to take that.
§ Mr. Lawson
If the hon. Lady gets yesterday's Official Report she will see, in column 1297, that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland said:The representatives of the General Council put up suggestions for a flat rate increase and for the conditional retirement from work to accompany that increase; and that they indicated that, if the flat rate increase was reasonably generous—if for example it were to amount to 5s. per week they would be prepared to recommend to the general body of their members that they should pay increased contributions towards the cost, on condition, of course, that the employers should do the like, and that the Government should themselves make a contribution."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1940; col. 1297, Vol. 357.]
§ Miss Horsbrugh
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not read quite far enough. Farther down the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland said:They would be prepared on these conditions to bear their share and play their part in financing the flat rate increase provided it were reasonably generous, say, of the magnitude of 5s. a week. The workers, in other words, were willing, but neither of the other two parties were willing."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1940; col. 1298, Vol. 357.]I do not think that the workers would be willing to pay an extra contribution unless they were going to have an extra pension—[Interruption]—but if hon. Members feel that that is not the case perhaps a further explanation will be made from the other side. But I took it from the statement of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland, and I think I took it fairly. If there is to be supplementation I think the majority of the House will agree that old people should not have to go to the public assistance authority to get that supplementation. The case was well put by the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart),who explained the situation. He said that old people did not want to go on telling their neighbours all the details of their financial situation and, I would add, there has also been the feeling that these people have felt that their need would have to be met out of the pockets of their neighbours, through the rates. We have put the thing on a wider basis, and the burden will be on the country as a whole. I know my hon. Friend who shares with me the representation of Dundee interrupted the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife and said he was not correct because there would be neighbours on the Unemployment Assistance 1408 Board's advisory committee. I know the hon. Gentleman is generally correct, but in this case he was incorrect, because the function of the advisory committee is to advise on general questions in the area, such as the average rent, etc., and not to deal with inquiry or assessment of individual cases. The advisory committee does, at times, make a special inquiry about a special point, such as opportunities for training, but it does not take on the function of the public assistance committee. There is, however, an extra function which we hope some members of the advisory committee may undertake—helping in welfare work in various parts of the country.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies
Is not the local appeal tribunal to function, and apart from the chairman is it not generally made up of people living in the locality?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I quite agree that there will be that appeal, but at the same time I think if we each consider the cases of which we know, we must say that an applicant for supplementation will feel there is more privacy. Not so much will be known by his or her neighbours and the person will not be getting supplementation out of the pockets of neighbours. The payment of supplementary pensions through the Post Office will make them feel that it is not merely assistance they are asking for but a supplementary pension.
Yesterday it was suggested that there was a regulation which made it necessary for inquiries to be made every month in order to re-assess the applicant. I am told that there is no regulation to this effect. I have made special inquiries. There is no regulation which says that they must re-inquire and re-assess every month. It is now an administrative prac-tice—the applicants are unemployed persons whose circumstances are liable to rapid change—but no regulation would have to be changed to allow a supplementary pension to be given through the Post Office over an extended period. I am sure hon. Members will be relieved that there will not be this monthly re-inquiry and re-assessment for old age pensioners.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I think that must depend on circumstances. We want a 1409 considerable period but we cannot lay down an actual period because there might be substantial changes that have to be taken into account.
I have kept the House rather long, but there are two other points on supplementation with which I would like to deal. One was from the hon. Member for Gateshead (Mr. Magnay), who asked "If a woman who is going to get a pension between 60 and 65 is sick, will she be able to get supplementation during the time of sickness or will she have to go on public assistance?" He also said that local authorities were working out schemes of what it would cost if they had to pay for sickness. They need not worry to work out such schemes. Once a woman has got her pension at 60 she can, if in need, get supplementation in time of sickness as well as in health. Perhaps there is somebody in employment who is drawing a pension and becomes sick, thus losing her wages. She is, therefore, quite probably in need and such a case would be met by supplementation.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Do I take it that the sickness rules under unemployment assistance will be put on one side?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
It is not a case of unemployment assistance, or health insurance. Applicants for supplementation cannot be classed as under unemployment assistance, because they are outside it, and they are not in health insurance any longer. I think the hon. Member will find I am right. The other point I wish to refer to was raised by the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Mr. Pearson), and was whether a woman pensioner could apply for supplementation on account of a dependent husband. I would say that in Dundee I know of cases where the wives are not dependent on their husbands. A good many husbands are dependent on their wives—
§ Miss Horsbrugh
In this case the husband would be treated as a dependant and the wife's pension could be supplemented by that amount. I think that answers most of the questions and I will now come to Part I of the Bill.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
There is a case about which I am much concerned. What happens to the widow who is now re- 1410 ceiving a pension at 60 and is also in receipt of a disablement payment of 6s. a week from National Health Insurance? Will she lose the five years' benefit of 6s. per week?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will wait for an answer until I come to this point. I am now going to deal with Part I of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Clackmannan and Eastern (Mr. Woodburn) last night informed the House that most of the benefits of the Bill existed only in the imagination. I wonder whether, if he came to my constituency, or went to others where women workers are suffering real hardship and anxiety, he would tell them that? I think most of the hon. Members who have spoken have, at any rate, recognised that Part I of this Bill is a very great step forward in our insurance system. So much has it been approved that hon. Gentlemen opposite yesterday seemed to think that it was their scheme and that we had adopted it. The latest scheme—I am going to be very careful and not talk about trade unions—we have in print is Labour's pension plan. In that plan it definitely states that the pensionable age for men and women is to be 65, except when continuous unemployment is proved. I am glad that hon. Members opposite are supporting this part of the Bill, but I must point out that not only do they not lower the age for men and women in their plan, but that when they come to consider spinsters' pensions they say that these women are not to have pensions at 55 because the cost would be prohibitive. At any rate, in this Bill we have gone half-way towards the age of 55, because we are reducing the age to 60. Next July, without having paid one single penny more in contributions, 310,000 women will be receiving a pension which they are not receiving to-day.
It has always been agreed that if a man at 65 gets a pension and his wife has not reached that age great hardship sometimes occurs. Over and over again this point has been stressed by hon. Members on all sides of the House, but successive Governments of different political views have not made any change. It has been left to this Government to make a change; and in a time of war. A little time ago hon. Members opposite were telling us that what they wanted was for people to 1411 pay an extra contribution and get extra benefits. In Part II of the Bill we are not allowing them to pay an extra contribution and hon. Members are opposing us; but in Part I we are allowing an extra contribution and giving extra benefits.
§ Mr. A. Jenkins
Will the hon. Lady tell us what contribution the Government will make towards pensions when the age is reduced to 60?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
The capitalised cost is £260,000,000, that is £100,000,000 from contributions and £160,000,000 from the State. The actual facts were given in a reply by the Secretary of State for Scotland; and it will be found that in successive years the cost goes up and more will have to be paid.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I am asking, and I hope I shall receive a reply, what contribution year by year the Government will make in order to make pensions possible at 60 instead of 65?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I do not think the hon. Member realises the method in which the Exchequer grant is paid under the pensions scheme. It is not calculated each year. The calculation is made for a 10-year period, and in 1946 Parliament will have to decide how much the State should pay into the scheme.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
The hon. Member must not say that. The Exchequer contribution has to be reviewed in 1946, and it is clear that more will have to be paid. If the question is whether it is costing the Government any more, the answer is yes, after the first two years. After the next two years the amount required each year goes up because of the changes which have been made in the pension scheme. The amount is larger each year. If the hon. Member does not believe it I think he will find I am right if he gets the figures and sets to work with paper and pencil.
I do not think that any speech delivered in the Debate has shown that an hon. Member is not in favour of this change. I know that some people will be disappointed that the age has not been reduced to 55 in the case of spinsters' pensions. I want to say absolutely straightforwardly that we have not in this 1412 Bill granted all that spinsters ask. That is quite clear, but we have granted a great deal more than the party opposite were proposing to grant.
Why was support given to this scheme? I think it was because of the anxiety which many women feel as they are getting on in life that they will not be able to remain in insurance until the pensionable age. I should put that in the forefront.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I know many cases where that anxiety has been very present. I wonder whether all women in insurance realise the rights and chances they have under the extended free period. I have found cases in which they have not realised that if they had remained in insurance for two or three more weeks they would have kept in benefit, and I think that had they known this they would probably have paid the contribution voluntarily and thus kept in insurance.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
They are not allowed to pay their contributions voluntarily. A married woman is not allowed to pay a voluntary contribution.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
Only since the new scheme relating to pensions came in. The period for which I am speaking is when married women were not allowed to pay voluntary contributions and therefore went out of insurance.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
On that argument you might just as well do nothing to improve anything in the future because the people who lived in the last century will not get any benefit.
§ Mr. Silverman
The hon. Lady is rather provocative. Does she not realise that 1413 the people for whom my hon. Friend is speaking are not dead, but are still alive, and that they will watch these new benefits going to other people while they themselves are prevented from obtaining them.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
The hon. Member will agree that it is because there have been cases of hardship that these improvements are now being made. We know that women are in and out of insurance. We know of cases of women, single women, in domestic service who have gone back to help in their homes and look after relations. The term "maiden aunt" is, as we know, the foundation for some humour and some wit, but I can assure hon. Members that maiden aunts are among the most useful members of the community. I speak with some feeling, being a maiden aunt myself. Very often single women go out of insurance because they have to look after their elderly parents. They do it as a matter of duty, and I believe that the majority of them would not give up this responsibility to anyone else. They want to do it. It is hard that in their case they should have less security for the future. By the passing of this Bill many hundreds of women will be able to reach the pensionable age at 60 and the anxiety which has existed will disappear in many cases. Hon. Members will agree with me when I describe many women between the ages of 60 and 65 as "tired women."
§ Miss Horsbrugh
The hon. Member with her special knowledge may tell me that I am wrong, but I believe that there are more tired women hanging on to industry between the ages of 60 and 65 than there are men.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
Then they must be very tired indeed when they reach the age of 60. But let me give one reason why I speak particularly of tired women. When a man gets home from his work in the evening, tired, he finds his food is cooked and the cleaning of the house is done. If a woman goes home she has to do her own cooking and her own cleaning. By the Bill people who are pensionable at 60 will not feel that driving consideration to stay in industry until 65. 1414 They will know that their pension is safe at the age of 60 and that if necessary it will be supplemented up to their full needs.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I have dealt with the case of women who go out of insurance before the age of 65, and with the case of those I have called "tired women"; there is the case of the woman who is in work.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
The Noble Lady says that they do not want to retire. I will deal with the case of women who are in employment and not willing to retire, and who are now to have a pension at the age of 60. The question has been asked whether such a woman is getting a better bargain than she would do if she had no pension until reaching the age of 65 and kept her insurance rights in respect of unemployment and sickness. In the one case she will cease to pay a contribution of 1s. 2d. a week, and she will receive 10s. a week; she will receive this every week from the time she reaches the age of 60. In the other case, she would pay her contribution every week, and on becoming unemployed receive 15s. a week for a restricted number of weeks, or, if she become sick, a sickness payment of 12s. a week, which might go down to a disablement payment of 6s. a week, for a restricted time. There is no doubt in my mind that if one asked any woman which of these two alternatives she would choose, she would choose 10s. a week all the year round rather than nothing as long as she was in employment and not sick. Once she has the pension, if she becomes sick an application can be made and her needs will be met under the provisions of Part II of the Bill.
It is then asked whether there is any chance that a woman will be dismissed from her work because she is 60 years old, or that her wages will be reduced. Both of those points were put to the committee which dealt with the subject of giving pensions at the age of 55. I say immediately that I think it is inevitable—and, indeed, this is why the pension is being given—that unless a person has par- 1415 ticular skill and usefulness in a certain craft, there is a natural tendency for that person in old age to go out of industry.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
There is a difference between saying to a person, "If you go out of industry you will get £1 a week," and saying, "If you stay in industry you will not even get 10s." [Interruption.] I think the hon. Member will agree with me that there is a danger, and that it ought to be faced.
Mr. J. J. Davidson
I was not referring to the hon. Lady, but to the silly remark of the Noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of Plymouth (Viscountess Astor).
§ Miss Horsbrugh
This subject was gone into by the Committee, and the Committee, although they realised that there was that fear, came to the conclusion that it ought not to be regarded as an obstacle to giving pensions. I would remind hon. Members that the petition signed by a million unmarried women in July, 1937, asked for a reduction of the age at which old age pensions were given. They did not say, "Give us pensions at 55 and give us, in addition, the other benefits." They asked that the age at which pensions were given to women should be reduced. That is being done.
§ Viscountess Astor rose—
§ Miss Horsbrugh
If my Noble Friend will wait a moment, I think she will find that I shall answer the point she wishes to raise. Perhaps I may say to her that I think those women who ask both for a pension at 55 and the other benefits are definitely asking for too much.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
I apologise for interrupting the hon. Lady, but hon. Members in this part of the House are missing a great deal of what she says because she turns her back on us.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I apologise to the hon. Member, but I was turning round in order to be courteous to the Noble Lady. From now on, I shall have the greatest pleasure in looking at the hon. Member all the time. I should like to make a final point about the demand that women should have both benefits. Does any hon. 1416 Member think that if the age had been reduced for all pensioners to 60, there could have been any idea of their taking the pensions for which they had contributed up to then and also having a further five years in which to pay for the pensions and for sickness benefit? I think that would hardly be fair. After all, the contributions are compulsory. If the contributions are raised by 3d. in the case of women because of the earlier age at which the pensions are to be paid, and if when they reached the age of 60they were still compelled to pay the extra 3d. a week, it would be a question of their paying for the very pensions which they were then receiving. Either it must be compulsory or it must not be. I believe that the majority of women will realise that they are getting a very great benefit. I do not think that logically they can say, "If there are pensions, then let us have them together with all the other benefits. Their condition is being improved enormously. Yesterday, in talking to the well-known organiser of that great movement for spinsters' pensions, I said to her that I felt she could congratulate herself on the fact that, after all her work, she had gained 90 per cent, of all that for which she had been asking. I think that if every hon. Member could feel that he had gained 90 per cent, of all that he had been striving for, he would consider it a pretty good result to be going on with.
May I point out to the hon. Lady that the real trouble is that the spinsters now say that they wanted spinsters' pensions which, like the widows' pensions, would be entirely separate from the old age pensions? I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Lady has said, but that is one of their grievances now, and—
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I quite realise that there was a demand from the spinsters for pensions at 55, by which they would have their old age pension, plus the unemployment insurance and health insurance. We have not done that, and I have tried to explain the reasons I think it is impossible. I know that some people will not be satisfied, but I think that the majority will realise that go per cent. of their demand has been met.
I come now to the case of the widows, and how they will be treated under this scheme. I think most people who have studied insurance matters will agree that the widow has been well treated throughout her insurance life. It has always been clear to her that she received her 10s. pension because of the death of her husband, and that if she went into industry, still keeping the pension, and paid her contributions, she would receive for those contributions exactly the same benefits as other persons in industry, and would receive those benefits as long as, and no longer than, other women in industry received them. The age at which all insured women received old age pensions and ceased to receive benefits under those schemes was 65. The age now is to be 60.Surely, nothing would be fairer than that a widow who enters industry, and has 10s. a week pension as a widow, should come under the same scheme of insurance as the other women, spinsters or married women, as the case may be. A special class cannot be made for widows. Therefore, the age at which they cease to draw the benefits is 60. I do not think it would be right to say that the widows should continue to draw the benefits longer than other insured women.
I think I have dealt with most of the points that have been raised. Whatever may be the feelings of hon. Members about Part II of the Bill, I think that the majority of them must in their heart of hearts—although they have not stated it very clearly—congratulate the Government upon having brought forward Part I of the Bill. I should like to put two questions to hon. Members opposite. I rather hesitate in putting those questions for fear that I may be included among those who were classed as inquisitors by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland(Mr. Dalton), and, in less elegant language, as Nosey Parkers by the hon. Member for Clackmannan and Eastern. Nevertheless, I will put the questions, 1418 and I hope that I shall receive answers to them, perhaps from the hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot),who is to speak from the Liberal benches. I am sure that if I ask him for an answer, he will not fail me; for he is my colleague, and has never let me down. The first question is: Is there anything good in the Bill, or would hon. Members opposite rather see it scrapped? I have listened to speech after speech from the benches opposite, and have not heard a single word in favour of the Bill. Therefore, I hope hon. Members opposite will answer that question. Secondly, if hon. Members opposite say that they are in favour of Part I of the Bill, would they prefer to have Part II scrapped? [An Hon. Member: "Yes."] One hon. Member says "Yes." I think it will be interesting for the people of the country to know that, during war-time, when, as I believe the majority of people agree, a flat-rate increase could not be given, an hon. Member would not give a supplementation to those who are in need because he could not give it to all the others as well.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
The hon. Member says I have failed absolutely. I can only say to him that I do not feel very much downhearted by his criticism. The Government have not failed to help these people, they have not failed to help the women, they have not failed to help the old age pensioners who are in special need. The country as a whole will acknowledge that the fact that the Government are able to bring forward this Bill at this time is a notable achievement—in the early months of a war which demands financial expenditure greater than ever before; a war in which the financial stability of this country must remain unshaken if the war is to be terminated in the way in which every hon. Member is confident it must be terminated, if we are to have lasting peace—by victory.
§ 6.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Dingle Foot
It is, I think, singularly appropriate that it should fall to me of all Members of the House to congratulate the hon. Lady on what, I think, is her first major oration from that Box. At Question Time to-day the noble Lady the Member for the Sutton Division of 1419 Plymouth (Viscountess Astor) showed some concern about the Prime Minister having to intervene in other Departments. I am sure she will agree, after the speech we have just heard, that it will not be necessary at any time for the Prime Minister to intervene in the Ministry of Health. At the end of her speech the hon. Lady put two specific questions to me. I propose to answer the first at once, and I think my answer to the second may appear from what I have to say. As to the first question, "Is there anything good in the Bill?" that, I take it, was particularly with reference to Part I of the Bill and as to that, I have no hesitation in answering with an unqualified affirmative. I think hon. Members in all parts of the House have welcomed Part I of the Bill, and it is only fair to admit that the Government are entitled to take credit for the provisions of Part I because, wherever the original impetus may have come from for bringing in this legislation, we are all aware of this anomaly which has been a matter of great complaint ever since contributory pensions were first introduced in 1925.
There are two comments which I would make in passing on the speech we have just heard. The hon. Lady referred to a passage which I had yesterday with the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) and suggested that the information which I had given was inaccurate. I have looked up the passage and what I said seems to be strictly in accordance with the facts. The hon. Member for East Fife said:At present we all know of cases of soldiers' wives who are seeking additional allowances. They make their appeals to the unemployment assistance officer. Those officers are not local councillors; they have nothing to do with local elections or local affairs. They are appointed from Edinburgh or Glasgow or some outside place and they know nothing about the affairs of the persons concerned in Cupar or St. Andrews, and that seems to me to make all the difference.I then intervened and said:Surely the position is that under the Schedule, the local officer of the Assistance Board will continue to be advised by the local advisory committee. That is specifically provided in the Schedule."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1940; col. 1267, Vol. 357.]That is what I said, and that is perfectly accurate and any hon. Member who examines the Schedule will see that 1420 it is so. In dealing with Part II of the Bill, the hon. Lady referred to differing needs and in that connection mentioned cases of sickness. I have no doubt she was merely giving it as an example but I do not think—and this is the only criticism I have to make of her remarks—that she made entirely clear the position in reference to Section 38 (4) of the 1934 Act. It provides that the expression "needs" does not include medical needs.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
Officially the words "medical benefit" mean doctors' attendance and medicines. That is not sickness benefit.
§ Mr. Foot
I understand what was in the mind of the hon. Lady, but I think that limitation ought to be made clear that the distinction which was made in the Act of 1934 is to be continued in this Bill. A great deal has been said about the application of the means test and it is scarcely necessary to add anything to what has been so powerfully said by the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson), who speaks on these matters with great authority. I wish to refer, however, to a remark made last night by the Secretary of State for Scotland. He denied the assertion that we were here introducing a means test into a contributory system. I should have thought that it was obvious that that is exactly what we are doing. Ministers have spoken of giving supplementary pensions in cases of need, but supplementary pensions are not to be given to every person over 65 who is in need. They are to be given only to those who have qualified by making contributions throughout their working lives. Unless a person is eligible for the 10s. pension, that person is not eligible for the supplementary pension. Let us see what happens. As the result of paying contributions throughout one's working life, one is entitled, in the first place, to the 10s. pension and in a case in which the need for it is established, to some form of supplementary pension as well. Let us suppose the case of three pensioners who have been working all their lives, side by side, in the same mill, paying the same contributions to the health insurance fund. At the end of their time one will get 10s. because he is deemed to have a certain degree of need; another 12s. 6d. and a third perhaps 15s.—all in respect of precisely similar contributions.
§ Mr. Colville
The hon. Member will recollect that the 10s. payment is related to the contribution. My statement was that the means test was not related to that part of the pension, namely, the 10s. to which the contributions apply.
§ Mr. Colville
Not necessarily for contributions. It applies also to the non-contributory pensions of people over 70.
§ Mr. Foot
I am referring now to pensions at 65 and I say that entitlement to the one pension or the other, to the original or the supplementary pension, arises only when the man or woman is insured on reaching the pensionable age, and that people who have paid precisely the same contributions in precisely the same way, will find all sorts of distinctions made between the sums which they are to get. If that is not a means test then it seems to me that those words have no meaning at all. We all appreciate the fact that in a time of war we have to put up with a great many expedients which we would not care for at any other time and if the Government were to say that they could not afford to do more than this Bill proposes, that this was a temporary stop-gap Measure while they tried to work out something better, for the years after the war, then, personally, I should find it more difficult to oppose the means test provision. But these proposals have not been advocated on that basis. This means test has been defended as if it were a permanent principle. Personally, I have never said that it was wrong in theory to inquire into need where somebody was receiving public funds, but it seems to me a rather unfortunate new departure to bring in a means test where benefits depend upon contributions and where you are dealing with a form of contractual payment as is the case here.
§ Mr. Foot
That is the distinction which I have just made. I am drawing a distinction between a case in which a man receives money from public funds without having made any contributions, and another case in which there is a contractual benefit, where the money is paid to him as the result of a contract into which 1422 the State forces him to enter. I think that is a perfectly clear distinction and it is a distinction which has obtained ever since 1931 in dealing with the unemployed. We had a means test, rightly or wrongly, when a man had not sufficient stamps to qualify for contractual benefit or when he had exhausted his benefit rights at the end of six months. But it has never been suggested—in fact the Government have indignantly repudiated any such intention—that a means test should be introduced for contractual standard benefit. I have heard the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) accuse the Government of contemplating something of the kind, and I have heard Ministers indignantly deny it. It is a distinction which has been drawn again and again and it is a distinction which, it seems to us, should be maintained.
Now I come to what I regard as the more important features of the Bill. First, may I put one point which has not I think yet been raised in this Debate? A general impression has been given that at any rate in the great majority of areas where public assistance committees now pay some form of supplementation, nobody will be worse off as a result of this Bill. The Minister of Health yesterday made reference, in particular, to Clause 12. It contemplates, apparently, what we called in 1935 a "standstill arrangement" and it reads in this way:Where a supplementary pension is granted to an applicant in whose case an order for outdoor relief was in force at any time during the month of May, nineteen hundred and forty, the rate of the outdoor relief payable under the order may be taken into consideration and the amount of the supplementary pension may be increased accordingly notwithstanding anything in the regulations in force relating to the determination of the needs of the applicant.So that the basic month is May, 1940. When there is a question of some difference, of the new scale being lower than the old, officers of the board are enjoined to look at what was paid in May, 1940. Perhaps I may put to the Parliamentary Secretary a point which arises out of the conditions in the constituency which she and I, jointly and severally, represent. I give it as an example because I think the same conditions obtain in a large number of boroughs. There you have a system by which the local authority pays a sum in supplementation of old age pensions where there is need. But they 1423 do not pay the same scale all the year round. In Dundee, the payment to a single person is 6s. 6d. and a householder receives an extra 2s. 6d. from November to March. A married couple is allowed 8s. all the year round by the local authority, again with an extra 2s. 6d. for the winter months. We have not been told anything about the intention of the board with regard to winter relief. There is nothing in the Clause which safeguards that position. The only indication given in the Bill is that the month of May is to be the datum line. What assurance have we that in cities like Dundee the pensioners will not lose their winter relief under the new arrangement?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
The Bill does not say that the board has no discretion. The board is left with discretion. I do not think it has ever been said that it could not go above these scales, such as the Dundee scale.
§ Mr. Foot
All I say is that it is impossible to tell from the Bill whether the right to winter relief will be safeguarded. It will not rest, at any rate in the first place, with the hon. Lady or with any Minister to decide what those scales are to be, and no hon. Member can look at the Bill and say whether his constituents will be better off or worse off as a result of it. We have had a number of assurances in dealing with this Bill. The hon. Member for East Fife relied, not on what was in the terms of the Bill, but on what was said by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. But the decision as to these rates is not going to rest with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. It is something over which he, by the terms of the 1934 Act, will have no control whatsoever. In the first place, at any rate, no Minister will decide either the amount to be paid or the conditions under which it is to be paid. We were told yesterday about regulations coming before this House, but under the terms of this Bill it is not necessary that any regulations should come before the House at all. The Schedule takes a certain amount of working out, and, incidentally, while on this point, I should like to enter a protest on the drafting of the Bill. This Bill is one of the worst examples of legislation by reference. One would have thought it would be desirable that the old age pensioners should have been able to read a 1424 Bill of this kind and understand what it means, but that will be impossible without knowledge of the cither Statutes. If hon. Members will look at page 21 of the Schedule they will see it stated:The regulations which were at the date of the passing of the Old Age and Widows' Pensions Act, 1940, in force for the purposes of Sub-section (3) of Section thirty-eight of the Unemployment Act, 1934, shall have effect for the purposes of that Section as it applies with respect to the functions of the Board under Part II of the said Act of 1940, subject to such adaptations as may be prescribed by rules made by the board, and the board shall"; and as if for the words ' this Act' where those words occur for the second time there were substituted the words 'the Unemployment Act, 1934, as that Section applies with respect to the functions of the Board under Part II of the said Act of 1940.'The words I wish to emphasise are ''subject to such adaptations as may be prescribed by rules made by the board." Hon. Members may recall that in the 1934 Act there were two proceedings open to the board. The board could make regulations and rules. If it proceeded by way of regulations they would have to be laid on the Table of the two Houses and approved by both Houses. Even so, it is a considerable limitation of the right of Parliament, because we are unable to amend them in any way. In the case of rules they have to be approved by the appropriate Minister, but it is not essential that they shall come before Parliament at all. They have to lie upon the Table. I would not say that in all cases this is an entirely useless procedure. Every hon. Member knows the difference between the cases in which the Government have to get consent of Parliament and the case where rules merely lie upon the Table. Here it is provided that the regulations which now apply to the unemployed shall in future apply to the old age pensioners, with such adaptations as may be made by rules. So, it is not necessary that Parliamentary assent shall ever be obtained to the regulations aplying to the old age pensioners.
I raise this because I was rather surprised at the remarks made by the Minister of Health in his speech in which he said:Yes, if it is necessary to fulfil the object which I and, indeed, the whole House have in view. The regulations in connection with this matter will be made by the Secretary of State for Scotland and myself, and we shall have to secure the approval of both Houses of Parliament to them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1940; cols. 1213–14. Vol. 357.]1425 That statement, I think, hon. Members will find is entirely incorrect. The regulations are not made by the Minister or the Secretary of State for Scotland, but by the board, and under the terms of the 1934 Act, although the Minister may put in Amendments to the regulations after they have been made and before he presents them to this House, the Minister has no right of initiative whatsoever. It rests with the board to decide, and the board alone, whether they will make regulations or not. If the Bill is passed in this form, and the board say that they are not going to make any regulations, and that they are simply going to make necessary adaptations by rules, nothing that the Minister of Health or the Secretary of State for Scotland can do will make any difference. I have said that the Minister can make amendments at a later stage, but he has no right of initiative. We are dealing here with a body of which we have had a good deal of experience. The board does not operate only through the medium of regulations and rules, but is given a wide measure of discretion under the regulations for its officers. It does not leave them to exercise discretion without guidance from headquarters, and the board constantly gives direction to its officers as to the way in which they are to exercise their discretion under the regulations. These directions very often are of great importance, and affect intimately the lives of many hundreds of thousands of families in the country. There is no approval needed by this House, or any approval or assent, from any Minister of the Crown.
So much for the regulations and rules and the directions of the board. We, in this House have no check whatever of the day-to-day administration of the board, and I was rather surprised again to hear the speech last night by the Secretary of State for Scotland. He said that as a check both the Minister of Health and himself will answer in and be answerable to this House. What does tine Secretary of State for Scotland think he is going to be answerable for, and for whom can he answer under this Bill? In the 1934 Act, as he well knows, the decision was deliberately taken in spite of fierce opposition from this side of the House that the board should not be responsible to any Minister and that it should not have any Minister to speak for it from the Front Bench and should 1426 in that way be relieved from day-to-day Parliamentary supervision. It is perfectly true that the Secretary of State for Scotland may do as the Minister of Labour does now, and answer questions about what the board does. The difference is, however, that he cannot take any responsibility and can speak only the words put into his mouth by the board. If some legitimate grievance is raised, the right hon. Gentleman cannot say that he will deal with it and put it right, but can only say that he will pass these representations on to the board, over which he will have no direct control whatsoever. The relations between the board and the right hon. Gentleman will be precisely the same as the relations which obtain between a ventriloquist and his dummy.
As far as my hon. Friends and I are concerned, we made it perfectly clear in 1934, and have done it on many occasions since, that we always disliked the constitution of this board. I have never said anything against the personnel of the board, or against its officers, but we are not satisfied with its constitution. We believe, and I think hon. Members in all parts of the House would agree, that the principal function of this House is to raise grievances and demand redress. If any person in authority misuses that authority, then the victim has the tremendous safeguard that the matter can be raised in this House. But, it can be raised in this House only because the person in authority is responsible to a Minister, and the Minister in his turn is responsible to one or other of the Houses of Parliament. Once that link is destroyed our whole system of parliamentary and democratic control breaks down.
Here we have a board, which some years ago was deliberately placed beyond the reach of Parliamentary supervision, and all it does is to produce a report once a year, often so late in the Session that it is quite impossible for Members to discuss it. The board, an anomaly in our Constitution, was set up in the first place to deal with the unemployed who had exhausted their contractual rights of benefit, but now its operations are being steadily extended, and already it is being used by the Minister of Pensions to administer the Civil Injuries Scheme. Now it ceases to be the Unemployment Assistance Board entirely, and the charge of this great body of old age pensioners is to be handed over to it. We have often 1427 raised the complaint that the citizen is being delivered over to the Department. That is bad enough when the Department is in Whitehall, but it is much worse when that Department has no Minister responsible for it in this House.
We used to be told in the past that regulations and rules, to which Ministers have referred in this Bill, and other Bills, were designed to fill up gaps, but the procedure by regulation has in recent years become something very much more than that. What in fact is happening is that regulations have become a substitute for legislation. We have Bill after Bill, and we had one dealing with the unemployed last year, produced by the Government, where it is impossible to adduce what is going to happen to the people affected, because all the Bill says is that somebody outside shall be entitled to make orders, regulations or rules.
I do not suggest there is any distinction between one party and another in this House in regard to sympathy with the old age pensioners. I frankly admit that there are Members in all parts of the House who have done their best to urge some alleviation in the lot of the old age pensioner, and we all want to do what we can to help. But if hon. Members vote for this Bill, including Part II, they will not be, as far as they can tell, assisting old age pensioners now in receipt of supplementation, because neither they or any Minister can possibly tell what is to happen under this Bill. If they pass it they are not necessarily passing a beneficial Measure, but are abdicating their legislative functions and the exercise of power will pass, not to Whitehall, but to Thames House.
§ 6.30 p.m.
Hon. Members on all sides of the House have for some time been anxious about the position of old age pensioners. The whole conception of the old age pension has changed a great deal. There is no doubt that originally it was looked on as a supplement to earnings, as an addition to savings, or more often as a welcome addition to the family budget when the old people lived with their sons or daughters. Now, however, the position has changed, and there is no doubt that up and down the country a large number of old age pensioners have been trying to exist on their 1428 10s. a week. Many of us have been urging for some time that the whole position should be reviewed by the Government and something done. We therefore welcome the fact that the Government have been able to bring in this Bill. I am aware that hon. Members opposite are criticising the method that has been adopted and would rather see a flat rate increase. A flat rate means a great additional expense, and we are in the middle of a stupendous war with vast growing expenditure which rises daily, and the question is often in our minds, how we are to pay and where is the money to come from. At a time like this, if increased grants of money are to be spent on the social services that are to be continued after the war—and we all want to see an improvement in many directions in the social services—that money must be properly spent, the right people must benefit, and we must see that we do not place an unbearable burden on the shoulders of the community and insured people as a whole.
It says a great deal for the financial standing and the financial credit of the country at the present time, and, if I may say so, the financial system of this country, that the Government are able now to introduce this Bill. One thing which I welcome more than anything else is the fact that even at such a time we are thinking about our old people. We do not find this happening in one or two great countries in Europe, where because old people are of no further use to the State, it matters not to the State what happens to them. In this country we are anxious that something shall be done, even at this difficult moment, to help them. It is essential that this scheme should be properly understood. It is a scheme which can easily be misrepresented and misunderstood, and I would ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer to arrange, if possible, that simple instructions are issued from the Post Office to old age pensioners telling them 10 whom they should apply, how they can apply, and the proper procedure they should follow. This should be done, not in official language but in very simple language. There are many old age pensioners, the cases we hear least about, who have never obtained help from public assistance. They have great pride and dignity and have all their lives been independent. These are the people we 1429 want to see helped by this Bill. They should be informed exactly what this Bill means, so that there can be no doubt in their minds that they have the right to put their case in certain quarters, that that case will be sympathetically listened to, and that they will get help if they are in need. I hope that the Chancellor will use every means to make the provisions of the Bill sufficiently clear to these people.
We appreciate, and I think women appreciate very much, what is being done for them under this Bill. There is no doubt that there have been very hard cases of the wives and husbands, in which the husband at the age of 65 suddenly finds he has a reduced income and a wife has no right to a pension. I am glad that it will be possible under this Bill for women at the age of 60 also to be able to draw her old age pension. It will lift a great load from the shoulders of many people who have been suffering acutely. It has been strongly urged in some quarters that spinsters' pensions should be granted at 55. I am not sure that this would be a wise step, not only from the financial, but from the psychological point of view. It is true that there is great unemployment among women and great suffering, much of which we hear nothing about. They are often women who have never been unemployed before, who are struggling to make ends meet and are not having an easy time. The pension at 60 will be welcomed by them, but we do not want to create the impression that a woman at 55 can no longer do work and good work. That is one of the reasons why I feel it is wise that at the moment the age of 60 and not 55 has been fixed. Only to-day I was told that a big firm employing women is just starting a pensions scheme for its employés, and the pension is being started at the age of 60 with the full concurrence and approval of the employés.
I believe I am voicing the opinion of the majority of people in the country when I say how welcome this Bill will be. I know that there is only one thing in the minds of hon. Members opposite, as indeed in our minds. They want to see the lot of the older people made less hard. That is what we want, too. Therefore, although they may disagree with the method adopted and with some things that are in the Bill, I am sure that in their heart 1430 of hearts they know that the lives of many will be made easier when the Bill has become law and that, at any rate, some of the anxieties of older people as to their future will be lifted from their shoulders.
§ 6.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Mort
I do not know into what category my contribution should be put. I am not exactly making a maiden speech, although it is 10 years since I had the privilege of addressing this House, and I can assure hon. Members that my 10 years' absence has in no way strengthened my nerves. I am, however, much encouraged by the treatment that I received on the previous occasion—very tolerant and forbearing—and I have no reason to doubt, judging from the expressions on the faces of hon. Members, that it will be extended to me again this evening. Most hon. Members know that speaking in this House is an acquired habit. If you are to acquire a habit and a taste, you must first begin by taking very small quantities, and I hope to begin in that way to-night. I have observed that the older Members have ferocious appetities now. I have not missed the important points that have been made in this Debate, for I have sat right through it and thoroughly enjoyed it. I want, however, to make a small contribution by looking at the broad human aspects of this question. I have just returned from the economic front. I have been there nine years, not of course because I wanted to be, and I endeavoured strongly to get away from it. I would not suggest to hon. Members that they are not cognisant of the great human appeal in these things that we are discussing, but I do suggest respectfully that unless they are there mixing with the people and being one of them, they cannot fully understand the conditions in which they live. It makes a difference if you have "M.P. "after your name. I am not suggesting that hon. Members are not sympathetic, but I declare that, having had the experience for years of living with the people, mingling with them, and seeing the effects of the means test, Ministers on the Front Bench ought to go and live the life of the pensioner for a few weeks as a refresher course.
§ Mr. Mort
They go back far enough sometimes. I am beginning to think that it would be a good thing if hon. Members opposite, who have not had the experience of living the life of the workers, went to live with them for a time. I hope hon. Members do not think that what I am saying is elementary; it is very fundamental. I have always believed and declared and subscribed to the idea that high principles are indivisible, and my training has been that we should not compartmentalise people, place them in categories, and then devise different treatments for them. When I see a concourse of men or women, the only test that I apply to them is whether they have rendered, according to their ability, the best service that they can. When we come to discuss the question of the reward for that service, I still look upon these people as renderers of service. We have been told in many eloquent speeches from the other side that we are discussing in this Bill the reward for services rendered. When I sit back and listen to that, I see a vast concourse of people who have one thing in common—they are old. I see the aged miner, the steel smelter, the coal-trimmer, the engineer, the ex-Prime Minister, the ex-civil servant, the ex-police official, and to me they are all people who have rendered service and been compensated.
My great complaint against this Bill is that the Government have found it necessary to include in it that evil thing, the household means test. Many instances of its effect have been given in the Debate, and I do not want to weary the House by a reiteration of cases, but I have seen homes broken up and fathers leaving home because of this evil thing. I well remember the case of a man who had spent most of his life at sea. He came back into industry but lost his job and he had to go on the means test. Although he was too old and had never expected to take up his former job again, he went back to his seafaring life against the advice of his friends. His wife came to see me about it and she said that he would 1432 not be kept by his children. He went back to sea and lost his life. Such a case can be multiplied a thousand fold. I very much regret that the Bill has been introduced not as a result of the overflowing of the human kindness of hon. Members opposite, but because of the pressure brought to bear in an electoral sense upon this legislative Assembly. The old people have learned to speak the language to which Governments listen. There is no doubt about that. Although I am very proud that we can get down to this kind of question even in the midst of war, I am prouder of the fact that the Government have been forced by that agency of democracy, the people's will and how it can be expressed, into this course of action.
I will say one thing to the Government: this is a very clever Bill. I would say to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has just left his place, that it is a very clever arrangement. The Bill is stated to confer wonderful blessings on the people, but you are going to make a profit out of it. It reminds me of the story of a rabid teetotaller, who got a job with a demolition firm. His first bit of work was to pull down a public-house in an adjoining town, so he wrote home to his wife and said, "I am doing the work of God; what's better, I am getting paid for it. "We have been hearing the claims made by the Government for the Bill; I give the Government again the admission that they have arranged a very clever Bill, against the great opposition of some of the councils. It is a Bill which will divide the contributors and which will take from people contributions for which they have paid under National Health Insurance—at least, they will not get the benefit.
We have been chided by the hon. Lady who spoke on behalf of the Government—she had more support than I have, if only because she was able to lean on that Box—about whether we were supporting Part I or Part II of the Bill. All I will say is that if the Government have seen anything good in our proposal, we have no quarrel with them. Our main quarrel with them is that they have seen fit to extend a step further this vicious principle of the means test, and I say to them that by that extension they are destroying the democratic rule of this country and, as was pointed out 1433 by the hon. Member who spoke just now, are weakening the powers of this House. I am glad to have had this opportunity of speaking. I feel a lot better. I am much obliged to the House for listening so attentively to this, my first effort, made in connection with this Old Age Pensions Bill.
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Salt
From what was said by the hon. Member who has just spoken I am not sure whether it is or is not my duty to compliment him on his maiden speech. He certainly did not appear to have that nervousness he mentioned, and no one was holding him up. I am sure that there is no hon. Member here to-day but has given earnest attention, at some time or other, to the needs of the aged poor. Indeed, as a man grows older, he has reason to know how serious this question is. He sees men and women who have given good service to the country and to their employers gradually losing their capacity and, with the best will in the world, it has been impossible to give them more than a small pittance to meet their needs. It has been pitiful to think that men and women whom one had respected and who had lived in a comfortable and reasonable way should have had such great difficulties afterwards. That position hardly needs stressing because I believe that almost every man and woman in this country are familiar with it and have it in their hearts.
The Debate to-day has ranged round the very simple decision whether the flat rate should be given or whether the Government's scheme is the better of the two. While those alternatives have been discussed by many speakers, there are still other matters that are worth considering. The suggestion of a flat rate is very simple, and its simplicity is one of its virtues. It is also very popular because it is easily understood. Consequently, it carries the support of the great mass of the people. Nevertheless, in several very important respects, the Government's alternative is far more suitable to the times in which we live. It is more flexible. Supplementary allowances can rise almost automatically with the higher cost of living which most of us expect will be realised, whatever may be done by the Government, the trade unions and all those who are striving to keep the level of the cost of living as it 1434 is to-day. To that extent, the Government's scheme seems more satisfactory.
The really vital matter is that at this time when we are spending at least £6,000,000 to £7,000,000 a day or £2,500,000,000 a year, we may not be able to afford a permanent extension of our social services. I do not wish to introduce party points into my speech, but we cannot forget that, in 1931, when the cost of unemployment insurance, owing to the amount that was borrowed to meet it, mounted from month to month, did much harm to our credit. Rightly of wrongly, foreign States believed that our credit was suffering; consequently, gold was taken out of the country. We know what followed this event. To-day, foreign States realise that we are fighting for our lives and that we have to find every penny necessary to win the war. As long as we use the money for that purpose, we are not likely to lose credit, but if we are prepared to find £38,000,000, no doubt for a very right and good purpose but for one that is not an absolute necessity and which they may have felt it impossible for them to do themselves, they may wonder whether this country is going to continue to be financially sound or whether it is likely to go down. They may think that at the end of this war we shall not be too particular how we square accounts with them. I may, therefore, well ask the Opposition to do their best to assist the Government to sustain the morale of the people.
The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton), who wound up for the Opposition last night, stated that the results of the Bill would be very depressing to the morale of the people. If that were so, although I cannot believe that it will be, particularly when the regulations come into force and the benefits of the Bill are being enjoyed, it is the duty of the Opposition to do their best to put the case realistically to the public and to give the reasons why it is necessary to refuse to add £38,000,000 to our expenditure. The money will not be raised by taxation, because that would be impossible. Already we have to borrow nearly half the amount that we need. Consequently, this expenditure will be another addition to our borrowing. I must emphasise that it is no use thinking we can get the additional money simply by what is called soaking the rich.
1435 When the emergency Budget was introduced last autumn, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stated in very round figures—as he said they also happened to be accurate—that some 10,000 people in this country received £10,000 each or over in income and that amounted to a total income of £180,000,000. Out of that amount, the Income Tax and Surtax amounted to some £120,000,000 and when Estate Duty was taken away, the amount left was £20,000,000. So, even after having soaked the rich, you allowed them to go under for the third time, the money you would get, leaving them nothing, would pay for only two or three days' war. It is obvious that added taxation will not meet the additional burden.
Before I sit down, I would add my tribute, not only to the Bill as a whole, but specially to Part I. We are all in agreement about it. I agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Viscountess Davidson) who said that 60 years of age was at the present time the wisest age at which to give this additional benefit; and before we consider any further lowering of that age we should remember the women who have left employment to look after their aged parents and in so doing have lost their insurance and pension rights. I believe that there are many women of that type to-day who deserve pensions even more than those who are to receive them, and I hope that we shall be able to do something for those women before very long.
Reference has been made to the value of the block grant. It was stated that there were serious doubts of the value of the Bill to local authorities. We are told in the Preamble that they will be assisted to the amount of some £4,000,000. There was criticism involving the question how the Minister could realise what would be the reduction in the rate. I think that any hon. Member must know approximately the rate of the value of the £ in his own town or city, and he can easily assess an approximate saving to the rates. I think I am correct in saying that in Birmingham, in which city I represent one of the divisions, they have already taken that into account, at any rate sufficiently nearly in order to be able to settle their next half year's rates. There is no ques- 1436 tion but that at a time of increased cost of local government resulting from A.R.P. provisions, it will be of considerable value, and this should not be ignored when we are considering this Bill.
A further tribute to it is that those towns which are suffering most and have the greatest need will receive the greatest benefit. I believe the Socialists have always said that they are desirous of helping those most in need. "To each according to his need." If that is so, then the one great attack on this Bill, the needs test, falls to the ground. How can we possibly assist those in greatest need without making some examination of those needs? Although much that is perfectly true has been said with regard to many people disliking an examination, I believe that there is great pleasure both for the child and the parent's in helping each other. I believe that the day a child comes home with his first week's wages the thought that he can do something towards assisting his father and mother is one of the greatest pleasures in his life. If some of the children after they have grown up can help their parents the parents are proud that their children are able to come to their assistance. I do not think that much of the criticism is as fair as it should be. Once this Bill is an Act and its benefits are being experienced, we shall find that the criticism which has been made against it will fall to the ground.
§ 7.4 p.m
§ Mr. Tinker
Last night, while listening to many speakers, I gathered from those on the Conservative Benches that the people in their constituencies were in favour of the present Bill. The hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield) said something to that effect, and the hon. Member for Windsor (Sir A. Somerville) said the same thing. I gather from the speeches which have been made to-night that there are other hon. Members whose constituencies also favour the Bill. We on this side of the House seem to be living in a different world. The people in my constituency are dead against the Bill, and the old people have had a meeting specially on this matter and have carried a resolution against it. Another resolution has been sent tome from Bolton, which is represented by two Conservative Members, where they had a petition signed by 47,000 people protesting vigorously against the Bill. I want 1437 to know whether the Conservative Members will be candid enough to tell us where the constituencies are in which resolutions have been passed against the Bill. [An Hon. Member: "For the Bill?"] No, against the Bill. Will they come forward and tell us that, and not leave it to the others who have had one or two letters supporting the Bill? That is where I think the House does not thoroughly understand the feeling in the constituencies. If they did, I think we should be able to have a poll against the present Bill. If it is believed that this Bill is wanted in the constituencies, let us make: a test by means of several elections. Are they prepared to test it in the country without having a general election? I am ready to fight my constituency on this Bill, and I know that there are other hon. Members who are also willing.
Something has been said about the cost. One wonders what is meant by that. Before the war we were told that nothing could be done bcause of the cost. Now the Government are hiding behind the excuse that there is a war. There is no question but that there would be little trouble in finding the money. Hon. Members on opposite benches are trying to get away with it because of the present position, and they say that we should not embarrass the country by challenging the Bill. Another thing which has emerged from the Bill is the subtle way in which the Chancellor has managed to get things changed. When he made a statement in which he said that he had been in consultation with the Minister of Health and another official—I believe the Parliamentary Secretary—I wondered how he approached those two people. I should imagine that the Minister of Health would say to him, "We have to give something to these people, because it is evident that they are out for an increase; how can we get away from it? "And the Chancellor would say, "Here is a way out of it. First of all, the Labour Members have been asking for pensions for wives between 60 and 65. We will grant it. We have never attempted to do it before." Then the Minister would say, "That will not be enough. We must do something for the spinsters. If we can give something to the spinsters, we might carry the Bill." So they reduced the pensionable age of the spinsters to 60.
1438 What is the next point which emerges? It is the method of paying a supplementary pension. The Chancellor probably said, "If we get it paid at the post office, that should be another thing to get rid of the agitation." Therefore, he removes much of the opposition from the other side and argues that the Government have done something for us, and he asks why we cannot accept the position. We have argued for those points; we have also argued for a flat-rate increase, and that is the point for which we have fought all along. I have asked for the 5s. increase, believing that that would have been accepted at this time, and my case is even stronger now than ever it was before. The cost of living has gone up, and if we were entitled to a flat-rate increase before, most certainly we are entitled to it now. The Government are trying to get people to have their means examined before they are entitled to any additions. That means degradation and loss of dignity. The hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary has made a speech to-night, and if I may I would like to compliment her upon it, because I think she has done very well indeed. I know how she must feel making her first speech, as it were, from that Box. I saw a report of the speech that she made on Saturday. I saw it in "Reynolds's" newspaper, and the hon. Lady said that if people would reduce their meals by an ounce of bread, what a saving there would be to the country.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I was talking about waste. I was pointing out the effect of wasting or destroying half an ounce of bread; I was not asking people to go without it.
§ Mr. Tinker
The hon. Lady does not understand the psychology of the working-class household. I do not think the working classes deliberately waste bread. By this Bill she will get what she wants, a reduction of the amount of bread in the household, by a more substantial amount than half an ounce. Those people who have 15s. a week, or even less in many cases, coming into their homes, will have difficulty in getting any supplementary allowance; and necessity will drive them to reduce their consumption of bread.
The Labour Amendment makes it quite clear where we stand on this matter. We agree with the first Part of the Bill; with 1439 the second Part we do not agree. We are fighting on a fundamental point there. It is said that in this House we ought to form ourselves more into a Council of State. I remember an hon. Member opposite criticising us for our attitude about the railways, and saying that we ought not to have adopted that attitude at a time like this. I reply that the Labour party ought to be consulted on matters of this kind. If we had been asked to join a Council of State on this matter, and an increase of 5s. a week had been offered, unanimity could have been obtained in the House. What I should have done would have been to make a flat-rate increase, and then, where extra need was shown, to have given a supplementary allowance, the cost of which would be borne by the State. I think that would have been fair.
It may be argued that I am agreeing to the principle of supplementary pensions. That is so, provided that the State cannot afford to pay enough without them. If the State cannot at this moment pay pensioners £1 a week, let it pay them 15s. a week; but I do not want it to stop at that. There are families, who have no other means, who will require more money than that; and they should get it. If it had not been war-time, I should not have agreed to a pension of 15s.; but, in the circumstances, I should be prepared to agree to an increase of 5s. a week, and supplementary pensions, for the time being. The Chancellor spoke of 375,000 pensioners being in work, and said that, because of that, there was a danger of extra pensions being given to people who did not need them. I admit that; and if I could have got the extra pension for the other 2,600,000, I should have accepted that. It is very unfair for the Government to say that, because 375,000 pensioners are in work, they would have got this extra 5s. if it had been granted. We should have been prepared to meet them on that point.
I belong to the Miners' Federation. At 65 years of age, most of our members are stopped. We have a pensions fund, and, for 26 weeks after they are stopped, these men draw 7s. 6d. a week from that fund. That 7s. 6d. a week will be taken into account by the Government in connection with old age pensions. Is that the way to deal with working men and working women? They put aside a little each 1440 week, during their working lives, so that they may get this 7s. 6d. a week; and now it is to be taken into account by the Government. Hon. Members opposite talk about thrift, but they are killing it by that sort of thing. One of the great Scottish poets remarked that, "Man was made to mourn." That is what the Tory Government are ensuring by this Measure. Why not give us a Measure now, in view of the fact that it is certain to be a long time before anything else is done for these people, that will satisfy the great mass of the people of this country?
At the other end of the scale, there are many men in this country who are comfortably situated and are drawing large pensions. Only last week, we heard that certain people had been given Government jobs. One of my hon. Friends asked whether they were being paid for it. He was told, no. He said, "Then what are they living on?" I ask the same question. It must be that they have huge pensions. We know that great numbers of people are enjoying large pensions, without any question of means. The Government will be well advised, for the time being, to withdraw this Measure entirely, and to come back, as quickly as they can, with a new Bill, which will incorporate the principle of a flat-rate increase. They will have to do that if they are to carry the country with them. It would have a great psychological effect on the working men and women if they could only realise that we know what they are suffering and that we are trying to help them out of their difficulty. That is why I make the plea to the Government, hoping that, even at this late hour, they will do something like that for our aged people.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Lewis Jones
I was very interested in listening to the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), who introduced a. sympathetic touch, as he does in all his speeches on social matters, which are listened to with a considerable amount of approval from hon. Members who sit on the opposite side of the House from himself. There are certain points in his speech to which I will call attention a little later. I join with hon. Members in the speeches which have been delivered earlier in the day expressing pleasure and satisfaction that, even in these very difficult days, it has been found possible to 1441 spare two days of our shortened week in the House of Commons to devote attention to this important matter of old age pensions. Probably I disagree with the hon. Member for Leigh in that I rather look upon this Bill as an emergency Measure. I, personally, would not feel very satisfied if our social services were continually to be dealt with under this patchwork system, and I am still hoping that the day is not far distant when the Government of the day, whichever party may be in office, will appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the whole of the social services, with a view to presenting to Parliament and to the country some uniform and unified system, which will deal with unemployment, health insurance, and pensions.
Frankly, I welcome the Bill, not because it goes as far as I would like it to go, but because I am confident that in the country there will be considerable satisfaction. There are 160,000 women between the ages of 60 and 65, the wives of contributory pensioners, who will now become entitled to pension if their husbands have already reached their own pensionable age. I welcome the Bill because 150,000 spinsters will now become entitled to the pension at 60 instead of 65. I am also delighted in spite of what has been said about the means test, that probably between 300,000 and 500,000 old age pensioners will not find it necessary in future to go to the public assistance committees for their supplemental allowances.
§ Mr. Jones
I was rather surprised that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Aberdare (Mr. George Hall) should refer to some of these proposals in such terms as "shameful" and "trifling," and yet most of the speeches delivered from the opposite side of the House to-day have expressed a certain amount of satisfaction, as far as Part I of the Bill is concerned. I cannot help feeling that they themselves would have been delighted to have been responsible for Part I of the Bill. I cannot help feeling that what Mark Twain said about Tom Sawyer is equally true of them—"With reluctance on their faces, but alacrity in their hearts. "There seems to be a considerable amount of unreality in the criticism of the Opposition in respect of this Bill, but in spite of that, I, personally, would have liked, if possible, to have given a flat-rate increase to the old age pensioners. I confess to that straight away. My father, who was a contributory pensioner, was very proud of the fact that he had paid for his pension, and he received it until he passed away. I have a tremendous sympathy for the old age pensioner, and I wish it had been possible to have given a flat-rate increase on this occasion. I am sorry that it is admitted by the Government that the financial stringency of the moment makes it impossible to carry such a proposal into effect. I think that the Opposition, the Labour party in particular, know what circumstances of that kind really mean. They will remember that when they were in office from 1929 to 1931 they were anxious to bring about certain amendments in the Unemployment Insurance Act, which they placed upon the Statute Book in 1929. Even from their own benches suggestions were made that they ought to increase the allowances in respect of benefit to children. I think that on that occasion the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) was left outside "on his own, "but the bulk of the Labour Members were impressed by the argument of Miss Margaret Bondfield as to the financial stringency in 1929, and they rejected an Amendment which was submitted to increase the allowances by 1443 is. a week. I suggest respectfully to Members of the Opposition that they are the people who ought to appreciate what financial stringency really means.
I very much regret that there is nothing in the Bill—and probably it would be outside the scope of this Bill—which makes it possible to increase the allowances to blind pensioners. It is not suggested, even by the Opposition, that additions should be made to the pensions of widows and orphans. The same reasons and causes which justify an increase of old age pensions also justify an increase in the pensions of blind people and widows and orphans.
A great deal has been said about the means test, and I hope to say a little more about that later. I wish it had been possible, since a means test is considered necessary, for it to have been placed upon the personal income basis and not on the household test. Even on the question of the means test, I feel sincerely that the Opposition have entered into a great deal of sham fighting to-day. I confess to a certain amount of selfish delight at the fact that the Government which I have supported for many years, which reduced the qualifying age of blind pensioners from 50 to 40, and provided an insurance and pensions scheme for black-coated workers, covering over 2,000,000, have again made it possible to go one step forward with their policy of social reform by presenting this particular Bill to the House of Commons. Judging from their speeches and from the campaign in the country, I believe that the Opposition are disappointed that it did not fall to their lot to confer these benefits. They have talked so much about social programmes for years, but they accomplished so little in the two periods they have been in office. I cannot help feeling that they are naturally a little annoyed that a Government other than their own has presented this Bill.
The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) put the threat forward that it is all intended to be more headlines in political propaganda. All this kind of propaganda will cut very little ice in the country. There are hundreds of thousands of people who will receive substantial benefits under the Bill and who will bless the Government that placed it on the Statute Book. What a delight- 1444 ful time we could have in showing what this Government have done in the direction of social reform, comparing it with the offers and the promises of the Opposition. I well remember that in 1929 they went to the country with a magnificent old age programme. It was so well staged that they won the election on it, but as soon as their Government was formed it started shuffling, and their own Members got very uncomfortable about it. They had not long been in office when a party conference met, and they admitted that investigation was then being made into their proposals. They came back to the House of Commons, and even their back benches got nervous and concerned about the action of the Front Bench. Questions were put, really to explain the policy on which they had won the election. I have looked up the answers. One Minister said that the subject was being considered by a Cabinet committee which was engaged in a general survey of schemes of national insurance and pensions. A few days later the suggestion was made from the Labour side that the Government should agree to give the old age pensioner the same weekly contribution as was given to the unemployed. The reply of the Minister was that such a scheme was impracticable. Later an answer was given by the then Minister of Health that various proposals had been considered by the Government but that no practical scheme had been devised.
In spite of this, the Labour party kept dangling before the people their promises as to old age pensions at an earlier age. They had a Trades Union Congress Conference in 1930 which demanded old age pensions of £1 at 60, and at another conference a few months later a similar resolution was again adopted. We know how the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) blushed when an appeal was made to his generous heart to support this scheme. He was then holding the responsible office of Minister of Health. [Interruption.] Majority does not count. The hon. Member knows that they had the full support of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) and the Liberal party at that time, and that the answer given by the Labour leaders was not that they had not the money, but, having won an election 1445 by offering a scheme to the country, they admitted on the Floor of the House that they had not a practical scheme. It was not a question of support in the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield realised that it was a very easy matter to make promises on the platform, or to fight an election, but, when in an office of responsibility, he realised that matters were not quite so easy. What was his plaintive reply? He said, "He was glad to hear that he had a generous heart, but generous hearts did not foot bills; in a matter of that kind they must have regard to a lot of other forms of social expenditure pressed just as zealously as that particular one. "Mr. Ernest Bevin was there. He said, "He was a little tired of going round at elections promising things and not being able to get them performed. A lot of resolutions have been carried at these conferences when they were a long way from responsibility. They were there then, and they would have to answer for their sins or otherwise at the next General Election."
The party opposite won the 1929 election on their pensions policy. They had two years in office, and never a single attempt was made to amend or vary the Old Age Pension Acts. The generous heart of the Minister of Health had failed. He went out of office, and not a year off the age and not a shilling on the pension. The amazing thing is this: Just as promises are being made now of £1 a week at 65, so they continued to make them after they went out of office. Experience had taught the Labour party nothing at all. In February, 1934, they submitted a resolution demanding pensions of £1 at 60. I do not know why. Probably they thought an election was due. It was the same promise as had been dangled before the eyes of the old age pensioners for eight or nine years. But at last they were realists in the Labour party, and they remembered the warning of Mr. Ernest Bevin. They reconsidered the situation, and a retreat had to be sounded. Their consciences were troubling them, and the National Council of Labour abandoned the whole scheme. Their report pointed out that pensions of £1 a week at 60 were impossibly high. They would cost £270,000,000, and in 1956 the cost to the country would be £300,000,000. They then told the country that it would have very little effect 1446 in placing people back in employment because the adoption of the scheme would cost £450 for every person put back into employment.
Having scuttled that scheme, they came forward with a new one which was submitted to the Trades Union Congress at Bournemouth. The man with the generous heart, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield, had to retrace his steps. He told them that it would be a profound mistake to make promises to the people of the country which they could not fulfil. There was one other retreat last night. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) let the cat out of the bag. He said that the Trades Union Congress had never suggested a flat-rate increase of 5s. The Labour party policy on this question has been very uncertain for many years, and that is why I think the fight they are putting up now, and threaten to put up, is a continuation of their sham fight for many years. The hon. Member for Leigh referred to the means test and made the most amazing suggestion that this Bill should be withdrawn, 5s. added to the 10s., and an inquiry, over and above the 5s., be made in respect of any supplemental allowance. Surely this is a recognition of the principle of the means test.
I have to pay £12 per annum, with great reluctance, to the pensions fund for Members of Parliament. I am forced by Labour votes to do so, and they have insisted that I shall be subject to a means test. When the Labour party talks about this means test, is it really sincere in its objections? In the Labour party pensions pamphlet it says:that for people over 70 it would be impossible to abolish the income test entirely without completely revising the 1908 and 1924 Acts, for it is the first function of this income test to define the class of persons who so receive old age pensions by excluding from the provisions of the Act all those whose private means are sufficient for a reasonable standard of comfort in their old age.I accept that; I think it is a very sensible principle. But that is a means test. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I would like to see a personal test rather than a household means test. But hon. Members cannot have it both ways. They suggest the continuation of a personal means test for all non-contributory pensioners over 70 and, if it is right as a matter of principle 1447 to retain it there, what is wrong with it anywhere else?
It has been suggested on the Second Reading of this Bill that a non-contributory pensioner would become entitled to a supplemental pension. Under the present law a non-contributory pensioner of 70 with a private income of £2 10s. a week is entitled to 10s. for his wife and 10s. for himself, making a total income of £3 10s. per week. Surely it is not suggested by the Opposition that, where a supplemental pension of 5s. or more each should be given to a pensioner in receipt of £3 10s. per week, there should not be some investigation of means. I think it is most unreasonable. The hon. Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) called attention, in a remarkably able speech which the House enjoyed, to the means test as applied to contributory pensions and said that was a new principle. But I would suggest that the hon. Member might look at it in this way. If under this scheme every pensioner had become entitled to a supplemental pension, then this scheme could never have been put forward. The contribution is small because there is a limited application of the supplemental pension. From that standpoint he will realise that while it appears to be anew principle there is nothing very wrong in it because of the smallness of the contribution which is paid. I know of men earning £6, £7, £8, £9, and £10 per week who are drawing pensions, and rightly. They have paid for them and are entitled to them.
§ Mr. Tomlinson
Will the hon. Member point out how an individual drawing a pension can be paying a contribution at the same time?
§ Mr. Jones
I look upon this Bill as an emergency. It does not satisfy all my desires, and I would very much like to see it made possible to double the pension. I hope that the Government will, during the next few weeks, when the Bill is considered in Committee, see whether it is possible to vary or make more generous the regulations which apply to the test. I would like to see the house- 1448 hold test give way to the personal test. May I finish by saying again that I hope that the time is not far distant when the Government of the day will think it wise to refer these social services—health, unemployment, insurance, and old age pensions—to a Royal Commission in the hope that some unified scheme of social services will be brought forward?
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. A. Jenkins
The hon. Member who has just sat down has spent roughly half an hour in talking half truths about the records of the Labour Government and, in the course of that speech, he mentioned one or two matters that are brought near to the Bill under consideration. He said that he would prefer a flat-rate increase, told us he would prefer a personal rather than a household means test, and that £1 was the pension which ought to be paid to these old people. Yet despite all this, he then went on to offer some kind of support of the Bill. In a respectful reference he said that his father who had worked in industry thought he ought to be entitled to £1 a week when he retired—
§ Mr. L. Jones
I did not say that. I said my father was a contributory pensioner. I did not say I regretted that he did not get £1 a week.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I do not want to be unfair to the hon. Member and certainly not on that point, but I understood that he desired £1 not only for his own father but for every pensioner in the land. What is true for the whole is true for the individual. Then we had a remarkable demonstration of half truths from the hon. Member as to what happened in 1929–31. The hon. Member was not then a Member of this House, but he was a member of the party which exerted pressure on the Labour Government for the appointment of what was known as the May Committee, and the sole purpose of that committee was to curtail the expenditure of the Labour Government. An enormous amount of pressure was brought to bear on the Government by the Conservative party and by the party to which the hon. Member belongs. He talked about the unreality of the opposition to this Bill. If ever there could be a greater demonstration of unreality than the speech to which we have just listened, I have yet to hear it. It was an extraordinary demonstration. He accepted three or four 1449 principles which ought to be embodied in any sound pension scheme, and yet the hon. Member at the same time said that he was in favour of this Bill which imposes a household means test. One is inclined to say some very harsh things about it. The hon. Member comes from Wales. I shall be interested to hear what the old age pensioners in his division will say. There is an Old Age Pensioners Association in Wales, and they have in a most demonstrative manner shown their opposition to this Bill. The hon. Member's speech did not smack of reality from beginning to end, and it is perfectly obvious that the hon. Member himself did not believe the statements he made.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I want to refer briefly to the steps that have been taken by the Government to impose a household means test on large numbers of people since the war commenced. Under the 1934 Act the whole of the people who had lost their right to insurance benefit were brought in; there were approximately 400,000 claimants who came in that category. What has happened since? The first thing was to bring in the private soldier, he has a means test applied to him. Roughly there are about 1,000,000 men in the Army who will have a means test applied whenever they get any income from the State. That number increases when their families are also considered. Officers in the Army, strangely enough, are excluded from this means test; it does not apply to them, it applies only to the soldier. Then the Government went further and talked about applying it to workmen's compensation. There are about 600,000 claims for workmen's compensation every year in this country, so you get another 600,000, without their dependants, who are likely to be brought under a household means test. Then they go a step further and talk about old age pensioners, the poorest and most needy people in the land. There are 3,000,000 of them who will now be brought under this household means test.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Elliot)
The hon. Member is under some misapprehension. In no case are they being brought under a household means test. Many people are being taken out of it.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I know that people who have been living under the Poor Law 1450 system have been subjected to some form of inquiry. I am saying that we are now bringing these people under a household means test when they get support from national funds. That is the departure which has taken place, and it is true that since the commencement of the war the number of people who have been brought into such a position number not less than 5,000,000, not to speak of their dependants. The attitude of the Government is one which is extremely favourable to the operation of a household means test. Last night a matter was raised, on the Motion for the Adjournment, of people who are getting substantial pensions but to whom nobody attempted to apply a household means test. These people escape it. Throughout the whole gamut you will find that this test applies only to the poorest of the people. I object to that. We are in a difficult position as a nation. I have heard appeals: "Let us sacrifice together, let us make a joint effort." Is it a joint effort to apply this means test to a mere section of the people? And when you apply it, see what different standards you set. In the case of a man who pays income tax he gets the first £120 of his income allowed free and £50 for his wife and £50 for each child. What is the allowance in unemployment? It is 2s. a week for a child and 9s. for the wife—the standards differ very greatly. If you are to apply a means test, for heaven's sake make the standard equal for everybody and not have all these different standards. The lowest standards always apply to the poorest people.
We have seen a good deal of the operation of a household means test. We are told that it is unlikely the means test officer will appear. That is not true. He will arrive at the home, if circumstances alter, even if the man gets only 1s., to alter the basis of the calculation. There is a legal obligation on the man to report any change in his circumstances. If he gets only is., along will come the means test officer, he will take particulars, and it will be reported. It is sheer nonsense to say that you will avoid publicity. Let me say that I am glad that these old people are being taken out of public assistance, but I had hoped that it would be under a better scheme than this. I looked up the terms of reference to the Royal Commission that sat to consider whether or 1451 not people who are too old to work should be taken out of public assistance. Those were the Commission's terms of reference. The old age pensioners have never been paid sufficient to keep them away from the public assistance committees. That is something which characterises the whole of our social services. They are simply half measures; they give the people concerned half enough to live on. That is what the Government propose to do again with the old age pensioners.
Some of my hon. Friends have appealed for a flat-rate increase. One hon. Member said that if a flat-rate increase of 5s. were given and the present system by which the public assistance committees grant relief were continued, that would be preferable to the Government's scheme. The hon. Member did not ask for that as a permanent scheme, but as a temporary scheme. We have to-day heard curious arguments from hon. Members opposite. They have asked us to accept this scheme, they have asked us to remember that the country is at war, and that it is difficult to get the finance necessary to meet our obligations. I do not propose to enter into details about the financial difficulties, but I would point out that time and again, owing to the persistence of my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), this matter has been raised in the House. From 1929 to the present time, the matter has been raised, I should think, a hundred times in the House, but on every occasion there has been opposition from hon. Members opposite, and often it has been said that the country could not finance any scheme for an increase in pensions. Those arguments were advanced in peace time. During the last few years our indebtedness has been increased by approximately £1,000,000,000. I would remind hon. Members that the Liberal party was mainly responsible for destroying a Labour government which borrowed £100,000,000 for the relief of the unemployed. That has been the attitude of hon. Members opposite all the time. I object to such an attitude in a Debate on a human question such as the one we are now discussing.
If the means test operates in these homes, what will happen? Many of these old people live with their sons and daughters, who work and have an in- 1452 consideration and a standard of about 14s. or 15s. per person in the household is fixed, the old people will become a burden on their children. The young people will have less than they would have if the old people were not living with them. The strain upon a poor family will be far too great, and they will not be able to bear it. The affection in such families is as strong as it is in the families in any other class of the community, but when they are asked to bear such a burden, when they have not a shilling to spare, and when a household means test is applied to them, it will become unbearable for the old people, and they will have to seek shelter elsewhere. They may indeed go into a workhouse, they may find a little home of their own, but generally, the effect will be to upset many of the family conditions in which they are now living.
§ Mr. Elliot
The hon. Member is arguing as though we were attempting under this Bill to apply a means test to people to whom it is not being applied at present. That is not so.
§ Mr. Jenkins
There are many pensioners who are living in those circumstances at the present time, and when a household means test is applied under this scheme, the effect will be precisely as I say. There are many local authorities which have not been considerate enough towards the old age pensioners, and there are some advanced local authorities. For instance, the hon. Lady was good enough to say that the London County Council is considered a good authority. I do not know what allowances the London County Council make, but I understand that the Durham County Council pays up to 35s. a week to old people, and in Monmouth the old people are paid up to about 30s. a week. As far as I can see, there is in this Bill no guarantee that the old people will be paid any such amount. Are they to be paid a rate which will be in excess of the unemployment rates? If not, then some of the old age pensioners now getting relief from the best local authorities will be placed in a worse position than that in which they are at the present time. That will be the effect in certain districts. With regard to the finances of the scheme, as I understand it the local authorities have, in supplementing old age pensions, been making an expenditure of 1453 approximately £4,500,000 a year. That expenditure has been made by the local authorities of England and Wales, excluding Scotland. Under the Bill, the proposal is that from now on the local authorities will be called upon to make a contribution. There is a sum of £1,000,000—
§ Mr. Elliot
The local authorities are not called upon to make a contribution of any kind. The £1,000,000 previously given by this House towards that expenditure will now be given by the House for that expenditure directly. Therefore, it will not be paid by the local authorities, and not one penny of contribution is being asked from them.
§ Mr. Jenkins
The Minister knows that under the Local Government Act, 1929, the: Government make grants of approximately 22½ per cent. towards the expenditure. What the Government have done, in this calculation, is to say that 22½ per cent. of £4,500,000 is approximately £900,000, and in the negotiations with the local authorities, the Government, not content with £900,000, have asked the local authorities to make it: £1,000,000, and the local authorities have agreed. It comes to this, that the local authorities, for the remainder of the present fixed-grant period, will contribute £1,000,000, or at any rate lose grants to that amount, and the effect upon the local authorities of the country will be the same as if they contributed £1,000,000.
§ Mr. Elliot
The local authorities are giving up expenditure of £5,250,000, and they are gaining accordingly, and a proportionate amount of the money previously paid by the House towards that expenditure will not be paid in future. Do not let it be said that the local authorities are making a contribution.
§ Mr. Jenkins
The right hon. Gentleman conveys the impression that the local authorities will benefit to the extent of £4,500,000, which was the amount of their expenditure on supplementing pensions. That is not the fact. I will quote a statement of the finance officers of the local authorities:As far as finances are concerned, we have accepted, as you know, the round sum of £1,000,000 as the total annual contribution to be made by the local authorities for the remainder of the present fixed-grant period.What I say is true. The Government are 1454 calling upon the local authorities to forgo grants amounting to £1,000,000 for the remainder of the fixed-grant period in order to help the Government to meet this expenditure. If we take the product of a 1d. rate over the whole country as being £1,200,000, I suppose it may be said that the liability will average out over the country at about a 3½d. or 4d. rate; but it is spread very unevenly from one authority to another. What I should like to know is what method is to be adopted for the purpose of distributing the benefits that will be derived by the local authorities from the Government's taking over a certain amount of expenditure. As I understand it, the Minister has not yet determined that. The Bill is before us, without the Minister being able to tell us what method has been adopted for that purpose. It seems to be a little premature to have a Bill on a major issue such as this under consideration by the House while the Minister is not yet in a position to tell us precisely what will be the financial effect on the various local authorities. I understand that the matter is to be considered later and perhaps during the Committee stage we may get some explanation. It is true that certain benefits will be derived by certain local authorities, but what those benefits will amount to, one cannot say. That is why I intervened last night when the Secretary of State for Scotland was indicating the rate of benefit which would be derived by certain local authorities. I understand now that some kind of agreement has been reached in Scotland, but we are not yet as far ahead as that.
§ Mr. Jenkins
I do not propose to enter into a discussion on whether or not there has been agreement in Scotland. We have enough quarrels of our own to fight. But I leave the financial side of the Bill because I know the Minister will not be able to make any definite statement on it to-night, and I pass to a point which the hon. Lady mentioned, namely, what is to be done for the welfare of these old people. In the Bill there is no provision as far as I can ascertain. I do not know what kind of authority is to be appointed. There are many of these old people who are aged and weak and not always quite capable of looking after themselves. I 1455 can find no provision for them here. Some of the good local authorities have been making provision for them. Whether the new authority which is to be created will continue that work or not, I cannot say, but I think some provision ought to be made and if such provision is to be made, I would like to know who is to finance it?
There is one further point with which I conclude. A large number of officers are employed now by local authorities in distributing these supplementations to the old age pensioners. I think some reasonable agreement ought to be made between the Government and the local authorities about the security of the positions of those officers. Many of them, who are well above middle-age, would find matters very difficult if they were thrown out and I hope that if the Bill goes through consideration will be given to them. While I recognise that there are certain benefits in Part I of the Bill, I consider that they are not by any means ample benefits. This Bill will not provide what I regard as an adequate pension. Despite the slight benefits which will accrue to the 150,000 spinsters and some other women-folk, I intend, because of the application of the means test in this Bill, to vote against it, and I hope that every hon. Member on this side as well as a substantial number of hon. Members opposite will do likewise.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Captain Elliston
Whatever its opponents may say about this Bill, I think it affords a very effective reply to the suggestion which was frequently put forward that the Government had no intention of dealing with this problem of pensions. It was only on 27th July last, that the Prime Minister gave an assurance that the matter would be investigated. The investigation was held up by the outbreak of the war, and we had a renewed promise from the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 1st November. To-day, 21st February, we are debating the Second Reading of the Bill. I think that is pretty good going at a time when the country is faced with a tremendous crisis in its history.
I propose to take this opportunity to reply to a question which was addressed to hon. Members on this side by the hon.
1456 Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). We always listen to the hon. Member with great respect, because he speaks with such splendid conviction on any matter in which the welfare of the people is concerned and when he thinks this House is failing to do justice to the people's needs. To-night he asked us on this side to state frankly how our constituents regarded the proposals in the Bill. I tell him at once that I have found a large body of opinion which has nothing good to say about the Bill at all. For months past there has been a very active campaign encouraging people to base all their hopes on a flat-rate pension of 20s. a week. Unfortunately many people who entertained that hope have been bitterly disappointed to find that, after a careful investigation by the Government, a scheme on that scale has been found to be out of the question. The organisation concerned has since sent a resolution to most Members of this House which states that this Bill is a mean and contemptible response to a nation-wide demand.
Many of us here took part in the previous Debates in July and November, and from both sides of the House there came an urgent demand that the Government should give early consideration to the condition of dire poverty in which many old age pensioners were then existing. There is no doubt that the arguments then advanced greatly impressed the conscience of the country and induced Members of all parties to support the organisation which eventually pinned its faith to a 20s. flat rate.
Now, I should like to hear from the hon. Member for Leigh and others who are in close contact with working-class opinion whether they are convinced that those people are really in favour of a flat rate involving a heavy extra contribution. I have nothing to learn from any hon. Member opposite regarding the privations endured by the old age pensioners. I know them from my own observation, but I am not convinced that the working-class people in my constituency are completely in favour of a contributory flat-rate scheme which would mean a great strain on their weekly income. They see around them in the country as a whole 375,000 pensioners who are still in employment. They see an even larger number of old age pensioners who are also deriving benefit from 1457 the superannuation schemes of former employers. Is it certain that an extra contribution of at least 10d. a week for a basic pension of even 15s. would appeal to every working man? Only last week I was told by a typical representative of the working class in my constituency that, given anything like regular employment and a decent wage and his present insurances, he would prefer to do his own little bit of extra saving to facing that increased contribution. We have had a very good demonstration of such saving these past 12 weeks when the working men of this country have been investing £1,000,000 a day through patriotic motives and as a provident provision for future contingencies. When we have a high degree of employment in this country the working classes have never failed to display those thrifty qualities represented by the colossal funds accumulated by savings banks, building societies, and such organisations.
We have heard so much of the defects of the Bill that I feel entitled to summarise some of its provisions. First of all, with the wives of pensioners coming into benefit at 60, that must mean a big increase of comfort in over 160,000 homes. Then there are pensions at 60 for all women in insurable employment, married and single. That will alter the whole outlook in life of over 150,000 women, including that most deserving class, the spinsters, who in many cases have sacrificed their own prospects for service in the home. They surely deserve the great relief brought to them by the present Bill. Then there is power for the Assistance Board to grant supplementary pensions to the old pensioners through the Post Office. In this connection, let me say that there is, in my part of the country, rightly or wrongly, a very great objection to anything connected with public assistance, because it is still associated with what is called the "taint" of the old Poor Law. Important also is the relief of local authorities to the extent of some £4,000,000. This represents a valuable concession to areas like my own, where there has been a long period of unemployment and distress, and where the people can least afford to pay high rates.
The Bill has so many good features that it may be hoped a number of modest concessions and extensions will be granted 1458 during the course of the Committee stage to make it even better. For instance, I find in my constituency, where many women are employed in industry, that there is a measure of disappointment because they will be expected to make an increased contribution of 3d. as compared with 2d. in the case of men. Perhaps it may be possible to consider that point. It was stated by the Government actuary during the recent inquiry that the cost of pensions at 60 for these women would amount to £2,000,000. There is a feeling that the larger sum now required is accounted for by the pensions for the married women, and the spinsters feel that the extra penny should be paid by the husband who shares the advantage of the pension. Above all, the unmarried women feel very keenly the provision that they must go out of National Health and unemployment insurance when they reach pensionable age. They resent it because they believe that it will automatically reveal their age to all concerned. They believe, rightly or wrongly, that when it is known they have reached the age of 60 an employer may be inclined to replace them by younger women workers or that he may possibly ask them to work for a lower wage. Whether or not their fears in this respect are well founded, I think the matter deserves very careful consideration on the Committee stage. Throughout the ages it has been the privilege of women to conceal or modify their age, perhaps because they feel it is their own, and nobody else's, business. I have been assured that this matter is of acute interest to women who are otherwise profoundly grateful to the Government for the benefit they will received under this Bill. I hope, therefore, that the matter may be examined and that the Government in their chivalry may be able to respect the feelings of the women in this matter.
There are other classes of people whose claims should receive consideration. I should like to hear whether the Government can do anything for the women who are older than their husband and who have reached the age of 60, and whether it is possible to extend benefit to women of the "black-coated" classes such as wives or daughters of the clergy, small tradesmen, struggling professional men, and so on, whose struggle with genteel poverty becomes very pitiable with the approach of old age. But even as it 1459 stands, there are many points in this Bill which will prove a great blessing to many hundreds of thousands of people in this country, and I cannot believe that the Opposition seriously intend to delay its passage. It is an honourable attempt to alleviate hardships which hitherto many of our pensioners have had to endure. If the Bill gives less than some of us hoped, it certainly prepares the way to further advantage when our national finances permit. I appeal to opponents of the Bill in that spirit expressed by the hon. Member for Leigh to remember the gravity of the times in which we live and to give the Government their assistance in passing a Measure which is a definite step forward and which will make it possible for us to advance again when we return to the path of peace and prosperity.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
I listened with great interest to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, and I now see why the Prime Minister selected her for that job. I do not think I ever heard a better example of "her master's voice. "I would say this to her credit, because she knows I consider she is very capable, that although she did her job very well she did not deceive me. The whole object underlying her speech and Part I of the Bill is artfully designed to divide the working class. This Bill is one of the meanest, basest and most callous tricks that have ever been played on this House, particularly at this juncture when the Parliamentary Labour Party have almost given up criticism of the Government in order to win the war. The Government have deliberately set out, in my mind, to put the women against the men. It is true that we have been clamouring for pensions for women at 60, but we never dreamed that there would be this result when we waited on the Prime Minister and went as a deputation to different Ministers on this matter, and pleaded for the most helpless section of the community, the old folk, the veterans of industry, the men who have made it possible forus to withstand the mightiest military force the sun ever shone on.
In my election address in 1918 I said that I stood for £1 for a man and 30s. for a man and wife without any means test. I have never deviated from that. I have always fought against a means test, what- 1460 ever Government was in power. I do not want the Minister of Health to tell us that the Tories did not introduce the May Committee, because I know they did not, but those with whom I was lined up at that time fought against the idea of the May Committee, just as we are fighting now against the means test. I readily agree that we might have to deal with the old people parsimoniously if we were a poor nation, if we were poverty-stricken and in bad luck, but here we are in this House representing the richest Empire in the world, proudly boasting of what we are spending on the war in order to defend our shores. Who are defending our shores? The sons of the old people whom we are pleading for. When my good, true and loyal colleague the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) was driven in his generosity, just as my class always are, to make a suggestion in his anxiety to get something, the other side took advantage of it and now say that we are in favour of this Bill. I want to tell the Secretary of State for Scotland, the Lord Advocate and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, three members from Scotland, that I am fresh from the Clyde and there is a struggle brewing for them. You are forcing me to say these things and I am not going to continue to withhold them when my class and the old people to whom I have pledged my word are being treated in this manner. Not for all the winning of the war am I going to stand aside when they are concerned.
What is the use of being part and parcel of this mighty Empire when we have to go cap in hand for help to these old people? When the Minister of Health says there is no means test he is not telling the truth. Nor is it true that the Government have come to an agreement with the local authorities. They were before us this morning at 10.30 telling us it was not true. The Government have never come to any agreement officially with the local authorities.
§ Mr. Colville
I said yesterday that we had come to a provisional agreement, which is perfectly true. The local authorities, represented by the official representatives of the three associations, had discussions in Edinburgh, and we came to a provisional agreement. If that is not ratified it will have to be changed, but one is entitled to say that we have come to such a provisional understanding.
§ Mr. Kirkwood
But there has been no agreement, and that is a different thing. We have done everything we can to keep things going, but discontent is abroad in the land. Do you think the young fellows are going to fight for you when these old warriors and veterans of industry are being treated in this way? They have produced all that we have to-day. Nobody but the workers produced it. You can say what you like about your brains and your professions, but only the workers have produced what we have to-day. We have seen the managerial staffs and the collar and tie brigade walking into the works when the ordinary workmen went on strike. There was no work done then, because when the colliery stops no coal comes up. The managers and the brilliant intelligentsia are at the command of the colliery workers. Not an ounce of coal comes up the pit. It is all produced, remember, by labour. We have appealed for this scheme to operate for those of 60 years of age. If workers are 60 years of age they have, in many instances, given 50 years' service. That is no exaggeration.
Yesterday I was at the funeral of the greatest man I ever knew, Robert Smillie. With me was a retired schoolmaster, and he started to talk about this old age pension business which is now before the House. What did he tell the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) and me? He said he had more for his old age pension than he had as salary in his prime. I am not objecting to schoolmasters or members of any other profession getting pensions, but I do object to those who are comfortably circumstanced not seeing to it that the people who contribute towards making it possible for the rest of the community to get pensions shall themselves have decent pensions. There is no denying the fact that the poor of our country are treated in a disgraceful fashion. Not all the statesmanship, all the plausible statements, or all the analyses of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health can get away from that fact, and it is a standing disgrace, for which the Government of the day ought to think black, burning shame of themselves. We have been asked to say nothing, to keep quiet, lest Lord Haw-Haw says something; but, unless we get a better concession than we now have, Lord Haw-Haw will have something to tell 1462 about the rotten manner and the disgraceful, callous, brutal fashion in which the ruling class of this country are treating the aged poor.
Look at this means test as I see it, and as I have seen it enacted before me in my own constituency. In John Brown's yard we have always been fortunate enough to be employed, but all round us and outside my constituency people have, for years, been unemployed. Many of the men concerned educated their boys and girls to professions. When the building of the "Queen Mary" was stopped—when it was the "534"—many of those men were turned out on the streets. After they had been unemployed for six months their unemployment pay ceased, and they had to go through the means test. Because they had done what we Scotsmen have always claimed with pride was characteristic of our race, been frugal and saving, they were penalised and received nothing. The investigators even went to the co-operative societies to find out how much money the men had there. That is how the means test operates. This is now to be done to the old age pensioners. It is the fathers and the grandfathers who are to be treated in this fashion now.
When the "Queen Elizabeth" was launched from Brown's yard, a card was sent in for me, and I went out. I found an old workmate of mine there. He had worked beside me 35 years ago, as a fitter. He had emigrated to New Zealand and he was home visiting Scotland again because he wanted to see the launch of the "Queen Elizabeth." I saw that he did. The interesting thing that he told me was that he had never made a great deal of money. He said: "We have always been very comfortable. You know we have a grown-up family, all married; nobody but me and the old wife left. We built a house for ourselves and paid for it, and we saved a certain amount for our old age. The Government, in their wisdom, have decided that we are to receive £3 a week"—for the man and the wife. As soon as that happened they took counsel with one another and decided that it was no use keeping their money lying there and doing nothing and that they could afford to come across the seas for 12,000 miles in order to visit Scotland again.
1463 I say to the Government: Even from your own point of view in running the capitalist system of society it would be in your interests, and apart from the sentiment of the matter and the right or the wrong of it, to give those people a decent pension. The money would be spent at once on the things that they desperately need but now have to go without. I say this to the Secretary of State for Scotland, because he does not know what it is to go without anything and he does not realise how humbling it is for a man to have to go to another worker and ask him for a "bob. "What a glorious position for these old veterans of my class to be in, after they have worked for this country all their days. The only thing they have is their labour power which is incorporated in their bodies, and in order that they may live they have to sell it. Many a time they do not have the chance to sell it, after a life of slavery. After they have reared families, those who have been most frugal are penalised.
I should not be doing my duty by sitting here passively and seeing any Government treating the working class of Britain in this fashion, be it an English, Scotch, Irish or any other Government. Those people have built the finest ships that sailed the Seven Seas, they have built the roads and the railways, they have dug all our coal and now they are fighting for us against Hitlerism, tyranny and oppression. What are we doing at home? Are we treating our own folk decently? Everyone knows that we are not. As for talking about 10s. a week, we ought to feel ashamed of ourselves. It would not last hon. Members opposite a night. I myself could go through 10s. quite as easily. One of the reasons why I am not in favour of collaborating even in winning another war, is because of this unfair treatment. Can the Secretary of State for Scotland show me that we are treating our weak old men and women with anything like decency? As I have said time and again, I do not care whether it is a Tory, Liberal or any other Government as long as they deliver the goods.
If there is ever serious trouble because of the treatment that is being meted out to the fathers and grandfathers of the working class in this country I will side with them against the Government. I 1464 can never rid myself of my class consciousness; neither can they. They are class conscious. Dothey give 10s. a week to their fathers or mothers? No, Their fathers and mothers would have a revolution next week, war or no war. They would look after themselves, and I would not blame them. It is only the people of my class who are really patriotic and who really have a love for their native land. The vast majority of them know no other land. They have never travelled; they have never enjoyed those luxuries. There has been nothing for them but grinding toil right from 10 years of age up to 65.
The Government should be proud of themselves! It is because of their policy that certain individuals possess their tens of thousands, not gained by their individual efforts or ingenuity or because they are super-men. I have met the best of them, not the bygone generation, but those of to-day. There are no super-men; it is a delusion. They have deceived my class that they are something superior, but it is absolutely false. Not one of them has any right to have any better time or any more comforts in life than the men and women for whom I am speaking. Think how they have lived. They are up at four o'clock in the morning—did hon. Members opposite ever do that?—and are never home until half-past seven at night. The working class have had to rise and go to work irrespective of the weather, be it rain, snow or hail, whether they were well or not. When they went out in the morning they did not know whether their wives would be alive or dead when they came back again. They did not know whether their boys or lassies, whom they had left behind in the morning, would be alive or dead when they returned at night. They have struggled through all that, surmounting all their difficulties. I would ask those who have gone through it, as I have, not to forget their obligations and their pledges to the working class of this country.
Because of all those things, I would ask the Secretary of State, in all sincerity, to make a glorious gesture. The working class in this country would respond in no uncertain fashion if the Government were wise enough to yield to the appeal of the Members on this side, and announce that they were going to abolish 1465 the means test, root and branch, in connection with everything. Nothing stinks more in the nostrils of the very best section of the working class than this idea of the means test. We can tell you this, because we live and have our being amongst the men and women of the working class. Hon. Members opposite do not; they live in a world apart. We are being good to hon. Members opposite; we are being generous to them. We are not doing this for their sakes, but because we love our native land; because we fear repercussions as a result of the Government's action; for men are not going to be continually giving of their best, and seeing at the end of the journey nothing but poverty and bad luck, and never having a shilling that they can call their own. I do not take drink—I do not make any boast of it—but I know my class, and how glad they are to be able to say,Come along, and I will stand you a glass of beer," or "Come along and I will stand you a glass of whisky.I hope that my appeals for these people, after they have served their day and generation and made this great Empire possible, will not fall upon deaf ears, and that something will be done; because I am prepared to go as far in this war as I did in the last war. They can kill me this time; but I am going to stand by the workers, irrespective of my party or anything else. The time has come for us on this side to challenge the Government, and to let them know that we are going to fight them, not only on the Floor of the House of Commons, in a Parliamentary fashion, but in the country. We have to rouse the country against them, and to put in a Government that will meet our demands. We ought not to be posing as statesmen, but to be standing up for the rights of the workers, who have made it possible for us to be here. Not a man would be here on these benches but for the propaganda the Socialists have carried out in this country demanding that which I am demanding now. Think of Robert Smillie giving his life to make it possible for the Parliamentary Labour party to be the official Opposition; and remember that we are getting nothing. In fact, the other night we were taunted by the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. He made no bones about the Government's position, and the grip that they had. He cannot have it two ways. The Deputy-Leader of 1466 our party once stood at that Box, and said that the Government of to-day would not be in that position a week without us. I believe that to be perfectly true. If we go out into the country, and let the workers know how we are treated, the working class will rally to us. The working class never let us down. I have implicit faith in the working class. When we go to the workers, and tell them the truth, facing up to the situation, the workers will stand by us. Unless this Government give us some concession, the workers certainly will turn the Government down.
§ 9.8 p.m.
§ Dr. Little
I intervene for a few moments because this Bill will form the basis for the Bill that will afterwards be presented in the Parliament of Northern Ireland. I admire very much the earnestness of the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), but I would say to him, regarding this great crusade upon which he is to enter, apparently as leader, "bide a wee "until we have effectively dealt with Hitler. Do not enter upon this crusade until we have completed the crusade that we are engaged upon at the present time, for the freedom of Britain and the freedom of the world. I admire the earnestness of the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs, but I cannot follow him, because when I think of the condition of the working class and the poor in my boyhood, and of their condition and their position to-day, I feel that that is the best answer I can give to the oratory of the hon. Member. And better days are in front for the working class and the poor, for "our God goes marching on."
I wondered at the hon. Member referring to the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, as speaking with her master's voice. The hon. Lady does not need to speak with any voice but her own. Being no longer the baby of the House—I have been here now for some time—I am free to say that I have never heard a better statement in this House than that which the hon. Lady made to-day. It was well reasoned, closely knit, and fearlessly expressed. She dealt with the technicalities of the position most admirably, and I had hoped that the House would have accepted the Bill at the close of that message. I was reminded of an old gentleman in my native 1467 province. His brother was a minister, and he was accustomed to say that his brother was a most unfair preacher. A gentleman one day asked him why he always referred to his brother as a most unfair preacher: "Because," said he, ''When my brother sits down at the close of his sermon there is nothing more to be said." I felt that when the hon. Lady sat down she had said all that need be said.
§ Dr. Little
I am speaking because hon. Members have carried on the oratory and I might just as well have an innings as hon. Members on the opposite side. I am here openly, avowedly and unashamedly to support the Bill, and I have been as long in touch with the poor as any Member on the opposite side of the House. I was caring for the poor when the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs was a baby in arms. My best friends have been among the poor and I will continue to care for them to the end of my days. This Bill has not been presented as a perfect Bill, but as far as it goes it is a good Bill, because it brings help to those who most need it. That is why I support the Bill. Do you think that a poor old soul living and paying rent on 10s. a week, or a man and his wife on £1 a week as their total income should not receive something more weekly than old people living in a home where there is something like £4 or £5 coming in every week? I support the Bill just because those absolutely dependent on the pension will receive more. It goes down to the lowest and it tries to lift them up and to help them and make them more happy.
In principle the Bill is sound and is calculated to do an infinite amount of good. I have no doubt that under normal conditions the Government would have presented quite a different Bill, but we must recognise that we are engaged in a terrible conflict to-day and if anything went amiss in that conflict and Hitler got his heel onEngland—thank God he never will—the working class and the poor would be the first people who would suffer. That is the reason why we should put our whole strength into the war and end it as speedily as possible. I am proud of my country and proud of the Government, because in no other country in the world would such a Bill as this be 1468 introduced in face of the huge war expenditure. It is a great event of faith and it is to the overwhelming credit of Britain that this Bill has been introduced at this moment.
It is difficult to satisfy everybody. Some people get into that grumbling and fault-finding way of saying, Because somebody else wants to do a thing, it is altogether wrong. If we on this side of the House want to do a thing the Opposition will always say that it is wrong, which reminds me of the story of a man who was fault-finding. He never was satisfied, but I think he was a good man, and he passed away. A neighbour had a dream one night that he had passed over and had gone to glory, and among the very first he met there was this man. The neighbour said to him, "Why, you will be happy now. Surely you are satisfied." He took off his crown and held it up, and he said, "Do you call that a fit? "It is very difficult to satisfy some people, but I believe that all over the country the effort of the Government will meet with general approval. Far too much has been said about the means test. I am not an old Member but I have a vivid recollection that the means test in regard to a certain Pensions Bill was regarded as a heaven-sent test. I supported that Bill, and while I shall never derive a halfpenny of benefit from it, I shall pay as long as I am a Member of tills House very gladly the amount assessed. But I do not see why any party should be a pigeon to-day and a raven to-morrow. I want consistency and I have always striven for that, and I want consistency from hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Silverman
As so much has been made about the Members' Pensions Fund and the means test in regard to it, does not the hon. Member realise that the fund is a limited sum raised in a particular way? It is limited by Statute to that amount. It is sufficient to pay only a very small number of pensions and the House was driven to say that those pensions must be chosen in some way and that they had better be chosen by that test than by any other method. Is there any comparison whatever between that private club subscription administered by ourselves to the limited extent that it is subscribed, and the State taking upon itself the obligation that rests there, because nobody else can fulfil it, of maintaining in their old age every old person 1469 who has throughout his lifetime contributed to the wealth of the State? What comparison is there?
§ Dr. Little
It may not appear so to the hon. Member but to me—I may be obtuse—the same principle underlies both. You cannot call the one the crow and the other the pigeon. I want the attention of this House specially focused not on the means test or anything like that, but upon the old, the poor and the needy, because they sorely need the additional assistance that they will get under this Bill. I have heard about objections to this Bill, but I have not received from County Down or from Ulster a single objection. In fact everything I have received has been a word of encouragement. I received this week a letter from a gentleman who occupies a prominent position in County Down. He is of a different faith and a different political creed from me, but he wrote to me to say how successful the coal fund in which he was interested and which was established largely by my honoured predecessor, Sir David Reid, had been in kindling fires in those dreary homes that were suffering from the closing of mills in a certain part of my constituency. He went on to say:Congratulations on the prospect of an increase in the old age pensions because I believe that it will go a great way to meet the sore need these persons are in.
§ Mr. Hubert Beaumont
The hon. Gentleman has said that he has not received any complaint from Northern Ireland with regard to this Bill. Is he aware that this Bill does not apply to Northern Ireland?
§ Dr. Little
I am well aware of that fact. I stated that at the beginning, but there will be a Northern Ireland Bill based on this Bill. I have received several approvals. The day before I left to come to London I visited an old lady of between 70 and 80 years of age who had brought up a respectable family. She said to me as I was passing out, "God Bless you, Sir, for trying to get the old age pensions increased." I left with a warm heart and said to myself, "If the Government could bring a ray of sunshine into that home and make brighter that old lady's closing days of hard work and industry I would thank God." There has been a great deal of talk about the hardness of the heart of the people on this side. I 1470 had a letter from an old gentleman, I am sure a good man, in one of the valleys in South Wales. He wrote:I hope you will also ask that God may move the heart of the Prime Minister to think more kindly of the old people.I do not need to do that at all, for the Prime Minister has as kind a heart for the old people as any man in this House. But you are sowing dragons' teeth on the other side and you will reap the harvest by and by. I am very gratified to have the opportunity of saying that I approve of the Bill and I know it will bring blessing and joy to many a home, and it will come across to us in Ulster also. I would make a final appeal. It would be far better, on a great social question like this, if we buried politics and faced up to the issue as Christian men and women. We want this great social question dealt with, not in the spirit of "I am on this side and you are on that, "but in the spirit of Jesus Christ, who loved the poor and went about doing good. I appeal to the Opposition not to force this question to a Division but to accept the Bill and try to amend it in Committee to the best of their ability. There is one thing that I should like to see embodied in the Bill, that a woman, now a widow who was a contributor to an approved society before marriage, and whose membership lapsed as her husband was not a contributor, should receive her pension at 60. I am thankful for this opportunity of saying a word for the Bill and I pray God that, in spite of all, it will bring blessing and help to countless homes.
§ Mr. H. Beaumont
The hon. Member suggests that it is desirable that we should bury politics. Will he take that action with regard to Southern Ireland?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
That question is irrelevant and therefore I can relieve the hon. Member from replying to it.
§ 9.24 p.m.
Mr. W. Joseph Stewart
I have sat in the House since Question Time and have listened to every speech that has been delivered, and I have come to the conclusion that in the minds of certain hon. Members there is a distinct difference in human values. By question and by speech and by the presentation of petitions attention has been drawn in this House to the plight of our old age pen- 1471 sioners. We have asked, ever since I came to the House four years ago, that something might be done with a view to making them independent of Poor Law assistance. I think there is good reason to be interested in aged people. It has been mentioned that many of them have given of their best in industry and in other walks of life. In my own county there are many veterans of industry who have worked for over 50 years, and their toil has helped to an appreciable extent to build the country up to the position that it occupies to-day.
We have been concerned in Durham for many years in regard to the conditions surrounding the lives of many old people. In 1939 the county council, owing to the conditions in which they lived, found it necessary to spend no less than £123,000 to augment old age pensions. The number of our people drawing pensions who were subject to Poor Law relief was no less than 12,032. We had to spend this money to make it possible for our aged people to enjoy a decent standard of life, and we are quite willing to spend that amount in their interest. There is another side to what is being done in Durham, and that is in regard to our aged mine workers' movement. The Durham miner is always willing to help the veterans of industry as far as possible. We have 2,100 miners' homes occupied by 4,000 aged persons living rent free and with free coal. There are also nine hostels tenanted by 77 aged single men and widowers. The Aged Miners Association from 1929 to 1938 has spent £85,900 in building homes for the aged people. The present nominal value of properties belonging to the association is £389,553. This great work has been made possible by the help given by coal-owners and others interested, but mostly by the pence which have been contributed by miners themselves. I might say that no matter how low wages might have been in the mining world of Durham, the miner has always been willing to meet an extra levy to help to maintain the homes occupied by our aged people in Durham.
By the introduction of this Bill one is rather fearful lest the means test will perhaps, while helping some, have an adverse effect upon many of our aged people now in receipt of Poor Law relief, and others living in our aged miners' homes. Many, 1472 alas, have bitter experience of the means test—we know what is happening in thousands of homes—and now to have to ask that our aged people, before they can get an augmented pension, should be subject to a means test in principle, is wrong. We are now going to pry into the private affairs of our old people before we are prepared to give them an extra shilling or two. I would like to ask what it is that these old people have done that you should subject them to a means test? If you apply it to them before they receive extra shillings, why not apply it to others who are drawing large pensions without having recourse to a means test?
Let me come back to the question of human values. Suppose we were to set in any part of this House a veteran of industry, with his scars of toil and battle with mother earth, and put alongside him an ex-Judge of Appeal, an ex-Judge of the Chancery Division, or an ex-Judge of the county court, and say to the veteran of industry, "You have done your work well for over 50 years, you show the marks of your toil, and we assess your value at £26 a year, plus a certain amount which we will determine to be sufficient to keep body and soul together, "and say to the Judge with £3,500 per annum, "You have done your work well. We will assess your value at £3,500 per annum. "Dare any hon. Member of this House say that there is such a difference in human values between a battle-scarred veteran of industry and a Judge who has had an easy time throughout life? Some of us have had experience of industry. I know what hard work is. I was over 40 years in the mine, giving of my best in the interests of the country, and I suggest that the miners of this country as well as those who are engaged in other industries are just as valuable an asset of the country as the man who has a right by Statute to draw a pension of £3,500 a year.
I was going through some figures today, and I found that from 1932 to 1938, tramp shipping, wheat growers, sugar-beet growers, the growers of oats and barley, people in the cattle industry and others, have drawn in those six years £64,000,000 from the State without a means test. If the Government can give £64,000,000 to certain classes of people without a means test, why should it be impossible to give a flat rate to our old age pensioners without applying a means 1473 test to them before they can get a few shillings?
In conclusion, let me say that there may be certain parts of the Bill which are good, but it would help the prestige of the Government if they had been kind enough at this juncture to help our aged people in their time of need. Last year we spent in Durham £312,000 to give to the old people what we thought was sufficient to give them a decent standard of living. We give these houses to our aged miners with free coals and rent. What are the Government going to do in those cases? If you apply a means test to the sums which we have been giving out of rates, are you going to give our old people less than they are getting to-day? As far as our aged miners in our homes are concerned, will you apply a means test to them and nullify the work that has been done by the Durham miners, who have willingly given of their best to see that a certain number of our old people shall live in comfort and, for the rest of their days, have a shelter over their heads?
§ 9.40 p.m.
§ Sir Richard Meller
The hon. Member for Houghton-le-Spring (Mr. W. Joseph Stewart) said that the Bill is good in parts. In recent times it has been very seldom that, in considering a Measure of this sort, there has been disclosed such general agreement, not only on parts, but on exactly one half of the Bill. This Bill is so good that I do not think we can accept it without giving some expression of appreciation of what it does. It confers upon the women of this country a very great benefit. It confers upon the women between 60 and 65 years of age a benefit for which they have been yearning for a good many years. I speak as one who, in days gone by, had a great deal to do with health insurance in its initial stages. I know that a very difficult stage in the sickness experience of a society is always that attached to the women between 60 and 65, particularly those engaged in part-time occupations. Many women have been dragging on, when they ought not to have continued working, simply because they had no alternative, and they would gladly have seized an opportunity—and I venture to say that probably it would have prolonged their life if they had had an opportunity—of retiring from 1474 work and taking a pension at 60 years of age.
That is not all. Let us not forget that, under the Bill, those persons between the ages of 60 and 65 at the present time, and the early recipients of the benefits given under Part I, will receive those benefits without having made any extra contributions. The cost of the benefits will be carried by those who have to pay up to the age of 60 in the case of women and 65 in the case of men, and, therefore, I say that if there were that Part only of the Bill, the Government might well be proud of their achievement. Part II of the Bill has been called for by the. demands, not only of the Opposition, but of hon. Members who support the Government. I should like to point out that when the Labour party put forward their pensions plan in October, 1937, and adumbrated a scheme which would provide a pension of £1 a week, they said, in very careful terms, when considering the way in which it was to be provided and the way in which the money was to be found:It is impossible to fix the respective contributions of the State, the employers and the employés towards the cost of the proposed scheme, for it is impossible to forecast what will be the economic conditions prevailing at the time of the introduction of the scheme.That is precisely the position to-day. Who would have thought, in 1937, that such enormous burdens as the Government and the country have to carry now would have been imposed upon them? Who, of the Socialist party would have dared to put forward Labour's pension plan with the outlook that we have before us at this time? I venture to say that it is a bold and generous action on the part of the Government to bring forward Part II of the Bill. I have as much sympathy as anybody has with those who reach old age and find themselves without the wherewithal to carry on, it may be in a reduced state, the conditions of life which they have ordinarily lived, namely, without an institution. If it were possible, I should be glad to support any Measure that would remove the one objection to this Bill, namely, the means test. Let us consider the proposals that have been put forward. When the matter was raised quite recently, what was the suggestion that was made? The appeal was, Cannot you do something for these poor old persons? Cannot you assist them even 1475 at this moment, when there is the possibility of the cost of living rising; even an increase of 2s. 6d. or 5s. would be a blessing to them. I submit that what is being done by this Bill is better than a flat rate increase of 2s. 6d. or 5s. If the Government had agreed to an increased pension allowance of 5s., bringing the pension up to 15s. a week, would that have met all the difficult cases? Would it have obviated the possibility of some people having to go through the means test?
The Government have realised the difficulties of the means test and the objection which is raised against applying to the public assistance committee. They have said, "We will not have the public assistance committee for this purpose, but we will set up another board." I heard an hon. Member ask, "Why not have a pensions board instead of an Assistance Board? "It is a matter of name only. Remember that the persons who go forward to have their cases considered will be going before an Assistance Board which deals only with the question of supplementing a pension already earned, and when the payment is made, it will not be a case of the public assistance officer going round week by week, or of applying to the public assistance office to get the money; it will be a case of payment through the Post Office. Is it not then a trivial objection which is being made to this proposal and an objection made for purely party purposes?
I heard one speaker say that he had had a bagful of letters on the question of the means test, and the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) referred to letters which he had received. I represent no small constituency. I represent a division on the borders of London with over 100,000 constituents, and I have not had one letter from any of them. I have been in that constituency now for 17 years; I have fought five elections there, and the people are not afraid to send their complaints to me. The only letter I have received is from the South Wales Old Age Pensioners Association, and there is not a word in that letter about the means test. [Hon. Members: "Why?"] I do not know why, but apparently this question is not agitating their minds as some hon. Members have suggested that their constituents are being 1476 agitated by it. Under the Bill certain women will get something at 60 instead of 65; they will be able to go to a special Assistance Board, and is it suggested that the people concerned oppose a scheme which will benefit them on the ground that it brings in a means test? I do not believe it. I believe that the country as a whole is prepared to accept the Bill, and I am sure the masses of the people from 60 to 65 who will benefit are praising the Government to-day for it. I believe that there is not a man—except those who are urged on by people who think there is an advantage in doing so as propaganda for party purposes—who will object to going to the Assistance Board. I think the Government are to be congratulated, and I believe that those who will benefit under the Bill and the country in general will say, "Thank God, there is a Conservative Government in power."
§ 9.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Greenwood
I do not intend to follow the narrow party political line of the speaker who has preceded me, though I am glad of his admission as to the character of the Government which now sits on the opposite side of the House, and of which he seems to think he is entitled to be inordinately proud. My purpose is to deal with some of the criticisms which have been offered against us, with some of the charges which have been made and with some of the questions which have been put to us. The Minister of Health and the Parliamentary Secretary both stoked up a great deal of zeal for social reform in general and in the abstract, but on analysis of the Bill one finds that much of that zeal seems to have evaporated. The Minister introduced his speech with great enthusiasm and he concluded with a remarkable peroration to which I wish to draw the attention of the House. He said:We say to our friends in France 'We are not neglecting out war effort to turn aside into paths of social reform. On the contrary, we are travelling towards an ideal which you, wiser than we, never really abandoned; the ideal of the property-owning democracy—the ideal of the State which shall marry industrial production with personal liberty, where every citizen has or shall have a real stake in his country.' "—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1940; col. 1219, Vol. 357.]Let me say that from my point of view that does not represent what we are fighting for in this particular war. The ideal 1477 of a property-owning democracy is a curious phrase in connection with this Bill, and, as a matter of fact, in relation to it, it is completely meaningless. It has, however, a certain significance, as I will try to show. This Debate has brought out quite clearly that, whilst there is overwhelming agreement in this House on the determination to overthrow Hitlerism, the old deep divisions which separate us still remain as clear as ever they were. The supporters of the Government hold by their property rights, so-called, just as tenaciously as ever they did before the Great War. They still mean to preserve class distinctions and they still regard the masses as inferior to the classes. There is on that side of the House a very deep sense of class consciousness, and that spirit of class consciousness has been breathed by speaker after speaker, both yesterday and to-day, on those benches. Whilst in Debates in this House there have been very many occasions when the Government have no supporters whatever, even on their own side, except a miserable array of figures on the Treasury Bench, on this occasion the Government have found more friends. I regard it as significant and as an expression again of what is the fundamental difference between that side of the House and this. Our outlook on the problem is human equality and human rights coupled with human respect.
To us the Debate to-day is not intended for any narrow political ends. If there was a political speech made in this House in this Debate—I grieve to say it in her absence—it was in the closing sentences of the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary. I do not propose, however, to follow that course. The Parliamentary Secretary in her speech to-day, which must have been something of an ordeal for her, asked two specific questions very emphatically. I take it that it is our business to ask questions and it is for the Government to answer them. I am not sure that we are called upon to answer questions, but I am prepared to do my best to answer the two she put. The first was, did we think there was any good in Part I of the Bill, or would we scrap it? Well, I am old enough as a politician not to be trapped by a question like that. If you hold out a crust to a hungry woman of 60 and say, "Will you have this or nothing?" she would 1478 say, "I will take the crust," and, in so far as there are people who will receive pensions at the old scale who otherwise would not have received them, we are glad to know that they are going to benefit to some extent. There are 300,000 of them. The hon. Lady asked me whether Part II of the Bill should be entirely scrapped. My answer is emphatically in one word, Yes. I am saying that of a part of the Bill which potentially affects not 300,000, but 3,000,000 old age pensioners.
Therefore, I would invert the saying about doing a great right by doing a little wrong, and say that in this Bill the Government are doing a little right by perpetrating an enormous wrong. We do not believe that on the whole the aged people of this country will be better off because of Part II of the Bill. It has been stated on these benches, and I take the same view myself, that considerable numbers of them may be really worse off, and substantially worse off. What we object to in this Bill is the nationalisation of pauperisation. That is at the root of the objections that have been taken to it on this side of the House. The Parliamentary Secretary tried to put us in a dilemma by saying that the public assistance committee had come in for more praise to-day than ever before. That is true, and the reason is simple. We dislike the Poor Law system, but experience has shown that it is more resilient, more humane and more understanding than the abstraction called the Unemployment Assistance Board, with its elaborate classification of groups of people, with its inevitable standardisation, with its officialism and with its remoteness from the individual with whom it has to deal.
The choice is not our choice. We would rather have a humanely administered Poor Law system than an inhuman national monster. If the Unemployment Assistance Board be harsh to the able-bodied unemployed, can we expect it, even if one ewe lamb is added to its personnel—who happens to be a personal friend of mine—to be more humane to the aged people, who are less familiar with the elaborate social organisation of the day, unaccustomed to deal with forms and probably frail in health? Can they be expected to take kindly to this new glorified body called the Assistance 1479 Board? If it comes to a choice as between the two, I say, as one who dislikes the Poor Law system, that I would prefer that to this new method in Part II of the Bill. We would rather have retained the present machinery for the determination of old age pensions claims.
Having tried to answer—I am not certain to her satisfaction—the two questions which the Parliamentary Secretary put to me, I think I may claim to put one or two simple questions to the Government. The first is this: Is 10s. pension enough? What proportion of the aged pensioners, of these 3,000,000 people, have enough, with the 10s., to live in decency? On the answer to that turns the case the Government are trying to make. If the proportion of people who can live on the 10s., with what they have, is small, it means that a large proportion of these people are unable to exist on the10s. The case for an all-round increase then stands. That is the question to which we require an answer. Then, put in a somewhat different form, is a point which I have already put: Do the Government think that a remote bureaucracy, dwelling in London and dealing with case papers and not with human beings, and administered by individuals with very wide powers, is a suitable machinery for dealing with aged people—often ailing people—who, in the evening of their days, require more care and sympathy than they did during their years of vigorous life, when they might have been victims of the Unemployment Assistance Board? The questions which I am putting to the Government are fundamental, and I hope I have made clear the attitude which we take up on these problems.
Naturally, the discussion has centred very largely on the means test, and a good old chestnut was thrown on the Floor of the House again last night, probably in order to mislead hon. Members who have not been in the House since it was previously used. This is a question to which I must refer:The means test was initiated by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wake-field (Mr. Greenwood) when he was Minister of Health. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] Yes. It is all very well for hon. Members to say "No!" but I could show them the circular in which the right hon. Gentleman laid down the principle.1480 And, a little later, after my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition had intervened, the hon. Member in question said:The circular lays down the means test most unmistakably for the guidance of local authorities."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th February, 1940; col. 1275, Vol. 357.]That statement is a shameless untruth. I have said in this House before that the means test was established in this country by the 43rd of Elizabeth, passed in the year 1601, and I take my share of responsibility for that. I inherited a Poor Law, and, if I had been able and had had the time to try to overhaul and overturn it Members on that side of the House would have been bitter in their opposition. What could I do, in a minority as we then were?
I did the next best thing. The circular which I sent to the boards of guardians I stand by to-day. In effect it was this: "We all know," said I, in addressing the boards of guardians, "that, under the law, all means have to be taken into account; but," I said, "boards of guardians have the right to exercise a certain measure of discretion. "I suggested that they should exercise that discretion and I pointed out two particular classes of people to whom I hoped they would show discretion, the disabled ex-Service man and the widow with young children. The "Manchester Guardian, "a paper with some repute in this country, published a leading article in which it said words to this effect: ''This is the greatest administrative act of the century"—and yet I am alleged to be the author of the means test.
Let me give another side of this pretty picture. I remember that in 1929, when I was on the opposite side of the House, with the help of my colleagues I was trying to put through a Pensions Bill, and I remember the kind of treatment I received from hon. Members who are now on that side of the House and who then were on this side. I remember when the 1925 Contributory Pensions Bill was before the House, how the Tory party sat there preening themselves, covering themselves with unction and taking on themselves a sort of holy pride as if they were protecting the self-respect of the poor of this country. They said, "We are getting away from this iniquitous inquiry such as you have under the old non- 1481 contributory pensions Act. We are going to institute a system under which the people will pay and will receive." In 1929 those who accused me of being the author of the means test before this circular was issued had Amendments on the Paper to try and force me to accept a means test for the old age pensioners. These are facts which are undeniable; the facts are on record. I remember keeping the House until late the following morning in order to break the resistance; and we broke it. The Government did not get the means test, but if they had they would have palmed it on to us.
Let me follow out this history. Up to 1031 the unemployed in this country, so long as they were really out of work and work was not available for them, could receive unemployment benefit. It is true that during that period of growing economic crisis we built up a debt, but I am not ashamed of that. It was a payment which men received because they were out of work, and although I will not pretend they were treated generously they were at least treated fairly. In 1934, instead of this long period of benefit under the Act, we got the short period of benefit and then the inquisition. We protested against that at the time and we debated it night after night. We kept the House here nearly two days, I believe, on the discussion of that very principle. This vicious system introduced by the National Government in 1934 is now beginning to spread. We had a Debate a week or two ago on workmen's compensation. I took occasion then to say some very hard words—words which I do not regret. The same principle is to be applied there. There is not a Member of this House—because I asked a question on that day—who would say that workmen's compensation rates to-day are even reasonably adequate. I am not referring to exceptional cases, but the vast majority, and probably all. The present scales are inadequate. The only answer to that is to raise the scales.
What is the proposal of the Government? Unless they put proposals which employers will not accept and which trade unionists will not look at, their intention, so far as they have any intention in this matter, is to deal with workmen's compensation by picking out what they call specially hard cases. In a working-class home, if a breadwinner is stricken down by industrial accident, there is hardship 1482 in that home. I repeat what I said on that occasion: the masses of the people live in poverty; poverty is hardship; and it is hopeless, therefore, to try to deal with this problem of workmen's compensation by dealing with hard cases. When we get this Bill, we find the same kind of principle. There is the old amount of 10s., and then, if you want any more, the inquisition again. It is obviously the policy of the Government to stabilise the existing provision that is made under various schemes, and, merely in order to satisfy their own consciences, to deal with hard cases in any new legislation that they have in mind.
It is increasingly clear to me that the Government's intention is to pauperise the whole of our social services, to spread this miasma of pauperism through a new, more subtle, more diffused Poor Law system. It is that to which we object in this Bill, and we object with all the strength at our command. Hated as that Poor Law system was, it was at least concentrated; but now the whole spirit is to trail over one social service after another, infecting them all with the old Bumbledom, that we on this side wish to see destroyed for ever. The Parliamentary Secretary spoke of what the country would think of the Bill; we have had a very emotional picture of what Northern Ireland thinks about the Bill; also of what the great constituency of Mitcham has said about the Bill. We on this side believe that we know, as well as most Members, what the people will think about Part II of the Bill. We believe that there is bound to be an ever-increasing resentment by honest, decent, working-class people at this widening area of investigation, whatever help it may be that they seek to obtain. In our view—I do not wish to cramp the time of the right hon. Gentleman—the poor, the unemployed, the aged should be treated with dignity and respect. We shall go into the Division Lobby wholeheartedly in support of our Amendment, with stout hearts, to continue the fight until the shackles of pauperism and injustice which are now again being fastened on the necks of the poor are smitten from them, and they are accorded the treatment rightfully due to the citizens of a great nation.
§ 10.14 p.m.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir John Simon)
The right hon. Gentleman 1483 the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), has addressed the House with his customary vigour and eloquence, but I am bound to say that, listening to him with attention, it appeared to me that he was wholly on the defensive, and was particularly concerned to defend his own record. [Interruption.] We have listened to his speech with complete attention. In the course of it, he referred to a large number of matters connected with Poor Law and workmen's compensation proposals, with which I cannot deal to-night. But there was an argument in one part of his speech which, I confess, I heard with a good deal of surprise. I quite appreciate the many points of criticism which have been made in the Debate, but I had supposed that the right hon. Gentleman himself was deeply convinced that it would be a real reform of our old age pensions system if the duties that fall upon the local authorities and the supply which they have to make to supplement old age pension allowances were transferred wholesale to a central fund and administered by the State. The reason I thought so, until I listened to him just now, was that the last time he made a speech about old age pensions was on 27th July last year, when he moved a Motion calling upon us to reform the system on the date that the Prime Minister first promised an investigation. I see that the right hon. Gentleman, in a speech which was in many respects most moderate, twice over made this express point, that it would be a vast improvement, almost an unhoped-for improvement, if the whole of this burden which at present rests on the local authorities was so transferred. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not the means test."] That is a separate point, and I will deal with it in a moment. I see that the right hon. Gentleman said last July:It would be in the rational interest if the whole of that burden of £6,000,000 were taken away from the local authorities, even if the whole of it fell upon the State."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th July, 1939; col. 1703, Vol. 350.]Until I heard his vigorous defence of the action of the local authorities in relation to this relief, I had from that moment always supposed that at any rate the Bill would receive this measure of commendation, that we had done completely and altogether the very thing which he emphasised so much in that speech last July.
1484 If one is to make a review of this subject, it is necessary to realise—and this is true of every Government in turn—that those who have for the time being the direct responsibility for the finances of the country are bound to take a stricter view than that which naturally appeals, it may be, to other Members of the House. The right hon. Gentleman gave us a selection of references. Let me give one more. When Mr. Snowden was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the first Labour Government, at a time when I may perhaps describe him as the Simon Pure of Socialist finance, he had occasion very early in his Ministerial career to deal with a Motion to abolish all means tests in connection with old age pensions. I have here the report of what he said. He said:As I listened to the speech of the hon. Member who moved this Resolution I was reminded of the days of my own irresponsibility. He spoke about the ease with which tens and fifties of millions could be got."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th February, 1924; col. 640, Vol. 170.]I, too, have here a responsibility cast upon me as Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I have been bound to examine the proposals which have come before me from the point of view of finance. You pointed out, Sir, when you ruled on the Financial Resolution at the beginning of yesterday's Debate, that it is the function and the duty of the Government to see that due limits are set to the public money that is going to be expended for a particular purpose, and it is certainly my duty to examine these proposals from that point of view. I heard the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. George Hall) yesterday argue almost as though the present time was one when it was particularly easy and appropriate to find large quantities of additional public money for the purpose of improving old age pensions. He put it on a comparison of figures of the national income over a series of years and argued that, because the figure of the national income this year is very much larger than it was, say, in 1908, therefore it followed that this was a time when it was possible to pour much additional public money into this great social service. The argument is entirely fallacious. In the first place, these figures of national income are much disputed in amount; furthermore, the size of the figure to-day as compared with 1908 is partly due to the lower purchasing power of money.
1485 But, more than that, it is the greatest possible delusion to suppose that the increase in the figure of the national income between two periods is a proof that there is a larger quantity of national wealth which is capable of being poured into a particular service. I should quite expect that, if the war goes on and becomes the great struggle that it is likely to do, when the economists come to work out the national income for 1941 it is very likely that it will show a further increase and that they will give extremely large figures because of the enormous outlay that will be entailed; but it is a complete fallacy to suppose that that puts us in a much easier position to find large sums of public money for such a purpose as this than was the case same time back. I myself think that the mere fact that the House of Commons is able to devote two days to discussing how the pensions scheme may be improved now is a most wonderful proof of its determination to improve its social services in spite of the frightful burdens of the war. In July we were called upon by the right hon. Gentleman's Motion to consider whether we could not face this important problem, and the Prime Minister replied that, in spite of the fearful additional burdens with which the country had had to be loaded for rearmament and defence, we would make such an investigation. When the war broke out it was thought that it might be extremely difficult to pursue that hope, but we had a further Debate on 1st November, and I told the House I would resume that investigation and would do my utmost, with the help of those who could advise me best, to see whether the scheme could be improved.
I must remind the House that I there laid down the condition, which indeed the Prime Minister had formulated earlier in the year, that if there was to be a substantial improvement in the rate of contributory pension, it was, in present circumstances, essential that the addition should be substantially financed by additional contributions and that the part which the Exchequer could play in contributing to that extra outlay must be regarded as entirely subordinate. I laid it down clearly, and what happened? I must digress for a few minutes because part of the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) last night rather surprised and 1486 puzzled me. When I undertook the investigation into this question I invited the assistance of representatives of the Trades Union Congress and representatives of the organised employers, with the addition of help from official and actuarial quarters. That investigation was conducted on the distinct understanding—nay, the distinct promise—that the contributions that were being made to the investigation by the different parties should not be revealed. I well understood why that should be thought desirable, and I never told the employers what were the suggestions made to me by the Trades Union Council, because I thought it might prejudice their position in the negotiations. I never revealed, on the other hand, what were the views of the employers, to the Trades Union Congress. Yesterday it was referred to, and I was asked what it was that the employers were willing to do. I must say, in view of the suggestion made last night, that it would not be true to say that the employers' organisations had shown them-selves unwilling to help, or had been obstructive. I may fairly say that I am most grateful for the help that I got from both quarters, and that that help was given in order to try to produce a scheme.
When this question was examined—and I beg hon. Members to remember this, because it is no good speaking of this matter in general; one must have a grip on the figures—I found that if you take the old age pension of 10s., the contributory pension asit is to-day, before we start to try and improve it, it is a pension which is being met, of course in part, by contributions, but as to 60 per cent. by payments from the Exchequer. Of every 10s. which an old age pensioner gets to-day, 6s. is provided by the Exchequer and the balance from contributions. That, of course, is an important factor, and great as is the burden on the Exchequer, it will grow. I therefore was bound to bear in mind my stipulation that if pensions were to be improved, it must be done by increased contributions, and that with my responsibilities as Chancellor I could not agree to substantial sums being paid by the Exchequer for this purpose. Let me tell the House what it would mean to increase by means of a flat rate of 5s. the 10s. pension to 15s., and I am confining myself to contributory pensions for the purposes of this state- 1487 ment. Suppose you had to provide that increase out of contributions from workmen and employers. At present the two contributions, in the case of men, amount to 11d. per week—5½d. for the workman and 5½d. for the employer. Does the House realise what would be the addition which would have to be made to the weekly contributions if you were going to add 5s. to the pension? You would have to double the present contribution and make it is. 10d. instead of 11d., and in a short time that would not be sufficient, and you would have to get a still bigger contribution. That is a very serious fact.
Anyone who has really tried to work out the finance of this scheme will see how serious it is, and it is even more serious in the case of women than of men. I am including the benefit to the wife at 60 of the old age pensioner of 65 and also insured women at 60, and if you made the pension 15s., then the woman's contribution, which is 5½d. per week shared between her and the employer, would have to be increased by another 1s. 3d., making a total of is. 8½d. I confess that I was rather staggered by these figures. I am as anxious as anyone to see that we do the best we can, and most effectively, on this subject now. I realise as clearly as anyone that there are cases of great hardship which we must struggle to meet, but when I came to that situation I found that it was not possible to suppose that such an immense increase could be expressed merely by stamps on a card, and I was further faced with the question whether I could make a larger additional contribution from the Exchequer.
I must tell the House that my task as Chancellor of the Exchequer is at present a very hard task, and I felt bound to come to the conclusion that although I could make some contribution to a scheme, I could not make a contribution which would secure an increase in pensions of that amount. It was in those circumstances that a possible alternative was considered. I admit, of course, that our alternative has features which are open to criticism and raise anxieties about inquisition and so on. I agree with all that, but I want the House to co-operate in making the scheme as good as we can.
1488 I was met with this situation, and I put it to the House. The truth is that a plan to try and improve old age pensions by adding a flat rate of so many shillings is open to two very great objections. One objection is that in some cases the addition is not needed, and the other objection, which in many cases would exist, is that the addition would not be enough.
§ Sir J. Simon
If you made it 10s., you would still find that the argument which was made so well this afternoon by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health is unanswerable. As she said, we all of us feel that it is lamentable that these poor old people should have to go to the Poor Law; we should all of us like to see a system which would avoid that, if possible. But do you avoid it by adding either 5s. or 10s.? You do not. It is quite plain that the real difference between us is that the Government are trying in this Bill, by centralising this administration, to avoid some of these handicaps and difficulties; but, on the other hand, I think some hon. Members opposite are so wedded to the idea of increasing the flat rate all round that they are prepared to swallow the consequence—namely, that after that had been done, great numbers of people would still have to go to the Poor Law. I will read to the House two sentences from the leading article in the "Daily Herald "this morning, for I could not wish the contrast between the Government's plan and the other plan to be out more clearly than it was in the "Daily Herald":The point is that the Government might have granted a flat-rate increase in the pension—which would still have allowed specially needy cases to get public assistance.That is the plan which, apparently, the "Daily Herald" favour, and which they, at any rate, think is the plan of the Labour movement, for they go on to say:This was what the Labour movement and the pensioners' organisations proposed.In other words, leave the burden on the rates, leave people who have the greatest need for help, after they have exhausted their increased pensions, to get it as they do now. I cannot see that that avoids the 1489 means test. For my part, I am completely convinced—it will no doubt take time for some to accept it, but I see indications that it is being accepted—that the way to deal with this is not to treat each old age pensioner as being in exactly the same position as every other old age pensioner, because he is not. Flexibility in giving the additional assistance is really necessary in a fair scheme. In these Debates there is a natural inclination to think of the old age pensioners as men and women on the verge of destitution, but that is not a true picture of all the population of 3,000,000 who are drawing 10s. a week as an old age pension. What do you need to get a pension of 10s. a week at 65? You do not need to be on the verge of destitution. You may be a Member of Parliament. You may be a trade union leader. You may be a person with substantial investments. You do not get the pension at 65 because you are on the edge of poverty; you get it because you are 65. The only conditions which have to be fulfilled are these: first, you must have been insured for the last five years; second, you must have 104 stamps on your card; and, third, except in cases where you can show that you have been insured for 10 years by the time you reach 60, you must satisfy what is called the "average contribution" condition.
I say, with the greatest possible respect to hon. Gentlemen opposite, that the truth about the great mass of the people who are called old age pensioners is that while there are some of them who do, I agree, need help—much more help than any practicable flat-rate increase would give—there are others who could not claim to be in that position. Is it to be argued then that because we must do the best we can for the poorest of them, we must therefore give the same cash payments to all 3,000,000 people?
§ Mr. E. J. Williams roseߞ
§ Sir J. Simon
I would gladly give way to the hon. Member, but may I ask that I should be allowed to get on with my argument? I do not think I will annoy anybody in doing so, and it is impossible to deal with a subject like this in reply to a series of interruptions.
§ Mr. Williams
I wish to put only a short question. Is the right hon. Gentleman's argument at the moment in favour 1490 of an individual rather than a household test—that the income of the individual should be taken into account and not the income of the household?
§ Sir J. Simon
I was about to say something about the test, and I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his question, which is quite a natural one, and I am grateful for the way in which he put it. But I was trying to show the House, what I think any fair-minded man or woman will recognise, that this is no mere device or trick which is intended to defraud the poor, but a serious attempt, made even in the midst of the stress of war, to find a way out of these tremendous difficulties.
I desire next to say a word about the condition of retirement. I think that in itself shows a recognition of the fact that we must distinguish between different sets of people, though, for my part, I do not think this is a good time in the history of our country to encourage people, who are able to do work and are doing work, to retire from that work. I should have thought that people who might be earning £2, £3, or £4 a week would not be very likely to give that up for an extra 5s. or 10s. a week. I must say that I am a little sensitive to the suggestion that people who have reached the age of 65 should give up work—perhaps because I happen to have a birthday in the month of February.
I believe that the right principle to apply is that which was stated yesterday by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White), namely, to give the greatest help you can in the shortest time where it is most required. That is the object which we had in introducing the Bill. What does it do? First, it takes away the old age pension from the realm of public assistance. Application to the public assistance committee for a supplementary grant was a most unpleasant necessity which must have deeply distressed the recipients, and I have always felt that it was a shame that old age pensioners should, for this purpose, have to go to the relief office, to be dealt with in exactly the same way as anybody who was receiving outdoor relief. We have altered that, and altered it in away which ought to be commended by the House, because it secures, not only that the administration will be central, but that the minimum relief given will be the same scales as those which operate under the 1491 Assistance Board. The Assistance Board have already been gathering a certain amount of material in preparation for what they will have to do. Since I like to take cases and see what it really means, I sent a message to the authorities saying that I should like cases to be given to me to see how they would be dealt with. I will give three instances.
Here is a case of a woman who is a pensioner, aged 72. She is bedridden, with a daughter of 49 who looks after her. She lives, I think, in the Middlesex area, and the rent is 13s. 4d. The board, applying the present Regulations, and remembering that we undertake that, under the new procedure, there is to be no worse treatment than those Regulations, would give, in addition to her 10s. pension, 23s. 6d. in summer and 25s. 6d. in winter. What form of addition to the flat rate will do that? Here is another of these cases. A man, also in Middlesex, who is 65, whose wife is 57, and therefore will not be caught yet by the 60 years concession, pays 26s. in rent. There is, however, a sub-let, bringing the rent down to 14s. The board, applying the Regulations, would think it necessary to give him 24s. in summer and 26s. in winter, an addition to the 10s. pension. Another is the case of a man, aged 69, whose wife is 44, with a step-daughter of 13, a daughter of 10, and a younger son. The rent is 6s., and the board, applying its Regulations, would give about 28s. in summer and 30s in winter, in addition to the pension. I wish at once to explain to the House that I have given these examples to show how plain it is that a mere flat-rate addition will not meet the case.
§ Mr. Lawson
If these are standard cases to be taken, how does the right hon. Gentleman explain the fact that, as I said this afternoon, the public assistance authority in Durham are quite sure that under the assistance proposed by the Government, the old age pensioners on the average would be 5s. a week worse off than at the present time?
§ Sir J. Simon
I wanted to ascertain from the Assistance Board what in fact would happen if they applied their existing scales. I am not as familiar with the details as I dare say some hon. Mem- 1492 bers are. Information I have, official information, on the very point is enough for me to say that the merit of the Government's plan is that it does provide flexibility. [Interruption.]
My hon. Friend the Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart) made an admirable speech yesterday. He referred to the statement that I had made and to the possibility that this system would lead to greater stability in the allowances of supplementary pensions than was the case when public assistance authorities dealt with it. It is a mistake to suppose, as some hon. Gentlemen did, that there exists a regulation of the Unemployment Assistance Board requiring a review once a month. That may be the practice in the case of unemployment, but it is obvious that in the ordinary old age pensions case there is a far greater stability of conditions. The payment will go on for a considerable period, and instead of an old man having to go to the Post Office with one document to get his 10s., and then to a different place—perhaps some distance away—to the relieving office, to make another application, the procedure will be concentrated and he will be able to go to the Post Office and get the whole of his payment according to a regular system. My hon. Friend the Member for Oxford University (Mr. A. Herbert) is particular in regard to the use of words, and in his absence I would venture to say that the diuturnity of old age is a good deal greater than the diuturnity even of unemployment.
There is a much worse needs test which the law is applying now, and the proposal we are making is not, as some people are being led to suppose, to impose a needs test where no needs test exists. Let it be clearly understood by every old age pensioner—and I appeal to everybody in the House to help about this—that there is nothing we are proposing which requires a needs test to apply to the contributory old age pension of 10s. That pension is a right. I do not know how it comes about, but there are certain people, either innocent or ignorant, who have got that mistaken impression, and I have no doubt that everybody in the House will wish to correct it. There is at present a family test which is applied, or ought to be applied, in reference to the supple- 1493 mentary grants. We abolish that. There are many cases where it is right that a son or daughter living away should send something home to the old people. On the other hand, under the existing system, there are cases where a son or daughter is regularly sending more than he or she can conveniently spare to help the parents. I take a pride in having put an end to that. I would far sooner rely on the natural, sense of feeling of sons and daughters who are away to help the old people, than continue the existing system.
It is necessary, if we are ever to try to fit relief to the case, if we are to realise that there is a difference between one case and another, that we should have some method of measuring needs. Nobody would say that, if there be two old age pensioners, each with 10s. a week, one of whom urgently needs additional help in order to keep himself in a decent state, and the other of whom is living in a home, in comfort, with a shelter and a fire and a table, with sons who are earning large sums, the needs of these two people are the same. I believe it to be an insult to the real feeling of sons regarding their parents to suggest that so long as this scheme is fairly administered it will result in dissension. It does depend upon how it is administered. I agree that it makes all the difference in the world whether the system is to become a wooden, mechanical thing, grinding out the benefit without feeling or sympathy, or is to be worked in a better and more human spirit. I know there are hon. Members of this House and among the party opposite who have honourably admitted that, since the Unemployment Assistance Board has started, the fears which they entertained that it would prove a cruel and soulless instrument have been removed. I know that is true. I regard it as an essential part of the Government's duty in this matter not merely to pass this Bill but to do every thing we can with the help of the House to secure that the administration is good.
Just let me make a final point. We have had several reviews of the history of this subject in the course of the past two days' Debate.
§ Sir J. Simon
Let that subject be for a moment. I am speaking of old age pensions. Let me deal with the history of this subject. In the beginning, no one influenced opinion on this subject more than Joseph Chamberlain. And let me mention a name in connection with the party opposite, the name of a man whom I greatly respected, Mr. George Barnes. Perhaps I may mention a personal reminiscence. I remember travelling to London with Mr. Barnes on 1st January, 1909, to a celebration meeting in the East End because that was the first day on which the old age pension had ever been paid. Mr. Asquith provided the money.
§ Sir J. Simon
Oh, no. I knew Mr. Asquith better than the hon. Member did. He provided the money and the Act was passed, under the direction of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs(Mr. Lloyd George). There have been great improvements since including the Contributory Pensions Act of 1925 sponsored by the present Prime Minister. I shall have no objection, if this Bill passes, for it to be associated—as some critics have threatened—with my name.
But a far better result would be this. We have had our two days of vigorous Debate and it has been, as has been said, a splendid example of what a free Debate in a free country can be. Is it too late for the House of Commons, as a whole, to take the Bill, consider it, improve it, if you will, and try to make it a real piece of work done by the House of Commons, with no credit claimed on one side and no blame attributed on the other? It would be a wonderful thing in the records of this House that, during our fight for freedom and liberty abroad, we had not forgotten the needs of the old folk at home.
Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 249; Noes, 134.
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Graves, T. E.||Pearson, A.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W.|
|Adamson, Jennie L. (Dartford)||Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Poole, C. C.|
|Adamson, W. M.||Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley)||Price, M. P.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Hardie, Agnes||Pritt, D. N.|
|Ammon, C. G.||Harris, Sir P. A.||Quibell, D. J. K.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Hayday, A.||Ridley, G.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Henderson, A. (Kingswinford)||Riley, B.|
|Barr, J.||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Ritson, J.|
|Batey, J.||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Beaumont, H. (Batley)||Hollins, A.||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)|
|Bevan, A.||Horabin, T. L.||Sexton, T. M.|
|Broad, F. A.||Isaacs, G. A.||Shinwell, E.|
|Buchanan, G.||Jackson, W. F.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Burke, W. A.||Jagger, J.||Sinclair, Rt. Hon. Sir A. (C'thn's)|
|Cape, T.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Sloan, A.|
|Cassells, T.||John, W.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Charleton, H. C.||Jones, A. C. (Shipley)||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Chater, D.||Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A.||Smith, Rt. Hon. H. B. Lees- (K'ly)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Cooks, F. S.||Kirkwood, D.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Collindridge, F.||Lansbury, Rt. Hon. G.||Stephen, C.|
|Cove, W. G.||Lathan, G.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Daggar, G.||Lawson, J. J.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||Leach, W.||Summerskill, Dr. Edith|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||Leonard, W.||Thurtle, E.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||Lunn, W.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Dobbie, W.||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Tomlinson, G.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||McEntee, V. La T.||Viant, S. P.|
|Ede, J. C.||McGhee, H. G.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)||MacLaren, A.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)||Maclean, N.||Westwood, J.|
|Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Mander, G. le M.||White, H. Graham|
|Fletcher, Lt.-Comdr. R. T. H.||Marshall, F.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Foot, D. M.||Messer, F.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Frankel, D.||Milner, Major J.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Gallacher, W.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Gardner, B. W.||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Wilmot, John|
|Garro Jones, G. M.||Mort, D. L.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Muff, G.||Woodburn, A.|
|Gibson, R. (Greenock)||Naylor, T. E.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Graham, D. M. (Hamilton)||Oliver, G. H.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Green, W. H. (Deptford)||Owen, Major G.|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.||Paling, W.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Parker, J.||Mr. R. J. Taylor and Mr. Mathers.|
|Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)||Parkinson, J. A.|
§ Bill read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House for To-morrow.—[Captain Margesson.]
§ The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.1498
§ Resolved, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]
§ Adjourned accordingly at Twelve Minutes after Eleven o'Clock.