§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. James Stuart.]
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
We welcome the strengthening of the Government. We hope that the State will mobilise the whole of the resources of our country to enable us successfully to prosecute the war. In our view there should be, simultaneously, a development of the social services. In the midst of total war we propose to-day to review the Assistance Board's Report on the Administration of the Determination of Needs Act, and we propose to offer some observations on the investigations that are being made into the social services. In doing so, we should remind ourselves of the advantage which we in this country have compared with the people of Germany, in Italy, in Quisling Norway and in the rest of Europe. We, here, the representatives of the people, can insist on the responsible Minister being present at a Debate of this kind. We can and shall interrogate him. We shall review this Report, point out mistakes and make suggestions with a view to removing anomalies. The power to do these things creates confidence in our democratic institutions. Our men and women serving in the Armed Forces see that, while they are away from their homes, even in these dark days we are doing what we can for their mothers, their fathers and their grandparents. It is that, among other things, which has cemented our people together and made us determined on winning this war, because under Fascism the aspirations of the people have been finished for generations. Within the framework of a capitalist democracy we can think for ourselves, and we can hope and we can work for a better life for our people. That is something positive which provides a basis for living and fighting and working. The forces available in this country could be made still more dynamic if more were made of this spirit and this policy.
Having regard to the low level at which our old age pensioners lived in pre-war days, recent legislation has resulted in relatively substantial improvements for them, and I would ask hon. Members now to turn to the Report of the Assistance Board which is to be the subject of our 1223 discussion. They will find at the beginning of the Report a letter sent to the Minister by the Chairman of the Board. The first point in that letter to which I would direct attention is contained in the following passage:Under the Determination of Needs Act it has not become any less important that attention should be given to the special circumstances of individual cases and that allowances and supplementary pensions should be suitably adjusted so as to meet needs arising from such circumstances. The exercise of this discretionary power is an essential feature of a service based on need, and I am satisfied that it is ever present in the minds of the Board's officers.I have my doubts about that, in regard to the discretion and I shall refer to that later. The letter goes on to say:Careful enquiry was obviously necessary before the Board could determine the extent of the welfare service required. Experience and investigations carried out by members of the Board themselves, have now shown that the great majority of old-age pensioners are capable and, indeed, desirous of looking after their own affairs"—That proves the case which my hon. Friends have been making for years in this House.—"and so long as they are assured of a sufficient income"—I want to emphasise that because the present position is that they have not sufficient income.—"desire no further attention. A minority, however, require help of a kind which cannot be expressed in terms of money. As regards these, the Board's officers endeavour to bring to the pensioner's aid such social service as may be appropriate, or to put the pensioner in touch with some voluntary organisation that can provide the friendly interest of which the lonely and aged may be in need. Much is already being done in these directions, and the Board hope to develop this feature of their work to the full extent permitted by wartime conditions.I protest as strongly as I can against the latter part of that letter. We were assured by the Minister of Health that all welfare work would be the work of the Assistance Board. The House of Commons passed the Determination of Needs Act and previous Acts on the understanding that all welfare work would be done by the Assistance Board, and the suggestion contained in the letter which I have just quoted should be withdrawn by the Minister to-day. Let me remind the House of what took place. During the Debates on this subject, my hon. Friends moved Amendment after Amendment, and the 1224 right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), who was then Minister, will remember that we on this side were impressed by the attitude which he took during the passage of this Measure. On the undertakings that were given we withdrew our Amendments. We did so on assurances that the introduction of charity or of voluntary organisations of the kind suggested in that letter would not be tolerated by the Minister of Health. Yet here, apparently, we have the introduction of charity and of voluntary organisations into the administration of the Act. In my view, that is a direct violation of pledges given in Parliament. I hold that all social services and all welfare work should be carried out by the Board and that all relationship with charity should cease forthwith.
I wish to ask the Minister this question: Is it a fact that the National Council of Social Services are setting up old age pensions committees throughout the country, and that the Board are encouraging them? If so, it is a policy which they are not entitled to adopt and which Parliament never intended. Welfare work, I repeat, should be part of the service of the Assistance Board, and today, on behalf of my hon. Friends and of the people whom we represent, both inside and outside the organised labour movement, we ask for an unequivocal answer from the Minister on this question. A decent standard of life is the best welfare service that can be offered to the people. Turning again to the Report, I find in paragraph 3 the following words:Among the consequential changes may be noted, in particular, an alteration in the method of adjusting the allowances or supplementary pensions to ensure that due provision was made for the rent the applicant was paying.Could we be given more factual information about this? Many of us would like to be able to check these administrative details, on behalf of our people. Is the rent allowance to be made where rents are highest or is it determined by the makeup of the advisory committee? In paragraph 4, which deals with the general effect of the Act and the new regulations, the Report states:The change could only affect applicants living in households which include members who are self-supporting. It is not always realised that only about one-third of the pensioners in receipt of supplementary pensions … are living in households of this description.1225 That is very important when a review is being made of the position of old age pensioners. Then, in paragraph 5, Subsection (3), it is stated:No member of the household other than the applicant's father, mother, son or daughter is expected, whatever his wages may be, to provide free board and lodging for the applicant.In the light of the facts gained by experience should that be continued? What an answer this is to those who talk about high wages in the country. This paragraph should be read in relation to page 9, paragraph 22, to which I intend to refer later. In that paragraph it states that only 309 supplementary cases have been dealt with under the £6 rule. On page 6, paragraph 9, the Board state that in the autumn of 1940 a sample inquiry was made. Is that sample considered to be an accurate calculation? Is it considered that on the basis of that sample an accurate calculation can be made? What was the percentage of cases on which the sample was made? On page 6, paragraph 11, the question of rents is dealt with. I wish to ask the Minister a question to which I would like an answer. Do the Board make suggestions to the advisory committees? How do the advisory committees determine the formulæ on which they come to decisions? Could we be told what percentage of cases under the old rule received discretionary grants? What percentage of the applicants receive discretionary grants now? Could we be given some idea of the degree of discretion? On the same page, paragraph 13, it is stated:It is a plain fact of human experience that where a number of persons are sharing household expenses in common, it costs them less per head to achieve a given standard of living than it would cost them to achieve the same standard if they were living separately.I do not like that. It causes more friction in the industrial areas than anything else I know of, particularly among people who should be living happily together, and it ought not to be encouraged. The logic of that is that two can live as cheaply as one. They might "kid" us with that when we are younger. It means that three can live as cheaply as two. I think, having regard to the low scales, that that aspect ought to be immediately reconsidered. On page 7, paragraph 14, it is stated:It is emphasised that where the Board are satisfied"—1226 I want to underline the word "satisfied"—that the pensioner, though living in the same house as his relatives, is renting a separate room and doing his own housekeeping, he is treated as living alone and his needs assessed accordingly.This causes much dissatisfaction. I wish to ask what determines where the Board are satisfied. Is there any training scheme for the men and women—I am not speaking critically—who do this investigating work? In paragraph 16, on the same page, it is stated:The Board took stock of the position. They came to the conclusion that in spite of the publicity which had been given to the changes through the Press and the B.B.C., there must be many pensioners whose applications had been rejected under the old Regulations who would be entitled to supplementary pensions under the new Regulations but who, for one reason or another, had not re-applied.Then it goes on—and I hope the House will forgive me for omitting passages:they send a letter to the pensioner explaining the new arrangements and inviting him to make a fresh application. As the direct result of these steps some 63,500 further applications were received in respect of which some 51,000 supplementary pensions were granted.I wish to congratulate the Board on having taken that step. I hope that after this Debate they will repeat it in some other form, because there are many people who are not aware of their rights under this Act, and it is only by giving publicity to them of the character which the Board gave when this Determination of Needs Act first became law that those concerned will become aware of their rights. On page 7, paragraph 18, it is stated:The type of supplementary pension case mainly affected by the provisions of the Act is that where the applicant is living in a household containing non-dependent members. The total number of such cases on the Register on that date was 311,790. In roughly 70 per cent. of these the supplementary pension was increased.What a tragedy that reveals. How right a few of my hon. Friends who concentrated on this issue for many years were proved in their contention that the 10s. pre-war old age pension was altogether too inadequate. Under paragraph 21 is given a large amount of statistical information that I have not time to go into, but what an answer this Report is to those who resisted to the very last the request for an increase in old age pensions. What an answer this Report is to the narrow-minded people in this country 1227 who always resist a development of the social services. I received a letter from the present Minister of Health, dated 21st August, 1941, and I wish to direct attention to one passage in that letter, in which he stated:The question of whether a pensioner living in the same house as other people is a member of the household or a boarder is one which can only be decided on the facts of each case. Any pensioner who is dissatisfied with the decision of the Board's officer in his case has, of course, the usual right of appeal.I repeat that this creates a great deal of dissatisfaction. I hope it will be looked into and improved, and that in every case of this type the applicants will at least be given the benefit of the doubt rather than be subjected to the constant interrogations to which they have been subjected when living in such circumstances. Is this Report a true picture of the administration? When I read through it, I think it is a big step in the right direction: I think the Report is to be welcomed. At the same time it is studded with proportions of proportions, and you cannot get a true picture of the administration when the analysis is based upon proportions of proportions. But what the Report does prove is the inadequacy of the scale rates in existence at present. We should see that our people after a life's service are not forced in the eventide of their lives on the bare minimum scales paid at the present time. The people still associate public assistance with Poor Law, and their detestation of Poor Law is well known. The Assistance Board will be put in the same category if it encourages charity in the way that is indicated in the Minister's letter. I would like some steps to be taken to make it quite clear to the whole country that the Assistance Board is not public assistance. This is becoming increasingly important. It is essential that this should be done, because the Government's policy appears to be to, put increased responsibilities on the Assistance Board.
War Service Grants, war needs and distress, supplementary pensions — the officers of the Assistance Board carry out the investigations for all these. It-is most important that this work should not be tainted, as the old public assistance was. Payment of pensions is now made through the Post Office. That is a distinct improvement. I would like to place on record the appreciation of all those I am 1228 connected with, and to thank the post office staffs for their courtesy to old age pensioners. I have walked into post offices and watched several times, and it is a treat to see the post office staffs invite elderly people to take a chair, instead of waiting their turn in a queue. That makes a great difference in the lives of the old people. There is an important lesson in that. The Post Office have to deal with the general public; they have no legacy of the Poor Law spirit.
This winter, we have had severe weather. One bag of coal costs, at least, between 2s. 6d. and 3s. 3d., according to the district; and few can manage on one bag a week. I hope that I shall have a reply to this question, because there is great interest in it, especially in the trade union movement. What relation has the average winter allowance to the actual cost of coal, light, clothing, medicine, and other winter needs? Surely some allowance should be made for miscellaneous expenditure, such as that on parcels to sons. I have been in the houses of relations of mine, where the elderly people have been packing up parcels for their sons or grandsons. Those of us who were in the last war know how the men appreciated that kind of thing. You cannot measure the good will that results. Most elderly people feel that it is their battle which is being fought by their sons and grandsons. Therefore, they want to do all they can to help them. Surely it is not asking too much that the scale rate should be increased, to enable the parents and grandparents to send parcels, as other people are doing. I have a letter here, which says:Fancy allowing us 1s. 6d. for coal in the depth of winter. They gave me 1s. 6d. extra for winter. They did not grant me anything for coal before that. I have had to go without a lot of things. It is absolutely scandalous. This is the means test. At 72, we should have more comforts, and we are getting less.On the back of the letter is given the weekly expenses:—Small room, combined 5s.What a tragedy that represents—electric light, 1s. 6d.; gas cooker, 1s.; matches, 1½d.; candles, 1d. each; firelighters (dozen), 1s.; milk, 1s. 6d.; soap tablet, 4d.; other rough soap, 5d.; coal, 2s. 5½d.That is a total of 13s. 5d.I have to get every other week an extra bag, which makes the expenditure on coal 4s. 11d., bringing the total to 15s. 10½d.1229 No one can doubt that the present scale rates are absolutely inadequate, and ought to be increased as soon as possible. No allowance is made for new clothes or replacements. Only 30 per cent. of the working-class people of this country have used their clothing coupons. If that applies to the ordinary people, how much more does it apply to the old age pensioners? No allowance is made for new shoes. The average old age pensioner repairs his own. No allowance is made for leather for that purpose. No allowance is made for the purchase of wool for knitting.
§ Mr. Hammersley (Willesden, East)
The hon. Member has just made a very interesting statement. He says that only 30 per cent. of the working-class have used their clothing coupons. Could he give more information, to show how he arrived at that conclusion?
§ Mr. Smith
I shall be glad to discuss it with the hon. Member. No allowance is made for medicine, although, during the bad weather, people have been subject to cold, and have been constantly going to the chemists. No allowance is made for bus fares, to visit daughters, sons and friends. All this proves that there should be a substantial increase in the scale rates. It may be thought that some of the suggestions I have made are unreasonable; but surely some of these things should be included, and the scale rates raised. Are these the facts? Every case has a determination form. Every case has a record form. Every case has a pension book. Is it a fact that all these are written up by hand in ink? If so, with approximately 1,000,000 pensioners, there are 2,000,000 forms and 1,000,000 pension books. Is it a fact that each case gets an order each week? If so, that means 52,000,000 orders per year. Is it worth while, in these days of shortage of man-power and shortage of paper, to have all these papers written up in ink by the 1230 Assistance Board officials? Should the administration be continued upon those lines? Increasing responsibilities are being put upon local authorities.
We are all in this war, and assistance should now be administered on a national basis. I suggest that all local assistance should be taken over by the Assistance Board. We should have a more enlightened administration. This should be one small step towards a comprehensive social service scheme, which is so essential. From Poor Law to public assistance, from public assistance to national assistance, from an assistance service to social security—that is the road that this country should travel as quickly as possible. All professional people have decent pension schemes. Civil servants are well provided for, municipal officials are well provided for, teachers, industrial staffs, military officers, all well-placed people in this country, are provided for by pension schemes. The ordinary people are expected to manage on 10s. a week and to apply for a supplementary pension if they think they are eligible for it. That is not good enough. It is our duty to see that never again do we return to pre-1940 conceptions of justice. Security and more equality is the road along which we should travel as quickly as possible.
I shall never forget during the Coronation celebrations meeting the Prime Minister of New Zealand and the Finance Minister, who were good enough to present us with this little book, "History in the Making," which I shall keep and treasure. If New Zealand can travel along this road, we ought to be travelling towards it as quickly as possible. We have to secure a military victory, but that is not an end in itself. The people have given their all in this war. The peace must be a people's peace. The Prime Minister of Canada said:If the new world is not already on its way before the war is over, we may look for it in vain.We agree with that statement. We derive great satisfaction from the close collaboration between our Prime Minister, President Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin. Here are some extracts which are very apt for to-day. They are taken from the publication that is to be presented to the forthcoming Labour Conference. It states that under the Atlantic Charter:They desire to bring about the fullest collaboration between all nations in the 1231 economic field, with the object of securing for all improved labour standards, economic advancement and social security.President Roosevelt, in the historical Message which he delivered to Congress on 6th January of this year, stated:We look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.He went on to outline them, and said, in conclusion:That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.That is why this Report has been prepared in answer to the pleas that have been made throughout the country for pensions and social services to be put upon a better basis than they are at the present time. There is a Departmental Committee investigating the future of the social services. We are suggesting that this investigation should be expedited and put upon as broad a basis as possible, and the proposals contained in this Report should receive the consideration of the Departmental Committee and of the Government. The Report goes on to state:To avoid dislocation in the change-over from War to Peace, plans should be prepared now … to extend the social services, to make generous provision for workers, to retire older workers from industry on the basis of adequate pensions.The future economic and social well-being of the British citizens is bound up with the prosperity of all peoples. Therefore, we must endeavour to promote a higher international standard of living. The people for whom we speak and whom we represent are doing all they possibly can to see that this country plays its part in the battle for freedom which is taking place in the world at the present time. Our people are using all the energy possible, but, at the same time, the way in which they have been treated in the past is not good enough in the struggle through which we are passing. They rightly expect improved administration at the present time and that there should be no creeping-in of the old Poor Law and charity spirit again, and to-day, speaking on behalf of the people, we say that we are entitled to an answer to these questions in order that we can do justice to the people whom we represent.
§ Mr. Graham White (Birkenhead, East)
I ask for the indulgence of the House to make a few brief observations with regard to the Report which is under consideration. The House accepted the Determination of Needs Act, not because it did away with the means test, which was not popular, but because it purported to do a great deal of good to a considerable number of people and did no harm to anybody. That expectation has been fulfilled, and we have before us now for consideration a Report which indicates that the intentions of the Act have been carried out broadly and with good effect. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) referred to the concluding paragraph, in which he stated that the Board were taking steps to bring the aged persons who might be in need in special cases into touch with the appropriate body under the regular service or into touch with voluntary organisations, and he took strong exception to that purpose. If it was the intention that the Board was in fact bringing the aged people into touch with charities of that kind, there would be some exception taken, but I would point out to those who may have overlooked the fact that the Board is not equipped with a large number of specialists who are capable of dealing with case-work of this kind. It might very well be that whether the Board can be so equipped is another and wider question which I do not venture to discuss to-day, but, at the same time it is not so equipped for dealing with the great specialist services, and if it does not take steps to put the aged people into touch with those who are able to render these services they might have to go without an essential service.
In general, the Report indicates that the provisions of the Determination of Needs Act are being carried out, and it is a faithful representation of what is being done. My hon. Friend has rightly laid emphasis upon the hard position of the aged people, especially those who are living alone. Their position in many cases, even under the improved conditions which have been brought about by the Determination of Needs Act, is one which excites attention wherever it is known and by whomever it is known. My hon. Friend mentioned the question of the use of coupons. I am satisfied that 1233 30 per cent. of the coupons held by people who are old age pensioners living alone are not being used and cannot be used. It is towards that section who fall within the administration of the Determination of Needs Act and are subject to what is done in this Report that our sympathy and our actions should, if possible, he directed. Whatever supplementary pension may have been given, it has not been sufficient, but the effect of the rising cost of living adds to the difficulties of those who live alone. A person living alone on the single ration is in a very much more difficult position than those who live in a household. I associate myself and those for whom I speak with what my hon. Friend has said about the needs of those who are older, and especially of those who are living alone.
He said rightly that it was necessary that we should have a clear idea of that for which we are fighting. Ideas are clarifying on that point, and to-day the idea that our only war aim is to defeat Hitler has long since disappeared and has joined many other outworn shibboleths on the rubbish heap. We are now getting into our minds what it is we are fighting for. There are various things we are not fighting for, and one is the retention of the congeries of means tests in our social administration. The Determination of Needs Act has simplified the administration of the means test and reduced the number of means tests which can operate in one family. I remember that I once told the House that it was possible to have in one family no fewer than five means tests operating at the same time. That is a testimony of incompetence and the slipshod way in which we have developed our social services. We are not fighting for the modified means test which is before us to-day. Still less are we fighting for any unemployment assistance which puts a Minister in the preposterous and indefensible position of having to be answerable for the activities of an independent body for whose daily administration he is not responsible. If the Board have to have, in the course of our development, greater powers, scope and field of action in our social services, they must become directly responsible to Parliament. I am not, however, arguing in favour of that at the moment, because I have quite definite ideas on the subject, as have other people.
1234 Nor are we fighting for a system of means tests which has no sanction whatsoever in law. That is to say, that if the apportionment of liability even under this document is allocated between four or five members of the family and they do not choose to pay, there is no power, so far as I know, which can make them pay. We had great trouble when the means test was much more difficult than it is now. We are now in the twilight of the means test; we all realise that these matters are on a different basis now We are advancing to some better method of organisation and social security. There is only one way in which this means test can be resolved, and that is to make up our minds that in a democratic community there shall be a national minimum of existence to which each citizen, who has not placed himself outside the pale, is entitled. That is the only way. We have now reached a state of knowledge when the question of a national minimum is within the range of practical politics. I need only mention the researches of Rowntree with regard to subsistence. The attitude which is taken by those who speak from these benches is this: If a citizen asks for support from State funds, it is necessary to inquire whether he needs that help or he does not need it. That question having been asked, there should be a national minimum which is recognised as being that to which people are entitled.
As regards the care of the aged, blind and crippled, there should be other opportunities of discussing this matter when, perhaps, it will be more appropriate. There should be a special fund and organisation to deal with them. This may come with the final re-organisation of our social services which is under consideration at the present time by those most competent to do it. So far as the Report which we are considering to-day is concerned, I am satisfied that it is a faithful record of the working of the Bill which was accepted by this House and the Act which was put on the Statute Book. I have no doubt it will satisfy the House as to the administration of what is at present a very limited and unsatisfactory way of dealing with aged people in this country. While recognising that, it is a step in the right direction, for we look forward in our war aims to the establishment of an organised system of social 1235 services in which the means test and so forth shall have no place but shall give way to a well ordered and just system between all members of the community.
§ Mr. Ivor Thomas (Keighley)
I ask the indulgence of the House to intervene for a few minutes on a subject which arouses more political feeling in the part of Yorkshire which I represent than any other political question. It is not because old age pensioners are a powerfully organised political force: it is rather because all sections of the community feel that old age pensioners are not getting a square deal and that the means test, even in its modified form, is a blot on our national honour. I continue to use the term "means test," although I notice that official documents now speak of a needs test. No doubt the authorities thought that the term "means test" was too suggestive of a mean test. That suggestion is well founded. Any means test must be a mean test.
I would like to endorse what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for East Birkenhead (Mr. Graham White) in favour of a complete recasting of our social services on the lines of a social minimum. I do not propose to enter into details, because I readily acknowledge that given the principle of a means test the Assistance Board do their work conscientiously, scrupulously and humanely. But I wish to protest strongly against the principle of the means test which governs and limits their work and, indeed, almost the whole field of our social services. The point of view taken by myself and my hon. Friends—if I may presume to speak on their behalf—is that every member of the community who is accepted as a member of society, and has not put himself outside the community by some action of his own, has an obligation to work for society so long as he is able, and when he falls out of work for any reason he has the right to expect a fair rate of remuneration which will enable him to keep up a reasonable standard of comfort and self-respect. It is the doctrine that used to be crudely but tersely expressed in the formula, "Work or Maintenance," and it is now coming to be known in some quarters as the principle of the "Social Dividend." It is immaterial, in my submission, whether the worker falls out of employment 1236 through ill-health, accident, unemployment, or old age. Whatever the casualty, he is entitled, in my submission, to a fixed remuneration from the community which he has so well served, a remuneration which will be his inalienable right, not subject to any test of means or needs. It is, if I may so express it, the iron ration of his citizenship.
This is admittedly a new political philosophy, and as it always takes a generation to get any reform accepted in Great Britain, I suppose it will be a few years before it will be in full operation. But until it is used, our present system of social security must be regarded as incomplete. The principle which used to govern our social life was that the State should confine its activities to a minimum. Every expenditure of public funds was resisted to the last ditch, and when expenditure could no longer be resisted, the issue of the funds was delayed and hampered as long as possible. This was the philosophy of the days when Adam Smith was God and Gladstone was his prophet. But it has already been invaded at so many points that to-day we have a system of social services not excelled among the Great Powers of the world and providing a measure of security from the cradle to the grave. But traces of the old philosophy still remain. The shadow of Bumbledom still darkens our social services. A kindly heart may beat in Soho Square, but it is a niggardly and parsimonious hand that doles out allowances in the country. The means test is the symbol of this antiquated philosophy. I readily admit that the present form of means test is a great improvement on any that went before, and for that I am sure we have to thank our right hon. Friends in the Government who feel as strongly on this question as we do. But the only satisfactory means test is a repealed means test.
May I give several objections to the means test as it is in operation even now? I will begin with the least important, that of administrative complexity. The present system of allowances is so complicated that it needs a Senior Wrangler to unravel it. I frankly admit that I have scarcely begun to master the system. I doubt whether any member of the Government, or even any member of the Assistance Board, could pass an examination in the determination of needs. Certainly, the people 1237 most concerned do not understand the rules, for we are told in the Report that 51,000 persons who have been given supplementary pensions did not know they were entitled to apply for them until they were invited to do so by the Board. That is a fair proof that these complex rules are not understood. We need a system under which every person can clearly understand the benefits to which he is entitled. It is no use blaming the Board for the complexity of these rules. They are inherent in the system which the Board has to administer. The complexity arises from an attempt to fit allowances to needs, because people's needs show an immense range of variation. There are some people who can do without the luxuries as long as they have the necessities of life, and others, among whom I would put myself, who can do without the necessities as long as they have the luxuries. In my submission, allowances should not be adjusted to needs, which are, in the last resort, variable and incalculable, but people should adjust their needs to their allowances. It is the old principle of whether the cloth should be cut according to the coat, or the coat according to the cloth.
Important as this is, I pass to a more fundamental objection to the means test. No means test can be devised which does not penalise thrift. It is no use pointing out that the first £375 of war savings are disregarded, because that concedes my point. In order to encourage war savings it has been necessary to abolish to that extent the means test. As I am old-fashioned enough to believe that thrift is still a virtue, I strongly object to any inclusion of savings among the resources of the applicant. I believe this to be the main reason in Yorkshire for the feeling against the means test, because in that county the habit of thrift is still strong, and nearly everybody has a stocking of longer or shorter dimensions the existence of which they are reluctant to confess even to wives or husbands, much less to the Board's officials. I appeal to hon. Members opposite to do nothing to undermine the spirit of thrift on which British industry has been built up.
There is another profound ethical objection to the means test. I shall not put it in my own words, but in the words of a document that I have in my hands. It is called "A Christian Realm" and is 1238 issued by the Church Union, and I believe it is to be introduced to the public to-day by the new Archbishop of Canterbury, and presumably, therefore, he endorses its general line. I quote these words from the document:It is a universal principle of Christian teaching that the family is the ultimate and essential basis of the social order. But it is of little use preaching the philosophy of Christian marriage to homes which are divided by a means test.That blunt statement is, in my opinion, one which must be endorsed by all Christians in this country. Families still are being divided by the means test, even in its improved form. I know of nothing more calculated to kill the tender bonds that ought to unite parents and children than the requirement of a cash nexus between them. The troubles are greatly increased when the children in law are brought into the picture as well.
But my main objection to the means test is more fundamental than any of these points of criticism. It springs from a conception of society which is wholly different from the conception of society to which the means test is appropriate. It springs from an organic conception of society, the conception of a co-operative commonwealth in which we are all members one of another animated by the spirit "Each for all and all for each." Old age is not a crime. Old age is not a disgrace. It ought not to be a misfortune. The old should not be treated as parasites on society who are an unconscionable time a-dying. In our youth we cheerfully shoulder the work of the community. When old age comes we have the right to expect from the community a standard rate of remuneration subject to no inquiry or test. I would have it paid to every member of the community who cares to apply, even to millionaires if they so wish. It should be the inalienable birthright of every member of the community. If the pensioner then chooses to bring his stocking out of the chimney or take in lodgers, or live with children, why, in the name of common sense and Christian charity, should he not do so?
I appeal to hon. Members opposite to meet us on this point. If they wish to satisfy their political conscience, let them regard pensions to the old as deferred salaries from their youth. We are in the midst of great social revolutions. Let us 1239 add this one to them. We have come now to the stage at which financial objections do not have the same weight as they used to have. The question at issue is not the solvency or insolvency of a particular fund, but simply how much of the national income we should allocate to this purpose or to that. When we look at it in that way, I feel sure that we shall be justified in spending a considerable part of our national income on pensions for the old. If hon. Members opposite will meet us on this point, they will find that there is no gesture more calculated to get the last ounce of effort out of the working classes in the present struggle. In so doing, we shall be keeping the Fifth Commandment, and we shall not regret it if our days are long in the land which the Lord our God hath given us.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Ernest Brown)
I understand that it meets the convenience of the House if I intervene now, and my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland replies to any further points made in the Debate. That, I understand, is the arrangement. I am very glad that my first duty is to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Ivor Thomas) on a clear and forthright speech on issues which have been discussed before at great length by people who belong to many parties. I have no doubt that they will be discussed again in connection with any broad general reforms affecting not merely one social service but all social services, brushing aside, as he rightly said, all questions of finance, except in the sense that these big and major changes, which, of course, I cannot discuss on the Adjournment in detail, depend upon an allocation of the national income. It is for the nation to decide, through its elected representatives, what, in the end, that allocation shall be and in what direction it shall go. As he knows, at the moment there is a Committee, sitting under the chairmanship of Sir William Beveridge, considering the whole range of social services, but, as the three hon. Members who have already spoken have indicated, the House does not expect me on behalf of the Government to make any statement about that to-day. Our purpose is a simpler one. It is to look at the Report of the Assistance Board for the period which has elapsed since the 1240 Determination of Needs Act was passed, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) rightly said, to analyse the Report, to review the situation, and, as he added, to make suggestions.
The House knows by now that suggestions which have been made to the Board in this House have been regularly acted upon and that the Board has shown itself extremely sensitive to the views of Members of this House all intimately concerned with their own constituencies. I would demand the hon. Member for Stoke that there are Members in all parts of the House who represent the people affected by this Report, and who are here because of the large support they have received from them. I felt that had to be said, because of three or four sentences in the hon. Member's speech. I am sure my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot), who has just left the Chamber, will have been most interested in listening to the reception of this Report to-day, and to what has happened since he first introduced the Act for which he was responsible. Perhaps I would best serve the House if I did my best, as far as I can, to answer the questions put by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke, and then turned to the general issues which are implicit in this very interesting, detailed and, as I think the House has already shown, acceptable Report. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards), when he speaks, will have one satisfaction. He made a shot at a certain figure in the Third Reading Debate. When I come to deal with it, I shall be able to tell him whatever his basis was, whether it was correct or not, that his shot was not very far from the mark.
§ Mr. Brown
At any rate, he will be able to see by his own test that the Report has scored a bull's eye, even if there are other bulls' eyes to come. First, the hon. Member for Stoke put a question about social services, and raised the issue between rights and charities. I do not think the House as a whole will want to draw that distinction. The question is whether the administration under the Act is meeting the claims which the Act set out to meet. That is the real issue, and 1241 about it there has been some misunderstanding. The hon. Member put a question about the National Council of Social Service. The Board is not responsible for that body, although it has their co-operation, which the House welcomes. The Council have the co-operation of Ministries of all kinds in connection with a whole series of services ancillary to the services provided by the State. All know there are needs to be met for the old people which have nothing to do with cash, and which cannot be put in terms of a legal enactment or regulation.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
The point I was making was, whether on the undertaking given by the right hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Kelvingrove, who was then Minister of Health, they would be the work of the Assistance Board.
§ Mr. Brown
That is why I said there is a misunderstanding; welfare has been the work of the Board from the beginning, and it is their duty now. It has been extended, but my hon. Friend will understand that some forms of welfare which in the course of their visitations to the homes of the old people the officers of the Board find would be of advantage to the old people need the co-operation of voluntary bodies. As I say, I do not think the House will seek to draw that sharp distinction. I think the House will agree that what we have set down in the law are established rights. We will see that those rights are carried out. The Board has nothing to do with the setting up of committees by the National Council of Social Service. That is a matter for that organisation, and the responsibility is not ours.
The hon. Member also raised the question of rents. He asked whether the case referred to in paragraph 6 on page 9 was a good sample and whether it was accurate. The answer is "yes." If I may use a simple illustration, 540,000 cases were put in the barrel, and 2½ per cent. of the cases, which is adequate according to statisticians, were taken as a sample, and on that basis the results were arrived at.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
Was the aggregate taken over the whole country? Was the North mixed with the South; because rents in the South may be anything up to 18s. a week and only 5s., 1242 6s., or 7s. per week for similar cottages in the industrial North?
§ Mr. Brown
My hon. Friend will understand that a sample of 2½ per cent. out of a total of 540,000 is wide enough to provide an accurate and substantial indication sufficient to give a true picture over the whole country. With regard to the advisory committees the hon. Member for Stoke wanted to know whether the Board made suggestions to the committees. The advisory committees, and no one else, are responsible for the advice they give. Of course they would be lacking in their public duty if they did not take advantage of the expert knowledge readily available to them from the experts of the Board. The advisory committees themselves, and they alone, are responsible in each district for the advice that they give to the Board in the district for which they are set up.
With regard to the problem of fuel, there again I think there is misunderstanding, and the very simple and moving letter that the hon. Member read brought it out. It seems to be thought that the winter allowance was applied in the first instance and continued since, as the total fuel allowance. That is not so. The hon. Member's correspondent obviously realised that for he referred to 1s. 6d. He or she was obviously living alone, because it would be 2s. in the case of a couple. That is the whole lay-out of the winter allowance; it is to meet additional fuel needs on top of the general summary of needs made before the determination is made. The Board has the matter under constant review and at the moment are re-considering it in the light of recent tendencies. The same applies, in the Board's view, as regards recent tendencies in the matter of clothing. They have this under close consideration now.
Then the hon. Member asked how many cases were examined. I was very glad that he paid a tribute to the Board for taking the action they did—they took definite steps to make sure that no one entitled to rights under the Act should be unaware that those rights existed. In the end what happened was that 600,000 cases had to be examined. The House will see how vast and meticulous was the work to be done. This Debate will, no doubt, help to fill any gap that there may be. While, of course, the House appre- 1243 ciates the tribute paid to the Post Office officials, I will take special care to see that the Postmaster-General's attention is called to it. There is another point that is very interesting in the light of the war development. In the last few months about 35,000 pensioners have got work and have dropped out of the supplementary pensions list. Future figures may show a certain drop in the total number and that will be the principal explanation. I do not think I need go at length into the question about those who live alone and those who live in a household or the case of the son-in-law, because the hon. Member for Aberdare (Mr. Cove) put that question and had a very full answer.
Let us look at the general lay-out of this Report. First, the House appears to be agreed that the object of the Determination of Needs Act was to remove grievances connected with the household means test. It set out to benefit those supplementary pensioners and applicants for unemployment assistance whose pensions or allowances were affected by the aggregation of household resources, which was the main feature of that test, and that applies to less than a third of those in receipt of supplementary pensions and a rather smaller proportion of those in receipt of unemployment assistance. An attempt was made at Question Time the other day to construe the Report in terms of an average of 6d. That, of course, misrepresents the position. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Report says that."] That may be so, but an average may be a mathematical fact and yet a practical, as well as a moral and spiritual fiction.
§ Mr. MacLaren (Burslem)
Did not the right hon. Gentleman use that illustration when discussing rent?
§ Mr. Brown
No, I certainly did not. The hon. Member is wrong there. I am sure that everyone wants the Act to work until such time as more ambitious schemes are brought forward. Surely it is much more to the point to consider what benefits the Act has conferred on the class of pensioner that it set out to benefit. After all, the test of any Act is not how much more you think might have been done if you had another Act but, "Does this Act do what it set out to do?" Over 216,000 persons already in receipt of supplementary pensions have benefited directly by amounts ranging from 2s. 6d. 1244 or less to over 10s. The over-all average benefit is 2s. 9d. In addition, 140,000 new supplementary pensions have been granted to persons who either had not had them before, or who, in the main, had failed to get or had not applied for them because of the household means test. The hon. Member on the Third Reading said the test would be how many of the 100,000 applicants whose applications had been refused, presumably because of the household means test, would get supplementary pensions as the result of the passage of the Act. The answer is practically all of them, and therefore the hon. Member should be satisfied on his own test. Either they themselves have on their own initiative, on re-applying, got the pension or the Board has made it possible.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
I understood that the number of people who had had no determination was 340,000. The number of new applications, as the result of this legislation, was 63,500 and the number in which supplementary pensions were paid is 51,000. The answer is on page 7 of the Board's own report.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Am I to understand that the £1,500,000 is the total cost to the Exchequer of the new Act?
§ Mr. Buchanan
Is the right hon. Gentleman quite right there? What does he mean by "increased numbers"? If the amount of £5,000,000 is due to the Act, it means that, because we have passed 1245 that legislation, that sum is being spent, but we have, possibly, brought in some extra people who were formerly not getting the pension.
§ Mr. Brown
I think I have made it clear. The words I used were precise and were carefully drafted. There are two issues—the issue of the growth in the average rate, and the issue of the number of new pensioners who are there because the Act was passed. I will bring the figures together, because they are given in different parts of the Report. There are two figures to be realised—the number of pensioners and the number of pensions. In April, as is stated in the Board's Report, there were 1,240,000 pensioners and 991,000 pensions. The last figures quoted in the Report—those for November—are 1,380,000 pensioners and 1,108,000 pensions. I think it may be said, therefore, that the Act has hit the target which it was aimed to hit.
My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland will reply to other detailed points that may be raised in the Debate. I think that the House has made it plain that it has accepted this Report with some measure of gratitude. I was interested to note the last sentence in the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke, in which he pleaded for the transfer of cases from public assistance to the Assistance Board. Those who administer the Board will be entitled to take that as a great compliment and as a recognition that, once more in the history of this Island it has been proved—
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
Why pay a compliment to the Board? The Board has turned down all the reforms proposed to it; this House has brought them about and not the Board.
§ Mr. Brown
I would not accept that view. My hon. Friend is not fair to the Board. It has shown itself sensitive to the movements of public opinion and responsive to the will of the House, as it ought to be. In its administration it does its best to meet the needs of those for whom it is responsible and to do so in the sympathetic spirit which the House was promised when the Act was passed.
§ Mr. Barr (Coatbridge)
I thank the Minister for his statement and take the liberty of endorsing very cordially what lie said about the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley 1246 (Mr. Ivor Thomas). I have heard maiden speeches over a long period, going back to the one I myself made, and I am bound to say that seldom if ever have I heard a maiden speech better ordered, or showing greater readiness of utterance, or clearness of thinking than the one to which we have listened to-day; and I have great pleasure in adding my meed of praise to that of the Minister. When this new attenuated form of means test was brought in last year I supported the Measure as the best we could do in the circumstances. Indeed, I went down to the Old Age Pensioners Association in my division, and commended it to them on that ground. I sought to show to them the improvements they might expect on the Act of the former year. Looking at what is claimed for it, and what we admit it has brought in the way of improvement, we find it said in this Report that the type of case mainly affected was that of the applicant living in a house containing non-dependent members. In June, 1941, there were 311,790 of that type, and we are told that 70 per cent. benefited. I find that one-tenth of the number benefited to the extent of 5s. or over, one-third from 2s. 6d. to 5s., and the remainder 2s. 6d. or less.
In the transitional period from the old Regulations to the new there were 700,500 supplementary pensions, and of those granted 500,000 pensioners would not have received benefit under the old Regulations but received them under the new. By the end of November there were 1,380,000 pensioners, which compares with the old figure of 1,240,000, an increase in that class of 140,000 pensioners. I am interested in the national figures contained in the Report. The increase of such applicants as benefited was 72.2 per cent. in England, 61.5 in Wales, and 53.2 in Scotland.
I am not adducing that as a new injustice to Scotland. I gather from the report that two explanations are given and they will have to be combined. The first is that in Scotland, evidently, fewer people were entitled to the benefit provided under Section 13 of the Act of 1940, that is to say there were fewer who had had orders for outdoor relief, and that we can understand in the difference in the history of the three countries. The second consideration is that of rent, which I take it was less in Scotland than 1247 in the other countries. I am sorry to say that I believe that is so because there was less to pay rent for—there were more tenements and crowded slums—and to that extent there would be less "need" as it is calculated in respect of rent.
When we have summed up these benefits we are disappointed—however you explain it, and the Minister sought to explain it—that the average increase is only 6d., that the supplementation has risen only from 9s. to 9s. 6d. on the average. Here there are two explanations which we must notice. The first is that only one-third of those concerned in the calculations live in circumstances which could be affected by the new Act. Many live alone, and many, I am sorry to say, as I know from experience in my own constituency, are obliged to live in model lodging houses, and in those cases the rate was not altered by any of the new calculations. In the second place, there were the numbers who came in for the first time. They had been borderline cases. They had not succeeded before, and having succeeded now they were naturally on a lower rate than those who had been successful on prior occasions. These two factors tend to lower the figure and that is the explanation in this paper; but I should point out that the fact that one-tenth were receiving more than 5s. increase should have tended to raise the average, and that makes one think that, taking it over all, the average is not so great as we would wish.
A great deal was made of the promise given to old age pensioners that their position would not be worsened under the new Act, because even if the new mode of calculation brought a lower figure in individual cases it would be raised in order to ensure that no one was worse off. I think that obligation has been honoured. It is said in the report that it was honoured by the exercise of discretion. The old age pensioners still put great faith in Section 13 of the 1940 Act, the Section that named a certain date, the 3rd August, and said that if for six months before that date there had been an order for outdoor relief the pension would be raised to that amount. That promise has been carried out by the officials. Here I should like to say a word for the officials. There is apt to be an adverse opinion about all officials, which was perhaps 1248 justified in Scotland, at least, by the past history of the administration of relief, but I must speak of men as I find them, and I say of those who are at the head both of the local administration of the Assistance Board and of the public assistance committees that they are administering this Act with consideration and with humanity, and with a desire that the pensioners shall get the full benefit which the Regulations can give.
There is one circumstance, to which allusion has been made, which has accentuated present discontent among old age pensioners. The public assistance committees always gave clothes, automatically the public assistance committee in Coat-bridge every January considers the clothing grants, and once every two years every old age pensioner gets a new suit. Those are very substantial benefits. When this work was taken over by the Assistance Board, in some cases, in order to link the past with the present, a grant of say, 30s., was given for clothing, but with an intimation that it was not likely to be repeated. But who will blame the old age pensioner if he still thought that it might be repeated, especially if the need still existed? Requests for clothing have also met with the reply that the Assistance Board had raised the grant in most cases by something like 2s. in order to cover clothing. Persons are still entitled to apply for a grant of clothing, but it is not given automatically or anything like so freely as by the public assistance committee, and applicants are reminded of the 2s. rise.
There is another circumstance which has brought a good deal of discontent. Naturally, the public assistance committees have altered their scales for the benefit of the recipients. In the Coat-bridge borough district they have on three occasions, the last of them on 3rd July, given what was called a war bonus. It is only the last of these that comes into our calculation, but taking the three of them we find that for single persons the bonus amounted to an increase of 2s. 6d. and for couples 4s. I give three cases to show how the position has been worsened in the new circumstances, and the figures have been verified both by the public assistance committee and by the Assistance Board. The first is the case of a woman who has two lodgers; she has an old age pension of 10s. and receives a 1249 supplementary pension of 45. a week but would have received 5s. 6d. a week from public assistance, leaving a difference of 1s. 6d. In the second case, a man has a son at home who has been discharged from the Army, and has no income; his old age pension is 10s., he receives a supplementary pension of 11s. 6d. a week, and he would have received 13s. 6d. from public assistance, leaving a difference of 2s. The third case is that of a man with a room sublet; his old age pension is 10s., he receives a supplementary pension of 4s. 6d. and would have received 8s. 6d. from public assistance, leaving a difference of 4s. Those have been given to me as typical cases, not as isolated cases. In addition, the public assistance authority gives clothing which is a valuable supplementation, especially at the present time, in view of the cost of living, the Purchase Tax, and such considerations.
It has always been contemplated that there might be some increase in view of the rise in the cost of living. There is a very interesting letter dated 23rd May, 1940, to the Chairman of the Assistance Board, signed by Mr. Malcolm MacDonald, as Minister of Health, and Mr. Ernest Brown who was then Secretary of State for Scotland, altering the figures in the schedule from 19s. to 19s. 6d., and other alterations, on the ground of "the upward tend of prices." The reply of Lord Rushcliffe, Chairman of the Assistance Board, is very significant. It recognises an increase in the cost of living and a grant towards it as looming ahead. These were his words:It is also true that any considerable rise in the cost of living would, if sustained, necessitate a review of regulations designed to meet need. The Board understand that the variations which you intend to make take account of the present level and trend of prices and thus obviate any question arising of the revision of the supplementary pensions regulations on these grounds in the near future.He admitted that it would come in the near future, but the near future of which he wrote has already gone, and it is time to consider the matter from the point of view of the increased cost of living. I gather from the statement made by the Minister that the Board are considering the matter and I trust that, in the spirit of the words of the Chairman of the Board, they will again look a bit ahead and be generous in their consideration. I would remind hon. Members that an increase of 2s. 6d. was made during the 1250 last war in the old age pension on this very ground and as an adjustment to suit separation allowances. At the close of the war, in 1919, there was an alteration in the basic rate from 5s. to 10s. I trust that Ministers and the Assistance Board will consider also the possibility of raising the basic rate and not give a mere "pit-bye" as we would say in Scotland.
I find that old-age pensioners in Scotland are through their resolutions asking for a new basic rate of £1 with certain extras that may come in. Why should we boggle at 15s. or £1, or even at 25s. per week for an old-age pensioner? In reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Shettleston (Mr. McGovern) on 2nd March, 1932, the Secretary of State for Scotland gave a return in which he showed the cost of keeping a prisoner for a week in Duke Street Prison, Glasgow. The figure was £1 10s. In Peterhead Prison, where prisoners stay longer and possibly have a little more luxury, the cost was £1 19s. 5d. Why should the Government scruple to give some similar sum to those who are not prisoners, but have lived clean and noble lives and have toiled for the community all their days, so long as their strength lasted? I would like to quote the beautiful words of a celebrated Scottish song, written by the well-known English lady writer, Mrs. Craik, the author of "John Halifax, Gentleman." There is a couplet which reads:But I rise content i' the morningTo work while work I may.May I whisper, as has already been whispered to-day by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. E. Smith), a few facts about New Zealand and its age benefits under the Social Security Act? Taking the ordinary case, a husband and wife, after reaching the age of 60, supposing both to be qualified, receive a weekly allowance of £1 10s. each. There is an allowable addition of £1 of income, making £4 for the couple as a weekly income. I am not going to dwell on that case because I am conscious that the hon. and gallant Member for Marylebone (Captain Cunningham-Reid) was told by the Joint Under-Secretary of State for War that he had rendered a disservice to the country, the Army, and the cause, when he brought forward a contrast between the rates given to Canadian soldiers and those given to our own. It may be that I am rendering a disservice to the Government, 1251 but I do not think I am rendering any disservice to the nation or to the old-age pensioners in not dwelling on, but passing on these facts about New Zealand. In the light of those facts, will the Government struggle to give to the aged poor something by way of subsistence that will bring a blink of brightness into their lives, and something of "health and peace and sweet content"?
Another thing which is relevant to the discussion, and brings discontent among old-age pensioners, is the disbursement of vast sums of money in all kinds of subsidies. They see these sums poured out lavishly without inquiry into need. They saw that happening in the De-rating Act of 1926 in Scotland and in the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1929. The cost of de-rating fell back upon the Government. A similar thing happened in the case of the Housing (Agricultural Population) (Scotland) Act, 1938, and in the reconditioning of the old houses. A wealthy shipowner who bought an estate in Scotland received assistance on equal terms with the poorest peasant owner in the country. The old-age pensioners are aware that vast subsidies go to shipowners. My hon. Friend the Member for Rotherhithe (Mr. Ben Smith) is now on the Government Front Bench. I wish him well, but we shall miss his presence here and the breezy speeches with which he used to regale us. He used to give us figures of tramp shipping, of the vast sums which had been received, the dividends paid out and the large sums of money which some of the companies were able to carry forward after receiving subsidy. One of these, the Bank Line, of Glasgow and London, received £76,780 by way of subsidy in 1935, although for 14 years they had declared a dividend averaging 11 per cent. per annum. On 21st July, 1939, my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Parker) secured from the Chancellor of the Exchequer of that day a table covering the subsidies paid to 13 industries for the 15 years 1924 to 1938. They amounted to no less than £79,497,954. These vast sums were showered, without any of that discretion which is referred to in this paper, in a plentiful rain on the evil and the good, on the wealthy and the penurious.
1252 After that general statement I should like to pass on to my next and last point. The treatment of the aged poor, though it has been greatly alleviated in our land, is still a tragedy. In the Determination of Needs Act, the twin evils of unemployment and the poverty of the aged are linked together; and it is a remarkable thing that in the most plaintive of Robert Burns' poems, "Man was made to mourn," these two are linked together in a similar way, and are laid side by side. Of unemployment he was wont to say to his brother Gilbert that hecould not conceive a more mortifying picture of human life than a man seeking work and unable to find it.and so he wrote these words:See yonder poor, o'erlabour'd wight,So abject, mean and vile,Who begs a brother of the earthTo give him leave to toil;And see his lordly fellow-wormThe poor petition spurn,Unmindful tho' a weeping wifeAnd helpless offspring mourn.Alongside of that, he places the other tragedy which we are mainly considering to-day, and contrasts the aged poor with those who are "in youthful prime or manhood's active might," and says:Look not alone on youthful primeOr manhood's active might;Man then is useful to his kind,Supported is his right.But see him on the edge of life,With cares and sorrows worn,Then age and want, Oh! ill-matched pair!Show man was made to mourn.Age and want are still an ill-matched pair, and although much has been done to alleviate the want, much remains before it is replaced, I do not say by plenty, but at least by comfort, by a competence, and a sufficiency. One other quotation and I will close. Many are familiar with the beautiful words of John Bright:The nation in every country dwells in the cottage And unless the beauty of your legislation and the excellence of your statemanship are impressed on the feelings and conditions of the people there, rely upon it, you have yet to learn the duties of government.Those for whom we are pleading to-day have not even reached the cottage stage, at least in my country. They dwell in the crowded tenements, they dwell in the rural huts, those rural huts "where poor men lie," and unless you can make the light of your legislation shine in those dark places of our social life, you have still to learn the art of government.
§ Mr. Collindridge (Barnsley)
After the very exhaustive survey of supplementary pensions, interspersed with quotations from the national poet of my hon. Friend's country, it is not my desire to detain the House very long. Although we do not usually split ourselves up into geographical sections, as I am the first Member from my own county of Yorkshire to speak after the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. I. Thomas), I should like to add my meed of congratulation to him upon the excellent speech he made. I feel sure that we all miss the gentleman who occupied that seat for so many years, with honour and advantage to this House, and I feel that if he could look down upon us, he would see that the work was being well carried on by his successor. I am sure the House will join with me in congratulating him.
I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) in feeling that there is a lot to be said for this Britain of ours in that we can, during a period of war, have discussions on a subject of this description. I join with him too in feeling that if we have considerably improved the lot of our old age pensioners as compared with a few years ago, there is still a great need for improvement. I would say that the standard of one who lives alone or even of two old age pensioners living together is low, considering the increase in the cost of living since these rates were originally laid down, and indeed the position of the pensioner who lives with relatives is, I believe, much worse. To give only 3s. 6d. in the case of a couple or 2s. 6d. in the case of a woman is only a very meagre amount to meet the cost of living as it is to-day, and I feel that there should be improvements in that regard.
In the brief time I have I wish to devote myself to what I feel is one of the worst aspects of this supplementary pension administration. That is a matter referred to in the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Keighley, namely, the penalty on thrift. My hon. Friend said that in the county of Yorkshire there are a good many people with stockings. I think that these people with the stockings feel, if I might use the parlance, that the supplementary pensions administration has given them socks in the way they have had to live upon their stockings. One of 1254 the worst things is this penalty which has been levied on the small savings of the poor. In my own district the general way of accumulating small savings seems to be this: Households and families, when struggling to make a home, are prone to make their purchases at the cooperative stores. The dividend on purchases allows them, in those early years, to buy clothes and footwear for their children, but when with the passage of time a boy or girl has gone to work, it often does not mean an improved standard of living so much as the laying on one side of those co-operative dividends to form a nest-egg. We are being sadly disadvantaged now, not only individuals but the State too, by this penalty which is levied upon people. I am not unaware that these nest-eggs are not always for old age. Often the nest-eggs have been very useful from the individual's point of view in periods of sickness or industrial disputes. Indeed rates are heavy now in industrial districts like mine, but I view with alarm what these rates would have been during disputes had individuals not laid on one side sums of money which were of advantage to themselves and the community in which they live.
I refer especially to the co-operative society, but I am not unmindful that the Post Office Savings Bank, building societies and kindred societies have done good in this connection. I wish particularly to refer to savings in our local cooperative societies being penalised by the supplementary pensions administration. I think the issue is such a simple one. On these accumulations of share capital going up to, say, £100, the local co-operative society at the present time pays 3½, per cent. on that, making a weekly interest income of 1s. 4d. a week. If old age pensioners receive that very meagre benefit, the resulting effect is that they are penalised by the Assistance Board in their application for supplementary pension to the extent of 3s. per week. We are very careful in this co-operative society to have a limitation of opportunity to the share capital investors. We limit it to a maximum of £200 per person. Assuming that there are two old age pensioners who have saved £200 each and have a sum of £400 share capital, that brings into the household 5s. 4d. a week, yet the levy when they are being considered for supplementary pensions goes 1255 to the extent of 15s. per week, depriving them of any consideration in this particular respect. Is that fair, particularly when it brings out the anomalies which obtain in the supplementary pension administration?
There is the case of the householder. I eulogise all those people who have the desire to own their own houses. I have supported them the whole of my life, and I will continue to do so. But does it seem fair to exempt the persons who have invested share capital to the extent of £400 or £500 so that they are able to occupy a house, and yet such share capital in the Post Office Savings Bank or a co-operative society acts as a levy upon them to the full extent which I have mentioned a few moments ago? I look at this question too, not only from the aspect of the people who have to submit to this infliction. I think that not only the potential pensioners of the future feel this matter, but that the general public lacks confidence in legislators of our brand who help to perpetuate these anomalies in the very vicious manner we do. I think that in other questions they feel that if we are prone to deal with the pensioners in the form we do, we are not inclined to be altogether too good on other aspects of our legislative work.
I want to mention too what a penalty this is to thrift. However some people may condemn this habit of thrift, I think that this nation has been advantaged in times past by thrift, and particularly the thrift of the very poor who live most frugally. If we are to engender by the penalisation of thrift, a care-free set of individuals who will spend their wages and incomes week by week, there will be less goods left in the storehouse in readiness for emergencies of the kind which we have at the present time. The young people see an aged parent disadvantaged when they know, as some of us do know, what real sacrifice has been made to get a few pounds together. I speak out of personal knowledge. I come from a family of 12. There were eight children in the family before one of us went to work to help in the upholding of the domestic exchequer. I saw my aged parent, God rest his soul, mending shoes, cutting hair, and tending gardens to help in the maintenance of that family and occasionally, when times were better, putting £1 or so on one side for a rainy day. Think you, hon. Members, 1256 that it is to the advantage of our country that we should now have a young community seeing aged people like that disadvantaged when they apply for supplementary pensions? I believe that whatever savings we may be effecting financially now, we shall lose morally as a consequence of this false economy.
I wish briefly to mention the slick person, who in the early days, at the beginning of our discussions in 1940 for the improvement of supplementary pensions, transferred money before August, 1940, from places where he was deriving advantage. If he transferred that money, he is all right and is receiving that supplementary pension. We know that there are a good many people, old age pensioners, who are somewhat less slick in their consideration of these matters. Surely it is unfair to allow the advantage to the pre-August, 1940, individuals and not allow it to others to-day. I also feel that the House and the country are not too happy about this situation. If you receive new money, say, as the result of a legacy or a gambling windfall, you invest it in war savings, and can receive a supplementary pension. In respect of the individuals who have been to some extent the backbone of this nation by getting together small savings, is an anomaly of that description to continue to be perpetrated? I ask, in conclusion, that those thrift years shall not be punished. I ask that there shall be at least some decent example to set before the young folk to carry on those good habits of their predecessors. I ask this in fairness to the old folk. I ask it as a matter of elementary justice to their boys and girls who are now fighting our country's cause. I ask that this position may soon be rectified, if possible, without delay.
§ Mr. A. Hollins (Hanley)
I should like to preface my few remarks by paying a small compliment to the Assistance Board on its initiative in reviewing the case papers of pensioners whose pensions had been rejected under the old regulations and who, maybe through ignorance as stated in the Report, or some other reason, had not re-applied. I am sure the House, and the 51,000 pensioners who benefited from this re-hearing, are extremely grateful to the Board for taking that initiative. That is the spirit in which all social services should be administered. 1257 I hope that certain other Departments will follow the example. It is a reversal of the spirit adopted by some Departments—"If anyone has missed the boat, let him go." Their attitude is one of how not to help, not of how to help. I want to mention two small points only; because I think the ground has been well covered. I have felt, sitting here, that the longer one takes in getting into the Debate, the more one's speech vanishes. But, at the risk of repetition, I want to mention a point referred to in the letter accompanying this Report. While one appreciates the excellent work that these voluntary organisations do, I think it is primarily the concern of the State to look after these pensioners. I would suggest to the Paymaster-General that, in his post-war planning, he should consider the provision of homes for lonely, aged persons, at a nominal rent. We have already started doing that on a voluntary basis in Stoke-on-Trent. A limited number of cottages have been built, and many an aged couple have been given a hearth of their own. Couples who have reared large families, and have found themselves lonely in their old age, have only one alternative, to live with a son or a daughter. That is an alternative which is not acceptable to many aged couples, who want to keep their independence.
Even at the risk again of reiterating what has been so well said by my hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley (Mr. Collindridge), I want to refer to the question of thrift. There is a reference to it in paragraph 6 of the report, on War Savings. I want to make a strong appeal to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to reconsider the matter of pre-war savings. I know that, when the question was discussed before the new Regulations were made, this proposal was strongly resisted by the Government. Since then, I have met several of my constituents who are widows, who have suffered undoubted hardship. One is the widow of a late colleague of mine. At the moment of his death a cheque for £50 was received. It had been subscribed by his fellow club members, to help to pay for the very expensive treatment which he was to undergo; but, unfortunately, it came too late. With that £50 and the savings of years, the widow had £250. She is entirely cut out from any supplementary pension. The loss of that is equivalent to a 10 per cent. interest charge. This is much too 1258 high a penalty for thrift. It would be a good investment for these people to dispose of their savings, in any way, as quickly as possible. Assuming in this case that the widow has spent the money in clothing or furniture, or anything else, she would have received 9s. 6d. a week supplementation. I do not know why I did not give her that advice. Let me quote from the Report, on the question of War Savings:Only a few who have found it necessary to apply to the Board for assistance or a supplementary pension during the early days of the scheme have been able to save to any material extent or have come into money since the outbreak of war. The number of cases so far affected by the provision is, therefore, small.If the result of this provision is so meagre, and if, as is stated earlier in the Report, it will take a long time to become effective, why should there not be some equivalent allowance for pre-war savings to be disregarded? I see no reason why £375—or perhaps some lower amount; say, £200—should not be disregarded in the same way. The Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to give some consideration to these pre-war savings, and remove that penalty on thrift, which has caused so much hardship. I never make very long speeches; I rarely make speeches in the House at all; but I wanted to support what has been said about the hardship caused by the failure to make any consideration for pre-war savings; and I hope the question will be raised again in this House until some concession has been made. I sincerely hope that the Chancellor will give his attention to that point, and that the Paymaster-General, in his post-war planning, will provide for homes for lonely and aged pensioners. I hope that my wishes will be accepted and that something will be done in connection with the points that I have raised.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)
We have at last arrived at the stage when we are to consider how the Determination of Needs Act has done its job. This Report was asked for during the original Debate, and it was promised, and we are very pleased to have it. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Health presented the Report with his usual turbulence and vigorous enunciation. I have never known any Minister who could take so complacent a view of a situation in which there was so much suffering or anyone 1259 who is able to write-up things so well as to convince even the victims that they are not suffering from anything at all. He has done that again to-day very ably and completely, but I am afraid that he will not have convinced the old-age pensioners that this Act is giving them not what the Act intended but what it was claimed would be given by the Act by himself and his right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour.
The Report itself is an interesting document. Why is it that it fails to disclose so many things which are necessary to a proper appreciation of the position? Why has it omitted to give any indication of how the adjustment of rent is proceeded with? Why has it failed to say what are the rent and rates in the various parts of the country and failed to disclose the fact that many pensioners are being robbed of shillings a week by the unjust rent rule in very many areas of this country? In giving the result of the working, why is it that all the effects of the Act are expressed in one form and a distinction is not drawn between the benefits given by the so-called abolition of the household means test and those that were due entirely to an alteration in the rent rule? The Report has attempted to give the advantage of the alteration in the household means test to those improvements which were obtained under the adjustment of the rent rule.
The Board must have known that we would be asking for this information, and why were we not told the average pensions in the regional areas and shown how the Act was working all over the country? We were merely given the globular figures. In refusing to provide those figures they are showing but scant respect for the wishes of this House. Repeated Questions have been put down about the matter. The Minister has been asked about it time after time, and the Board have gone to the trouble of issuing this Report and not including one of the figures asked for in this House. When the Board comes to make its Annual Report, it would be showing much more respect to the wishes of the Members of this House if it provided the things which have been requested so frequently. The Minister has given us a statement to-day which, from his point of view, shows that everything in the garden is lovely, and that the Determination of Needs Act has 1260 fulfilled all that was promised. If that is his view, I can only come to the conclusion that he has not read the Report, because it is a complete refutation of his point of view, and it confirms all that the critics alleged about it when it was in the form of legislation before this House. As the Minister has said, the Report has to be considered in the light of remedying a problem which existed at the time of the passage of the Determination of Needs Act; that is the background against which it must be considered. The problem we had to face then was that there were 340,000 old-age pensioners who had been refused supplementary pensions. On top of that there were 1,000,000 old-age pensioners receiving very inadequate supplementary pensions. Allegations were made, and, I believe, proven, that homes were being broken up, that investigations were causing undue anxiety and that the old people were compelled to resort to cunning in order to obtain supplementary pensions. That was the problem with which the legislation proposed to deal and to solve.
The Minister of Labour, in introducing the legislation, made three special claims for it. He said, first of all, that the household means test would be swept away and that no part of the resources of non-dependant members would be taken into account. He ended his peroration by saying that this was the solution of the controversy in this House. This was his first claim. His second claim was that the old grievance of the breaking-up of homes in order to get assistance or proper treatment would be removed, and his third claim was that the temptation to people to be cunning in order to obtain assistance would be removed. These were the three chief claims that he made for the legislation, the operation of which is reported upon in this special Report. Perhaps the Minister of Health, who has made such a complacent speech, will bear in mind that, of the 340,000 who had been refused supplementary pensions prior to the passage of the new legislation, only 51,000 had been able to obtain supplementary pensions, and 289,000 who were refused supplementary pensions before this legislation was passed are still being refused, thus the vast majority of the people who were to get a supplementary pension because of the passage of this legislation are still without it. That amply justifies 1261 the criticisms in which we indulged at the time that the legislation was before the House. We were told at that time that we were betraying the pensioners and sabotaging their best interests. I ask whether those who were able to convince the Board that they could only give the supplementary pension to 51,000 out of 340,000 were not betraying the pensioners. It is interesting to know that the vast majority of those who have been given the pension for the first time had only half-a-crown per week or less. On that score, as far as the people who were outside were concerned, the Act dealt with only one-sixth of the problem, and in relation to that one-sixth you have given a half-a-crown or less per week. That was not the state of things envisaged either by the Minister of Health or the Minister of Labour when the regulations were before this House. The critics have been wholly justified by the results as shown in this Report.
The Board make the most of their case, as one would expect, but they indicate that only one-third of those in receipt of supplementary pensions at that time could be affected by alterations in the means test. This category, they say, represented over 311,000 pensioners, and of the one-third only just over 209,000 had any benefit at all. More than half of them had less than 2s. 6d. benefit as a result of the Act. The Minister said that we ought not to decry this, but when we see that the average increase is only 6d. a case—it would be about 4d. per pensioner per week—one does not need to decry it. All one needs to do is to read what the Board state in their report. It is the Board who do the decrying. They say:In April the average amount paid by way of supplementary pension was 9s. In August it was 9s. 6d.Surely it is not wrong to quote the Board's own statement. For all this revolution in the conditions of old age pensioners this mountain has produced the molehill of a miserable "tanner" a week. I would like to refer to the principles enunciated by the Minister and the facts as disclosed by the report. The Minister talked of the abolition of the household means test and said that no part of the resources of non-dependants will be taken into account. That was the Minister of Labour's statement. But that flamboyant claim was in marked contrast to the Assistance Board's 1262 own phrasing. The most they claim is that the essential feature of the household means test has been abolished, but members on each side of the House claimed that the household means test was being abolished and that no part of the resources of any dependant should be taken into account. The Assistance Board, however, do not fall for that, whatever speeches and briefs they may have put into the hands of Ministers. The report shows that in 15 per cent. of all supplementary pensions cases—that is, in 142,620 cases—the resources of non-dependent members of the household have been used to reduce the needs of the old age pensioner. In other words, the household means test still operates in 15 per cent. of supplementary pensions cases, and there are today, according to this Report, nearly 150,000 cases affected by it.
In category 4 of these tables we find expressed one of the essential features of the household means test. Let me try to put it into its proper proportions. It has been claimed that 216,000 people have benefited by this new legislation, but of this total 6,770 had changes because they were due to circumstances. The Assistance Board put that into a footnote, hoping that it would not be noted. Fifty-one thousand had a nil determination before and only came back into the live file because they were pulled out by the Board. That leaves a net figure of 158,000. There are still left untouched 142,000 who suffered, and are still suffering, from one of the essential features. The Minister promised to relieve us from the injustice of the household means test on all pensioners. Well, he was just 50 per cent. too optimistic—[Interruption.] I am referring to the Minister of Labour, who made that claim but the Minister of Health was a party to it. Paragraph 13 of the Report is intended as a get-out and is very interesting. May I quote part of it? It says:In order to justify the difference in treatment between household applicants and non-household applicants if the Board were to pay no more to a person living entirely alone than to a person living as a member of a household they would be doing him less than justice. It is clear that in all normal cases the rent as fairly apportioned among various members of the household amounts per head to substantially less than that which each would have to pay for accommodation of a similar standard if living alone.The justification for this is that because people live together you ought to give 1263 less, that the cost per head is lower because they live together. That is the justification for this essential feature of the retention of the means test. I suggest that this is a fallacious piece of reasoning and, moreover, that the Board are not free of the charge of attempting to mislead the House on this matter. There are roughly three classes of pensioners—pensioners who are householders, pensioners living in the households of strangers, and pensioners living in the households of relatives. In class 1 they get an effective scale rate of 19s. 6d., in class 2 they get the same scale rate, but in class 3 the effective scale rate is 13s. 6d. The Board, in order to justify this difference in the scale rate, depend on the ground that living together lowers the net cost of living. Yet those who get the 19s. 6d. scale rate are in exactly the same mixed households as those who get the 13s. 6d. rate. I cannot see how it is hoped to justify their contention by using such an analogy. For the mixed household, except in the case of pensioners living with relatives, an effective scale rate of 19s. 6d. is maintained.
Take the case of an old age pensioner whose wife has died. He has a number of alternatives. If he stays in his own house, he gets an effective scale rate of 19s. 6d.; if he goes to live with strangers, he will get an effective scale rate of 19s. 6d.; if he invites relatives to live with him in his own house, he will get 19s. 6d.; if he goes next door to live with strangers, he will get 19s. 6d., but if he goes to live with relatives in their household, he will receive only 13s. 6d. The fact is that if the rent book is in the pensioner's name, he gets an effective scale rate of 19s. 6d. If it is in the name of some other member of the household and that other member is a relative—and this is the important point—the pensioner gets an effective scale rate of only 13s. 6d. The economy of the household is no greater because of the fact that the rent book is in the name of a different person. But that is the contention of the Assistance Board.
The wordy camouflage of paragraph 13, which is used to hide the essential feature of the household means test, will not blind reasonable people to what is happening, or make less irksome the criminal injustice that is done to some 142,000 supplementary old-age pensioners. What the Board are conscious of, 1264 and what the Minister ought to be conscious of, is that the amenities provided by other relatives in the household are used in order to reduce the needs of the old-age pensioners. The Minister said that he would not use the resources of non-dependent members. What he actually does, where they are living with relatives, is to take the resources of the relatives of the old old-age pensioner in order to reduce the supplementary pension. The Minister declared that no part of the resources of non-dependent members of the household would be taken into account. The Board's Report shows that this principle is retained and that those resources are taken into account.
I think I have made out my case on that point. I contend that the Board prove it to be true. We have the figures in the Report. The Board have tried to hide it in that silly paragraph 13 and they have tried to give some justification for it in paragraph 14, where they emphasise that where the Board are satisfied that the pensioner, though living in the same house as his relatives, is renting a separate room and doing his own housekeeping, he is treated as living alone and his needs are assessed accordingly. But I claim that in go per cent. of the cases where old-age pensioners are living in the households of relatives, they are not treated as being householders, and that the amenities of those households, provided by nondependent members, are used to reduce the supplementary pension. I throw out this challenge—that the Board have issued an instruction to the area officers to presume that wherever an old-age pensioner is living in the household of relatives, he is presumed to be a non-householder and entitled only to 13s. 6d. That statement was not challenged when I made it formerly; there is another opportunity for the Minister to challenge it now. I do not think it can be challenged; in fact, I have seen the document, so what is the use of challenging it?
The Minister of Labour claimed that, with the abolition of the household means test, the searching and prying, the surreptitious peeping into front rooms to see whether an old-age pensioner was having dinner on his own or a cup of tea with his daughter, would end. But it has not ended. It goes on still. The possibility of saving 6s. a week in the scale rate is a sufficient inducement to the Board to 1265 use all the devices at their command to deny that the pensioner is a householder. If the Board can say that the old age pensioner is having dinner with his son or daughter in their room, he is presumed to be living as a member of the family, and, therefore, to be entitled only to 13s. 6d. The inducement to the Board to continue their prying and investigation is still as great as it was before the passage of this legislation. Conversely, the pensioner is rewarded by the addition of 6s. a week to the scale rate if only he can prevent the investigator from seeing him sitting at the same table as his son or daughter. That is the position. It seems to me that the Report proves that the Minister has failed to redeem any one of the three promises made to the aged poor, and it is up to him, in particular, to make a new effort to give effect to his own declarations. The Board are conscious of all this, and I do not propose to go into it any further. It is conceded that these Regulations have done away with the direct monetary contribution. I agree that that essential feature of the household means test has been destroyed. But what has not been destroyed is the indirect contribution, which is still used in order to maintain or to assist in maintaining, the pensioner, and thereby reduce the State's liability.
There is no time for me to cover all the points I wanted to deal with, but there are one or two other things I want to say. In the first place, the application of the winter addition is shot through with contradictions. Again, pensioners who live in the households of relatives do not get any winter addition. Here is another effect of the household means test. The rent treatment is unequal and unfair. It varies in different parts of the country. It is higher in some areas than it is in others. The reasonable rent figure alters in various parts of the country, and extra advantages are being obtained in some places.
§ Mr. Edwards
That is merely twisting the same thing round. What happens is that the Advisory Committee make a recommendation in regard to rent, and, very largely inspired by the Board, they advise as to what is a reasonable rent figure, and the poor pensioner 1266 has to suffer the consequence. May I also mention one point with which the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland may be able to deal in his reply? With regard to statutory disregards, the Act provides that certain incomes shall be disregarded. Yet, in the application of winter allowances, the Board take into account those things which the Act says shall be disregarded. I would remind the Minister of Health that in this connection he was in error. He said that there was no distinction in the administration between rights and charity, that rights were in the scales and charity in the discretions. There is no right to a discretionary amount, and even the Assistance Board can play fast and loose with this, as they are doing, behind the back of the House. It is for that reason that Ministers always refuse to make known to hon. Members the secret instructions that are sent out by the Assistance Board. The House is cheated in the administration by this process. Another point I want to put is this—can it be said that the declining sphere of investigation warrants the present huge cost of administration? Why is it that the Board have not indicated in their Report what is the cost of their investigation and their administration of supplementary pensions? Why have we not been told that? Is it because the cost is greater than the saving? We ought to have some information on that point.
I know that the Board's officers are endeavouring to do a difficult job, and, on the whole, one must say they are doing it in as creditable a manner as the instructions and the Act permit. Often—far too often—they are torn between humanitarian feelings and a fear of the Treasury inspectors, a fear that little red stars will go opposite their names, when they come to be considered for promotion, because they have exercised discretion not in accordance with the strict letter of the instructions sent out by the Board. The main part of what I have said has been concerned with the essential feature of the household means test that is left in the administration. In my view, the same scale should apply to all pensioners, and then, if there are any special needs, let those special needs be dealt with in a special way.
Slowly but surely we are feeling our way to a social security measure whereby 1267 every member of the community who, for whatever cause, has to depend on the State for assistance will be able to obtain a minimum guaranteed standard of existence, administered by a single administrative machine, applying a common and equal standard, and subject in all its aspects to the will of this House. The essentials of the household means test still remain in force, which is a barrier to giving a fair deal to the old people. In the Atlantic Charter certain principles have been laid down, but fear of want still dominates the lives of our old people, and we have no right to call upon the world to accept the principles of the Atlantic Charter and abolish the fear of want until we have first done it ourselves.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
The House will, I think, agree with the concluding remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards). We are all anxious that something should be done for the aged people who at the moment are not enjoying the full rights of life to which they are entitled. We are meeting to-day for the purpose of examining the administration of the means test and the Report which is now before us. We were promised when the Act was passed that after a certain time had elapsed further examination would be given to the matter, so that we could, if necessary, criticise what had taken place. The generous interpretation of the Act which was promised has been carried out very well by the officers of the Board, but limitations have prevented them from going any further. We are asked for a more humane treatment in the administration, and I am bound to say that the officers of the Board have attempted to carry that out. According to my information, the whole atmosphere has changed at the Board, and the officers try to treat applicants in an open and fair manner, but we have to deal to-day with the limitations imposed on the scope of their activities.
I consider that the scales are not high enough. We must provide a scale of allowances which will bring comfort to the aged people. I often ask people how they are getting on with their supplementary pensions. They tell me how they have been treated and what they are receiving. But the amounts are not enough to give them those little extras in life which are 1268 so beneficial. A man may tell me he is receiving 19s. 6d. When I notice his clothing and boots, I ask him whether he has nothing better to wear, and often they tell me they depend on what other people give them. Before the coupon system was introduced and before the war, I used to hand on my old suit and boots which were not fully worn out, but nowadays I am wearing them to the very last, and I cannot do it. That is happening in hundreds of thousands of cases. When I see these people in their old garments I feel a sense of pity that the nation cannot do more for them. I have made it my duty to ring up the Assistance Board to ask them whether they cannot do anything better for an applicant, and I am glad to say that in some cases an extra shilling or two has been provided.
I was one who supported this Act, because I realised that if I did not accept it the whole matter might be swept away for some time. I felt that something better should be done for these people, but I have always been anxious to get what I can. Now that Parliament has examined the position, I ask the Government to introduce a higher rate of scales. To-day we are talking about a new world, and I am satisfied that we can make it better for these people. Then there is the question of certain disregards. Apparently my first interpretation that disregards are not brought in for winter allowances was wrong. I was asked a question on this at a big meeting, and I was at a loss to give the correct answer. I told the meeting I would find out the position if they would send me cases. I forwarded nearly 30 cases and found that I was wrong. I think it would be well in times such as these to do away with it altogether. My hon. Friend drew attention to coal. I find it difficult in my household to manage on two bags a week, although I have only one fire burning. One can understand what it means to these people when they have to buy two bags of coal a week at 3s. a bag. These are things which ought to be taken into consideration, and greater power should be given to the administration.
As to the cost of administration, I would ask whether it is worth while to incur all the cost and the time and labour of examining the means of the household. Have we not arrived at a time when we can sweep it all away and tell 1269 our people, "You are entitled to a minimum standard of life, and the country can afford it"? Although we cannot expect to get to that point to-day, we ought to take every opportunity to drive home the need of our aged people. They have played their part in life and have made life better for us, and in their declining years it is not fair that we should have anyone in this country in want or despair. I hope the time will come when my word will prevail and they will all have a decent standard of life.
§ Mr. Woods (Finsbury)
On the general question of a standard, the position is extremely difficult for old age pensioners who have no relatives in a position to help them. Some of them lost their sons in the last war, their families were blotted out, and they are left high and dry, and it seems to me that in such circumstances, although we may not appeal at present for a rise in the standard, the House, and I am certain all the best sentiment in the country, feels that regulations should be devised so that the case of those who have no other sources of help whatever should be met. Although in the majority of cases there are gifts of old clothing, or little tips now and then, especially at Christmas-time, there is a number who have no such additional income at all, and they are in a very desperate plight. I was recently chatting to an old couple who had their points rations, but what was the good of points rationing to them? They could not afford this and that, and their book was unused, not because they would not have enjoyed a sardine or a bit of Spam, but because it is a problem with them each week of getting through.
I should like to underline the appeal made by a previous speaker that the instructions from the Board to their officials and staff should be made available to Members of the House. Withholding them creates an atmosphere for which there is no need at all. If there were no reason for the suppression of these instructions, they would be issued. The very fact that they are not made available to us sometimes makes us dubious. Is it this individual as an official who is being tight-fisted, or is he a rigid disciplinarian obeying the Ministry? We do not know who is responsible. We do not ask that the instructions should be widely circularised, but some of us who have very happy memories of aged people 1270 who are our constituents and feel a particular responsibility for them think the instructions ought to be made available.
The only other point I would mention is that there should be a review of the position of aged people who are infirm. They have arrived at the stage when they cannot get down on their hands and knees and scrub floors and cannot do heaps of things they used to do. Some of them have always gloried in being clean and wholesome, but when they are approaching 80 or 90 years of age it is next to impossible to maintain that standard of cleanliness. They cannot go out to do their shopping. This has been aggravated during the war, because people who used to help them voluntarily out of friendship have been called up and removed. They are in urgent need of domestic assistance, but that has to be paid for fairly heavily. I hope the Minister will have something hopeful to say, so that when people have arrived at the stage when it is vitally necessary to have some domestic assistance it should be taken into consideration in making the assessment. If possible there should be some special grant so that they can obtain this vital service and pay their way. I should like to join in the tribute to those who have borne the brunt of the administration of the Act. I know the difficult, of the Ministry when the Order came into operation. They had to recruit a number of inexperienced people. As far as I can gather, the general experience is that the work is done in a very decent spirit indeed. There were few exceptions, but the majority of people who did that work tried to do it in a kindly and reasonable way, and I should like to add my tribute to them.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
The Debates on this question in these days are in great contrast to the Debates we used to have on what was then perhaps the greatest issue in our peace-time politics. I know of no issue that raised so much bitterness and heat in the House and in the country. In contrast with that terrible heat we are in an almost placid atmosphere to-day. I listened to the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith), and I do not take his view about the war. I am in a minority position. Frankly, I sometimes regret that I have grown to middle age always taking a minority position. It is always easy, 1271 however, to shout with the majority, and somehow or other my intelligence did not allow me to do that. We are faced in this country with a terrible predicament. One of the things that we hear constantly discussed is absenteeism. I worked in the yards in Belfast and on the Clyde in the last war from beginning to end. I am still an official of my union. I have lived in my division and have been in close contact with the workers. I do not think that absenteeism is anything like what it was in the last war. For one thing, work used to begin at 6 in the morning, and now it is 8. Men now are more sober; they are tied more to their families, and, taking them all together, there is practically no absenteeism. We are faced with something worse, and that is apathy and indifference, one of the terrible legacies of the means test. The other day the hon. and gallant Member for Hornsey (Captain Gammans) broadcast. The following morning I received a number of letters, not criticising the hon. and gallant Member as a man, but all saying in effect, "Why should I fight? During the period of depression the country did not need me. It threw me on to the means test. It hounded my sons, it hounded us all. It gave me a slum to live in, it allowed me to live under terrible conditions during all that period. I had skill, and it languished. Then I am asked at the call of the bugle, at the sound of a statesman's speech, to march. It means little to me."
I would like to say to the Leader of the House that although the war dominates everything, only social issues worry the people in the home. There are only two social issues that are anxiously in men's minds. They are the care of the aged and the standard of life. If one goes to his division, whether it be in a Glasgow slum or a tenement area, whether it be in the South Wales valleys or in London where the Cockney abounds, almost the first social question with which one is faced, sometimes taking the place of such events as the escape of the "Scharnhorst," is the old-age pensioner and what is to be done about him. If I wanted to do a social justice calculated to make people interested, to give them a fillip and to bring them whole-heartedly in the war effort, the first thing I would tackle would be the question of the old age pension. One of the curses of politics—it cursed my party and it cursed the party 1272 Opposite—is that usually we recognise social grievances, we admit the wrongs, but, first, we delayed putting them right until it was almost too late and people never gave us the credit for it because they said we were driven into it; and, second, when we did it we did it as miserably as we could. Because we did a thing six or eight months ago and it did not work as we expected it would, must we cling on to it like a sailor to a raft in the sea? Wise men change things.
The means test is not merely to be linked up with what we are discussing to-day. It runs throughout almost all the Service Departments in its most cruel fashion. I was discussing a case with the Under-Secretary of State for Air with whom my party would agree, although he does not belong to us. We would all agree that he is not the least capable of the Under-Secretaries. I put it no higher than that. I say that without disparaging the other Under-Secretaries who hope one day to have higher places and see the great sights, because I do not want to upset those who might punish my constituents when I make an appeal for them. The case I discussed with the Under-Secretary for Air was that of a widow with a son in the Air Force and a son at home who was an apprentice slater earning £1 0s. 4d. per week. It appeared that if he earned £1 his mother would have got 2s. 6d. per week, but because he earned £1 0s. 4d. she lost the 2s. 6d. The Under-Secretary told me it could not be altered because it was the regulation. Surely a country which changes its Cabinet almost as often as a man changes his shirt could alter a thing like that. In the middle of a war you have to change your mind daily and hourly. You are mad if you do not. Yet this allowance could not be changed because it is the law. The reason it is the law is that the people whom it concerns are poor and inarticulate. They have no power. They are not organised in trade unions. They have no leaders to bargain for places in the Cabinet. They do not make a popular appeal and are swept aside. But in the aggregate they matter; in the common lot they count.
The Minister of Pensions runs the hardship grants department for the War Office. He and I were Socialists together, reared in the old school of "maintenance in food." I read his letters, which speak of "the best that can be done." I refer 1273 the matter back to him and ask him how he and I would like our own folks to live on these allowances. In reply one gets always a kindly letter, a decent letter, but with the statement that it is regretted that the amount specified is the maximum which is allowed under the regulations. I look round and see my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Lindsay), though I do not see the late Under-Secretary for Scotland. In the old days they and I were leading protagonists in this matter. How we crossed swords. The point we were always up against was that of the cost, that was the one thing we always had to face. I remember when the right hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) was at the Treasury and produced the cost. We all sat staggered. To-day we spend in a week far more than we should have had to spend then to give these people luxury unthought of. The man who sweeps the streets says to me, "George, how you were taken in when they said they had no money." No money for butter, but loads of money for bombs. We have to find an answer to the simple mind that puts points like that. Sweep away these miserable regulations that you put a decent man, the Minister of Pensions, to administer, because you know they must recoil against him. The cost would be a miserable little sum, and for the sake of it we are missing a great volume of decency which we should get in return.
I thought I might try to work this machine, devoting myself to social service work, but always I find myself up against this machine which we have created. That is not creditable in these times. My hon. Friends have raised the question of the general standards of the aged. There used to be a phrase in use which was applied to me very often. I never grumbled, because I did not think I had a right to grumble. I say hard things and men who say hard things must listen to hard things in return. People used to sneer and say "Sob stuff." All I would say about sob stuff is that in these days most of our appeals are what might be termed sob stuff. The Foreign Secretary made a statement the other day about terrible things which have been happening to our soldiers at the hands of one of our enemies. It raised sobs. Of course. Are we only to use sob stuff in the field of war and leave it out when it applies to conditions at home?
1274 Picture the lot of a couple living in a Glasgow house, paying 7s. for rent. I had a mother of 80 and a father of 84 paying a rent of 8s. 9d. a week; more, indeed, with the extra for rates, somewhere over 9s. They had an income of 32s. or 32s. 6d. per week and the winter allowance brought that up to 35s. That was their total income. Of that sum 9s. went for rent and 1s. for "the society"—the Scottish Legal—because, say what you like, poor people will insure against death. That left them with 25s. Out of that they had to buy two bags of coal, which cost 5s. 6d., and then buy food and clothing. And since the war living conditions have become more difficult. It is a job for a woman to shop in these days. I have an active wife, somebody who can hold her own. I remember that once an Under-Secretary for Scotland tapped her on the back and said, "Mrs. Buchanan, you have my heartfelt sympathy being tied to that fellow." But I must confess that she is shrewd. She has to shop only for me, and I am off on free days, but what about the lot of the old persons who cannot go out shopping? They have to depend upon neighbours to do it for them and pay extra coppers. Then, formerly, they received little gifts, such as half a pound of sugar, from people who could afford it. To-day it is not a case of being unable to afford it, but people have not the sugar to give them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke said he hoped that we were not going back to the old Poor Law—a terrible criticism. But what is happening in the West of Scotland? At a conference the other Saturday there was a demand that we should go back to the old Poor Law, because in some cases people were treated better under it. Imagine the present situation. We succeeded in getting introduced into the Act a Clause saying that all old persons who had been in receipt of Poor Law relief should not have their allowances reduced below the amount they had received in relief. Glasgow was a fairly decent authority, I am proud to say, and they paid more. But what happens now? A man who was never on the Poor Law lives next door to a man who was on the Poor Law. The man who had not been on the Poor Law gets 2s. a week less than the man who had been on the Poor Law. What a contrast. We have in Glasgow what are called 1275 model lodging houses—why they were called model I could never make out—under the control of the Corporation. Usually it is men who live in them, decent men. The model lodging-house fellow who was on the Poor Law gets more per week than the model, lodging-house fellow who was not previously on the Poor Law.
I make an appeal to the House to recognise that this reform is urgent. Consider the housing conditions in the West of Scotland; I wish hon. Members and people generally in this country could see how those folk are living to-day. Even in the midst of war I would like to be able to paint a picture of what is happening. It goes on in the midst of boom and not only in the midst of trade depression. Hon. Members ask why our soldiers do not fight. I have seen a kindly letter from the Pensions Parliamentary Secretary, and even though he has granted some money in that case, I would ask hon. Members to imagine what it means. There are seven children and a woman, living in two small rooms with no back. The lavatory is out at the stairhead, and they have to take their turn with 30 other people. I know how pressing are the problems of labour, materials and war, and I do not want to over-burden the Government, but I ask them to take one small step, ever so small, and to say to these decent older sections of the people, "The investigations shall go. We shall not view the matter according to how little we can give you but according to how comfortable we can make your old age." If they were to do that, they would rekindle what needs to be rekindled, the faith and hope of the common people.
§ Mr. A. Bevan (Ebbw Vale)
I should like to say one or two words on this matter, although most of the principal ground has been covered in the speech to which we have just listened. I am sure I shall be expressing the general view of all parties when I say that we have been deeply impressed by the speech of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). He is a recognised authority on matters of this kind. I hope that hon. Members will recall also the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards), which dealt with matters 1276 equally concrete and reviewed the report of the Assistance Board in detail.
I have paid special attention to this subject since 1934, when the Bill was before the House of Commons. I agree with the hon. Member for Gorbals that, in putting the claims of the old people before the House, we ought not to neglect every instrument in the orchestra; and for people to say that it is sob-stuff when we put forward claims on behalf of the old people is impudence on the part of those who say it. What oppresses me is that in these matters we always win the argument but rarely the battle. In 1934, when the Bill to set up the Board was before us there was a very long and protracted Debate. We always won the argument but always lost the vote. To-day we are winning the argument. I understand that the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is to reply, and I have most friendly feelings towards him. Why is he to reply? Because he is the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, but I am sure that he has not been armed by the Government with any power to make concessions. Why is he to reply and yet is not armed with that power? Because the Government treat this subject with contempt. They do not care how much we win the argument so long as we do not win the battle. If some other subject were under consideration, such as a discussion of how many hundreds of millions of pounds of invested British capital has been lost in Malaya, the benches would all be full. To-day many of them are empty when we are discussing the welfare of the old people. I am therefore impatient of the speeches. I confess that in this matter I am not only ready to wound but I am ready to kill.
What are the two issues before us today? One is the scale. I do not expect the Under-Secretary to reply about the scale. That involves Cabinet consideration and decision, but we shall want to have an early reply about the scale, or we are going to vote against the Government. Let them take that for granted. We are tired of winning the argument and losing the battle. There is no question of finance in this matter now. Nobody suggests for a moment that the £182,000 spoken of by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly would mean that we should lose the war. The amount of additional goods that these old people would buy in the market would be infinitesimal We 1277 all know that the old conceptions of finance have entirely disappeared, and that what counts is the claim that people are going to make upon the available labour. I am not wearing a hair shirt. I do not like hair shirts, not even furlined hair shirts, but if you were to stop a great part of the luxury feeding going on in this country, you could easily supply the old people with a little extra, and they would be delighted. On this matter of scale we want a very early reply. We want a scale which will be raised much higher, and we want it for two reasons. One is because it will not impair the war effort but will rather assist it. Every soldier in the Fighting Forces will fight better if he knows that his father and mother are being looked after.
The second issue is more complex but is nevertheless frightfully important. It is how to bring the administration of the Board under the direct influence of the House of Commons. We asked for this Report, and when the Regulations were before the House we said that we would not give the Government their Regulations unless they gave us an interim report on the administration of the Board. That is why we have it to-day. The Minister of Labour, who is not here today, then promised a report, and we have it. What does it show? As my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly has pointed out, it shows that the administration of the Board is not implementing the intentions of Parliament. It shows that, with regard to nearly 200,000 cases, because the pensioners live with their relatives and are not themselves householders they lose 6s. a week. Was that the intention of Parliament? What sense is there in it? We pointed out then that anybody who knew working-class life ought to realise that the question of whose name is on the rent book is determined by purely domestic considerations and has nothing to do with the resources of the household. I remember that on that occasion it was stated that the amount of the payment received was very often determined by the name in the rent book. If the name is changed because of certain considerations quite irrelevant to the administration of supplementary pensions, it makes a difference of 6s. a week. It is a purely artificial distinction, and it means that 180,000 odd people receive less pension than Parlia- 1278 ment intended they should. That distinction therefore should be wiped out, because it is one which has no justification.
There is a further consideration to which I would like the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to pay special attention when he replies. I am not satisfied from what I hear that the old age pensioners are receiving from the Board what Parliament intended them to receive. There is still, on the part of the officers of the Board, a tendency to give the old age pensioners what they claim and not what the law intends them to receive. I accidentally came into contact with an official of the Assistance Board the other day, and I was amazed by her confession in casual conversation of the amount of interrogation which old age pensioners are still subjected to in the London area. It is an inquisition that we thought was dead, but it is still going on. How are we to cure that? The temporary Leader of the House is here. I will tell him what we want from the Government, and he is in a position to grant it. He is not in a position to give us the increase in the scales to-day, but he is able to give us an assurance that all the instructions which are sent to the officers of the Board are made available to the House. We will get that assurance, we will make him give it to us, because we are tired of being cheated. Why should we not have these instructions? Is there anything secret about them? Will the enemy hear? If we are told what the Assistance Board instructs its officers to do, shall we be disclosing any secrets to Hitler? Why is it not in the public interest for Members of Parliament to know what instructions the Board has given to its officers to direct them to carry out the intentions of Parliament?
There is also the question of rent and the instructions on that subject. Why have we never been able to get them? This was raised in 1934 when the issue was before the House. Why did we want to have those rules, for they were called rules in the principal Act? Because as soon as you give discretionary powers to the officers of the Board, exceedingly wide discretionary powers, and then issue rules to tell them how to carry out those powers, the Board becomes financially irresponsible to Parliament, because one-third of the total number of payments 1279 made by the Board are more or less scale payments. That means that with respect to one-third of the total payments there is no effective financial control by Parliament. We therefore want to know in what way officers of the Board are carrying out their instructions. I should like from the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, when he comes to reply, an assurance—that is not much, is it?—that Members of Parliament shall know at least as much as the officers of the Board. I admit it sounds unreasonable in these days of an almost supreme Civil Service, but we represent our constituents, who elected us to do the job, so we should know at least as much as the servants of the Crown. That is all we want, and if we have it, we shall then be able to tell how far the administration of the Board approximates to the intentions of Parliament. We should like to have an answer from the Under-Secretary to-day, or from the Leader of the House. I do not know whether he regards it as funny; he is making strange noises. [An HON. MEMBER: "So are you!"]—What is wrong with it? As far as I am concerned, if he cannot give us an assurance that these rules or instructions will be made available to Members of Parliament, I for one am prepared to vote against the Government, because, as I said at the outset, I am tired of winning the argument and losing the battle.
§ Mr. Viant (Willesden, West)
I should like to reinforce the appeal which has been made by the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. A. Bevan). Personally, I feel that we, as hon. Members of this House, are not asking anything unreasonable if we ask the Leader of the House to give special consideration to this appeal. Surely we are entitled to know what instructions have been given to those who are responsible for the administration of the Determination of Needs Act, and I would make a special appeal that he should think the matter over and let us know that we are to have the information for which we ask. It is quite a reasonable request. I also want to put a very definite question to the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland. In a letter to the Chairman of the Assistance Board a reference is made to the fact that old age pensioners whom the Board is unable to assist are referred to charity organisations. I feel 1280 sure that others besides myself are keen to know exactly what those charity organisations are, because when the Debate took place we were under the impression that the Assistance Board were going to be wholly responsible for the administration of this Act. Speaking for myself, I feel that charity organisations ought not to be permitted to be brought in under any consideration. Those of us who have been in this House for a number of years will remember the Poor Law Commission which sat and gave its Report just prior to the last war. As a result of the investigations made by that Commission we found that charity organisations were doing anything but acting charitably towards those whom they claimed to assist. At this stage we do not want to find charity organisations having any rights in administering the social services of this country. If such a course as is suggested has been followed, I hope that as a result of to-day's Debate that procedure will cease henceforth.
I have paid very close attention to the speech of the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). I am not going to follow him, but one of the points he made was that our treatment of the aged poor has a great effect in inspiring or otherwise those of our men and women who are in the Services, and we cannot be too generous towards the aged poor. When this Act was before the House we were led to believe that there were going to be considerable improvements in the treatment of old age pensioners. I am sorry to say that this Report does not convince us that such has been the case. On the whole the improvements have been very meagre indeed, and I am taking it for granted that the Board has done its best to put the best side of the picture in the Report. I happen to be one of those who live in my own constituency, and quite a large number of old age pensioners visit me at my house with their complaints. It is not uncommon to find that, instead of the administration of this Act assisting in keeping the old age pensioners resident in the homes of their relatives, it is still having the tendency of causing them to leave their relatives and go and live "on their own," a most undesirable thing. It has already been made clear in the speech by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) that where they leave the homes of their relatives and go to live 1281 "on their own" they enjoy 19s. 6d. per week, as against, on the average, the sum of 13s. 6d. per week. That ought not to be.
Those of us who have parents who are old age pensioners know only too well that when they are becoming advanced in years it is highly desirable, with their failing health, that they should have someone in close attendance on them in order to give them the necessary service and attendance required. I wish to make an appeal to the Ministers who are responsible for these Regulations to see whether they cannot humanise them at least in that respect, and make it more possible for the supplementary allowances to approximate to the 19s. 6d. at least which is enjoyed by those who are not living with a relative.
I wish to touch briefly on the subject of saving. Quite a number of the old-age pensioners come to me and want to know why, because they managed to have a few pounds in a co-operative society or in a bank, they are penalised as compared with others, because they are not aware of the differentiation which is being made in the case of War Savings as against savings of pre-war days. It is true that an allowance has been made in the Act for War Savings, but why do we penalise the old people because of their thrift in days prior to the war? Can we not reconsider these Regulations and disregard those savings irrespective of when these savings might have been effected? If we can approach this problem more along these lines, I feel sure that we shall remove some of the anomalies and at least show that there is more of human feeling in the Regulations that have been sent out by the Board. I do not intend to trouble the House any longer, but I do hope we shall have a reply on this subject from the Minister who is to reply.
§ Mr. McLean Watson (Dunfermline)
There seems to be a desire among some of my friends on this side of the House to divide on this issue. I think I had better make my position clear. It will not be the first time I have voted against my friends on this particular subject, and I believe I shall do it with as good grace to-day as I have done on previous occasions. Two points seem to have emerged of fairly considerable importance during the latter part of this Debate. First, with reference to the instructions that are 1282 given to the Board's officers, I am less concerned about the instructions given than I am about the operation of the instructions. I have to say, so far as my area is concerned, that the Board's officers have done exceedingly well. If they are hampered in any way it is not, in my opinion, by any secret instructions that have been given, but by the Regulations which have been approved by this House and by the Act which was passed by this House. If there has been any restriction so far as the Board's officers are concerned, I am certain it is not because of any secret instructions that have been given. So that, before I support in this House a vote that has for its purpose the extraction of the instructions that have been given, I require stronger proof that the instructions have been to the detriment of the old-age pensioners. I am prepared to say it is not the secret instructions that are at fault but the scale that is laid down by this House as being the appropriate scale for old-age pensioners, whether they are living alone or in households.
The other point that has been raised very acutely by my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) is the declaration which he says was made by the Minister of Labour, when the Bill was before the House, assuring the House that the resources of the non-dependent members of the household would not be taken into consideration. My hon. Friend elaborating his point, referred to John Jones, whose wife had died and left him alone. John Jones might do various things. He might live on alone, in which case he would get 19s. 6d. He might go and live with friends and get 19s. 6d. He might even bring someone into the household and still get 19s. 6d. But if John Jones went to live with a son or daughter, instead of getting 19s. 6d. he would get 13s. 6d. I am less concerned about the figures than the principles by which the figures are supposed to be fixed. If, in my hon. Friend's area, John Jones was to go and live with friends, so long as the house was in the other individual's name, John Jones would get a contribution towards the rent of that house, but no more. He would not get the 19s. 6d.—or if he would in my hon. Friend's area, he certainly would not in my area; and I do not think that he would be entitled to under the Regulations passed by this 1283 House. It was understood that when there is more than one person in the household, the overhead charges are to be spread over all the members of the household. When 19s. 6d. is the limit to which the Board can go in making its assessment, I do not know under what circumstances John Jones can get his 19s. 6d. when he is going to live in another household.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Is not my hon. Friend aware that the effective scale for a lodger is 19s. 6d.; and is that not stated in the Regulations made under the Determination of Needs Act?
§ Mr. Watson
I understand that when the old-age pensioner goes to live in a household he is given a contribution towards the rent. It must be understood that the 19s. 6d. includes 5s. rent allowance. If John Jones goes to live with a son or a daughter, or with anybody else, in another house, the rent and other overhead charges are spread over all the members of the household. Even children are taken into consideration; two children of school age count as one person. I cannot understand the case put up by my hon. Friend. When the Bill was before the House, an assurance was given that no part of the resources of a non-dependent member of the household would be taken away. Let us assume that John Jones has a wife and a couple of sons. Would my hon. Friend maintain that if the non-dependent members, say, two sons, were receiving wages, they should not make a contribution towards the expenses of the household? That is the point upon which in the past I have differed from my colleagues. I have maintained that if there were wage-earning sons in the household, they should be as much responsible for contributing to the expenses of the household as is the old age pensioner. An old age pensioner has no right to claim that his sons and daughters earning wages should live rent free. It is on that basis that the Regulations now being operated were passed by this House. My complaint is not so much against the working of the Regulations, as against the scale. I am not asking my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for Scotland to give any assurance about the scale, because that is a matter for the Cabinet. On previous occasions I have stated to this House what 1284 the old age pensioners themselves thought about this matter, and what their demands were. The last time I spoke on the matter I said that their demands were for £1 a week and a cost-of-living bonus. Since then, the old age pensioners have reconsidered their position, and they feel that, as things are now, they require 30s. a week, and a cost-of-living bonus.
I do not think the House ought to remain any longer under a misapprehension. These schemes which are being spoken of undoubtedly require legislation. That being so, they are quite out of Order in this Debate. It would be, I might say, rather silly to vote on something which could not be done in any event. Therefore, I ask hon. Members to get the question of the scale out of their heads.
§ Mr. Watson
I was doubtful whether I ought to mention the scale at all. At any rate, the old age pensioners themselves are clear as to what they want. It is not so much a matter of the administration of the regulations by the Board as the basic scale that they object to. I think the Minister has reason to congratulate himself on this discussion. He must have noticed that this side has been put to very sore straits to find something that could really be put up against the working of the Act. I am unrepentant about the attitude I took up when the Bill and the Regulations were before the House. On both occasions, I supported the Government's proposals. I said that, while the means test was not being abolished, those proposals certainly made a considerable difference in the lives of the old age pensioners. There is no gainsaying that. Even those who have most bitterly criticised the Board's administration of the Act have had to admit that there has been a considerable improvement in the conditions of the old age pensioners, as compared with the time before the Act was passed.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
Although I have sat here for at least four-fifths of the Debate, I do not intend to detain the House more than a few minutes. After listening to the hon. Member for Dunfermline (Mr. Watson), I am convinced that he has not been here all the time, to hear some of the contributions to the Debate. I am certain that he has not listened to that remarkable 1285 and sincere contribution made by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), and that made by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan).
§ Mr. Walkden
My hon. Friend might have been in some other part of the House, but he could not have listened to those speeches and then have put up the argument that he has just made. If I feel that anything is deserving of admiration, I say so openly; but when I listened to what the right hon. Gentleman tried to put over to-day, I felt that he was off form, that he was handling something about which he was not sincere. He did not feel so sincere as he would like to be when he is in the pulpit. He can be most convincing in the pulpit and on the radio. My wife remembers some of the words from his sermons months afterwards. She is a Nonconformist like him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline questions whether we really have any reason to grumble about these instructions or to demand them from the Minister or the Deputy-Leader of the House. He suggests that it is because we ourselves did not understand the working of the Act, but that we voted for it and caused it to be put upon the Statute Book, and that therefore we must accept responsibility. I make no apology for saying that, in either the first or second Division in which I participated when I became a Member of this House, I voted against the Government. I have never been called on to apologise to anybody for doing so. Rather have I been chastised for not voting against the Government on the occasion when this Measure went through. I do not think that there was any Division on that occasion and consequently I did not get a chance to vote against the Measure. I am sorry that the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland is to reply, because, as there is no Under-Secretary of State for Yorkshire, I cannot understand how he will be able to reply to some of the arguments from the North of England. Nevertheless, he will certainly put the point of view of his hon. and right hon. Friends who sit next to him. I would like him, however, to recognise some of the things that have been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). Folks do not know how to get an extra 1286 blanket during this cold weather, or those tasty bits which the Minister of Food has provided under the points rationing scheme, and they do not know where to turn for a pair of boots, which cost so much to-day, or for an extra bag of coal.
When the hon. Gentleman and others talk about fighting and about what we have to do I would like them to recognise the folk with whom we on these benches have been associated all our lives are the warriors of industry who have been fighting all their lives against the fear of insecurity. They may have been setting aside some small sums of money, a few shillings a week. One old veteran said to me last week-end "I have seven lads who have gone into the Services. All my sons and grandsons have gone now, and here I am alone. I am not able to get the 19s. 6d. a week pension. I did 52 years down the coal mine, but because I have somebody living with me and I am living in a house of my own, and have a few shillings set aside in the 'Co-op.' and a little money in some other investment, all they give me is an extra 2s. 6d. a week."
Living not far away from him is a group of people whom I am to meet this week-end. They are 12 old folk living in some almshouses, and I want my hon. Friend who is to reply to take particular note of their case. These people, with the exception of two, have practically the same incomes and conditions. They live in similar homesteads, and are in similar circumstances but there are two exceptions. The late husbands of two of them paid into the Yorkshire Miners' Permanent Relief Society sums of 4d. or 6d. a week for benefit in the event of injury or the effects of an accident of any kind, or for widows' benefit. These two widows each receive 5s. per week from this society. Because they receive this sum from the collective reserves of their fellow workers, their allowance is reduced from 17s. to 12s. The whole of the 5s. is taken off. One of these pensioners said to me as I sat by the little fireside a few days ago, "We cannot understand our Lizzie's position. Her husband was a soldier. She is treated better than we are." It appeared that in this other case the woman had about 10s. a week because she was a soldier's widow, but in her case the 10s. was not taken into account, whereas these other two old-age pensioners, the widows of industrial soldiers, had had the whole of the 5s. 1287 taken into account, and their allowance was cut to 12s. I want my hon. Friend to look into that position. It is very important, and I will supply him with details if he doubts it. The widow of the soldier is considerably better off.
I would have liked to have explained various other cases which have been presented to me but our folk in that part of the country with which I am associated, are saying, "You can issue statistics if you like, White Papers and Blue Books, and make all your speeches, but they do not actually fill a mouth or put any money into the old age pensioner's pocket." We ask that Members of Parliament shall be provided with the instructions that have been sent out and also that further consideration shall be given to some of the shortcomings and difficulties which have been created as a result of the war and are causing hardship and great unrest in the minds of people who stop one in the street and ask, "When are you going to do something more for us old folk?" Frankly, I know that my speech will not make a lot of difference to-day. I know that the answer is already prepared, and, what is more, that you cannot do very much about it. But if right hon. Gentlemen will take into account the pleas that have been made from these benches, they should certainly see to it that some greater consideration is given to the old folk and that greater satisfaction is given to us by allowing a greater measure of justice during the duration of this war.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
I notice that the Deputy-Leader of the House who was here when my hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) was speaking, has since left the House. [Interruption.] I see that he is now back again and that will enable me to shorten my speech because I wished only to give him time to return with the information that I have no doubt he went out to obtain—that the instructions which we pressed him to allow us to see were in fact to be published. Several of my hon. Friends have been a little more modest in their demand, and no doubt the House is not surprised at that. They have said, "Publish them only to Members of the House." But I do not see why publication should be so limited. Why is this to be regarded as a secret document? If 1288 you have given the discretion to the Board and it is exercised by officers of the Board on the lines set out in a document which the Board issues, then I should have thought that that was a public and not a secret document.
I can think of only one reason that might animate official minds against letting everybody know what are the instructions. It might be said, "We dare not let the old people know what are the instructions and we dare not let their friends in the House of Commons know because their wicked, subtle, slick minds might, if they knew what the instructions were, find ways to circumvent them." If that is the reason let it be stated. Frankly, as soon as I know the instructions that the Board have given to their officers, I shall advise every constituent of mine to make the best of those instructions and get from the State every last halfpenny to which the Regulations entitle them. I say I am entitled to do that. The proper administration of these Regulations by the Board's officers should make it unnecessary for any Member of this House to have to assist an old age pensioner. I will not say any more because I hope we may have the opportunity of either getting the instructions or of saying what we think of a refusal. The other day somebody referred to a speech made by the Under-Secretary of State for Air, who talked about gathering buttercups. I think he meant by that reaping the rewards of the efforts, suffering and sacrifices and heroisms of this war. But when the time comes for the rest of us to gather the buttercups, the old people will be pushing up the daisies. Anything we can do to make life livable for them must be done now.
§ Mr. Cocks (Broxtowe)
I want to say a few words in the presence of the Leader of the House, and I have risen only because he is here. He and I want to win this war and keep the spirit of this country as high as possible. We both know that the spirit of the country is not as high as it ought to be at the present moment. After what the right hon. Gentleman told us on Tuesday, the Japanese Embassy would have been burned down by a London mob, if we had been living in the days of Lord Palmerston. In many parts of the country there is too much sourness, sullenness and suspicion, and one of the things which causes this feeling 1289 of indifference, apathy and suspicion is this question of the old age pensioners. On these grounds alone, I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to use his influence with the members of the War Cabinet to get them to accept the suggestions we have made on this side to-day, from purely patriotic reasons.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
I hope the Leader of the House will say something on this matter, because it is very important. Are Members of Parliament not to be considered? What is all the timidity about? Why has the right hon. Gentleman been appointed Leader of the House if he is not prepared to say something now? If he does not, Members of the House will have to press for his removal. The House is certainly capable of putting up a more efficient Leader than one who simply hugs the seat. I must say that I felt a burning sense of shame when the Minister of Health was speaking. I do not know how Members on this side could sit and listen to him when he spoke about examinations made in connection with coal and clothing for poor people. Is there ever any question of examination into what the Tories are getting and how much coal, clothing and food they need? How can Members sit here and listen to such statements? I want to ask the Under-Secretary a question. If he is not prepared to answer it, let him remain dumb. Is the means test against the old folk to be terminated at the end of the war, or is it to be carried into the new world that Members on the other side so glibly talk about?
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Westwood)
My hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), in the able, eloquent and moving speech he made, drew attention to what I believe is the outstanding feature of the Debate to-day—the contrast between the old heated Debates which we had in past years, when we felt so very bitterly the cruel injustices of the household means test as we then knew it, and the Debate to-day, about which for one, speaking for the Government, have no complaints whatever to make. We are very anxious to get the views of the House in dealing with these great and human problems, and no problem can touch the hearts of our people, or Members of this House, more than this problem which affects the aged.
1290 Some of us may feel even more keenly than others—a point which was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals. He told us that his own relatives were affected by whatever decision the House comes to, and I speak from exactly the same angle. If I say, for the party to which I belong, that we feel more than Members of other parties, that is not being unjust to the others. It is simply due' to the fact that we belong to a poorer section of the community which is more affected by economic conditions, and that consequently it is the people who belong to our section of the community who have to make applications for old age pensions. When we consider the tone of the Debate to-day, I think it will be agreed that there has been some improvement in dealing with this particular problem. The worst and most obvious features of the old household means test have gone. If I have not time to deal with all the points that have been raised, I will do the same as I do on the Scottish Estimates—for I have no desire to overlook any point—and will see that careful attention is given to the OFFICIAL REPORT, so that if I omit certain matters from my reply, information on those matters can be conveyed to the hon. Members concerned. Indeed, sometimes by that means we have a better chance of dealing with an administrative problem than in cases where Members expect to get an immediate reply across the Floor of the House.
§ Mr. Bevan
May I draw my hon. Friend's attention to the fact that if we wish to divide the House, we shall have to do so before the hour fixed for the interruption of Business? Therefore, I would like him, before that time, to be kind enough to deal with the point about the instructions to the officers being made available to hon. Members.
§ Mr. Bevan
My hon. Friend will realise that I am speaking for the convenience of the House. He may have a statement to make that will satisfy the House, and, if he has, I ask him to make it before the appointed hour, because at that time we have to make up our minds as to whether or not we adjourn.
§ Mr. Westwood
I do not want to avoid anything. My hon. Friend and I are the best of friends in the House, and I am sure he is not trying to get me into any difficulty; but I want to give the reply in my own way. However, I will try to deal with the point he has raised before the appointed hour. Several matters have been raised in the Debate, among them the important point to which the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) has referred. I think it is right to point out that notes to reports are not always bad things. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) tried to make a joke about certain information which was conveyed in a note to the report. I say without hesitation that very interesting information, as far as the improvements are concerned, is given in a note dealing with Scotland. We learn from a note to the report that there was a smaller percentage who received increases in Scotland and that this was due to the fact that in Scotland the public assistance scales were higher than they were in England; the result was that carrying out Section 13 of the Act meant that the people could get no advantages because the scales were already higher than the new scales laid down under the Regulations. Then the question of rent is different in Scotland. Rents are lower, not because landlords are more generous, but because of overcrowding and the bad housing conditions under which our people are compelled to live. Therefore, there is not the same advantage from the new rent rule in Scotland as in England. This is brought out in the note.
§ Mr. Westwood
If the hon. Member wants me to spend my time drawing his attention to something he ought to have read, he will stop me referring to the point with which I was asked to deal. Much criticism has been levelled against the Report because of the alleged small number who have been given supplementary old age pensions. It is a fact that approximately 400,000 applicants have been refused supplementary pensions, and of those about 100,000 failed because of the household means test. They did not fail for other reasons, because of personal savings and so on, but were refused supplementary pensions because of the operation of the old household means test. The additional pen- 1292 sioners brought on to the register are not the 51,000 referred to by the hon. Member for Caerphilly. The figure is approximately 100,000. Again, apparently, the Report has not been read too carefully by the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Will my hon. Friend indicate where in the Report 100,000 come on as a direct result, and will he explain where in the Report it sets out how many people come in?
§ Mr. Westwood
Paragraph 16 deals with the figure of 51,000 supplementary pensions which were granted, which, incidentally, proves the humanity of the Board, which did not wait until applications were made, but sent out letters to the old age pensioners. We have already received letters thanking the Board for this action.
Mr. McNeil (Greenock)
It was only after I and other Members of this House pressed the Minister that the Board circularised these people two months later.
§ Mr. Westwood
All I am pointing out is that the action taken by the Board proves that it works under the instructions of the House. As a result of their action, of the 63,000, 51,000 were granted supplementary pensions. Paragraph 21 deals with the 50,000 to whom I have referred, and hon. Members will see that on page 7, in paragraph 16, it says:the whole of the case papers relating to such applications examined, and whenever, from the information they contained, it seemed that a successful application might now be made, they sent a letter to the pensioner explaining the new arrangements and inviting him to make a fresh application. As the direct result of these steps … some 51,000 supplementary pensions were granted.On page 8, paragraph 21, it is stated:The second step was taken to save time and to ensure a smooth transition from the old to the new scheme. During this period some 70,500 supplementary pensions were granted, of which some 50,000 which were granted prospectively under the new Regulations would not have been granted under the old Regulations";
§ Mr. Westwood
No, they are not the same, and a little more careful reading will give hon. Members the facts. I am not running away from the point which has been raised.
Then we were asked about the instructions which are sent out to the Board's officers. The claim which has been made by several Members has been noted. We have noted the claim made, and it will, with all its implications, receive the immediate consideration of the Government.
§ Mr. Bevan
This claim was made in 1934, and it has been repeated from time to time. I should like to know whether the Leader of the House and the Minister of Health and the Under-Secretary are the bosses of the Board or is the Board the boss of the House? Why cannot they tell the House that they will give instructions to the Board?
§ Mr. Westwood
No. I am saying that the claim that has been made has been noted, and, with all its implications, it will have immediate consideration by the Government—I will go a stage further on the instructions of the Leader of the House—and an early reply will be given.
§ Mr. Westwood
I cannot give any other pledge than I have given. When you are dealing with problems of this kind there are implications which have to be considered. I have been dealing with local and national administration for many years, and I would far rather make a pledge that I could keep than a promise which I should have to break. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why should you break it?"].—Because there are implications in connection with the issuing of instructions. 1294 There are all kinds of implications. There are implications in which, if concessions of this kind were made—[Interruption.] I am dealing with it in my own way. If you are dissatisfied, I cannot help it. I am trying to be fair with the House. There are implications. It would apply to Departments other than the Assistance Board. I have to be fair to the House. After all, I am not making an apology. I am only an Under-Secretary, but I have common sense in dealing with these things, and I will not give a pledge unless there is time to consider all the implications associated with it. I am making clear what the pledge of the Government is, and you will get a reply next week if you accept the pledge that has been given.
Reference has been made to the cost of living and to the difficulties that old age pensioners are in as far as the provision of clothing is concerned. The cost-of-living figures in connection with clothing have gone up, I think, from 307½ to 405. I can give the assurance that they will look specially into the clothing needs of the pensioners. Problems are to be found there, and the Board are willing to look at the question again with a view to meeting, if they can, the increased cost of living with regard to clothes. Many other points have been raised in the Debate. Special reference was made to the fact that there was an average increase of only 6d.
§ It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed without Question put.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. James Stuart)
I beg to move, "That this House do now adjourn."
I do not want to argue with the hon. Member, but at the appointed hour the Motion for the Adjournment lapses.
I rose in the Chair at the appointed hour simply to say, "Order, Order," which means that the Motion for the Adjournment lapses.
I cannot go outside the Rules of the House. The Rules are that at the appointed hour the Motion for the Adjournment lapses without the Motion again being put, "That this House do now adjourn." The Motion lapsed during the speech of the Under-Secretary. As soon as the Motion had lapsed a Member of the Government moved a fresh Motion that, "That this House do now adjourn," and I put the Question. After the appointed hour there can be no Division.
§ Mr. Bevan
I shall not press the matter further at this point, except to say, what it is unusual to say, that I have had a conversation about this matter with you, Sir. I informed you in the conversation that we should resist the Motion put from the Chair, "That this House do now adjourn," and you did not point out to me the course of action you would follow.
Sometimes I make a mistake in not realising that hon. Members do not know the Rules as well as I do. Otherwise, I would have pointed out that the hon. Member ought to have known that the original Motion lapses at the appointed hour.
§ Mr. Westwood
I was pointing out before the interruption that the question 1296 has been dealt with as though we could get a true picture of the position by pointing out that the average increase has been 6d. per case. The fact is that as a result of the legislation which was passed and the administration which we are now discussing no less a sum than £5,000,000 additional has gone to old age pensioners. That increase of 6d. is represented by the figure of £1,500,000, which is included in the £5,000,000. The more important point is that the average payment of 9s. 6d. a case conceals a range of payments running from 1s. to 30s. or more per case. I am sure it will interest the House to know how these figures work out. Distributions, with winter conditions included, of 5s. or less a case, 18.7 per cent. of the cases; 5s. 1d. to 10s., 50.2 per cent.; 10s 1d. to 15s., 26.3 per cent.; 15s. 1d. to 20s., 2.9 per cent.; over 20s., 1.9 per cent. When I say "cases" that may mean two persons, so that in some cases it may have meant an additional 30s. to 40s. going into a home as a result of the scheme of supplementary pensions. I think these facts give us a better picture than we get by talking of percentages. I have already pointed out that no less than approximately 100,000 cases are now getting supplementary pension who would not have received them but for the passing of the Act and the administration under the Regulations.
It has been suggested that the report we are considering might have been more extensive, but I respectfully suggest that if all the information asked for by the hon. Member for Caerphilly had been given, an ordinary White Paper would not have sufficed, but we should have needed two volumes. In the report we have, I submit, as fair an indication of how the Board is working as it is possible to give in such a report. It was claimed that three outstanding reasons had been given for the new legislation when it was introduced, namely, that the household means test would be swept away, that the old grievance of the breaking-up of homes would be abolished and that a fairly large number of people would gain the advantage of supplementary pensions. The household means test as we know it has been swept away. To-day there has been little of the old acrimony in dealing with that particular problem. The old grievance about the breaking-up of homes has gone. I have to deal with the complaints 1297 which come in from Scotland, and no complaint of that kind has come my way, because I should have had to pass it on to the Assistance Board to get the appropriate reply. Under the old conditions many complaints came to me as a Member of Parliament about the old household means test being a means of breaking-up the home. It would be true to say that since the Board took over administration there has been a spirit of common humanity in dealing with this particular problem, for I have heard no real complaints to the contrary.
One other point was emphasised, and I think I ought to deal with it. It was the reference to the three types of case: people who live in a home of their own, people who live with relatives and people who have a relative living with them. In consequence of the existence of such different types of case there has had to be some adjustment in connection with rent. It was emphasised that one type received only 13s. 6d. per week, but no reference was made to the rent adjustment, which has been a godsend to many of our people living in houses with very high rents. Under the new arrangement, it is just that a household with four, five or six people living together should share the rent among them. Otherwise, we should at once have the anomaly that some persons had to pay rent out of their 19s. 6d. and would be in an unfair position compared with persons who had no rent to pay. No matter how you worked out the scheme, nothing would be fairer than an arrangement with which you make an adjustment for rent.
The Board has been very fair in dealing with many cases of this kind. There are many old people who have lived in certain housing conditions all their lives, and their rent is far higher than the average. The Board, instead of saying to them, "You must get into a lower-rented house and into a different locality," have exercised their rights to provide even the exceptionally high rents. This has been done not in isolated cases but in many cases, and I think it is the fairest way to deal with a problem of this kind.
Do I understand the Minister to say that it is the practice of the Board in no case to ask a pensioner living in a high-rented house to seek other accommodation?
§ Mr. Westwood
I did not say that. I said the Board were using their discretion. There might be cases where it would be difficult for the hon. Member or for myself to justify the payment of high rents, and I said that the Board considered cases on the merits. It is a fact that the Board have been providing these high rents rather than, in exceptional circumstances, calling upon the people to remove to another locality or to a lower-rented house. They have exercised the discretion which was given to them. I think I have now dealt with the main points raised in the Debate. I can assure any hon. Member whose points may have been omitted in my reply that I shall do as I have promised.
§ Mr. Westwood
I have taken a note of it, but what with interjections and other interruptions, it has been rather difficult to keep a grip on all the points which were raised. Here, again, I promise to bring the matter to the attention of the Board. There was some substance in it, and I will draw attention to what has been said. There are problems in connection with infirm and aged people who cannot carry through with their ordinary work and have to get assistance, and for whom there ought to be some special assistance. I think that was the hon. Member's point.
§ Mr. Westwood
I have given the hon. Member a promise, and I repeat it. I will make sure that the point is brought to the attention of the Board to receive their immediate consideration. Supplementary pensions under the Pensions Acts as we know them to-day are not the last word in connection with social legislation. Many improvements will have to be effected, and it is well known that there is an inter-departmental committee sitting to deal with the whole problem of social services. Only as and when they are able to make their report, dealing with a most complicated problem, will it be possible for the Government to say what their next step will be. I, for one, agree with points that have been raised in all parts of the House.
§ Mr. Westwood
No, it is in all parts of the House. If we are really to move into a new era as a result of the terrible war through which we are passing, one of the first things we must do is to see that there is security for the aged, to see that they have decent conditions, and to see that those conditions are applied with the minimum of restriction to enable them, the veterans of industry—because it is they who are the applicants for supplementary pensions—to pass their latter days with as decent a standard of life as is possible and as is justified by the civilisation in which we live.
§ Mr. McEntee (Walthamstow, West)
There is one point about which I think the hon. Gentleman should say something, and which I think ought to receive attention. It is the question of the application of what are known as disregards. The hon. Member will know what I mean. My experience teaches me that disregards, in their application to people who are old age pensioners, are unfair as compared to their application to people who are ordinarily unemployed or who have been in the Services. There are cases where they can be applied very unfairly, and I ask that consideration be given to this matter. A person can have some income—I am not quite sure of the figure—if he happens to be an unemployed man or an Army pensioner, but if he is an old age pensioner disregards do not apply in the same way. My point is that the disregards ought to apply even more fairly if possible to the old age pensioner than to the others, and I ask that consideration should be given to their application with a view to seeing that they operate at least as fairly to old age pensioners as to the others.
§ Mr. Westwood
If the hon. Member knows of any individual cases and will draw the attention of the Minister of Health to them—
§ Mr. Westwood
I cannot imagine an English Member having to deal with a 1300 Scottish case. If the hon. Member knows of a case in his own constituency or in England, the Minister of Health will deal with it, or the Secretary of State for Scotland if it is a Scottish case. I can assure the hon. Member that the same disregards do apply in the case of old age pensioners as do in the other cases.