§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Pym.]
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
During the Debate on the Regulations I put certain questions to which the Minister could not reply under the conditions of the Debate, and I should like to emphasise again the point of view that I put. The Memorandum leads us to believe that the Assistance Board is looking at the matter. In our minds one thing is prominent. I understand they are dealing with the rates. If that is so, what are the intentions of the Government, and what is in the minds of hon. Members opposite? The present supplementary allowance is not sufficient to meet the needs of the old people. That is admitted by everyone. It has grown up piecemeal, a little there in winter, taken off in summer, and all the time everyone realises that it is not sufficient. Now we have an opportunity for the House to say what they think about it. It will be an expression of opinion which will carry weight with the. Assistance Board, which is a statutory Board governed largely by opinion in the country and the House of Commons, and, if we emphasise what we think is a fair basis of what old age pensioners should have by way of supple- 2367 mentary payment, we shall impress those people when they are examining them.
When I have argued for an increase in the basic rate this is what I have been met with. Am I arguing for more money for people who may have a fairly adequate income and asking that something should be added to it by the State? I am not arguing that to-day. I am asking what we think is adequate to keep aged people who have no other means than 10s. and the supplementary pension. Should the figure be 15s., 17s., 18s. or £1 for each unit apart from rent? Do they think that anything less than £1 is sufficient? It is for the House to decide what can be done to put these people in a position of something like security. It is not too much to ask for that to be examined thoroughly. I am urging hon. Members opposite who from time to time have come forward to help us to join with us to-day. I ask them to say that something better ought to be given to our aged people.
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
I am glad my hon. Friend has made an appeal to hon. Members on this side of the House, because I feel that it will be most unfortunate if the impression, which I think a wrong one, were created that interest in the well-being of old age pensioners was confined to one party. This is a very human problem which, I am sure, is the concern of Members of all parties. The question of the treatment of old age pensioners has been raised again and again, and the time is long overdue when some generally acceptable basis of settlement should be arrived at so that the question need not be constantly brought up. I do not think it fair to the old people to make their affairs the subject of constant debate, nor is it consonant with our dignity that we should not be able to arrive at some permanent -settlement of the question. I have no right to speak on behalf of others, but, speaking for myself, I accept the suggestion the hon. Member has made as a reasonable basis, that the basic rate of a supplementary pension after allowance for rent should be £1 a week. No one familiar with the needs of the individual household would say that that errs on the side of generosity. It is a minimum which we ought to be prepared to accept. I have pleaded again and again for an increase in the basic rate, but that has been 2368 refused by the Government on the ground that such money as was available should go to those in need, and the supplementary pension meets cases of that kind. I admit the force of the argument, particularly in war-time, when many old age pensioners may have other sources of income, but if the Government refuse an increase in the basic rate, it is only right that they should be prepared to accept a basic rate of £1 for the supplementary pension, because that is only paid after the fullest investigation by the Assistance Board into the needs of the individual. I therefore gladly respond to the hon. Member's appeal, and, if it is found generally acceptable that the basic rate for supplementary old age pensions should be £1 for the individual, after allowance has been made for rent, I hope the Government will take note and that it will have the effect of taking the question from the arena of debate and controversy for a long time.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
I am sure I am like others in being profoundly disappointed that the opportunity has not been taken by the Assistance Board on this occasion to bring in Regulations of much wider scope than those provided for in the last Act that we passed. It was necessary to bring in the widows and to deal with the long outstanding question of removing to some extent the penalty upon thrift, but it seems to me that it was well within their power at the same time to bring in Regulations with a much wider scope dealing with the whole question of supplementary pensions which come within their purview. The absence of that action on the part of the Assistance Board is an indication that they are not sufficiently in touch with the sentiment of the House, which I believe is very widespread, that an improvement must be made in the position of old age pensioners generally. I am certain that that sentiment is also held all over the country, and I should have thought the Assistance Board was sufficiently aware of it. Surely they will pay attention to the Debate that has taken place to-day. It seemed to me that they paid little attention to the last full-dress Debate on old age pensions. If they had they would have realised beyond doubt that what was expected of them was a considerable improvement in supplementary pensions. Members have with regret come to the position to-day of find- 2369 ing that no undertaking can be given about the immediate future. We shall soon be near the period when winter allowances become payable and we are left in the position of having to go back to our constituents unable to carry to them a message of hope and encouragement that something definite will be done for old age pensioners. I refrain from indicating a fixed amount that would be satisfactory to them, but we can remember how disappointed the House and the country and the pensioners themselves were about the fact that only 25. 6d. was added to supplementary pension on the last occasion. We look for something in advance of that when the next review takes place.
It is regrettable that the attention of this House so often requires to be drawn to this problem. I am anxious to see it taken away from the realm of continued bickering in this House and controversy outside, and to see a position in which the old age pensioners will feel that they have got something like a fair deal during a time when their needs have certainly increased to a considerable extent. A contrast has been drawn between the treatment of war casualties and their dependants and the treatment of those who are casualties on the industrial field. This wide disparity should not be allowed to continue, and even if we cannot completely bridge the gulf it should be made much narrower. The responsibility should be accepted by those who have to deal with these matters and they should react to the mood of the House and the country by making at the earliest possible moment a considerable advance on the position as it is to-day.
Mr. Robertson (Streatham)
The hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), who takes such an interest in the old people, invited Members on this side of the House to give their views on the constructive proposal which he made to pay the old people without means 20s. a week in addition to their rent. I would like to assure him that the suggestion makes an immediate appeal to me. I would like the Government seriously to investigate how much that would cost per annum and to take a courageous view of our ability to foot the bill. As I understand the position, an old age pensioner without means receives 22s. in the summer and 24s. 6d. in the winter. If we take the summer figure, 2370 it will cost us only an extra 3s., based on a 5s. rent, to meet the suggestion of the hon. Member for Leigh. I have always taken the view in previous Debates on this subject that we have marched forward a long way. I well recollect the Debates in the early days of 1940 when we spent ten days of Parliamentary time in the middle of a great war on the supplementary pensions Act.
Ever since I have been very disturbed as to the balance between the needs of the old people and the capacity of the nation to pay. Hon. Members opposite who have been speaking to-day are not making a good illustration of our ability to pay when they talk of our spending £15,000,000 a day on the war. That would be a very good reason for not doing any more than we need do for old age pensioners. The point that does arise is whether the old people can live on less than 20s. a week. If they cannot it is our bounden duty to find the money to help them. I do not think 3s. will break us; it cannot have such a great effect on us. It is true, as the hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) pointed out, that Sir William Beveridge, a great economist, after months of study, came to the conclusion that after 20 years' contributions the amount given to an old couple should be 40s. based on a 10s. rent. The proposal of the hon. Member for Leigh carries that 10s. a week further, for he suggests 40s. exclusive of rent, which will probably be rather more than 10s.
§ Mr. Molson (The High Peak)
The calculation put forward by Sir Wm. Beveridge was based on a calculation of what was needed to avoid destitution.
I fully appreciate that, as I do all the other principles and implications of the Beveridge Report, which I heartily support. I have also a good deal of sympathy with the Government's view that at this stage of the war, when they cannot possibly foresee what lies ahead of us, they are naturally diffident about taking a step forward like that. At the same time I am consumed with this question whether the old people have enough to live on. I say that after over 12 months' intimate association with the old people of my constituency. My constituents opened a club for elderly people which is doing great good. They provide good companionship, which is one of the most important things of all for the old 2371 folk; we have not talked about it to-day but another thing we must consider is the need of removing loneliness. Among the amenities the club provides are a two-course lunch for 8d., tea at a 1d. a cup, and a high tea for 6d. I have learned in recent months that certain members have not been regularly taking the lunch or tea because they have not enough money to pay for it. If that is true it is a strong indication that something more is required than we are paying the old people now. If they are unable to pay 8d. for a two-course hot lunch or 6d. for a high tea the sooner they have the money the better. I have great sympathy with the Ministers who are responsible, and if they will investigate the project of the hon. Member for Leigh and let the House know what it will cost and what the risks are, I am very hopeful that Members on all sides will rally behind them.
§ Mr. Sloan (Ayrshire, South)
One feels that old age pension Debates in this Chamber are like a funeral march. It is surprising that we should have so many Debates and so many plausible statements and arguments made by Ministers why we should not do justice to the old folk. I do not know how many old age pension Debates we have had since the beginning of the war. They are innumerable, and they show how difficult it is to extract even 6d. or 1s. a time for the pensioners. The war has taken a turn for the better and there are many sections of the community who are hoping that it will be over in a short time. They are looking forward with pleasurable anticipation to the post-war period. There is one section of the community which has no reason to have any pleasure, and that is the old age pensioners. They are people who have played their part in the life of the community for half a century. Many of them were just as important as any people sitting in this House, if there are any important people in the House. They have laid the foundations for the wealth from which all pensions are paid, but to the eternal disgrace of this House they have had to organise themselves into an association in order to compel justice from the Government. Many of these old people were at one time active in the trade union and labour movement and they have now to start again to organise themselves into 2372 associations to secure justice for the people of their day and generation.
If any person can derive any satisfaction from the Debate we have had to-day, I would like to know who he is. These grudging and cheese-paring concessions of 6d. and 1s. in the face of the demands of the pensioners is a direct insult to them. When Debates take place on trade union matters we have Members putting forward the demands of organised labour, and we have a right to put forward the demands of the organised old age pensioners, and thousands of others who are not pensioners but only old people. They are demanding a pension of 30s. per week, and it is for this House to say, when the time comes, whether this demand can be met or not, whether this great nation which can spend £15,000,000 a day or more on non-productive work, can throw away £15,000,000 a day without any return of any kind, is able to spend 30s. a week on the old people.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Member has mentioned the figure of 30s. a week. To bring about that pension would mean legislation, and he is getting on to the danger line.
§ Mr. Sloan
I was not feeling that we were going to bring in legislation to-day. I was only suggesting what the old age pensioners are demanding. We may get an Old Age Pensions Bill when we come back after the holiday. Why should we not do justice to the old people? If it had not been for those old people, many of us would not be here to-day. They laid the foundations of the industry of this country. In the county where I live only two pits have been sunk in the last 25 years, which means that all the collieries now operating there are the work of people who are now in this category of old age pensioners. To-day we are living on their industry and their work. They created all the wealth in the country, sunk all the pits, built all the ships, built all the factories—yes, and the distilleries and breweries too—and surely it is possible for the Government to give them a little of the wealth which they have created.
To-day we are being planned out of existence. We are told we shall have the New Jerusalem. Post-war planning committees are operating in every direction. They have it all blue printed ready to give 2373 us a new existence when the war is over. But I am not so sure that it is all going to happen. One of the reasons why I am not so sure is the attitude taken up towards these old age pensioners. We have had the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson) telling us that even if we can supply cups of tea at Id. the old age pensioners are unable to purchase them. He said that if we raised the supplementary pension to 205.they would be able to buy cups of tea. That reduces the whole matter to an absurdity.
I think the hon. Member himself is reducing the whole matter to an absurdity. I referred to meals at 8d. and high teas at 6d. As to the penny for the single cup of tea, he is stating an extreme case, which is quite wrong.
§ Mr. Sloan
After all, if the old age pensioners could not spend 8d. for the dinner, they would not have the penny for a cup of tea, and so it logically reduces itself to the same thing. Statements were made by the hon. Member for Abertillery (Mr. Daggar) when he opened the former Debate which should have convinced every hon. and right hon. Member opposite. In my constituency there is an old age pension association and the chairman and the secretary of it are as active as any men who are here. We are nearly all in the old-age pension class here. They passed a resolution and sent it to me last week. They have made their demands clear, definite and precise. It is a county where people sometimes grow old. There are many counties where people never grow old, because of the living conditions, but we have plenty of fresh air and plenty of fresh milk in Ayrshire and the result is that we have probably a greater percentage of people of pensionable age than any other area of the country. Therefore we have more demands from Ayrshire.
Every Debate in this House ends up on the same note: There is a plausible statement from the Minister; a threat that if we do not accept some new regulation we shall shut out the old people from some small increase; critics are told they are trying to turn the regulation into a controversial measure and that controversial measure must not be discussed at the present time. This matter must be brought to a definite issue. We must insist upon something in the nature of justice being done to the old people. The hon. Member for Abertillery said that even 2374 if the increase were granted the position of old age pensioners would be worse today than in 1940. Something must he done if that is the case. We cannot ask old age pensioners to help to pay for the war out of their meagre pittances. The war must be paid for out of the industry of the people. The hon. Member for West Fife (Mr. Gallacher) reminded us that pensions to civil servants, pensions to teachers pensions to the Army and Navy, pensions to the constabulary, pensions to the officials of local authorities are all paid for by people who themselves are deprived of pensions.
In my county the people are paying through their rates for the pensions of the staffs of local authorities. The county has adopted a superannuation scheme, and all, from the county clerk down to the scavenger, can now be superannuated, and it is all being paid for by those who themselves have been refused pensions. What a scandalous state of affairs. What a ridiculous position in which to place ordinary human beings. And not only do they provide the pensions, they provide the wages and salaries, because neither of them grow on trees. It is elementary economics that it is only out of the produce of a country that pensions and wages and salaries can be paid, and yet the people who are paying them are to get no pensions. I hope the result of this Debate will be that the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Minister of Health will have a little "confab" together. I do not know whether they get on well together, but I ask them to have a nice little private conference, and then to put their demands to the Cabinet and tell them "If you do not meet our demands in this matter you will have to look for another Secretary of State and another Minister of Health." That is the way they ought to do the business, and if they do not do it we can only assume they are not wholeheartedly behind the old age pensions movement.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
One of the things that surprises me is the patience of the Minister, which has been manifest when old age pensions have been debated in the House. I have tried to follow the Order Paper from 21st October last year, and time after time I have seen on the Order Paper Questions to the Minister of Health asking when he will be prepared to give some assurance to our old age pen- 2375 sioners, and every time we have been amazed at his patience and the sympathy which has been manifested towards the question. I am hoping that to-day, following on the pleas which have been made by other hon. Members, we shall have some pronouncement from his Department as to what they are prepared to do when the House reassembles. I have lived sufficiently long to realise that this life is full of expectations and disappointments. Every morning we expect something and we are disappointed. There are very few who always get what they expect. I want the Minister to tell us what is behind the mind of the Government on this question. As I said on 17th February, no one in the House or outside the House can justify the continuance of the present rates of pensions. No regard has ever been paid to the increase in the cost of living and that is a vital matter to our old age pensioners. As I have said, life is full of expectations and disappointments, and thousands, even millions, of old age pensioners are disappointed with the Government.
I speak as an ex-miner, and it is a tragedy to me to know and to feel that old age pensioners, who have served in their day and generation the mining, textile, engineering, or some other industry, or in many other walks of life, are, in the eventide of their lives, compelled to organise in order to secure from the Government that which the Government ought to give to them with a willing mind and a generous heart. We are faced with an old age pensioners' organisation, with branches springing up all over the country. This House and the Minister ought to know that the younger people of this country are now giving their sympathetic support to the plea that is being advanced on behalf of and by the old age pensioners.
For the life of me, I cannot understand why the Government and the Department are so hesitant and so reluctant in coming forward with a scale of payments which would relieve old age pensioners of the poverty and squalor in which they now live. I often ask myself the question, "Why, oh why, do not the Government come forward with something more human and generous?" It ought to be remembered that we have more than 3,000,000 old age pensioners and that one 2376 out of 13 of our people gets a pension of some description. Not one of them receives a pension adequate to a decent standard of life. I ask myself another question, "When are the Government going to treat these men and women with the consideration they deserve?" What impresses me most in connection with the discussion I have had on this subject is that time and time again the old people in my division have said, "We are the mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers of those men and women who saved this country in 1940–41 from the onslaught of the Nazi tyrants." Surely these people are entitled to better treatment than they now receive. Their needs are very urgent, and some improvement in their pensions scale is long overdue. Several responsible Ministers have said in the past few months that any increase in pensions rates would involve great administrative changes and great financial obligations; ever since September, 1939, and up to the present time every step taken by the Government in the prosecution of the war has involved great administrative changes and greater financial obligations. True to the honour of the people of this country, the Government have faced the position with a great deal of courage and administrative genius. Surely, after waiting for so long, we are not asking too much that the Government should face the old age pension position with courage and fortitude as a very important and urgent matter of giving adequate pensions to the old people who have served their day and generation by giving of their very best.
Taxes unequalled in the history of this country have been faced with little or no complaint by the people, who are prepared to face greater calls if they can have the assurance that additional taxation will relieve the poverty and squalor of our old age pensioners. As one who has had some experience in the last few months of moving about the country and coming into contact with different people in various walks of life, I express my firm belief that public opinion is stronger on the side of adequate pensions for our old people than it ever has been in our history. It is not asking too much that the Government should face the reality of the situation and not shelter themselves by making further promises which may not materialise until after the war. The Minister will pardon 2377 me if I use an expression, which he will no doubt understand. It is:Now is the day of salvation; now is the accepted timeto deal generously with adequate pensions for our old people. Procrastination is the thief of time, and to postpone any longer this matter is stealing what should be given to the old age pensioners now. On 17th February I referred to the row in which I lived. I saw those people yesterday morning, living a life of monotony, just pursuing the daily round and common task, with no change at all—no holidays, no pictures and no social amenities, but simply drudgery from morning till night. I do ask the Minister and the Government to give this House some assurance that we may expect an increase for our old age pensioners before the winter of this year dawns upon us.
§ Mr. Storey (Sunderland)
Like other hon. Members on this side of the House, I want to respond to the invitation of the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) that we should give our views as to whether the provision at present made is adequate or not, but before I do so I would congratulate him upon having abandoned his request for a flat-rate increase for all pensioners, whether they need it or not—
§ Mr. Tinker
Under the rules of the Debate I am compelled to do that, but I have not dropped it from my mind. I have to use my Parliamentary time to persuade other hon. Members.
§ Mr. Storey
I understood from what he said to- day that he had done so. I do not want to press that point, but I want to deal with the question he asked us to deal with, namely, whether the provision made at the present time is adequate or not. The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken asked us to be human and generous; we all want to be human and generous, but we must look at this matter in the right perspective. What we are doing is to redistribute the national income. We are taking from those who have above a minimum and giving it to those who are below the minimum. When the social survey shows that working-class 2378 families who are above the minimum have many times the deficiency of those who are below the minimum, I am quite prepared to face such redistribution. If we attempt such redistribution, it follows that we must hold the balance fairly, for it is not now a question of soaking the rich but is a question of taxing those who are not far above the level of those who are in receipt of supplementation. Supplementation, therefore, must be adequate, but it must not be lavish, and while it takes account of capital assets, it must not penalise thrift. I turn first to the question of whether it is adequate.
I would once again remind the House of the very careful inquiry which an expert Committee made on behalf of Sir William Beveridge when he was preparing his Report and of the fact that those inquiries resulted in Sir William Beveridge recommending a scale to meet the requirements of the retired couple. That scale at 1938 prices amounted to 29s. 6d. If we add 30 per cent. to bring that figure up to the present price level, we bring Sir William Beveridge's 29s. 6d. to 38s. 6d., which is to be compared with the Assistance Board's 37s. To make a fair comparison we have to add to the latter figure the value of the winter allowance, is. 3d. a week, and to put the rent on the same basis as in the Beveridge scale we have to add another 2s. 6d. to the Assistance Board figure. We are left with the comparison that the Assistance Board's figure is now 40s. 9d. and the Beveridge proposal, which is part of the plan which so many of us in this House wish to see implemented, is 38s. 6d. In addition, we have to remember that the Assistance Board have power to help applicants with clothing, bedding and household supplies, and, whether some people like it or not, in present circumstances, as I think was shown to-day over the question of blankets, it is necessary that some of this help should be given in kind.
I turn now to whether the provision for capital assets penalises thrift. No one who considers fairly the way in which capital assets will in future be treated can deny that the treatment is generous. The value of a house in which an applicant lives is disregarded; 10s. 6d. superannuation, which after all is a capital asset, is disregarded; £375, or if the wife has also war savings, £750, of war savings are also disregarded. In passing, I should say 2379 that I have a great deal of sympathy with those who saved during the last war and who feel it rather hard that their savings, if over £400, are taken into account, while those who have saved in this war £375 or £700 for a married couple, have those savings disregarded. When those items have been disregarded, other savings up to £400 are taken into account only on a most generous scale. When we consider the figures, we find that a pensioner who has between £375 and £400 is only, on the average, asked to contribute 2s. 6d. per week out of his savings towards meeting the cost of keeping himself; a man between £275 and £300 only has to use his savings at the rate of 1s. 8d. per week; between £175 and £200, only at the rate of rod.; while between £75 and £100 he has to use nothing at all. I submit that on those figures the treatment of capital assets is generous.
The other thing we hear about the way in which old age pensioners are treated is that the treatment of the Assistance Board is harsh. That is certainly not my experience. Indeed, I am sometimes surprised how far the Assistance Board have stretched their discretion in order to help an applicant. I have also been surprised by how few complaints I have received from my constituency, which, after all, is a constituency which has had more than its fair share of unemployment, and to a much greater extent than most constituencies has used up its resources in capital and household goods and other things. I am surprised how very few complaints indeed—I used to have a great many—I have received since the Assistance Board took over the administration of supplementation.
I have sought to show that supplementation is in my opinion adequate, that it is sympathetically administered and is generous in its treatment of capital assets. I have made similar statements in this House before, and on one occasion the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths), who I am glad to see has just come back, said he would like to have me on a platform in my constituency and let them hear the sort of statement I had made. I therefore want to call on the hon. Member to support the three contentions I have made, that supplementation is generous, that the administration is not harsh and that 2380 capital assets are generously treated. Speaking on 29th July, 1942, the hon. Member said:I am not going to damn the supplementary pension. I say candidly that it has brought happiness to thousands of old age pensioners.That is my first point. I go on to the second:I have damned the investigators in the past and I have had my reasons for doing so. I have gone to the office and told them some names, with knobs on, but the investigators now, as far as my folk are concerned, are behaving like ladies and gentlemen. I want to give praise where it is due.That is my second point. Here is what the hon. Member said about my third point:I am sorry that these Regulations do not give some increase to the people who have been thrifty in the past and have a pound or two in the bank. If they have done so, the old age pensioners all over the country would have risen up and called the Government blessed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th July, 1942; cols. 594-3, Vol. 382.]Since that speech was made—
§ Mr. Storey
Yes, I was quoting it to show that my contention that pension supplementation was adequate, that the administration was not harsh and that treatment of capital assets was generous was justified. I would remind the House that that speech was made over a year ago, and that we have in these Regulations and in the Bill we recently passed so treated capital assets that I think every pensioner who fairly considers the matter will, as the hon. Member put it, "rise up and called the Government blessed."
While supplementation must always produce hard cases and anomalies, there is only one way to avoid the majority of those cases, and that is by an adequate system of contributory insurance. Every day's delay in starting such a scheme is a mistake. It means that more and more young people are passing the age of 16 without starting to contribute to an adequate old age pension, and that when the Government do, as they will have to do, increase old age pensions they will have to carry a greater burden because when the scheme starts they will have to carry the backwash of all those who pass the age of 16 without starting to contribute towards such a contributory scheme.
2381 I have no doubt myself that the great bulk of citizens would welcome the opportunity to contribute to higher pensions on an actuarial basis. That is certainly my own experience. In my own business all my employees have to contribute to the firm's superannuation scheme; most of them contribute to the State contributory old age pensions scheme; some of them contribute to union superannuation schemes. Yet, when an additional voluntary scheme was ma de available to them in which the firm did nothing except provide facilities for the weekly collection of the premiums, a large percentage of them, in addition to the other forms of insurance they were interested in, took out supplementary policies. From that I judge that a sound contributory pensions scheme on an actuarial basis would meet with the general approval and the ready support of the citizens of this country. I therefore conclude by pressing upon the Government that at the earliest possible date they will put forward a sound contributory scheme even if it means a long transitional period, so that we may see the time ahead when supplementation will only be necessary when ill health and excessive unemployment prevent those who are members of it from paying their contributions.
§ Mr. Pearson (Pontypridd)
The White Paper has presented us with two blessed words, "codification" and "simplification." I hope that in. the task that the Government intend facing it will result in the old age pensioners having a more gracious setting than they have had hitherto. The hon. Member who preceded me appeared to me to anchor his remarks too firmly to the Beveridge proposals. The need to-day is the immediate appeal, which has been supported almost unanimously by hon. Members in all parts of the House, for something to be done for the old age pensioners. The improvements that the House has just passed will be very welcome, but further consideration should be given to the scales of supplementary pensions for the old folk. The absence of provision for them in to-day's Regulations will grievously disappoint old age pensioners. If the code which it is proposed to make available, I trust at a not distant date, fails to better the lot of the old age pensioners I believe that many hon. Members of this House will revolt.
Present scales are inadequate for a 2382 reasonable livelihood; they condemn the aged to a comparatively mean and scanty life. The time has arrived to move forward from this point. One finds a very strong and clear opinion in the country as to the desirability of giving a higher maintenance income to the supplementary pension class. The House cannot remain contented unless there is a change for the better from the meagre life that the old folks are forced to live. Will not the Government stretch out a helping hand in the task of this codification and simplification by giving increased scales? It would be a very hard-hearted Minister if he did not do his best for the easing of the difficulties now weighing upon a very deserving section of the people of our country. It is a shameful social evil that allows no more than an expenditure of 3d. per meal per day, and that is all that our existing supplementary scales allow. The public conscience must be sharpened so as to compel the Government to lay down reasonable minimum income standards. Anything less must be looked upon as wrong. Therefore, I say they should be swept away, despite the difficulty that may be in the way.
From our capacity in these days to create wealth surely can be wrested some standards of supplementary pensions of the aged? I appeal for a more gracious setting to enfold the autumn years of old age, and if this House shows the will, then the way can be found. There are examples that need to be cleared away of a deep measure of parsimony. It has been referred to in previous speeches. For instance, a man and wife, where the wife is below pension age, receive Is. less per week. That savours of the petty and the mean. Surely there is not the difference in the amount of goods that are consumed per week just because the wife may be just under 60 years of age? Again, I say that if this treatment was designed to hurt it could not be better conceived. Let us abolish it as something unworthy of Britain. Discrimination between the sexes, again, is a relic that should be swept away. The scale rate differentiates by is., which I believe it is time to wipe out. The third category of scale variations is that of non-householders. It is a vexatious piece of finesse. The differentiations in the scales of these categories in the existing Regulations ought to be ended. There can be no insurmountable barriers in the way of smoothing out these 2383 rates. I look to the need for codifying the Regulations as offering an opportunity of expanding minimum incomes. A good standard of maintenance is a good national investment. I urge as a firm next step the laying down of scales for a man and wife of £2 2s. a week and 25s. a week for a single person. Welfare and a greater measure of happiness will ensue. Such are the best dividends worthy of realisation.
§ Mr. Messer (Tottenham, South)
I must confess that in all the Debates which have taken place on old age pensions I have risen at the end of the day with a feeling of very deep depression. It has always seemed to me that what we have been engaged in doing is huckstering and bartering, pleading and appealing for a few shillings a week for a section of our people, to give them the right, which is the right of every man and woman in the world, to live. Living is not just eating, drinking and sleeping, and I think it is true to say that the illustration made by the hon. Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson) about the social side of life, has a great deal of value. I do not altogether agree with his remarks, for, while he was sympathetic to the claims of these old people, he was careful to say at the end that we have to see that the nation can afford it, that we can foot the bill. I would remind him of the White Paper on Education, in the first paragraph of which there was something which I think is worth consideration. It approached the subject, not from the standpoint of whether we could afford to do it, but of whether we could afford not to do it. It seems, to me that too often we base our views of these things on an economic plane. We first consider whether it will pay, rather than whether it is right. We should view this subject first from the standpoint of its morality, rather than the standpoint of its expediency. As was stated by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey), this is an adjustment of income. If you do not give these old age pensioners enough to keep them living outside an institution, you will have to pay very much more to keep them inside. It was said from these benches that they cannot force their demands by going on strike. I am inclined to think that if all the old age pensioners did go on strike, say, by going into a Poor Law institution, it would cost very much more 2384 to keep them there than it costs to keep them outside.
The trouble with our social legislation in this country has always been its lack of planning. It is a kaleidoscopic patchwork. We have recognised the need, but not until public opinion has compelled us to have we done anything to meet that need. The result is a patchwork system which baffles the true sociologist. One side of our social legislation has no relation to the other. We must plan so that our social services bear some relation to each other. In that connection, it would be difficult for anybody to argue that an old age pensioner should for any reason be treated differently from any other old person. Why should a policeman, who, some people say, produces no wealth at all, although at any rate he protects wealth, have a pension which is paid for out of the wealth produced by people who themselves are not entitled to a pension when they are no longer able to continue in industry? It is time that we planned our social services on a recognition of the human rights of the individual. I have never been able to understand why the roadsweeper is entitled to a pension big enough to keep him when he retires from work, while the man or woman in the factory is expected to live on 10s. a week. Ten shillings a week is not enough to keep anybody. We have supplementary pensions because it is recognised that 10s. is not enough. Just as a measure of expediency, we introduced this very cumbrous machinery of supplementary pensions.
From the standpoint of justice and equity, there can be no question that the old man and woman are entitled to as much as will enable them to live, not extravagantly but in security, not having to look at every day's food to see whether they can spin it out enough to reach the end of their financial week when they draw their pensions again. I do not think it is beyond the wit of the Minister of Health to devise something that will meet the needs of public opinion, for public opinion is in advance of this House on this question. In no constituency, with no audience, will there be found any opposition to the payment of adequate pensions to those who are in the evening of their years. One can hardly help feeling that in times like these we want writers like Dickens, we want poets like 2385 Tom Hood, we want a new "Song of the Shirt":Oh, God! that bread should be so dear, And flesh and blood so cheap!We owe something to those people, for in their day and generation they have produced the wealth that enables us to live at the standard at which we do live. That is a duty which I hope we shall recognise as an obligation of honour, questioning not whether we can afford to do it but whether we can afford not to do it.
§ Mr. Murray (Spennymoor)
I think that everyone in this House wants to do justice to the aged people of this country. I feel that everybody in this House is satisfied that the allowance made to the aged people is a subsistence allowance. I do not think anyone, in any part of the House, would say that the old people can live in luxury on what they receive. Since this House last debated pensions, I have been very interested in what has happened. It has been stated several times to-day that the amount given is in-sufficient for the old people to live on in comfort. I have seen that, because of certain Regulations passed by this House, old people are not allowed even to remain on their past standard of living, but have in some degree had their standard reduced. Many are now compelled to buy their coal from the colliery companies and to pay 26s. a ton for it whereas in the past they received it from their sons or sons-in-law or friends working at the collieries. For a number of years it has been the practice in Durham for young men employed in the industry to save the coal which they receive and give it to the old people. The young man may now get from the colliery company 13s. 6d. a ton, but what does that mean to the old people? Out of their old age pensions they must pay for their coal. Thousands of them in the County of Durham have been affected by that Regulation. I know that there is a scarcity of coal, and that the Minister has to do everything possible to save coal; but these old people have had a penalty imposed upon them which should never have been imposed upon them. I appeal to the Minister to take this extra hardship into account. Many of these old people have had the good fortune to obtain aged miners' homes, with a home free, light free and coal free, but others have not had that fortune. The younger generation has sought to help those old people by saving coal for them 2386 out of their own accumulations. I wanted to show that the standard of life of the old people has not been static but in this case has been reduced, and that something ought to be done to help these veterans of industry to live in comfort and decency.
Major Thorneyeroft (Stafford)
I rise to intervene in this Debate for a few moments only in response to the invitation which was extended by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) to Members on this side to give their views as to the way in which this very much discussed matter of supplementary pensions ought to be approached. I would like to say how much I agree with the speech of the hon. Member for South Tottenham (Mr. Messer) when he said that what was wrong with our social services was the patch-work way in which they have grown up. He said that they have presented a problem for sociologists; they have certainly presented a problem to Members of Parliament who try to master the intricacies of these various questions. That brings me to the first point that I wish to make. The Minister is to be congratulated on his intention to codify and simplify these Regulations. It will be a help to Members of Parliament, but it will be also a help to the recipients of these pensions. I have spoken to a number of people—as we all have in our constituencies—on these subjects, and I am sure that very large numbers of them do not know from day to day what they are going to get or to what they are entitled. They are, some of them, afraid almost to accept a supplementary pension because they see that somebody was prosecuted in the police court for taking too much. All that is because of the extraordinary complications of these Regulations. I do congratulate the Minister on his expressed determination to try and put that right.
Apart from the question of simplicity, there are certain other aspects of pensions with which I wish to deal very briefly. The first requirement of the pension is that it should be adequate, and the second necessity is that we should be able to afford to pay it. I apologise to hon. Members opposite for being so mundane as to refer to this matter, but I cannot discuss the matter in too airy a mariner. The question of how we can find money for pensions has to be faced. Adequacy is not paying as much as we would like to pay; it is paying sufficient to enable these 2387 people to get along on it. At the present moment the situation in which we find ourselves is that the Government are pledged to a flat-rate increase. I think that on an Adjournment Debate, even pressure or encouragement to get on with the job would almost be out of Order, but that is the situation in which we find ourselves. The proposal to-day, as I understand the hon. Member for Leigh, is that an interim measure to bring the pension up to £1 a week should be brought forward by the Government forthwith. That is on the face of it an attractive proposition. It is certainly an attractive proposition to the old age pensioners, but I would observe that it is a proposal that goes further than what Sir Wm. Beveridge considered was adequate and could be introduced in 20 years' time.
§ Mr. Tinker
Sir William Beveridge based his plan on the fact that persons would be able to have certain savings of their own by 1965, and the pension coming along would help the savings they already had. He did not lay it down as a basis upon which they should live in 1965.
I always treat what the hon. Member for Leigh says on these matters with great respect, but I cannot accept that proposition. Sir William Beveridge went into the matter with considerable trouble and had an expert committee sitting to decide what were subsistence rates, and he arrived at a figure. What the hon. Member for Leigh is now suggesting—as he is entitled to do, and there is no reason why he should not—is that as an interim measure, more should be paid to the old age pensioners who are on supplementary pension than what Sir William Beveridge suggested. While he is entitled to make that suggestion, we do not want to treat the Beveridge Report with contempt in that respect. We must consider very carefully whether Sir William Beveridge was perhaps not right in saying that the amount was as he stated in his Report. That is the first thing I want to say.
The second thing I want to say is that while it may be remarkable that the hon. Member has made a proposal which differs from the Beveridge proposal, it is still more remarkable that the proposal should be supported by the suggestion—not made 2388 by him but by other hon. Members opposite—that because we are spending £15,000,00 a day on the war, therefore, we can afford to pay these high pensions after the war. It is time that we stopped saying this sort of thing. I do not think it is fair to people outside this House, and I do not believe it bears the slightest relation to the facts of the case. Let us face this fact. These supplementary pensions are going to be paid for, as all other social reforms are paid for, out of taxation, and that taxation is going to come, not from the small section of rich people, but out of the wage packets of the wage-earners in this country. No particular party and no particular Member of Parliament has any particular right to say that he speaks for the wage-earners more than any other, and I make no claim about that. But I do talk to wageearners—as other hon. Members do—and particularly to the young and the married wage-earners in my constituency. They do not want to be mean about the thing. They realise that they have to pay. They want social reform as much as anybody else. If you could get a proposal a little better than the Beveridge proposal with regard to widows, they would be prepared to find a little more each week out of their wage packets, but there is a definite limit to the amount of money which the State can take out of the wage packet and just leave a little to the wage-earner himself to spend in his own way. The young wage-earners, the married ones and those bringing up young children have a very heavy responsibility. It is the duty of Members of this House to see that too much money is not taken away from them. That is all I have to say on that subject, but I hope that we shall riot approach these matters in a parsimonious manner or in a niggardly way. We can be confident about the future, but the more confident we are, the bolder we are with our schemes of social reforms, the more necessary it is that on each individual reform we should watch closely to safeguard the small taxpayers, who are ever increasing in numbers in this country.
§ Mr. George Griffiths (Hemsworth)
I am sorry that I was out of the House when the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey) was quoting me. I was across at the Pensions Ministry for a few minutes. 2389 I want to say at once that the hon. Member has misquoted me entirely. I have never said in this House at any time that the pension was adequate.
§ Mr. Storey
May I correct the hon. Member at once? It was I who said that the pension was adequate. I quoted the hon. Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) to show that although he did not say that pensions were adequate, he did say that they brought happiness to thousands of old age pensioners. If a thing brings happiness to thousands of old age pensioners, I take it that it is justifiable for me to say that it is adequate.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am pleased that we have cleared up that matter. The hon. Member for Sunderland and myself are now, from that standpoint, poles apart. He said that certain: things bring happiness. I would like to ask the hon. Member whether, if he himself was placed in the position of only receiving £2 for himself and his wife, he would think that it was adequate. That is a pointed question to the hon. Member for Sunderland.
§ Mr. Storey
I can say quite definitely to the hon. Member that if my circumstances were such that I had to ask taxpayers to help to keep me, I and my wife would be prepared to do our best on £2 a week without grumbling.
§ Mr. Storey
It would not be adequate for all we would like to do, but it would be adequate for all that we would like to ask the taxpayer to do for us.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I do not want to go any further with this dialogue, but instead of taking bits out of what an hon. Member had said, it would have been as well to quote the speech entirely. If hon. Members would read my speech of 29th July, 1942, before the Beveridge Report was published, they would find that I stated definitely that I wanted something for other people besides those who had got the pension. I was concerned not so much about those who were getting supplementary pensions as I was about those who were left out. I put the case of the widow strongly, and the widow is left out in this case. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Sunderland will go to Sunderland and tell widows in his con- 2390 stituency that they are not getting any chance at all in this business. I refer to the widows from 40 to 55 who only get 10s. pension. Will he tell these folk that that is adequate for them? These are the people whose case I was emphasising in my speech of 29th July, 1942.
The other people I laid emphasis upon were the thrifty people who up to now have not been able to get any supplementary pension because of the fact that they have been thrifty. That is the chief reason why they are not getting any addition. They have tried to be thrifty all along the line of life. They have perhaps saved £400, and the Government say to them, "You have £400 which you have saved. What have you done that for? Because you have been thrifty and saved money, you cannot get any additional pension." When the holiday season comes round I will go with the hon. Member for Sunderland and take the same platform. I have challenged him before, and I am prepared to do so again. I want to plead for the widows over 40 years of ago who have no children.
I want the Minister in his reply to answer one question. I have a widow in my town who has a boy. She is entitled to supplementary pension if she is not working, but she is working and earning something like £2 a week, and because of that—she still draws her 10s. a week and 5s. for the boy—she is not getting any supplementary pension. When the war is over there will be no work for this widow, because she is working in a certain industry which will not he required when the war is over. Her boy will then be over school age. I would like the Minister to tell me whether this widow, when she makes application for a pension when her boy has turned 14, will be entitled to the supplementary pension which she would be entitled to to-day if she was not working. After all, the widows over 40 years of age are considered by the Navy, Army and Air Force, and I would ask the Minister to give consideration to the thousands of widows who have had children who are not now of school age. I have some of these widows in my division, and I have had to say to them, "There is nothing for you." That is very hard. I hope the Minister will see that these widows are brought within the range of supplementary pensions in any new scheme which is 2391 brought forward. I do not desire to go any further except to say that I hope to have a trip to Sunderland soon.
§ Mr. Evelyn Walkden (Doncaster)
My hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) took the right course in this Debate in impressing upon the Minister the inadequacy of supplementary pensions, an issue which was disputed by the hon. Member for Sunderland (Mr. Storey). I want to make one or two suggestions to the Minister. I was privileged on Monday last to attend a gathering of about 300 old age pensioners at Carcroft, a little village in my division, in Yorkshire. These people had collected sums of money to enable them to make gifts of 10s. a week to old age pensioners who were actually not at work, the main reason for this fund being that they should be able to enjoy their holidays at home. I was impressed by some of the observations of these old folk. They said to me, "Holidays at home are not really new to us; we have had to spend our holidays at home for generations; we have never been able to afford to go anywhere." So, these people were grateful for the gifts of 10s. because they provided a measure of comfort which we are discussing all too glibly in Debates like these. I am not thinking of happiness or comfort in the shape of roundabouts or other such attractions in connection with holidays at home, but of the little things which affect the normal everyday life of a working family.
We have been promised certain legislation when we come back after the Recess. I do not think the Minister of Health will be doing the right thing if he worries about statistics and the cost-of-living figure and all these other issues while we are away and then comes back to us with a long statement and a White Paper which mean nothing. If he will go into the homes of these old age pensioners and their pantries, he will find that we have a false cost-of-living figure. Everybody knows it. During the Recess the Minister should go into as many old age pensioners' homes in as many counties as possible and hold with them such conversations as I had last Monday. At the gathering I attended many of the old people were ragged, tattered and torn, or their clothes were patched. I went into some of their bedrooms to see the conditions in which they are living now owing 2392 to deterioration and general usage of their goods and chattels. These people indicated that the supplementary pension was insufficient to provide all the things they would like to buy. I said to some of them, "But you can obtain bed linen," and I was asked, "Have you met some of the inspectors who conduct the inquiries?" I do not want to suggest that the people inquiring for the Ministry are horrible people, but their inquisition is of such a kind that our people in the mining villages do not like to be put through the hoop, as they call it, when answering the innumerable questions that are asked of them when they wish to obtain an extra pair of blankets, a new suit or anything else which they normally require.
However, I want to come to the fundamental question of the cost-of-living figure, which I hope will be examined by the Minister during the Recess. If the Minister says that the cost-of-living figure has gone up by only 30 points, I say to him, "It is not true." An old age pensioner can have only two ounces of tea, four ounces of bacon and two ounces of butter, all controlled in price and quantity. I will not go through the whole dietary, but not many shillings a week are spent on these controlled and rationed commodities. That is not the whole story. If these old people want to buy a lettuce, something for a fresh salad—and Lord Woolton has said that we must become more and more vegetarian—they cannot afford it out of their meagre supplementary pensions. They cannot afford, either, the tasty bits and the essential commodities which they must have to keep body and soul together. They cannot afford to buy tomatoes at is. 6d. a pound, windfall apples at 10d. a pound, or cabbages at 3d. or 4d. each, which, before the war, were a penny. They cannot afford to buy fruit. They do not raise any question about strawberries, raspberries or cherries. They never think in those terms.
I know that the Minister can beat me hollow at quoting the Scriptures. For every quotation I chose to make he could quote to times as many to cancel out my argument. But I do not wish to argue on sentimental grounds. I wish to raise this matter in relation to the points adduced by Sir William Beveridge. The hon. Member for The High Peak (Mr. Molson) asked one of my hon. Friends whether he disputed Sir William Beveridge's 2393 figures. I will make bold to say that I challenge Sir William's assessment about the cost of living. I say that no old age pensioner can possibly live on 20s. a week to-day and enjoy, not luxury commodities, the normal essential foodstuffs. No old age pensioner's position compares with that of the average weekly wage-earner who has, Over the war years, had various increases of salary.
There is a very urgent need for the Minister to inquire into the needs of these old folk. He must set aside statistics and all the other things that are provided for him, because the cost-of-living figure is established on the 1908 basis and is false. If the Minister will only look at what is actually happening to these old people, how their condition is deteriorating, if he will go into their pantries and look at their dietary and see how much it takes to provide for their normal needs, he will agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh that each old age pensioner should receive 20s. a week, apart from the rent. Knowing the Minister and the fairness he usually displays in most matters he presents to us, I do not think he will disagree. If he will examine this vital issue and the falsity of all the figures used by us and even by people like Sir Wm. Beveridge, other economists and Cabinet Ministers who try to tell us, as they often do, that there is no reason to increase the wages of most of the workers in this country, he will realise that it is old age pensioners who need an increase of supplementary pensions. I hope the Minister will come forward after the Recess with a big increase.
§ Mr. Foster (Wigan)
I would not have risen in this Debate had it not been for the statements made by two hon. Members who spoke from the other side of the House. Each hon. Member said that he was responding to the invitation given to him by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker). I am not speaking on this matter at my hon. Friend's invitation; I do so because I feel with sincerity that the amount of the supplementary pension is totally inadequate. I do not think there is a Member in the House who would try to prove that the present supplementary pensions are adequate—not even the Minister himself. The hon. Member for Sunderland (Mi. Storey) asserted that they were adequate, but adduced no evidence whatever to 2394 support his assertion. He met the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) by saying that if the additional cost had to come from other wage-earners, pensioners would be satisfied to live on £2a week. What a condemnation of our social system, when an hon. Member argues that an old age pensioner will try to live on £2 a week for himself and wife provided he is not taking something from someone else who is only receiving just over £2 a week. No sane man in the House or out of it will say that two people can live on £2 a week and feed themselves as they should be fed and have a home in which they can enjoy all the things that should be in a home.
The whole of the arguments of hon. Members opposite have been based upon the good things in the White Paper, such as disregard of savings, which would enable some pensioners to get an increase. But it is not only those who have savings who are feeling the pinch. There are thousands of old age pensioners who have never had an adequate wage during the whole of their working life and have never been able to save and have some hundreds of pounds in the bank. If you mentioned to some whom I know that Parliament had been considering disregarding £400, the value of the house and so on, they would have a fit because they have never known what it is to have£20. They have the cemetery bookmaker—that is the insurance agent—corning round every Friday night and taking the 3d. or 6d. that they must pay to ensure a decent burial. Their whole lives are in credit with someone. They have to pawn themselves, body and soul, in order that, when they reach old age, they can have something that they can rely on. Immediately a child is born a penny a week is paid, and, if it dies, they can buy a coffin and pay for a coach to go to the cemetery. I agree with disregarding means from the standpoint of those who have been able to save, but there are thousands who have no savings at all. No argument can be adduced by the Minister or anyone else to justify the statement that £2 a week for two people is adequate.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft) said it would not be fair or reasonable to increase supplementary pensions, because the cost would be deducted from 2395 other wage-earners or would be paid in taxes. I have yet to find a wage-earner who would object to paying a little extra in order that the old people might have a comfortable life. No one would deny that one of the first charges on the State should be the care of the old people. There is another class besides the working class, who own and run industry on the basis of profit, and they ought to make a much more substantial contribution towards old age pensions. There is also the point that conditions are never static. Our capacity to produce is constantly evolving and accelerating by the invention and genius of our race, which are so great that, when the war is over, the cost of providing decent and fair old age pensions will be very insignificant when related to our capacity to produce.
Speeches have been made on both sides of the House on other questions, such as the planning which is to be done, social security, the planning of our cities and industry, the building of houses, and generally the planning of the post-war world; and it has been argued that all these schemes will depend on our capacity to produce after the war and that our capacity to produce will be so great that we shall be able to create a far better and happier world. Therefore, the assertion that these pensions are adequate has not been proved. The arguments are all the other way. The other assertion which was made by the hon. and gallant Member for Stafford, that the working classes would object to providing for our old people—
I think that the hon. Gentleman has misquoted me. I did not speak about the working class objecting. I said that they would be the last people to be mean about a matter of this kind. All I did was to plead with hon. Members opposite to stop using an argument based on the fact that we were spending £15,000,000 a day on the war, and I said that you must leave the young working man with something to spend on his own account.
§ Mr. Foster
I do not think I have misunderstood the hon. and gallant Gentleman. He definitely made the assertion that the wage-earner would take exception to having taken from his wage packet a contribution to supplement old 2396 age pensions. I submit that the wage-earners would not object to paying something extra to do that. I would appeal to the Government to consider seriously during the Recess what has been said in the House to-day with a view to supplementary pensions being increased. The responsibility for seeing that pensions are adequate is not the responsibility of the working class only but is the responsibility of every class in society.
§ Mr. Leslie (Sedgefield)
I hope that the appeals by hon. Members to the Government will be taken to heart and that during the Recess the Minister will consider this matter so that a more adequate pension can be granted. No one can deny that the cost of living has hit old age pensioners very hard. Even the price of tobacco is beyond the means of many old men. The other day I asked the Chancellor whether he would follow the example of the Isle of Man and concede 1s. a week to old age pensioners for tobacco. He said that he could not make a concession of that kind. To my surprise, within the next few days I received a number of letters from old men who since the tax on tobacco had been increased had not been able to have the little solace of a pipe of tobacco. A concession has been made in regard to savings up to £400, and that is good so far as it does not penalise thrift. It must be borne in mind, however, that many thousands of these old people never had a chance during their earlier life to save. Many of them had to rear families on very low wages, and other have been handicapped by sickness in the family. These old people cannot possibly exist on their meagre pensions. It is also true to say that old folk in the past have contributed their quota to the prosperity of this country. Therefore, let us not forget them in the evening of their lives. The least we can do is to concede sufficient to enable them to spend their remaining years in comparative comfort.
§ Mr. Burke (Burnley)
I want to put a point to the Minister for his consideration. I would really like to make a plea for an increase in the basic rates, but I am afraid that that would be out of Order. We have from time to time discussions on the Regulations, about the adequacy of the supplementary grants, and about the investigations and whether they are fair, just and kindly. I am wondering whether 2397 the Minister would consider the point to without the necessity for all these whether all these Debates about the inquiries, which are resented even if they which are resented even if they are done in the most careful way, could not be cut out and a new method considered. Everybody realizes that the amount that are paid to old age pensioners, whether they are just the basic rate or the basic rate plus supplementation are not sufficient. We have only to have regard to the inquiry made by Sir William Beveridge. It was very wide spread and covered all classes. Sir William had at his disposal the inquiry that were made by Liverpool university, Manchester University and Rowntree, of York, and he came to the significant conclusion that the need for a scheme of social insurance is based on the fact that the working-class have no means of providing for any contingency, whether it is marriage, the birth of a child, death or the starting of a home. They have not sufficient background or sufficient reserves and no roots in society to enable them to plan and look ahead
Therefore, I am not impressed by the raising of the£300 savings to £400 or the decision that 6d instead of 1s shall be regarded as interest on £25. the mass of the old age pensioners are not troubled with £40, let alone £400. They do not realize that 6d. on £25 is an impossible rate for them to expect. Most of them have not got it, and they know nothing about these percentages. The fundamental consideration is not the class of people with savings but the ordinary old age pensioner, who Beveridge discovered was in such large number, who had no resources and nothing to fall back upon. That class is not being adequately provided for. We are trying to provide for him and the Government have tried to do so by making repeated alterations in the regulations and in the supplementations I understand that after the recess there will be some codifying of the Regulations. That will be of some advantages if they are made simpler, so that people can find their way through them quickly, because it is a painful job now to try to find out how much anyone is entitled to; but may I ask the Minister to give consideration to this point: Instead of bothering about the codifying of all these Regulations why should he not wipe them out altogether, and put things on a decent basic, so that people can find out what they are entitled 2398 to without the necessity for all these inquiries?
§ Mr. Martin (Southwark, Central)
At are done in the most careful way, could this late hour in the Debate I do not want to say anything on the main question, which has been adequately covered by my hon. Friends, but I should like to emphasise something said by my hon. Friend, but I should like to emphasise something said by my hon. Friends the Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden) and others about the unto have regard to the inquiry made by Sir reality of the cost-of-living figures as far William old age pensioners are concerned. In my division last winter the coal supplied to local merchants was very inferior in quality. If you have an income of £5 or £10 a week, the loss of 25 or 30 per cent. in the fuel value of the coal you are burning in the grate is not a very important matter, but if you are living very working close to the subsistence line, which is the case with most old age pensioners, such a loss is very real Again, the ordinary household pot, pan or kettle is nowadays often much less durable than in peace-time. If your income leaves a little bit to met the contingency of the renewal of household articles, this is not such a very important matter, but anyone's income can only just be spaced out to meet every need such renewals serious.
The hon. Member for Doncaster spoke about food, and I will not recapitulate what he said, but I should like to emphasise, as a member of the Old Age Pensions Committee, that the food problem is a very real one to these old people to-day. What some of them need in addition to more generous allowances is a body friends. While I make no complaint as a whole of the staff of my right hon. Friend, the people who are sent down to examine these problems should be inspired with feeling that they need to be the friends of these old people at a time when these problems press so hardly upon them. They should feel that it is their responsibility not only to find out whether old age pensioner or the widow with a young family needs a particular thing, but find out what their troubles really are and set them on the best way to solving them. In that way old people might be saved the harassing job of searching all London, or all Manchester, or wherever it is, for the goods they want. The Minister might even consider whether there could not be an issue in kind to them. I know that this idea is not accept- 2399 able to many of my hon. Friends, and I should cordially agree with them in normal times, but in present circumstances we have to be resilient and flexible in our methods, and it might help the old age pensioners if they could have visitors who would see that they got an issue of reliable goods in kind when their needs required them. Therefore, I would ask my right hon. Friend, when considering this problem during the Recess, to consider a rise in the supplementary allowance and also the question of making the job of running the home rather easier for these members of the community, who are most vulnerable to present economic conditions.
Mr. McNeil (Greenock)
Like recent speakers I shall be very brief, and for the plain reason that there is nothing to be said on this subject which has not already been said from this side of the House, and, indeed, from all parts of the House. We are in the curious position that in recent Debates no Minister has dared to say that the present scales were either adequate or worked in such a way as to meet all anomalies, but despite these admissions we are still waiting for satisfactory action. My right hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for Scotland when he was being attacked took refuge in saying that the Regulations were the will of the House and that he was subservient to democracy. I would not lend myself to say there is no more important problem than this, because that would plainly be hyperbole. The war and its corollories must have more importance for the House than this subject, but I do say to my right hon. Friend who pleaded democracy that no more human question has been before the House since the beginning of the war than this one, and I say also that if this were not war time adequate action would, be forced upon any Government. I suggest that politically it is something like trickery for the Government to depend upon the loyalty of the ordinary Member of Parliament in war time, to use it as a shield when we ask them to address themselves to such a problem as this.
Therefore, like every other speaker I hope that when we return the Government will honestly address themselves to the various problems connected with pensions. I would make it plain that my view, and I see no reason to change it, 2400 has been that eventually we shall have to increase the basic rates and naturally we shall also have to increase the contributions. I never made an easier or more confident prediction in my life than that eventually the Goverment will be forced to do that. No one pretends that the Government are in an easy position, no one pretends that they have not a host of problems, but I think those problems will not grow easier with delay. They will be forced to tackle this problem eventually in the fashion I have suggested, and in many parts of the country people think they should do it now. I say to my right hon. Friend who is not now present but who is so confident about democracy that no one knows better than he that if this were a question which could be considered, apart from the war, and administratively it can be taken apart from the war, despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Robertson) argued earlier, there is not a working-class constituency in which anyone would be elected who took refuge in the present position of the Government.
I want to point only to one anomaly consequent upon the present Regulations. Naturally, each succeeding set of Regulations will necessitate anomalies. I would be the last to suggest that the right hon. Gentleman is blameworthy. In this kind of patchwork quilt system we always shall have anomalies, which is another reason why we should address ourselves to the basic social problem. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that the man on the £400 non-qualifying capital basis, is being badly treated. I suggest that when we reduced the disregard from is. to 6d. for £25, we should have raised the non-qualifying disregard to somewhere around £600. In these circumstances the man with the non-qualifying £400 is going to be left, on the Board's notional scale, with a net income of 17s. per week, whereas if we had raised it to £600, it would be, on the notional scale, an income of 22s., which, while not adequate, would at any rate be commensurate with the present supplementary scale.
While I make that plea, I would conclude by joining in what someone said earlier, that we cannot expect justice or satisfaction, even from a super-Minister, so long as he is burdened with the existing Regulations. I have not any hope—I say so quite frankly—that we shall get an 2401 attempt by the Government to erect a basically equal system. I am told that the Board are meeting—I am certain they are meeting—to add another patch to the scheme. I hope it will be a more adequate supplementation for the old age pensioner, but that is a plea almost of despair. What we want, what logic suggests we need and what most of the pensioners whose cases we argue are satisfied that they should have, is an increase of the basic pension. I know it is true that the Minister can quote figures, and I can meet the figures. I have never been afraid to say that you cannot have a system of insurance for nothing. The Minister can say with perfect justice that no matter on what figure you put the basic pension, there would be anomalies. "Anomalies" is the wrong word. There will always be the abnormal case to which the Board will have to address themselves. My experience, and more particularly my recent experience, is that the officials of the Board employ every available discretion. That is not an argument for the Minister. It is an argument for this side of the House, because it is evidence that the scales are inadequate. If it is true that no matter what basic pension we allowed there would still be abnormal cases, it is reasonable to suggest that we should reduce these to the lowest figure possible. That, of course, will be done by raising the basic figure that we can put as an insurable proposition.
§ Mr. Brooke (Lewisham, West)
I am grateful to the Minister, because I have been listening with keen interest to a great part of the two Debates which we have had to-day. It is a very human subject that we have been discussing, and it is right that the House should spend time upon it. It is obvious to all of us that we have not yet reached a final and satisfactory position as regards old age pensions. I am glad that the Regulations are to be codified, which, I take it, will mean simplifying and smoothing them out. Whether any substantial changes will come from that I do not know, but I 2402 am in agreement with hon. Members that it is desirable that the old people should be sure where they are. It is hard enough now for Members of this House to know where they are with all the Regulations regarding supplementary pensions, as they stand; how much harder must it be for many of the recipients.
The deepest impression that the Debate has made upon me is the desirability of the House being informed as early as possible of the Government's final decisions on the Beveridge proposals regarding this matter, of pensions. It seems to me that we can discuss old age and other pensions, day after day, at length, but with a certain uselessness all the time that we know the Government are examining these matters behind the scenes in greater detail and with greater precision than we can possibly do now in this House. We are not yet aware of the Government's full intentions, but I look forward to a thorough Debate on the subject when we have a White Paper or other considered statement from the Government to which we can really apply our minds.
Many hon. Members have for part of the time been discussing the position of the old age pensioner who has no other resources, and for part of the time the position of the pensioner who has other resources. It is the latter class of person who is most interested in an increase of the basic pension. One hon. Member remarked a few minutes ago that the vast majority of recipients of old age pension had no other resources, but that is not the case. Am I not right in saying that in his report Sir William Beveridge dwelt on the fact that only about one-third of all the pensioners received supplementary pension? In other words, two-thirds had some other resources, which stopped them either from putting forward, or from making good, a claim for supplementary pension.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
I would like to get this point clear. The hon. Member has quoted, of course, quite accurate figures but those figures of old age pensioners would not apply to supplementary pensions. The figure of over-all pensioners included 700,000 who were still at work and whose resources were their wages.
§ Mr. Brooke
All that only goes to prove what I said before—how much more satisfactory it will be when we can discuss these matters on a definite statement of ascertained facts and an equally definite statement of the Government's intentions. In my own constituency there are still a number of recipients of old age pension living in conditions of considerable hardship. I do not agree with the hon. Member who argued that old age pensioners are worse off, generally than they were three or four years ago. I am sure that is not true. Broadly speaking, old age pensioners have reason to be grateful to this present Parliament.
We have to address ourselves also to the long-term aspects of the matter. We know that there are certain shortcomings and difficulties in the present arrangements. We have tentative proposals put forward by Sir William Beveridge. We have alternative proposals put forward in general terms by the Government, which we understand are to be worked out and presented in greater detail. We know for an inescapable fact that the number of old people in this country will rise, and however much anybody on the other side of the House may say that money does not matter, it is quite clear that the rise in the number of pensioners means not only that the financial weight of existing pensions will grow heavier and heavier, even though we make no change in the scale or arrangements, but also that every upward change we make will cost a considerable amount of extra money. I think I am right in quoting Sir William Beveridge as saying that in 20 years' time when there will be 8,000,000 old people in this country the cost of every is. a week we pay by way of old age pension will amount in total to £20,000,000 a year, a very considerable figure.
None of us as Members of Parliament can run away from facts like this. It is very necessary that the people in the country, not only we in the House who are, perhaps, more familiar with the details, should have the essential facts in order to weigh up what we want in this. I certainly do not agree with any suggestion that working class people are not willing to pay for old age pensions. On the contrary, all the people of this country are willing to do their snare to make sure that people who have worked honestly throughout their lives shall be reasonably 2404 looked after in old age. We have to measure what that will cost, and we have to put that against our resources.
We know that out of the total present income left in the hands of the people of this country, after taxes have been paid, four-fifths is in the hands of those with an income of less than £10 a week. Only one-thirtieth of the total income that remains after taxation is in the hands of people with over £2,000 a year. That supports what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft) said, that if there is to be substantial extra expenditure on old age pensions the greater part of that money will have to be found by the working class people of this country. They should realise that. They should have before them a factual statement from the Government as to what it will cost, in terms of the kind of taxes which they like everyone else will in future have to pay. In that way it seems to me they can advise us and can guide us, here in this Parliament assembled, as to the price they think it reasonable for the country, which means themselves, to pay for the future standard of old age pensions—of basic old age pensions and of supplementary pensions—which we should establish.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)
We have come to the end of a long day. The Minister has been very patient, and I appreciate very much his giving way after he had risen. I wish to associate myself now in these last few words with what has been said from this side of the House. But what I have noticed particularly today has been the contrast as against the great day we had some time ago, after we had in this House first induced the Minister of Pensions to withdraw his Bill temporarily, when we discussed the Royal Warrant and were able to increase the pensions under the new Warrant that is to be. There is a tremendous difference in the atmosphere of this House to-day compared with then, which I deplore. On that occasion we were united as a House, both sides of the House were united for an increase in the pensions of those who made the sacrifice in this war. To-day it seems that there is such a half-hearted tone from the other side of the House Behind the Minister there seems to be such a half-hearted support. We are hearing so much about the inability to meet the cost, not exactly a reluctance to meet the 2405 cost, but about whether the working class will be able to meet the cost.
We want to say from this side of the House that our people in the country are fundamentally behind us in the urge for an increase in the supplementary pensions for old age pensioners. It is only more or less quiet in the House because they believed that at this stage when we were discussing this question of the widows there was a possibility that there would be an announcement that there was to be an increase in the supplementary pensions for the old age pensioners. I will say that not one Member who has spoken on the other side of the House has justified the scales. They agree that the scales are inadequate, that it would be most difficult to eke out a living with the scales at present being paid. The Minister has been congratulated by the hon. and gallant Member for Stafford (Major Thorneycroft) and by the hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke). He has been congratulated because the Regulations are to be codified and simplified. What a present we are handing to the old age pensioners. What a present we are handing to them, that we are going to simplify the rules, that we are going to codify them so that they can clearly understand what they mean.
§ Mr. Brooke
In what I said I was actually taking up and supporting a remark made by one of the hon. Member's own party at an earlier stage in the proceedings. I did not think it necessary to go over all the changes made in these Regulations, because I had expressed my approval of several of them when the Bill which enacted them was before the House a month or two ago.
§ Mr. Taylor
What I was trying to say that you can codify and simplify as much as you like; that is not what the old people want. They do not live on cod. What they are seeking and what they are waiting for is an increase in the supplementary pensions which will enable them to live a little better, not well, but a little better. When I was in the pit we had a pay note that was a perfect illustration of codification and simplification, but there was no satisfaction to me if I happened to be on the minimum wage and had only it to take home.
As for the Assistance Board, I never hear a complaint about them now. They 2406 are looked upon more or less as the friend of our people. That is since the Minister of Health left the Ministry of Labour. There has been a fundamental change since he left. It may be a coincidence, of course, but I certainly never hear a corn-plaint about the conduct of the investigations that go on now. I do not think the Minister will mind what I say, because he is very thick-skinned. I shall be most surprised if, after all our pleading, we get anything from him. I think, in fact, that we haw, made a mistake in pleading for supplementary pensions. We should have rolled up our sleeves, as we did over war pensions, and clone less pleading. If there is not a definite promise of something when we come back after the Recess, we shall have to stop pleading; and I expect we shall get the assistance of hon. Members opposite in just as good a cause as the other, the cause of the old people. When we were discussing increased pensions for war widows and for men who had been injured in the war, we did not ask where the money would come from. It is to our credit that we never said anything about that. There is nothing to prevent us from being as generous to the people who bred the men who are fighting in Sicily and who have knocked Mussolini off his perch, and who will do the same for Hitler.
We have heard a lot about man-power. There has been a considerable change in regard to investigations by the Assistance Board, but the Minister can pass this suggestion on to the Minister of Labour. We are all trying to find ways of meeting the man-power problem. The investigators used to go round every month inquiring whether there had been any change in circumstances. Then the interval was three months. Now it is about six months, and I understand that soon it will be 12 months. Why not make it two or three years, or do away with the inquiries altogether? Then you will get any amount of good men and women out of that Department. Can the Minister tell me how many are engaged in that work? If we can find young women there, instead of taking women of 50 into factories, it will be to the national advantage. I hope that the Minister will be able to say when we come back that we can expect an increase in the supplementary pensions and that some of these little niggling things will be abolished. Why should there be is. difference between a married man and his 2407 wife who are both on pension and a married man and his wife who happen not to be on pension? Why should there be is difference for an old age pensioner and his daughter who is keeping and looking after the old man? Nobody can imagine that that 1s, represents a lower cost of living or a lessened demand. If some of these things are swept away, it will give great satisfaction. We felt thwarted when we got the 2s. 6d.—we felt grateful, but we expected more—and to-day we are disappointed again because we expected more.
The Minister of Health (Mr. Ernest Brawn)
I have been at a loss, in the light of what has happened in recent years, and especially since the war started, to understand the note of pessimism in so many of the speeches to-day. One would imagine that little or nothing had been done about this issue. That is not so. One of the biggest changes made in old age pensions has been the introduction of supplementary pensions. [Interruption.] I did not interrupt my hon. Friend, and I hope he will not interrupt me. In their sincere desire, which is shared in every part of the House—it is not the preserve of any one party—to help the old folk, hon. Members opposite are sometimes inclined to leave out factors which have to be weighed in forming a fair judgment. A good deal has been done. It is not unworthy of remark that, although we are fighting a great war, we have done several things about this matter, and one of them is that which we are discussing to-day. We have introduced supplementary pensions.
Let me put this on record. A million and a quarter of our old age pensioners would be advantaged if an increase were made in supplementary pensions. There are at the moment between 3,600,000 and 3,700,000 old age pensioners, of whom 720,000 are in full work. So there are three sections of old age pensioners. Old age pensioners are not all alike; they are very different in life, outlook and circumstances. There are the 720,000 in full work; the 1,250,000 whose needs are such that they have, since the introduction of supplementary pensions by this Government in this war, applied for and received supplementary pensions: and 2408 the balance who have made no application—I will not put it higher than this but prima facie because they do not need supplementary pensions—I only say prima facie. That has been a fact since the introduction of supplementary pensions. From August, 1940, to March, 1943, £80,000,000 has been paid to the supplementary pensioners of this country. That includes no money for administration costs at all; it is the sum paid out in that two and a half years. Let the House note that the estimate for this current year, from March, 1943, to March, 1944, for supplementary pensions is £43,250,000. So when hon. Members like my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) talk about a funeral march, the metaphor really is not apt. They do not do justice to this House and to the Government on the things which have been achieved. This is not to prejudge the future at all, but if people are going to talk about the matter, they should digest all the facts, and not merely some of them. So much has been said about these people that this fact and this estimate ought to go on record, so that the country may understand that, not only those who talk about old age pensions, but the whole House and the Government have been much concerned about the problem.
There is another issue. Although I cannot deal with it except incidentally, as have other hon. Members, it is not true to say that the Government have no regard to the major problem. On the contrary, it was this Government that appointed Sir William Beveridge with the idea of surveying the whole of the social and allied services so that they might come to the right conclusions. My hon. Friend is a little unfair when he makes comparisons about the atmosphere in the recent Debate on war pensions and the atmosphere to-day. I feel that he fails wholly because of this one fact. That there is a lack of sympathy with the old age pensioners, or a lack of desire to do the best for them or any question of thickness of hides, are unworthy suggestions to be made across the House from one Member to another or from a Member to a Minister. It is easy to say that when you have no responsibility for the Government. Members do not want, when the next step is taken about old 2409 age pensions, to do anything but the right thing; they do not want to do the wrong thing the next time.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor
In the meantime, until the right thing is done, are the wrong conditions to continue?
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Member made his speech in his own way, and I will make mine in my own way. I am making two points, that it is not right to lead the country into supposing that the Government and this House have been without regard to the need of old age pensioners, and I can prove it by the facts. I made this point, that by the very setting-up and appointment of Sir William Beveridge and his Committee to survey the whole field the Government have taken file view that it has been a matter of patchwork. It is because the patchwork arises from life and not from theory that the difficulty arises. Let me recall the memories of hon. Members to the beginings, not of old age pensions, because that was a very simple thing, but of the insurance services. What was the original idea? It was to have a very simple, straightforward structure. What happened? The moment that that was raised in this House Members rose up in every quarter of the House and said that this simple, straightforward structure did not deal with the merchant seamen, with people with large families, and with A, B, C, D, E, F, a whole category of special and difficult cases put by Members because they had been to their constituencies and found that the simple and straightforward thing was not easy. It is because of that that we have had addition to addition. Every time the House has brought hard cases, successive Government of all parties have tried to meet the hard cases, and in meeting them they had to make new and more complicated Regulations.
I beg the House to forgive me a moment, because this has a very close bearing on what I am now going to say. It is hard not merely for old age pensioners and Members but for Ministers to interpret these matters. I want to issue a word of warning. It is true that the Assistance Board desires to codify and simplify, and no one will echo that desire more than Ministers on the Treasury Bench and welcome the decision that has been made, but I am bound to point out that the codification and simplification of the 2410 Regulations in themselves must be related to the conditions of life to which the Acts of Parliament are applied. If Members arc thinking in terms of codification, I beg them not to be too disappointed if things do not work out quite as simply as they hope. I give this word of warning so that it may not be laid against me later on. There are some things which cannot be put in plain Bible English. Some have to be translated into Welsh. I am giving this word of warning, because it will be a great advantage to everybody concerned to have the codification and simplification applied. But it cannot be a simple matter. It is an expert job. If you are to act and cover the needs of the special cases put to Parliament in Debate after Debate, you have to define your Regulations in terms of law and be accurate in your definitions. So far the House has welcomed that fact.
There are a number of other things that arise out of the very interesting speeches in this Debate. The first is that the statutory duty to propose alterations in the Regulations does not lie with the Government. It lies with the Assistance Board. Parliament has willed that, and until Parliament changes its mind about it and does something different, the statutory position is that responsibility for proposing any alteration in the Regulations to keep them up to date has been placed upon the Assistance Board. In the words of Section 52 of the Unemployment Assistance Act, as applied to the supplementary pensions scheme, the Assistance Board have the duty of putting forward draft Regulations "from time to time as the occasion may require." What has arisen from this Debate? I shall take great care that the Board are informed of the opinion of the House and that there is a wide measure of dissatisfaction. It will have noted that fact, but it will have to do more than that. It will consider carefully what has been said here, and it will make its own comparisons when proposals are under discussion. It will have to ask itself how the scales proposed compare, for example, with those set out in the Beveridge Report. In the Beveridge Report we find a figure of 24s. for a single man paying a rent of 6s. 6d., which stands side by side with the Board's figure of 22s. with a rent of 5s., and 40s. for a married couple paying a rent of 10s. as compared with 37s. on a rent of 6s. All these and many other matters will have to be considered before a satisfactory and 2411 reasonably simple scheme can be produced.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
I gather that the Board in considering the suggestions put forward will have to give consideration to the figures in the Beveridge Report. We have heard of the same point being raised on another matter, that of workmen's compensation. We are entitled to know whether the Assistance Board and everybody who considers the social services are to be bound by the Beveridge Report. We are entitled to ask, Is that a clear indication that the Government intend to implement it?
§ Mr. Brown
The answer to that was given quite plainly by my right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council in the Debate on that matter. I would like to quote a short passage from my right hon. Friend's speech:The Government definitely prefer a different approach. They would prefer fixed contributions and benefits now. It may be that the initial pension may be somewhat higher than that recommended in the Beveridge Report, having regard to the existing assistance grants, and to the proposed benefits for invalidity and unemployment. It might be thought that the initial pension benefits proposed in the Report are on the low side. The Government would prefer a fixed contribution for a fixed benefit, even if benefits are somewhat higher than those proposed in the Report. If Parliament later liked to decide—as they might do—to give increased pensions, then, in the view of the Government, the matter should be reopened and an increased pension should be granted with the increased rates of contribution.A little later in my right hon. Friend's speech, in reply to a question by the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker), who asked whether the Government contemplated an immediate increase in old age pensions, by right hon. Friend said:I was not saying anything about that; I was talking about the Beveridge Report, which recommends a certain rate of pension, that rate to be increased over 20 years. What I indicated was that the Government prefer a definite rate of pension and a definite contribution, even if that initial rate is somewhat higher than that recommended under the Beveridge Scheme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th February, 1943; cols. 1672–73, Vol. 386.]
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
Sir William Beveridge proposes 24s. and 40s. They are scales with which the Board have nothing to do because they are fixed basic scales. The Board have nothing to do with basic scales. The Assistance Board should be 2412 asked to consider supplementary pensions and payments on the basis of need. They have nothing to do with the Beveridge proposals, and I say that with the greatest respect to the Board, as one who knows something about their original work, which, as the Minister knows, I did my best to overthrow at the time when he was not a Minister. Who gives the Assistance Board authority to judge this matter from the standpoint of the Beveridge Report?
§ Mr. Buchanan
Are we to take it that this is the position, that Sir William Beveridge, who was appointed for another purpose, is to determine the needs of the old age pensioner and the widow and her child? That is what the Minister is saying. He is saying that Beveridge should play some part in determining what are the needs of the great mass of the people of this country.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
The Minister has just stated that we must have regard to the Beveridge plan. He made that statement, and it is on record now.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
I am sorry to interrupt, but this is very important. The Assistance Board was set up under the Act of 1935. The basic Act has not been changed. The Board's problem was originally a problem for unemployment purposes. Their task was to recommend to the Government, the House and the country what unemployment allowances 2413 should be paid to those whose unemployment benefit had become exhausted. They were to consider what was needed purely on the basis of need. The Board's only authority is the authority to decide what shall be paid as supplementation purely on the basis of need. The Assistance Board have nothing whatever to do with the Beveridge Report; it is none of their business to consider it or any of the Beveridge proposals in relation to their problem now.
§ Mr. Brown
Then the hon. Member knows a great deal more than I do, and perhaps after the Debate he will enlighten me about it. I pointed out that the Board would have regard to their duty. I said they would have to have regard to the whole series of views about subsistence which have been put forward from all quarters, including Sir William Beveridge, because it must be pointed out that the expert sub-committee set up under the chairmanship of Sir William Beveridge was charged with the very heavy responsibility of determining what the subsistence basis should be. Therefore, what I am saying is nothing more than common sense in the carrying out of the Board's duties.
§ Mr. Brown
The hon. Member may believe so, but I have said what I have said and it will be on record in Hansard. There is no inconsistency whatever.
Not only has the Debate had the advantage that we shall be able to inform the Board what Members think about them, but it is also to the advantage of the Government to be told by Members what they think about a particular large social issue. More than that the House would not expect me to say to-day. I have pointed out that the real concern of Members in all parts has, in my judgment, been that the next step to be taken about old age pensions should be the right step, and until the Government have made their views clear in relation to the Beveridge Report, I have nothing further to say at the moment.
There is one thing, however, I would like to say about the cost of living. The 2414 hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walk-den) used an inaccurate term about the cost of living in 1908, namely, that it was on a false basis. I do not agree with him, because when I was at the Ministry of Labour it fell to my lot to have an investigation made, the biggest in this or in any other country. We found that, although it was completely up-to-date at that time, between 1936 and 1938 the net result of that large investigation was not very far different from that of the original limited one of 1908. But there is force in the point when you are dealing with war conditions, because you are dealing with things in respect of which the State pays subsidies to keep the cost of living down and when, in other cases, there are articles in the cost of living which are rationed and regulated in price. There are other items which are desirable from the point of view of the household which are not on the rationed list and, therefore, are not so easily obtainable.
§ Mr. E. Walkden
Is it disputed that there has been since 1939 a definite change in the diet of the people which has, unfortunately, meant that unrationed goods in many cases have meant a definite increase in the cost of living for every homestead in the land?
§ Mr. Brown
I would not like to be responsible for that statement. I am sure that the arrangements made, on the advice of the Health Departments for England and Wales and Scotland, by the Minister of Food have meant an improvement in the diet for the whole mass of our people. Of course, there is point in what the hon. Member says that you have things outside the cost-of-living scale and factors that come into it which may not be so simple for the people with smaller incomes. I will call the attention of the Minister of Labour to the point, and I have no doubt the Board will take note of it.
It is very remarkable that complaints about the Assistance Board have become less and less, and have been becoming less and less regularly from 1936 onwards. I am sure the House will desire to pay a tribute to the sympathetic way in which they have attempted to exercise their discretion and to apply the Regulations. I should like to put it on record that every pensioner to whom a pension is granted, or whose case is reviewed, has a right of 2415 appeal if he is dissatisfied with the way his means have been asssessed. Over 2,000,000 assessments are made every year, and the number of appeals is extraordinarily small. In the six months ending June last year there were 5,000 appeals, and in the six months ending December 3,500. Only 5 or 6 enquiries or complaints a week are received at headquarters from Members of Parliament, a considerable number of them on technical matters. Complaints from individual pensioners are likewise few in number, and it is rarely that an explanation fails to satisfy the pensioner, at least to the extent of showing that his case has been fairly and properly dealt with. Some complaints are dealt with by the Board's local officers, and, where they take the form of dissatisfaction with the amount of a supplementary pension, they are treated as appeals unless the explanation given in answer to the letter satisfies the writer. I understand that, although the exact number cannot be given, it is very small.
The suggestion has been made that a lot of people could be got from the Assistance Board in aid of the man-power situation. At the moment the staff is just under 10,000 over the whole field of Great Britain. In addition to dealing with unemployment assistance and supplementary pensions, the Board has very heavy responsibilities, for the most part potential but not wholly so, for post-raid assistance. Hon. Members will know how valuable that is, and I think it will be seen that the suggestion could not be carried out. We will pass on all the suggestions that have been made in the Debate to the Board, and I am sure they will take notice of them.
§ Mr. G. Griffiths
The right hon. Gentleman has not dealt with my question about the widow who is entitled to a higher degree of entitlement.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
We have had a controversy about the Beveridge Report and a statement that the Government are considering it. We are getting very perturbed, and I want to make my protest. Shortly we shall be discussing another Bill, 2416 on workmen's compensation, in which the Government have extracted a bit from the Beveridge Report and put it into the Bill, and the Minister has suggested that we can make an extract from it in this matter. They cannot have it both ways. Either they accept the Beveridge Report or they do not. I protest against taking parts of it. The only other thing I want to say is that I do not think the right hon. Gentleman replied to the main question, whether we shall after the Recess have this codification and simplification, and we hope increased scales, available to the House.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
May I say a word about complaints? The Minister must not be too casual about them and say there are only so many a week. I could send him piles of complaints if necessary. With regard to the Board itself, it is true that their treatment has improved, but it is not altogether true to say that all the credit belongs to the Board. It is partly due to Parliamentary activity and to general activity throughout the country. The Board have modified their views because public opinion has compelled them to do so. May I press the right hon. Gentleman on another issue—
§ It being the hour appointed for the interruption of Business, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.