§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
As I understand that it is not proposed to move 1308 the Amendments on the Order Paper, may I ask whether the Chancellor will take this opportunity of indicating whether he has any concession to make; and will it be convenient to the Committee, with your permission. Sir Dennis, to have a general discussion on the Chancellor's statement and on the general principles of the Clause?
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
Would it not suit the convenience of the Committee if we had a statement from the Chancellor, on Clause 1 as to the changes, if any, which are to be made in the Bill? That might clarify the discussion, and ease the position later. I am certain that Clause 1 is the appropriate: occasion for the Chancellor to make any such statement.
I said that I had no objection to the course proposed by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) As to further proceedings of the kind that the hon. Member referred to, I think we must wait and see how things go.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I thank you for your answer, Sir Dennis, which is a very tolerant one. I was going to ask the Chancellor if, subject to your Ruling, he could make some statement on the Bill in general.
§ The Chancellor of the Exchequer (Sir Kingsley Wood)
I beg to move, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."
I should be very glad to give an indication on two matters of some importance which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and I have considered, with a view to meeting some of the points which have been put by my hon. Friends opposite. Of course, matters in the Bill generally were the subject o' very close and careful examination by my right hon. Friend and myself and we gave a great deal of time and attention to them. In view of the representations that have been made, and in order that Parliament may properly exercise its functions—because I recognise that it is not simply a matter for the determination of Ministers—my right hon. Friend and I have given reconsideration to two matters of some 1309 importance, involving further concessions to people who will benefit under the Bill.
The first is this: My hon. Friends will remember that in the White Paper it was stated that the Board, in applying Rule 2, proposed to assess at 7s. a week the benefit accruing to the applicant through the presence in his household of an adult earning normal wages. This matter has been the subject of discussion between my hon. Friends opposite and myself, and I think it was generally understood that the intention had been to regard 50s. or over as normal wages. In view of representations which have been made by my hon. Friends, it is now proposed to raise this figure to 55s., that is to say, that any person earning less than 55s. a week will be assumed to contribute less than 7s. a week, and this will have certain consequential effects.
The second matter is one to which my hon. Friends opposite attach considerable importance. It will be recalled that under Rule 3 an applicant living in a household with his father or mother, son or daughter would not be regarded as requiring to contribute towards the cost of his board and lodging, if the income of the father and mother, or son and daughter, exceeded the prescribed amount. In the White Paper it was suggested that the prescribed amount should be £5 a week, subject to an addition, where there were two or more dependants exclusive of the applicant. My hon. Friends opposite made certain representations about that figure of £5 a week, and we now propose to raise the amount from £5 to £6 a week, This, of course. will make a considerable difference in the administration of the scheme. Those are two proposals which I hope will commend themselves to the Committee and will be regarded by my hon. Friends opposite as an earnest of the desire of the Government to meet the representations which they have made. Undoubtedly they will confer considerable additional advantages on the people who are to benefit.
§ Mr. Buchanan
The concessions inst announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer are important, and I do not propose to labour the question further than to say that I think the increase from £5 to £6 a week is the more important of the two. I wish to ask, however, whether the right hon. Gentleman will not again 1310 look into the question of the minimum wage in respect of which contribution is to be taken into account. Under the procedure at present proposed, the £1 a week figure still stands in this connection. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman, with his long experience, will say that when concessions are made there are always demands for further concessions, but I do think that he ought to go into this matter of the lower-level incomes once again. He is making concessions which to some extent improve matters for those who are, comparatively speaking, in the better positions, but which leave untouched the hardest cases of all, namely, those of the very poor, such as the old age pensioners who are at the £1-a-week level. As between the £2 15s. a week income and the £1 a week income the gap is a very large one, and even at this late hour, I would ask the right hon. Gentleman to consider increasing in the Regulations the minimum of £1 which seems to be the most serious blot on the Bill.
The Bill, in my view, represents a considerable general improvement, but I think the £1-a-week provision remains a blot upon it, affecting the poorest of the people concerned. I thought that one result of the Bill would be the avoidance of unnecessary expense in investigation, and I understood from the right hon. Gentleman's earlier statement that it was hoped to mitigate the investigation procedure. But as long as you have that abnormally low level, you will still require a large amount of investigation, particularly where female employment abounds, because it is notorious that the wages paid to women are much lower than men's wages. I therefore urge the Chancellor to reconsider the minimum standard.
§ Mr. Bevan
It is clear that we have already passed a very important stage of this Bill. I agree that the concessions announced by the right hon. Gentleman are of substantial importance and will enable a large number of people to benefit who might otherwise be excluded. For those reasons we welcome the concessions, but it must now be clear that the substance of the Bill will lie in the Regulations which are to be issued under it, and the most useful Debate that can take place will be one directed to improving the Regulations themselves and also the Rules to be issued under the Regulations 1311 I suggest respectfully to the Minister of Labour that our experience has gone to show that Rules which are concealed from us are often more important than the Regulations and that the Regulations seem to be more important than the Bill. The Committee will, I am sure, have noticed this peculiarity, that within the language and the framework of the Bill, without making any alteration in the terms of the Bill itself, it has already been found possible to raise the £5 a week to £6 a. week and the 50s. a week to 55s. a week.
My hon. Friends will, I am certain, tell the Chancellor and the Minister of Labour that much of what we do here on these questions is often rendered nugatory by what the Board does. A distinction is made in this Bill between a person who is a householder and one who is not. Many of us regard the distinction as artificial. Who is or who is not the house holder often depends in working-class circles on conditions and factors wholly irrelevant to our legislation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) pointed out in the Second Reading Debate, in South Wales a son may become the householder for reasons arising out of his relationship with his employer. It is important that the Regulations or Rules should lay down some objective and easily discernible test of who is the householder or who is not. It is undesirable, because it is repugnant to all the instincts of our people, that an officer of the Board should be allowed, in determining the position of a person who is living in a household with other relatives, to pry too closely into the circumstances of family life.
I am trying my best to help the hon. Member, but the Motion to report Progress is not a proper occasion on which to discuss Regulations to be made under this Bill. There are two courses, I think, open to hon. Members with regard to what has arisen or is expected to arise under the Regulations. One is that they may find it practicable to deal with these various questions on the particular Clauses or Schedules on which they arise in the Committee. That, I appreciate, might cause some hon. Members some difficulties, and in that case T think the proper opportunity for discuss- 1312 ing these Regulations would be after the Committee and Report stages of the Bill, on the Third Reading of the Bill. Obviously, it is quite impossible to have a general Debate upon the intended Regulations upon this Motion.
§ Mr. Lawson (Chester-le-Street)
May I draw your attention to the fact that, while it is true that we cannot discuss the Regulations, you have an unusual situation in this case as distinct from other Bills of this nature in that you have had a White Paper which has practically laid down the principles of the Regulations, and in some cases actually stated the amounts? Therefore, as this has been discussed on Second Reading and has been mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, would it not be just as well, in view of that fact, to discuss this matter rather more widely on this occasion than we have been enabled to do on previous Bills of this kind?
I think that that is perfectly true. I have already had the White Paper before me, but we have to keep within certain limits. I have allowed a good deal of latitude on the whole, but we must keep within the forms of procedure, otherwise we shall get into all sorts of quagmires, which only lead us in future to greater difficulty. We certainly cannot discuss a White Paper of this kind in the way that hon. Members wish to discuss it on the Committee stage of the Bill at all. Points arising on such a matter have on occasions been discussed on the Committee stage, if and so far as they are legitimate subjects for discussion, on the Question of the Clause or Schedule standing part of the Bill, or, as I have indicated, they can be more generally debated as one subject on the Third Reading. The question of the White Paper having been issued in this case cannot alter the procedure in Committee. If hon. Members wish to discuss the White Paper generally as a special matter on this occasion they are wishing to do something which is not permissible. I am afraid that I cannot allow it.
§ Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)
I do not wish in any way to disagree with your Ruling, Sir Dennis, on principle. There is a number of Amendments on the Paper, and Members of the Committee desire to know whether they should move those Amendments or not.
I have already given the Committee to understand that on the Motion to report Progress I will allow hon. Members to discuss matters in regard to the proposed Amendments and the new concessions proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer to be made on behalf of the Government. I think there can be no difficulty about that, but I cannot allow a general discussion on the White Paper.
§ Mr. Barnes (East Ham, South)
We are still not clear as to the purpose that the Motion to report Progress is to serve. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has mentioned several concessions which are very acceptable. Are we to be able to raise other points covered by Amendments at this stage, or do you prefer us to leave these matters until we reach the Amendments on the Bill?
It is not an unusual thing to have a discussion of this kind upon the intentions of the Government when provisional arrangements have been made by the Government with hon. Members who have criticised the Bill with regard to certain provisions of the Bill. Therefore, I think hon. Members ought to have no difficulty in realising how far or how short a distance they can go in this Debate. It must be purely a question of the Chancellor's statement and making any counter-statement which is strictly relevant to the Chancellor's statement. I think that is what it comes to, but what I am anxious to do at the present moment, when the request has definitely been made to me in these terms that we might have a Debate on the Regulations to be laid, is to make it clear that such a Debate cannot possibly take place now.
§ Mr. Bevan
I think it is all my fault, because, with all my experience, I ought to have known that, if I had continually referred to Amendments and not Regulations, I should have been able to say the same things in perfect order. As I understand it, we are now having a discussion on the Motion to report Progress on the Chancellor's statement and on a number of Amendments which I understand are 1314 not to be moved, and you will be able to put the Clause properly afterwards without any discussion at all. This will enable Ministers to go away who might have been brought here under false pretences.
I hope that the hon. Member will not misunderstand what I have said. I think he is stretching my Ruling unduly. I must ask him to note that I did state most definitely that a Debate on the intended or proposed Regulations to be laid under this Bill, if and when it becomes an Act, cannot be discussed on the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Bevan
I think you are now making it frightfully difficult. In my respectful submission, it will be quite impossible for us to discuss either the Bill or the Chancellor's statement unless we discuss the Regulations, because the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not have made a statement other than that about the Regulations. I think the point has not been grasped. After what the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said to the Committee that the Regulations will themselves contain certain things, how, therefore, can we discuss them?
I am sorry if I have not made clear the procedure of the House and the Rules in regard thereto, which, as I have already said, we must keep when it comes to such questions as this, otherwise we shall be getting the whole procedure of the House into considerable muddle. Apparently, the whole of the hon. Member's difficulty is that he wants to do something on the Committee stage which is not proper to be done on the Committee stage, and I cannot allow that.
§ Mr. Graham White (Birkenhead, East)
I welcome the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and I think it is a great help to the Bill and will no doubt affect its progress.
It is certainly not considered in Order that two hon. Members should speak at once, still less three or more. I think we are getting a little adrift here. The hon. Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. White) was, I gather, proceeding to make a speech on the Motion to report Progress, but the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) was in possession of the Floor of the Committee on a 1315 point of Order when I interrupted him. I am not sure whether my interruption has been sufficient to end what he desired to say.
§ Mr. Bevan
I really am in a. difficulty, which the whole Committee shares, and I hope that we shall be able to come to some arrangement. It has happened on many occasions that we have agreed to have a discussion of a general nature on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," a guarantee being given to the Chair that if we did this, the other Clauses which might give rise to similar discussion should be put automatically from the Chair and a vote taken, if necesary, without a discussion. [Interruption.]
Hon. Members must address the Chair and not carry on their own conversation with one another.
§ Mr. Bevan
If that is not understood, the Motion to report Progress, instead of widening the discussion, limits it, and I respectfully submit that it would be just as well that the Motion to report Progress should now be withdrawn, so that we could go on with a discussion on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."
I think the hon. Member may be right, but I am afraid that that still does not get him as far as he wants to go. Even a most general discussion on the Question ''That the Clause stand part of the Bill," would not permit what I understand he wants, which is a general and full discussion on Regulations to be made under a Bill which has not yet even got to its Third Reading stage. This is not the proper time for a discussion of these Regulations. If the Motion to report Progress were withdrawn, I agree that that would probably be the best thing to do, so that the Committee could deal with the Bill Clause by Clause. I do not want hon. Members to be afraid that I will stifle proper discussion in any way on the Bill, but they must remember that it would be quite out of Order and, indeed, not reasonable to discuss Regulations made, or rather intended to be made, under a Bill which is not yet anywhere near the end of its passage through the House.
I think the hon. Member will find that the putting of points of that sort will not be stopped. But that is quite another thing from discussing Regulations as a whole, which I cannot allow. I will allow Debate on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," to the greatest possible extent that I can. In such discussions hon. Members can take note of and be concerned with any statement which has been made by the Government as to what is intended to be done by the Regulations, which is, as I have said, a different thing from discussing the Regulations as a whole.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I was about to say that the Chancellor had discussed Regulations within limits, by announcing two concessions, not in the Bill, on these Regulations. Surely other Members are entitled to ask that the Chancellor ought to make some other concession on the Regulations. Surely that is not out of Order. With all due deference to you, Sir Dennis, you arc saying that we cannot discuss the Regulations, yet the Chancellor has already discussed them in part by announcing two concessions on the White Paper, and all I ask is, At what point does a Member stop? I asked for a concession on the minimum wage, and some other Member may ask for a concession on some other part, and if we take this matter on the Motion to report Progress or on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," it does not ease the dilemma. For the sake of clarity, it is not an unfair proposition, and indeed would facilitate discussion, if you allowed other Members to raise points that they consider important on the concessions under the Regulations.
I am afraid the hon. Member is doing what I expressed the hope Members would not do. All those questions which he asked just now as indicating what he or any other Member wished to say I would not interrupt or stop, but if hon. Members ask for a general Debate on the Regulations to be made under the Bill, I cannot agree. The statement made by the Chancellor in these circumstances is one which can be replied to or criticised by other Members. If 1317 only hon. Members will proceed in the ordinary way, I think they will find that the matter is not so difficult as they suspect.
I must ask the hon. Member to remember that these difficulties do not arise as a result of the conduct of the Chair; they arise through the procedure of the House, and I hope he will not speak of the matter in such a way as to reflect on the conduct of the Chair.
I again say that I do not really see the difficulty. I have already stated that I am prepared to allow, within reason, as much elasticity as T can on the Debate on the Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill" If I may make a suggestion and give a little advice to the Committee, it is that if the Motion to report Progress is withdrawn and the Committee stage proceeded with in the ordinary way, and time is not taken up by lengthy arguments on subjects and questions of Order on or in fear of something which may never happen, we shall probably get on more speedily.
§ Mr. Mainwaring (Rhondda, East)
May I ask for an explanation? The Chancellor has been good enough to say that the limit of 50s. will be raised to 55s. That will affect adult sons within the family. But the adult may be a boarder, or a lodger, in which case the amount of wages he earns will not be deemed to affect the profit accruing to the householder. What amount of profit is to be assumed in the case of a boarder paying 25s. per week? I should like to know whether this will apply to boarders or whether it will be confined to sons.
I would point out that all these matters can be discussed much more properly when we reach the Clause or Schedule in the Bill dealing with the making of Regulations to which the hon. Member has referred.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Question again proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill"
§ Mr. Bevan
The question raised by my hon. Friend the Member for East Rhondda (Mr. Mainwaring) emphasises what I am about to say. It is very important that, in order to give the benefits which I am sure the Government intend to give, the Regulations should be drawn up in accordance with the intentions of the Bill. If hon. Members will look at Clause I, they will see that it is intended, in general terms, to repeal the former legislation, and that the provision thatthe resources of the applicant taken into account shall include the resources of all members of the household of which he is a member,is to cease to have effect. Therefore, it is the general intention of the Bill that the substantial hardships of the household means test shall be rectified. Whether that is so will depend entirely upon whether there is a sensible definition of the household, the resources of which are still to be taken into account; it will depend upon the definition of "household" which the Government are to give subsequently. Thus, it is of paramount importance that we should have a definition of "household" that will not inflict hardship. It ought to be possible for the Board to define a household by means of objective data and not by reason of the subjective relationships of the people living in the household. On more than one occasion it has happened that benefits intended by Parliament have been withheld from the applicant by reason of the officer declaring that if the father and mother have a meal of food with a son or daughter on Sunday afternoon, they must be held to be living in common, with the result that the resources of the son or daughter have been taken into account. If that sort of definition is still to be retained, there will be very great difficulties.
Hon. Members will see that many of these benefits turn upon whether a person 1319 is or is not a householder. What is a householder for all practical purposes? He or she is a person who is held by the law to be responsible for the rent of the house. Therefore, the rent book or the shop book, or any factor which determines the relationship of the householder to the outside world, should determine the definition of the household, which ought not to be determined by the relationship between people living in the house. I hope that when the Government consider this matter, they will see that the Unemployment Assistance Board give effect to the intention of Parliament, which is in all circumstances to consider a bona fide householder and not merely a person who happens by accident to be living with someone else in a house.
I do not propose to make any other point now. I am satisfied we shall not know what are the benefits of the Bill until we see it administered. Some of my hon. Friends have taken one view about the Bill, and I have taken another view. More than once it has been our experience that Parliament's intention has been stultified by administrative malpractices, and in a few months' time we may be faced with an administration of the Bill that will wholly falsify the intentions of Parliament. Indeed, even now under the Board there exists great differences between one part of the country and another. The definitions of "household" and of "dependent members" vary from one part of the country to another. It is these things that cause bitterness and hardship. I hope that our worst fears will not be realised, and that on this occasion the Unemployment Assistance Board will have more regard to the intentions of Parliament, and not try by administrative methods to minimise the intentions of Parliament.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
I want to say at the outset that I, and those with whom I am associated, very much appreciate the concessions that have been announced, but I want to ask one or two questions about those concessions, and also to obtain an assurance from the Minister with regard to the administration of this Clause and of the concessions that have been announced. In the first place, I think the Committee are entitled to have more assurances concerning the way in which the provision relating to "normal wage" 1320 is to be administered. This has been administered by the Board in different ways, and, therefore, I think we ought to have some assurance concerning the matter. The next point to which I want to refer relates to the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan). The Committee will remember that when the Bill was before the House, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Mr. Elliot), who was then Minister of Health, adopted a more generous attitude than we had previously experienced with regard to legislation of this character. Hon. Members on this side were satisfied with the assurances given at that time, but, unfortunately, those assurances were not implemented in the administration of the provision. I want to give the Committee the benefit of a letter which I received from the Minister of Health concerning the friction created unnecessarily through the Board, in its administration, not carrying out the intentions of Parliament. The letter, referring to a resolution that had been sent to the Minister by a large number of trades councils, stated:I feel that the resolution implies that the Assistance Board's officers are treating every applicant for supplementary pension who lives in the same house as a married son or other married relative, as a member of that relative's household. This is not so, and I am sure you will agree that the question whether two or more persons are living as members of the same household is one which must obviously be decided on the facts of each case. It is equally obvious that every pensioner living with relatives does not make his arrangements with those relatives on a standard pattern, either of the kind mentioned or some other kind. If the pensioner can show, as the resolution suggests, that he has rented unfurnished accommodation for which he pays an agreed and reasonable rent, and makes his own provisions for food, fuel and other necessities, the officer will normally treat him as maintaining a separate establishment:.I only wish that the words contained in that letter had been carried out by the Board's officers. Had that letter been carried out strictly in accordance with the spirit and intentions of Parliament, I am convinced that we would not have had the friction throughout the country since the Bill became an Act
§ Mr. Smith
Unfortunately this is only a copy of the letter, but the secretary of the organisation has the original. If 1321 the hon. Member would like to see the copy, I will show it to him. The letter;s addressed from the Ministry of Health and is signed by the right hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Malcolm MacDonald). So far as this Bill is concerned, I am asking for an assurance from the Minister that the intention of Parliament and this letter will be implemented in administration.
§ Mr. Silverman
I want to support what has been said by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) and the hon; Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) in regard to the interpretation given administratively to the conception of a separate household. Nothing in this legislation has caused more bitterness in a large number of working-class homes than this definition. It has been administered in this way: It may sound almost unbelievable, but there are countless instances of it, and nearly all my hon. Friends could, I am sure, produce countless similar examples. Let us take the case of two separate houses, both of which are occupied by a family and an old age pensioner who lives in a rented room. It makes all the difference in the world to the decision reached by the pensions officer, whether or not the old age pensioner is related to the household. I submit that that must be wrong, and that there must be an objective test of what is a household. Make any investigation which appears to be reasonable, but, having made it, apply it impartially as between one house and another.
There have been thousands of cases where an old man or an old woman has said to himself or herself: "It is much better that I should live with relatives than with strangers. I want to pay my own way, and I do not wish to be a burden on anyone; I never have been and I do not want to be now. I am in the last years of my life, and I am no longer able to earn my living, but I have some means from my old age pension and supplementation out of which I wish to maintain myself. I am prepared to pay a reasonable rent for my room, and I am prepared to buy or to use furniture which I already possess. I am prepared to buy my own food, and I would very much sooner do all this in a house whose other occupants are my blood-relations than in a stranger's house." If all these condi- 1322 tions are satisfied, and if the Board will accept them as establishing a separate household where there is no relationship between the old age pensioner and the household, there is no reason in the world why exactly the same state of affairs should not be allowed where there is a relationship.
I know of one case where an old lady was living in an old people's hostel. She was living in common with other people and was granted—and I think was rightly granted—a supplemental pension. She lived there more or less happily and comfortably, but there came a time when she suffered a paralytic stroke, as a result of which she became too great a burden for the hostel to carry. This old lady had relatives, who said, "We will willingly and lovingly accept that burden and discharge it. Come and live with us" All that happened was that this old lady went from the hostel to this home. She had a room, made her own contributions, and used her own furniture; but, whereas when she was in the hostel she received a supplemental pension, when her daughter took her into her home, and nothing else had changed, the Board determined that there was no longer a separate household, and her supplemental pension was withdrawn. The burden upon the old lady and her relatives was increased to the extent of the supplemental pension just because she went as an invalid from the hostel to her daughter's house. That kind of case can be multiplied innumerably, and I need not tell the Minister of Labour what bitterness such cases cause and how unfair and unjust they are. However, I do not wish to labour the point, because I think it is quite clear to all.
I now wish to refer to the letter read by the hon. Member for Stoke. I had heard of this letter before when I went in my constituency with a deputation to the officials charged with the administration of supplemental pensions in that area. We brought forward between 50 and 60 cases where we stated that a separate establishment ought to have been accepted. I asked the officials how they proceeded on the matter and upon what conditions they decided whether a household was a separate household or not. They gave me a definition which appalled me. Bumbledom is certainly not yet dead in 1323 this matter. 1 tried to examine the question for myself. I was told that if an old man lived in a separate room with his own furniture, bought his own food and cooked it, and ate it in solitude at his own table, but joined the family occasionally at their meals, and sat in the kitchen to listen to the wireless, that would prevent his room from being regarded as separate, and he would lose his supplemental pension. I said, "That is nonsense," and I was told, "It may be nonsense, but here is a document issued to us from the Board which we are applying in this case, and we think it is a fair application of the instructions given" I asked to see the instructions, but I was not allowed to do so. Time after time we have asked to be allowed to see the Rules made under the Regulations upon which these determinations are made, and we are always refused. I had heard of my hon. Friend's letter at that time. I had no copy of it, but I had seen it summarised in Supplementary Questions in the House of Commons. I produced these extracts, and the officials told me that they had never heard of it, and that it was quite contrary to the instructions they had received, in spite of the fact that it bore the signature of the Minister of Health. This matter is a very grave one. It is really anti-social to produce a situation in which an advantage is given when natural family relationships are broken up, and when old people are told that if they live with strangers, they will be given another 15s. a week, but that if they stop at home and live with their own people, they will be deprived of it. All that my hon. Friends are asking is that, if you must maintain this vicious principle of applying the household means test to old age pensioners, you should endeavour to apply it as humanely as possible and not entirely unreasonably, as it has been applied in the past.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I apologise for the fact that I was not present when my Amendment—to leave out "all," in page 1, line 10—was called, because I am of the opinion that this word "all" is the operative word in the Clause. Some hon. Members have told me that that is a mistake and that, if my Amendment had been carried, it would have made the position worse, but they are labouring 1324 under a delusion, because the Clause says that in future not all the resources of the family will be taken into account. If there are three members of the household, not all the resources will be taken into account; only the resources of one of them may be taken into account. That is what it means. If the word "all" was taken out of it, no member of the household could be brought in as far as his income is concerned, but so long as they put it that not all the resources shall be taken into account, it leaves them free to take some into account, and that is what is happening. [Interruption.] Yes, I am absolutey clear about that. Hon. Members seem to have an idea that the repeal means that in future none of the resources will be taken into account. What they are repealing is the decision that all resources shall be taken into account. Anomalies will arise under this. You can have a situation where the member of the family who is actually in the worst position from the point of view of contributing is the member of the family who will have to contribute. An old friend of mine who has always advocated the repeal of the means test was very happy at the Prime Minister's statement. He thought something was going to happen. 1 met him shortly after the Bill was introduced, and he said he saw, after all his expectations, that he was going to get nothing. "I am getting sour," he said. There are many old people like that.
The question has been raised as to what constitutes a separate home. I have advised all the old folk to take a room from the family and live separately in order to qualify. If an elderly man or woman lives in a single apartment house on one side of the street and a married daughter is living across the street and comes across to prepare food when the elderly person takes ill, does that interfere with the right to a supplementary pension? No; it is a separate household. But if the elderly person has taken a room in the house of a daughter or married son and happens to be ill for a day or two and the daughter makes some food, it is treated as a common habitation, and the pensioner is denied his supplemental pension. I know many cases which have gone before the Board, and there has been no question at all of the fact that it was a separate household until the ques- 1325 tion was put, "What happens if there is anything wrong and the elderly person is unable to cook and the daughter says she goes in and tides them over?" It has been declared a common habitation, and the supplementary pension has been refused.
How is this question of the household going to work out? I know many cases where the old age pensioner lives with a married daughter, but the house is in the name of the son-in-law. The factor will not allow it to be in the name of the woman, because, if there is any difficulty about getting the rent, he can sue for it and collect it from the man's wages. There are others who do not mind the rent book being in the name of the wife. I have been advising those who have old age pensioners living with them to get the rent book transferred from the name of the son to the daughter-in-law or from the daughter to the son-in-law. There is this position in many places, that is one tenement there may be a son-in-law with a rent book in his name and the pensioner will be qualified to a supplement; next door, where the son has the book in his name, the pensioner is disqualified. In that case it is impossible for the son to get the book transferred to his wife's name because the factor demands the name of the husband so that he can sue for the rent. All kinds of anomalies can exist in one tenement or in one street in connection with the question of the supplement. I cannot understand why the Minister of Labour, who has had considerable association with working-class folk and life, can allow himself to be used for the furtherance of Clause I and the household means test.
§ Mr. Lawson
The Minister of Labour has been one of the influences which has improved the situation by getting Clause I put into the Bill. The hon. Gentleman is not doing his case very much good.
§ Mr. Gallacher
If I were in the position of the hon. Gentleman, I expect I should have his peculiar ideas too, but I have not reached his state of exaltation, so that I cannot be expected to hold his views. All sorts of people have been responsible for Clause I, and the improvements in it arc due to the fact that they were fighting in the country and in the House against the household means test. The 1326 first old age pensions scheme was put forward by Thomas Paine 150 years ago, and he was outlawed from this country. It took 150 years of agitation and fighting to get 5s. a week about the year 1912. The Prime Minister was standing as a candidate for Dundee when the first 5s. was promised. The fact that some concession has been made in the main principle does not mean that we should cease fighting or that the Minister of Labour should cease fighting for the abolition of the means test altogether. I demand its total abolition. The Lord Chancellor has £10,000 a year, and whether he is in office a year or two years, he gets a pension of £5,000 when he retires. Is any question asked him as to who is in his household or about his dependants and how much they are bringing in? I do not know what the Lord Chancellor's bank balance is or what his family is. He may have sons with £2,000 or £3,000 a year but no questions will be asked. It is the same with all pensions of that character.
Questions are asked only when it comes to the men and women who have given 50 years of service in industry and in the home. No people have a greater claim to the consideration of the country than old age pensioners. I heard the Minister of Labour talking over the radio one night. I wish he could hear me talking over the radio, but there is not much hope of that, at least not while it is Goebbelised. The Minister of Labour paid tribute to all those who were giving service at this period. Did he mention any of the higher-ups who are drawing big pensions, bankers, or any of these people? He would not dare to mention them as giving service. They give no service, but from the point of view of service no section of the community more deserves consideration than the old folks with 50 or 60 years service in the mines, fields, industry or the home. Yet the Minister of Labour says that to these people the question must be put, "What is the income of the household? Are you living with your daughter or son, and how much are they bringing in?" Is that the position of the Minister of Labour with his past record of opposition to the household means test? I ask him to support those who are demanding justice for the old folks and the end of this crime against them of the household means test.
§ Mr. Mainwaring (Rhondda, East)
I should like to emphasise the plea we are making for the definition of the household. There is no gainsaying the fact that what is justly regarded as evidence on this point is extremely unsatisfactory. South Wales, because of the economic depression in which it has been involved for such a long period, would provide proportionately a much higher percentage of its pensioners living in divided households than any other part of the country. The practice of dividing a house between two families is of long standing. It came into being in South Wales during the great economic depression, when pensions such as we are discussing were not available, when unemployment allowances and benefits were not on present-day scales, and the extreme hardships through which people were passing compelled fathers and sons with families to share houses. A very large percentage indeed of pensioners in the mining valleys of South Wales now occupy part of a house and not a whole one.
Then there is this difficulty, that it is of no avail that the Department concerned send word that they have no desire other than to recognise them as separate households, because the practice does not correspond with that declaration. I have represented pensioners at tribunals and can speak from personal knowledge. I found to my astonishment that the tribunals are acting upon instructions which prevent them recognising any person or persons renting separate rooms as constituting a separate household. I recollect a case in the Rhondda Valley which came before a tribunal. It concerned a widow who had been living separately in her room for many years. She presented her rent book, showing she had been paying separately for her apartment; she produced her shopping book and her coal bill, and assured the tribunal that the furniture and utensils she was using were her own. Then the chairman, among other exceedingly foolish questions, wanted to know whether she shared the wireless or had a set of her own. Her case was turned down on the ground that she was not a person living apart from the others in the house.
I do not want it to be assumed that that is only one case. There are scores of such cases in the Rhondda Valley and hundreds in the mining valleys. In another 1328 case before the same tribunal the applicant was a woman who had recently been widowed. For some years she and her husband had shared the house with a married daughter and her husband. While the aged husband was alive they were regarded as a separate household, but the moment she became a widow they insisted on regarding her as constituting something other than a separate household. Such absurdities can be multiplied over and over again, and the position is indeed tragic.
Let me mention another case. When the present Act and its Regulations were under discussion here a statement was made in this House respecting the large body of pensioners who at that time were getting a grant from public assistance committees in addition to the pension. A promise was made that the income of such persons would not be reduced below the point to which it had been brought by the public assistance committees and that has been operative ever since. The public assistance committee in the County of Glamorgan, as everywhere else, had accepted definite evidence about the separate household in these cases, but the assistance officers of the area boards throughout the country now refuse to accept that evidence, and so we have this position—one large body of pensioners who had previously received assistance from the public assistance committees with their incomes kept at the same level as before, and an equally large body of pensioners who—all honour to them—had been too independent to go to the public assistance committees, not put in the same category as the others by the assistance officers of the area board. The absurdities are so grave that it is a scandal that the administration should be carried on in this way.
It would be well if we could get from the Minister a statement that he will endeavour to secure that such a definition of "household" and "householder" shall be applied in future as will remove these anomalies, and that instructions will be issued that the so-called legal luminaries of this country, who alone are deemed capable of acting as chairmen of tribunals, shall recognise that evidence of the existence of a separate household. If I were asked to name the greatest of all evils under the present administration, I should say it was the failure to recognise the 1329 widow living in her separate room as being a separate householder, if her son or her daughter with their family are residing in the other part of the house.
What does the Minister or anybody else—I am not saying this specially to the Minister, because I know he would be the last man in the world to endorse it—say to a case like this: A young wife has to go to hospital for examination over some internal trouble. During her absence from home her mother-in-law dares to enter the precincts of her daughter-in-law's separate apartment to prepare a comforting cup of tea against the time when she returns from hospital. At that moment the investigating officer calls at the house. He discovers the mother-in-law, an applicant for a supplementary pension, in the room of the daughter-in-law preparing the cup of tea, and finds that that is all the evidence required to prove that the old mother is sharing the resources of her daughter-in-law. On that evidence a supplementary pension is refused. When T protested against this the area officer and the chairman of the tribunal said, "But, Mr. Mainwaring, is it not reasonable to assume that they do in fact share the resources of the house? Are you asking us to assume that if you resided with your parents in similar circumstances, you would not permit them to share your resources? "That is the basis of the administration of the law at the present time. To avoid these complications and injustices in the future, I beg all the Ministers responsible to do their utmost to remove this travesty of justice from the Act of Parliament.
§ Mr. McGovern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
After listening to or reading all the Debates upon this Measure, I feel that it would be idle to deny that it is one which does confer a great benefit on a large number of people, but very often it is in the administration of an Act that things go wrong. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Westmorland (Mr. Stanley), when he was Minister of Labour, was assured by his officials that Regulations which he had introduced would put£3,500,000 into the pockets of the unemployed, but those Regulations were denounced from all parts of the House, and a storm broke out throughout the country, and he was compelled to alter them. There are people who are responsible for the administration of Acts 1330 and Regulations who fail to interpret what is in the minds of those who have drawn up the Act and those in this House who have taken part in the discussions upon it.
It is important that some reply should be given to the points which have been raised during the Debate and some guidance and advice should be offered. I quite follow the intention of the hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), but, on reading the Bill, I was bound, in logic, to see that if what he suggested were left out it would mean that the Bill would apply, as it does to-day, to all, and that no person would get additional benefit to the extent that is now proposed. I know his intention is that the means test should apply to no person, but the logic of his proposal is that it would apply as it does to-day, and that no person would get the benefit of the Bill when it comes into operation. I remember that it was suggested that the hon. Member should be allowed to broadcast from the B.B.C. I hope he would not broadcast a statement such as he has made in the Debate, because it would have a deadly effect on the people of the country. However, I recognise that there is as much danger of his broadcasting from the B.B.C. as there is of my broadcasting from Moscow.
In relation to the Bill, I remember that, in the old Poor Law work on the parish council, we had a regulation relating to old persons living with other members of the family. The regulation was often interpreted against us, so after a full-dress debate on the matter it was admitted that what we were doing was legally wrong, but we justified it on the ground of expense. Very often the regulation was taken to mean that if a married daughter lived in the house with an aged person, although the son-in-law was really the tenant, he was dropped, and she, because she was married, was taken as the un-earning wife of the husband. It was laid down as the law in respect of these persons. I would ask the Minister specially to see in the instructions that are sent out that account should be taken only of the person who is really the householder and that, where the daughter of an aged couple is being considered, and if she is a married woman and the wife of the householder, the old people shall not be deemed to reside with the daughter, but 1331 with the son-in-law, and that they will therefore get the benefit of this Measure. I ask him for an assurance on the point. These matters are operated to-day as they were under the old Poor Law system. Many officials went over from the Poor Law organisation, and they have carried with them the Poor Law mind, which was as niggardly in operation as it is possible to be with human beings.
There has been general antagonism on the question of the household. I remember that, in cases where investigation of the most complete character had taken place, you had almost to produce the pots in order to satisfy the investigator that meals were being cooked separately. As a result of bombing and the destruction of a large number of houses, there will be many people compelled to live with friends, but they will be separate households, in effect. We do not want to see people who have been bombed out of their homes by what Hitler has done being subjected to the further imposition of being deemed by officials of this kind to be part of a household. Members of the Labour party have given a very complete picture of the case, and I would now only ask for an assurance that this kind of inquisition about the one pot and the one table shall stop, and that the law shall be interpreted in a reasonable and not a niggardly fashion.
Here is a typical case which has come to my notice this morning. On this bench, I opened a letter, dated 10th March, from my area. It says:Dear Sir, The supplementary pension granted to my mother of 2s. 6d. a week through your kind intervention has now been reduced to is. a week, due to an increase of 2s. per week to me, owing to cost of living going upThis young lady receives 2s. a week because of the increase in the cost of living, and so they take is. 6d. off the old mother.I am writing to ask your advice once again on this matter, as I feel the injustice of it is cruel to the extreme. The£is now 12s. 6d. purchasing power, so I fail to see the reason for this act. My mother called at Sunnybank Street"—where the Board's offices are—to ask for an explanation, and was told that she would not have such high coal bills, or gas and light bills, to pay. I ask you to remember that this is the month of March and my mother is in her 76th year. Is it possible to have her sit without a fire to save the bills?1332 That shows the state of mind of the official who says, at a time when snow is lying on the ground in various parts of Scotland and there are cold and piercing winds, that the reduction of is. 6d. was justified because the woman would not require high coal bills. That letter came into my hands. It is not one that was concocted, and it can be given to the Minister, if he so desires. I shall have to take the case up, at any rate with the local officials, because the type of mind in that official has to be eliminated from the operation of these Acts. They have to remember that it is not a niggardly Poor Law which is operating to-day towards these old people. All kinds of changes have been made, including changes in the name applied to people receiving relief, with the intention of humanising the administration. I know that the Minister of Labour intends to humanise the operation of this Measure. I hope that action will be taken on the points that have been raised today. I hope that the Regulations relating to son-in-law and daughter-in-law will not be operated as in the past, but that instructions will be given to operate them decently and generously.
§ Mr. Dobbie (Rotherham)
In conjunction with other hon. Members who have spoken about the application of the Bill and its good effect on the lives of those who may be drawing pensions or unemployment assistance, I wish to join in the need of praise that has been given to the Bill in that respect. In many cases, however, pensioners and their friends in receipt of unemployment assistance are doomed to some disillusionment. I would ask the Minister to give guidance in his reply as to the fate of certain people who, after having had supplementary pensions, have to meet a situation to which I have not, up to the moment, heard any reference in this Debate. I wish that the Minister of Pensions could have been here to-day, because in the country just now there are many thousands of soldiers' wives who are living either with their parents or their parents-in-law, and in many of those instances the parents are in receipt of pensions. When soldiers' wives have made application for help to the Military Assistance Allowance Committee because of their financial position, the application of the means test has caused the rejection of over 100.000 applications. The Minister 1333 of Pensions the other day challenged the accuracy of my statement when I made it in the House. Either my statement was wrong; or the Minister was not up to date with the figures in his own Department, because my statement is based on the statement made to the Committee by the permanent officials when we met to discuss applications from soldiers' dependants.
On 4th February over 100,000 applications were rejected owing to the application of the means test. By 18th February the 100,000 rejections had risen to 104,000. Not all of those were applications by soldiers' wives who were living with their parents, but many of them were, and the number of soldiers' wives who, through circumstances which have been stated in the House, are compelled to live with their parents and parents-in-law increases as time goes on. I was wondering whether the Minister in his reply could say whether, when applications for assistance are made to the Ministry of Pensions Committee by those in receipt of unemployment assistance, whose daughters are staying with them while their husbands are in the Army, the increased pensions or unemployment assistance that is given to the parents is to be taken into consideration, as it is at the moment by the Pensions Committee. If this Bill does not cover cases like that, I would like from the Minister an assurance that the necessary steps will be taken so that the increased pension that may be given to the aged people will not reflect adversely on the wives of the worst-paid artisans in Great Britain—the soldiers.
There is no doubt that the soldiers are the worst paid of our artisans. A soldier in receipt of efficiency pay is as much an artisan as any high-skilled worker in the country, and he is the worst-paid artisan. I hope that the Minister will give such an assurance as will make it quite certain that in future applications the benefit for the old age pensioner shall not be used adversely against the wife of the soldier when she is making the application.
§ Mr. Pearson (Pontypridd)
I do not wish to detain the Committee for any great length of time, but I wish to say that Clause 1 of this Bill, inasmuch as it repeals so much of the provisions of the 1934 Act which require that the aggrega- 1334 tion of the household's resources should be taken into account, is quite a step forward. At the same time, there does not appear in the Bill any indication of any relaxation of the interpretation of "household" As has already been said, this is a matter of deep grievance and great difficulty to the members of a household. In most districts what we are up against is that, generally speaking, there are no self-contained flats. People live in apartments in their own relations' houses. If those houses were divided up into self-contained flats, the difficulty would not arise.
There is many a slip between the cup and the lip, and I am afraid that in the previous legislation, when the matter has been placed in the hands of the Board to give its instructions to the officials, there has been a tightening of the interpretation of "household" I cannot see why evidence of a separate household account is not sufficient evidence to enable one to come to the conclusion that people are living in separate households. We have many cases from time to time where a woman has gone to live with her son-in-law and the public assistance committee have recognised that that woman was living separately in a separate household. In fact, as regards the unemployed son-in-law, the Unemployment Assistance Board have recognised him as living in a separate household, but when it came to the transfer of the old lady to a supplementary old age pension they were not then prepared to recognise that she was living in a separate household. But for Section 13 of the Supplementary Old Age Pensions Act, that old age pensioner would have received a reduction. It is unfortunate. I do not think it is a true interpretation of the wishes of Parliament that people should be so penalised, and I would appeal to the Minister to see that when instructions go from the Assistance Board there shall be such a relaxation of the interpretation of the household as will put these cases once and for all in the proper categories so that they can be termed separate households.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)
I think that the main points which have been raised can be summarised very shortly. The first point centres entirely around the question of how the household shall be interpreted. On behalf 1335 of the Government, I can say that we regard the main principles of the letter which was read by the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) as the basis of the Regulations, but in saying that, I want to be careful that in tying myself to a letter of that character, I am not doing some injustice to somebody else. I find that this problem of administration is extremely difficult, but the main principle of that letter would be the basis of the Regulations, and on the interpretation of the household I do not think I need make any further comment, because nearly all the points that have been made on the interpretation of the Act, if I may say so with respect, deal with the past and not with the future.
§ Mr. Silverman
For myself, I would entirely agree; if in future the definition of a separate household is to be proceeded with on the basis of my hon. Friend's letter, I think we should all be satisfied, and certainly I should be; but that would require, we are informed, a drastic amendment and alteration of the Rules of administration now in force. Do we understand my right hon. Friend to promise that there will be such a redrafting, and may we see the Rule when it is redrafted?
§ Mr. Bevin
It is obvious that when this Bill is passed new Regulations will have to be redrafted, and if new Regulations are drafted, new Rules will have to be applied to administer them. The point about whether the House can see the Rules is a matter on which I cannot give a definite answer at the moment. It is a matter which will have to receive consideration, because it would not be limited only to this particular Rule or problem, and therefore, with my great inexperience of Parliamentary procedure, I cannot give a definite answer at the moment. But I think that clears the undertaking I have been asked for on the question of the household.
The next thing I have been asked concerns the question of the son and daughter. Whatever may have been the difficulties in the past, this Bill meets them and, I think, makes the position quite clear. The trouble which the hon. Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) has complained of in the past, and the problem revealed in the letter he has read, cannot arise under the new Bill. It will 1336 be removed, because provision is made for a definite calculation as to the taking into account of a contribution made by a daughter or a son. If the wages of the contributing son or daughter rise by war bonus or for any other reason, the position will not be affected except in so far as the amount of lodging money may be increased. I think the Bill makes that quite clear.
§ Mr. McGovern
The point that is important to me is that similar statements were made in regard to the Poor Law provisions, but officials went outside those statements, and I am asking the Minister to give a guarantee that they will not go outside these provisions.
§ Mr. Bevin
I can give a guarantee—and I know I am speaking for the full Cabinet in so doing—that no officers will be able to go outside the Rules. There is a complaint that there is a lack of uniformity in administration. We will note that point, and I can only say that the object of the administration will not be to make people cunning. It is admitted by the Board that in the supplementary old age pensions claims an overwhelming majority of people making claims have put in every bit of savings they had and have been absolutely honest in their returns. If there have been difficulties—and I think probably there has been some exaggeration about that—it is no doubt because, even in the best regulated society, you cannot always control what every official will do. I am speaking as an old general secretary; I had to accept responsibility for every branch secretary, and sometimes I used to feel sore at the actions they took. I have no doubt that sometimes they became sore at some of the things I did, but in the best regulated organisations you do meet with difficulties. The underlying principle, however, is to encourage people to reveal what it is necessary to reveal and no more, and then not to take advantage of the people who tell the truth. That is the basis upon which we want to administer this legislation.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I hope the right hon. Gentleman will not do anything to discourage good administrators, because he has some good administrators.
§ Mr. Bevin
In regard to the other point, put by the hon. Member for Rotherham 1337 (Mr. Dobbie), we are conscious that in bringing in a big change of this character other forms of social service are bound to be affected, including those connected with soldiers' dependants. While we have not yet come to any conclusion, I can assure the Committee that as soon as this Bill is through an examination will be made of how far it impinges upon other forms of social service, and the Committee may rest assured that whatever adjustments are necessary will be made. There is no intention, under this Bill, of worsening the conditions of the recipients of any other form of social service as a consequence of such adjustments.
§ Mr. Bevin
The hon. Member raised that point before, and it has been looked into. In carrying out this change, we have tried to treat people with equity as far as we can. Under the old Regulations, if a person received£1, a certain amount was deducted. We felt that we were meeting the situation if we excluded the £1 and said that deductions would be made only above that figure. The operation of the previous arrangement had excluded the basic unemployment pay, which at that time stood at 17s., and in making the change we were influenced by the fact that unemployment pay had now been increased to£1, and so it is at that figure that the limit has been fixed. We feel that even a young person who is unemployed, who is at home and who is receiving£1 should not be entirely relieved of every obligation. The second point is, since the hon. Member for Rotherham has raised the question of the soldier's dependants, that when we come to examine this£1 limit it will, I understand, have rather wider repercussions than appears on the surface. I therefore very much regret that we cannot meet that particular point. For the rest, I think the Government are trying to meet criticism as far as they can.
§ Mr. Bevan
We know what the Regulations are. But the Rules are an entirely different matter. [Interruption.] I know what the right hon. Gentleman said. We are not asking for the Rules, or the instructions, to be brought before the House; but is it possible for Members of 1338 Parliament to be furnished with copies of the instructions which are sent out?
§ Mr. Bevin
In my short statement I said that we would consider that. This is another of the cases arising out of this Bill where I find that you cannot give a definite answer, because the matter is not limited to this Bill. There is also bound up with this matter the question of communications to local authorities, instructions and other things. The matter would have to be examined. But I do not rule out the possibility of being able to meet the Committee in some way. I think it would make for better administration if the Rules were known, rather than allowing anyone to act in secret. I think I speak for the whole Board when I say that we have no desire for such secrecy, and I am impressed with the desire that has been shown for uniformity of treatment in this matter.
§ Question, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.