§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ 3.41 p.m.
§ Miss Horsbrugh (Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."
The time has now arrived when we can review this Bill as a whole, having spent some time on the details of administration and discussed the various points as to how the supplementary pensions will be paid. In these detailed discussions, I think we may have overlooked the magnitude of the changes which are made in the pension system. We should realise that about 310,000 women will be getting pensions on account of this Bill when it passes into law. They will get their pensions without having paid another penny in contributions. In these days we are so accustomed to speaking in large numbers that perhaps hon. Members do not realise what the addition means. It may surprise hon. Members to know that at present the number of insured women and wives of insured men between the ages of 65 and 70 who are drawing pensions is 326,000. We are nearly doubling that number by the provisions of this Bill. It is even more strange to find that the number of women between 65 and 70 who are drawing pensions because of their own insurance rights and not as wives of insured men is only 100,000, and yet by this Bill we are adding 150,000 to that number. Those figures go to show the big difference that will be made by the passage of this Bill.
I might also tell hon. Members something of the administrative work involved in bringing this Bill into force and in seeing that these pensions are paid. It is estimated that the Department will have to deal with about 450,000 claims in the three months before 1st July. At the present time the average that is dealt with is about 4,000 to 5,000 a week. That is the ordinary number. When this new work is undertaken they will have to deal with about 35,000 a week. I think we shall all want to co-operate in any way that we can. It is of the utmost importance that claims should be sent in on the 852 application forms provided in the post offices as soon as possible, that the information should be accurate, and in the case of the wife of an insured man that the birth and marriage certificates should be sent, because we know from experience that inaccurate or insufficient information means that it will not be possible to pay the pension at the time it is due. We cannot, of course, guarantee that every pension will be paid by 1st July, because the work involved will be enormous, but every effort will be made to see that as many pensions as possible are paid by that date.
There are other problems connected with administration. As hon. Members are aware, under this Bill the contributions will be increased—
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
May I ask the hon. Lady whether it is intended that they are all to be paid on 1st July?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
Yes. There are about 140,000 uninsured wives of insured pensioners; there are about 20,000 insured wives of pensioners and about 150,000 unmarried women, widows of uninsured men and insured married women whose husbands are either uninsured or have not reached 65. The claims in respect of all will, we hope, be met on 1st July. I was going to say that under this Bill the rates of contribution are to be changed. I would like to tell hon. Members that from the administrative point of view it means that before 1st July we will have to issue 260,000,000 stamps of the new denominations and some 30,000,000 new contribution cards. Hon. Members will see that what we are doing in this Bill is of a magnitude that I think has not yet been realised. The improvement in our pensions system is something of which all may be proud, especially in view of the fact that this Measure is being carried through under the present circumstances.
I mentioned the subject of the new contribution stamps. In talking of contributions, we have discussed over and over again in this House whether for the increased contribution or even for the contribution that is being paid at present the contributor is getting a good bargain. We are so accustomed to discussing these contributions as if the contributions or in this case the increased contributions 853 were paid throughout the industrial life of the worker, in other words, from 16 to 65, or now from 16 to 60 for women. The first year in which contributions were payable to this fund was 1926,or 14 years ago. When we speak of the new contributions to be paid in the future—the extra 3d. for women—I would ask hon. Members to remember that the first pension to be paid to anyone who will have paid that extra contribution throughout her insurance life will be paid in the year 1984.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
Not only is the bargain good for the contributor, but the National Health Insurance and Pensions Scheme is one that is a great credit to this country. I referred to the fact that the pension would not be paid to a woman who has contributed at the new rate throughout her industrial life until 1984. There is another way in which I can illustrate the good bargain. The insured woman who has paid contributions since 1926—that is, since the Act came into force—and who reaches the age of 60 this year before July will of course receive her pension of 10s. a week on 1st July. The actuarial value of the contributions that she has paid and which have been paid on her behalf by her employer would entitle her to a pension of only 6½d. a week. The State makes up the 9s. 5½d. If I might give another case, a woman who is now 50 and who has paid contributions since 1926 will pay the increased contributions for the next 10 years and the value of all the contributions which she will have paid and which will have been paid on her behalf will support a pension of only 1s. 6d. per week, leaving 8s. 6d. for the State to pay.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
Will the hon. Lady tell us what period the 1s. 6d. covers? Could she state the number of years?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
She would never get any more than 1s. 6d. This would be for life when she had reached 60.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
It would go beyond 70 if she lived, but on a strict actuarial basis she would get 1s. 6d., and no more, for life.
I think these two illustrations show that we can claim that our contributory 854 pensions scheme is so devised that the contributor does get a good bargain. We can agree that that position is thoroughly satisfactory. But that is not all that this Bill does. I believe I have the agreement of the House, as far as I have gone, that this is a satisfactory position; and, although I do not look forward to having that agreement right to the end, perhaps I can get the support of hon. and right hon. Members opposite a little further.
I come to the supplementary pensions, and I would ask hon. Members to consider whether the arrangement that is being made in the Bill makes the position better or worse for the pensioner. Over 3,000,000 old age pensioners in this country will, from the time the Bill becomes law, be the responsibility of the State. If any one of those 3,000,000 is in need, it will be the responsibility of the State to meet that need. At the present time, 275,000 old age pensioners are having to go to the public assistance authorities to get relief, in addition to their pensions. Out of the pockets of the ratepayers, about £5,000,000 is being spent, in order to provide those extra allowances for the old age pensioners.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
Yes, £5,000,000per annum is being provided by the ratepayers to meet those additions to pensions. We all agree, I think, that that is mainly being provided by the poorest of the ratepayers, because most of the old people who need such supplementation live in the poorer districts. It is agreed, I think, to be a good thing that that relief, for which hon. Members have asked, is being granted. In my own constituency of Dundee the relief will amount to about £17,000, or the equivalent of a 2¾d. rate. We can also, I think, agree that that is a good thing from the point of view of the old age pensioner. We all know that these people do not want to go to public assistance for the extra allowance. That has nothing to do with the way that public assistance is administered. It is not that the officers and the authorities who administer public assistance are not willing to do the best they can, it is not that they do not treat the old people in the most humane manner, and endeavour to see that there is no feeling of humiliation in the minds of the old people. It is because in this country, especially in 855 the minds of old people, there still remains the idea of the stigma of the Poor Law. The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) said here the other day that he had tried to explain to people in his constituency, day after day, that there was no need to be ashamed of going to the Poor Law, but that he believed he had failed. We all know the feeling of people on this point.
The public assistance authorities have been administering this relief within the law, and there are certain things laid down in the law at present which are different from what we are laying down for the new Board in connection with the administration of supplementary pensions. There are certain regulations as to what is to be disregarded which are mandatory on the Board. It is not mandatory on the local authorities to disregard those things—in fact the local authorities cannot disregard them. We have, for instance, included in the Bill, after discussion here, the mandatory disregard of 7s. 6d. of any superannuation payment. That, a public assistance authority could not have disregarded. The fact that the Board must make certain disregards which the local authorities cannot make is an advantage for the old age pensioners. Under public assistance the test for these people is not only a household test, but a family test. Sons or daughters outside the house have to be taken into account. The son and daughter are, in Poor Law terms, "liable relatives." The old age pensioner, in future, will have no liable relatives outside the household. That, again, is an advance.
This is the procedure under which the old age pensioner will draw a supplementary pension. He will go to the post office to draw his ordinary weekly pension. At the post office he will obtain a form, on which he can apply for a supplementary pension. That form will be posted to the Board. Next, he will receive a call from an officer of the Board.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
There are certain things, as I tried to make clear, which it is mandatory upon the Board to disregard. In addition, while the Bill was passing through the House, it was arranged that if any old age pensioner 856 was drawing a superannuation allowance, the first 7s. 6d. of that must be disregarded. That disregard is in addition to other things, such as disability pensions, which it is already mandatory upon the Board to disregard.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)
Would the Minister explain the position about the 7s. 6d. sickness allowance?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
The two items that were added in the Amendment were the first 7s. 6d. a week of any superannuation payment and the first 7s. 6d. of any sickness payment made under Part I of the Bill.
§ Mr. Tinker
Will this form show what can be disregarded, so that the applicant may know what items he need not put down on the form?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
As far as I know at present, the idea is to make the form a very simple affair, not asking the old people to put down too much detail.
§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
Will gifts made by members of the pensioner's family, who are not in the household, also be disregarded?
§ Mr. Westwood (Stirling and Falkirk)
I do not wish to interrupt the hon. Lady because I realise her difficulties, but may I ask whether only the actual income received from capital which has been saved will be taken into account, and not the fictitious income which is credited to the old age pensioner under the existing regulations, as applied to non-contributory pensions?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
The hon. Gentleman said he did not wish to interrupt me and that he realised my difficulties. I wish he had been here throughout the Committee stage of the Bill when these provisions were gone through in detail.
§ Mr. Westwood
The hon. Lady can rest assured that if I was not here, I was engaged on other duties, and that I have attended faithfully to my duties in connection with this fight on behalf of the aged people.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I know that and I do not mean to suggest otherwise, but I tell 857 the hon. Gentleman that even if I turned aside now to give him a detailed explanation on the point which he has raised, it probably would not satisfy him as well as the explanations which were given during our discussions in Committee, if he had been present on those occasions. Briefly, I would say that the scheme for capital is the same as the scheme for savings at present enforced by the Unemployment Assistance Board. [Hon. Members: "Shame!"] Hon. Members say that it is a shame. I want to put this straight to hon. Gentlemen opposite. I have a sort of feeling in my own mind that it might be regarded as harder on an unemployed man to have such a scheme, than on an old person, because, in the main, savings are made by people in order to be used towards the end of their lives. What we are arranging here is that old age pensioners will not be asked, as they would be asked under any other scheme, to use up all those savings in providing for old age. They will have a chance of leaving some of their savings to those who come after them. They will be asked only to make a small inroad into their savings and, as Members know, savings of £49 10s. would not count. The savings have to be £50 before any account is taken of them.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)
Will the hon. Lady explain where any working man who has saved up £200 could find interest at the rate which it is proposed to charge here on the amount of savings?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
We do not say that the capital is to be kept intact, to be left in its entirety to somebody else after the old person dies. If we did, it would mean that you merely took the interest and left the capital intact. What we do say is that a small proportion of the capital should be taken into account.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
If a person has saved a certain amount of capital he may be getting 3 per cent. on it, but we do not say here that 3 per cent. interest only should be taken into account. What we do say is that a small proportion of the original capital should be counted.
§ Mr. Woodburn rose—
§ Miss Horsbrugh
Hon. Members opposite will have plenty of time later on to 858 put their points and I had hoped that, on this occasion, I might be allowed to give a general review of the provisions of the Bill.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I dare say I shall forget a great deal more if there are many more interruptions. Perhaps hon. Members will allow me to continue with my general review. We had got to the stage of discussing the procedure by which the old age pensioner applies for a supplementary pension. I said that the applicant will fill up a form which will be obtainable in the post office. The form will then be posted, and the applicant will receive a call from an officer of the Board.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I wondered whether hon. Members opposite would say something of that sort. I think the time has come to face that question. We have had various statements, including one by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) in which the officer of the Board has been pictured as a sort of bogy man, coming along to the old age pensioner with a black bag. If one did not know the reality, one would be almost led to believe by some of the speeches which we have heard, that he was coming along to the house of the old age pensioner in order to take something away from the old person. One would imagine that he was going to the homes of the old people to steal their savings, to remove some of their possessions, to put some of their savings of capital into his black bag and carry them away. That is what we have been led to believe. But I think we can all agree about this—that the only change that is possible as a result of the visit of the person pictured by the hon. Member for Caerphilly as a bogy man, is an increase in the income of the old age pensioner. [Hon. Members: "No!"] The only difference that can possibly be made as a result of the call from the official of the Assistance Board, is an increase in the payment. That visit cannot decrease anything.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—859
§ Miss Horsbrugh
Hon. Members will have their chance later and I do not want to take up too much time. I want them to have their full chance. We may have more pictures of bogy men, but I think they will find on examination that the bag will be empty when the bogy man goes away from the old age pensioner. The result of his visit will be that the old age pensioner may receive an increase in income, but he or she cannot suffer a decrease. [Hon. Members: "Yes."] No, they have their 10s. and nothing can be taken away from them.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I think hon. Members themselves must realise, however we look at this Bill, that the system and the method suggested here of paying supplementary pensions is an improvement on the present situation. I do not ask them to go further with me than that. Thus we get almost three-quarters of the way through the Bill with consent. I think we are in full agreement that the change in regard to the age of bringing people into benefit is good, and that the new scheme of paying supplementation is better than the present arrangement. Now we come to the part of the Bill on which, I suppose, hon. Members and I will part company. I am now about to state my opinion and hon. Members will state their opinions later. My opinion is that at the present time, in the midst of the war, we could not go any further than we go in this Bill. Listening to the speeches during our Debates on this Bill I sometimes wondered what hon. Members opposite would have done in regard to this problem, if they had been sitting on this side of the House.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
The hon. Gentleman tells us they would have given a flat-rate increase of pension. I ask him and I ask others to consider whether a flat-rate increase of pension could have been made so as to make it unnecessary to provide any supplementation for any pensioner or whether the sum involved would not have been of such a character that it would have been impossible to authorise such 860 expenditure in the midst of the war. To go half way I believe is no use at all. If you could give a flat-rate increase which would provide pensions on such a scale as would ensure to all the old people of this country that not one of them would have to ask for any supplementation, then I agree that all of us would like to see that done. We would all like to provide complete independence and complete security for all the old people in this country, but, unfortunately—and hon. Members opposite know this as well as I do—it would mean the expenditure of an enormous sum of money. Does any hon. Member in this House think that such a sum of money could be put aside for increased pensions at this time? From time to time during our Debates hon. Members said they wished that we would not drag in the war.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I agree with the hon. Member; indeed I think his is rather an under-statement. I am sure we must all agree that day by day, one might say hour by hour, we find things which ought to be done but which cannot be done because of the war. We have not dragged the war into the pension scheme.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I would remind the hon. Member that the Labour party were in office in 1929 when an amending Pensions Bill came before the House, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), who was Minister of Health, wound up the Third Reading Debate. [Hon. Members: "Your people opposed it."] The supporters of the party to which the hon. Member opposite does not belong moved an Amendment in favour of pensions for unmarried women at 55, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield said it could not be afforded and was not possible at that time.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
The right hon. Gentleman on that occasion said what has been said, I think, every time we have had a Debate on pensions in this House, that the proposals then made were not the last 861 word in regard to pensions and that he hoped in years to come there would be improvements. I claim that in the Bill which is now before the House we have a real improvement in our pensions scheme. I hope that there will be further improvements in the future. But to tell us that we could make an even greater improvement now, and to suggest, because we have had to consider the circumstances of the times, that we are "dragging in" the war, is, I submit, a mistaken view. We are not dragging the war into the pension scheme. What we are doing is bringing in—or if hon. Members prefer the term "dragging in"—a pension scheme while we are at war. War is the overriding factor.
What is it that we are trying to secure by this Bill, as by all other pensions Measures? We are trying to get for the people of this country and above all for the aged people, a measure of security. That is the purpose of the Bill. That is what our pensions schemes are for. Their object is to lessen anxiety throughout the worker's life, to give him some assurance that he will be able to maintain that family and home life, about which we have heard so much with which I fully agree. Hon. Members opposite made references to the cases of old couples who had saved up money to buy the house in which they lived. Under this scheme we hope that not only will such an old couple be able to keep their house, but that they will be able to live in that house in security. Those are the things for which we are working, and hon. Members know as well as I do, that it is just those things which have been placed in jeopardy because of the war—the homes of the people and their security for their future. We all know how difficult it is to look ahead in these days. We know that the toll of war will prevent many people from reaching old age. We know what has happened to the homes of the people in Finland and Poland, and we have to recognise that the over-riding consideration at this time is to win the war.
I ask hon. Gentlemen opposite, if they had the responsibility of government to-day, if they were in charge of affairs, would they ask the House to support them in shouldering at this time the enormous expenditure which would be necessary for an all-round increase in 862 pensions? Would they not consider that it might be detrimental to our war effort if they pledged themselves to put aside that amount? Would they not fear that they might be betraying the trust placed in them by the people of this country and that they might not be able to honour their word? Would they, in those circumstances, hold the view that in the near future that amount of money could be made available to be expended on pensions? I do not believe that, if they had the responsibility of government to-day, they would do so.
I ask the House to support the Third Reading of the Bill because I believe that at this time there is no thinking man or woman in this country who would say that we could go further than this Bill goes. I ask the House to support it because I believe it is a Bill which is both courageous and honest and that its passage into law will bring to the people of this country a lessening of their anxieties and a greater assurance than they have now of both security and independence in their old age.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Paling (Wentworth)
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, and to insert instead thereof:this House, whilst recognising that the Bill includes new categories of women within the scope of the contributory old age pensions scheme, is nevertheless of the opinion that supplementary allowances ought not to be based on the household means test.Before I develop my argument, I would like to ask a question on a matter in regard to which I am in some doubt. It may be that my doubt arises from the fact that I did not hear the point dealt with in Committee, but I find that many of my hon. Friends are also in doubt about it. I understand that, if a man who applies for a supplementary allowance is receiving, say, so much for compensation, 7s. 6d. for superannuation and 7s. 6d. for sickness benefit, such sums can be discounted. Can only one of these sums be disregarded or can two or more such sums be discounted in any one case? I am not sure about it. Take a sample case. Supposing a man received a superannuation allowance of 7s. 6d. and at the time received 7s. 6d. for sickness benefit and he made an application for a supplementary allowance, would one or both of these sums be disregarded?
§ Miss Horsbrugh
I am told that two or more would be disregarded. The 7s. 6d. superannuation would be disregarded, and if, at the same time, he received 7s. 6d. for sickness benefit, that would be disregarded, as well as up to £1 of a disability payment.
§ Mr. Paling
I am very much obliged to the hon. Lady, because there was some doubt about it, and I think her reply clears it up. As the hon. Lady said in her speech, we offer no opposition to Part I of this Bill. As far as Part I goes, we think it is a good Bill. The pensionable age has been reduced both for spinsters and the wives of pensioners, and that is something which we heartily support. But we take exactly the opposite point of view with regard to Part II. I read in a newspaper this morning something to the effect that some Conservative Members of Parliament did not really understand the deep hostility that existed among members of the Labour party to the means test. I hope that after a discussion on the Third Reading of this Bill—and on many occasions during these discussions the means test has been the main subject of controversy—hon. Members opposite will appreciate, even more than they previously did, our deep hostility to this part of the Bill, and to the principle involved in it. When I was searching during the week-end for something to say on this subject after eight days of Debate, I came across a rather curious peroration which the right hon. Gentleman the Minister himself had made. I could not understand it. I turned it upside down, downside up, and sideways, and all ways, and I have not yet got to know what it means. He said:So we say to our enemies in Germany, 'We will take this step up, in spite of your war, in spite of your teeth.' We say to our friends in France, 'We are not neglecting our 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. 1217, Vol. 357.]I was not sure whether the reference to property-owning democracy referred to the war or to the means test.
§ Mr. Paling
If this Bill is to help us towards a property-owning democracy, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman how he squares with that statement the means test in this Bill, which will affect hundreds of thousands of our people? How will it help them towards being a property-owning democracy, even if that is a desirable object, and I am not sure that it is? How will it help these people who will have to undergo the inquiries about which the hon. Lady has been talking? How will that help us to become a property-owning democracy? I should have thought that it would rather help in the direction of taking away property.
§ Mr. Elliot
Surely the hon. Member will agree that there are 275,000 persons under a means test just now, and this Bill is to improve their position?
§ Mr. Paling
I still say that I do not see how the application of a means test to 275,000 persons is likely to help towards a property-owning democracy. I should think it is more likely to operate in the opposite direction.
I now come to the means test proper. I noticed that in one or two cases hon. Members opposite who spoke in support of the Bill, were rather disturbed about the operation of the means test and its inclusion in the Bill. They decided to support the Government, but they did not like the means test. I believe that they themselves thought that the application of a means test, as far as pensions are concerned, had gone, and they were very disappointed that the Government had found it necessary to include that principle in this Bill. A means test operated for centuries under the old Poor Law system, and it was one of the most hated things in the history of the social services of the country. It is connected with Bumbledom and with everything the working-class people hate with a bitter hatred. It was included in the Old Age Pensions Act of 1908, though not to the extent that it was applied under the Poor Law. An income test was included in that Act. Although the pension was acceptable, the income limit, or inquiry into means, was bitterly resented by hundreds of people in this country, and particularly by those who had to undergo such a test.
865 I now come to 1925 when the party opposite introduced the Contributory Pensions Bill. We fought that Bill. We opposed it on the ground that it was a contributory pensions scheme. We wanted a non-contributory scheme, and we opposed the Bill but were defeated. That Bill became law. It was brought in, we were told, in order to exclude the means test. In the discussions on that Bill, the great benefit of a contributory scheme was pointed out time and time again in respect of men of 65 and over, who, it was declared, ought to have a pension by right without any exasperating, insulting means test. Even the present Prime Minister, who was then the Minister of Health, and brought in the Bill, said on the Second Reading:And in the case both of the man and of his wife we have been able to sweep away altogether all those tests as to means, as to residence and as to nationality which have hitherto proved so annoying and irritating in consequence of the inquiries which they necessitated."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th May, 1925; col. 77, Vol. 184.]During the Committee stage the right hon. Gentleman went a little further, and said:The great merit of this scheme is that you can do away with the irritating, exasperating and humiliating inquiry—an advantage which outweighs many of the so-called injustices and anomalies which hon. Members opposite profess to find in this Bill."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th June, 1925; col. 2270, Vol. 185.]I have seen a number of references to the harsh language used on this side of the House in describing that Bill. The Prime Minister is not given to the use of harsh terms as a rule, but even he, when discussing the means test, referred to it as being, "harsh and exasperating" and later, as "annoying and humiliating." This is the principle which the Conservatives themselves cut out of their legislation in 1925,and yet, 15 years later, it is brought in by another Conservative Government. The Conservatives on the earlier occasion not only had an objection to the means test, but they said something else. They said that the old age pensions as they existed were a penalty on thrift. The Conservative party has always been strong on thrift, particularly in relation to the working-class people. The less a man has, the more thrifty he is expected to be. That has always been the Conservative dictum. The War Secretary of that day, Sir Laming Worthington-Evans, in discussing the Bill, said: 866There is another reason which to me is more appealing. The contributory system is really the key to the solution of that problem which has worried everyone, namely, how to get rid of the penalty on thrift in connection with old age pensions.If it was wrong 15 years ago, why is it included in this Bill? He went further and said:In order to get rid of that test, I would go a very long way if I could find some other test which could be applied instead. We have found that other test and it is that they should contribute towards Health Insurance, and so long as they are of the class that are required to contribute to Health Insurance, then they should be entitled to their old age pension without any inquiry as to means and without any penalty for their personal thrift."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th May, 1925; cols. 270–1, Vol. 184.]If that was a good doctrine 15 years ago, and we are supposed to have made some progress since then, why does the hon. Lady now get up and almost passionately declare for this policy?
§ Miss Horsbrugh indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Paling
The hon. Lady shakes her head, but if she will read her speech to-morrow morning, I think she will find that I have not done her any injustice. After this, one would have imagined that the Conservative party had made up its mind on the question of a means test. When the 1926 Act was put into operation it worked, and it is working up to the present. The Labour party, however, in the face of its experiences brought in a scheme for old age pensions, also based on a contributory system. We thought that the means test and the penalty on thrift were gone for ever, but what have the Conservative party done since they condemned the means test and the penalty on thrift? We find that in 1934 they instituted a means test under the U.A.B. Regulations. I remember those Regulations coming before this House, and I have never seen the House of Commons so upset, disturbed and angry with anything, as they were with them. Opposition came from Members, not only on this side, but on the other side of the House. It was so strong that the Minister had to make as graceful a withdrawal as he could. Not long afterwards he lost his job—he has had one or two jobs since and is in a job at the moment—but he made a bad mistake on that occasion and had to make the Regulations more humane. The means test, however, was still excluded. It is because of the experience 867 we have had of the working of the means test, and the experience of our constituents under the working of the Unemployment Assistance Board, that we are so hostile to this means test. Hundreds of our people have been suffering in the course of past years because of the operation of this cruel, vicious and mean test. We are now at war, which has introduced dependants' allowances, and the means test is once again included. I have not been closely into this, but I believe that in some particulars the means test operates more harshly in this war, with regard to dependants' allowances, than in the last war. So we have gone back, even so far as wars are concerned.
The hon. Lady made a passionate appeal to-day, in her closing remarks, saying that we could not do this, that or the other because of the war, but the war has also helped to put us in a worse position as regards the means test. So we go on, and the means test is now brought back again for old age pensioners—a thing which, I think, no Tory ever thought, hoped or dreamed would happen in the experience of his own party, and one or two have had the decency to be ashamed at the inclusion of this abominable principle in this particular Bill. What I would like to ask is this: Has Tory policy on this principle changed definitely? Did they think they made a mistake in 1925, and, in view of the fact that they have proposed it three times in a few years, have they decided that a means test is to become a permanent part of their policy, and that it will be included in any Tory legislation passed in the future? It appears now to be part of Tory policy, with regard to every bit of social legislation relating to millions of people in this country, that the means test is to be one of the principles embodied.
I have been rather surprised, as I think have a good many other Members, at the drafting of these means test supplementary allowances on to non-means test pensions. It seems to me to be a curious hybrid. On the one hand you have 10s. as a right, without a means test, and on the other hand you have whatever a person may get in supplementation, with a means test imposed. Which of the two principles is going to win? These two things are very contradictory and, I think, are bound to smash 868 these schemes sooner or later. It seems that the Government have come to the conclusion that the means test is to be embodied in all future legislation where the Government give anything to the people; and, by people, I mean the working class and not their own class. The party opposite have already indicated that they are going to employ it in another direction—compensation. Hints have already been dropped.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member must confine himself to the discussion on the Third Reading and not to what is going to happen.
§ Mr. Paling
If you say so, Mr. Speaker, I will drop that question. We are afraid of the principle which has been adopted in this Bill, and we want to know whether it is to apply to compensation and, possibly to wages also, in the near future. Another question that I would like to raise—and I hope I am in Order—is that of administration. The hon. Member for Westhoughton (Mr. Rhys Davies) raised, in the course of the Debates on the Bill, a point about the Unemployment Assistance Board. He said it paid away about £35,000,000 per annum and that its administrative expenses were £4,500,000, and he asked hon. Members to notice the figures he was going to quote with regard to the administration of a new claim. There are, he said, 310,000 new women contributory pensioners coming under the new scheme whose pensions are to be paid without any test of need and whose cases will cost, in administration, £56,000 per annum, or 3s. 3d. each. When the needs test was applied to 350,000 others who were asking for supplementation, the administrative cost was £750,000 a year, or 15 times as much. In other words, it would be £2 2s. 6d. per case. Thus the cost is 3s. 3d. for paying a pension by right and £2 2s. 6d. for making an inquiry into needs, whether there is a pension or not. I think the Government are anxious to save money and, if so, they might have had some regard to that question. But apparently the question of administration, when administering means test money, does not count for much.
Now I come to another argument. I would like to ask why Members on the opposite benches are so eager to impose a means test on working-class people but will not have it for themselves, or on any 869 money which is granted to them. For years now, in this House of Commons, public moneys have been granted in the shape of subsidies, and hon. Members opposite have argued as well as they knew how in favour of those subsidies. I think I can go so far as to say that some hon. Members themselves have benefited as a result of those subsidies, but I do not remember any means test being imposed. You are giving public money to old age pensioners who have given the best years of their life to the community, and you are imposing a means test. Why is no means test imposed when you are giving away public money in subsidies to people who in thousands of cases are already wealthy?
§ Mr. Paling
The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards), whose speech I read during the week-end, instanced the case of a man and woman who brought up a grandchild and who were getting 10s. a week each. An inquiry was made under the Regulations, and it was found that out of the granddaughter's wages of £2 there was 12s. left to be added to the income of £1, and they got nothing. I wonder what any father opposite, who was benefiting from subsidies paid by this House, would say if his daughter's income was questioned before he could receive a subsidy. He would come to this House ready to pull it down stone by stone. Talk about class privilege. It operates in this House at any time when there is any legislation which appertains to the workers. Here is another question that I would like to ask the receivers of subsidies. Under Clause 10 of the Bill, if in certain circumstances a man's bodily or mental condition does not suit the inspector, the inspector can take the means, not to pay him his money but to have the man put into an institution. I wonder what any farmer or landlord, who has benefited by subsidies, would have said if he had been subjected to a test of this description. No Front Bench opposite would have dared to dream of imposing such a test. They would not have done it for their own class, but it is good enough for the working class.
I want to raise just one more question. Here we come to the money argument. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdare 870 (Mr. George Hall), in a very good speech on the Second Reading of the Bill, referred to the income of this country. He said that economists had estimated that the income during the year 1938–39 would be about £5,730,000,000. I think the figure is much higher now, and that the income of the next year, 1939–40, will be well over £6,000,000,000. He indicated that the income of this country in 1900 was £2,000,000,000 and emphasised that this country, having made huge strides in increasing the national income and huge progress in its productivity, was now rich enough to pay an old age pension greatly in excess of that now being received by the old people, and that the old people should get that pension without any means test being attached to it. When the Chancellor of the Exchequer came to answer that argument he said:The argument is entirely fallacious. In the first place, these figures of national income are much disputed in amount.That may be so. He went on to say:Furthermore, the size of the figure today as compared with 1908 is partly due to the lower purchasing power of money."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1940; col. 1486, Vol. 357.]That is very true. The figures are disputed as to the amount, but that was probably true in 1908, so that the relation between the two sets of figures is probably the same. It is true that the purchasing power of money has decreased, but that is true of the old age pensioners'10s. also. The purchasing power of that sum has decreased. After considering both those factors it remains true that this country is now immensely wealthier than it was in 1908 and is, at a minimum, probably more than twice as wealthy. If the Government cannot find it in their hearts, even though we are at war, to pay more to the old age pensioners than they are paying at present, or to pay it without a means test, it is time that some other Government, able to view this question with more sympathy took their place. The hon. Lady made a complaint that the war was stopping us from paying more, but at that point there came what I thought was a very proper interjection from a back bench Member to the effect that, years passed before the war without any attempt to deal with this question. If the war had not been on, I doubt very much whether a decent increase of pension would have been given to the old people.
871 The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer has, of course, had a big say in this business. I remember the agitation in this House when the principle came before us on which this legislation is based, and how hon. Members on this side, assisted sometimes by hon. Members on the other side, asked, day after day and month after month, what was to be done with the old people. Eventually the Government had to do something, although in the meantime, we had got into war. The matter was in the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I know of no man in my experience better fitted to bring in a mean, small, cheap scheme of this description than the Chancellor of the Exchequer. When I was a boy he used to belong to the Liberal party, with Gladstone and all the rest of them, and I sometimes used to think very highly of him. I came to this House in 1922, and I have known the right hon. Gentleman ever since, with the exception of two years. I am sorry to say that I have never known him responsible, so far as the working people are concerned, for a big, generous action. He has generally used his powers in the opposite direction. When I heard him arguing the other evening, his past came into my mind. I wished I could have said that for once in his life he was using his powers as Chancellor of the Exchequer to try to give to the most needy section of our population something really worth while. Instead, he deals with the matter in this miserable spirit.
It is a scheme on the cheap. When you have taken from the local authorities the £5,000,000 which they have been finding and perhaps more, it is merely a question of taking over from one pocket to the other. The local authorities do not pay. The Government pay, but, in the main, the old age pensioners will get precious little, and what they get will be always subject to the means test. I wish it were possible for hon. Members opposite to take a more generous view of this matter. The Prime Minister described the means test in 1925 as irritating, exasperating and humiliating. We put it more strongly than that to-day. We say that this means test, which you once again include in your legislation and apparently intend to keep on including, is mean, harsh, cruel and vicious. It is bad in 872 every possible way for the working-class people of this country.
§ 4.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Kingsley Griffith (Middlesbrough, West)
I associate myself with the Amendment moved from the Front Bench above the Gangway, and in both its parts; that is to say, in approval of Part I and in emphatic disapproval of Part II. I should like to say how glad I am that it was the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary who moved the Third Reading of the Bill. I think the House is greatly indebted to her for the clarity of her explanations of the Bill in all its stages, and whatever opinions may be held about the Bill in various parts of the House, I believe everybody will agree, in regard to the hon. Lady, that she has fairly won her spurs. If a question is raised whether spurs will be of any use to the hon. Lady, I hope she will take the spirit of my remark for the letter.
I noticed that both the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have been very anxious—it is very much to their credit—to carry the House with them at every stage of these proceedings. They have adopted the Socratic method and have endeavoured to reach as many points as possible of common agreement. I have even felt that I was expected to say at every point, "Yes, O Socrates, there is no getting away from that." But generally I found that I could not go very far with them. They were a little optimistic if they thought they could bring the household means test into the operation of the contributory system without a great deal of dissension both in this House and in the country. An increase of any kind in old age pensions has been delayed so long that this is now pretty explosive ground, and now that we have added the element of the household means test we have a very dangerous chemical combination.
I should like to follow the hon. Lady in the chain of argument which she put to us at an earlier stage, and again today. Up to a certain point I agree with her. I take it that her ground was that whatever datum line you take, whether that which is in the Bill or some other imaginary datum line such as 15s., which might have been in another Bill, as the top limit for pensions received as of right and without inquiry, there would remain 873 a large number of old people who would still have needs beyond that limit. That is unquestionably correct. There would be a need for supplementary payment to those persons. That again is unquestionably correct. There would have to be some means of selecting the people who were to receive those supplementary payments. That again I cannot deny. So far I do not challenge the hon. Lady's logic, but it does not carry her to the extent of the Bill; it does not lead one necessarily to a household means test. There are other tests—I must not discuss things which are not in the Bill—such as the personal test or the test of the man and wife, not of the whole household, which might have been chosen. It does not carry one to the household means test, against which the main objection is levelled, or to a household test administered in what I would describe as the undemocratic method of the Unemployment Assistance Board.
The hon. Lady referred to what she called liable relatives, in the administration of public assistance, but what we have, under the Unemployment Assistance Board, is an assessment of non-liable relatives. Under the household test, certain people are supposed, for the purposes of computing what is to be given to the applicant, to be making certain contributions, but there is no power on earth to see that they do, in fact, make them. This is, in its way, a legal fiction. They doubtless will do their best, but they are not liable in the sense of being legally liable. That fact should be taken into consideration in assessing the weight to be attached to the arguments of the hon. Lady. All hon. Members have had a pretty long experience in estimating the workability and the humanity, if there is any, of the system of the household means test as applied to unemployment, in regard to people who have fallen out of insurance. Whatever objections might be found to that application, I should think the objections would be much greater when you applied that test in the region of pensions, because you would there be bringing the test into a contributory scheme.
Several efforts were made in the earlier stages of these Debates to say that that was not being done, and that the test was applied only to supplemental pensions, but I still maintain the point. After all, you will be having, for illustration, two people, both of whom qualified for the 874 pension by their contributions, receiving different amounts, because of the needs test that has been applied. Therefore, I say that by this Bill you are not really getting rid of the relieving officer. You are disguising him. You are putting a new hat on him and disguising him with a false beard and coloured spectacles. You have brought him right inside your scheme, and you think he can be ignored. On the contrary, I should prefer to leave him outside, because essentially similar principles are applied. I agree with the hon. Lady that the stigma of the Poor Law is avoided to some extent by the system under which the payment is made in one sum from the Post Office. I do not disguise my opinion that that is a solid point in favour of the Bill, but a very big price has been paid for it, in confusing the principle on which contributory pensions have hitherto been assessed.
Furthermore, surely it is obvious that the most important part of the Bill is something which is not in it—or is in it only by implication—and that is, the administration of the means test. Exactly how the household means test is to be applied is the essential thing to all these poor people. We are parting with the Bill to-day, but we have done very little to settle that administration. There is practically nothing that is mandatory. There are the two seven-and-sixpences, but when one thinks of the strings of Amendments which were rejected the other night, all of which were attempts to impose the will of this House as to how the means test should be administered—they were rejected one after the other at the behest of the Government Front Bench—we realise that we are leaving the essence of the Bill to be determined by regulations, and to be determined by regulations over which we have practically no authority, because the mere power to reject regulations in toto is illusory.
That point was made by the junior Member for Dundee (Mr. Foot) and myself, and the Minister replied with what is known in logic as an argumentum ad hominem. He pointed to my hon. Friend and said, "You yourself, on the emergency regulations, introduced a Prayer which changed the whole situation." I should be the last to detract from the great Parliamentary performance of my hon. Friend on the occasion, but it was really a very bad example for the Minister to take. It is really the exception 875 that proves the rule. Doubtless he is aware of the subsequent history of those regulations. After the original regulations had been formally passed, the Home Secretary asked Members of all parties to come into consultation, and we sat with him and went through the regulations one by one and had a Committee stage on them. I agree that there was no machinery, but he invented some special machinery to see that he did get the sense of the House, and he was able to get their advice in amending the regulations. I applaud his good sense, and I believe the results were beneficial, but there was no machinery in any legislation which enabled him to do that. It was amendment by sufferance and not amendment by right in accordance with the Rules of the House. When one comes to unemployment, a much better parallel, what Amendments have we really got out of that? It is true that there were regulations introduced in the time of the present Secretary of State for War, but those were amended neither by the House nor by sufferance. They were amended by popular tumult, by outcry in the country, which created such an impression that new regulations were brought in. I do not like amendment by sufferance nor amendment by tumult. I prefer amendment in the normal course according to the Rules of the House.
I cannot imagine why the Minister of Health should attach so much store to this principle. He said on Report that it was far the best thing, if there was anything wrong, to take back the regulations and introduce new ones. Why? It seems to me an extraordinarily cumbrous process. I think he is really a lineal descendant of a certain Chinaman named Ho-Ti mentioned in an essay of Charles Lamb's, called "A Dissertation on Roast Pig." He and all his ancestors had been accustomed to eat pork raw. One day his house was accidentally burnt down, and, when the carcase of a pig which had been burnt to death in the blazing building was eaten, it was found to taste much nicer than any pig had ever tasted before. All his neighbours followed his method of burning their houses down in order to roast their pigs, so that all the insurance companies were closing down. It was not till generations afterwards that some genius discovered that you could roast pork without burning down your house. 876 The right hon. Gentleman is still in the Ho-Ti phase. He likes to burn down the whole house of his regulations rather than roast this particular piece of pork, which happens to meet with the objection of the House. That is an extremely cumbrous method and, in his own interest and for the future working of the Bill, he will be well advised to abandon it. It is under these undemocratic regulations, essentially settled by the Board, with little control in the Ministry and virtually no control in the House at all, that this vital part of the Bill is to be administered. We on these benches have resisted, as far as we could, on all occasions the growth of bureaucratic institutions, and we have resisted particularly the encroachment of this Board. We are bound to do so again on this occasion, because we believe that Parliament, and this House in particular, is the proper instrument for dealing with the lives of the people.
It cannot have escaped the notice of hon. Members that the Debates on this Bill have been essentially pre-war Debates. We have had, since the war started, a large measure of agreement because our minds were concentrated on one fundamental object, to win the war. With this Debate we have gone back to the pre-war atmosphere and the pre-war party feeling. If that is so, it is not the fault of hon. Members on this side. It is the fault of the Government, who have deliberately chosen a method of dealing with this subject which was bound to be resisted in this way. They have thrown down a challenge which was bound to be taken up. It could not have been left unanswered. Imagine if during the war some Bill had been introduced proposing a vital change in the constitution of Northern Ireland. There are Members in the House who, war or no war, would have felt it their bounden duty to take up such a challenge because that is what they were sent to the House for. Similarly on this side hon. Members feel that matters like this means test include a large part of the actual mandate which they received from their constituents, and, when a challenge is issued, they must take it up, because, if it was not taken up on these benches, it would be taken up in the country none the less, and it is better that it should be done through Parliament. Needless to say, the interposition of this question makes no difference to the loyalty to the country of 877 those who find themselves in opposition to the Government in the struggle in which we are engaged, but it is a distraction from the main effort, a distraction in the House and a distraction in any by-election in which a Government candidate may be defending a seat, and a distraction in the homes of the people themselves. I believe it is unnecessary, and a method could have been found, not of finally settling the old age pension system of the country—I do not think we could have done that during the war—but of making a temporary provision which would not have raised these passions and would have left us free to devote all our minds and all our energies to the great and paramount task which confronts us.
§ 5.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Samuel (Putney)
What has struck me about the Debate is that it has been very much on strictly old-fashioned, pre-war, political lines. One hon. Member said that an adequate old age pension had now become a first-class political issue. Ever since the means test was introduced it has always been a first-class political issue. I was rather amused when the leader of the Socialist Opposition tried to ride away on the excuse that the circular which he issued, which was a household means test, derived from the time of Queen Elizabeth. That may be so, but they took a long time discovering it, and although he indignantly denied, banging on that unfortunate Box, that he had initiated it, the words of his circular remain in print:In assessing the amount of relief to be afforded"—
§ Mr. Westwood
On a point of Order. Is it in Order for the hon. Member to be dealing with the administration of the Poor Law and making a reference to my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood), which has already been resented and dealt with in the House and has already necessitated apologies from the other side?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)
I cannot rule something out of Order merely because it causes resentment. That often happens, and to stop it would curb debate further than would please hon. Members. I was listening to the hon. Member to see to what conclusion he was leading, but I have not so far thought it necessary to interrupt him.
§ Mr. Samuel
I should be very sorry to incur the resentment of hon. Members opposite. It is one of the last things I should like to do. But they know very well what the words of that circular were. It was a household means test. Perhaps it has nothing to do with this Bill, but almost every speech from the party opposite has brought in all sorts of Bills outside this one, as far as I have been able to gather. A great many Members have talked about the means test being adopted before the recipients are allowed to receive. I abominate and detest the means test as much as anyone. We all hate it, but we have heard of Poplarism, and the means test is really one of the antidotes to Poplarism. I am sorry to say I do not believe it will be possible for either this side or the other side to abolish that test, either in this Bill or in any other. It is a great pity, but there it is. There is only one country where there is no means test, and that is Russia, because no one has any means. But I do not think hon. Members opposite who love Russia are so very fond of the methods employed there, so we will leave that part of the subject. Hon. Members opposite say there is a means test before people are allowed to receive, but the converse is the case with farmers and shopkeepers and anyone who has means, and it is a very simple process. The Chancellor of the Exchequer once a year, or in time of war twice or three times a year, changes his mind according to circumstances, and we find ourselves with a means test through which we have to show how much means we have, and he proposes taxation of anything from a penny up to nearly 17s. 6d. in the £.
§ Mr. Samuel
Every member of the household has to pay. You cannot very well make that a household means test, and the incidence ranges from one penny to 17s. 6d. in the £ on every member of the household who has the means. I do not think it is fair to say that there is no means test on farmers and other people who receive subsidies from the Government, or on people in businesses. The whole discussion has been on political lines. I very much regret that it should be so. I should be most delighted to see the means test eliminated, not only be- 879 cause I dislike it, but for political reasons. At election times and non-election times, indeed all the time, hon. Members opposite have spoken about it; I do not know what they would do without it. It is a principal standby for them; and if it went, they would have to invent something new, which would be very difficult for hon. Members opposite.
As far as the Bill is concerned, the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) said that a certain number of Amendments had been disregarded. It seemed to me, by the number of Amendments which were put down, that the Amendment Paper was more like an essay in "disregarding." I have never seen such a beautiful array of disregards. There were, I think, 12 or 14 of them, and I must admit also that the Minister of Health himself disregarded in two cases, but then he was able to do so, and the party opposite did not disregard what he said and were very glad of the concessions he was able to make. I believe that the Bill is wanted. It is a step in the right direction, and many old people throughout the country will be thankful to the Government. I do not like to think what the constituents of hon. Members opposite would have said to them if they had been able to say they had upset the Government Bill and were now going to fight for something more. Their constituents would probably have said, "We are thankful for what we have got, and you must do your fighting on a more appropriate occasion." I hope that the Bill will work much better than hon. Members opposite choose to admit, and they will be very glad if it does. I hope and pray that it will bring relief to a great many people who are in need.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Hollins (Silvertown)
I do not intend to intrude on the time of the House for more than a few moments, and if I should break the Rules of Debate, I hope, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you will realise that it is not done wittingly. I have no desire to make your task more formidable than it is already. I came into this House only two weeks ago, and after I had taken my seat I saw 22 people jump up like a Jack-in-the-box to catch Mr. Speaker's eye. I sat here for a fortnight, just watching and taking no part whatever. I have heard speech after speech 880 from this side of the House, very fine speeches, pathetic speeches, but all the time hon. Members have been talking to empty benches opposite. I have seen less than four people on the benches opposite except on the Front Bench, but at a quarter to 11 at night, suddenly, Members begin to come in like rabbits out of their bolt holes. Although the speeches had gone on for six hours, arguments from this side and replies from the Minister, people who had not even listened to the Debate and did not know the issue went into the Lobby and steam-rollered everything. It struck me that that was not a very democratic procedure. I have heard the Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary get up on various occasions and make sympathetic speeches, and on some occasions they have given way a little on minor matters. I want to say, and I say it sincerely, that my impression is that if the right hon. Gentleman had been left to frame his own Bill, without the dead hand of the Treasury upon him all the time, he would have produced a far better Bill than the anaemic brat we have to father to-day.
We are handing the old age pensioners a Board. They have asked for bread, and we offer them a Board. I do not think that hon. Members opposite have any right to assume a mantle of virtue because they have introduced this Bill. Hon. Members on this side have been clamouring for more than 18 months for something to be done, and it was only when the country caught fire with indignation at the treatment of these old people that the Government moved at all. They did not desire to bring in an Old Age Pensions Bill. But old age pensioners are to be handed over to a body outside the control of Parliament. I do not like it, and I do not think that anybody who believes in democracy likes it. All sorts of inquiries are going to be made, and let me say that my candid opinion is that the nosey-Parkers are not the men who will go round to make these inquiries, but hon. Members in this House, for Clause 8 is the nigger in the wood-pile so far as this Bill is concerned. We have argued, and we have pleaded. We do not even know now what the old age pensioner is to get, if he gets anything. I have been asked how much the pension is to be, and I think I have answered quite correctly that it is not to be increased, but that under certain cir- 881 cumstances a person may get supplementary assistance. I have been asked how much that will be, and I have replied, "I do not know, nor does the Minister of Health; you cannot assess it without knowing the other circumstances of the family."
People hate the very name of means test. It follows them from the cradle to the grave. Every time they are hard up—the means test. Every time the bread winner is sick—the means test. That is what these old people, these veterans of industry who have given 50 years to the industries of this country, have to endure; but there is no family means test, no household means test, no nosey-Parker inquiring around in the case of other people. I want to make one appeal in conclusion. This Bill can be made fairly human if the regulations are human. They are the things which will count. But regulations are usually made, not to help applicants, but to restrict them. I hope that when these regulations come before the House something will be done to give them a more human touch and thus help the old people of this country who badly need help.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Rowlands (Flint)
The hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Hollins) has delivered a most interesting maiden speech, and it falls to my lot to congratulate him and to express the hope that we shall hear him on many occasions in the future. The Debate seems to have developed into a condemnation of the means test. The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Paling) charged the Conservative Government with having reintroduced the means test into our pension system. He quoted at length something which the Prime Minister said when he was Minister of Health in introducing the 1925 Bill, to the effect that that Measure abolished the means test as far as pensions are concerned. I want to remind the House that the 1925 Act abolished the means test as far as contributory pensions are concerned. A man had no right at all to a pension apart from a means test prior to 1925, but that Act gave him a right, in virtue of his contributions, to a pension of 10s. a week, irrespective of his means. This Bill does not alter that in the least. It does not interfere with the right of an individual to a pension, irrespective of his means, 882 as far as contributory pensions are concerned.
But what has happened since? There has been considerable agitation on all sides of the House in favour of increased pensions, but, despite the fact that we have had many Governments since 1925, no Government have seen their way clear to bring in a contributory pensions scheme which would give more than 10s. Now old age pensioners' associations have been formed throughout the country, and this matter is being made partly a political question. Great pressure has been put upon hon. Members on all sides of the House to support a substantial increase in old age pensions. I believe that the old age pensioners have the sympathy of hon. Members in all parties, and I deny that hon. Members opposite can claim a monopoly in sympathy. What happened was this. Last July the Prime Minister promised to make an inquiry in order to see what could be done, but before that inquiry was completed war broke out, and whatever might have been possible if there had been no war is not possible now in the middle of a war. The hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) admitted, in concluding his speech, that he did not see how a big scheme could be worked out now, but said he thought that something better than this could be done. The hon. Member did not suggest what it should be.
The question arises as to how the needy cases could be met without a means test. I have never heard how that could be done without embarking upon a big scheme. I accept this scheme as an emergency measure to tide the old people over a period when the cost of living is increasing and when additional pensions are necessary. But one thing should be remembered. Our contributory scheme, as such, is far from being financially sound; it is solvent only because the Government pay something like 60 per cent. of the cost of pensions to-day. Consequently, we are embarking upon nothing new. Pensions have been supplemented in that way. They have also been supplemented from public assistance. We have been told by hon. Members on all sides of the House about the shame of old people being pauperised and compelled to go to the public assistance committee. I agree with that. We have also been told what the enormous cost of supplementing pensions from public 883 assistance has meant to the local authorities, which in the depressed areas have had to increase their rates on that account to the extent of 2s. 6d. in the £. What does this Bill propose to do? It makes the whole of that charge a Government charge, but still with a means test. I prefer to call it a needs test, which is a better description; I shall refer to a real means test later on. We have been told that the Conservative Government always want a means test as far as the poor are concerned. It is a needs test as far as the poor are concerned, but it is a rather strict means test as far as other people are concerned. Even a workman who earns £3 a week is subjected to a means test by the Income Tax and Inland Revenue Authorities.
§ Mr. Rowlands
Not a household means test, but a means test on his earnings. For what purpose? To keep the Government going, to fill the Exchequer, and to provide the wherewithal to help the poor. If it is right to have a means test on the man who has to pay, is it wrong to have a needs test on the man who is to receive? I have never heard hon. Gentlemen opposite suggest that non-contributory pensions should not be subject to a means test or a needs test. Take the case of a man who has not made any contributions. How can you differentiate between one and another if there is to be no needs test? Is there any hon. Member opposite who says that, without having made any contribution, the non-contributory old age pensioner who makes an application for a pension should receive it irrespective of needs, or that anyone should have it, even if he is worth a thousand a year?
§ Mr. Westwood
Is it not a fact that in the non-contributory pensions scheme it is only the income or the means of the pensioner which is taken into consideration, and not the income or the means of his family?
§ Mr. Rowlands
I agree, but I should like briefly to go over the history of non-contributory pensions and see what hon. Members opposite have done with regard to them. What is the position at the present time with regard to non-contributory pensions? It is that £39 a year of 884 unearned income is disregarded. Consequently, you may have an aged couple who have an unearned income of £130 a year. If the husband is over 70 and makes an application for a pension, the pensions officer ignores the first £39 each per year, a total of £78. There is left £52, which is considered as the income of the aged couple. Divided by two, that gives £26 each, and therefore both are entitled to the full 10s. pension. Living next door may be another elderly man who goes to work and earns £100 a year by the sweat of his brow. In his case, nothing is ignored in the assessment of his income, his £100 being divided by two by the pensions officer and £50 credited to each of the couple. Because £50 is more than the limit of £49 17s. 6d., no pension is paid. That is the record of the party opposite with regard to a means test in the case of pensions. I hope they are proud of it.
§ Mr. Rowlands
In 1924. In 1908, the pension was only 5s. a week, and the income limit ranged between £21 10s. and £31 10s., earned and unearned income being treated alike. In 1924, the party opposite, who claim to be the friends of the man who earns a living by the sweat of his brow, came into office, and gave a preferential treatment to unearned income to the tune of £2 10s. a week. That is the record of hon. Members opposite. It is necessity that has driven the Government even at this time to apply a means test in the case of these pensions. I want to emphasise that, as far as a man's right to a contributory pension is concerned, it does not matter what are his means, but if he wants more than the Statute provides as a contributory pension, then it becomes a question of the means test. It is a household means test. We have been told that the means test under this Bill is in place of some other means test; it is in place of the means test of the public assistance committee. Is that a household means test? It is wider even than a household means test. Whatever may be the hardships which this means test may cause, it will be considerably better than that of the public assistance committee which it is to supplant as far as the old age pensioners are concerned.
I sincerely hope that these facts will not be forgotten and that the country will 885 realise that the Government, in a very difficult situation, are endeavouring to do their very best. At present a needs test is, unfortunately, necessary, but when the war is over and things have improved, I hope that it will be possible so to improve our contributory pensions scheme that there will be no need for a means test in connection with contributory pensions. At the moment, however, it is necessary, for otherwise, whether a man was working or not, he would be entitled to make his claim. In the absence of a huge and comprehensive scheme, which we cannot have during war, I want to ask hon. Members opposite whether they would differentiate between the 375,000 people who are working and drawing pensions at the same time, or whether they propose that all these people should have supplementary pensions. Would they give supplementary pensions to those persons who draw substantial superannuation payments in addition to their contributory pensions, irrespective of their needs? If so it would cause a break-down of the scheme, which, in my opinion, is about the best the Government could introduce in such difficult circumstances.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
The hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Rowlands) went rather far back into history, and I think the distance he travelled led him to put a gloss over what he saw on the journey. It is true that the old Liberal party, which is now represented by hon. Members on the benches below me, brought in, in 1908, the first Old Age Pensions Act, and it is true also that later on, when a personal means test was applied, the first Labour Government, in 1924, in order to ease the burden of the old age pensioners, made certain changes in what we now call the disregards. But the hon. Member for Flint was rather confusing what was then the non-contributory system only with what we are discussing now, namely, the contributory system. We still have the non-contributory system subject to the personal means test. I take it that will still go on. What hon. Members on this side, and indeed some hon. Members opposite, violently object to is the introduction of a household means test into the supplementary payment to the ordinary contributory pensions. We say that that is a pernicious system. It has now been in- 886 troduced for the first time, and we say that it ought not to have been introduced.
As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Paling), we have during the past two or three weeks spent a very large number of hours in debating this Bill, and a great effort has been made by hon. Members on this side, both above and below the Gangway, to improve it. Unfortunately, most of those attempts have proved abortive, and all the efforts that we have made to persuade the Minister of Health to accept some of our Amendments have proved fruitless. However, I think that if the Minister were candid with us, he would admit that the criticism which has been made from these benches has not been captious, but has been constructive, and I think—and perhaps in private the Minister might agree—that most of the arguments we have put forward have been unanswerable. The difficulty is that the right hon. Gentleman is not master in his own house; he is himself subject to a household means test, the test being put upon him by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The unfortunate thing is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has not grown up as a member of the party opposite. As a fairly new but very ardent recruit to the principles and policy of Conservatism, he has to show how firmly and definitely he has now joined that party. Therefore, he has to show that he now holds Conservative principles much more firmly than the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health need trouble to do.
The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health claimed a great deal of credit for having introduced this Measure in war-time but, I think, hon. Members and right hon. Members on this side of the House, both above and below the Gangway, have shown conclusively that what credit there may be is hardly due to the men who now adorn the Government Front Bench. If one had to say where the pressure, undoubtedly brought to bear on the Front Bench, has come from, one would have to look first to the local authorities. During the last year or so there has been a large number of by-elections, most of them fought almost exclusively so far as domestic policy is concerned on this one issue—the question of an extra grant to the old age pensioners. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has resisted all attempts to increase old age pensions. Although a committee of 887 inquiry was set up to go into the matter, it was obvious to us from the answers of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to Questions during August and September that the Government had really no intention of bringing in any Measure if they could possibly avoid it. It was not until the Questions put on the Order Paper called the attention of the Government to the feeling growing up among local authorities in almost every area, due to the great burden thrown on the rates, that we began to see a change of view on the Front Bench. Although the Minister of Health may pretend that bringing in this Bill during war is a beacon to the world as a case of democracy in action at its best, in actual fact we know that it is because of the pressure and urgency of the matter that we have this Bill and not that the Government wish to show the world how democratic they can be in war-time.
This Measure was attacked in very strong terms by my hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth. It can, I think, be described with truth as a cunning one and as one which shows to the world at large the type of legislation which the party opposite delights to put on to the Statute Book. At first blush it has the appearance of a generous gesture to the Community but it is only when one examines it that it is discovered that whilst it appears to give something in a generous and friendly way, it gives little and even takes away with one hand what it gives with the other. When I obtained the Bill from the Vote Office and looked through it, I said to myself, "The hands that serve this meal to the old age pensioner are those of the Minister of Health, but the hands which prepared it are undoubtedly the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer." As has been said so often in the last week or two, we are proposing to give to women of 60, numbering about 310,000, 10s. a week which they previously did not receive. This, however, will not cost the Government a single penny, because presently, with the additional contributions coming in from insured women, the Government will be receiving about £8,500,000 additional a year, whereas the pension in the next few years will cost only an additional £8,000,000. There will be thus, on the pension proper, apart from the additional amount of supplementary pension which 888 may be given, a balance in favour of the Exchequer of at least £500,000 a year. As for the supplementary pension, we all-know that it is simply a question of taking out of one pocket what was previously taken out of the other, and we have yet to see what difference it will make to the block grants the local authorities have previously received.
May I say a word about the household means test? I think that there is no doubt about it that it will create enormous hardship in the country, and, like other hon. Members, I have had a good many letters on the subject. It seems to me rather surprising that those who sit on this side of the House appear to be the only people who have had this type of letter. When I talk to hon. Members opposite in the smoke room or in the corridors, I gather from what they say that their information is that children, grandchildren and other relatives are only too delighted to help the old folk and that in fact we are doing them a favour by insisting that they should help the old people when they reach the evening of their days. That is not borne out by the letters which I have received, and although I will not worry the House by quoting largely from them, I will give a quotation from one which is, in my view, typical. It is from a woman living in the constituency I have the honour to represent. She says some strong things about the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, which, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, you might possibly rule out of Order if I read them to the House. She goes on:I do not think it fair that I and others have to suffer and are never able to have money because we have to keep our parents. I have had to do it for years and one gets fed up to the neck. I am getting on to my fortieth year and have never been able to put anything away out of my wages. It makes me wonder how I shall get on if presently I cannot work and what is to happen to me when I get old.She points out that when she reaches the stage when she has to draw the old age pension herself, the fact that she has not been able to save because she has been assisting her parents will put her in the same position as her father and mother now are. We talk to-day about vicious spirals, but there is here a vicious circle which we on this side of the House do not wish to continue if we can help it. I can understand a personal means test 889 being applied when it is a question of handing out public money and everybody is treated alike, rich and poor, and the pension is made available to all. A personal means test is one thing, especially when it is applied all round to ex-Premiers of this House and ex-judges, but if there is to be a means test it should be a personal means test and applied, strictly all round. What we object to, and object to most strongly, is the household means test. It is pernicious, because it very often happens that an old age pensioner is living in a house with people who have no family connection with him at all. Such a test, therefore, is wrong in principle and unfair in action.
Another point which has not been made clear to me is how often the inquisitor with the black bag, spoken of earlier in this Debate, is to call on the, old age pensioner. I have a case in my own constituency which came to my notice a week ago. I was asked by someone who came to see me how he would be affected. This man has just over £100put by, and he told me that one son is going into the Army and another is getting married. People will continue to go into the Army if this war goes on. And sons and daughters will certainly go on getting married even after 1st July, 1940. Supposing the inquisitor from the new Assistance Board calls on an old age pensioner and puts him through the catechism and reaches a conclusion as to his means, what will happen if it has been put down that a son is at home and is contributing and before the old age pensioner draws the sum allowed that son leaves home? Does that mean that the old age pensioner is to go through the inquisition again, or can we assume that once it has been made he can rely on the amount fixed as his supplementary pension until the end of his days or until he himself asks, owing to a change for the worse in his circumstances, that another inquiry should be made into his means?
I was very disappointed that the Minister did nothing to meet the criticism levelled from all parts of the House on the sum to be disregarded on disability pensions. It seems to me that disability pensions are so niggardly in any case that if a soldier, wounded in the last war, has been fortunate enough to obtain a 100 per cent. disability pension, we can assume that he needed it and still does. It seems to me, a mean act for a Government, 890 after a man has risked his life and suffered wounds, to turn round and insist on 25s. 6d. of the pension being considered before a supplementary old age pension can be given. It makes one wonder whether the Government believe that the old age people should have any income at all. The hon. Lady who introduced this discussion this afternoon seemed to think that people who had money invested would not be asked to eat into their capital except in so for as the first £50 was concerned.
§ Miss Horsbrugh indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Hall
Perhaps I misunderstood the hon. Lady. As I work it out, a person who has £300 invested is allowed to disregard the first £25, and that leaves £275 which is taken into account before any supplementary pension is given. It is clear that only 1s. a week of the income from the investment will be disregarded. Rates of interest being what they are, an individual who has any money saved will be bound to nibble into it, and although the Parliamentary Secretary may say it will be only a little, the attrition after a period of years will be considerable. As the Government are fond of asserting that they believe in encouraging thrift, will they, when this Measure is dealt with in another place, do something more reasonable with regard to savings?
Sooner or later the whole question of pensions will have to be considered in the light of changing circumstances. People to-day have a much greater expectation of life than their fathers had, and it is reasonable to suppose that our children will have a greater expectation of life than we have. It is likely that in 30 or 40 years' time we shall not consider a man of 60 or 65 as old; we shall perhaps not consider people are really aged until they have reached 75 or 80. That will mean that people at 60 or 65 may not need a pension. I think that eventually we shall have to come back to the principle of basing pensions mainly on disability and not on age, and say that if people continue, as many may, and, indeed, do now to work after they are 60 no pension should be paid until they retired. If the country never will be able to afford to give an adequate universal non-contributory pension at, say, 60 or 65, without a household means test, there is much to be said for only 891 giving it to those who are disabled and in need whatever their age, or who are willing to retire because they have reached a pensionable age. What we ought not to do is what the Government are doing now—institute the household means test, because, they argue, many of the people who are drawing the pension are continuing to work and, that being so, it would be wasting public money to add a flat rate to the 10s. Before the Bill passes in another place I still hope the Minister will try to meet some of the criticisms which have been levelled at this Measure and embody Amendments particularly an Amendment abolishing the household means test, which, I can assure him, has created an enormous amount of feeling in the constituencies. That feeling will continue until the test is abolished.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ Colonel Burton (Sudbury)
We should be lacking in gratitude, and certainly in common courtesy, if we did not congratulate the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary on the manner in which she moved the Third Reading, of this Bill and on the way in which she dealt with our objections. She has turned us down, but she did it so gracefully that we feel no bitterness about it. I was pleased to hear her say that we are, apparently, to have the administration of the means test eased somewhat. We are to have it done, not by personal inspection by a gentleman with a black bag, but by the filling in of a form, I hope that it will be a perfectly simple form and will set out all the benefits that can be obtained and not, like the Income Tax form, all the benefits which cannot be obtained. I would like to know whether it is possible to have some form of inquisition adopted for non-contributory pensions. The Bill does nothing in that respect. I have had some unfortunate cases sent to me and, as far as I can see, we shall not get any further with that class of pension in this Bill. I should like to see the same method of applying the means test to these pensions as that which we are to have for the contributory pensions.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. and gallant Member has managed to ask his question and I think he knows that it is not relevant and that the subject cannot be discussed on this Bill.
§ Colonel Burton
I am sorry, but one's enthusiasm sometimes runs away with one's desire to keep in Order. While Part I of the Bill is very good, especially in bringing spinsters in at a lower age, I cannot help thinking that the whole Measure is vitiated by the blot of the means test in Part II. It is a dreadful thing that a household test should be made. I have a letter from a lady who says she has two daughters who contribute slightly towards her sustenance, but neither of them will be able to carry on much longer because they are about to get married. I understand from the Parliamentary Secretary that their liability will not follow after their marriage. After the two girls have left home, therefore, this poor woman will be in a bad way and will have to apply for public assistance. Cases such as that mean that in the administration of this Bill boys and girls who are supporting their old parents will say that if the Government are prepared to pay more when they leave home, they will leave home. If that becomes the tendency, we shall not get the real benefits we desire because homes will be broken up and family life destroyed. If there is one thing in England which stands out above all others it is our family life. I would ask the Government to think this over carefully between now and the time when the Bill gets to another place and to see whether it is possible to retain our home ties rather than to destroy them.
I have another case of a serious nature. A lady wrote to me that before the last war she and her family bought four small plots of land and built a wooden bungalow thereon. She had three sons who all went to the last war. After the war the youngest, who was aged 18, became unemployed, and had to apply to the relieving officer, who told him that, as he was living with his parents, he could get nothing. The second son was told the same thing, notwithstanding the fact that the father was unemployed. The father died and the sons went to Australia. This woman has tried to struggle on with the pension of 10s. After a time she sold many of her possessions, and then pocketed her pride and went to the relieving officer. She got a 5s. ticket for groceries, which has now been increased to 6s. with 2s. 6d. for coal. She wrote:The humiliation of it, having to go sneaking round to the relieving officer and then into a shop with the 5s. ticket.893 Then she added:Whatever I got I had to sign for as a loan to be paid back when I could or taken out of what is left of my home when I am dead.Could anything be more abysmally mean?
§ Colonel Burton
I was trying to illustrate the difficulties which will arise in the administration of these pensions. If it is possible for a relieving officer or an authority to create a case of that kind, it seems that we did a tragic thing the other night when we parted with our rights to criticise the regulations. I would ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is too late even now to rescind that decision so that we shall have the right to criticise the regulations and, if necessary, have them altered, because if such a state of affairs can exist now and if the new Board is to be the old Board under another name—
§ Mr. Elliot
My hon. and gallant Friend is discussing the action of the public assistance authority, and it is the purpose of this Bill to take this business away from them.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
I have already ruled that the hon. and gallant Member was not in Order, and we cannot now discuss the actions of a public assistance officer.
§ Colonel Burton
I am sorry if I have transgressed once more. When these regulations are made we shall have no right to alter them; we can either reject them or accept them en bloc. If the public assistance committee can administer regulations in a way such as I have indicated, we should not have parted with our rights.
§ 6.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Dobbie (Rotherham)
In rising to support the Amendment, I must say that I am amazed at the complacency of the Minister and his supporters in bringing the Bill before the House. It follows consistently on what has happened ever since 1906. Every Bill dealing with old age pensions has given the least possible to the pensioners and has given the Government the greatest amount of credit. It has been left to Members on the Govern- 894 ment side to show to-night how this Bill will continue the policy of the Government by applying the means test and breaking up the homes and the family life of the poorest people. The Government have taken a good deal of credit because of the relief that will be given to the local authorities by this Bill and by the transfer of financial responsibility from the public assistance committee to the Assistance Board. Everyone is aware that it will be only a change in name and that in all probability, in many instances, the screw will be tightened to a greater degree by the Board which is to be known as the Assistance Board.
The fact that the Government are taking over this responsibility will undoubtedly bring some relief to the local authorities. The Government ought not, however, to be proud of what they have done, but rather ashamed of the situation, for they are only putting right a wrong which has existed for many years, and in my opinion the local authorities are entitled to a little back money. That a Government with the majority which this Government has had for nine years, has not done it before is an iniquity. The heavy burdens on rates have fallen only on the industrial areas where the poorest of the people live, and therefore the Government ought to bow their heads and apologise for the length of time it has taken them to make this change rather than boast about what they have done. We have seen that Members on the back benches on the Government side understand a little about the situation, but I wonder whether their sympathy will last long enough to take them into the Lobby with us to-night. That will be the real test, because, like the Government, they are talking with their tongues in their cheeks if they do not come into the Lobby with us.
§ Mr. Dobbie
It is not the Bill hon. Members are thinking of; they are thinking of jeopardising the Government. I sometimes think that those who sit on the Treasury Bench are too far away from the lives of the people who are affected by this Bill, to understand the position. In my constituency, where I live, I had an opportunity this week-end of going among those who are affected. There was a meeting of old age pensioners at which 895 there were men who had worked with me on the railways for 40 years and more, and men and women who for 50 years had placed their labour at the disposal of the captains of industry and helped to build up the wealth of this country. Their hopes had been raised when they thought there was some chance of a really decent Bill dealing with old age pensions being passed, and I should like the Minister to have seen their disillusionment and disappointment. Some of those old people said to me, "How is it that we can find close on £6,000,000 a day for death but cannot find money for life?"
The Government need not talk about the war and the difficulty of finding money, because those old people have been taking a particular interest in this question, and know all about the subsidies for shipowners, the subsidies for farmers and the subsidies paid out to the various captains of industry. They know that close upon £6,000,000 a day is being spent upon the war, they know that they and theirs are the people who have helped to build up this wealth, which was being spent in that way, and they wonder why this wonderful Government, with all its capacity to raise money for the war, cannot raise money to give them security, safety and comfort for the few remaining, years of their lives. The Minister has said that we cannot give these old people safety, security and comfort. If this Government cannot do that, it ought to make room for one which is prepared to try. Those old people have been expecting something like a decent pension. After all the fine words of the Government and all the promises which were made at the last Election they have been expecting a Bill which would do credit to the Government and to the country and justice to themselves.
If I could offer any advice to the Government I would say they have missed a glorious opportunity of establishing themselves in the hearts of those trusting old men and women who have played such a part in building up this country. If the Government had really desired to do it, nothing would have stood in their way. I have said before when speaking on old age pensions that I do not accuse the Government of lack of capacity or lack of ability; but I accuse them of a lack of desire to place those old people in a position of independence and com- 896 fort for the rest of their lives. The Government know where the money can be found. I am forced to believe that what they have done is part of a great, comprehensive scheme for bringing the wretched means test into the lives of the working classes in every social service. A day may come, when the war is over, when things will not be as rosy as they might be, and then we shall find this Government, if they are in power, turning the screw on; and that is the fear which is in the hearts of these people.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Ralph Etherton (Stretford)
I want to add my praise to that of those hon. Members who have commended this Bill. It embodies sound principles, and a sound solution of the old age pensions problem. That problem was an issue in the by-election in December last through which I entered this House. The question of old age pensions clearly needed attention, and I pledged myself in favour of amendments of the then existing provisions. A flat rate increase could easily have been introduced. That would have been an easy way out of the difficulty, but it would not have been a solution of the problem. A pension of 15s. a week would not have been enough in many cases, nor, indeed, would 20s. I envisage the type of case where the wife is younger by some years than her husband. In such a case a single pension of 15s. or £1 a week to the husband would be quite inadequate. Under the provisions of this Bill there is no top limit to the amount which can be awarded, and the amount will be such as is suitable to a particular case. The Bill is a wide and comprehensive solution of the difficulties. I am bound to say that at the time of that by-election I did not think that I should have the honour of supporting proposals which are so statesmanlike and which are such a wise solution of the many problems as this Bill.
The Bill has two outstanding merits which have not yet been sufficiently appreciated by hon. Members opposite, and certainly not been sufficiently appreciated throughout the country. The first is that it provides a supplementary pension adequate to each individual case and without a top limit. Secondly, it makes the supplementary pension payable through the Post Office and takes old age pensioners finally and for ever 897 away from the Poor Law. No flat-rate increase could possibly have done that. The chief criticism which has been levelled at the Bill by hon. Members opposite has been to the effect that public money should be expended upon those who do not properly need it. Under the Bill the needy will in every case be provided for, and adequately provided for. It would be wrong to give away public money at a time like the present, or, indeed, at any time, except to those who are in need of it. It is a pleasure to support this constructive Bill.
§ 6.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham White (Birkenhead, East)
I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Etherton) was addressing the House for the first time, but I have not had the pleasure of hearing him before. I rise to make only one or two brief observations, and I do not wish to make any reference whatsoever to any of the good points in the Bill. It is not that I am indifferent to the charm, the ability and the tact with which the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary described them to the House, but on previous occasions I have referred to what I call the benefits and advantages to be derived from the Bill and would now emphasise one or two points which I consider thoroughly objectionable. If I may be acquitted, in advance, of anything in the nature of bad taste, I should like to refer to something which I said on Second Reading which was taken up and frequently quoted by Members of the Government and others. We are making provision for an uncertain number of people who have not previously made application for public assistance and there is no reliable estimate of their number. I am the only one who has taken part in this Debate who has had the temerity to mention a figure, and it was 200,000.
I think it is due to the House to say that that figure was not entirely a shot in the dark; it was, perhaps, a shot in the twilight. It was derived from an estimate made by two responsible and independent observers who had made inquiries independently from a certain number of local authorities. After comparing notes they had come to the conclusion that the number of those who might apply for supplementary pensions, who had not previously made application for public assistance, would be of the order of 200,000. I did 898 not wish the House to think that I had stated a number which I had invented myself. It was as good an estimate as anybody could make, but, on reflection, I am inclined to think that probably the number will be less than 200,000.
I want to mention briefly one of the objections to this Bill, resting as it does on the means test, which has, I think, received inadequate recognition up to now. It was mentioned, for the first time in my hearing, by my hon. Friend the Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith). There is no power residing in the Minister, in the Unemployment Assistance Board or in anybody else to see that an assessment which is made is carried out. If they will forgive me for saying so, neither the hon. Lady nor the right hon. Gentleman has had experience of the administration of this sort of thing. We who have been watching it under the operation of the Unemployment Assistance Board in relation to the able-bodied unemployed know of many cases in which assessments have been made but the payments have never been made. There is, in fact, no provision in the law of this land to see that they are made. It is disgraceful that no statutory effect can be given to them. We all know that this Bill is not a final solution. We know that the measure of the success of this Bill will depend upon the regulations which are made under it and the experience which is gained from it. We should never forget those points. Administrative difficulties will be raised and will be increased by this Bill. Those of us who watched the previous treatment of the able-bodied unemployed know this only too well. I speak not in anger but in sorrow. I leave that point now because we cannot mend it; it is in the Bill and there is not one Member in the House who can alter that condition.
I am inclined to think that although this Bill brings into the purview of increased pensions a large number of individuals, although it reduces the pensionable age to a number of deserving people, although it contains very substantial benefits and also the germ of further substantial benefits in Part II, the greatest achievement of this Bill will be that it has brought the House of Commons, and I think the country, face to face at last with the urgent necessity for the unification and simplification of 899 our pension system. It has aroused the powerful advocacy of the "Times" newspaper. In a leading article on 22nd February the "Times" pointed out the urgency of submitting the social services in the country to a continuous supervision. One sentence said:The services require to be set in a better relation to each other both in application and in administration. Perhaps in that review these most valuable social defences may be brought together and under the control of a Minister of Social Service.I am glad to say that other newspapers are fully seized of the importance of this matter. Social services in this country were spending £500,000,000 a year and there is no single body of men charged with the continuous survey of the services in relation to the pension system. That will be the major service which the introduction of this Bill will make possible. Since 1920 something in the neighbourhood of 40 Bills dealing with social services have been introduced into this House and put on the Statute Book. Practically all have been examples of piecemeal legislation and this Bill is another in the same series. It gives me no pleasure to speak harshly of the Bill, but that is a fact. This Bill will increase the administrative difficulties; it is adding one more thread to the tangled skein of the British social services.
In Clause 8 or Clause 9 it institutes further sub-divisions of duty and function as between local authorities and central government. The needs of the aged people for supplementary pension pass, in part at all events, to the Unemployment Assistance Board—I suppose we must call it that until this Bill reaches the Statute Book—but their medical needs remain with the local authorities. To quote the words of the hon. Member for Evesham (Mr. De la Bère) in another connection that situation is "wholly and entirely unsatisfactory." In the case of the able-bodied unemployed, their medical needs are not so great, but when you come to deal with people of 65 and 70, it is difficult to differentiate between their ordinary needs and their medical needs. Who is to be responsible for seeing that their medical needs are met? Is the Unemployment Assistance Board to make inquiries with regard to pensioners who need supplementary pensions, or is the public assistance committee to keep in being its health visitors to go round and 900 see these pensioners? These things are untidy, unbusinesslike and costly and cannot lead to the best service. Those are some of the reasons why we regard these proposals with grave disquiet.
On the Second Reading I ventured to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman, to which I received no reply, and I venture to put it to him again. For the first time there are given to the Unemployment Assistance Board duties which are of a permanent character. Its original function of caring for the able-bodied unemployed has rapidly diminished. If the Government are successful in making a major war effort in this country, as far as that part of its duty is concerned the Board would have no work left and its very existence would be called into question. Since then, under this Bill, they have been given duties of a transitory character in relation to war allowances but this is the first time that the Government have given permanent duties to the Unemployment Assistance Board. The only logical conclusion to which anybody can come is that it is the intention to transfer more and more of the local need services to central government. I would like to know whether that is the case or not? I do not wish to say whether it is a bad or a good thing, but it is a major change, which may be brought in by this piecemeal Bill and it may mean the beginning of a major revolution in the social practice of this country. All I want to know is whether that is so or not, in order that we may know what to expect.
Without any evidence as to what the policy of the Government is, I should judge from the Bill that the answer to my question is in the negative because they take away from the public assistance committee some of the duties in regard to the care of the aged people. When it comes to the body to which they are to give these duties, namely, the Unemployment Assistance Board, there is not in the Bill as originally drafted one indication as to whether the Board is to do anything for the people beyond paying them their money. To take away certain functions from a body with definite duties and to hand the care of the people over to another body without any direction, if it were a deliberate act of policy, would be very callous. I do not suggest for one moment that anybody in the Government is callous; I would not be foolish 901 enough to make that suggestion. Therefore, I have come to the conclusion that this matter has not received any consideration at all and that no policy is involved in this Bill. I have reviewed this Bill as far as the needs of the people are concerned, as I say in sorrow rather than in anger, because it is our common desire to deal with the welfare of the most de-serving people in our community, the Bill is ill-considered, ill-drafted and is an ineffective instrument for carrying out a very fine policy.
§ 6.41 p.m.
§ Dr. Little (Down)
I should like to say that I have not in the least changed my opinion since I spoke in this House on the Second Reading of this Bill. I have heard a great deal about objections to the Bill but I have not received one single objection from my constituency, and I know it will apply to Northern Ireland in due course. I received one objection, but that was from another constituency. I still support the Bill, not because it is perfect, but because it is a great advance towards the fruition of the glorious realisation of ample provision for all of the good things of this life. We are marching on, and I support this Bill because we are on the march. The day is coming when the war will be over, when Hitler will have been put in his place, and we shall have our people provided for honourably and comfortably. [Interruption.] It is coming, and it may come from this side of the House. The hon. Member for Rotherham (Mr. Dobbie) has patted himself on the breast and said, "We are the only people in touch with the poor; we are the only people in touch with those who need these pensions." I deny that. I have been in touch with the poor from boyhood. I have some of my best friends among the poor, and I will stand by the poor so long as God gives me breath.
I believe it is in the interest of those who need our help that this Bill has been brought in. It is not a perfect Bill, but it is a wonderful Bill in view of the fact that we are facing such a huge expenditure in connection with the war. I was beginning to wonder whether there was a single good point in the Bill, and I was very glad to hear from the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) an acknowledgment that there are good points in the Bill. There are glorious and blessed points in the Bill, and hundreds of 902 thousands of people will thank God for it. It is not a final solution, as has already been pointed out, and the Government have not presented it as a final solution, but it is a step in advance. Rome was not built in a day, and the Pensions Bill did not cover the whole ground when it was originally passed over 30 years ago. When the Pensions Bill was first passed in this House, who would have thought then that at the time of a war and at a time of such a huge expenditure the Government would present so helpful a Bill to the House? I support the Bill, first of all, because it meets a felt need. I have discovered, in moving about amongst the old people, deep thankfulness in anticipation of coming benefits. It brings encouragement and hope to many people who were giving up hope. I have only just finished writing a letter to an old lady in my constituency telling her to hope on. [Interruption.] Oh yes, we are saved by hope, we live by hope, it is hope that is carrying us on to-day; let us not forget that fact.
Secondly, I support the Bill because of the benefit it brings to women. It is the essence of Christianity to help woman kind. Our blessed Lord has implanted that in the human breast, and by His own example showed us how we should act towards women when he went about helping and cheering them in every way he could. I clasp the gentle and compassionate hand of the Parliamentary Secretary and bless her for this wonderful boon to womankind, because it is in line with the example and teaching of Jesus Christ. Thirdly, I support the Bill because it brings assistance to those most in need. With the high cost of living, 10s. a week will not meet the needs of these old people, and those people who need it most will get a lift up. Fourthly, I support the Bill because it is another step towards the coming of the day when all will be provided for. The rich and the poor, the grand old book the Bible tells us, will meet together. "The Lord is the maker of them all." I can envisage the coming of the glad new day when high and low, great and small, the master and the servant, will meet on one common platform. I believe this Bill is a movement towards that gracious end, and therefore I support it.
There is love in the Bill. It may not go so far as we should wish, but the love 903 of God is the solvent of all the ills from which we suffer, and the more we have the love of God embodied in our social legislation, the more we shall come together, poor and rich, one and all, and the day is coming when we shall get back to the New Testament ideal of helping one another for Christ's sake. Then we shall have a realisation of the glorious vision vouchsafed to St. John when he saw the New Jerusalem "coming down from God out of heaven." The war cannot prevent that coming. Hitler cannot stand in its way, and when that glad new day comes we shall live in brotherhood and peace the world over. We have laid stress on wrong values. I am sorry that the means test has had to be introduced, but I can see no other way out at the moment. When the war is finished I would be the first, if I am still here, to vote against everything that would be obstructive to a person receiving his or her fair share of the good things of life, but I am not going to jeopardise the Bill at the moment. If it is not full of marrow and fatness, it is full of good things for thousands of souls.
We have been laying stress on wrong values. An incident is told in the life of Dr. John Watson, so well known by his pen name of Ian MacLaren, that in his boyhood he attended Communion in the Presbyterian church to which he belonged. I know of no place where we all stand on a level before God to the same extent as we do at the Holy Table of the Lord at a Presbyterian Communion service. The boy went into the gallery. He was very well acquainted with a poor old man who broke stones on the roadway, and he did not realise the standing that old man had in the church. I should explain that they have a beautiful custom in the Church of Scotland—in which I had the honour to minister for some years—by which on the Communion Sabbath, at a certain point in the service the minister and elders pass out to the vestry, and then the elders return with the minister at their head bringing in and placing on the Communion Table the vessels and elements to be used in the holy observance. John Watson, the boy sitting in the gallery, saw among the elders this old stone-breaker. The next day he said to his father, "I did not expect to see old John there." The father said, "My son, 904 do not be mistaken. John breaks stones for a living, but he is the holiest man in the parish." It is people such as this that we are going to help, and in doing so we are doing the will of God. I support the Third Reading of the Bill most cordially.
§ 6.51 p.m.
§ Mr. Hubert Beaumont (Batley and Morley)
It is extraordinarily difficult to follow a speech such as that we have just heard, because, in doing so, one does not know whether to enter upon a political or a theological discourse. Therefore, I am unable to deal with most of the points that the hon. Member has made. He, however, made one emphatic point. Amidst his many declarations, he said to the old age pensioners, "Hope on." That is what our old age pensioners will have to do after the passing of this Bill. They have lived on hope for a long time, and this Bill dashes their hopes to the ground. The hon. Member said that this Bill was not a final solution. I wish he had been in the House a few minutes earlier when another hon. Gentleman on that side said that the Bill was a comprehensive and wise solution of the problem. It is rather strange that two hon. Gentlemen on that side should have made statements so contradictory.
§ Dr. Little
I was in the House when my hon. Friend made that statement. I agree with him that it is a comprehensive and wise settlement, but I feel that it is not a final settlement.
§ Mr. Beaumont
I withdraw my observation that the hon. Gentleman was not in the House. I assumed that that was so, because I should have thought that if he had been in the House, he would hardly have so soon contradicted his hon. Friend. I assume that, despite that contradiction, when the Division comes, both those Hon. Gentlemen will be found in the same Lobby. The hon. Member for Down (Dr. Little) spoke a great deal about love, and suggested that love comes into this Bill. I fail to see it, unless the love is that aspect which is known as the needs test or the household means test. If that can be described as love, the poor people are going to be suffocated with it. The hon. Member for Stretford (Mr. Etherton) said that this Bill was comprehensive. It is not comprehensive, nor does it deal finally with the problem. The fight for justice for the old age pensioners will go 905 on with greater vigour. The old age pensioners themselves are extremely apprehensive about the Bill. That is evidenced by the vast number of protests which have been forthcoming from old age pensioners individually and from associations of old age pensioners. The hon. Member for Down said that he has had no protests against the Bill from his constituency. I ventured once before to point out that at the present time the Bill does not affect Northern Ireland.
§ Dr. Little
I explained at that time that I was well aware of that, but that the Northern Ireland Government have promised to introduce a Bill which will be on all fours with this. The people over there know that it is coming.
§ Mr. Beaumont
I welcome that reply. Even if the old age pensioners of Northern Ireland have not sent protests to the hon. Member, Members of the Northern Ireland Parliament will receive many protests from them when that Bill is introduced there. The hon. Member for Stretford said that there were two outstanding merits of the Bill. It gives supplementary pensions, and it enables the pensioner to go to the post office for that supplementary pension. What he failed to refer to was the grilling and gruelling that those old people will have to suffer before they have the right to go to the post office and draw the supplementary pension. This Bill establishes the new principle that, in future, any additions to the old age pension can be gained only by submission to some form of means test.
The hon. and gallant Member for Sudbury (Colonel Burton), whose speeches on this Bill we have been delighted to hear, said that he hoped that the official form that applicants for supplementary pension will have to fill in would be of such a clear character that the old age pensioners will not be subjected to discomfort and trouble. But the end of the old age pensioner's trouble will not come with the filling in and signing of his form; there is all the questioning, interrogation, and inquiry that he will have to go through before he receives his allowance. The hon. and gallant Member emphasised the tragic way in which the Minister of Health was willingly giving away the rights of the House to determine the character of the Regulations. I know that we are able to reject the Regulations as a whole, but it 906 is desirable that we should be able to alter them in detail without necessarily throwing them out completely.
If I am not violating a tradition of the House, may I strike a personal note? I happen to be celebrating to-day my first Parliamentary birthday. I do not mention that in the expectation that right hon. and hon. Members opposite will wish me many happy returns, but I remember that at that by-election which I had the honour of fighting 12months ago there were two outstanding issues: the world situation and, as the primary problem of domestic affairs, old age pensions. The old age pensioners came to me in large numbers, and sent me letters, pointing out, even then, that it was not possible for them to live on the old age pension. If that pension was inadequate 12 months ago, it is much more inadequate now, with the increase in the cost of living. The Minister of Health and the Parliamentary Secretary have undergone nine days of grilling and gruelling, and I want to pay tribute to the courtesy and patience they have shown during that time. But their patience has been nothing compared with that of the old age pensioners. Having said that they have been courteous and patient, I must add that the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. Lady have adopted a stonewall attitude. On the Second Reading, the Chancellor of the Exchequer tried to persuade us to accept the Bill. He said: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?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st February, 1940; col. 1496, Vol. 357.]I would suggest that the Minister of Health has not demonstrated any desire to accommodate Members on this side of the House with regard to the improvement of the Bill. Our main objections to the Bill are, first, the introduction of the needs test, and then the provision with regard to the making of regulations. We are told that the regulations will be submitted to this House and that the House can disapprove of them. We are told also that the Minister of Health will have some hand in the framing of those regulations. I want to submit that the nature 907 of those regulations will determine to a large degree not only the courtesy and kindness with which pensioners will be treated, but the possibility of their getting supplementary pensions. I want, however, to say one good thing about the Bill. I welcome the appointment of Dr. J. J. Mallon as a member of the Assistance Board. Those of us who are his personal friends know that he will bring a very wise discernment and a generous heart to his work, but just as one swallow does not make a summer, neither will one Mallon make a humane Assistance Board. The Board will be bound by the regulations.
Another blot on the Bill is the introduction of the pernicious principle of permitting an inspector or officer to ascertain the mental and bodily condition of an old age pensioner and being empowered to suggest to the Board that it would be desirable that that pensioner should enter an institution. If he does not enter an institution, he will be deprived of any supplementary pension. If there is a definite need, there should be no inquisition into the mental and bodily ills of an old age pensioner. The introduction of the means test is repugnant in thought and deed in its application, and it is demoralising and degrading in its effect. The right hon. Gentleman may say that the regulations can soften the blow to the old age pensioners, but if they are to be subjected to this inquisition, I fail to see how regulations can soften the blow. I am right in saying that the Minister of Health stated that no more people would, under this Bill, come under the means test than come under it at the present time. That statement is not correct, because it does not take into account the hundreds of thousands of old age pensioners who up to the present have not applied to the public assistance committee but who will eventually be compelled to make such an application. There will be hundreds of thousands of poor old people who will have to swallow their pride and expose all their family life and history and the conditions of their home in order to get supplementary pensions.
We are told that in order that we may win this war it is necessary that young men should go and risk the danger of death, but those young men are not sub- 908 jected to any means test. They are not asked whether, if they go, the means of their families will be jeopardised. A great many families to-day are reduced to the poverty level because the bread winner has gone into the Army. It means that many old people who have been just able to get along on their pensions, plus an allowance from their families, will have to apply for public assistance because their families cannot go on giving that help now that the breadwinner has gone to the war. We have been told in the course of the Debate that pensions granted to civil servants are merely deferred pay. We on this side of the House submit that old age pensions are simply deferred pay for workers who have never been able to save or to insure against old age.
The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Scotland, who has been very active and courteous in the conduct of this Bill—he has not given much away—reminded us in one of his speeches that we were engaged in a war. We on this side of the House are very conscious of that, but we are determined that the war shall not carry with it the sacrifice of the old people. When we are told to remember the background of the war, are we to assume that if there had been no war and there had been a General Election in the offing, the same kind of Bill would have been presented? The Secretary of State said there was no difference in principle between those on this side of the House and those on the Government side. After nine days of Debate I hope that now he is aware that there is a vital difference in principle. The Government regard old age pensions as a gift, a concession, an act of mercy, a measure of relief, a form of charity, a gesture of good nature, and an act of kindness. We regard old age pensions as a right to which old people are entitled, and we demand that old age pensions shall be given without any inquisition. We look forward to the good days to which the hon. Member for Down referred, for then we shall be on the other side of the House and be able to bring in a pensions Bill which will enable everybody to live comfortably in the eventide of their lives. Ruskin said:The greatest cities in the world are not the cities which contain the greatest number of men and women but the cities which contain the greatest men and the greatest women.909 I submit that the wealth of this country does not consist of the millions of acres which the Empire may comprise, nor the accumulated wealth of the country itself, but the happiness and health of the people of the country. This Bill fails because it does not make wise and adequate provision for the poor and because it introduces a new and vicious principle. We oppose it because we think the principle underlying it is fundamentally wrong. We want this nation to be great, and the test of the greatness of a nation is to be found in the way in which it looks after its children and its aged people.
§ 7.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Daggar (Abertillery)
The Bill now before the House, bad as it is, justifies the campaign undertaken by the old people themselves. We have reached a stage when aged people, instead of remaining in their own homes, are being compelled to organise an agitation in order to secure some assistance from a Tory Administration. We have been informed that the Bill provides assistance which will take the form of a supplemental pension, but we find that the applicant for that supplemental pension will be subjected to an ignoble means test, applied by the trained inquisitorial agents of the present Government. It is very difficult to ascertain how many old people will be affected. The figure given by the Parliamentary Secretary was in the region of 275,000. The reason for this treatment of old people was given by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in a statement which he made to the House on 23rd January. He said:We should not be justified in relieving from all obligation sons and daughters who live in the same house as their aged parents and can make some reasonable contribution to their parents' maintenance. This has been the practice in this country from time immemorial, and it is based on sound social instincts."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd January, 1940; col. 370, Vol. 356.]The last sentence is concerned not only with ethics but philosophy. Age now is to be the test of whether a method is right or wrong. What has been and is must be right. It means that when a politician turns philosopher he is much more unreliable as a guide than when a preacher turns politician or prophet. Such a definition, I submit, implies that there is no need for any change. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says the method is based 910 on sound social instincts. That obviously applies not only to movements but to individuals. To change from a Liberal to a Tory must imply unsound social instincts. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is a most capable sponsor of this Bill. Like the other renegade Liberals in the Tory Government, he has taken his share of the dirty work of the Government. I do not know what the present Government would do without the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This Government has the largest majority ever known in the political hostory of this country, and yet the Prime Minister has had to apply to persons outside the House in order to fill certain big offices. I suppose the next step will be to advertise in the Press. I am surprised that there has not been an office given to the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), who is never at a loss—
§ Mr. Daggar
What I intended to say was that there is no need to go outside this House to fill an office when you can get men who will do everything but crawl on their stomachs to occupy an office.
§ Mr. Daggar
I think I am entitled, at any rate, to pay a compliment to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who is one of the sponsors of the Bill. He will support any measure introduced by the present Government. There has been much discussion on the various kinds of tests, but we are opposed to the provision made in this Bill for the extension of the household means test to old age pensioners. If I were asked to decide between the individual income test that applies to a person of 70 years of age and over as against the household means test, I would obviously agree to the operation of the individual income test. An hon. Member stated that our people would be much better off under this Bill. I wish I could be convinced that that will be the position of our old age pensioners. It is a change simply from the public assistance committee needs test to the household means test as applied by the Unemployment Assistance Board; it is the substitution of one humiliation for another. We have always contended that the pension should be adequate, and that 911 it should be paid to our people, not as a privilege, but as a right, and that it should be free both from the inquisition adopted by the public assistance committee and that adopted by the Unemployment Assistance Board.
The attitude of the Government towards the question of increasing the old age pension warrants the conclusion, so they think, that the old people are both stupid and ignorant. In fact, an observation was made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Fife that provision was being made under this Bill for people whom he described as simple folk. Let me state definitely—and here I speak for those whom I represent—that they are neither stupid nor simple, although they happen to be over 70 years of age. Upon numerous occasions in my presence they have commented upon the difference in the treatment meted out to them by this Government and the treatment meted out to the friends of the Tory administration. This refers not only to subsidies, but to grants, rebates, and loans to various industries, and it is useless to endeavour to draw a distinction between doles to individuals and doles to industries. An industry is not an abstraction. It exists in virtue of the people who are interested in the success of the industry, and a subsidy to an industry is tantamount to a dole to the individuals who own the industry.
The people with whom I have discussed the question of pensions have pointed out that this Administration, from the year 1924–25 to the last year for which figures are obtainable, have spent upon the objects I have already described over £79,000,000. During the life-time of this Parliament, from 1935, expenditure on those items has been in excess of £49,000,000. These payments are made, as the old age pensioners argue, without any test, whether it be a household, a firm, or individual income. That is not the whole of the story. We have been told by the Minister responsible for giving this information to the House that the amount included in the block grant in respect of the year 1928–29 on the basis of benefit to agriculture totalled approximately £10,800,000. If that form of relief has been at a similar rate since the year when it was first decided to afford such relief, we must add another £120,000,000 912 to the £79,000,000, making a total in subsidies and rebates to industry of over £200,000,000. Our people say that that is a nice amount to devote to the interests of the friends of the Government. The "Economist" says that the total of money granted by the Treasury in one form or another to agriculture, together with differential relief from taxation, now amounts to more than £45,000,000, or about 13s. per week for every person engaged in the industry.
We have not heard in any quarter of this country or of this House any whisper about the demoralising effect of public charity or doles. The proposal to extend the means test to our old people has brought this differential treatment into much-needed prominence. In fact the giving of doles to agriculture has become a scandal. Hon. Members opposite may dislike that description, but that description has been given to it not by Members of my party, but by members of the Tory party itself. One hon. Member, in discussing this question, stated that the assistance to this industry had the dimensions of an exceedingly unpleasant public scandal. The use of the word "scandal" to describe this policy is neither untrue nor inappropriate. During the last 14 years public money amounting to no less than £150 per acre has been sunk in the 400,000 acres devoted to sugar beet. This policy of expending public money has been exploited by members of the Tory party in order to secure success at the various elections. I live in a mining area, and the people there do not forget. The Government say that they cannot do more because of the war, which, after all, is only an excuse, because before the war commenced they refused on several occasions, through the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to make any improvement in the lot of our old age pensioners.
The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he makes his proposals to the House, reminds me of an experience I had last year. I witnessed the cleaning of a motor car by a new product which had been put on the market. When applied to the motor car it produced a surface extremely "shiny, smooth, sleek and slick." I did not know, before I came to this House and heard the statements made by that Liberal renegade, the Chancellor of the 913 Exchequer, why that product was described as "Simoniz." The people in that mining area have not forgotten that this Government found £70,000,000 in order to pay off 3,789 royalty owners—less than 4,000 individuals.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member must not devote his speech to this kind of thing. It is not in the Bill. This is the Third Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. Daggar
I will leave that point by saying that our people object to the imposition of the means test when the Government have compensated these men to that extent and have robbed the mining industry of not less than £120,000,000 in the last 10 years. We have heard that the pensioners have not complained. An hon. Gentleman who previously addressed the House stated that he had had no complaints from old age pensioners. Let me inform the House of what some of the old age pensioners in South Wales think of this Bill. The organisation responsible for convening the conference is not a political organisation. They say:We hereby resolve to inaugurate a national campaign having for its object the speedy removal from power of those who have proved utterly incapable of understanding this human problem and have hitherto treated the old people in so cynical and shameful a manner.It has been very gratifying to know, in the course of the discussions on this Bill lasting nine days that, with the exception of one instance, we have not had to listen to the charge that it was a Labour Government that imposed the means test. That exception was the wild statement made by the hon. Member for Windsor (Sir A. Somerville), who is a sufficiently old Member of this House to know better than to charge the late Labour Government with imposing the means test. We on these benches have constantly opposed the means test being applied in the case of the unemployed since its adoption by the Government in 1931, and which, strangely enough, was proposed by the right hon. Gentleman the present Minister of Health when he was Financial Secretary to the Treasury—particulars of which can be found in Command Paper 3952—and operated by regulation issued by him on 1st October, 1931. For us to decline to oppose its application to the aged people would be nothing less than criminal. We know that since its operation in the case of the unemployed a 914 saving has been effected in unemployment allowance of no less than £15,000,000 a year. That was the object that the Government had in view when they first imposed the means test.
If its application in the case of old people is not with a view to reducing expenditure, then why is the means test introduced? We are witnessing, instead of the abolition of the means test, an expansion of its operation, not only in connection with the unemployed, but in connection with the aged people of this country. It has been hinted that we shall be having it applied to our men who are now in receipt of compensation. Therefore we are entitled to ask: Whose turn next? Our loyalty to the country, but not to the Government, in our determination to prosecute the war to a successful issue is being daily exploited by the Government, and under cover of war the Government are determined to attain objects which they would hesitate to attempt were we at peace. I had evidence of this the other day when we were discussing another dole to the railways. At the conclusion of his speech, the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, who, in my opinion, if he does not possess competency does possess sufficient Conservative cheek, said:The party opposite has no executive or administrative responsibility for carrying on the war. They are with us in their desire that we should prosecute the war with all vigour and bring it to a victorious conclusion, but they have dissociated themselves from any responsibility for the actual conduct of the war. That being so, I think they must leave us to decide whether this particular action on our part would be conducive to good or bad."—[OFFICIAL RETORT, 13th February, 1940; col. 728, Vol. 357.]I submit that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury was simply expressing the thoughts contained in the heads of the people responsible for this Bill. That seems to be the attitude of the present Government towards the many issues we raise here as an Opposition. That position, demands a reply from those of us who are not prepared to accept it, because we are not prepared to allow the Government to decide all these questions.
Some of us are receiving invitations to assist in various ways in the raising of money, through the purchase of War Savings Certificates, towards the prosecution of the war. We know what our fate would be if Hitler won the war; we would 915 lose a large measure of our freedom and representatives and supporters of the Government would lose their property, which is equally important to them. Nevertheless, I refuse to assist in the manner suggested unless the Government discontinue their present policy. The Opposition are rapidly approaching the stage when consideration will have to be given to the continuance of their support to the Government in the conduct of the war being made conditional on their deciding to remove the means test from old age pensioners. In any event, I have arrived at my decision, and, having done so, I shall endeavour to persuade others to reach a similar decision. To-night I shall have an opportunity of expressing that decision in the Lobby, because I think the Chamberlain Government constitute as much a menace to this country and the working class as does Nazism abroad.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Messer (Tottenham, South)
I think everyone who has listened to these Debates must have seen that there is a very real reason why, from one side of the House, there should have been persistent criticism of the means test, while, on the other, there should have appeared to be a lack of understanding of the results of its application. The explanation can, I think, be found in the fact that on these benches there are many Members who have spent years in local administration and, as a result of that experience, are able to judge with some degree of sympathetic understanding what happens when a machine takes the place of a human agency. That is what I fear about this Bill. I do not want to be swept along in a flood of wholesale condemnation. Frankly, I think a step forward has been made in the reduction of the age of the women who will benefit. Those who are given to uncompromising hostility towards the Bill because there are things in it with which they disagree, seem to lack that degree of discernment which one requires in order to understand the necessary legislative steps which can be taken in connection with our social services. But it is deplorable that during the last few years the Statute Book of this country should have been made so kaleidoscopic with the patchwork legislation of this Government.
This Bill is, after all, only a patch, and not such an effective one as could 916 have been made in the circumstances. In the Debate this evening I heard one of the Government's supporters say that this Bill was as good as could be obtained in the circumstances. I do not agree. I think a great opportunity has been lost. While I am prepared to admit the difficulties which confront a nation engaged in war, the opportunity for remedying some of the weaknesses of the law as it stands has been passed by. For instance, there is no attempt in the Bill to alter existing legislation which has shown itself to be unfair as regards to pensions. Let me give an instance. We have in this Bill the horrible means test and we have no indication, and shall not have, until we know what the regulations are, whether there is to be a standardised form of assessment of income and whether that form of assessment is to be an improvement on that which at present exists.
I have had personal experience of what I regard as real human tragedy. An old age pensioner struggles along in a back room assisted, perhaps, to a slight extent by relatives, or dependent upon some form of addition from public assistance. The public assistance committee is a body not merely responsible for giving him that addition but with an interest in his welfare and, by law, the county council or county borough council must attend to the medical needs of that old age pensioner. I hope the Minister of Health is going to take this into consideration for I am certain he has not the stony heart which some Members on this side, who like to irritate him, seem to think he has. When this pensioner falls ill, he goes into hospital where the maintenance costs may be as much as 70s. or 80s. a week. The Ministry of Health assesses his income on the value of that maintenance and treatment and, as a consequence of that assessment, he is no longer entitled to his 10s. a week and cannot keep on his little back room. He has nowhere to go when he comes out of hospital, except to the institution, and his furniture is stored by the public assistance committee. I am certain that nobody would want that sort of thing to continue. Obviously, while it can be shown that, spread over the whole number of pensioners who may be in hospital the cost per head is 70s. to 80s. a week, that is definitely not income coming to the old age pensioner.
917 Some of my feelings of disquiet about Part II of the Bill might be modified, if I knew what would be in the regulations. These will largely represent the pivot around which the whole scheme will work. I have discovered in life, as I expect every other Member has, that it is not only what you do that matters, but the way in which you do it. It is not merely the law which is important but the way in which the law is administered. That is one of the reasons why I wonder whether it will be a good thing to hand over the administration of the new regulations to the Assistance Board. The Assistance Board will be a machine, not subject to what I regard as an irresistible force—the force of public opinion. The Assistance Board has not to go before the electorate to justify what it does, or show that it is following the desires of the mass of the people. What it has to do is to justify its existence as an economic body more than anything else and I wonder whether it would not have been better if the Minister had taken a short cut in this matter.
I listened carefully to the criticisms which have been advanced against the flat-rate increase but I am tempted to believe that what has happened in connection with this Bill has been that the Government have seen the approach of a period when something will have to be done. They have sought to do something but have not done it in the best possible way. Everybody knows that we could not go on very much longer witnessing increases in the cost of living, while the income of the poor remained fixed. Public opinion would have compelled some improvement. But there is no warrant in this Bill for assuming that anybody will get a penny piece more than before, except the women who will draw a pension at an earlier age. What, in fact, is being done is to transfer liability from the rates to the taxes. It is changing money from one pocket to the other. Even conceding there was an adjustment of the block grant my argument would still hold good. The old age pensioner does not benefit.
Are we legislating for the rates, the taxes or the old age pensioner? Do not let us be hypocrites about this. Do not let old age pensioners think that the House of Commons is doing great, fine and generous things unless we can show that, as a result of what we are doing, 918 the old age pensioner will have an improvement on his present position. There are two things I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman. One is very important to me. It is in connection with Clause 16. It will be remembered that, when the county councils took over public assistance work from the boards of guardians, they transferred officers. If, as a result of the operation of the Act of 1929, those officers suffered loss of office, they were enabled to claim compensation; but, the county councils having taken over that work, nobody was left but them to pay that compensation. The boards of guardians had disappeared, and although the officers seeking compensation had been employed by them, the only people who could pay it were the county councils.
We now have the position that, as a result of the operation of the Bill, officers who will lose their offices under public assistance committees, will be able to claim compensation, not from the bodies that now render the service but from the county councils, who, after having paid compensation to transferred officers on taking over from the board of guardians, will now have to pay compensation upon the Government taking over the work. Perhaps it might be juster and more equitable if the Government could see to it that the work to be done by the Assistance Board is given to officers who would otherwise be displaced. I would ask whichever Minister is to reply to-night to give me some undertaking, even if he can go no further than to say that officers who are displaced will receive first consideration as far as possible, in connection with appointments to the Assistance Board. [Interruption.] If that undertaking has already been given, I must confess I am speaking in ignorance of it, and the point does not arise.
I hope that the Government will realise that the Bill will provide not fewer but fresh anomalies because of the fact that it carries on into the future those matters which have proved so anomalous in the past. When an old age pensioner reaches the age of 65 he does not get his contributory pension because he has reached that age, notwithstanding the fact that he may have paid contributions for 20 years. He gets it only when he can prove that he has been in continuous insurable employment for five consecutive years prior to the date of his claim and that he has 919 no fewer than 104 stamps on his card within three years before that date. It is difficult to understand why, having applied that test to him, we are now applying the additional means test before he can get any addition to that pension. Would it have been beyond the capacity of this Government to do something that would have made a great impression on the nation at large, and that would have shown that they were not merely facing a war abroad, but were ensuring that the incidence of that war should not press unduly, unfairly and harshly upon the people at home?
§ 7.50 p.m.
§ Sir Adam Maitland (Faversham)
In his closing remarks the hon. Gentleman has just suggested that the Bill will add new anomalies. Well, this is an imperfect world. I am afraid that even Bills which are introduced into this House for the specific purpose of removing anomalies often succeed in creating others. Parliamentary discussion of matters on which there are divided opinions generally take the form of an attack from the Opposition upon the Government such as the fierce attack we have heard this afternoon, and then of criticism of the Bill, such as that this is not the right time or not the right way in which to achieve the object in question. We have had suggestions of those kinds several times in connection with the Bill. Broadly speaking, however, the speeches of the Opposition have dwelt upon the means test.
I believe in the means test. If and when hon. Gentlemen who oppose the Government find themselves charged with the responsibilities of government, I believe they will recognise that they are trustees for the nation at large. Just as they imposed a means test when in authority upon those who had to provide the revenues of the country, so I am certain that they will, as practical people, when they have to administer and to discharge the functions of government, depart from the view which many of them are now expressing. Why do hon. Members suggest that a flat-rate increase takes away from these people the feeling that they are in receipt of a State grant? In point of fact, the additional sum, whether given by way of a flat-rate increase or of supplementary pension, is not received by right. The recipients get it as some- 920 thing which the Government of the day offer to tide over extremely difficult conditions.
The Government must be prepared to take responsibility for the financial Measures which they introduce. Reference has been made to the speech of the Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I thought the observation of that Minister was very proper, and that he was entitled to say that, while hon. Gentlemen opposite expressed their desire to co-operate with His Majesty's Government in the prosecution of the war, they refused to accept any executive responsibility. The answer of the Financial Secretary was perfectly proper, because hon. Gentlemen opposite have no executive responsibility. This responsibility lies with us, and we must take responsibility for any financial Measures we introduce. I believe it will be found in time that the Bill has the approbation of old age pensioners. It is not true that the working people desire State aid to go into homes and families where it is not needed. The very people who would object to promiscuous grants by the State or by the local authorities are those who, hon. Gentlemen say, object to the test. [An Hon. Member: "It is a household means test."] Whether that be so or not, my point is that the working people of this country take strong objection to their neighbours receiving State money when not needing it.
The hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) was right in saying that a great deal will depend upon the way in which the regulations are administered. Sufficient has been said on all sides of this House to convey to those who will be responsible for this administration that this House requires the greatest possible latitude and generosity, so that the really deserving aged poor may have the best possible treatment that the country can at the present time afford. It is wrong for hon. Gentlemen to say that the Government might have dealt with this matter in another way. They realise only too well that when discussing old age pensions we think not only in terms of the amount of money involved but of the whole structure of our social services. I am sure hon. Gentlemen opposite will be disposed to agree that one of the principal responsibilities of Parliament in these difficult and trying times must be to do nothing to disturb the foundations on 921 which our social services rest. It is not good enough to say that the money can be found. I sometimes have wondered how on earth we are going to get away from the financial and economic problems which the war brings. It does not satisfy me.
Hon. Gentlemen say that this is only a matter of another £38,000,000 or £40,000,000 and that the Government ought to provide it. I believe that the Government have introduced not only a courageous but an honest Measure. They have said honestly, openly and with conviction to the country: "We recognise the difficulties of the aged people, and we are attempting to help the aged poor who are in need." If people in need are to be helped, who is aggrieved? I believe that the Government have dealt with the matter, having regard to their range of responsibilities, in as generous a way as circumstances permit. I have no hesitation in supporting the Measure, but I beg the Government to see that, in its administration, there shall be brought to bear the greatest possible sympathy and consideration for the aged poor.
§ 7.58 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Smith (Normanton)
The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken said that if we were in office, we should be bound to have a means test. The future will, of course, decide as to that matter, but I say that if we were on the other side of the House and were dealing with old age pensions, we certainly should not have a household means test applied to the aged poor. This afternoon, three Members of the other side have supported the Bill and the hon. Member for Down (Dr. Little) talked about love. I do not know anything about that, but I know that the Bill is a breach of promise so far as the aged poor are concerned. When the Prime Minister announced from that Box some weeks ago that some improvement was to take place in the position of old age pensioners, I did not think that the improvement would be dependent upon a household means test. For at least seven years we have complained in this House about the way in which the household means test has operated towards the unemployed. I was defeated in 1931, and I came back two years afterwards unopposed because the Conservatives in my constituency openly admitted that they could not go on the platform 922 and justify the means test for the unemployed. On occasions we had some very strenuous debates with regard to it. Now, for the first time in the history of the country, the old people are going to be subject to a household means test. I listened carefully to the hon. Lady's speech. No one will begrudge the good points that are in the Bill. I welcome Part I and regard it as a step forward. The only complaint that I have in regard to it is that the pension is not big enough. But whence get down to the question of a supplementary pension based on a household means test and we talk about the distinction between a family and a household means test, I can point out where in some cases the household means test is even more severe on the applicant than the family means test.
I had my training in the Poor Law at Sheffield for 10 consecutive years in the stormy days and I used to know every dependent relative that there was. A father had to keep his wife and children and his grandchildren, but the grand children were not compelled to keep the grandparents, the brother was not compelled to keep the sister, and so on. If you gave relief to a man, you first had to ask if there were any parents and if the grandparents were in a good position. If so, you touched them for two or three shillings. We had to ask if there were any children living away from home, and we used to try to persuade them to pay direct for the old people. I know an old age pensioner who is living with a family to which he is not related in any way and he is assessed entirely on his own because he has no family. But when this Bill becomes law and that man has to apply for his supplementary pension, the resources of the household will be taken into account and, as the people happen to be in a fairly decent position, it may be that he will be worse off than he is now. So I would not make too much of this distinction between the family and the household means test. If the Government had made it purely a personal income test of the old age pensioner, perhaps something could have been said for it.
I want to summarise how the household means test operates and why we are so hostile towards it. In the first place, it stabilises poverty. It is certainly better to-day than it was when the first unem- 923 ployment assistance regulations came in, because, by means of agitation, we got improvements, but it more or less stabilises poverty. If at present for unemployment purposes you have a father out of work and a son or two sons, earnings good wages in the pit, the harder they work the more the wages increase and the less the old man's allowance. We are going to have the same thing with regard to old age pensions. Take, for example, a man and his wife, both drawing the pension and living, not with a son or sons but with a son-in-law. Because the son-in-law is earning good wages, which bring the household within the limit, the father-in-law and his wife will get practically nothing. In other words, you compel the son-in-law to keep the two old age pensioners. The household means test stabilises poverty, but it does something else. It tends to break the home up. If you have an old age pensioner and his wife living with a son-in-law and the resources of the household are such that the old people can get nothing, they will be put in a separate house in order to get the supplementary pension.
§ Miss Horsbrugh
The hon. Member says that the son-in-law would have to keep the father-in-law and his wife, but he agrees that they will have £1.
§ Mr. Smith
If we are trying to "kid" each other, let us say so. The £1 pension is a contributory pension to which they are entitled by right. Before you can apply for a supplementary pension you must be a pensioner. Do not let us try to mislead each other. If you have a couple of old age pensioners, or a pensioner and his wife, whose £1 a week is not enough to keep them, and they are living with a son-in-law and, because he happens to be in a decent position, the household resources are above the limit, that old couple can get nothing. I challenge the hon. Lady to say whether or not I am wrong in that case. What is the next thing that can happen? You are either compelling the son-in-law to carry the burden of his wife's parents or they will arrange to get them out of the house and put them on their own, and then they can get the supplementary pension. The household means test tends to break up family life.
924 There is another phase of it which I have met with a thousand times in the Poor Law and which is going to be met in this case. The moment you apply for a supplementary pension and there are other people in the household, letters go out to the other people's employers asking what wages they have drawn over a period. The modern young woman likes to dress well and keep up appearances. She goes a few miles away from home to work. Hundreds of girls go from Normanton to Leeds. They do not want everyone in the office at Leeds to know that their father is applying for a supplementary pension. They do not want to reveal to their employers that their father is on the means test. I know what effect it has on them. It tends to cause disagreement in the household and to make these young people leave home, and it leaves some of them in a fairly nasty temper. I shall support the Amendment, believing that I am doing the right thing in the interests of the old people. I never knew it was a crime to become old. We are inclined to treat the old people a little like criminals. There is no disgrace in being old.
The hon. Member who spoke last does not understand the difference between drawing money from the State and drawing money from the parish. Perhaps he never had anything to do with the Poor Law. I was an administrator as well as a recipient. In the nineteenth century the administration of the Poor Law was almost a disgrace and a curse. The women in the villages were afraid to meet the relieving officer and almost shuddered at his coming. I knew it, and my parents knew it. The dear old lady who lived for 87 years in one house, with four sons killed and injured in the pit, had to resort on occasion to parish relief, and they almost dreaded the relieving officer coming in. I could keep the House until 2 o'clock in the morning telling them interesting things about it. I remember a relieving officer saying to me, "We cannot give relief to this person; she bets." I asked him what evidence he had. He said he had found a bit of sporting "pink" on the table. I said that came with chips and fish. The first time I got on to the guardians they gave me a handbook, and this is the humane way they treated the old people. It said:If the applicant for relief is more than 60 years of age, has lived in the parish for 925 more than 20 years, has a character which will bear the strictest investigation and came to poverty through no fault of his own, the relief committee may give a maximum of 5s. a, week.I said to a certain canon, who never married, "Do you think you could manage on 5s. a week?" He said, "No." I remember sitting one day with a spinster and the canon. We had to give relief to a man and wife with 10 children. They were expecting another, and, when it came, they were two. Had we to be tied down with such a scale to deal with a case like that? Anyone who has had any knowledge of the Poor Law knows that the very thought of having to go to the parish was a thing that a woman almost dreaded. But if you draw something from the State to which you think you have a right, you have not the same feeling. I believe the old people have a right to a pension scheme worthy of the name. Who are these men of 65? Many of them were heroes in the last war. They were either producing munitions or doing the fighting. Twenty-five years ago, before we had conscription, hundreds of men of 35 and 40 came out of the pits and went into the Army, and made very good scrappers. Many of them suffered from the effects of the war and were not always wanted in industry. They are now pensioners drawing their 10s. a week. If we had not been at war, no Government would dare to bring in a Bill like this. If there had been an election in the ordinary way, we would have kicked them out, as we did over the not-genuinely-seeking-work Clause. They are trading on the fact that we are at war.
There is a question that I should like to put to the Minister, and to which I want an answer. The hon. Lady said this was not an ideal Bill, it was not the last word, it was a war-time Measure, and we were limited because money for social reform was scarce. I have been trying to answer this question ever since I was a student. I have gone through the Official Report since 1908, but there is one question to which I cannot get an answer. When can the country afford to deal fairly with the poor? When shall we be in a position to deal fairly with our old age pensioners? When we are at peace, the argument is that industry cannot afford it. I could remember what Members on that side said when 5s. at 70 came in. They said it destroyed thrift and the morale of the 926 people. When the first social reforms came in some coalowners said, "If you pass this, you will ruin the mining industry." You cannot afford it in peace time and, when war comes, you cannot afford it because money is needed for other purposes. The moment the war is over, you cannot afford it because the call for economy comes. I wonder when we shall be able to deal fairly with old age pensioners?
I have heard a good deal of talk this afternoon about thrift and reconstruction, and what we are going to do when the war is over. I have a retentive memory, I wish sometimes that I had not. I remember what was said during the last war and the glorious period of reconstruction which was to come after 1918. Everything in the garden was going to be as beautiful as anything ever Middleton thought about. I remember 1919 and 1920, when we had demobilisation and huge groups of unemployed. A Member of the Cabinet told us in Sheffield that if we gave relief of more than £1 a week, the Government would not sanction our loan. When we told men who were getting 8s. a week as a pension that they could have relief in addition, the chamber of commerce from Sheffield made a special inquiry and had to stand a four days' examination. Do not let us try to kid the populace again. We are at war, and we want to win it. We want to do what is right and not raise false hopes in the breasts of the people. I am rather afraid of this machinery. If a call for economy comes when the war is over and the Assistance Board has to cut down its expenditure, it is much easier to bring in regulations to this House, which we cannot amend, reducing the amounts to be paid, than it is to repeal the actual figures put into an Act of Parliament.
I am convinced that this Bill is not good enough for the old people. We have been asked whether we would give it to people who are in work. I would give a flat-rate increase if only to keep them off the public assistance committee, but, as a war-time Measure, the Bill could have been limited to those not at work. The purpose of a pension is to enable old people to spend the autumn of their days in something like comfort. There will come a time when this controversy will be more keen than it is now, and those who live in congested 927 districts, where unemployment has not moved at all, where poverty stares us in the face, and where we see the evils of the means test, will not forget. We shall go into the Lobby in support of the Amendment because it is the right thing to do. We shall do what we can to smash the household means test, not merely as it affects old people, but also as it affects the unemployed, and I hope the day will soon come when in this country we shall have an adequate old age pension more in keeping with other parts of the British Empire. I shall go on agitating until we get an adequate pensions scheme and treat our veterans of industry as they ought to be treated.
§ 8.20 p.m.
§ Sir W. Allen (Armagh)
I hope it will not be considered impertinent for another Irishman to take part in this Debate, particularly as the Bill does not refer to Ireland. But as my colleague has informed the House, and as I did on Second Reading, we in Northern Ireland will undoubtedly have a Bill exactly on the same lines as the one now before the House. That is one reason why we want to see the Bill improved as far as is possible. I would like to join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary upon the way in which she has conducted the Bill through the various stages. She has done so with every credit to herself and to those who appointed her to the position. I well remember when she sat beside me on these benches and made her maiden speech. I thought to myself, "This is an hon. Member who may one day find herself on the Front Bench"—and she has. In her exposition of the Bill, her geniality, and helpfulness she has done herself great credit. I only wish that some of the male members of the Front Bench would speak as she does, so that we could understand, and hear. I listened to her exposition of Clause 11, that marvellous production of the draftsman, which I believe few hon. Members in the House understand yet. She made it simple and clear to us all. That is much to her credit. May I join in wishing her long life to enjoy the position she holds at present?
With regard to the Bill, there are some things which we should like to change. Personally, I do not like the word 928 "regulations." I have been 22 years a Member of the House, and time and again there have been brought before Parliament regulations which have been a positive disgrace. There is not a Member of the House who has not seen a document from the Ministry of Pensions with regard to the widow of an ex-service man in which occurs the words "not attributable to war service." How any man can determine whether such a thing is attributable or not to war service has always been a mystery to me. I give this example of what regulations may do, and it is why I spoke so strongly on the Second Reading on seeing that the regulations were a matter for the consideration of Parliament. We can all remember the Minister of Pensions telling us, "This is a tribunal over which I have no control; it was appointed by the House, and is not under my jurisdiction." If we are going to have anything of that kind with regard to these regulations, there will be trouble, and I hope that this House will have some say in the issue of the regulations.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Colonel Clifton Brown)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. and gallant Member, but my impression is that Rules are in Part II of the Bill and not Regulations. In fact a new Clause was proposed to change the word "Rules" into "Regulations."
§ Sir W. Allen
I appreciate the point, but regulations have so often been referred to that I thought I might have the same privilege. With regard to the Amendment, I have been a Member of the House long enough to know how innocuous are such pious Amendments. There is not an hon. Member opposite who would dare to go to his constituents and tell them that his vote had rejected the Bill.
§ Sir W. Allen
The hon. Member is satisfied that the Government will have a majority which will keep him right with his constituents. The hon. Member knows that the Bill will be passed, and that is 929 why he is so happy in all his condemnation of it.
In the Second Reading Debate, I spoke very strongly about the household means test. I still feel very strongly about that, but I feel that we cannot possibly reject a Bill which has so much good in it. That is my position to-night. The future will determine how far this Bill really assists the old age pensioners. The time will come when, if we find that it is not benefiting the old age pensioners as we and the Government thought it would do, we shall, I am sure, be given an opportunity to change it. A great deal has been said about the relief which the Bill will give to the local authorities. The State is to take over the responsibility of the local authorities in this matter. When hon. Members talk about relief being given to the local authorities, they really mean relief to the local ratepayers. The burden is being shifted from the ratepayers to the State. What is the State? From where does it get its money? It has no money of its own. The State goes for its money to the taxpayers, and the taxpayers are the ratepayers. There you have the confusion of thought about what the State may pay, or what the taxpayer or the ratepayer may pay, and what relief may be given to them. The local authorities will simply collect less rates as a result of this relief, but the very same people who will be relieved of those rates are the people to whom the Government will say, "You must pay an additional tax in order that we may get the money for this increase in old age pensions."
A great deal has been said about wartime legislation and the difficulties of the Government in increasing this benefit at the present time. That is common sense. There we are all agreed. This Measure has been brought forward at a time when we are passing through the most difficult financial period in the history of the British nation. I am looking forward to the time when war will be over, when all the munitions factories will be closed, and when we shall have a feeling of security which we cannot have now. That time will come. Then people will say how great and courageous the Government were to bring in at this time a Bill of such magnitude. I hope that hon. Members will think again about the Amendment they have put on the Paper. There is not an hon. Member on this side of the House or on the other side who does not 930 wish to see the old age pensioners benefit. While some hon. Members may not believe that this Bill will benefit the old age pensioners very much, it is a great experiment; and I think that to-night the Bill should have unanimous support and be passed, for what it is worth.
§ 8.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Brown (Mansfield)
The hon. and gallant Member for Armagh (Sir W. Allen) obviously has far more admiration for those in charge of the Bill than he has for the Bill itself, and certainly, judging from what he said, he has a particular admiration for the Parliamentary Secretary. In some degree, we share that admiration for the way in which the hon. Lady has played her part in taking the Bill through its various stages. I rise to add my protest in regard to Part II of the Bill. I do not know why it is that the Minister of Health should always be so annoyed when any hon. Member compares the Unemployment Assistance Board with the public assistance committees. Pensions are now being supplemented to the extent of £4,000,000 or £5,000,000 a year by the public assistance committees. Part II of the Bill merely changes the machinery by which the supplementation of pensions is to take place, but though it changes the machinery, it does not change the method by which the supplementation is to be made. A needs test is to be applied in regard to the supplementation of pensions in exactly the same way as it is now being applied.
We object to the change in machinery because of what is to many of us a very decisive reason. When we carried on an agitation to do away with the necessity of public assistance committees having to supplement old age pensions, we did not imagine that we would get the hybrid thing which is before us to-day. In carrying on that agitation, we thought that the result would be a flat-rate increase in pensions, and not the Measure to which we are now being asked to give the Third Reading. In our judgment, this is a worse form of supplementation of pensions than supplementation by the public assistance committees. I am not talking about this matter from the point of view of relieving the ratepayers, but from the point of view of method. When the supplementation was made by public assistance committees, it was made by elected persons who could be called to book if, in certain circumstances, they 931 did not deal justly with the old aged pensioners. Now the machinery is to be changed, and it is to be put in the hands of people who cannot be called directly to book by the electors. That is why we think this method is so very much worse than that which was previously in operation.
I know that the Minister wishes to feel that he is to have credit in history for taking away supplementation from the Poor Law; but in actual fact he is only transferring it to a glorified Poor Law, administered nationally instead of locally. For my part, I prefer that it should be administered locally rather than nationally, knowing as I do public assistance administration and the way in which the Assistance Board has operated since 1934. I remember reading somewhere an anthropologist writing on a primitive tribe who put people to death when their resources were of a very poor character. Rather than allow them to suffer the pangs of hunger and die of starvation, they put them to a merciful end. I have no doubt that some Members will say that it was a barbarous practice, but I do not know whether we should sling mud at these tribes and call them barbarous. In view of the situation we are in to-day, I think it would be rather out of place, because I do not think that you could contemplate barbarity existing on a greater scale in the world than at the present moment.
The only argument used by Government supporters in support of this Bill has been that our resources will not allow us to do any better than is being done in this Measure.
§ Mr. Brown
I am not saying anything about Part I. I am talking about Part II of the Bill, and the Amendment on the Order Paper, is directed to Part II, not to Part I. It expressly makes that clear, and therefore we shall have no hesitation in voting for it. I do not think any case has been made out on the Government benches for saying that our resources at the present time will not let us do better than we are doing. I cannot understand why it is that, when we talk about old age pensioners, we always seem to think of them as men and women who are tired, worn out, and forgotten. These are the 932 men who have ploughed the fields, worked in the factories, hewn the coal in the mines, cut the stones from the quarries, worked in the offices, factories and shops. These are the men and women who have built up the civilisation in which we are living and which many say we should defend with all the resources at our command. Why are they not remembered in the manner in which they have contributed to the fabric of this civilisation and as those who have created the resources which make it possible to meet the demands of war? At a time like this we ought to remember these facts as their due and not subject them to the wicked household means test which is perpetuated under Part II of the Bill.
I see from the Press, that certain Conservative associations are holding their annual meetings in various parts of the country and that criticism is being made of the Labour party. It is stated at the meetings that we are playing a double game, that we are supporting the Government so far as the war is concerned and consistently criticising them so far as their social policy is concerned. It is quite true, and I am certain that we shall go on doing it for the very reason that we are determined, even in these dark days of war, not to lose sight of the vision many of us have had on these benches, for many a long day, of the possibilities of eliminating poverty completely from our social system. It is as easy for us to do that to-day as at any time in our history, and it would be one of the finest tributes which could be paid to a democratic system if this House had insisted, while discussing the Bill, that at any rate one thing that democracy was determined to do was to see that the old people should not suffer privation of any kind in the days to come. The old people ask for a little more food, better clothes, in some cases better houses, and a little more fire. Even in war time, cannot this great and wealthy nation give them the small things for which they ask? Ways and means are not for me to suggest, but I must say that the Government have failed when they had an opportunity. We shall not fail to remind the people of this country of the terrible failure the Government have made when it lay within their power to give the old age pensioners the small thing for which they ask. I shall have no hesitation in voting for this Amendment.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Leslie (Sedgefield)
The speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Armagh (Sir W. Allen) convinced me that he must have kissed the Blarney Stone. I was very glad that before he finished, his speech he rightly condemned the fact that this House could have no voice in framing the rules governing the supplementary pensions. We had two speeches from the other side of the House which were in striking contrast. One was made by the hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Rowlands) and the other by the hon. and gallant Member for Sudbury (Colonel Burton). The hon. Member for Flint presented us with the usual eulogy of the Government and told us that there was sympathy on all sides for the old people. But he reminded us that we were now in the midst of war, and in the midst of war, I suppose, sympathy must evaporate. The hon. and gallant Member for Sudbury made a very valuable contribution to the Debate and said, truly, that this Bill was vitiated by the means test which would have the effect of breaking up the home. We, on this side of the House, whole heartedly support the provisions in regard to women but our main and fundamental objection is in regard to the means test. It is, I know, an abhorrence to the old people.
The Bill, however, removes the anomaly that poverty-stricken districts have to meet the greatest burden. The hon. Lady mentioned what this would mean to the city of Dundee. By taking the burden from the ratepayers there would be a saving of 2¼d. in the £. Dundee must at present be lucky if that is all the saving. In Durham the saving will be 2s. 2d. in the £ in respect of the amount which is spent in relieving old age pensioners. Hitherto the taxpayers have escaped at the expense of the ratepayers, and the Bill will, undoubtedly, bring relief to the ratepayers. I doubt very much, however, whether the old folk will be better off. The public assistance authority consists of local people who understand local circumstances, and in many cases are probably more generous than the Assistance Board will be, judging by the way in which the unemployed have been treated. There is no denying that the old people and the unemployed are asking why they should be the only people subjected to a means test, while 934 huge sums are constantly being given away in subsidies to other people.
The means test is not the only humiliation to be imposed. There is a humiliation in Clause 10, which gives a really terrible power to an officer of the Board. No man should possess such a power over the life of another. The Clause says:Where an officer of the Assistance Board.…is of opinion that it is necessary for protecting the interests of an applicant for a supplementary pension or of persons dependent upon him, that the whole or any part of the supplementary pension granted should be issued to some other person, the officer.…may determine that it shall be so issued and shall specify the name of that person in the determination.An old age pensioner may be a constant frequenter of a working-man's club. He does not go there to spend his pension on drink, but merely to have a chat with old friends and to read the daily papers. The fact that he goes there day after day, however, may create in the mind of the officer a suspicion about the reason. Surely the proper course, instead of giving the officer power to condemn this man, would be to give him power only to collect evidence as to the pensioner's alleged misdemeanours and to place it before the Board, leaving the Board power to take action. It is true that the pensioner may appeal, but one can imagine the difficulty of a frail old man, perhaps somewhat deaf, having to appear before a Board. In the evening of life a pensioner might be spared this humiliation, and I hope that, even at this late hour, the Minister will reconsider that Clause.
§ 8.49 p.m.
§ Mr. Cocks (Broxtowe)
There is an aspect of the means test which has been referred to during the Debates by, among others, the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. Graham White), the hon. Member for West Middlesbrough (Mr. K. Griffith) and the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), to which the Government have given no reply. It has always appealed to me as one of the most important aspects of the means test. It is that the supplementary allowances are based upon a household income which in many cases does not actually exist. It is based on an assumption in many cases and not on a reality. The Government have taken no steps to meet the reality. Let me give an example. A son may live with his father and mother and pay, as often is the case, 25s. a week 935 for board and lodging, which is rather more than they usually get from an outside person. The parents are satisfied with that 25s.; it is an ample contribution towards the son's accommodation and they, naturally, like him to be at home. If he is earning £2 or £3 he is presumed by the authorities to pay a much larger sum than, in fact, he does. He does not pay one penny more than the 25s. He keeps the balance of his wages for himself and he may be saving up to get married. The Government have no legal power to make him pay a penny of the amount which he is presumed to pay towards the family income. The old people have to bear the burden of that and they consequently feel they are suffering from an injustice imposed, not by the son, but by the law.
If the Government were logical and had the courage of their convictions, if they wanted to make the means test act in a logical way, they would take power to tap the son's money at the source. They ought to propose that when wages are paid in these cases, a certain portion, which is presumed to be the amount paid to the family, should be paid to the means test officer, who would take it to the family and allow the employed person to have the balance. The Government dare not do that; they dare not underline the real meaning of their proposals in that way. They know that if they did, there would be widespread resentment and it would be considered as a direct tax on wages. As they have not the courage to do that, which is the only logical way of carrying out the means test, they prefer to strike the blow, not at the younger people who are earning wages, but at the old people who have not the strength to strike back. In these Debates and on previous occasions I have never heard the Government face the proposition that the means test is unjust because it is based on something that does not exist in many cases.
I know it is no good appealing either to the Minister of Health or to his assistant, because they are not free agents. This disgusting proposal is the work, as we all know, of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and it is worthy of that statesman, whose whole career lies as a curse on this country. The Treasury have done this wicked thing. It is the Treasury who 936 have starved the old age pensioners as they did the fighting Services a few months ago with the result that they were responsible for this country's state of un-preparedness. We shall suffer the consequences of their mean policy to the old age pensioners when the men come home after the war and find how their grand parents have been treated in their absence. We have been asked to treat this matter against the background of the war, and I propose to do so. The means test in principle is the kind of tyranny applied to our old people, against which we are actually fighting the war, and it could only be conceived by people with, I will not say a Nazi, but with a near-Nazi type of mind. The fact that the Government are bringing this proposal forward is only another of the many proofs rapidly accumulating that, with one exception, they are not the Government to carry this war against the Nazis to a successful conclusion, because, while our young men are fighting, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is taking the opportunity to bring in these Nazi principles to persecute the aged poor. During the Great Plague of London, a cross was placed upon the door of any person suffering from it. To-day another sort of cross is being placed on the door of the old age pensioner—the mark of the Swastika.
It is fitting, therefore, that a Bill of this kind should be forced through this House of Commons without sufficient discussion. As an hon. Member has reminded us, the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked the House on Second Reading to take hold of the Bill, to improve it, and to make of it a real piece of work done by the House of Commons. When we attempted to do that, a bullying communication appeared in the newspapers during the week-end threatening that, if we went on discussing the Bill, it would be postponed and held over for six months. We were not even allowed to have an all-night sitting to discuss the grievances of the old people. As usual, our English counterpart of Himmler had his way, and the rights of the Opposition and of the House of Commons were overthrown by the Patronage Secretary and his Gestapo.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Mr. C. Brown) mentioned, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has 937 stated that the country cannot afford to give a flat-rate increase to old age pensioners. In that Second Reading speech the Chancellor said the Treasury could not afford to pay the £21,000,000 which a flat-rate increase of 5s. would cost—which means that under this Bill the old age pensioners will, all round, get less than 5s. increase—and still less afford the £42,000,000 which would have been the cost of the 10s. flat-rate which the Labour party proposed. At a time like this, when money is being chucked about like water, when subsidies are being thrown about on all sides, like the subsidy of £40,000,000 a year for the arable farmers, it seems nonsense to utter an argument of that kind. For the defence of this country against a foreign foe we are prepared to pay incredible sums, there is no limit to the amount of money we intend to spend, and in addition, for the same cause, young men are prepared to sacrifice their lives, which are even more valuable to us than money. The workers of this country are faced all their lives by the fear of poverty in old age, and it seems just as desirable, for the country's sake, to defend them from that fear as to defend our shores from the foreign foe. They have given their best years to building the wealth of the country and fighting in its defence, and it is only right that in their old age they should be free from the fear of poverty and persecution under the means test.
Then the Treasury bring forward another argument, that it is not merely the £21,000,000 or the £42,000,000 which would be the cost now which has to be considered, but that as time goes on the charge will mount and in 40 years time will impose an intolerable burden upon posterity. I confess that that argument about placing an intolerable burden upon posterity leaves me rather cold, not for selfish reasons, for I do not expect to be here in 40 years' time, but because who can say, in our swiftly-moving and changing times, what will be the condition of this country in 40 years? It may be at any point between two extremes. On the one side, as a result of a series of devastating and exhausting wars, there may be no nation at all, or our population may be halved. It is quite possible that there will be fewer old people to draw pensions and fewer younger people to earn the money to pay for the pensions. The National Debt may have 938 been repudiated, as it was in Germany, wealth may have disappeared, and society may be in ruins. That is one extreme. On the other hand, some new invention, such as the release and the utilisation of atomic energy, may revolutionise production. We may be able to increase our wealth a thousand-fold in 40 years' time. It may be that by some rare invention one revolution of the industrial machine may wipe out the whole National Debt and all other nations' debts. It may be that in that time we shall all be wealthy without working, like some of the hon. Members who occasionally appear on the benches opposite.
In 40 years' time, as I say, the condition of the country may be anything between those two extremes. Certainly, the social structure of the State will be very different. We on one side hope that it will be a Socialist State, in which these problems will be easily solved. In any case, we are to-day bearing the burden laid upon us by our ancestors. We are still paying, I believe, for the Crimean War, and certainly we are paying for the South African War and for the last war; and on the whole we are standing up to that burden well. Posterity will have its own problems and will have to solve them, and I have no doubt will solve them in its own way. Our duty is to look after the old age pensioner to-day and leave posterity to take care of itself, as it undoubtedly will. It has been said by a great writer that the history of mankind is summed up in one sentence:
"They were born, they suffered and they died."
It is true that suffering is the lot of man, and that in many cases there is much suffering. We should do our best to make that suffering cease for a little while before the end of life comes. When the passions and the ambitions which fire our youth and our middle age have passed, when the struggle for existence can no longer be maintained, the old people should find peace and comfort and a little happiness before the bell rings for evensong. I wish the Government could have said "Yes" to that idea. I think that with a little more imagination, with a little more generosity on the part of the Treasury, a little more sense of what we are fighting for, especially at a time like this, with the nation at war, they could have brought this happiness and this 939 peace to thousands of homes. In doing so they would have got the plaudits of the majority of the people of this country and certainly of the Fighting Forces. They could have done that instead of casting over these humble households the fear of the hated shadow of the means test.
§ 9.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
We have had a very fine speech from the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Mr. Cocks) and I feel that it made a very big effect on the House. I wish there had been more Members on the Government benches to hear his appeal. I want to deal, however, with the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary, in which she moved the Third Reading of the Bill, and I will pay her the tribute of saying that she did it very well. Indeed, her speech was meant to convince her own supporters of the value of this Bill. The hon. Lady dealt a long while with Part I; she told us the number of women who would benefit, the various classes of women who would benefit, and she dealt with other questions on Part I. In the main we have not objected to Part I because its contents follow certain points that we have advocated from these benches, all along. We have advocated pensions for wives under the age of 65 whose husbands are 65 and are insured. For years we have tried to get that point recognised and we have pointed out how difficult it is for a man who has probably been drawing unemployment benefit for himself and his wife, when at the age of 65 only 10s. is coming in. Naturally when the Government met that point we welcomed the fact.
With regard to the women of the spinster class—I am not using that expression in any derogatory sense—most of them have to work, and a woman is not capable of carrying on in a factory up to the age of 65. Every time I go to Bolton I see the inroad which has been made on the health of working women after having been in the factories week in and week out for years. Women cannot stand the strain up to the age of 65. I therefore welcome that part of the Bill which has brought the age down to 60, although I think before very long it will have to come down to 55. Another feature I welcome is the fact that the additional benefits, whatever they may be, are not to be paid separately by the 940 various localities, and that in cases where the charge has been 2d. in the £, such as at Blackpool or other places like that, as against 2s. in the £ in some industrial area, there will be a general charge on the community.
The part of the Bill which we oppose is indicated in our Amendment. One hon. Member asked, would we risk having the whole Bill defeated if our Amendment was carried? I say unhesitatingly, Yes, I would risk the defeat of this Bill. No Government dare rest very long now without doing something for the old age pensioners. If we carried our Amendment I am satisfied that the Government, knowing the feeling of the country, would come back and appeal to the House for a flat-rate increase of pension all round. That is why I shall go into the Lobby to-night and take the risk of this Measure being defeated, knowing very well that the Government will have to do something. It is not because of their consideration for the spinsters or the women of 65 that the Government have done something in this matter; it is because of the intense pressure from the country. From July last there has been a constant agitation throughout the country and the Government did not know how to resist the onslaught. Finally, the war came along and they said they could do nothing because of the war, but the agitation continued until the Government were driven to do something.
This move which they have made is one of the most subtle moves I have ever seen in my life. They introduced Part I of the Bill to appease their supporters and to ease their consciences. One can almost see the cunning and scheming of the Chancellor of the Exchequer behind that move. I blame neither the Minister of Health nor the hon. Lady. The Chancellor of the Exchequer laid this plan down and they have had to defend it. They are doing their best to get it through. That is why we feel so intensely that we are going into the Lobby to-night to vote for the Amendment. I feel we should have a flat-rate increase, and if the flat-rate increase is not enough, something more would have to be done—something like a supplementary pension on top of it. Therefore, if we do not have enough to provide adequately for the homes we should follow something on those lines; but we have not got to that 941 position. We have a supplementary means test with all the degradation that follows.
A previous speaker mentioned Clause 10, Sub-section (3), and I desire to draw attention to that point. The House should be made aware of what it means, because there is a possibility that if we cannot get the Measure amended in its entirety, we might get the Ministerial Bench to do something in this matter. It is laid down in Clause 10, Sub-section (3):where it appears…that by reason of the bodily or mental condition of an applicant for a supplementary pension it is desirable that the appeal tribunal should consider…that he should become an inmate of an institution…the applicant shall cease to be eligible for a supplementary pension.It is wrong to put that kind of provision in a Measure of this kind. It will mean that after one or two have been refused supplementary pensions the reason for this refusal will become public in the locality and there will follow among would-be applicants a general feeling that if they apply, a tale of insanity may be brought forward and they will get nothing at all. It will keep hundreds, if not thousands, away from appealing for supplementary pensions when they are entitled to them. I ask the hon. Lady to give due consideration to this point and to make it easier for the applicants. If we have to accept this Measure it should be made easier for the old people to apply for supplementary pensions.
I have received one or two letters recently and I would like to quote from them. If hon. Members opposite have received letters to the opposite effect, I hope they will read them, because although we have our own views it is the general mass of opinion that determines what we do for the public services. Here is a letter dated 23rd February. The writer says:I have a daughter at home who is here to help me. I have not yet applied for assistance or poor relief to increase my pension. I feel that rather than undergo a means test and disclose my private affairs, I would rather live on bread and water.'I have another letter from an aged men's shelter. As hon. Members may know, old men congregate in certain places where shelters are provided. They have parliaments of their own; they read Parliamentary views in their newspapers and they can obtain a copy of the OFFICIAL REPORT and weigh up the position and 942 form their views. This letter is quite pathetic:This shelter condemns the Government's proposals to pay supplementary benefit through the U.A.B., and demands that an all-round flat-rate increase shall be given to the old age pensioners.The last reference that I give is from Bolton, which is represented in this House by two Conservative Members. There is a very active old age pensioners' society there, and I pity the Tory Members at the next Election. This society urges the necessity for a flat-rate increase to all old age pensioners who have retired from work. They confute the argument of the Government that a flat-rate increase cannot be given because it would go to those in work. These people say, "We do not want it to be given to those in work, but we ask that it should be given to those who are retired from work." That is very fair. The Government say that but for the war they would have been doing something better than they are doing under this Bill. I question that. When there was no war they did little to improve the position of old age pensioners, and it is very mean of them now to hide behind the exigencies of the war. They are missing a grand opportunity by not having the courage to spend a few million pounds more for a very deserving section. The effect, in this country and throughout the world, would have been immense if we could have said that, at a time like this, even with a Conservative Government in power, we were doing all we could to improve the lot of the old age pensioners. The Government have not adopted such a policy, and I condemn them for their mean and contemptible action in bringing forward a Bill of this kind.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Mr. David Adams (Consett)
I should like to join in congratulating the Gamaliels at whose feet we have sat during the long discussions on this Measure; and, particularly, I would congratulate Miss Gamaliel for the manner in which she has performed her very arduous task. She has displayed those feminine qualities which we men can never hope to acquire, although we labour with tears; yet she has also displayed a degree of strength in resisting our criticisms which has earned commendation on all sides of the House. We admit that this is an advance in the realm of old age pensions, but it is not 943 an advance that is in accord with the new standards of life of the industrial workers. It is no excuse for the Government to say that it is war time, because the opportunity has been afforded to them over a period of 21 years. That is the period since pensions were raised to 10s. a week, and the agitation began for substantial improvement.
We have welcomed gratefully the improvements in the lot of women, who will now receive that to which for many years they have been entitled, but the Amendment indicates our determined opposition to the Bill. We recognise its qualities, but we recognise also, that the supplementation of pensions is based upon a household means test. There is no doubt that the arguments which we have advanced on this head, remain unassailed by the Government; and our opposition has, I think, the unanimous support of the industrial world outside this House. The Government are showing a singularly short-sighted attitude in failing to recognise this matured public opinion with respect to the means test. We were justified in believing that there would be a flat rate. However small that flat rate might be, it would have been a recognition by the Government of the justice of the demand for some specific improvement in old age pensions. It would have made it unnecessary for many thousands of applicants to appeal at all to the Assistance Board. No old age pensioner would appeal to that Board if, by reason of his own resources, or assistance granted to him by other people, he was relieved from the extreme necessity of doing so.
The regulations, in my judgment, are the direct legislative concern of this House, not the concern of the Executive of the day. The Government are not called upon to legislate for us, though they are called upon to govern. We may be faced with an undoubtedly bureaucratic set of regulations, which will be bad in part, but not sufficiently bad to justify the House in demanding that they should be rejected. Some speakers on the other side of the House believe that the elimination of the family means test is a step forward. I disagree with their view. I contend that, if the burden must be placed upon relatives, the family means test was a more equitable method than the penalisation of those who happened to be, for 944 the time, residents in the pensioner's household. It may prove very unjust. Members of the same family, living outside the actual house in which the pensioner lives, perhaps next door, may be much better able to bear the burden of this test than others who are in the household itself. The fact that when pensioners are living apart from their families no assessment will be made upon the family will be a temptation both to members of the family and to the pensioners themselves. Families will be broken up and the pensioners will be expected to live outside.
It is amazing that the Government should still adhere to the policy of the means test. There is a means test for the workers, but not for the upper classes. There is evidence that pensioners of another class are being given employment in the new Ministries, although they are in receipt of first class pensions. I would appeal most earnestly to the Government that, in another place, opportunity should be taken to amend the Clause of the Bill dealing with those who are mentally or physically defective. They are to be pronounced defective merely on the ipse dixit of an official who is not a medical expert. That, in my judgment, is unjust to the pensioner and it is unjust to the local authorities. In County Durham invalidity—much of it earned in the mines—affects 400 persons who are in receipt of pensions and are in institutions. It was felt in County Durham that that burden should be transferred from the local authorities and that the overburdened ratepayers should be given relief. I would appeal to the Government to take that matter also into consideration.
We are grateful for what has been done, but we are disappointed that more has not been done. In particular, we think that disability pensions ought not to be taken into account at all. Those pensions in industry are too small and to say that only 20s. shall be disregarded is, we think, an injustice and a hardship. There is a feeling of resentment that an act of cruelty has been inflicted on the most deserving and unfortunate section of the industrial community. We are grateful that some sort of pledge has been given in the case of aged miners who are in homes, that no account will be taken of the value of the housing accommodation and coal provided for them, but we think 945 that in another place something might be done to place them in a more favourable position. The Government by this Bill are deliberately penalising thrift. There is a splendid opportunity for them to indicate, in another place, that they will deal more generously with the legitimate claims of the industrial workers. We are living in a time when good-will and harmony ought to be prevailing and that would be one of the best methods of promoting it.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I hope my hon. Friend who has just sat down will not resent it if I say that I disagree with one part of his otherwise admirable speech. I feel no gratitude to the Government for anything in this Bill. I think they have deliberately and designedly yielded to an agitation which they felt they could no longer resist, but they have stopped at the point when they thought they could get away with it. I see no cause for congratulations to the Government nor any cause for gratitude to the Government. I would, however, like to join with others in congratulations to the hon. Lady who opened the Debate this afternoon. I thought, if I may say so without offence, that she displayed a remarkable skill in the endeavour which she made, as I could not help feeling, to persuade herself of the merits of this Measure. How else are we to explain the constant reiteration with apparent sincerity that Part II of this Bill makes some kind of advance or improvement in the old age pensions system? For the life of me, I cannot see any advance, and I do not know what advance is claimed.
My hon. Friend who spoke first from this side of the House pointed out that Part II of this Bill, even so far as it concerns the individual means test, represents a very long backward step, not merely in our social legislation, but in what was, 15 years ago, the policy of the Conservative party itself. But he did not press that point home all the way. He might have pointed out, not merely that this Measure imposes a means test which 15 years ago the Tory party abandoned in principle, but that it does something which 15 years ago was never conceived at all. It applies a household means test. That test was not thought of 15 years ago when the Conservative party were claiming as the great merit of a contributory scheme that it did away with 946 any means test. Not merely have they gone back on that, but for the first time in anybody's approach to this matter they have introduced into an old age pension scheme this extremely mean weapon of the household means test. As far as I can seen either the Minister of Health nor the hon. Lady, at the end of a nine-days' Debate, has seen the importance of that yet.
I will give one or two examples to show how they fail to appreciate what it means. Take the question of the amount of savings which are not to be taken into account. It was pointed out time after time from this side of the House that the 1s. per week for £25, which is to be taken into account above a certain capital sum, represented a very high percentage, and a much higher rate of interest than the money would earn—practically 10 per cent. In fact, it was actually a little more, because you are eating up the capital, and the amount of interest earned falls year by year as the capital is reduced, so that, if anything, it is more than 10 per cent. The defence was put forward that it would not be right to consider only the earning power of the money so that the capital remained intact when the old man died. That was actually said in as many words to-day. Is it conceivable that in that case nobody pays any attention at all to the fact that it is not the old man's £50 you are taking into account at all, but that of his young relatives with whom he lives? It is their savings and not his that you are using up. If a man at the age of 30, with savings of £50, takes into his household, say, his father or his mother at the age of 65, by the time the parent reaches the age of 75, the son will have used up all the capital above the amount of £25. On what conceivable principle can that be justified? Nobody has attempted to justify it.
The defence that has always been put forward has been that it is excusable on the supposition that it is the old man's own savings which are being used up in that way. It is not a defence, even though the expectation of life is longer than that normally lived, that the man would live longer than his savings would last; it is not that at all. It is the savings of the young people. They are being prevented from putting aside money for their own old age in order that the Government might escape their due 947 obligation in keeping the old people of to-day. Exactly the same thing applies to the exemption from the means test of money that has gone into the provision of a house. It is not merely the little cottage that, towards the end of his days, the old man has been able to buy. It is also the money of his young relatives who, when newly married, perhaps in an act of filial piety, took their parent into their home. It is the money they put into the house which they themselves are buying which is taken into account in this way. What possible justification can there be for that? Nobody has advanced any so far.
I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman, when he comes to wind up the Debate, whether he cannot even now assure us that at some time, in another place perhaps, further protection will be given so as not to prevent young people as an act of prudence from saving against their own old age. I remember earlier this evening an hon. Member representing a constituency to which the Act does not apply taking part in the Debate in order to recommend it to us, and he said that the Bill was full of love, and he recommended it to us on those grounds. I know that it was once said, "Take no heed for the morrow," but I never knew until to-night that the Author of that saying had the means test in mind when He said it. That is the effect of what the Government are doing. The prudent person of to-day will refuse to save. He will get more out of his income if he spends it and relies on some pension scheme with a means test, than he will get if he puts it by and then has it taken into account under the household means test.
So far as the social service is concerned, many even of the critics, especially the critics who sit on the other side of the House, have criticised the Measure rather as though it was a well-meaning sort of scheme, that has not perhaps been properly thought out but that the Government really meant well. I deny that. I do not think that they meant well. I believe they put off the evil day as long as they could. Their reliance on the war as a good explanation for doing so little is insincere. They had ample opportunities for doing better before ever there was a war, and they deliberately did not take those opportunities, and 948 to-day they are using the war, with all its misery, tragedy, and travail, as an excuse for inflicting further misery upon a large class of old people, who, whatever may be the case with the rest of us, will, many of them, never live to see the end of the war at all nor to profit by whatever is achieved by it. They did not make the war. Theirs is not the responsibility, nor is it their responsibility that this Measure was postponed until after the war began. Very many of them will not gain by the war, whoever else may gain. Throughout all their lives they have lived hardly, worked hard and have got little out of it. It is really very hard that, at the end of their days, they should be told that all that they can do, as the hon. Member said, was to hope, knowing that they can go on hoping, and then, when the time comes and the war is over, they are not here.
Really, when something is said about the large amount of money that we are spending and how difficult that makes it to do any better than we are doing, it does not ring very true. It will not carry conviction in the country. Everybody knows that, when you add to the annual cost of the war the difference between what this scheme would cost the Government and what a good scheme would have cost, the difference is negligible, when with good will the money could easily have been raised. The Government have taken the opportunity afforded by the war, and the fact that they will not have for some time to go to the country and justify what they have done, to introduce into the social system what they would have long desired to introduce, but which, until the war came, they dared not do. How many times have we heard in this House complaints about the cost of the social services? The introduction of the means test into one of the social services is the thin end of the wedge. We shall see it go on and on. It is introduced, not because anybody thinks it just—nobody has attempted to persuade the House that it is just—but in order that the cost of the social services shall be less than otherwise it need be. For the same reason, this technique of taking these questions out of politics is pursued. It is to be taken away from the public assistance committee, not because the old people prefer to go to the Unemployment Assistance Board rather than to 949 the public assistance committee, but because the public assistance committee consists of elected persons who have to account to the electors for what they do. That is why you take it from them, and that is why the Government so framed their Measure that the regulations will run across the whole scheme, and will not be subject to review by this House in any adequate way.
They may wish to take poverty out of politics. So far as I understand it, the party of which I have the honour to be a member, and which is represented now quite numerously on these benches, came into existence because it was determined to keep poverty in politics. If it had not been for the fact that no other party championed the cause of the poor, this party might not have existed at all. If it were to cease for one moment in the fight that it makes at every possible opportunity on behalf of the poor because they are poor, it would be abdicating its whole function in the political life of this country. I shall say no more, and I dare say many will be relieved at that, but if we can do no better than this on behalf of a small number of people, I wonder, indeed, what is the civilisation we are striving so hard to defend.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
I want to raise this evening four specific points arising out of my experiences this weekend in meeting several old age pensioners and attending a conference of trade unionists, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will take notes, so that the Minister, if he thinks fit, will reply. The first point deals with Clause 9, Subsection (3), which says:The functions of the Assistance Board shall include the functions of granting supplementary pensions.Our experience of the working of the Unemployment Assistance Board at the present time is that many applicants have to walk miles in order to put their case before officers of the Board and I am pleading to-night for the setting up of sub-offices. For example, in the constituency that I represent there is no sub-office in Fenton, and this also applies to other towns outside big cities. I hope that in all towns sub-offices will be set up, within reason, so that old age pensioners will not have to tramp long distances in bad weather. In regard to Clause 10, it states, in Sub-section (3): 950the tribunal may direct that the applicant shall cease to be eligible for a supplementary pension.I want to ask the Minister, the Parliamentary Secretary and their advisers to have regard to the Debate on Friday, and to the questions raised during this Debate to-day, in connection with this particular Clause. I hope that, between now and the time when the Bill becomes an Act, they will give consideration to the speeches made by my hon. Friend the Member for Durham (Mr. Ritson), my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and others. I have here a letter from the Bolton and District Old Age Pensioners Association, copies of which have been sent to the Minister of Health, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and other members of the Government. I pleaded during the Committee stage, as did other of my hon. Friends, that a friend of an old age pensioner should be allowed to go with him when making an application, or going before a tribunal. I was fairly satisfied with the words the Minister accepted on the Committee stage, but I think he should give an interpretation of those words when he replies to-night. I am reinforced in the desire for that because this association pleads in this letter for the same thing.
My final point is that it is anticipated that when the Bill becomes an Act it will mean a saving to London of £500,000, to county towns £1,500,000, and to boroughs £1,500,000. I hope the Minister will put as generous an interpretation as possible on the Amendment which he introduced dealing with welfare. Many of our old people are living under disgraceful conditions, and it has been admitted by public-spirited people of all parties that this should not be so. I had the experience, a few months ago, of seeing a housing scheme at Withenshaw, where the Manchester City Council has built beautiful bungalows surrounded by gardens, and I am asking the Minister to ask local authorities to consider the need for housing old age pensioners, and building similar bungalows, in order that they can live in better conditions than in the past.
§ 9.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Sexton (Barnard Castle)
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) mentioned the fact that there was a great noise in the country among the workers with regard to the application of the means test. The miners of Barnard 951 Castle Division have sent me here to speak on all possible occasions against the means test, and if I did not do so, I should prove a traitor to those whom I represent. It is true that the workers themselves do, as a rule, show much complacency towards politics, but on this particular question of the means test they show no complacency at all. Indeed, they have shown great urgency by attending meetings held whenever the means test has been in the forefront, and have done what they could to instruct their representatives in this House to try and get it abolished. As one miner wisely said to me, "It is not a means test, but a succession of mean tests." These old people to whom it is now proposed to apply the means test have been fighting a long battle on 10s. a week. We have read of the great battle of the River Plate. These people have been fighting the battle of the dinner plate, and all too often it has been an empty plate. Day by day, and week after week, these people have tried to live on 10s. a week, and have found it exceedingly difficult.
When the Bill for contributory pensions was introduced, the present Prime Minister, who was then the Minister of Health, told us that it would sweep away altogether tests as to means. I ask, How are you to have this inquiry for those who want a supplementary pension unless you are to have a sort of inquisition which is a means test? During the passage of the 1925 Bill, in the Committee stage the present Prime Minister, who was then piloting the Bill through the House, said:The great merit of this scheme is that you can do away with the irritating, exasperating and humiliating inquiry."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th June, 1925; col. 2270, Vol. 185.]If the 1925 Bill proposed to do away with irritating, exasperating and humiliating inquiry, what is this Bill supposed to do—to reintroduce the very inquiry that the 1925 Act was supposed to do away with altogether, and even worse? What can be more irritating, exasperating or humiliating than to have to go before a sort of tribunal and disclose your bank book, if you have one, or your Co-operative share-book, if you have one? People object to that sort of thing, and rightly so. They have been told that there are other people receiving far larger pensions without any 952 means test whatever or disclosure of their bank balances. The present Bill applies to people of humble origin who will have to submit to this inquisition.
I tell people, "You are now to go before an Assistance Board." It was the "U.A.B.," but we are to drop the "U." I have been wondering, if we dropped the "U" out of "U-boat," whether we should make the U-boat any less diabolical a craft than it is. If you drop the "U" out of "U.A.B.," you make it no less an inquisitorial committee, which will search into the bank books of the workers. It is only the workers who have to submit to this inquisition. They are the hewers of wood and the drawers of water. You could hardly call them the drawers of pensions. I wish that the National Government would show, when giving these pensions, some of the generosity they show towards people in higher places. I have mentioned the pensions that are given of £70,000, £5,000 or £3,500 a year and compared the people who receive them with the poor workers who get a small pension after having been in industry for 50 years of hard service. People in this House and outside ought to know that there is this differentiation between the workers and those who are called a higher stratum of society.
§ Mr. Sexton
The Government are adding to poverty. There is plenty of load on old age pensioners now. An old age pensioner who has a pension of 10s. a week has a big enough load to carry, even if he has a few more shillings weekly from savings or from his friends, without having placed upon him the further load proposed by the Bill. I say to hon. Members opposite, "You are stultifying by this Bill the ambitions of the young." There is no doubt of that. Young people may be saving up to be married, to start themselves in business or to further their education by taking lessons or courses of instruction. Hon. Members are also penalising the thrift of old people who have tried to put away a shilling or two for their old age. Ever since I remember, the Tory party have been the apostles of thrift, telling people to save something in their stockings for a rainy day. Now hon. Members are 953 telling them to get the money out of their stockings as quickly as possible, and spend it.
In addition to that, hon. Members are introducing discord into family life. No one can deny that who has seen the operation of the means test. Sons are set against fathers and mothers, daughters against their brothers, and brothers against their sisters. We have a break-up of that family life which we used to consider the foundation and heritage of Britain. We have often heard it said that the life of Britain was built up on the family. We know it is true that the greatness of Britain has been built by the same workers whom the Government are now treating so shabbily. They have helped to create the greatness of this country and Empire by their hard work and skilful craftsmanship. The Government ought not to impose upon them this pernicious and despicable means test. They should have the courage and strength to give every one of them a flat rate of at least 10s. per week.
§ 10.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Westwood (Stirling and Falkirk Burghs)
Several speakers from the other side have tried to make a point of the fact that, during the Debate to-day, very little has been said about Part I, and they have emphasised the fact that our criticisms have been levelled against Part II. I would remind the House of the Amendment moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Westworth (Mr. Paling), in which we recognise that Part I of the Bill makes some concession to the aged people by slightly improving conditions. Part I of the Bill was the only one that hon. Members on the other side have attempted to defend; not one argument has been advanced in support of Part II. All kinds of excuses have been made for its introduction into the Bill, but even the Parliamentary Secretary who opened the Debate made no defence of this miserable, contemptible, and mean household means test, which is introduced and added to a contributory pensions scheme.
It is suggested that the purpose of the Bill is to improve the position of old age pensioners. I deny that the Bill will in every case improve the position of old age pensioners. I go further and claim that in some cases the Bill will undoubtedly create still further hardships, because there is no guarantee under Part 954 II that, where the local authorities have been generous in dealing with the problems associated with old age pensioners, the allowances which have been paid will be continued to the existing recipients. You have had charges for old age pensions administration by local authorities varying from approximately 2½d. in the pound in Fife—I am speaking of Scottish figures—to over 1s. in the large burgh of Coatbridge. Glasgow, Falkirk and many other authorities have been trying to do justice by the old ge pensioners. Many authorities in Wales and in other hard-hit industrial areas have tried to do them justice. In some cases as much as 32s. 6d. a week has been paid, but there is no guarantee under the Bill that those payments will be continued. Consequently, whilst it might have been the intention of the Government to improve the position of the pensioners, the Bill does not give real effect to those intentions, and we are dealing only with the Bill and not with the intentions of the Government.
No defence by a single Member of the House has been put up for the operation of the household means test, but an excuse has been made, and I believe sincerely made, because of the short memories of so many hon. Members opposite. Evidently they have not even now in mind the fight for the last four years of this Parliament in trying to get justice for the aged people. The excuse is too miserable that it is because of war conditions. Every Session since the election of 1935 in some way or another we have discussed problems associated with the old age pensioners. Private Members' Bills have been introduced, even under the Ten Minute Rule, for the purpose of trying to improve their lot. Long before it was thought there was going to be a war, even at the time when the Prime Minister was claiming to be doing his best to keep the world at peace and to keep us out of war, the Government were refusing to improve old age pensions and refusing to do justice. Whilst the excuse may be sincere, it is a miserable excuse for the miserable part of the Bill which seeks to impose the household means test. The hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Rowlands) made a special reference to the means test under the 1908 Act. That only applies to the individual and not to household means. When we were a minority Government, whilst we did not do every- 955 thing that many of us desired, at least we determined that some improvement should be made, and the improvement was that the first £9 derived from sources other than earnings should not be taken into account, and thereafter a person who had an income of £26 5s. was still entitled to draw 10s. a week.
§ Mr. Rowlands
Will the hon. Member explain why preferential treatment was given to men who received unearned income and why they forgot the man who earned his living by the sweat of his brow?
§ Mr. Westwood
We were not in the happy position of this Government of having an absolute majority, not only to give effect to our legislation, but to provide the finance for carrying it out.
§ Mr. Rowlands
Does the hon. Member accuse his Liberal friends of refusing to support them to mete out justice to the man who earns his living by the sweat of his brow?
§ Mr. Westwood
Some of our alleged Liberal friends of that day are now our Tory opponents. The means test under the 1908 Act and its supplementary Acts applies only to the individual. This Bill is a justification for the public agitation that has been carried on, and for the wonderful organising ability of the aged people themselves, who have built up throughout the length and breadth of the land a strong organisation and have made themselves a real political nuisance to the Government. It is out of no real good will to the old age pensioners that even this Bill is before the House. It is because of the agitation which has been carried on, the public opinion that has been created, and the demand that had to be yielded to in some form or other by whatever Government happened to be in power. This Bill not only justifies the agitation that has been carried on, but, because of Part II, will justify the continuation of that agitation by the aged people and those who are keenly desirous of seeing justice done to them. Our message to the aged people outside is, Go on with your agitation until the miserable means test is dealt with by some Government which will have the courage of their convictions to do justice to the aged people instead of penalising thrift, as they do at present.
956 The terms of this Bill are an admission that 10s. per week is in tens of thousands of cases inadequate to provide the necessities of life for that large section of our population who by their skill and energy have built up the well-being of the nation, but the nation through this Bill and by this Government still refuses to do justice to our aged people when they retire from industry. The Bill carries the obnoxious means test of the 1908 Act into a contributory pensions Bill; it carries that means test beyond the individual and right into the household. It will allow methods of calculation in respect of supplementary allowances which are monstrously unjust and which cannot be defended on any moral grounds whatever. In assessing means, the methods of calculation of the 1908 Act carried into this Bill will not even give a true and accurate amount by which you can determine the supplementary pensions to be paid. In assessing means, the only definite exemptions are the first 7s. 6d. of any superannuation payment and the first 7s. 6d. of any sickness payment under Part I of the Bill. May I suggest that every one of these disregards is an admission that the means test is something which cannot be defended? We shall get some peculiar anomalies in connection with the operation of this means test. If someone pays for superannuation, they will be allowed to have disregarded the first 7s. 6d., but if they save money and do not pay towards superannuation, only the first £25 of their savings will be disregarded, and thereafter for every £25 there will be a reduction of 1s. per week.
I have been asked to take part in the War Savings campaign. How can I? How can I advise men and women to save, to put their savings in War Loan Stock or in War Savings Certificates, that if they put their savings in war stock, the first £25 will not be taken into consideration? They will only be receiving 3¼ per cent. for 10 years, if it is War Savings Certificates, and they are calculating that they are receiving an income of 10 per cent. You are penalising and discouraging thrift, which the Tory party have always claimed is one of the essential things in building up the character of our people. Even the proposal to make no calculation for the first £25 of savings would give an income—based on 10 per cent.—of only £2 10s. a year, or approximately 1s. a week. If they spent the 957 savings that are to be disregarded, it would provide them with only the 7s. 6d. superannuation benefit which it has already been agreed to disregard for a matter of 66 weeks. The more one examines the means test as proposed in the Bill, the more one finds that it is disgraceful, miserable and contemptible. For the purpose of supplementary allowances, the Bill will also allow income on savings in the light of the Post Office Savings Bank to be caculated at 10per cent., whereas, as everybody knows, they receive only 2½ per cent. The imposition of the means test under the Bill will not only penalise thrift on the part of the aged, but it will carry its penalties to the sons and daughters of the aged people. Any scheme which penalises thrift is bad. That was admitted by the hon. Member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), who said, on the Committee stage of the Bill:It is no use this scheme penalising thrift. If it does, then it is a bad scheme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th February, 1940; col. 2370, Vol. 357.]I wonder whether to-night the hon. Member will continue his game of hide-and-seek—seeking the aged when he desires their support, hiding from them when they require his. Under the household means test as applied for supplementary allowances, the more faithful the sons and daughters are to the aged parents, the more they will suffer from the penalties imposed by the Bill. No one put this view more forcibly than my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), who said:The Government's admission that the person who has gone away will not be taken into account is an unanswerable reason for leaving out of account the person who has stayed at home with the old people."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th February, 1940; col. 2375, Vol. 357.]The Bill not only penalises thrift, but because of the household means test, it penalises filial duty and loyalty. Instead of being, as it could have been, a soothing syrup for old age, it will be known in future as the Elliot-Colville blister irritant, blistering the aged in their finer feelings and irritating the lives of tens of thousands of sons and daughters who have tried, even in their poverty, to help the aged people. In the fight for justice, independence and the common decencies for the aged, the case is ours. Only numbers have been against us. To-night, 958 again, I have no doubt numbers will be against us. But the fight will not end to-night. This is but another stage in the fight that will continue until justice is done for the aged people.
I want to make an appeal to the Minister. I trust that it will be possible for him to-night to give us a tabulated statement of the disregards in assessing means under the Bill. There is so much reference to other legislation that it would be an advantage to hon. Members, and would assist the aged people, if we could have some clear statement on the disregards—the disability pension, the half of the allowance in connection with workmen's compensation; the no-calculation for the first £25 of savings, and the two 7s. 6d.'s referred to in the Bill. I think it would be a help if the Minister would give the House a tabulated statement of the disregards to enable Members and people outside to understand the exact position.
I would make one last appeal. When the Bill reaches the Statute Book, may I suggest that the Government should see to it that the head and the members of the Unemployment Assistance Board should be persons with broad humane sympathies who understand the problems of poverty and particularly those of the aged, and to see to it that these rules and regulations, when made under the Bill, shall be as benevolent and as simple of application as possible, risking erring on the side of justice, humanity and generosity, rather than on the side of hardship, niggardliness, and meanness? To-day we are engaged as a nation in the greatest struggle of our existence in which most, if not all of us, are willing to stake our all to enable us to emerge victorious as a free people and to maintain the traditions of the race to which we belong. The measure of our civilisation will not be either our military or our naval victories, but the way in which we provide for our children, the sick and ailing, and the aged people in our midst. This Bill falls far short of our ideals of just treatment to the aged. It applies a household means test for supplementary allowances, and penalises thrift. We will go into the Lobby to-night to vote for our Amendment with the determination that to-night does not end the fight, a fight which can only be ended after true justice is meted out to our people in the form of an 959 adequate retiring allowance without any means test.
§ 10.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Elliot
We have had on this ninth day of the Debate on this Bill many interesting speeches. We are glad to see among us again the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk (Mr. Westwood). We have had a maiden speech from the hon. Member for Silvertown (Mr. J. Hollins) whom we all welcome among us for he is not only the successor to that doughty veteran Jack Jones, who could never have been said especially to favour this side of the House, but is also welcome for his own sake and for the resounding trouncing he gave to both the Fascist and the Communist candidates, for which everybody is glad. The hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Paling) said that he had sought hard for something new to say about the Bill. He came fresh to the Debate and therefore was able to state his opposition in a vigorous and refreshing way. His view of the means test reminded me of a former President of the United States, the late Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge was asked one day when he had been to church what the sermon was about. He was a very laconic man and his reply was, "Sin." When asked what attitude the speaker took on the subject he said "Against." The views of the hon. Member for Wentworth might well be summed up in the same laconic expression.
There have been many requests dealing with particular points in the Bill, such, for instance, as the request of the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith) and others that in the subsequent stages of the Bill in another place we should have regard to the interesting and important Debate that took place on Clause 10, Sub-section (3). I will repeat a pledge that I gave that we will look into that and review it. I do not regard that matter as disposed of by the fact that hon. Members opposite did not accept the undertaking I gave. It was not an undertaking I gave to hon. Members opposite only. I gave the pledge to the whole country that we would look into this Bill to see whether there were blemishes that ought to be removed. I was also asked whether new offices would be set up by the Board. I hope it will not be necessary for the pensioner to use the Board's 960 offices at all. When he calls at the post office for the payment of his pension, he will find a form which he will take and fill up and post to the Board's offices. He will be called on by a representative of the Board, and I hope that he will be able to get his books through the post and that he will thereafter be able to use his two books together at the post office in the same way as he used his original pension order book. I will certainly take into account the possible necessity for an increase of staffing facilities for the benefit of the pensioners.
§ Mr. Elliot
We must steer a middle course between making the forms so complicated that many explanatory notes are necessary, and making them so simple that many explanations will have to be asked for afterwards. It is a matter of administration which will be kept in mind. The hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk exaggerated when he said that no word of defence of Part II of the Bill had been given in any part of the House. He did not perhaps hear the vigorous speeches of such stalwarts on our side as the hon. Member for Faversham (Sir A. Maitland) and the hon. Member for Flint (Mr. Rowlands), both of whom were willing to stand up and give reasons for the faith that is in them. The Parliamentary Secretary also gave very good Rolands for the many Olivers that were handed to her across the House. I want to review, more generally, the Bill as it now reaches the final stage—
§ Mr. Elliot
I have dealt with that question in the Committee and Report stages, and I say again that the Board will afford officers who were on 1st February, 1940, in the permanent employment of the public assistance committee of the local authorities, an opportunity to make application for appointment under the Board. I can assure hon. Members that full and impartial consideration will be given to the qualifications and experience of the local authority officers. I am anxious not to review all the many points which have been raised, but rather to survey the general field on the Third 961 Reading of the Bill. I would start with the phrase, which I used on Second Reading, and to which the hon. Member for Went worth took some exception, that the ideal of our side of the House, and I think of a good many Members on the other side also, was the ideal of a property-owning democracy, an ideal State which shall marry, as I said, industrial production with personal liberty, where every citizen has or shall have a real stake in his country.
The hon. Member for the Wentworth division asked, "But can you say that this Bill is doing anything to forward those ideals?" Yes, Sir, I can, and I hope to prove to the House that it does so. Our desire to produce a property-owning democracy, the liquidation of the proletariat, if we are to use those modern Marxist phrases, or, in good Anglo-Saxon, to produce a condition of the people where every one may have a stake in the country, is a difficult ideal to achieve, because only by some form of joint stock ownership can property be fully restored in a civilisation where so much of it consists of industrial property.
§ Mr. Elliot
The hon. Member will have an opportunity before he is liquidated of making his full statement in his own community, and I hope that he will allow me to make my statement to-night in mine. I say, and the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) also made this point very strongly, that in any division of property the insurance scheme played a great part. There are other methods of dividing property which it would be out of order for me to do more than mention to-night, but the huge savings which have been built up by the people of this country should not be left out of account in that consideration. But to night we are considering the amount of property which the ordinary man or woman holds in the possession of the great social services of this country, and more particularly in the great insurance schemes. The 3,000,000 pensioners and the £100,000,000 a year of pension money, of which £64,000,000 to £65,000,000 is directly contributed by the State, form tremendous features in our social schemes to-day, features which every argument from the other side re- 962 emphasised and reinforced again and again.
Every speech against the means test is a speech in favour of the further extension of those features. I say that we have in the contributory insurance schemes one of the great features of our present make-up in this country and a feature which every Member on that side of the House, and also on this side, guards and cherishes vigorously and keenly. Therefore, I think that one of the main reasons for disquiet on that side of the House, and, indeed, to some extent on this side, was lest in some way or other Part II of the Bill was bringing into jeopardy the great system of contributory insurance, of pensions by right and not of grace. Those two things are not to be mixed up. The contributory pensions scheme is the path which we are cutting along the mountain side, this dangerous mountain side which we all have to traverse in the course of our lives, and under that we spread a safety net for those who by circumstances or by misfortune are shoved or edged or slip or stumble and fall from the path into the property less regions where they need rescue by the community, being no longer able to save themselves by their own efforts. But what folly it would be to say that because we desire to cut a path through the mountain there should be no safety net spread below it for those who happen to slip or stumble on the edge of the cliff. That is agreed by everyone, because the difficulties are guarded against by the local authorities' schemes, the local authorities' supplementation. The public assistance authorities have done much to safeguard the poorer members of the community against those chances and those mishaps.
The Poor Law is a safety net which is spread for those who fall out of all the other schemes, and our intention—which everyone agrees upon—is to make as broad and as wide as possible the scheme which is not the Poor Law scheme—the contributory pension scheme. In Part I of the Bill, as the Parliamentary Secretary said, the number of insured women pensioners in the country is doubled at a single stroke. Does anyone say that that in itself is not a great addition to the scheme—a pension given as of right? Of course, it is. Part I and Part II are complementary. They are not the same thing. We are perfectly willing to defend 963 Part II, and we have no hesitation in defending it here in the House, or on platforms up and down the country. We are spreading this charge, and making it a national charge. Nothing less than the full weight of the community is enough to carry it. Time and again Members of Parliament, local authorities, associations of old age pensioners and of ratepayers, have said this charge is too heavy a charge to be borne by the small local authorities throughout the country. They have said that it should be a national charge and not a local charge. That step we have taken, and we ask the House to vote for it when the time comes in a few minutes. The conditions of that safety net—of the final safeguard for the poorer members of the community—have been modified and are being modified continually. They are being modified by the social conscience of this country, expressed by local authorities and in the House.
I was asked by the hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk whether I could catalogue the sums which would be disregarded. I am glad to respond to his invitation. The sums which are deemed not to exist are: the first 5s. a week of any sick pay from a friendly society; the first 7s. 6d. a week of any national health insurance benefit; the first 20s. a week of any wounds and disability pension; half of any payment under the Workmen's Compensation Acts; the value to any person of a house in which he or she lives; the first £25 of any savings or capital, the balance up to £300 being taken into account at the rate of 1s. a week for each complete £25—and I will have a word to say about that later—the whole of any maternity benefit under the National Health Insurance Acts; the first 7s. 6d. a week of any superannuation and similar payment, and the first 7s. 6d. a week of any sickness payment under Clause 3, Sub-sections (1) and (2) of this Bill. These are not taken individually, but in the aggregate. They are deemed not to exist at all and cannot be taken into account when the need for supplementation is being considered.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
Did I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say the first 5s. and the first 7s. 6d. in this Bill, as well as the 7s. 6d. superannuation?
§ Mr. Elliot
Certainly. I say definitely the first 5s. of any Friendly Society sick pay and the first 7s. 6d. in this Bill, in addition to the other payments which I have mentioned.
§ Mr. Westwood
I understand that the first 5s. of Friendly Society benefit is exempted, and then the first 7s. 6d. under the National Health Insurance, is provided for by Part I of the Bill?
§ Mr. Elliot
Yes, certainly. Both of these are exempted. They are not to be taken into account. They are deemed not to exist at all in any calculation made under the Act. The hon. Member for Stirling and Falkirk spoke of penalising thrift. That point was also mentioned by other hon. Members. Again, let me point out that that provision I have just mentioned would have this effect. Suppose a man had saved £150 of capital, at what rate would he have to eat into that under the means test? I have calculated it. He would not get down to £50 for 20 years, and at the end of that time the whole of that £50 would be disregarded, and his position would be static. I do not think that is penalising thrift. When you think that it would take 20 years to consume the £150 to a point at which all the rest of the capital would be disregarded, I do not think it can be said that that is an unduly hard or rigorous examination of means. [Interruption.] I have a great deal to say and I really must get on.
To-night, it is said, "Although this is a good thing, you are doing it the wrong way. Admitting that war conditions make a £1 increase impossible, let us have a 5s. a week flat-rate payment." The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) said that would have done most things. He said, on 26th February, that we had not taken into account the large number of old age pensioners who have wives of 60 while they themselves are 65. I took out the figures, because the right hon. Gentleman devotes much attention to these things and I was anxious to see whether we had made a miscalculation. It was not so. He suggested that the proportion would be one-third, or even one-half. We have taken a sample of 6,000 cases, all over the kingdom, and we find that, instead of being one-third, or one-half, it is only one-tenth. The saving in supplementary pensions due to 965 be granted directly to those wives would be not £2,500,000, as suggested by the right hon. Gentleman, but not more than £700,000.
Of course, the cost of supplementary pensions will be much higher than the poor relief paid to old age pensioners in March, 1939, because there has been an increase in the cost of living and the number of persons claiming—certainly the number claiming supplementary pensions—would be higher, whether we take the figure of 200,000 first suggested by the hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) or the figure of 100,000 which he suggested, after further reflection, to-day. We both agree that there will be a very substantial increase in the number of persons claiming under the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Edinburgh also said, "If you made a 5s. flat-rate increase the number of persons who would not have got enough would be quite small." Again, analysis of the figures shows that that is not so. For single men and women pensioners, including widowers and widows, the average amount of supplementation from local authorities in August, 1939, was no less than 7s. 3d. a week. For married couples where both were pensioned, it was 8s. 9d. a week, and for married couples where only the husband was pensioned it was 17s. 3d. a week. The House will see how inadequate a flat-rate increase of 5s. a week would have been. We should have had many eloquent, vigorous speeches from the other side—we can all compose them in our minds—about this mean Bill, this inadequate Bill, this scandalous Bill, thrusting the burden upon the local authorities, while the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Minister of Health were taking the credit for a reform which really cost them nothing, while the main weight was to be carried by the poor areas—Glamorganshire, Clydeside, and County Durham.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence
When the right hon. Gentleman speaks of 5s. being inadequate it must be remembered that a married couple who now only get 8s. for the two would get 5s. each under a flat rate increase.
§ Mr. Elliot
I was referring to the 7s. 3d. for single men and women, in which cases it would not be doubled. There are cases 966 of married couples where only the husband is a pensioner, and where there is, the supplement in August, 1939, was 17s. 3d. In such cases, even 10s. would be inadequate. Of the single men and women in receipt of relief, two-thirds, outside London, got more than 5s. a week in relief, and 90 per cent. of those in London were being granted more than 5s. So, it is clear, that if we had proposed a flat rate increase of 5s. we would again be subject to the same condemnation. We should be told that the 90 per cent. were now getting more than 5s. and that we were proposing something which was inadequate for the 90 per cent. I do not wish to stress that point too much but I think we are entitled to claim that to attempt to deal with such cases by a 5s. flat rate increase would be equivalent to trying to get over an abyss in two jumps, and nothing could be more useless. Furthermore the provisions in this Bill afford great immediate relief to local authorities. County Durham, for instance, stands to save anything from a rate of 1s. 5d. to a rate of 1s. 9d. in the £. Hull would save something between a 6d. and 1s. rate, and Middlesbrough something like a 3d. or a 4d. rate. I could give many other towns. Falkirk, at any rate, would save 6d. on the rates. Those considerable savings would inure to the benefit of the areas which are most hardly hit, and which have most insistently pressed their claims before the House. The fact that we have been able to do that should count to our credit, particularly in regard to Part II of the Bill, which has been so much attacked. Lacking that, we should have been attacked on the ground that our proposals were inadequate in relieving local authorities.
To-night we are engaged upon an attempt to do two very difficult things—to combine an advance in social reform with the vigorous prosecution and maintenance of a great war. This is an old Parliament and the House of Commons has many times had to face that double problem. We had to face it in the last Great War, and we had to face it in the Napoleonic wars. I do not think that in either war a Measure of this magnitude was brought forward. I have looked up the records, and I find that in the Napoleonic wars the question of social reform was pressed on the House and a Factory Bill was brought forward, but it 967 became a dead letter. In 1802, however, the House did realise that social reform could not be entirely displaced. In the last Great War it was not only political reform that the House engaged upon. There was a great Education Act and a great Franchise Act. But no great reform bringing direct benefits to the homes of the people was put through that Parliament during the whole of that Great War, which lasted so long and brought so many changes in its train. [An HON. MEMBER: "Where was the Liberal Party?."] The Labour party was no more present in the Parliament of 1802 than it was in the Parliament of 1914. Whatever party is present in the House, or in office, the question of social reform will undoubtedly be pressed. The House is continuously engaged in the task for which it came into existence—the demand that there should be redress of grievances before voting Supply.
This is a grievance, the grievance of the old people, which we have always felt, some feeling it more than others. We are taking a step to redress that grievance to-night. It is not a step that all Members want and that all the House wants, but it is a step forward in the direction that the House and the country want. The best proof is that after nine
§ days' Debate, hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite do not wish to write a negative to the Third Reading of the Bill. They have put down a reasoned Amendment which we shall consider and which I hope the House will reject. There is not an hon. Member in any part of the House who would not say, if the matter was left to his own single voice, "Let the Bill live; let the Bill go on to the Statute Book." That is the request I make to the House to-night.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
In the Schedule it is laid down that only one 7s. 6d. is taken into account and not 7s. 6d. and 5s. In the Schedule there is no 5s. added to the 7s. 6d.
§ Mr. Elliot
I think I can clear up that point. That was the disregard for the special payment brought into existence to deal with the transitional period, but that does not alter the fact that the 5s. friendly society payment and the 7s. 6d. health insurance benefit remain absolutely untouched, and will be disregarded in the future as in the past.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes, 182; Noes, 127.969
|Division No. 52.]||AYES.||[11.0 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lt.-Col. G. J.||Clarry, Sir Reginald||Hambro, A. V.|
|Adams, S. V. T. (Leeds, W.)||Cobb, Captain E. C. (Preston)||Hammersley, S. S.|
|Albery, Sir Irving||Colville, Rt. Hon. John||Hannah, I. C.|
|Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir W. J. (Armagh)||Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)||Hannon, Sir P. J. H.|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. L. C, M. S.||Cooper, Rt. Hon. T. M. (E'burgh, W.)||Harbord, Sir A.|
|Assheton, R.||Courtauld, Major J. S.||Harland, H. P.|
|Astor, Viscountess (Plymouth, Sutton)||Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L.||Harvey, T. E.|
|Baldwin-Webb, Col. J.||Critchley, A.||Haslam, Henry (Horncastle)|
|Balfour, Capt. H. H. (Isle of Thanet)||Croft, Brig.-Gen. Sir H. Page||Hely-Hutchinson, M. R.|
|Baxter, A. Beverley||Crooke, Sir J. Smedley||Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.|
|Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H.||Crookshank, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. F. C.||Hepburn, P. G. T. Buchan-|
|Beauchamp, Sir B. C.||Cross, R. H.||Hepworth, J.|
|Beechman, N. A.||Cruddas, Col. B.||Herbert, A. P. (Oxford U.)|
|Bennett, Sir E. N.||Culverwell, C. T.||Hoare,Rt. Hon. Sir S.|
|Bernays, R. H.||Davies, Major Sir G. F. (Yeovil)||Holdsworth, H.|
|Blair, Sir R.||Denman, Hon. R. D.||Holmes, J. S.|
|Bossom, A. C.||Doland, G. F.||Horsbrugh, Florence|
|Boulton, W. W.||Duckworth, W. R. (Moss Side)||Howitt, Dr. A. B.|
|Bower, Comdr. R. T.||Duncan, J. A. L. (Kensington, N.)||Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)|
|Boyce, H. Leslie||Dunglass, Lord.||Jarvis, Sir J. J.|
|Braithwaite, Major A. N. (Buckrose)||Eckersley, P. T.||Joel, D. J. B.|
|Brass, Sir W.||Edmondson, Major Sir J.||Jones, Sir G. W. H. (S'k N'w'gt'n)|
|Briscoe, Capt. R. G.||Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E.||Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)|
|Broadbridge, Sir G. T.||Emery, J. F.||Kerr, Sir John Graham (Sco'sh Univs.)|
|Brooke. H. (Lewisham, W.)||Emrys-Evans, P. V||Keyes, Admiral of the Fleet Sir R.|
|Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Newbury)||Etherton, Ralph||Knox, Major-General Sir A. W. F.|
|Burton, Col. H. W.||Everard, Sir William Lindsay||Lamb, Sir J. Q.|
|Butcher, H. W.||Fyfe, D. P. M.||Lees-Jones, J.|
|Campbell, Sir E. T.||Goldie, N. B.||Leighton, Major B. E. P.|
|Carver, Major W. H.||Gower, Sir R. V.||Levy, T.|
|Cazalet, Thelma (Islington, E.)||Greene, W. P. C. (Worcester)||Lewis, O.|
|Chapman, A. (Rutherglen)||Gretton, Col. Rt. Hon. J.||Liddall, W. S.|
|Chapman, Sir S. (Edinburgh, S.)||Gridley, Sir A. B.||Lipson, D. L.|
|Christie, J. A.||Hacking, Rt. Hon. Sir D. H.||Little, Dr. J. (Down)|
|Llewellin, Colonel J. J.||Procter, Major H. A.||Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir Donald|
|Lucas, Major Sir J. M.||Pym, L. R.||Somerville, Sir A. A. (Windsor)|
|Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)||Radford, E. A.||Stewart, J. Henderson (Fife, E.)|
|MacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.||Raikes, H. V. A. M.||Strauss, H. G. (Norwich)|
|M'Connell, Sir J.||Ramsay, Captain A. H. M.||Strickland, Captain W. F.|
|McCorquodale, M. S.||Ramsden, Sir E.||Sueter, Rear-Admiral Sir M. F.|
|MacDonald, Rt. Hon. M. (Ross)||Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)||Sutcliffe, H.|
|McEwen, Capt. J. H. F.||Reid, W. Allan (Derby)||Thomas, J. P. L.|
|McKie, J. H.||Robertson, D.||Touche, G. C.|
|Maitland, Sir Adam||Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)||Tree, A. R. L. F.|
|Makins, Brigadier-General Sir Ernest||Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)||Tufnell, Lieut.-Commander R. L.|
|Manningham-Buller, Sir M.||Rowlands, G.||Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)|
|Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.||Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.||Waterhouse, Captain C.|
|Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.||Ruggles-Brise, Colonel Sir E. A.||Wayland, Sir W. A.|
|Meller, Sir R. J. (Mitcham)||Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)||Webbe, Sir W. Harold|
|Mitcheson, Sir G. G.||Salt, E. W.||Wells, Sir Sydney|
|Morris-Jones, Sir Henry||Samuel, M. R. A.||Wickham, Lt.-Col. E. T. R.|
|Munro, P.||Schuster, Sir G. E.||Williams, C. (Torquay)|
|Neven-Spenee, Major B. H. H.||Selley, H. R.||Williams, Sir H. G. (Croydon, S.)|
|Nield, B. E.||Shakespeare, G. H.||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel G.|
|O'Connor, Sir Terence J.||Shaw, Major P. S. (Wavertree)||Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl|
|O'Neill, Rt. Hon. Sir Hugh||Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)||Wise, A. R.|
|Orr-Ewing, I. L.||Simon, Rt. Hon. Sir J. A.||Wragg, H.|
|Palmer, G. E. H.||Smiles, Lieut.-Colonel Sir W. D.||Young, A. S. L. (Partick)|
|Peake, O.||Smith, Bracewell (Dulwich)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Pickthorn, K. W. M.||Smith, Sir R. W. (Aberdeen)||Mr. James Stuart and Mr. Grimston.|
|Ponsonby, Col. C. E.||Smithers, Sir W.|
|Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton||Snadden, W. McN.|
|Adams, D. (Consett)||Hayday, A.||Parkinson, J. A.|
|Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)||Henderson, J. (Ardwick)||Pearson, A.|
|Adamson, Jennie L (Dartford)||Henderson, T. (Tradeston)||Pethick-Lawrence, Rt. Hon. F. W|
|Adamson, W. M.||Hicks, E. G.||Price, M. P.|
|Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (H'lsbr.)||Hills, A. (Pontefract)||Quibell, D. J. K.|
|Ammon, C. G.||Hollins, A. (Hanley)||Ridley, G.|
|Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.||Hollins, J. H. (Silvertown)||Riley, B.|
|Banfield, J. W.||Horabin, T. L.||Ritson, J.|
|Barnes, A. J.||Isaacs, G. A.||Roberts, W. (Cumberland, N.)|
|Barr, J.||Jackson, W. F.||Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)|
|Batey, J.||Jenkins, A. (Pontypool)||Sexton, T. M.|
|Beaumont, H. (Batley)||Jones, Sir H. Haydn (Merioneth)||Shinwell, E.|
|Benson, G.||Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A.||Silkin, L.|
|Brown, C. (Mansfield)||Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.||Silverman, S. S.|
|Burke, W. A.||Kirkwood, D.||Sloan, A.|
|Cape, T.||Lathan, G.||Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)|
|Charleton, H. C.||Lawson, J. J.||Smith, E. (Stoke)|
|Chater, D.||Leach, W.||Smith, T. (Normanton)|
|Cluse, W. S.||Leonard, W.||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Cooks, F. S.||Leslie, J. R.||Stephen, C.|
|Collindridge, F.||Logan, D. G.||Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)|
|Daggar, G.||Lunn, W.||Strauss, G. R. (Lambeth, N.)|
|Dalton, H.||Macdonald, G. (Ince)||Thurtle, E.|
|Davidson, J. J. (Maryhill)||McEntee, V. La T.||Tinker, J. J.|
|Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)||McGovern, J.||Tomlinson, G.|
|Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)||MacLaren, A.||Viant, S. P.|
|Dobbie, W.||Maclean, N.||Watkins, F. C.|
|Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)||Marshall, F.||Watson, W. McL.|
|Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)||Mathers, G.||Welsh, J. C.|
|Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwelty)||Maxton, J.||Westwood, J.|
|Edwards, N. (Caerphilly)||Messer, F.||Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)|
|Frankel, D.||Milner, Major J.||Wilkinson, Ellen|
|Gallacher, W.||Montague, F.||Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)|
|Gardner, B. W.||Morgan, J. (York, W.R., Doncaster)||Williams, T. (Don Valley)|
|Garro Jones, G. M.||Morrison, Rt. Hon. H. (Hackney, S.)||Wilmot, John|
|George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)||Morrison, R. C. (Tottenham, N.)||Wilson, C. H. (Attercliffe)|
|Gibson, R. (Greenock)||Mort, D. L.||Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)|
|Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)||Muff, G.||Woodburn, A.|
|Griffiths, G. A. (Hemsworth)||Naylor, T. E.||Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)|
|Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)||Noel-Baker, P. J.||Young, Sir R. (Newton)|
|Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)||Oliver, G. H.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hall, W. G. (Colne Valley)||Owen, Major G.||Mr. John and Mr. R. J. Taylor.|
|Hardie, Agnes||Paling, W.|
|Harris, Sir P. A.||Parker, J.|
Bill read the Third time, and passed.