§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Ernest Brown)
I beg to move,That the Draft Supplementary Pensions (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs) (Amendment) Regulations, made by the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland, acting in conjunction under the Unemployment Act, 1934, as applied by the Old Age and Widows' Pensions Act, 1940, a copy of which was presented to this House on 29th July, be approved.There are two Motions on the Order Paper, this one dealing with supplementary pensions and the other with unemployment assistance:That the Draft Unemployment Assistance (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs) (Amendment) Regulations, made under sections 38 and 52 of the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1934, a copy of which was presented to the House on 29th July, be approved.In recent Debates it has been the usual thing to take them together and for me to move them consecutively at the end, and I hope that this course will be appropriate to-day. The Supplementary Pensions Draft Regulations deal with certain matters which are strictly consequential on the passing by Parliament of the recent Pensions and Determination of Needs Act; they make no fundamental changes in the general character of the Board's Regulations.
About two of the Regulations there is very little I need say, as they do no more than carry out certain express provisions of the Act itself. Regulation III makes certain alterations in the manner in which money and investments treated as capital 2328 assets are to be dealt with for the purpose of assessing supplementary pensions. It is strictly in accordance with the provisions of Section 1 of the Act. As hon. Members will remember, that Section—which was fully debated in the course of the Bill through Parliament—altered the amount of capital which, apart from war savings, a supplementary pensioner might have without being regarded as disqualified for a supplementary pension from £300 to £400. It also reduced from 1s. to 6d. the weekly income to which each £25 after the first of any capital he may possess within this limit is to be treated as equivalent. I need not say more than that this Regulation carries these provisions into the Supplementary Pensions Code as from the appointed day. Regulation IV similarly carries into the Supplementary Pensions Code the change in the amount to be disregarded out of any superannuation payment to which an applicant or any of his dependants may be entitled which was made by Section 1 (2) of the Act. Members will remember that this change was to increase the amount to be disregarded from 7s. 6d. to 10s. 6d. a week, subject to a proviso that, where there are several such payments in any case, they are to be aggregated and 10s. 6d. disregarded out of the aggregate amount. This provision will also come into force on the appointed day.
The only remaining Regulation which calls for special comment is Regulation II. This Regulation indicates how supplementary pensions payable to the new class of widows with young children who are brought within the scope of the supplementary pensions scheme by the Act are to be assessed. It has necessarily been made in the form of an addition or amendment to the existing Regulations and is therefore not, perhaps, as easy to follow as it might be. The effect of it is, however, clear enough. It is to increase, by 3s. in the case of a widow with one child and by an extra shilling for every child after the first, the amount which the application of the existing supplementary pensions scales would provide for such a case. The reason why this provision had to be made is explained in the White Paper. The general code of the Board's Regulations had necessarily to be prepared by reference to the needs of what I may call the normal kind of household, namely, the 2329 household which, whether it had children or not, had at least two adults. In the past, pension cases where there were only one adult and several children were rare, if only because it is not usual for pensioners to be found with young children dependent on them. Where they did arise, they were regarded as unusual cases calling for the exercise of discretion. But with the addition of the new class of widows it will be the common one in future so far as the widow with young children is concerned, and it was therefore necessary to make proper provision for them in the Regulations.
In considering the effect of these proposals, the House will appreciate that the amount of the supplementary pension which will be payable in a particular case will depend on such matters as the rent the widow is paying, the number and ages of her children and whether the widow has any resources of her own besides her widow's pension and children's allowance. I have, however, drawn up some illustrations in order that the House may be clear as to what this means by way of addition to the present allowances. These illustrations will be of the amount up to which the widow's pension and the children's allowances will be made by the Board in a few typical cases, on the assumption that she has no other resources. If we take the case of a widow paying a rent of 6s., with one child under five years of age, under the existing scale of rates she would get 28s., and, under the Regulation to which we are asking the House to agree to-day, 31s. A widow similarly circumstanced but paying not 6s. but 10s. a week rent at present would get 32s. and under these Regulations 35s. Take a widow with two children, aged 7 and 11 years—under the existing supplementary pension scale rates she would get 33s. and under the new arrangement 37s., if the rent was 6s.; but if the rent was 10s., whereas she would on the present basis get 37s., she will now get 41s.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)
Would the Minister explain how the scale rate is made up? What are the constituent elements of the rate for which he is providing?
§ Mr. Brown
That takes us straight back to the original Regulations. This is the position at the moment. In the case, for 2330 example, of a widow with one child of five, paying a rent of 6s., the amount will be made up as follows: The basic rate will be 15s. plus 4s. for the widow and child respectively, cost of living addition 5s. 9d., further addition provided by the present Regulations 3s. extra—that is to say, 5s. instead of the existing 2s. pensioner's addition—and there would be a rent adjustment of is. 3d., making in all 19s. plus 5s. 9d., plus 5s. plus 1s. 3d. which I believe is 31s. In the case of a widow with two children aged seven and eleven and paying a rent of 10s. the amount would be 41s., and so on.
The examples which I have given are instances of cases in which the widow is living on her own and paying a rent for the accommodation she occupies. Cases will no doubt arise where the widow is living as a member of somebody else's household. They may not be numerous, but they will call for different treatment. In the first place the amount which will be allowed to them for rent will be a proportion of the total rent which the person with whom they are living is paying for the house, subject only to a maximum in this type of case of 7s. a week. Thus in the second illustration I quoted, that of the widow with two children, if they were living with her father and mother and the latter were paying 14s. a week rent, the widow's proportion would be 7s., and so on. That illustrates how it works out in that type of case. Apart from any differences which may arise out of this different treatment of rent, the amount of the supplementary pension payable in this type of case will never vary by more than a shilling or so from the amount payable to the widow who is living alone.
In making special provision in the Regulations for widows with children, the Assistance Board is following a practice which is very common throughout public assistance authorities. They have always recognised that, as a class, this type of case presents difficulties requiring special considerations. So far as any widow actually taken over at the appointed day from the public assistance authority is concerned the House will remember that under a special provision in the Act she will receive at least as much from the Board as she was receiving from the local authority, and in many cases more. I have referred to the fact that the supplementary pension payable by the Board de- 2331 pends on, among other things, the amount of rent which the widow is paying. The Board has always recognised that this question of rent may be specially difficult in the case of widows suddenly left with young children dependent upon them.
I referred earlier to the appointed day. One of the objects of these Regulations is to fix the day as from which the provisions of the Pensions and Determination of Needs Act, 1943, so far as they relate to supplementary pensions, shall take effect. This is the day on which the Regulations which we are now considering come into force. If the House approves of the Regulations to-day, the intention is that they should come into force on the first pension pay day following 30th August next. That will be the Tuesday following 30th August. In other words, the new class of widows will be entitled to receive supplementary pensions as from that day, and as from that day, too, new applicants for supplementary pensions will have their cases assessed on the basis of the new provisions regarding capital and superannuation. So far as existing cases are concerned, every effort is being made to ensure that they are assessed as quickly as possible, and we hope to complete the work well within the period of three months allowed by the Act. We cannot of course give a pledge, but it is hoped, I understand from the Board, to complete the work by the end of September. It is of course a general complaint, with which I personally have a good deal of sympathy, because it has been part of my task many times to expound these Regulations, that they are complicated and that they ought to be put into another form. But since I understand that is likely to be raised later on, I will not pursue the point now.
§ Mr. Daggar (Abertillery)
More Regulations! You, Mr. Speaker, must be tired, if not sick of the sound of this word "Regulations." It has become almost as repellent to Members of this House as the words "co-ordination" and "planning" Revolution by Regulation. I think a fitting motto to be placed over the door of this Chamber would be "Attempts made here to redress grievances by Regulation." But I must be cautious, and I hasten to say that this is the first time that Regulations have been made applicable in the case of widows. Since 1925, a period of 18 2332 years, no attempt has been made to deal with the sorry conditions under which some widows are living at the present time. I suppose it may be and probably will be argued that even in this sphere of legislative improvement or reform by Regulation, the law of compensation operates, namely, that it has its advantages as well as its disadvantages. Nevertheless, it is notable that while we hear so much in this House about the disadvantages accompanying legislation by reference, yet we are prepared to accept as inevitable this other form of legislation by reference to Regulations. If there is a disposition to accept it as a substitute, in my submission it is a very poor one. It may be all right for Ministers. It may be convenient for solicitors and in some instances for politicians, but it is in my opinion very tiresome for the old age pensioners, and will prove irksome for the widow and as additional Regulations are introduced the difficulties must inevitably increase and the position become worse. Here is an example of what I mean. I crave the indulgence of the House to read a paragraph from the existing Regulations:Whereas in pursuance of Section 38 of the Unemployment Act, 1934, as that Section was applied, with respect to the functions of the Assistance Board by Part II of the Old Age and Widows' Pensions Act, 1940 (hereinafter referred to as the Act') the Supplementary Pensions (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs) Regulations, 1940"—Then, in parenthesis we find the letter "a," which obviously means that one must refer to the bottom of the page. There we are treated to these hieroglyphics:S.R. & O. 1940, No. 946.The next paragraph begins with the words:And whereas the Principal Regulations were duly amended by the Supplementary Pensions (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs) (Amendment) Regulations, 1941—Here in parenthesis we find the letter "b", and when we again refer to the bottom of the page we findS.R. & O. 1941, No. 663.It ends by saying:—"hereinafter together referred to as 'the Amending Regulations'.There are several such paragraphs. I am very pleased to note that we are assured in the White Paper that the Board are now 2333 engaged on not only the codification but the simplification of the whole body of these Regulations. I suppose this is an instance where even little minds think alike, because I intended to stress the need for simplifying the Regulations when this Debate was announced. May I say that I wish the Board every success, in the much needed reform? I hope it will prove to be an example to the Government. To expect those to whom these Regulations apply to understand such legal jargon is not only silly but unnecessary. I contend that two things are required to make them plain, not only to widows, but to old age pensioneers generally: First, that the conditions under which supplementary pensions are payable should be set forth in clear, distinct language, and, second, the amount of the supplementary pension payable should be stated. If this form of presentation cannot be changed, would the Minister issue a circular in simple language explaining these two points, together with a few examples, some of which he has given us to-day, showing the method by which each necessary calculation in the determination of the pension is arrived at? Is it possible to have that done before the Board issues its new simplified codified Regulations?
In doing so, I know the Minister will not unduly emphasise the fiddling way in which Governments here, and especially this one, have dealt with this question of widows' and old age pensions. It has been one long process of patch, patch, patch. It may have been appropriate for Mussolini to have fiddled during the burning of Rome, but there is no reasonable excuse for our following his reprehensible example. While contradictions are the monopoly of politicians, I must be careful about using such a description in this connection, because for 18 years nothing has been done for widows. Now, at long last, after many appeals in this House and the pledge given by the Ministry more than 12 months ago, something has been done. Even in this House we show indications of life, because we move. But at what a rate! If it be true that speed kills, then this Government will live a very long time. It is gratifying to know that the money is at last to be found to give these widows a measure of relief. When the demand was originally made—and it is also true in respect of old age pensioners—we were accused by hon. Members oppo- 2334 site that we failed to give sufficient consideration to the means for providing the money. I want to be frank with the House and say that that always leaves me cold. It has no effect on me, because I have heard it so many times. Familiarity has bred contempt. This excuse was made long before this war started. The late Mr. Neville Chamberlain repeatedly sang the same song; the Chancellor has chanted it upon every appropriate occasion. In fact it has now come to be described as the "cashier's objection." It is only since we have been compelled to spend £15,000,000 a day on the war, to run up a total cost of £13,000,000,000 and a National Debt of £16,000,000,000 that anything has been done for these people.
But that is not the whole story. The Chancellor, introducing his Vote of Credit, told the House on the seventh of last month that the Budget expenditure this year will be over eight times what it was 10 years ago and that our total expenditure since the war began is already double what it was during the whole of the last war. He also said that the amount to be raised in taxation this year is over three times the amount which was raised in 1938, half as much again as the total amount raised in taxes during the last war, and that we have borrowed a sum more than the whole of the National Debt before the war commenced. After that disadvantageous change in the financial condition of this country it is now found possible to improve the conditions of widows. Such a contradiction between criticism and performance is not only indefensible, but it tends to lower the prestige of Parliament and support the view that politics is a dirty game and that those who play it are either fools or hypocrites, or both. If it be contended that all it is proposed to achieve by the Regulations is to transfer the maintenance of widows and their children from the local authorities to the Assistance Board, that is, a charge upon the taxes instead of the rates, which, after all, is true in the last analysis, my reply is that action ought not to have taken 18 years to achieve so little. Moreover, as these widows will now be entitled to supplementary pensions and as many of their children have reached the age of 14 years and upwards, while they themselves have attained the ages of 45, 50 and 60 and are still continuing to receive such pension, then the case for including widows without 2335 children is partly made out. I know that that presents difficulties, but they can be resolved along the lines of the Beveridge plan.
I understand that the new Regulations will cover about 25,000 widows and their children. If this figure be reliable, then to deal with the remaining comparatively few is not a problem that needs long to find a solution. Just as old age pensioners and the widows who are now under discussion will not be a charge on the rates, neither should the few remaining widows who are not included in the Regulations. As is becoming the practice with the Government, no one expected them to make a clean job of this question, because in tinkering with any issue anomalies are bound to exist. You remove one and inevitably create another, and this is true in respect of widows and their children. It is also true of the Regulations generally. If I understand these Regulations correctly, the widow of an insured man, where the necessary insurance conditions have been satisfied, is eligible for a pensions of 10s. a week plus 5s. for the first child and 3s. for each other child under the school-leaving age.
I assume that under these Regulations a widow with three children whose ages are from 11 to 14 will receive 7s. 3d., if she has another child between 8 and 11 she will be entitled to 6s. 9d., and in the case of a child between 5 and 8 she will be entitled to 6s. 3d., making a total of 20s. 3d. It is strange that the Regulations make provision for the payment of 20s. 3d. in the case of a widow with three children while last month the Government decided to pay to the children of soldiers' widows, regardless of age, 9s. 6d. for the first child, 8s. 6d. for the second and 7s. 6d. for each successive child, making a total of 25s. 6d. It is going to be difficult for the Government to explain why a widow in precisely the same circumstances will be no less than 5s. 3d. a week worse off than a widow similarly situated under the arrangements agreed to by the Government last month.
Even worse examples could be given if the widows' position was considered. Strange things are committed in the name of Regulation by reference. It covers more sins than charity, hides more inequalities than life and buries more mistakes than 2336 death itself. I imagine that this method was in the mind of the Foreign Secretary when, addressing the annual conference of the Conservative Party in May, he said:This process of gradual beneficent evolution has continued throughout our history.For once we can look upon him as not only a successful politician, but also as a reliable prophet.
I am aware of the provision made for raising the limit of capital savings from £300 to £400, and I do not belittle the advantage to people who happen to have that amount of money. I am also aware of the reduction of the assumed income of 1s. to 6d. on each completed £25 after the first, the raising of the disregarded superannuation payment of 7s. 6d. to 10s. 6d., and also the abolition of the household means test in the case of applicants for public assistance, all of which are concessions of varying value and importance. But most of us on this side are concerned with those widows who have no capital savings, and many are disappointed that no provision is made for an increase in the scale rates which would render it unnecessary to continue either the winter allowances or the distribution of blankets. The latter arrangement required a form of inquiry, to which I object. Opposition was expressed to some of the Clauses of the Catering Wages Bill because it involved inspectors visiting business premises. Yet we are seeking to perpetuate that practice, which involves inspectors visiting the homes of our people. In my opinion inquisition is much worse than inspection, and, if financial interests are to be protected, we must insist upon the protection and preservation of the privacy of the lives of widows and old age pensioners.
Mr. Robertson (Streatham)
The hon. Member seemed to find fault with the Government's arrangement in regard to blankets and seemed to want money instead of blankets. Is it not a fact that, if the old people had the money, they would not have been able to buy the blankets, because the Government were in possession of very limited stocks?
§ Mr. Daggar
It is true that the Government decided to distribute blankets, but they did it so many at a time when they must have known that the old people who 2337 had been short for so many years were not in possession of the necessary coupons to buy all the blankets that were required. But that is no excuse for the Government's decision to distribute blankets instead of money. The winter allowances and the blankets are definite evidence that the amount of money paid to these people is insufficient. It they had plenty of money, there would be no need to distribute blankets. I feel obliged to remind the House that the Act in pursuance of which these Regulations are issued was the result of a pledge given more than 12 months ago, which also mentioned the position of spinsters, which we did not raise, and that of old age pensioners. The old age pensioners are in the same position to-day as they were in 1940, although two sets of Regulations have passed the House with the object of effecting necessary improvements in their condition. I can prove my point that old age pensioners are in precisely the same position financially as in 1940 by reference to two items, the smoking of tobacco and the consumption of beer. New Regulations introduced in July, 1942, provided for an increase in the scale of pensions for those living alone of 2s. 6d. a week, raising the amount from 19s. 6d. to 22s. In the case of two pensioners living together, husband and wife, one of whom is the householder, an increase of 5s. per week—from 33s. to 37s—and also an improvement in the winter allowances. I pointed out at the time that the Budget had already affected very adversely the living costs of old age pensioners. I took those two commodities, tobacco and beer—
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member is raising the general question of old age pensioners as a whole. He must confine himself to the Regulations.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
What my hon. Friend is discussing is the adequacy of the supplementary pensions rate laid down in these Regulations. Surely he is entitled to discuss how the supplementary pension is to be spent and whether or not it covers the necessities of the people covered by the Regulation.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
It is true that we are discussing these new Regulations, but they are only amendments of the old Regulations, and unless we are at liberty to discuss the whole of the scale, I do not think hon. Members 2338 will be able to put the points they want to put.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
The Regulations that we are dealing with were explained in a White Paper which says that a certain sum shall be added to the existing scale. That means that we cannot discuss these amounts without discussing the old scales. My hon. Friend is arguing that the existing scales are too low and that any addition to them keeps them at too low a figure. This is a terribly difficult technical problem and only those who have studied it for a long period of years could follow it. There will be great difficulty in narrowing down discussion and I submit that it will be much better for it to be taken on the widest possible lines.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
I am glad that you, Sir, have intervened as we want to know the position. There is to be an increase on the original scales and we want to put forward reasons why that increase should be substantial so as to meet existing conditions. That is not dealing with the fundamental increase over the basic rate but only with supplementary allowance. We shall be thankful for your guidance because we are wondering how we shall be able to put our point of view.
§ Mr. Speaker
I am obliged to the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan). He has stated that this is a difficult technical problem, and I agree. It is obvious that under these Regulations we cannot discuss the whole of the old age pensions question. That is brought within certain limits, and codification, after all, means merely a redrafting question and does not mean an unlimited discussion. The Debate is technically on an increase in the supplementary pension, but I am not disposed to restrict it unduly.
§ Mr. Daggar
The point that I wanted to stress was that when the first Regulations were introduced provision was made for improving the conditions of the old age pensioners. The calculation was made upon the assumption that the old age pensioner smokes four ounces of tobacco a week and drinks six pints of beer. The first Budget imposed an additional tax of 3s. 6d. a week. That 3s. 6d. with the increase under the Regulation of 5s. leaves him only 1s. 6d, better off. Under the last Budget the taxation of those two articles amounted to another 2s. a week, 2339 so that the two Budgets imposed a tax of 5s. 6d. a week on the basis that I have used.
If that be true, and it cannot be controverted, these people are 6d. per week worse off than in 1942, when the first Regulations were introduced. All this means that the aged people are in precisely the same position as they were in in 1940, when the Old Age and Widows Pensions Act first provided the payment of supplementary allowances. Even if we take the cost of living as a whole and exclude the imposition of the taxes on these two articles, we find that when that Act was passed there was a difference of no fewer than 15 points in the cost of living then and the cost of living to-day. In spite of these facts, the Chancellor calmly observed during the Debate on the last Budget, on 21st April:I do not think one need feel anxiety in relation to the position of old age pensioners."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 21st April, 1943; col. 1750, Vol. 388.]Some of us are very anxious about their conditions when you introduce Regulations providing for an increase of 5s. a week and the Chancellor of the Exchequer in two Budgets imposes taxation amounting to 6d. in excess of the 5s. provided for in the Regulations.
Let me again ask when it is proposed to introduce Regulations dealing with the position of these aged people. For how long is it proposed to use the Beveridge Report as an excuse for doing nothing with this subject? I ask the second question, because the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade made this statement at a meeting held on 7th March this year, which was before the Chancellor by increased taxation lowered the standard of these people. The President of the Board of Trade, speaking in his division, said that there were two examples with which he wanted to deal. The Beveridge Report, he said, was a fine and stimulating document, although neither the Government nor he accepted all the proposals. The two examples were workmen's compensation and old age pensions. The former, he said, would mean that heavy levies would have to be paid in the mining and railway industries simply because these were more hazardous than the average, and the Government did not accept the view that we must establish a certain level of old age pensions 2340 and take 20 years to reach it. The Government had decided, he said, that it would be better to make an earlier increase than the report recommended and, having made that increase, to stabilise the pension. Old people cannot go on strike to enforce their demands, but through their organisations throughout the country, by demonstrations and attempts to educate the public, they were largely, if not entirely, responsible for the 10 days' Debate that took place in this House when the original Bill providing for the payment of supplementary pensions was introduced. They ought not to be asked again to take part in a similar agitation. I am asking the Government to make that unnecessary, not only by reinstating these people to the position they occupied in 1940, but by making a substantial improvement in their conditions, not in years to come, but now in 1943.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
One feels a difficulty in knowing how to deal with this question in order to put one's point of view. I have no objection to the first paragraph in the White Paper dealing with supplementary pensions which have been granted. The White Paper says that payments will start after 30th August. Why should they wait so long? The Regulations will pass this House to-day and the House of Lords to-morrow, and they will be in force from that date. Will the Minister, therefore, make the date a fortnight earlier? There is another point about which I am disappointed. I would have liked the Minister to outline, as he did with the widow's supplementary pension, exactly what rates of supplementary pensions are to be paid. There is much confusion about what the total amount is after rent deductions. Had he done that it would have been a guidance to the House in this Debate, because it is on the basis of the actual amount of the supplementary allowances that we want to talk to-day. We understand from the memorandum that the Assistance Board is examining this question. Therefore, the House will be asked to give their guidance on what they think is the amount necessary for people to live on. I wish to devote my attention to showing that the present allowances for supplementary pensions are not adequate, and I want some guidance to go from the House as to what we think the Assistance Board ought to have in mind when codifying the 2341 present allowances. I understand that for a man and wife, after the rent is paid, the supplementary pension, along with old age pension, is about 32s. in the summer and 34s. 6d. in winter. I am not clear what is the actual amount and I would like the Minister to tell us. If I am right in my assumption that the total amount now allowed for supplementary pension is only equal to the figure I have stated, the House cannot say that it is doing justice to our aged people. If we are to give a lead to the Assistance Board, who after all are the servants of this House, they must know what is in our minds as to a reasonable amount to provide for old age pensioners in receipt of supplementary assistance. I claim that when there are two people living together nothing less than £1 a week clear each can be adequate to give them a decent standard of life. No one will dispute that. No hon. Member could keep two aged people on less than £2 a week. The same amount should be paid to the single person, apart from the rent.
If the House really feels in that direction it ought to say that it is desirous of stopping all the bickering that we have every time this question comes before us. Until we are satisfied that our aged people have sufficient to live on there can be no rest for anyone in the House. We shall press it on all occasions. I hope hon. Members on the other side will speak, because their attitude will influence the Government, and if they believe that my basis is reasonable I hope they will stand by it. I have always set out for a basic increase, but have not succeeded. By the method I am adopting now of raising supplementary pensions to a fair height I shall bring behind me a large number of pensioners who are getting 18s. a week and cannot get anything more because they are above the scale rate laid down by the Assistance Board. If I can get supplementary pensions increased to £1, I shall bring along a large number of people who are now just below that figure and they will be able to claim something more. There is no doubt that there are hundreds of thousands who are just outside the supplementary assistance, and if they could make a further claim we could relieve a large amount of necessity. The House ought to insist now, not by resolution, but by expressing its opinion, that the present supplementary pension is not ade- 2342 quate and that it ought to be lifted to a decent standard such as I have outlined, and that the Assistance Board can have some guidance from Parliament as to what they ought to do when codifying and amending the Regulations.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
I am very doubtful about the extent to which I can marshal arguments that wall keep within the confines of the Debate. I am not quite certain how far your Ruling, Sir, allows us to dovetail both a criticism of the Regulations and a plea for the better treatment of old age pensioners. So far as I may stray I shall, of course, be subject to your Ruling. I am rather sorry, although I make no criticism about it, that the Minister has left and has not waited until the end of the Debate on these Regulations. I want to make this serious criticism of them. As they are now issued they are hopeless for a Member of Parliament to understand, particularly with regard to the language used when they deal with the widow. The other questions about capital expenditure, etc., do not affect anything like the same number of people. What is the language used not merely in the Regulations, but in the White Paper? It says that the existing method used by the Assistance Board of granting discretion shall not be used in that way in future but shall become a statutory duty, adding 3s. to the existing scales for each widow plus 1s. for every child after the first. But who knows what the existing scales are? I would ask any hon. Member to read the Regulations, even read the White Paper sent out to explain them, and then say what a widow will get. It is 3s. added to what? This morning I met a most capable Member of this House, no fool, and a man who takes some interest in this issue, and he thought 3s. was to be added to the 1s. old age pension. What it means is that it is 3s. added to what is now paid; but what is now paid? I ask the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland to tell me. There is nobody in the House who can do it. The only people who might do it are sitting under the Gallery, and even they cannot do it in some cases, because it is subject to so many "ifs" and so many "goes" and "comes"
One of the things which the Conservatives taught me in my early days in this House, when Income Tax was one of the 2343 great issues, was that everybody was entitled to have his rights stated in clear and simple language. What is more elementary than the right of a widow to know the amount she is to get? She knows that her basic pension is 10s. for herself, 5s. for the first child, and 3s. for each succeeding child, but in the. supplementary pensions there are these references to 3s. plus Is. and she does not know. An applicant ought to be in a position to know what is due to her, so that she can at any time challenge it. One of the complications in dealing with soldiers' allowances arises from the fact that the sum to be received changes with the applicant's circumstances, even though the position is stated there much more clearly. A widow who is to draw a certain sum each week is entitled to know clearly to what she is entitled, so that if necessary she can challenge the amount which is paid to her.
§ Mr. Hutchinson (Ilford)
I am sure the hon. Member appreciates that the amount depends upon certain factors—the rent and the number of children. If he will tell the House what rent he assumes to be paid by the widow and the number of children and their ages, we might be able to say.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Why cannot it be stated clearly in the White Paper that a widow with, say, two children and paying a rent of 6s. a week is to receive a certain sum, and a widow paying a shilling or two more a week is to have her allowance increased to a certain sum? I have written out the existing scales here without the children and I do not know why that could not have been done in the White Paper—set out the scales for rents of 6s., 7s., 8s., 9s. or 10s.—and then take the rent at 6s, and say what a widow paying that rent and with two childden is entitled to.
§ Mr. Buchanan
The rent factor does not vary according to the widow. It is only different in different parts of the country. If ever there was terrible confusion, it is to be seen in these cases. I listened to the Minister to-day. He read something about 5s. 9d. plus 10s. plus something else, and it added up to 3rs. 9d. I do not 2344 want to be unfair even to the Minister of Health, although the temptation to be unfair to him is great, but he appeared to me to be speaking almost like a gramophone record. Somebody had handed him a set of figures—5s. 9d. plus 10s. plus other additions, and they added up to 31s. 9d. But every 5s. 9d. represented a human being, men, women or children, and yet the Minister was reading it off almost like a gramophone record, as if he had no human flesh or bones at all. It was shocking and wrong. The approach to it is wrong. One of the difficulties with the Assistance Board Regulations is that they have got into such a state that I doubt very much whether the officials themselves can interpret them. In their offices you see almost stacks of memoranda dealing with the problem of what is to be paid. So far as it goes, I welcome the promise to codify and simplify them somewhat.
With regard to the widows again, I understand, and I think I am right, that all widows' rights in regard to certain matters are now safeguarded, but I want to put one point to the Minister. Under the Old Age Pensions Act we passed a Section which safeguarded the old age pensioner who may have been chargeable to a local authority which had been more generous than the Regulations would be. I ask whether the widow now chargeable to a local authority is safeguarded in the same way. I think she is, but I ask the Minister because I should like to have it put on record. Another point is that the practice is growing up among local authorities, and it is a good practice, of feeding children, particularly those attending schools, and some, in addition to feeding the children, also clothe them. I ask whether in the drawing up of these scales anything will be done to reduce the standard of life of these children because a local authority happens to feed and clothe them? I hope it will not be taken into account. There was a tendency some time ago to say that to feed the child costs 3s. a week and to set off that 3s. against the family income.
When we passed the original Act some Members opposite were very much worried. The hon. Member who used to sit for Doncaster but has now gone to The High Peak Division (Mr. Molson) was very worried lest we took over a certain class of widows and kept them on 2345 perpetually. I want to ask the Minister whether something is not to be done to deal with the following type of widow. The Act says that the moment a widow ceases to be eligible for a determination of needs she must pass out, that is to say, if her children have died or at 16 have gone to work she passes out because there is then no need for a determination. I want to raise the case of a widow who becomes ill and has to go into hospital. On account of that her children may have to be temporarily taken away, and no longer is she in receipt of needs determination. I ask whether the Board will take steps to see that in the case of her illness and her removal to hospital she will not lose her needs determination.
So far, in arguing these cases, I have kept narrowly within the bounds of Order, but I am tempted to raise the general issue of the allowances paid to old people. It is nearly 18 months since the issue was raised in the House and I still remember the angy scene. We had Front Bench opposed to Front Bench and I remember appearing in the role I usually take, being a peace-loving man, of trying to make peace between the contending parties. Some people say to me they deplore scenes, but I would sooner have a House of Commons with those scenes, showing the feeling there is behind them, than have the apathetic House we have to-day. There is nothing wrong with scenes. Scenes usually mean that men feel deeply about issues. It is apathy that is the killing thing. People say of the Prime Minister that he is at times indiscreet, but I would sooner have him indiscreet but with courage and tenacity than that there should be the apathy which we see around us at times. But I remember this scene, and what was the answer we got from the Minister? That within a certain period of time the Regulations or the law would be so amended as to deal with the widows and with certain other aspects of the matter. We were to have new Regulations about them. That was over 18 months ago. After some time we got a Bill dealing with capital resources. All that we have got to-day is a temporary Measure. The Government are not yet in a position to tell us what they are going to do about the old people. What have they been doing 'all the time since? They are going to come along after some date in September and codify the position, telling us exactly what is to be done. The 2346 Government can easily say in September that they are not in a position to keep that promise, because of war difficulties. We have no guarantee.
One of the complaints I have to make in regard to the White Paper is that no permanent hope is held out of the old age position being finally dealt with, although it is now serious. I welcome the step of taking the widow away from the Poor Law and under the care of the Government. The great bulk of these people would prefer to draw their money in some way unconnected with the Poor Law; but that change is little unless it means something decent by way of income to the widow. The present change means little more than a bookkeeping entry. The Government have wasted time indefensibly in toying with this Measure. Perhaps if I had come to the House and made myself an almost impossible nuisance, the problem might have been dealt with much better before now.
There is a difference in treatment between the widow whose husband was killed on war service and the widow whose husband was killed in civil life, but the difference should become narrower. There have been cases in my division of men killed in street accidents during the blackout. It has never been possible to get anything from the drivers of the vehicles which knocked down the men, who were victims of the war. The war has made the black-out necessary, and the blackout has brought about the accidents, but the widows are treated as in a different category from those whose claim was for husbands killed during actual war service. There is the case of a man who may have served his country well during four years. He emerges unscathed from the Army, and a year or two afterwards he dies. His widow is then put upon this penury basis. From her point of view it would have been better if her husband had met his death on war service. This matter ought to be dealt with in a more generous way, and I trust that the Government will give further consideration to the case of the widow whose husband has been killed in the ordinary industrial skirmish of life. Her husband may have worked in a blast furnace or in the heat of a foundry from early morning till late at night, walking to his home. In doing so, perhaps he took a severe cold and died. He was a victim of war production, and his work was as useful in the war as is the work of the 2347 soldier at the front. The time has now come to raise the widows of the soldiers of industry to the same standard as the widows of those who died fighting in the Services, or at any rate to make their standards nearer to each other. The House will not be satisfied until that has been done.
I hope that the Government will not take the small attendance to-day as being indicative of a lack of interest. I am not going to argue about tobacco or beer. When a man gets 65 or 70 years of age you should give him a smoke or a glass of beer if he wants it. The present standard is miserably mean and low, and no one can justify it in any way at all. I trust that this House, small though the attendance is to-day, will not stop its efforts to see that the Government do the decent thing by the old people, especially as it is much more important now, because of the number of widows with children. What matters most is to see that every child is decently housed, fed and clothed.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
The hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) managed, with his usual dexterity, to cover a very wide field while still remaining in Order. I shall feel a little trepidation in following some of his arguments, and I certainly shall not occupy much of the time of the House. I thought he was a little unreasonable when he complained about the Minister's method of introducing these Regulations. It was not that the Minister was lacking in sympathy or human understanding; in explaining to this House the meaning of these Regulations, he confined himself to a well-prepared speech, which will set out for those who will see it in Hansard the exact way in which the Regulations will work. The hon. Member will remember that the general effect of what certain Regulations would be was very widely misunderstood some time ago.
I somewhat sympathise with the hon. Member's point that it is unfortunate that all these Regulations, and even the White Paper, should be cast in phraseology which it is difficult for hon. Members, and quite impossible for widows and old age pensioners, to understand. I would ask him to remember, however, that that is due to the attempt which is being made by the Assistance Board to make provision for each of the individual requirements of 2348 those who are coming under the Regulations. Every effort is being made to meet individual requirements of individual cases, and that must necessarily result in the Regulations becoming more complicated. If we had some purely arbitrary scale laid down I think we should have had criticism from many Members that there were many particular cases where special assistance ought to have been given but would be excluded if the details were not included.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Is not the hon. Member aware that the Assistance Board has power of discretion now?
§ Mr. Molson
One of the very few things about which the hon. Member for Gorbals was pleased was that the first part of the White Paper provided in the future that it should be dealt with by discretion.
§ Mr. Buchanan
No, Sir. What I was pleased about was that we are to get codification instead of the present jumble. I understand that the existing position is now to be codified and made simple, but that does not interfere with discretion.
§ Mr. Molson
The hon. Member is mistaken if he thinks that codification will mean that allowances in particular cases are not going to be built up in the same way as they are now, taking into account the special requirements of individual cases, whether for rent, fuel or allowances for food. What I understand—and I shall be specially interested to hear about it from the Minister—to be meant by codification, which is promised for September, is that instead of there being entirely different rules laid down in different Regulations applying in different cases of assistance which are given by the Assistance Board, it is hoped that we shall have one single table which will deal with the whole matter. If it really means that the system upon which needs are determined is to be altered, I think there will be a certain amount of criticism and a desire to scrutinise any change of that kind.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) has left the House. I make no complaint. He has been sitting here for a very long time; but he did rather ask that someone should express an individual opinion with regard to the scale which he himself advocated and which I understand to be £1 clear for each 2349 individual, to which would be added the rent paid, whatever that rent might be. That suggestion goes considerably beyond the scale laid down in the Beveridge Report as being what would be introduced for the year 1965. The basic proposal of the Beveridge Report is 40s. a week for a married couple of pensioners, on the basis of a 10s. rent. Therefore, those of us who have accepted most wholeheartedly the recommendations of the Beveridge Report cannot possibly accept at this time the view of the hon. Member for Leigh, which obviously regards the proposals which have been made in the Report as quite inadequate.
§ Mr. Gallacher (Fife, West)
The other day in this House, although I was not present at the time, there was a discussion on Regulation 18B, and many references were made to Magna Charta and the desirability of subjects being judged by their peers. Some hon. Members on the other side were very concerned about the principles of Magna Charta, but I never hear anybody on the other side disposed to suggest that those principles should apply to the old people and to the widows of this country. There has been a demand made, and it has been made for a long time by the Old Age Pensioners' Association, for a pension of 30s. a week. To the Members on the other side that appears to be a staggering amount of money. They are horrified at the thought of such a desire for a lavish and luxurious life, yet any Member on the other side in half-an-hour in any of their favourite clubs would dispose of at least three or four times that amount and never blink an eye. But the old age pensioners' demands are not conceded. Instead we get a slight change in the Regulations.
I remember there used to be quite a lot of discussion in the Socialist movement between the "whole huggers" and the "half loafers." The half loafers had no connection with the loafing fraternity who occupy the other benches. They used to say that half a loaf was better than no bread. But when the old age pensioners ask for a loaf, do they get half a loaf? No, not even a crust, but two or three little crumbs are picked up. The Government say, "Here is a crumb or two to be going on with." We are told from the other side that a few crumbs, however mouldy they may be, are better than no bread, but always they insist that these 2350 men and women, the old age pensioners and the widows, shall go through a process of trial before they get anything over and above 10s. Is the other side prepared to apply the principles of Magna Charta? Will somebody kindly get up from the other side or the Government benches and talk about Magna Charta? No, the old age pensioners are to be tried before they get a penny, and it is not their peers who try them.
You have the spectacle of these widows and elderly people of 60, 70, 80 and even 90 years of age, and young smart Alecs who rush around to make investigations and whose whole concern is to justify their own existence by cutting down these pensioners to the very bone if they can. Why should young men or women who do not understand the problem of these old people be able to carry out such investigations and decide upon their fate? Why are not the old age pensioners given the responsibility of investigating as to who should have a supplementary pension? That is the principle of Magna Charta, the right to be tried to one's peers. All the time, month after month, these old folk and widows have to go through this process of trial. I do not know how anyone can talk as some Members so glibly talk—not so much to-day, but they used to—about a new world, when the Government and other side have every intention of dragging this abominable means test into that new world. But only for the poor—no questions of means test for the big pensioners. We have had Members on the other side of the House lecturing us on the fact that it is public money we are handing out and that there has to be a means test, [An HON.MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] I ask the hon. Member whether he is in favour of a means test for the Lord Chancellor before he is given any public money?
§ Sir Granville Gibson (Pudsey and Otley)
I would say that I do not suppose that the Lord Chancellor would object to a means test if one was necessary in his case.
§ Mr. Gallacher
That is a nice evasion of the question. 'Is the hon. Member in favour of the Lord Chancellor having to fill in a form saying how much money he has in the bank, how much money he has invested, how many members there are in the family, which of them are em- 2351 ployed and what their earnings are? Is he in favour of such a test for thousands of pensioners in this country who are gettings pensions of £1,000 or £2,000 a year? To take another example, the policemen of this country have a pension of about £3 3s. a week after 25 or 30 years' service. The people we are now discussing have worked 50 years. I do not want the policemen to be asked any questions, but is there a Member on the other side who will get up and say, "This is public money we are handing out. We must have a means test for policemen before they get a pension." We have two classes—
§ Mr. Hutchinson
The hon. Member appreciates that a policeman's pension is a form of deferred pay which a man has earned during his service?
§ Mr. Gallacher
Who produces the wealth to provide the policeman with his pay and his deferred pay? It is the workers of the country who produce the wealth.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)
I have given the hon. Member a good deal of latitude, but he is now going very wide of the Debate. We are discussing the amended Regulations.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I would be very pleased to change the title "Old age pension" to "deferred pay." It is called a pension for the policeman; it is called a pension for the working class. That is simply another evasion. I, and most Members on this side of the House, every Member of the Labour benches, I am certain, would plump for the immediate removal of the means test and the proper treatment of these old folk. Another point I want to draw attention to when we were discussing these Regulations before, and I have not yet got an answer. I tried to get that principal Act, but have not succeeded. In these present Regulations it is stated:The maximum aggregate value of the money and investments treated as capital assets which are to be treated as equivalent to a specified weekly income by virtue of subparagraph (4), of paragraph 1, of Part 1, of the Second Schedule to the Principal Regulations, as amended by the Amending Regulations, shall be increased from three hundred pounds to four hundred pounds.I understood that under the old Regulations if an old age pensioner had £300 of 2352 capital he was ruled out so far as supplementary benefit was concerned. You will find that the £300 was the maximum and that with the is. notional income on £25 it worked out that he was not entitled to supplementary pension when he reached £300. What is the £400 for now? The only idea that I or any other Member has is that the £400 represents a maximum beyond which the pensioner has no right to supplementary pension; otherwise there is no reason for it being there. But the income standard is reduced. Instead of being is. to £25 it is now 6d. to so that if a man has £300 capital, he receives 10s. pension, and he has a notional income of 5s. 6d. per week after ignoring the first £25, that is altogether 15s. 6d. per week. He is entitled to 4s. supplementary pension plus 2s. 6d. that was added on. If he has 375, he has 10s. a week pension and 7s. notional income, that is 17s., and he is entitled to 2s. 6d. to bring him up to 19s. 6d. plus the 2s. 6d. that was added. If he has £400, he receives 10s. pension and 7s. 6d. per week notional income, which is 17s. 6d. 1s he left there, or is he entitled to get 2s. per week to bring him up to the 19s. 6d., plus the 2s. 6d. that was added some time ago? Is he, or she, entitled to 4s. 6d. supplementary pension? If he, or she, is so entitled, then making what is called a maximum capital asset such as £400 is an absurdity. I want to be clear on that simple question as to whether a man or woman who has £400 capital is entitled to 4s. 6d. supplementary benefit per week or whether if they have £400 they have to live on 17s. 6s. as against the 22s. which the others are getting. I raised the matter on the last occasion and I did not get any satisfactory answer.
Above everything else, I want to declare here, on behalf of the old age pensioners—and I am certain that I speak for most of the Members on this side of the House—that there will be no peace in this country among the workers, young and old, while there exists this means test, this vicious investigation of old folks' circumstances by young folk who are only concerned with justifying themselves by cutting down when they get the chance, this vicious means test against a section of the community. It means that there are two types of people in the country. If we are fighting a war against Nazi 2353 racialism it is impossible and intolerable to carry on here the same sort of practices as the Nazis do, with one set of superior people at the tap getting any amount of public money and no questions asked, and with ordinary working-class people having to undergo mean, insidious investigations, the most insulting questions, and in some cases abominable impudence. Put an end to the means test and give the old folk what they are entitled to and what they deserve.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)
We have had a very interesting Debate to-day on these Regulations. The one thing above all else that I have noticed is that not a single Member who has risen has commended these Regulations or sought to justify them. The Minister presented the Regulations in such a manner that an hon. Member sitting on that side of the House had to defend it. He presented them as though they really did not matter. He made no attempt to explain what the Regulations mean. I can only assume that, so far as that side of the House is concerned, there is no intention of having them explained. Is that because the Minister is ashamed of what has been done? Why has it been put in such an involved fashion? The hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson.) felt that the responsibility was upon him to defend the Minister. The hon. Member said that of course it was a very difficult thing: it had to be extremely intricate in order to meet individual cases. That is quite untrue. The normal case is met by rule, and the abnormal case by discretion. There is no reason why these Regulations should come forward in a manner which mystifies almost every hon. Member. My hon. Friend the Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) read one paragraph of this document. It was a lot of jargon, which does net make sense unless you apply a microscope to it. We are told that these are the things which matter. It is not more difficult than the calculation of war pensions. I would ask the House to compare the White Paper on war pensions with this memorandum. That White Paper was an excellent document. It dealt with precisely the same type of case, the same domestic circumstances, and the same differences in individual cases, and it was easily understood by the House. Why cannot the Assistance Board, under the direction of the Minister of Health, do things in the same 2354 way? Is it because they want to wrap up what they do in mystery, so that they can do things which this House would not approve of? This is another chapter in the very long serial story of our tardy attempts to deal with the poor of this country.
Recently this House laid down what should be done in regard to the greatest section of widows and children. It made no mistake about that matter. The Minister co Pensions was kicked from pillar to post until proposals were brought forward for an adequate standard of existence for the widows and children of men who had been killed in the Forces—and not only men killed in the Forces, but men killed in Civil Defence, men killed on fire watching. Any gainfully-employed person killed in the blitz had his widow and children amply provided for to the satisfaction of this House, by and large. Now we come to this narrower section of widows and children—those of men who have died from natural causes. This White Paper is supposed to make plain what is intended. Even the Minister's statement did not make it plain. It is no secret that a number of speeches were prepared for delivery in this House to-day which had been based on the assumption that the amounts mentioned in Clause 2 of the White Paper were additions to the current scales. That was the idea of hon. Members who have been in this House for a very long time. I want to make my pro: test again about the nature of the White Papers and the Regulations which are submitted to this House by the Assistance Board. They are treating the House with scant respect, and, to use a vulgarism, they are attempting to pull the wool over our eyes. The second point I want to make is this. Why have these Regulations been left so late? Why have they not been produced before? The Minister is not showing his usual Sunday zeal in dealing with these old age pensioners. He has left it to the last possible moment, so that they are deprived of a period in which they could have been getting benefit.
What rates do these Regulations provide? I want to put this as simply as I can. I will take the story of five widows. The first, a householder, will get under these Regulations a scale rate of 23s. a week. The second widow, not a householder, will get a scale rate of 17s. Under the Unemployment Regulations the widow who is a householder would get 2355 19s., and the widower who is a non-householder would get 13s. The war widow will get 28s. 6d. This House kicked up a tremendous row, and hon. Gentlemen opposite played their part in it, to establish that 28s. 6d. basis for the war widow, for the widow of the fire watcher, for the widow of the man in the National Fire Service, and now we are asked to justify a standard for other widows which is very much lower. A man may be engaged in fire watching at the colliery and be killed. His widow will get 28s. 6d. a week. Another man may be engaged on fire watching with him, and, because of the exhaustion that this war has imposed on our people, he may collapse after the fire watching shift has terminated. His widow, under these proposals, will get 23s. a week. What justification can there be for these differences in rates? Is it assumed that one widow requires less to maintain her than another widow does? I would be ashamed of myself if I assented to these Regulations, which provide in some cases 15s. a week less than is provided under the War Pensions proposals. I ask the House not to approve these Regulations.
Let us carry the matter one step forward, in regard to the children. Under these Regulations it is proposed to provide for one child aged eight to eleven 7s. 3d. a week, while under the War Pensions proposals the first child will receive 9s. 6d. A second child aged eight to eleven under these Regulations will get 6s. 9d., and the second child under the War Pensions proposals 8s. 6d. A third child aged five to eight under the Regulations will get 6s. 3d., while under the War Pensions proposals a third child will get 7s. 6d. A child of under five years under these proposals will get 5s. 9d., while under the War Pensions proposals the rate for the fourth child will be 6s. 6d. Why is it that children without fathers are treated entirely differently by the State? We condemn a civilian widow to maintain two children under five on 2S. a week more than a war widow gets for maintaining one child under five. We condemn a civilian widow with three children under five to maintain them on less than a war widow gets to maintain two children. I hope that the House appreciates what it is doing. The civilian widow will get less to keep three children than the widow of a man killed while fire 2356 watching has for keeping two. This House is asked to approve this anomalous position, which is unjust to the widows and children of this country. These are the things the Minister ought to have told the House.
Under these Regulations a widow with one child, taking the best circumstances, will get 34s. 3d., while with a child in the lower age category she will get 28s. 9d. if she is a householder, and 24s. to 22s. if she is a non-householder. A widow in corresponding circumstances, with a child, will get under the War Pensions proposals 36s. 2d. Take the widow with two children. If she is a householder she will get 34s. 6d., and if she is a non-householder she will get 28s. 6d. under these proposals, whereas a widow with two children will get under the War Pensions proposals 44s. 8d. Take the widow with three children. She will get, in the best circumstances, if she is a householder, 42s. 9d., and if she is a non-householder she can get as little as 34s. 3d. Under the War Pensions proposals the rate would be 52s. 3d. Take a widow with four children—I might as well go through the whole lot. If all the children are in the higher age category, she will get 52s. under these Regulations, and if the children are in the lower age category, 46s. if she is a householder, while if she is a non-householder she will get 46s. if her children are in the higher age category and 40s. if they are in the lower age category. But if her husband had been killed fire watching, she would have got 58s. 9d. under the War Pensions scheme.
These proposals will leave the children of the unemployed exactly where they are. The widow who is on Unemployment Assistance will be left precisely where she is, 1s. a week per child worse off than she would have been under the lowest rates I have mentioned. I ask the Minister of Health, who is noted for certain characteristics, whether he regards this as practical Christianity to that section of the widows of this country. I again ask him why he did not tell the House these facts when he was explaining the Regulations to the House. The non-householder widow under these Regulations will have to keep herself and her four children on as much as 17s. 8d. a week less than a war widow in the same circumstances. I will ask the young Tories who represent, so they say, the spearhead 2357 of the progressive view in their party whether this 18s. unit basis was not what they assisted to establish under war service grants? In these cases we have a unit basis of 13s. 4d., which is nearly 5s. a week less than in the case of the widows and orphans under war pensions.
I want to say a final word on the rates on which our people are expected to live. This House would be doing wrong to leave the position where it is. Here is a grave anomaly and injustice. I have not taken into account, in making these comparisons, education grants, special allowances which the Ministry of Pensions are authorised to issue and the continuation of pension while children are at school. These things do not operate under these Regulations because the pension in respect of a child terminates when the child ceases its supplementary pension. The Assistance Board is responsible for fixing the rates for three or four categories of people. They fix them for old age pensioners, the widows over 60, and now for the widows under 60 and the children, and for Unemployment Assistance purposes. The Assistance Board has condemned itself by the Regulations put before this House. Our demand should be that the Assistance Board as such should be abolished and that the authority should rest in this House in the hands of a Minister. One has to be fair to the Minister of Health, who stands between the Assistance Board and this House. You cannot very well kick the Assistance Board; you have to kick the Minister, because he is supposed to be responsible to this House.
§ Mr. Edwards
I agree that there are three Ministers, but the Minister of Health is responsible for pensions purposes and all these Regulations dealing with the widows' position.
§ Mr. Edwards
The Secretary of State for Scotland is responsible for the Scottish part. So far as we in England are concerned, it will be sufficient if we are able to kick the Minister of Health, and, of course, with regard to unemployment assistance, the Minister of Labour is responsible. The Regulations we are discussing to-day come largely within the 2358 purview of the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland. Invariably it has been the Minister of Health who has answered in this House and it has been his Parliamentary Secretary who has usually wound up the Debate, So I am afraid that, with all the dimensions in the front and as broad as the Ministers may be, they cannot heed the fact that the Assistance Board lags behind the intentions of this House. It is not playing either a full or a proper part in dealing with this social problem, and this White Paper is an outstanding condemnation of it and of its sheer incapacity.
I want to put two questions to the Minister, and their answers will determine my action in relation to the approving or negativing of these Regulations. I want to ask, along with my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), that the operation of these things should be brought forward from 30th to 16th August. Are we to have an undertaking from that Box to-day that this is not the last word to be said on this question? Are we to have an undertaking that when we come back from the Recess the Assistance Board will be invited, not only to put a codified and simplified set of Regulations before us, but that we shall make adequate scales available for all people coming under the Assistance Board? Are the Government prepared to carry out the function of making adequate provision for these categories of pensions? If they are, will they give us an undertaking that, immediately we come back from the Recess and when we discuss the codification of all these Regulations, there will be included in the remodelled Regulations a proposal to increase the scales of supplementary pensions? We owe to these people a straight answer. We have been told about the effect of Beveridge and so on. This House has not decided on Beveridge. If the Minister wants to interject something, I will certainly give way.
§ Mr. Edwards
I said that this House had not taken a decision on Beveridge. That is not capable of Assistance Board wangling. You cannot 2359 add 1,000 words which mean nothing. This House has not taken a decision on Beveridge, but it has taken a decision on what is adequate for widows and children. It has decided that an i8s. unit basis and 9s. per child, after the payment of rent and outlays, is the one at which to aim. Can the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland give us any indication that the Government intend applying that standard to this category of widows who are now brought within the scope of supplementary pensions?
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mr. Westwood)
Practically every speaker who has taken part in this Debate to-day has stressed the fact that the Regulations which we are discussing are extraordinarily difficult to understand. It is admitted that every additional Regulation that has had to be made as a result of the Determination of Needs Act applying to old age pensioners, and now to widows, has increased the difficulty of understanding exactly what is meant by the complicated Regulations that we have before us. We have had one or two quotations given from these Regulations proving how difficult it is to follow them. The Government themselves have admitted that difficulty. It is made clear in the White Paper that, recognising that difficulty, the Assistance Board is to codify and simplify the Regulations as speedily as possible. There are often difficulties in regard to simplification and codification when we are not dealing with the standardisation of pensions or allowances. Whenever you grant discrimination or when there are variations it inevitably creates difficulties in bringing about simplification and in giving necessary effect to the ideas you may have in connection with codification, but as far as possible it is the intention to codify and simplify these Regulations so that "He who runs may read."
Several points have been raised by various speakers in the Debate. The first point was raised by the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar), and it was referred to by one or two other speakers and by the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards). We were asked whether it was possible to bring the date forward for the application of the Regulations from 30th August to 16th August—a fortnight earlier. If it were possible 2360 for it to have been done it would have been done, but it simply cannot be done.
§ Mr. Tinker
I am surprised at the right hon. Gentleman. I have seen Bills rushed through this House in half a day.
§ Mr. Westwood
I have seen Bills rushed through. We are not dealing with Bills but with payments due to widows. There are variations of payment in connection with public assistance authorities in England, Scotland and Wales and these bring about all kinds of difficulties when dealing with administrative problems. Neither I nor even a senior Minister can give a guarantee or promise to this House on behalf of the Government to do some thing which administratively we know is impossible.
§ Mr. Westwood
I am trying to answer the point which has been put. We are of the opinion that it is administratively impossible to do what is asked.
§ Mr. Westwood
I have given the answer. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman likes it, but I am giving the fact. A comparison was made between the allowances to be paid to the widows. Here again the hon. Member for Abertillery gave certain figures in which he pointed out that an industrial widow with three children would get 20s. 3d. for the children compared with the 25s. 6d. for the war widow. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly went into more detail in giving us comparisons of the disadvantages of the industrial widow. All I want to say is that this House of Commons, rightly or wrongly—and I am not arguing the merits—has always assumed that pensions payable by the State to those bereft of breadwinners as a result of war, or of their parents as a result of the war, should be in excess of what is being paid to widows or the children of widows who have lost their lives in industry.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Is not my right hon. Friend aware that a man who is 2361 conscripted and sent to a particular industry risks as much for the war effort as the man in khaki? Further, is he aware that a man who has been directed into industry and has died in it, or as a consequence of it, and does not get workmen's compensation, is in precisely the same position as a fire watcher?
§ Mr. Westwood
I have made it clear that it has been the will of the House up to the present time to have these differences.
§ Mr. Westwood
It is not my fault that there is not a majority of the same view as the hon. Member. It must be the fault of the people of this country.
§ Mr. Westwood
It has been the expressed will of the House up to the present time. Another point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery was in connection with the distribution of blankets. I can assure my hon. Friend that in that arrangement there was wholehearted co-operation between the Ministry of Health, the Department of Health for Scotland and the Assistance Board. This arrangement was advantageous to the recipients of the blankets, who obtained them without coupons. The blankets were purchased by the State in connection with other possible requirements, and we made them available as a result of our co-operation.
§ Mr. Daggar
My right hon. Friend is misinterpretating what I said. My contention is, and always has been, that the mere fact of distributing blankets and providing winter allowances shows that the scale rates are not high enough. They are substitutes for a substantial pension.
§ Mr. Westwood
In many instances, even if the scales had been far higher, because of the shortage of material, it would have been impossible for the pensioners to get blankets. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am stating the fact. There have been real 2362 difficulties in getting the material. We had them in stock, and we distributed them. My hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) raised the point that whatever we do by simplification of the Regulations and by providing an opportunity to obtain full knowledge of the Regulations, the widow should know exactly what she is to receive. If we can get the simplification which some of us have in mind, an attempt will be made to ensure that the widow will know what she is entitled to receive. Another question was: Would it be possible to put into the Vote Office a circular or memorandum which would in as simple language as possible explain the Regulations. I can assure hon. Members that there will be available after this Debate a limited number of such copies.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
If it is desirable, will there be issued another Paper to explain the Paper which is being issued today to explain the Regulations?
§ Mr. Westwood
I am doing my best to deal with the various points which have been raised. Please do not add any more.
§ Mr. Westwood
It was a Paper published by the Assistance Board in August 1942. It is not quite up-to-date, but we will bring it up-to-date.
Another point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals was: Are the rights of widows safeguarded under our present proposals, where the rate of public assistance may have been higher than the rate of assistance now to be provided under the Assistance Board and the Regulations we are discussing? The answer is, "Yes." Whenever the scales are higher, then their rights are safeguarded. The widow will not receive less than she has been receiving. In Scotland, in most cases, there will be an increase as compared with the amount received under the public assistance scale, and I presume that the same will apply equally to England and Wales. With the exception of two authorities, namely, Glasgow Burgh and Stirling County, the scales now being discussed will be higher than those which have been paid by the public assistance authorities. But even in Glasgow and in Stirling County the widow with three children aged four, eight and 11 will, 2363 under the new proposals, receive not less than the present scale which is payable by these authorities.
§ Mr. Buchanan
This new scale means that the widow with one child has less than what the Glasgow public assistance people are now paying for what used to be called "destitution relief." In other words, you are paying less on the national scales than Glasgow Burgh.
§ Mr. Westwood
In this particular case existing widows' rights are preserved. But the important thing is that so far as other authorities are concerned they get an advantage.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Does it mean that if a widow now drawing public assistance is transferred she gets the amount she was getting from public assistance and that next year a widow who has never drawn public assistance and is in the some position will get a lower scale?
§ Mr. Westwood
She will come within the national scale. In Scotland widows do, as a class, stand to gain. With the two exceptions I have mentioned all other authorities are paying less than the scale which is now being discussed.
§ Mr. Buchanan
Surely in an enlightened community you would not take the example of these authorities.
§ Mr. Gallacher
It means that two widows living next door to each other will get different rates next year.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
Could my right hon. Friend tell us whether the scales in the West Riding of Yorkshire will be higher or lower?
§ Mr. Westwood
A further point was raised by the hon. Member for Gorbals with regard to the development of school feeding in Scotland. He wanted to know whether the feeding of these children in school would be taken into account in fixing the scale which would be paid to the widow. The answer is that no account whatever will be taken of the arrangement for such feeding. The hon. Member also asked: Where a widow does not go into industry because of illness or some other cause and who may have to be sent to a hospital or infirmary to get proper 2364 treatment, does that mean that the scale will not apply to her? Again, on the advice given to me, she will be allowed to continue the scale for at least six months. At the end of that time the matter is still open for reconsideration by the Assistance Board.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Can we get this quite clear, because the Minister is making a statement which seems in conflict with the practice of the Assistance Board? Are we to understand that a person coming under these Regulations who goes into a public institution for treatment will continue to receive supplementary pension for six months after entering the institution?
§ Mr. Westwood
No, I did not say that. I dealt with the hospital and the infirmary. I used those exact words, I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals has in mind my point as to where special treatment ought to be given. In this case payment is not suspended at once. Time is taken to consider all the factors.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
I am sorry to interrupt, but we must get this clear. If a pensioner goes into a private hospital, the supplementary pension has been continued, but if he goes into a county or rate-maintained hospital, what is the position?
§ Mr. Westwood
If he goes into a public institution which is solely or mainly maintained by the rates or the State, that is an entirely different thing from what I have been trying to put to the House in answering a point put by my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals. I would require to make further inquiries into the point which is now being raised, because I do not want to mislead the House. No matter on which side of the House I have sat, I have never yet tried to mislead hon. Members.
§ Mr. Gallacher
Does it mean that if a patient goes into a voluntary hospital the supplementary pension continues but that if the patient goes into a hospital under the control of the local authority the supplementary pension ceases?
§ Mr. Westwood
No, that is not even so so far as a public institution is concerned, because there are certain arrangements under which payments have to be made to keep up the payments the patient was making, within certain limits, before 2365 the patient went into the institution. All this lets hon. Members see how difficult and intricate it is to deal with these complications in trying to put into simple language the meaning of the Regulations. I think I have dealt with the main points that have been raised in the Debate.
§ Mr. Gallacher
I want an answer to my question. Will a man with a capital of £400 be entitled to 4s. 6d. supplementary pension?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
I think it would be better to let the Minister explain a rather difficult position without quite so much interruption.
§ Mr. Westwood
It is clear that, if he has over £400 of non-exempted capital, there is no supplementary pension. That is the law. But it is quite possible under the Regulations for a man to have a house of the value £1,000 and for a man and wife to have between them £500 Savings Certificates. That shows how difficult it is, in dealing with this complicated problem, to give a direct answer to the question whether a man with £400 can claim a supplementary pension. I have tried to give the answer.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Can we have an undertaking that the codification of the Regulations will provide for a declared standard of supplementary pensions?
§ Mr. Westwood
All I can say is that when the new Regulations are before the House the whole question can be debated. I can give no assurance, I have no instructions to give an assurance, that anything can be done other than the passing of these Regulations to-day. I can give no guarantee with regard to any increase of the pensions. We are discussing the Regulations, which improve the lot so far as widows and thrifty persons are concerned by reducing by 50 per cent. the penalty on thrift and increasing the savings by £100 These are the Regulations that the House is being asked to pass to-day, and I hope we are going to 2366 get unanimous backing in passing Regulations which undoubtedly will improve the lot of widows and old age pensioners.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That the Draft Supplementary Pensions (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs) (Amendment) Regulations, made by the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland, acting in conjunction under the Unemployment Act, 1934, as applied by the Old Age and Widows' Pensions Act, 1940, a copy of which was presented to this House on 29th July, be approved.