HC Deb 29 July 1942 vol 382 cc553-73
The Minister of Health (Mr. Ernest Brown)

I beg to move, That the Draft Supplementary Pensions (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs) (Amendment) Regulations, 1942, made by the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland, acting in conjunction under Part II of the Old Age and Widows' Pensions Act, 1940, a copy of which was presented to this House on 21st July, be approved. I think it would be to the convenience of the House if I dealt with both sets of Regulations—the Regulations which I have just moved and the Draft Unemployment Assistance (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs) (Amendment) Regulations—together. I would like your guidance, Sir, as to whether I would be able to do that.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Dennis Herbert)

I understand that the right hon. Gentleman's suggestion is that the two sets of Regulations should be debated together. I have received Mr. Speaker's views on the matter, and I think that it is to the convenience of the House, and if the general assent of the House is given, there is no objection. In saying that, I should make reference to the Amendments which are on the Order Paper in regard to the Motion on the Old Age and Widows' Pensions Act Regulations. If there is a general Debate on both Motions, the only Amendment which will be selected is that standing in the name of the right hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood)—in line 5, to leave out "be approved," and to add, cannot, in the absence of any specific assurance of further measures to be introduced in the next Session, be accepted as an adequate step towards meeting the difficulties of old age pensioners and widows "— and that will be called formally at the conclusion of the Debate, for the purpose of decision, and of a Division if necessary.

Mr. Kirkwood (Dumbarton Burghs)

There is an Amendment in the names of the hon. Members for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) and West Fife (Mr. Gallacher), and myself. I consider that a direct challenge, above any others on the Paper. Will that Amendment be called?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

No, that Amendment will not be selected. The hon. Member will, of course, understand that in a general Debate on both these Motions he and his hon. Friends will be able to express their views on the particular matters dealt with in the Amendment.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence (Edinburgh, East)

I understand you to say, Sir, that you do not propose to call any Amendment during the Debate, not even the one you referred to, but that the Debate can range round the Motion, and that the Amendment can be referred to but not moved until the end of the Debate, when, if necessary, a Division can be taken?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The right hon. Gentleman appears to have understood quite clearly the idea in my mind. But I should say that if and when this Amendment is moved, it would perhaps not be beyond the scope of my Ruling if a few explanatory words were said by the Mover. But that is all, as the general Debate would be regarded as giving sufficient opportunity for discussion of the merits of the Amendment. Except for a few words by the Mover, there would be no debate upon it. I might remind the right hon. Member that if an hon. or right hon. Member speaks in this Debate, he will have exhausted his right and be unable to move the Amendment. The Amendment will have to be moved by somebody who has not spoken in the general Debate.

Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)

I do not desire for a moment to trespass on the function of the Chair in the selection of Amendments, but I would like to be clear on two points. Some of us very much desire an opportunity of dividing on one or more of these Amendments, The two points upon which I would like to be clear are these. If any of these Amendments are moved, will the form in which the Question is put from the Chair be, "That the words proposed to be left out"—that is to say, the words "be approved"—"stand part"? If that is so, it becomes a matter of less importance to us which of the several Amendments are called. The original Question would be put in the same way whichever was called. The other question I would like to put is this. Supposing it should happen that the House, having consented to deal with the two Motions together, and then at the end of the Debate the Amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench should not in fact be moved, would the Chair then consider the possibility of calling one or the other of the other Amendments which have been passed over in favour of the one which you have indicated the Chair would select?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member is quite right in what he imagines would be the form of the Question put from the Chair on the Amendment being called. It would be an Amendment to leave out certain words, and the Question put to the House would be, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part." With regard to the other question of the hon. Member, the selection of Amendments, as he knows, is vested in the Chair, and in this case no doubt Mr. Speaker himself would be in the Chair, but I can tell the hon. Member that, whoever is in the Chair, the present intention is that no other Amendment except the one referred to will be called.

Mr. Silverman

I do not think I shall be betraying any confidence if I say that, as my name is attached to one of the other Amendments which is not to be selected, I took the trouble of trying to ascertain what was in Mr. Speaker's mind with regard to that, and I was informed that Mr. Speaker did not think that he could select the Amendment to which my name appears because he proposed to select the other Amendment, not at that time yet upon the Paper, in the name of my right hon. Friend. I rather thought that, if one Amendment was not to be called because another Amendment was going to be called, and if that other Amendment was not in fact moved, I might perhaps ask for the reconsideration by the Chair of the Amendment, which, after all, preceded it in time and on the Paper and was passed over in favour of the other one.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member I am sure, will understand that when the Chair is asked questions of this kind as to what is to happen in the course of Debates, the only answer can only express the then present intentions of the occupant of the Chair. I made it perfectly clear, and I do not myself think that that intention is very likely to be altered, but the hon. Gentleman must wait and see.

Mr. Kirkwood

Seeing that hon. Members are staking out their claims for an Amendment, I would say that our Amendment is a direct Amendment against the Motion, in which we demand 30s. a week for the old age pensioners. If any Amendment is called, I claim that it ought to be our Amendment, because we are going to divide the House against the Government.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood) has, I think, given an excellent illustration of the reason for this particular power of selection being vested in the Chair and also given an excellent illustration of reasons for what, as I have just explained, is the intention of the Chair.

Mr. Silverman

Further to the point raised by the hon. Member for Dumbarton Burghs (Mr. Kirkwood), would the Chair bear in mind that, as far as I am concerned, I have no desire to compete? My own desires would be completely met by the calling of any of these Amendments, in view of the way in which the Question would have to be put from the Chair. If the Chair is in any difficulty in selecting other Amendments and if the Amendment of my right hon. Friend is not moved, may I remove that difficulty at once by saying that I personally will be completely content if that in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) were called or if any Amendment were called?

Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)

I was inclined to agree with the procedure suggested that we should have a general Debate on these two Motions, but, since I have heard the views of the Chair with regard to the Amendments, I am not disposed to agree now and would insist that the Motions should be taken separately. If the Motion on old age pensions is taken separately and the Amendment is moved in due course, then at least those of us who are anxious that there shall be some Amendment will in that way be able to safeguard our position. Otherwise, I cannot see that the position of those who desire an Amendment will be safeguarded, and so I would insist that the Motions should be taken separately in order that an Amendment may be moved.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

The hon. Member is raising just one of those points that were in my mind when I informed another hon. Member that the Chair could not do more than express its present intention. There may be good reasons, if the Amendment now referred to is not moved, to select another one. May I in these circumstances appeal to the hon. Member not to oppose what seems to be the general wish of the House and probably the most convenient course, and I am certain that Mr. Speaker himself will endeavour to meet the wishes of the House in order to get a decision upon these particular points? As far as I know, the likelihood of the selected Amendment not being moved is so slight that it is perhaps not a very practicable point. I think I can assure the hon. Member that, if that should be so and it is felt that some other Amendment should be moved, it will certainly be sympathetically considered.

Mr. Stephen

I myself am in the same position as my hon. Friend. The Amendment I would prefer would be that in the name of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan), but I want an Amendment, and in view of what you have said, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I am willing to withdraw my objection.

Mr. Silverman

If there were any substantial doubt, or if it were left speculative in any real, substantial degree that some Amendment would be before the House at the end of the Debate, I would support my hon. Friend in declining to agree that the Motions be taken together, but in view of what Mr. Deputy-Speaker has said I am content to leave it.

Sir Henry Morris-Jones (Denbigh)

With regard to the question of the Amendment on the Order Paper, you have just suggested, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that there is not much possibility of its being withdrawn. Supposing in the course of the discussion the Government make some statement to the House which will have the effect of enabling Members on the Opposition side to withdraw this Amendment or not to move it, or at all events not to press it, may I ask whether there would be any opportunity for those who do not belong to any organised party to express their point of view in the Division Lobby on this Motion as such?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is rather an involved question and a hypothetical one to which I am not inclined to give a definite answer. The hon. Member must leave the matter in the hands of the Chair.

Sir H. Morris-Jones

The reason I asked the question was that I think it is important frm the point of view of some Members in this House who may not belong to any organised party. For example, we do not know whether there may not be an understanding between the Government and the Opposition with regard to this Amendment on the Order Paper.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

That is just one of the matters which is constantly arising, and I can only advise the hon. Member to remain in his place throughout the Debate and see what happens.

Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)

If the intention of moving the Amendment is only for the purpose of having it withdrawn at a later stage, will there be an opportunity for my hon. Friends and myself to have an Amendment moved?

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

So far as the hon. Member is making that inquiry, I have already fully answered it.

Mr. Ernest Brown

I am sure the House is grateful to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I will say only one or two words about unemployment assistance. The effect of the Regulations is that the scale rate for unemployment assistance will be increased by 2S. 6d. for adults and 1s. for a child. The numbers affected will be roughly 40,000 and the annual cost will be about £400,000 per annum.

Now as to the pensions Regulation. It is straightforward and simple and affects for their good at least 1,125,000 souls, at an estimated cost of £9,250,000 per annum. It is one of three new improvements suggested by the Assistance Board and adopted by the Government to meet the special difficulties of war-time. I mention the other two in passing, although they will take place by administration and do not need a Regulation. The first is an extension of the period of winter allowances to the end of April and an increase of the amount to 2s. 6d. The second is a series of extra grants to meet special needs of clothing, bedding and other household supplies, and the House might like to know that the total annual cost of these three improvements is estimated to be £11,000,000. But the Regulation which the Government ask the House to approve to-day is concerned solely with an increase in the scale rate of 2s. 6d. for supplementary pensions for each person over 16 years of age, whose needs are taken into account, and 1s. for each child below that age. The House will see that the increase in the case of a married couple without dependants will be 5s. Members who were in the House in 1908 will realise that the cost of this increase will be about £2,500,000 a year more than the cost of the original old age pension of 5s., which was between £6,000,000 and £7,000,000 per annum. We have come a long way since them; all parties have contributed to that move—

Mr. Kirkwood

Including the Liberal party?

Mr. Brown

The Liberal party were the originators and played a very big part. Although I do not want to be drawn into controversy, and will not be drawn, I would like to say that the balance-sheet would be interesting.

For the purposes of the records of the House—I know Members are glad to have a table in the OFFICIAL REPORT, because these ephemeral White Papers have a way of disappearing—I would like for the convenience of Members to give the House a comparison of the more important of the present effective rates and the proposed new rates. For a pensioner living alone the existing rate is 19s. 6d. a week, and the proposed rate will be 22s.; for two pensioners (husband and wife) one of whom is the householder the existing rate is 32s. a week and the proposed rate will be 37s.; for a pensioner who is a householder (but has no wife or husband) the existing rate for a man is 19s. 6d. and the proposed rate will be 22s., and for a woman the existing rate is 18s. 6d. and the proposed rate will be 21s.; for a pensioner living as a member of someone else's household, that is, a non-householder, the existing rate for a man is 13s. 6d., plus an addition for rent, and the proposed rate is 16s., plus an addition for rent, and for a woman the existing rate is 12s. 6d., plus an addition for rent, and the proposed rate is 15s., plus an addition for rent. Let me add that the rates for dependants of the pensioner who are 16 years of age or over are correspondingly increased by 2s. 6d., and the rates for dependants under 16 years of age by 1s.

I think that gives the House and the country a broad picture of the principal changes. So I sum up in this way. The Regulations do two things, subject to the variations in the table. First, they raise the rate for a supplementary pensioner living alone from 19s. 6d. to 22s. and, second, they make a corresponding increase in the rate for pensioners living as members of a household. This is done by increasing the special addition which has all along formed an element in the scale rates of such pensioners. It has been 1s. 6d. for those over 16 and 9d. for those under that age. It will in future be 4s. for adults, and 1s. 9d. for dependants under 16.

The improvements I have described have been decided upon by the Assistance Board and agreed to by the Government in order to meet certain war-time needs which were the subject of a recent Motion in the House. As I have several times told the House, in answer to Questions, the Assistance Board have been keeping a sympathetic eye on various war-time needs with a view to review if and when circumstances demand it. The House itself has several times called attention to certain differences and difficulties for our old friends in war-time shopping. There is on record a number of speeches by Members who have called attention to particular difficulties. Members in all parts have pointed out that they did not, in present circumstances, stress the cost of living especially as the Government at great cost had controlled the price of food, but that old age pensioners found it difficult to cope with the intricacies of rationing and were not always able as well as others to take advantage of available supplies of unrationed foods. The inequality of the movement of the prices of various items of household expenditure made it difficult for the Assistance Board to decide at what point they ought to act. But considering the whole of the facts within their knowledge, they felt that action should now be taken so that the increases may take place before the summer is ended. When my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer asked for a swift inquiry as a result of the Motion carried in the House recently he was able to report to his colleagues that an increase ought to be made, and the Government unitedly agreed to the Draft Regulations. I have no doubt that whatever are the views of Members on the long-term policy, these increases will be most welcome to the 1,125,000 now receiving supplementary pensions and to those old age pensioners who, because the level will have been raised, will now be able to apply for a supplementary pension with success. Any pensioners with resources who feel they could qualify under the new rates should apply as soon as the House—as I hope it will to-day—affirms this Regulation.

I would like now to say a few words about method. This, of course, involves a big administrative task. The simultaneous alteration of over 1,000,000 supplementary pension books, most of which are current for 26 weeks, is a big task. The Assistance Board tell me that they intend to send to every supplementary pensioner a notice asking him or her to return the supplementary pension book. For this purpose the pensioner will be given a franked envelope. Special stamps indicating the amount of the increase will be put on the outstanding orders and the book will be returned to the pensioner. In a proportion of cases the supplementary pension book will fall due to be renewed in the ordinary way at about the same time as the increase becomes due. In these cases the new books will have the full amount written in and there will be no stamps affixed. I mention this so that hon. Members may note it in talks with their constituents and so as to avoid unnecessary inquiry from pensioners who get books without the stamps and wonder why their books have not stamps whereas those of their neighbours have. The regulations will take effect, if approval is given to-day, on the pension pay-day in the week beginning 17th August.

Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)

My right hon. Friend indicated earlier in his remarks that when the new Regulations are brought into effect, certain old age pensioners who do not now qualify for supplementary pensions may possibly qualify. Would it be possible for the Assistance Board, in returning the books, to include some sort of leaflet so that the old age pensioners may have this explained to them?

Mr. Brown

I will discuss that with the Board, but I mention it now in this Debate, to which a great deal of attention will be given in the country, so that it may not be overlooked.

Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)

Will the Minister request the Assistance Board to look at all the "nil" determinations they have arrived at and which they now have in their files?

Mr. Brown

I cannot tie myself down to any particular method, but we will do our best to see that everything that the House wishes to do by these regulations which will mean alterations of the kind I have indicated is done, so that no old age pensioners may be deprived of any right that ought to be theirs.

I want now to say one or two general words. This regulation has, in conjunction with the other steps I have mentioned, the sole purpose of helping the old people to meet war-time needs. It has nothing to do with long-term policy. That is, as the House well knows, to be the subject of a comprehensive report by Sir William Beveridge on Social Security. This nation, in the last three decades, has been feeling its way, in measures of improvement to which all parties have contributed, towards a national social minimum. Whatever our parties may be, whether we have parties or have not, all of us have our views as to whether a national social minimum is now realisable, what its character ought to be, and what the amount should be. I think that to-day the House will want no misunderstanding on this outside the House. The fact is that all parties in the House are united in the desire to do the best possible for the old folk. Everybody wants to help them. In the meantime, in moving these Regulations, I ask the House to unite, as the Government are united, to take this single step in helping the old folk to meet the special difficulties to war-time, thus making the total estimated annual cost of pensions nearly £135,000,000.

Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)

Will the Minister propose a Regulation to enable the old folk to meet the exigencies of the war?

Mr. Brown

If the hon. Member means by that the terms of his Amendment, the House may be interested to know that if that Amendment were carried, there would need to be a provision of an additional £425,000,000 a year.

Mr. Daggar (Abertillery)

While I may make certain observations on which there will be disagreement, I should be very much surprised if there were not complete agreement in the House on the statement that we ought to endeavour to make it possible to end these recurring, and in some respects unpleasant, Debates on the question of making adequate provision for the aged people. We are making this issue the subject of nearly as many Acts of Parliament and Regulations as we did the subject of the condition of the unemployed men and women. I am convinced that it would not be impossible to achieve the object to which I have referred if we had the desire and the will to do so. To be continually discussing this question is not only unnecessary and regrettable, but also humiliating and undignified.

The original of the Regulations we are now discussing is not of the very remote past. The need is well known, although in my submission the Regulations fail to meet that need. As every hon. Member knows, the Regulations are the result of a Debate which took place on 17th June. They contain the proposals which were submitted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 16th June. On the day when the Chancellor made his announcement, we were obliged to listen to the distasteful proposal of the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson) that, instead of concerning ourselves with improving the conditions of old age pensioners, we should be busily employed in organising Darby and Joan clubs to relieve the loneliness of the aged people. That may be described as a canny Scot's contribution. On the following day, a very pertinent comment was made by a newspaper the contents of which do not always find agreement from hon. Members opposite—the "Daily Herald." In its editorial on the day following the brilliant suggestion of the hon. Member for Streatham, the "Daily Herald" pointed out that pensioners do not want to be treated as a picturesque but troublesome social surplus; they want to be treated as ordinary citizens; they do not want to be fussed over, they want to live their own lives in conditions of economic justice. In my submission, clubs are no substitute for comfort. Comfort for old people can be appreciated only in their own homes. Only on one occasion since I have been a Member of the House have I had to listen to such an observation as that of the hon. Member to which I have referred. That was when an hon. Member suggested during a Debate on the conditions of the unemployed that unconsumed food in hotels and restaurants should be collected and distributed to the unemployed. My hope is that the hon. Member for Streatham, when he reaches pensionable age, will be obliged under the same conditions to join one of his suggested clubs, but I fear it will be another instance of the political quack who is afraid to accept an administrative dose of his own nostrum.

The Chancellor pointed out that there was difficulty in obtaining blankets, and that while grants would be made in cash, an exception would be made in that case. Blankets and Darby and Joan clubs are a poor substitute for justice to the old people. I pointed out during the Debate on 17th June that the Budget impositions affected the cost of living for these old folk. I do not know why exception was taken in some quarters to my reference to the cost of beer and tobacco. After all, we are not the people to suggest that the old people should spend money on food instead of tobacco and beer. I should be the last person in the world to suggest that these people are committing a sin or wrongfully using money in purchasing tobacco and beer. If an old age pensioner consumes 4 ozs. of tobacco per week, which is not an excessive amount, and a pint of beer every day for six days in the week, the increase in taxation means an additional 3s. 6d. per week. We are now offered this enormous sum of 5s., which leaves the pensioner with a paltry 1s. 6d. per week. I submit that that is meanness itself, and to apply a means test to proposals which are the embodiment of meanness is an achievement to which the Government are entitled to the credit they deserve. As I say, the pensioner will be better off by 1s. 6d., but according to Professor Bowley the index figure should be at least five points higher than at present calculated, and with that and the anticipated rise in the price of coal the whole of the 1s. 6d. will be absorbed.

We have always asked for an increase in pensions for these people when there is an increase in the cost of living, and we have never been able to secure any consideration until there has been a worsening of the conditions of the people for whom we plead. I submit that that is not to the credit of this House or of the nation. When I last addressed the House on this subject, the hon. and gallant Member for South-East Essex (Flight-Lieutenant Raikes) accused me of asking what a little bit more money mattered at a time when any amount of money was being spent for the war. I fully appreciate that wealth must be created before it can be distributed and the well-established economic fact that you cannot spend the same £ twice. What I stated then, and what I repeat again, because it is very relevant to our discussions, is that you will have great difficulty in convincing an old age pensioner that you cannot find money to increase his pension, when on the same day within three minutes before I spoke the Chancellor of the Exchequer was authorised to spend or find money amounting to £1,000,000,000. [Interruption.] I know what I am saying, and may I add that the Chancellor's supercilious flippancy in answering questions does not please me? We are debating to-day an advance of some £10,000,000 to these old people, and yet the House has never hesitated during the two years and nine months of war to add £5,000,000,000 to the National Debt.

It is only during war that we have been able to secure a move on behalf of the Government to pay supplementary pensions to the old people, but the same argument has always been put forward and it was put forward at the time of the original Act, when "The Times," in an editorial, making reference to the cost involved, said it was a very serious addition to the annual national Budget. There is an old Latin proverb which says that repetition is the mother of study, but I am afraid that repetition on the part of the Government is no excuse for not doing the right thing. You cannot give satisfaction and carry conviction with such an attitude, and no cleverly constructed sentences will solve the problem. The right hon. Gentleman's resilience may help him, but it will not save him. I appreciate the Chancellor's difficulty. I admit that he has the duty to find the money to improve the lot of the old age pensioners, but it is the duty of the House to help him. I claim that he will not render any assistance by paying individuals to inquire into the shortage of blankets and pots and pans in the homes of the old people. The persons engaged in such unpleasant work could be much better employed, especially during wartime.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)

It is only what has been asked for.

Mr. Daggar

If the Minister will allow me to finish, I will make it clear why that has been asked for. I think one may be excused, and the old age pensioners may be excused, for explaining about the continued investigations, inquisitions, examinations, calculations and regulations. When some of us make reference to the cost of the Assistance Board we are never supported by hon. Members on the other side of the House who are always referring to the unnecessary hoards of officials, and yet this Board involves an expenditure of over £4,500,000 a year. The Board was established in 1935 to dole out assistance to the unemployed, and it is now charged, or so it is claimed, with the task of meeting the needs of the aged people. In the period from 1935 to 1940 this Board cost the nation £27,431,000. The Government know by now the requirements of old age pensioners, and I think it would be much better to scrap the Board, save the money, pay the people a decent pension and employ the officials on productive work.

Whenever we raise this question of old age pensions it is always thought that we have a disposition to exaggerate. Before the war the then Minister of Health, Mr. Neville Chamberlain, said that 90 per cent. of our old people managed to live without recourse to the rates, and it was only necessary for 10 per cent. to apply for public assistance. We pointed out that even that 10 per cent. meant that there were 307,800 of these people applying for public assistance and that, if it were not for the pride of the old age pensioners, many more would be applying. Directly the Supplementary Pensions Act came into operation it had to be admitted that our arguments were correct, because directly an opportunity was afforded the old people to apply for supplementary pensions instead of public assistance, the figure jumped to nearly a million, and there are more cases now where these people rather than apply for supplementary pensions will endeavour to exist on the small pension of 10s.

In the last Debate I gave the budget of the single person, and also the case where husband and wife were receiving the pension. The expenditure in those two cases cannot be controverted. In the case of the single pensioner all that was allowed for meeting the necessary requirements of food and clothing was 7s. 1d. a week. In the case of the husband and wife the amount was 15s., which proves that approximately 7s. per week is available for the purchase of food and clothing in the case of persons who are entitled to the supplementary pension. Do hon. Members realise what can be purchased with 7s.? If you assume that each of them takes 28 meals in a week, the 7s. only permits of meals not exceeding 3d., with nothing left for clothing. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced these Regulations recently sent a message to the National Welfare Council in which he said: We need the help of everyone throughout the country to maintain the home front and to see that we build up the citizens of the future on whose behalf we are fighting. Those were noble sentiments and we agree with them. But these old age pensioners constitute a part of that home front, and you cannot maintain them on 3d. meals. It is not worth while to build up citizens in anticipation of providing them with such a rich diet. In any event, this House has reached a stage at which it becomes necessary to provide fair treatment for old age pensioners other than in terms of 3d. meals.

We also ask that something should be done for widows. Whatever strength there may be in the case that we are making for old age pensioners, there is considerably more to be said for the widows. The Government's refusal to deal with that problem is highly regrettable, because the widows have had no increase at all since the original Act was passed in 1935, although the cost of living has gone up 32 points. Since January, 1925, it has gone up more than a half. In addition—this is a strange feature of the case—if she has children to maintain, she gets 5s. for the first and 3s. for the second, as against 7s. 6d., 10s. 6d., and in some cases even 11s., for other children. Hon. Members are aware of the varied arrangements for the provision of children. There are the children known as unaccompanied evacuees, children of unemployed persons, children of men in receipt of compensation, and children of air-raid victims, all of whom, with the exception of two classes, are in receipt of a higher scale of pension. While the widow's child has to be maintained on an allowance of 5s. or 3s., the others get varying amounts from 5s. to 11s. a week. The refusal to deal with the widows' case will long be remembered as a dereliction of duty. That assistance to these women requires legislation is not a valid excuse. Bills can be passed through the House in less than an hour if the nation demands and requires it. Something ought to be done for them immediately.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to a long-term policy and said we should await the Beveridge Committee's Report, but that has no attraction for me. It is necessary to have regard to the recommendations of that Committee, particularly in view of the fact of the enormous amount of money required for the prosecution of the war, so that in the autumn, when we get the Committee's recommendations, no effective legislation can be introduced until about Christmas time, and, whatever might be said about the expenditure on the prosecution of the war now, obviously by Christmas time it will be considerably higher. If it is firmly believed that something can be done for these old people in the autumn, why not give them something now? Give them an instalment of what you propose to do for them in the autumn. I am afraid that whatever provision is made will be made at an appropriate time, and that is when the kiddies are enjoying Christmas presents. I make these observations because the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in the Debate of 17th June, to which I have referred: I would certainly say to the House that it would not be desirable to anticipate, or to duplicate, the work of the Committee in working out any long-term scheme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 17th June, 1942; col. 1649, Vol. 380.] He was referring to the Beveridge Committee. Needless to say, if the proposals in the Regulations are either in anticipation or in duplication of what we are to expect from that Committee, I hope Sir William Beveridge will insist upon a long holiday and thus delay the report by his Committee.

May I make one or two observations on the concessions with regard to winter allowances? I admit that the proposal will mean some advantage to the old age pensioner. At present the period covers 22 weeks from November to March and the allowance is 1s. 6d. for a person living alone and 2s. for a man and wife. Both payments will be increased under the Regulations. It is an advantage to have the period extended for a month, but, after all, it is not such an enormous advantage because the London County Council through its Public Assistance Committee already pays 3s. 6d. a week for the period from the beginning of October to the end of April. I want to stress now what I stressed on 17th June, that the payment of the winter allowances is an admission that the payments made to our old people are insufficient. A reasonable, adequate pension is preferable to these fiddling niggling arrangements in dealing with the problem. We consider that these Regulations are unsatisfactory. They do not meet the demand. They are meagre, mean and miserly, and this House should make a greater pension increase to our old people. The time has arrived when we should cease the continuous fiddling methods of dealing with old age pensions. It is not creditable to our reputation of being a great nation, and our agitation inside and outside the House will continue until we secure justice for those on whose behalf we make an appeal to-day, namely, the old age pensioners.

Mr. Willink (Croydon, North)

The draft Regulations which we are discussing to-day do not, as we have been told, amount to a change of policy. They are not put forward as a new departure. They are to be looked upon as a temporising measure, and it is from that point of view that I would consider them. It is only fair both to the Ministers and to the Assistance Board to remember what it was the House called attention to in the last Debate and what was the undertaking given. The House recognised that the difficulties of old age pensioners and widows had been accentuated by wartime conditions, and it called upon the Government to make an immediate examination with a view to early action. These draft Regulations and the variations in practice which have been announced are the response to the accept- ance by the House of the Motion which was moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar). It is my honest belief that the Government are to be congratulated, first, on the speed with which they have reacted to that Motion, and, second, on the remedial steps which they propose. Action is not always so speedy, and we should note with satisfaction that it was within a month of that Debate that the Government's proposals were announced. That reflects credit not only on the Ministers, but on the Assistance Board, who have obviously given close thought to this matter and, I feel, have put before the Government satisfactory proposals.

To-day, when only 17 Sitting Days have run since a long Debate, with the Rule suspended, the House is devoting most of another day to this question. Except from one point of view, which I shall mention at the close of my observations, I regret that this time is being spent. There are other far more urgent matters on which we might profitably be spending our time. There is, however, one reason for which I am glad that we are having this discussion to-day.

Furthermore, I hope that none of the Amendments on the Order Paper will be pressed to a Division. In these difficult days, difficult particularly from the point of view of the supply and availability of consumer goods—and that is a matter which is most relevant in this connection—we all want to do the best possible for the old people. I should like the impression to go out to the country that this House, having fully discussed these difficulties on two occasions, have reached, of course as a compromise, a basis of agreement as to what was best. It is from this point of view that I particularly regret that only to-day an Amendment appeared on the Order Paper in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) and of my right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence). It did not appear for 12 days after the Chancellor's statement. That statement was followed by a Supplementary Question which elicited the reply that the proposals had the unanimous support of the Cabinet. My own feeling is that to put down a Motion condemning, except under certain conditions, proposals agreed to by the Leader of the party opposite and of the members of that party in the Government savours of party politics. From another point of view I regret the general line of the proposal, because it asks for further steps, and, therefore, I suppose another Debate within a short time on this specific subject, when we have been told that Sir William Beveridge's Report is expected at an early date.

My hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery has called attention forcibly to certain of the illogicalities and irregularities, particularly in regard to children. We must not at this stage run risks of perpetuating and enlarging those irregularities. All of us who have given even the slightest consideration to these various remedial measures for poverty and insecurity of all kinds are baffled by the untidiness of them and the irregularities. They have just grown up in the most untidy way, and that makes it extremely difficult to follow them. I understand there is hope that large measures of economy will be possible in administration in various directions, and I think it would be disastrous that there should be any sort of pledge that this particular isolated part of the problem should be dealt with on the lines of one instalment to-day and another instalment in a few weeks.

Let me say a word or two about the remedial proposals in the Regulations and the amended practice, and deal first with the increase in the scale rate. I imagine there is no doubt that it is fair to take away from those figures, 19s. 6d. and 22s., what I have understood is the normal rent allowance included, that is 5s. for a single person. If it is more than that he gets more than the 19s. 6d. So it is fair to take off 5s. from each of those figures, and the real difference is between 14s. 6d. and 17s. in that particular case. If one looks at the various increases one finds that on that basis, which I hope and believe is fair, the increase varies between 17 and 20 per cent. right through. As a temporising measure I venture to think that that is a fair and proper basis at the present stage. Then there is the maatter of the winter allowances. There is no doubt that here we have taken two steps in the direction of sound common sense. First, there is very little more fuel consumed by a married couple than by a single old person. Secondly, the exten- sion of the month is quite obviously right. Of course the fuel allowance is not intended to cover all the fuel in the winter; it is an added allowance to that element which is included in the general allowance throughout the whole year.

The third matter is one which was commented upon most adversely by my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery, and that is the arrangement under which, where there is reason to think that old people are suffering by reason of the difficulty of buying clothing or household equipment—he mentioned pots and pans—they are visited by officers of the Assistance Board to see whether the anxiety or apprehension as to the condition of the old people is justified or not. I really do not quite understand the description of that kindly action as unpleasant work. It seems to me wholly appropriate. Having had some contact with poverty, not only accentuated by war conditions but accentuated by conditions of bombing, I say that one of the greatest difficulties is the buying of necessary things. The pots and pans mentioned by my hon. Friend are the most conspicuous example of all. Blankets are the subject of the fourth remedial measure. Contemptuous words were used of the arrangements which are to be made for the provision of blankets in kind. There, too, I have a little personal experience, because the difficulty of getting blankets arose a long time ago. The A.R.P. services were most inadequately provided with blankets for many months, through the difficulty of getting supplies, and I am sure the wisest possible step is to have a bulk provision of blankets and in proper cases distribute them, because I cannot believe that it would be at all easy for old people needing blankets to find them.

There is one other general observation I wish to make. I may be deceived, I may be deceiving myself, but what I am going to say is based upon scores of conversations with old people. The difficulties which they have expressed to me are not so much difficulties arising from the amount of cash at their disposal, but the difficulty first of finding useful things to buy at a reasonable price, and secondly, the difficulty, which is outside the purview of this Debate, of finding satisfactory little places in which to live. The housing arrangements in our cities are badly devised, in the main, in the matter of providing small homes for old people—one-room homes or two-room homes, and I hope that this matter will be very much thought of in connection with reconstruction. We have made attempts to deal with the situation under the force of necessity, and extraordinarily good work has been done, for example, by voluntary housing associations, but I am sure that one of the greatest burdens under which our old people suffer is that our houses are extremely badly devised for their comfort. Somebody asks "Whose fault is it?" I have not noticed that municipal authorities have been much better in this respect than private enterprise.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)

If the hon. and learned Member will come round with me, I will show him.

Mr. Willink

Of course, there are exceptions.

Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman suggesting one-room houses for old couples? He had better not try that in the North.

Mr. Willink

There are a great many old people who ask for a one-room house, provided it is properly equipped, and they like it better than anything else.

Mr. Griffiths

Not one in a thousand.

Mr. Willink

Well, the hon. Member's experience has not been the same as mine. Now I mention the one point on which I think the Debate might be of real use. The Assistance Board have indicated that they are—

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