§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Willink)
I beg to move,That the Draft Supplementary Pensions (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs) Regulations, 1943, made by the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland, acting in conjunction under Section 38 of the Unemployment Act, 1934, as applied by Part II of the Old Age and Widows' Pensions Act, 1940, a copy of which Draft Regulations was presented to this House on 1st December, be approved.With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House I was proposing to deal with this Motion and the other Motion, concerning unemployment assistance, together:That the Draft Unemployment Assistance (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs) Regulations, 1943, made under Sections 38 and 52 of the Unemployment Assistance Act, 1934, a copy of which Draft Regulations was presented to this House on 1st December, be approved.I shall deal very shortly with the second Motion, because my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service will be replying to this Debate and will be very much more capable than I am of dealing with any points arising under the second head. Earlier this week one of my right hon. Friends standing at this Box said the House was always fair. On this occasion I hope I may properly say that the House is often indulgent, and I hope that indulgence 1188 may be accorded to me on my first opening of a matter of substance from this place. If I am not as lucid or as quick to answer questions which are put to me as I hope I may become, I trust the House will agree that it is very much better that I should be cautious to-day than that I should utter a single syllable which, through inadvertence, might cause disappointment to our old friends; and so if I am a little hesitant I think the House will agree that I am taking the right course.
§ Mr. Tinker (Leigh)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman has done very well on the back benches. Let him have no fear.
§ Mr. Willink
These Motions deal with a subject of real and deep human interest, but the matter is inevitably technical, and it is not one on which I can make much more than an expository speech in as short a time as I hope may be convenient and suitable to the matter. But technical though it is, and easy though it is to fail to imagine all possible combinations of circumstances which may arise under the new Regulations, I am very far from regretting that my first duty is to forward, promote and commend proposals made by the Assistance Board, a body for whose administration I have more than once from the back benches expressed my admiration, and to whose flexibility and ability tributes have been paid from all parts of the House. I recall in particular words that fell from my hon. Friend the Member for Hemsworth (Mr. G. Griffiths) recently as to the manner of administration of the officials of the Board. Another point upon which I feel some satisfaction is that I believe these Draft Regulations do reflect in very large measure suggestions which have been made in the course of earlier Debates and being of an optimistic, or at any rate not of a pessimistic, frame of mind I am hoping the field of controversy on these proposals to-day will be reasonably narrow, and that, broadly speaking, they will win the acceptance of the House.
As the House knows, it is being invited to approve two sets of Draft Regulations in place of those that exist at the moment. 1189 The House is well familiar by now with the machinery under which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I present Draft Regulations in relation to supplementary pensions and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour presents Unemployment Assistance Regulations in the same way. The Drafts are in terms proposed by the Assistance Board and they commend themselves on this occasion to the Government. The House will remember that a promise was given that there should be simplification and codification. The White Paper issued in July last stated of the amending Regulations then before the House:The Regulations have necessarily been cast in the form of additions to existing Regulations. In that form their meaning is inevitably difficult to follow. The Assistance Board are, however, engaged on the codification and simplification of the whole body of Regulations. This code will be available as soon as possible and will come before the House on a Motion which is, of course, debatable.That is the stage which we have reached to-day. As things stand there are nine sets of Regulations, four with regard to one field and five with regard to the other. There is not only their number, but the fact that inevitably they have become progressively more complex and more difficult to understand, and it is a great move forward if we can achieve one set of Regulations in respect of each of these two most important subjects.
Of course, in this field and in this setting, simplification costs money. One is inclined to think of simplification and pruning—because this is largely a process of pruning from the existing Regulations—as being something which is economical, but, of course, in this field simplification is bound to mean in a substantial number of cases a levelling up. One cannot take off under present circumstances, and no one wishes to, and so simplification does inevitably mean that some cases will benefit rather more than others in the simplifying process. It is anticipated that, on the present register of supplementary pensions there will be an extra charge of £7,250,000 per annum. There are at present 1,475,000 supplementary pensioners. For unemployment assistance the extra cost on the present small register of about 25,000—thank goodness for it—is £200,000. Included in that figure of 25,000, I may mention in passing, are some 7,000 cases of special war distress that are dealt with 1190 under what is commonly known as the P.R.D. Scheme.
I hope and believe that the course most convenient to the House will be for me to outline the principal simplifying changes roughly in their order of importance as matters of principle. There is no doubt that the first and most important change to which I should refer is this, that whereas the existing scales have always included an element for a notional standard rent, in the new Draft Regulations the scales proposed are on a basis to meet needs exclusive altogether of the question of outgoings on the house; what is called, for short, an ex-rent basis. The old system, into which I need not go, complicated though it was, had, for various reasons, become progressively more difficult for an ordinary mind to understand.
I must go into this, because this is the most important matter, probably, in the whole of the Draft Regulations, a little more fully. This is the matter which I would put in the forefront, the substitution of an ex-rent basis for a scale rate including a standard rent adjustable up or down according to rather complicated rules. When I refer to rent, it is rent in a technical sense—rent meaning, broadly speaking, outgoings on the house. The word "rent" and the phrase "net rent" appear in the Draft Regulations, and there is, of course, a clear definition in Part III of the Schedule, even though the matter may perhaps not have been made perfectly clear in the White Paper. One finds that "net rent" means the weekly proportion of the normal outgoings, less any proceeds of subletting, and that "outgoings" includes rates, a reasonable allowance towards any necessary expenditure on repairs or insurance, and other more detailed matters. There should be no misunderstanding; "Rent" does not mean rent. It means, broadly speaking, outgoings on the home.
So we start with these basic primary rates, which are the first matter that appears in Part I of the Schedule: "Amounts to be allowed for needs other than rent." For a married couple the amount is 35s.; where that rate does not apply, for an applicant living alone or who is a householder and, as such, is directly responsible for rent and household necessaries—20s. per week; and for any other applicant 17s. 6d. Perhaps I should just put in a word about the 1191 difference between the 20s. and the 17s. 6d. We feel that that difference continues to be justified. Rent is shared frequently among members of a household and so, too, are overheads such as coal, lighting, heating, cleaning materials and so forth. There can be no doubt that a person living alone has to spend on those things more, in proportion, than have two or three persons living together. It is not so much that the Board have approached the matter of the difference by appraising that difference at 2s. 6d., as by saying that the reasonable figure to allow for such a person is half the rate for the married couple, which is 35s., and a half is 17s. 6d. We accept that figure, and I hope that it will commend itself to the House.
§ Mr. Willink
That is just the type of question on which I am not going to be incautious, and I know that the hon. Gentleman will sympathise with me upon it. The point will be borne in mind, and an answer will be given.
I should like to say a word more on this question of rent. The rent allowance for applicants directly responsible for rent is, under an ex-rent scale, the actual rent within certain reasonable limits and the appropriate allowance is to be added in the early part of the calculation of the pension, before one comes to resources or statutory disregards or anything of that kind. There are, as the House is aware, and will continue to be, Local Advisory Committees. I believe there are something like 120 of them. They have advised, and they are going to be asked to advise again, though it will take a little time, on what are to be regarded as reasonable rents in the localities with which they are concerned. Rents vary widely from place to place and from time to time.
§ Mr. Willink
Yes, within the area. I am obliged. That local advice is welcomed and valued by the Board. It is hoped that the great majority of cases will be covered within the limits recommended by the local advisory committees, 1192 and adopted by the Board, but there are of course rents which are higher and some which are lower. I ought to say a word about both of those and I hope that I shall be able to express the point clearly to the House.
Before, however, I go into the low and high rents, may I take first of all the general situation, where the pensioner is responsible for the rent? The rent allowance to be added will, within the limits to which I have referred, be the actual rent. In other cases it will be a proportion, on the basis of the number in the household where he or she is living. The range here will be not less than half a crown or more than 7s. There is a small simplification or pruning of the complication of the existing Regulations in that that maximum of 7s. will apply not only to a married but also to a single pensioner, which was not the case before. There are certain other cases—I do not know how numerous—of people living rent free, not because they occupy their own houses or by virtue of service or employment, or anything of that kind, but by virtue of gift or charity. There is a problem here and the proposal is that persons living rent free in a house provided by charity will have their supplementary pensions adjusted as though they were paying a rent of 5s. or 6s. per week. These limits will be fixed.
§ Mr. Fraser (Hamilton)
Will they apply to such persons as billetees who have been by order billeted in another area? Would they receive 35s. under this Regulation or 35s. plus 5s. of 6s. for rent?
§ Mr. Griffiths
That only applies to somebody who is living with somebody else and is not himself a householder? If there is a single person who is drawing the pension, living in her own house where she has been living for 20 years, her husband having passed away and where her rent is 10s., will she not get the 10s. on top?
§ Mr. Willink
That is my impression at the moment, but I should like an opportunity to confirm so that there shall be no fear of inaccuracy.
§ Mr. Mathers (Linlithgow)
The only point—[HON. MEMBERS: "Give the new Minister a chance."]—The only point I want to put to the Minister is in relation to a person living rent free. Are we to understand from the Minister that notwithstanding that persons may be living rent free they will have subsistence allowance plus an allowance for rent, notwithstanding the fact that they pay no rent?
§ Mr. Willink
Yes, they will be treated as though they were paying a rent of 5s. or 6s. There must be some measure. It must be a difficult problem, how to deal with charitable resources, and the person living rent free is in that category. This is the general basis—I cannot carry it further—on which such cases will be handled.
I have said that it is hoped that the rent allowance in the great majority of cases will fall within the limits recommended by the local advisory committee and adopted by the Board, but there will of course be the high rents and the low rents. Let me first take the high rents, because I think they are simpler, although it may not be any easier in a sense to establish a satisfactory principle. I am satisfied that the Board fully appreciates that there are cases where high rent is inevitable, such as in new houses, special houses built during the war or special circumstances where the pensioner cannot move out or cannot conveniently sublet or properly be asked to sublet, and so forth. They can be dealt with, I venture to think, when the rent is in excess of the limit, only on a discretionary basis and in such a manner as to avoid hardship—the Board have to see that the part of the pension which is intended to meet needs other than rent is not eaten into.
The next question with which I should like to deal is that of the existing, but now obsolescent, low rent rules. Those low rent rules, as I understand the position, have arisen because there have been a substantial number of cases, no doubt varying from year to year, where the rent obligation was lower, perhaps very substantially lower, than the standard rent included in the old scale allowance and 1194 there was a difficulty in satisfying either pensioners or hon. Members that in these cases there should be a reduction in the pension paid exactly commensurate with the amount by which the low rent was below the standard rent. Consequently recommendations were made, again by the local advisory committees, as to how that gap, that difference, between the standard rent and the actual low rent being paid, should be handled. Different advisory committees took different views. In London there are eight advisory committees. One might well find, by reason of a different view being taken of the proper low rent rule, that a pensioner might move from one part of London to another and might find a difference of as much as 2s. a week in the way that this question of his or her rent was handled.
There can be no doubt that inequitable anomalies arose in the operation of the low rent rules and, of course, on the basis that is proposed there will be no more low rent rules of this kind. It turned out that it was impossible to harmonise the views of the various localities and I cannot help thinking, with such knowledge as I have of this matter, that it is a good thing that they are to come to an end. What in fact happened was that those who were paying a very small rent got an anomalous financial advantage, as it were, by a side wind, by an illogical working out of the Regulations. What follows upon the abolition of the low rent rules is that the improvement in the rates will not benefit those who are losing the advantage of a local low rent rule to the same extent as other people who are not themselves at present getting the anomalous advantage of the rule. Consequently, if there were a strict and meticulous application of the new Regulations and the ex-rent basis without any low rent rule, there would be a few cases in which these new Regulations would actually result in a reduction to a certain number of persons. The Board have no desire that that shall occur, and I have their assurance that in any case where the abolition of the low rent rule would result in a reduction—I do not think it could be more than 3d. or 6d.—steps will be taken to ensure that no reduction is in fact suffered. Indeed I can give this general assurance on the whole scheme. There is at least one other case in which, on a strict application of the rules, there might 1195 be a reduction. Any simplification involves cases which are not quite satisfactorily covered—in fact the more you simplify, the less you deal with the particular case. Consequently we continue to feel the necessity for the discretionary power and in no case—neither in connection with the low rent rules nor in any other case—will any pensioner suffer loss. The vast majority will of course benefit.
I think I can pass from the main rates and the ex-rent basis and go to the other matters set out in the White Paper in a way which I find lucid and helpful, and I hope the House think the same. The next point I would deal with is the abolition of winter allowances, which were given, as the House knows, for a certain number of months a year where there was an additional need due to winter conditions. The issue is a clear one. The Board have come to the conclusion, and they have a wonderful opportunity for getting to know the mind of the pensioner, that it would be to the taste and mind of the pensioner to have a regular income all the year round rather than this system of a special winter allowance. Of course it was pleasant when the increase came, but the pleasure was, I think, more than offset when the reduction came at the so-called end of the winter which was likely enough not to correspond with a change of temperature. It did not give the opportunity, which we are asked to take, of laying in a little fuel while prices were lower in the summer. In every way, both on the advice of the Board and in my own feelings about it, I like the idea that we should not regulate the lives of the old age pensioners to the extent which is indicated by special winter allowances. I hope that the House will accept this abolition.
The next point I would mention is the abolition of what is called, in technical language, rural differentiation. The abolition of rural differentiation means that there is pruned and cut out of the scheme a right of the Board to make certain reductions in rural areas. I need hardly say more on this subject. I think I can pass from it and save the time of the House. The proposal seems to me sensible and satisfactory and, for a number of reasons, I think it will meet with acceptance.
1196 I pass to two points of simplification with regard to women. In the first place, up to now there has been a somewhat half-hearted differentiation between the sexes in certain parts of the field but not in others. There was no difference between men and women living alone. There was no difference between boys and girls, if I may so describe those up to the age of 21. But there were certain distinctions. It is now proposed that there should be no distinctions at all between men and women. The second point of difference proposed with regard to women is that there was a difference of one shilling between a pension given in respect of a wife who was herself a pensioner and a wife who was not herself a pensioner. It is proposed to do away with that distinction. That is another example of the pruning and simplification.
Finally, in this rather long catalogue of alterations and simplifications, there are the rates for children simplified and improved—a smaller number of age-groups. The new rates were anticipated to some extent by what the House did in the summer but there will be benefit from the present Regulations to a number of widows, particularly those with older children.
§ Mr. Tinker
On page 8 of the Memorandum giving the scales it says:Widow paying 8s. rent—with one child aged five, normal rate 33s., rate increased by winter allowance, if granted, to 35s. 6d. under present arrangements. New rate throughout the year 34s.I hope that in the winter period she will not be brought down to 34s. from 35s. 6d. I do not think it does mean that, but I would like the Minister to make it clear.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
I admit that no one can be brought down now until the winter allowance ends. The point is that next winter she will then be 1s. 6d. per week worse off than she will be this winter. Is the sum to be restored? Is the winter allowance to be cut say after this period passes through to another one?
§ Mr. Willink
The answer is that there will be an all-the-year-round rate once her reassessment comes into effect. She is not going to be brought down this winter.
§ Mr. Tinker
I understand that no particular case at any time will be brought to less than what they are getting now.
§ Mr. Buchanan
I admit that the Minister has made that clear beyond doubt, that a widow now receiving that sum receives it to the end of winter-time when that assessment comes to an end. She then loses that amount. Does that mean that next winter the same widow is worse off to the extent of having been reduced by reason of the assessment on the reduced level?
§ Mr. Willink
It depends how you count. She will get more next summer than last, and less next winter than this, but her average for the year will not be less than it is now.
§ Mr. Willink
Having had more next summer. I was about to pass to a special point with regard to the children's allowances. I expect it has not escaped the attention of some hon. Members that there is the possibility of a collision between the Ministry of Pensions rates and the Assistance Board rates in this connection. The two sets of rates are devised on different principles and properly so, I think. One is in the method of dealing with rents up to 8s. That is quite different in the case of the Ministry of Pensions. Secondly, the rates for children are based on entirely different principles governing the treatment of the first, second and third child. On the whole the Ministry of Pensions rates work out at a higher average than the Board's rates, and I think that it is in accordance with the mind of the House that they should [Interruption]. Well, perhaps no, perhaps that can be left on one side. But it is possible that some widows will be able to get more from the Board under these new scales than they would be getting from the Ministry of Pensions. It is only in a few cases, but there are a few such cases that I think would be felt 1198 to be inappropriate. I am authorised by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions to say that he is taking power under the new Royal Warrant to bring the aggregate benefits to which a widow is entitled under the Warrant up to the amount of the widow's contributory pension, children's allowances and supplementary pension to which otherwise she would be entitled.
I pass from these simplifications and turn for one moment to the treatment of resources. As the House well knows, almost alll the headings are statutory and may not be altered on the initiative of the Board. There is one important change, a substitution for the rather difficult and complicated rule with regard to earnings. It is the easily understood provision that 10s. 6d. per week will be allowed in future.
I doubt whether the House wants me to go into the details, which are pretty well known, as to the time it will take to bring these Regulations into force. It is bound to take time if there are to be reassessments on this scale.
§ Mr. Stephen (Glasgow, Camlachie)
With regard to this 10s. 6d., suppose the old age pensioner is doing a little jobbing work somewhere and is earning 10s. 6d., and suppose his wife is doing a little charing and getting 10s. 6d. I am not quite clear whether the whole 21s. will be excused or the earnings of the applicant. The reference to the allowance of the first 10s. 6d. a week isfrom the earnings of the applicant or the applicant's wife or husband.It is "or" not "and".
§ Mr. Willink
The answer is that they will get two 10s 6d. in the situation envisaged by the hon. Member.
I was going to say a few sentences with regard to the Unemployment Assistance Regulations. My right hon. Friend is here and will be replying to the Debate. The simplification and pruning of the Regulations is on the same lines, and much of what I have said applies to them. There will be no reduction in any existing case, and the new children's rates will be a substantial benefit. It is because the Government believe that these Regulations as proposed will, if they are accepted, be of real assistance and benefit to those who will be affected by them 1199 that they have introduced them. Incidentally—this is far less important, though it is important—these Regulations will be of very great convenience to Members of this House and others who advise and help old people and I commend them to the House.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke)
We accept these Regulations, because they mark another step forward in the treatment of our people who are drawing old age and widows' pensions. I feel that Members will join with me in congratulating the right hon. Gentleman on the manner in which he has introduced these Regulations. He has set himself a high standard, which has been good to see after some of our previous experiences, and I hope that I shall be able to maintain that standard. I want to make a request to him. I think it is one of the organic weaknesses of this House that questions which are asked in the House, by Members well-versed in their subjects, are not given the attention that they should receive from Ministers. I think we have suffered more from this during the war than we did previously, and that much friction could be avoided in the administration of the social services, in particular, if more notice were taken of questions which are raised in this House. I believe that most hon. Members, and I speak for my hon. Friends in particular, try to be as helpful as possible in raising points on matters of this kind. From now onwards the Minister should be determined that questions which are asked, on these matters in particular, will get the best possible attention, so as to avoid unnecessary friction in their administration.
The operation of the vicious means test created domestic friction for at least 10 years, and some of us, because of the effects on our relatives and friends, are still smarting. One of the best friends I ever had, a great craftsman, was forced to commit suicide because of the domestic friction which arose out of the terrible effects of that means test. Only people who have gone through it, or have lived with people who have suffered from it, can realise what it has meant. We have my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) to thank for the change which has been brought about from the means test to 1200 the determination of needs. Since its introduction, that system also has been gradually improved. We still suffer from the legacy of the means test days, but we hope that the effects will be eliminated. Before the war we pleaded for years for the abolition of the means test, and also—and we are pleased with the increasing support we have received in the House—for an increase in old age and widows' pensions. Before the war we made no headway; we had nothing but discouragement; we were up against a stone wall; but since 1940 we have made substantial progress, although we have not yet reached the position that our fellow-countrymen deserve. It would be wrong not to place on record our tribute to our democratic institutions for the fact that while we have been fighting for our lives, we have made such progress. These Regulations have gone through a process of simplification. We appealed for that for a long time. It was urgently required. As a result, the cost of administration will be reduced, better understanding will be created among the applicants, and much friction will be avoided. The Explanatory Memorandum says, on page 2:The new scales are presented on an 'exrent' basis; that is to say, they are sums intended for needs other than rent, to which a reasonable allowance for rent will be added.I shall make some observations on that later. In regard to the winter allowance, I want to plead guilty to this: I was one of those Members who pressed for the introduction of such an allowance. It has not worked out satisfactorily, and, therefore, we welcome this new procedure. The Explanatory Memorandum goes on to say:The provisions relating to rural differentiation have been dropped.My hon. Friends will certainly welcome that. The rates for women have been made to correspond with the rates for men. My hon. Friends welcome that, and hope that it will be applied generally, in other matters. The distinction between the rate for a wife who is a pensioner and that for a wife who is not has been dropped. My hon. Friends will have some comments to make on that. On page 4, the Memorandum says:Representations have from time to time been received to the effect that pensioners should be put in a position to lay in stocks of coal during the summer.1201 Then it goes on:These and similar recommendations indicate a preference for a system under which pensioners are assured of a regular income throughout the year and are left free to adjust their expenditure for themselves.Many of my hon. Friends have been party to those representations, and we welcome this improvement. But you cannot get much coal for 2s. a week. In the winter, especially the kind of winter that you have North of the Trent, you certainly need more than one bag of coal. Page 7 says that the broad effects of Regulations made in terms of the Draft would be to bring all supplementary pensioners who have no resources beyond their primary pensions up to certain figures. We shall have some questions to ask later about that. On page 9, the Memorandum states that the new Regulations would come into force on 17th January. Could not a special effort be made to apply the new Regulations, say, in the first payment in the new year. I know I am asking a lot, but our fellow-countrymen have been asked a lot for four years, and they have worked miracles in industry.
Such a change as I ask would have a good effect, and I and sure that if a request was made from this House for these improvements to be introduced in the first payments in the new year the staff of the Board would do all they could to bring it about. The Draft dealing with the Old Age and Widows' Pensions Act says:In any other case (unless there are special circumstances) add a reasonable share of the rent payable by the person with whom the applicant is living, but not less than 2s. 6d. nor more than 7s.Could we, before we part with these Regulations, be given some examples of how that will apply?
§ Mr. Smith
I am sorry. It was from page 2 of the Draft Regulations, dealing with the introduction of supplementary pensions—in the Schedule, Part I, Subsection (2), paragraph (b). The other point I want to make relates to the statement that if the applicant is aged 21 years or over, he will be allowed 15s. I received a letter this morning from the secretary of an old age pensioners' association. The best thing I can do is to read an extract. This is from a man who has paid special attention to this question, in one of the biggest centres in London: 1202May I point out that there are a few pensioners who have dependants who are incapable of doing anything for themselves, some mental and some physical? I hope they will be dealt with under the old scale.Is this 15s. considered sufficient for an adult dependant, and, if not, is it intended that the discretionary grant should be applied in cases of that kind? If so, can we have some assurance that there will be uniformity in the application of that discretionary grant to adult dependants?
Little attention is apt to be paid to the Unemployment Assistance Regulations at this time, but they will govern the unemployed of the future. While that may not be a big issue at present, I am convinced that unless there is a radical change in the outlook of most people in this country, including most Members of this House, with regard to our future economy and organisation, we shall have a repetition of the pre-war situation. Therefore, we are bound to be concerned about these Regulations. A married couple, according to Part I, on page 2, will receive 31s. a week. We are allowing this to go through to-day only on the clear understanding that we are not satisfied with these amounts. Seeing that the people of this country have been prepared to render service to save the country as they have during the war, the least the country can do is to go to their assistance in peacetime, when they suffer as a consequence of economic disturbance for which they as individuals have no responsibility. Although we are allowing these Regulations to go through, I hope that that is clearly understood. Under the Old Age and Widows' Pensions Regulations a married couple with no resources, with supplementary pensions, will receive 35s. a week, plus the appropriate rent allowance. What is the appropriate rent? It is true that the passage occurs:Reasonable rent having regard to the general level of rents in the locality.Later, the word "reasonable" is used again. Those of us who have had experience of the work of some advisory committees have not much confidence as to how this is going to be administered. The Minister states that there are about 120 of these committees. I hope that when these Regulations go through, the responsible authorities will review the personnel of these committees. In some 1203 parts of the country they are not functioning as well as they should. Our experience teaches us that Parliament should insist on a national interpretation, as far as that can be made, of what is a reasonable rent. I hope that a circular will be sent out, giving a definition, for the guidance of the local advisory committees, as clearly as possible, and that we shall have uniformity, as far as possible, in the administration.
The present housing shortage makes the position more difficult than it would be in normal circumstances, for houses cannot be obtained to-day, many people are having to live in rooms in large houses, and many of them are paying a relatively high rent. We are entitled to know, therefore, in circumstances of that kind, what will be considered a reasonable rent. The position has been further intensified by the air raids and by the large number of houses that have been demolished or have been made uninhabitable, and, in addition to that, there is congestion in many of the industrial areas, in particular, because of the large numbers of people who have had to move to those areas to make their contribution to our war effort. Therefore, the only way out for these people is to take rooms in large houses, and we are entitled to know to-day what is considered to be a reasonable rent in circumstances of that kind. Some municipal rents vary between 10s. and 16s. a week, and we have at last got national scales so far as the benefits are concerned. That takes us a step further, but can we have a national, clear interpretation of what is considered to be an appropriate rate? Will uniformity in its administration be brought about throughout the country?
In regard to the discretionary grants, is the Minister satisfied that there is the same kind of administration on this basis in each area? As a result of the introduction of this new and simpler method of calculation, I was going to ask the Minister whether anyone will receive one penny a week less as the result of its introduction, but I understand that the Minister has already assured us that no one will suffer any reduction at all. However, we would like that further cleared up when the reply is made. I hope that we can have a clear and definite reply to-day as to whether anyone will receive a reduction next week or whether applicants next winter 1204 will be treated any differently from what they are to-day.
Can copies of all circulars sent out for the guidance of Assistance Board officers be placed on the table of the Library of this House and in each local library? I would like to repeat that, because I think it will assist if it can be done. Can copies of the circular which are sent out for the guidance of the Assistance Board officers be placed on the table of the Library of this House and in each local library, so that the applicants for benefits and supplementary pensions can go and read them for themselves? I understand the Board has recently published a very fine book for the advice of their officials. It will be necessary now for this book to be brought up to date, and can those Members of this House who are interested in this matter be provided with a copy of that book when it is brought up to date, if they so desire? We accept these Regulations to-day because we want the old age and widow pensioners to benefit from the urgently needed improvements as soon as possible. Having said that, let me emphasise this: We hope that the scales contained in these papers will not be used as a basis for fixing future benefits in any comprehensive social security scheme that is to be introduced.
The Royal Warrant provides for payment in the case of the death of an officer of £36 a year for a child, plus an allowance for its education. For the widow of an officer a pension of £210 a year is provided, making the payment per annum of £318 for a mother and four children. It would take an old age pensioner, on the flat rate, 12 years to draw the amount that a widow with four children draws in 12 months. On the maximum supplementary pensions it would take three years for our mothers and our fathers to draw that amount after they had worked for 50 years, and yet it is said that a payment of £318 per annum for a mother and four children creates a financial crisis of extreme gravity for the family. According to the newspapers this morning, we find that a Resolution was carried yesterday, with only one dissentient, which said that the widow of a commander with three children had to keep four people on £318. I am not making any reference to another place; all that I am doing is quoting from a newspaper report which appeared this morning dealing with a speech which was 1205 made yesterday. While we realise that it would be out of Order to refer to what took place in another place, we are in Order in referring to a speech which is reported in this morning's newspapers.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
The hon. Gentleman is inaccurate there. He may not refer in that sense to a speech which has taken place in the other place. Although it appeared in a newspaper, it is really a report of the speech.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The hon. Gentleman referred to a speech in the other place, and that is what I objected to. That is where the hon. Gentleman is out of Order.
§ Mr. Smith
I shall not pursue that point. I are bound to take notice of it, and knowing that I am on very delicate ground in raising this at all, and not desiring to conflict with the rules and regulations and with the Chair in particular, I spent some time this morning in reading Erskine May in order that I could deal with this subject in the way this House demands that such matters should be dealt with.
We welcome the gradual elimination of the old cap-in-hand spirit in this administration. We are gradually eliminating that spirit, and this is going to give great satisfaction. We welcome the gradual cutting-out of charity. We want our people of this country—and they have earned it as a result of their war record, quite apart from what they have done throughout history—to have rights and not charity, and these improvements which are gradually being brought about—another instalment is before us now—are gradually cutting out the old cap-in-hand spirit, which is a legacy of the old days. We accept these Regulations and look forward to the publication of the White Paper on the future of our social policy.
§ Mr. Buchanan (Glasgow, Gorbals)
I rise to say a word or two on these Regulations, and I suppose it is the custom throughout the Debate for almost all of us to refer to the new Minister of Health. 1206 I have been here a good deal longer than most, and hon. Members will excuse me if I reserve my remarks about the Minister for the end of his career and not the beginning. I will say quite frankly that I hate this false praise by Members that starts when a man takes office and turns to kicks when he meets adversity. Personally, I would sooner give praise to a Minister who is getting a kick or two. I judge the Minister of Health, as I judge all people, not by his preliminary speech, but by his record of work that he will accomplish during his term of office. If he accomplishes that, he will be entitled to praise not only from me, but from the House generally.
I would say a word or two about the Regulations themselves. These things are beginning to remind me of unemployment insurance in pre-war days. Two or three times each year we discuss the question of old age pensions and the Regulations dealing with old age pensions, and I forget the number of discussions we have had in this House since 1940, but they have been very numerous since then, and each time we attempt to do something back comes the discussion in another form in a comparatively short while. Here we have to-day an effort being made more or less to dispose finally of the subject, because, let us have no doubt about it, the meaning of the Government's proposals to-day is really an effort finally to dispose of the old age pensioners' claims, and I want to say that much as the Government may desire to do that, the Government alone do not determine that matter, and neither does the House of Commons. It is inevitable that the people outside who are affected will have some say in that matter and will use their ordinary capacity to bring pressure on Members, which must to some extent guide Members in their future attitude in this matter. I would therefore ask Members to be careful in welcoming these proposals as something final and settled.
Let me say a word or two about the general outlook. As I understand the proposals, they are an attempt to simplify the present administration and to make it easier of understanding, to make it easier for the officials to run it and, I think, easier for it to be understood. In so far as it accomplishes that, everyone must welcome anything that makes for simplification and easier understanding. The 1207 second thing that they do is to attempt to adjust some of the anomalies that are now obviously in force in this scheme. There is the anomaly about the rent, and I want to say a word or two later about this rent business, because to me it is not nearly so clear as some people would have me believe. At the present, time, anyone who cares to take the slightest interest in this issue knows that even officials often have the greatest difficulty in obtaining a clear understanding of what the rent really is, and when you visit the offices of Assistance Boards and see officials with quite a mass of interpretations, each one varying and each one conflicting with the other, anything that abolishes that kind of confusion, even from the official view, does not make for a bad improvement.
Then there is the other issue, that we have now abolished certain differentiations in regard to the pensioner. These were indefensible things that could never be justified on any grounds of equity or decency. We have now abolished the line of difference between the rural and non-rural policy. In my view a decision must be made in the future about the separate schemes for agricultural and rural workers and that of other workers in connection with unemployment insurance. I took the view—and four or five of us voted in the Lobby on the matter—that, with the coming of the motor car and the constant conflict of every day occupations, there was no difference between the rural population and the urban population, and that there should be an approximation of the two schemes with regard to unemployment.
I was never enthusiastic about the winter allowance. I did not defend it as a winter allowance but only because it brought another 2s. 6d. for the old people. I have constantly taken the view, representing great masses of poor people, that any ingenious way of increasing their incomes was justifiable. The winter allowance was an ingenious method, for a temporary period of augmenting their incomes. I often used to wonder, when in Scotland, why there was a winter allowance as such because sometimes some of the most severe weather in the year was after the winter allowance had been stopped. It did not cease to be winter merely because the winter allowance stopped. I have experienced round about the end of March and in April weather as 1208 severe as any during the time that the winter allowance was in operation. With the winter allowance there came a discrepancy. Large numbers of people did not receive it if they had other resources. A person who had resources from a trade union or friendly society or an income of a limited kind did not share in the winter allowance. This new scheme brings them out of that category. But what does the assistance amount to at the end of the day? The question is how an old age pensioner or a widow with children can exist on a specific sum. The Government are making these improvements, but at the end of the day you come back to the issue that these improvements do not raise the lot of the old age pensioners and the widows to a standard which makes us proud of Britain's standards of life. Much as we may clothe it, I still think that the standard falls short of what I would like it to be to enable our old people to live in human decency. It has been my invariable experience that when Government Departments are handing out something that is said to be an improvement there always sems to be an inevitable kink in the Department which prevents them from giving the improvement properly and generously.
I want to say something about the rent rule. I thought when I read it that the scheme was simple. It is easy to understand the simple case of a man or woman with no resources. It is £1, plus rent, provided the rent is reasonable. What is a reasonable rent? The fact is that when these old people live in a house the rent that they have to pay is a reasonable one because they have no alternative but to pay it. Is it to be argued that they should all be shifted from their abode? If an old couple continue to live in a three-apartment house where formerly a young family lived which has now dispersed, is the Department to come along and say, "The rent is a somewhat high one and out you must go"? That is the kind of thing that irritates. It is not really the full rent in each case.
This is one of the things which, under the old Regulations, used to irritate, not so much because of the amount of the allowance, but because of the method of approach. I used to think when we passed an Act we really meant what we said. I was simple in those days and did not thoroughly understand. I am still 1209 simple, and when I see some hon. Members I wonder how I got in here. When people received £1 disability pension it meant that they got no winter allowance, and under this new scheme a man who has resources of £1 a week disability pension or income will not get his full rent if his rent is a high one, but he is going about thinking that he will. It is not making it a simple scheme. It is just another device for the official to screw up his brow when examining the poor applicant and show how intelligent he is. Even now the right hon. Gentleman cannot do the thing right. It should be without qualification and he should say that he means the rent that a person has to meet under existing circumstances, but he does not do that.
I never join in attacking officials running the Assistance Board. I know the officials in my native city possibly as well as anybody, and in personal approach I regard the changed system as being better than the system of the old Poor Law, but still we must bear the Poor Law in mind. We must not be uncharitable even towards the Poor Law. The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) said something about cap-in-hand. The old Poor Law in my native city had many qualities as well as abuses, and in many cases the officials were not deserving of the kicks they received. But I welcome the present change. I welcome the change particularly for the widow, but I would ask my hon. Friends on the Labour benches not to be too gushing to-day in their reception of these proposals. They must keep them in their proper proportion. They are not awfully good or something that the Labour Party can really applaud as having accomplished. I take the view that women with children have even a greater claim than almost any other section of the population. I take the view, for good or for ill, that when we get past a certain age our claim is not as good as the claim of the children. What are we doing with regard to widows? I would ask the Minister and those responsible to be a little kinder to these widows. In my native city of Glasgow—and the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Fraser) will bear me out—the Poor Law people to-day are paying on an average all the year round as much to the widow as we are now proposing to do under this Regulation, and in some cases actually more, and in addition these 1210 Poor Law authorities act in a very generous way in the supply of clothing such as woollen garments. I am glad that the Secretary of State for Scotland has now come into the Chamber. Actually today in Lanarkshire and in the City of Glasgow the scales in regard to widows and young people are higher than the proposed scales.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman in introducing the Regulations made great play of the fact that nobody was to be reduced. That was ethically true, but it does not convey the correct picture. He gives to the widow, who I have said should have first claim, 34s. plus rent. I would ask any man, what woollen garments can be bought in Scotland at present prices on an income of that kind? I have no children of my own, but there are some for whom I have a responsibility. I went to a store to buy some woollen garments, and the price astounded me, out of my income, to say nothing of the proposed income of a widow with children. There should be an addition to these scales for clothing, because I am convinced that there are epidemics caused not merely by food but to some extent by the lack of good warm clothing.
The widow will get the same amount up to a certain date in March as she would have got, but what happens after March? Next winter she will get 1s. 3d. It would have been 1s. 6d., but the Board has beaten me by 3d. They would have lost 3d. a week on the 52 weeks. Next winter the widow with young children will be 1s. 3d. a week worse off than this winter. It is true that it will be made up in the summer-time to approximate to the winter. I know that the Regulations will pass. I admit that they are on a better business basis and improvements have been made, but I would ask that regard should be paid to the widow with children and that there should be an allowance for clothing in addition to the scales, and that no widow next winter should be asked to live on a less allowance than she is living on this winter. I shall not divide against these things. They mark a businesslike improvement and a meagre improvement in money, but I hope the House and the Government will be under no illusion that this marks a final settlement of the problem. The war may end quickly or it may be prolonged—we do not know—but if it 1211 should end, these Regulations will became of first-class importance in next to no time, and we are allowing these scales to pass which are a disgrace for normal human people to live upon. I was not present at the famous Debate last week. I was in a more comfortable place—in bed—but I read the Debate. The House was worked up on the issue of one man. To-day there is not the excitement. We have smaller numbers, and we are calmer. The issue last week may appear to some to be terribly important, but I think the conditions of the widow with children at least equally important, though they may not get the headlines.
§ Mr. Brooke (Lewisham, West)
We seem to have got into an atmosphere of personal caution. The Minister said he was going to be cautious in his statement, and the hon. Member has reciprocated by saying he was going to be cautious in his praise, though fortunately later, led away by his usual humanity, he threw caution to the winds. I hope he will join with me in this at any rate—in congratulating the Minister on the clarity, and the courtesy to the House, with which he introduced these new Regulations. We are offering a really big thing to supplementary pensioners. You can tell that by looking at the figures. The cost of supplementary pensions hitherto has been £44,000,000 a year. If these Regulations are endorsed the cost is likely to rise to £51,000,000, an increase of something like 16 per cent. That may not be all, because with the growing number of old people it might be expected that the figures would continue to increase year by year. My hope is that that will not be the case, but that we shall manage our affairs so well as years go on that the needs of poverty will diminish. That is the policy of the party to which I belong, to bring about a state of affairs where property, resources and savings are more and more widely spread, so that it will become less and less necessary to relieve poverty by supplementary payments of this kind. The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) said he was not satisfied with the amounts. I am sorry he said that, because I could not help feeling that politics was creeping into it. In one sense none of us are satisfied with the amounts. None of us, when we are brought face to face with a case of poverty and need, are satisfied when we have to 1212 stop at a fixed limit in relieving it, but it is necessary to have rules. These rates proposed by the Assistance Board are quite materially above those which Sir William Beveridge calculated were adequate for subsistence at the present cost of living.
It strikes me as well worth while that we should give a trial to the abolition of winter allowances. Like the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) I was one of those, though I was not in the House at the time, who were anxious that the Unemployment Assistance Board, as it then was, should introduce a system of winter allowances, for fuel needs and so on. I still think it was right then, but I am inclined to think that the abolition of the system is right to-day, because there has been a great improvement in the general scales and so it is no longer necessary to add a bit extra for this or that additional seasonal need. The amounts that are now to be fixed give a greater general margin and it seems to me desirable that we should even the figures out over the year and give pensioners the maximum amount of freedom in deciding the way they spend their money.
We are in these Regulations proposing to equalise the treatment of women and men. I am sorry to look round and see that there is not a lady Member here. It strikes me as right that we should be doing this. I am sorry the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not present, to take a hint from us and to realise that the House in general believes that the needs of women and men are the same in living expenses. As regards the rates for children, what I like here is that we are being more generous to the older child. The former rates seemed to me reasonable for younger children, but on the low side for older boys and girls. Under the new Regulation the rate for a boy or girl of 12 or 13, which used to be 6s. 3d., is to be increased to 9s., a very considerable and very welcome improvement to many families.
As regards the treatment of rent and the new decision that rent is to be left outside the scales, I thought the hon. Member for Gorbals was a little uncharitable. He started pulling it about and objecting to the word "reasonable." It is not a good word for him to object to. He knows that we could not have an absolutely unqualified rule that the full amount 1213 of rent should be added on to the basic payment, whatever kind of accommodation the applicant chose to live in. That would be absurd.
§ Mr. Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
If the State permits a landlord to charge a rent which it regards as unreasonable, why in fixing these weekly amounts should not the State pay an amount of subsistence deemed to be necessary and the rent in addition to that which it permits the landlord to charge?
§ Mr. Brooke
I recommend the hon. Member to go and read the Beveridge Report, where he will find a very interesting discussion on the extent to which the rent paid is a matter of necessity or a matter of choice. Sir William Beveridge comes down—I am sure he is right—on the side that in the generality of cases the amount of rent is a matter of necessity, but that to some extent also it may be a matter of choice, and you must defend the Exchequer against those cases—they may be a minority—where people are deliberately living in accommodation more expensive than they truly need. I see no reason why in those cases, if there is more reasonable accommodation available, the State should be called upon to pay the full rent of the expensive premises where they are.
§ Mr. Brooke
If there was not, I have not the slightest doubt, in view of what has been said to-day and what has happened hitherto, that the Board's officials would not arbitrarily reduce payments. [Interruption.] This is clearly a matter on which we may have to have future discussions, for hon. Members read the Regulations in one way and I read them in another. Fortunately we have reached a point—I have noticed a growing recognition of it in the Debates on these matters in recent years—when the actions of the Board are regarded as reasonable, and not arbitrary and unreasonable, towards applicants.
What I welcome most in the new rent rule is that it will be understandable. The old rules, whatever their logical justification, were extraordinarily difficult for the average man or woman to comprehend. I agree that it is not simplicity itself, but it is vastly more simple than we have had before. One of the most 1214 important actions which the Government and the House can take towards breaking down any lack of confidence there may be between Parliament and the general public is to simplify Regulations which affect the ordinary uninstructed man or woman. Judging by the speech which my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health made to-day, he will not be one of those Ministers who need a public relations officer to boost him. He can be his own public relations officer if he will throughout simplify and make easily intelligible the Rules and Regulations which he asks Parliament to apply to the ordinary man and woman. I believe I will carry the whole House with me in saying that.
I want to say a word about what are called in the jargon the "statutory disregards." I cannot help thinking that the Assistance Board must get angry with us in Parliament sometimes for the awful mess in which we have left these statutory disregards. The Board has made a genuine attempt to clear up its own Regulations so far as that is within its power, and then, when one turns to pages 3 and 4 of the Draft Regulations, one finds this extraordinary conglomeration of different disregards according as the resources come from one quarter or another. There was reasonable justification for each of these statutory disregards when they were first enacted, but I suggest to the Government that it would be thoroughly welcome if in the near future the Acts were overhauled and that part of the administration of supplementary pensions in its turn was simplified.
There is a last point which I would specially like to bring to the attention of the Government. It does not require any alteration in the Draft Regulations because it is a matter which, I understand, lies within the discretion of the Board. In the 1943 Act we increased the amount of the disregard in respect of a superannuation payment from 7s. 6d. to 10s. 6d. per week. I confess that I thought, when we were doing that, that it would apply equally to this kind of case. Suppose a firm has some kind of benefit scheme or pensions scheme for its employees. In many instances these schemes are so worked that if the man dies before the wife the widow shall receive a continuance of pension. That continued pension has undoubtedly been earned by her late husband's services with his employers. 1215 The man's pension is disregarded as to 10s. 6d. a week, but because of certain words in the 1940 Act the Board has not hitherto felt able to treat on the same basis a pension paid to a widow of a retired employee, and has disregarded 7s. 6d. only. The words which define a superannuation payment are—A payment in respect of previous service or employment from which the recipient has retired or resignedClearly those words do not cover the case of the widow, for she herself has not been employed. At the same time, there can be no doubt that the payment she receives has been earned by her husband's services. It seems to me, therefore, that it would be right procedure if, in such cases as that, the disregard was at the same rate throughout, whether the pension is being paid to the man during his lifetime or paid to the widow after his death. I hope that the Government or the Board will give further consideration to that point.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr)
I agree with what some of my hon. Friends have said about the improvements suggested in these Regulations, but I would prefer to call them pointers towards better things in the immediate future. I agree in principle with fixing the scales independently of rent, and I am pleased to see that at last the discriminatory winter allowances are to go. The explanatory memorandum tells us that latterly about 60 per cent. of the pensioners have been receiving these allowances, and I know of some winter periods since they were introduced when 50 per cent. of old age pensioners received them at one time. I am glad they are gone. I am also pleased that the discrimination between the rates applying to men and those applying to women have been removed; also that rural differentiation will no longer exist, for that was one of the most unjustifiable anomalies that has ever been forced among the abundance of anomalies that have characterised the Acts and Regulations relating to pensioners and unemployed. We are glad, too, that there are to be some slight increases, for what they are worth, in the rates for children. In accepting these things let us hope they are regarded by the Government as promising pointers in the right direction.
1216 I am still not satisfied with the explanation, either by the right hon. Gentleman or by the explanatory memorandum, of this new phrase "net rent." Why impose such a responsibility upon the local advisory committees? Let us assume that an old age pensioner and his wife occupied a fairly substantial house. It might have been the home in which they had brought up a large family, the family has scattered, and the house may now appear to be perhaps more substantial than the old folk should live in. I do not know why that point of view should be taken, but it is suggested by implication that it should be taken into consideration. There is hardly a town, village or hamlet that has not got a serious housing problem. How can an advisory committee fix this so-called average rent? May I illustrate from my own area what is the position in most districts of the country. It happens to be a comparatively old industrial community. Hundreds of my constituents live in houses built 100, 120 and 140 years ago. We have been able to bring into being some far happier housing schemes than were built in the hurly-burly days of the Industrial Revolution. The differences in rent, of course, are substantial. Housing schemes have been built under different Acts of Parliament at different periods, with the result that rents of comparable houses in size and amentities differ substantially.
The only justification the Government has evolved to explain this new anomaly is that a landlord may impose an excessive rent upon an old age pensioner because it might be met out of public funds. There is, however, another way of dealing with such cases. I would tell my friends of the Conservative Party that in most of the areas where Labour is represented in this House landlords are very chary as to how they abuse their tenants. I should have expected my Conservative friends to be a little more alarmed by this stupid anomaly. Why not agree that, whatever the scale, the rent allowance to be paid should be the actual amount paid by the old age pensioner? Let me give another illustration of a town that may be urban to-day with a substantial population, but which at onetime was a rural town. Wt know the differences in housing in such a town. An old house that has existed through generations may still be going for 1217 a comparatively low rent, but the improved modern house will have a substantially higher rent. I must appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider this matter. It will mean additional work, it will present a problem to local advisory committees which they will never be able to answer satisfactorily even to themselves. The advisory committee in my own constituency have tried to do a good job notwithstanding the shoals of anomalies they have encountered.
Let me refer to the scales. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) that the improvements in these new Regulations are, if I may be permitted to use the expression, "Nothing to shout about." I cannot get into an ecstasy about them. An unemployed man and wife get 31s. a week, plus, of course, the rent. There is no hon. Member who will dare tell his constituents, particularly if he has an unemployed problem, that 31s. is enough for a husband and wife. I regard the attitude of the Government as still very petty and very mean. An unemployed applicant living alone, or who may be a householder, gets 18s. a week. How in all conscience can that be justified? Who can live on it without having his spirit broken and without having a deep sense of bitter humiliation? Human beings cannot live on 18s. a week, and it is no use pretending that the Government are attempting to mete out some little measure of justice or have any sense of proportion when these figures are put forward. Men cannot live on 18s. a week. Not all the rhetoric, wrapped up in all the sympathetic language that may come from the Treasury Bench, can persuade anybody that the Government are trying to do justice to these people.
The problem may be accentuated at the end of the war. I am prepared to accept the assumption of the hon. Member for Gorbals that this will be the scale operating then, judging by the colossal ineptitude of the Government in preparing for post-war conditions, and it may apply possibly to hundreds of thousands of men and women. It is no use our pretending that we can go to our constituents and say that the Government even yet have come to the conclusion that a small measure of justice shall be done to these people. For any other 1218 applicant over 21 years of age the scale gives the colossal sum of 15s. 6d. Frankly, that is adding another insult to the injury which has been felt for some years by thousands of people. The Government must accept it that no human being can keep himself in any measure of decency, retaining any pride in himself or any healthy pride in his country, upon 15s. 6d. a week, even though there is a Coalition Government saying to him, "In some mysterious way you can and must live upon it."
My criticism applies with almost equal strength to the old age pensioners. Many of them are sick or ailing. They require not only greater care but all kinds of nourishment that cannot be bought easily at the prices of ordinary food today. If the right hon. Gentleman who has started on his job to-day will accept it from me, I feel that he wanted to win the approval and good will of the House, but he will pardon me if I paraphrase what my hon. Friend the Member for Gorbals said of him in his absence, "We shall watch his work very closely and be helpfully critical as he goes along." He is in a great Department, with great potentialities for good or for ill, and if the right hon. Gentleman shows any sign that he is working along the lines of adding to the quantum of good there will be no captious criticism from this side of the House, but he will get all the encouragement which he will deserve and possibly need.
My last word is this: We are told that these improvements will cost about £7,250,000, to be applied to nearly 1,500,000 old age pensioners. I have tried to work it out by simple arithmetic, and leaning generously, towards the Government by giving them the benefit of any decimal points that may come in—
§ Mr. Silverman
A large part of the extra £7,250,000 is taken up in bringing women up to the standard of the men and a large further part is taken up in abolishing the distinction between urban and rural areas.
§ Mr. Davies
I am taking all that into consideration. I want to do justice. I have not "talked down" these small improvements, what I have described as "pointers in the right direction." I am prepared to assume that the £7,250,000 will be distributed among nearly 1219 1,500,000 old age pensioners, and if my arithmetic is correct that will amount to 1s. 10d. per week per old age pensioner. That is not much for anybody to get into a frenzy of joy about. All I would say in conclusion is, let us hope that the right hon. Gentleman will take his courage in both his hands, will watch how these new Regulations work, and take steps at an early date to correct their shortcomings and to make further improvements along the lines foreshadowed in this draft Order.
§ Mr. Maxton (Glasgow, Bridgeton)
I can remember some 30 or 40 years ago, when the party above the Gangway was in its pioneering days, that a well known Socialist agitator used to come up to Scotland from London and delight us by his way of speaking and his somewhat different method of approach. He used to deliver a speech pointing out that the House of Commons was composed of Liberals and Conservatives but that there really was no difference between the two, because they really stood for exactly the same thing. He would say, "It is my firm belief, fellow workers, that Mr. H. H. Asquith takes A. J. Balfour behind the Speaker's Chair and says 'Look here, Arthur, what are you and I going to do so as to dish the working class?'" That was more than 30 years ago and we have moved a bit since then. The party above the Gangway have reached a high position of influence and power in the land, and it is no longer necessary for meetings to take place behind the Speaker's Chair. They take place in the Cabinet.
§ Mr. Maxton
I do not know that there has been any advantage to me. I have seen the days when it was one of the courtesies of the House that a well paid Minister sometimes offered hospitality, but I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that my experience with him so far has been very far from that. As I was saying, we have moved a bit since those earlier days, and we do not consider ways and means of "dishing" the working class, but this is what takes place. A very considerable agitation arises in the country for an addition to old age pensions. The old age pensioners form a very substantial organisation, 1220 a well organised movement, and they attract public attention and public sympathy and the Government say "This is a social evil that cannot be ignored." I am not denying that the Government have a human interest in it but Cabinet Ministers can always keep their human interest underneath until there is a substantial public agitation that compels them to allow some measure of scope to it and then they say "Something will have to be done for the old age pensioners. They are asking for 30s. Well, we cannot give them that, because it is very bad for the workers to get it into their heads that they can get what they ask for." The right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Labour knows that in connection with trade unions. I have not his trade union experience, but I have learned a little in the West of Scotland.
I can remember unskilled labourers getting 18s. a week. After an agitation that went well we got them screwed up to the point of asking for £1. Finally the bosses had to take notice of the agitation. They said, "The case is made out for an improvement in conditions, but to raise their pay from 18s. to £1 in one jump—impossible! We are willing to meet them to some extent." I wonder how many times the right hon. Gentleman has heard that story in the course of his life? So they offered 18s. 6d. a week. I put it to the right hon. Gentleman that that is precisely the approach that is being made to these changes in old age pensions. Did he ever think that in the course of his active life in the Labour movement he would come to the same petty-minded outlook as the capitalists whom he has spent his life in fighting? Dishing out 6d.!
I come to the over-riding consideration of all—that there is a war on. My attitude on the war is very well known, but this is not the time or the place to go into that. This "exigencies of the war" business is being overworked a little in social matters. A whole lot of things, as any intelligent person knows, are influenced by war conditions, but this is not one of them.
These are adroit proposals. There are some wonderful fellows in the Civil Service. The Chancellor of the Exchequer says to one of them, "Spend £7,000,000. Spread it over the shop window to make it look as attractive as possible. Give us a scheme that will please the women and do 1221 something for the kiddies, and make everybody feel a little bit better off than they were before." The scheme comes back from that adroit and clever-minded civil servant, who is quite as capable of producing a good and generous scheme, if the instructions were handed to him, as of producing a miserable scheme; but he must do what he is told. This adroit scheme means that a man like myself does not feel that he can vote against it. I presented a Petition some weeks ago on behalf of the old people throughout the country, but I feel that I am being cheated and they are being cheated and that the House of Commons is getting something other than the sentiments and the reason of the House of Commons believe to be right and possible in the circumstances. I cannot see why the 30s. of the Old Folks' Association could not have been granted or why we could not have got rid of the odious means test.
I do not see why there need be any means test but the Income Tax return. The objection to the means test always was that it is a special and invidious investigation applied to the poorer section of the community only. Income Tax has now come down to very low income levels, and the one investigation, and I do not care how strict it is, should be conducted into the incomes of everyone, from the millionaire to the pauper. When you had got the income levels of the population clearly in front of you, you could say at a certain point, "There is the line, and anybody below that line has an insufficient income. It is the duty of the State to see that their income is brought up to that level." The demand of the old age pensioners was a most modest one, and to give anything else is to be unfair. It leaves the Government in the position that they have satisfied nobody and have not removed the agitational possibilities, and within a comparatively short time this House will have to be troubled again to look at some other minor adjustments of the matter.
I do not want to go into the minutiae of the matter, but I want to deal with a minor point involved in the rent allowance. I remember that the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) was answered by an hon. Member who said that people were living in houses too expensive for them and the State had a right to suggest that they should clear out. 1222 Coming from a Conservative Member, that is almost an atrocity. Imagine a couple living in a four or five-apartment house where they have brought up their family, who, one by one, have gone to set up their own families or who have perhaps gone away on war service. The old couple of pensioners are living in a house obviously too big for them, but it is the place where their married life has taken place and round which all their memories centre. The hon. Member suggests that necessities of this kind and that which is of the very essence of life should be thrown aside, by some advisory committee. I hope that the rent provisions will not be interpreted in such a way as to make it possible for old folks in circumstances such as I have described to be turned out of their homes, to find "fresh woods and pastures new" in their declining years. In the whole of my life I have never opposed a proposal which handed out a shilling or a sixpence to a poor section of the community, so I will let this go, without feeling any satisfaction about it whatever.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards (Caerphilly)
First of all I want to congratulate the new Minister of Health upon his exceptionally clear exposition in his maiden effort, and also to congratulate him upon his courtesy. I do so on behalf of myself and other colleagues on these benches. It is my view that in discussions on these questions we often have not taken credit for some of the advances that have been achieved in this institution. I have been interested in this matter ever since I came here, and one cannot be blind to the fact that substantial progress in dealing with it has been made during the war. The principle of the supplementary pension has been established, the means test has been substantially trimmed away, the standard of life of aged people has been raised all over the country, and a vast number of them have been taken away from public assistance institutions. That is something of which we need not be ashamed. Also, £44,000,000 is now paid per year to the old age pensioners which was not paid before, and by this set of Regulations it is proposed to give them another £7,250,000.
It is interesting to remember that in August, 1940, the supplementary pension in England and Wales was 8s. 9d. In Scotland, at the same date, it was 8s. 8d. In August, 1941, the average supplemen- 1223 tary pension in England and Wales was 9s. 6d. and in Scotland 8s. 10d. In August, 1942, the supplementary pension in England and Wales was 11s. 2d. and in Scotland 10s. 5d. In August, 1943, in England and Wales the supplementary pension was 12s. 9d., and in Scotland it was 12s. First, I would draw attention to the fact that there has been an increase from 8s. 9d. in 1940 to 12s. 9d. in 1943, in England and Wales, for which this House is entitled to credit. As to the comparison between Scotland and England, I know it may be suggested that the difference is due to the standard of rents, and to the reasonable rent figures, but I have had an answer to-day to a Question put to the Minister of Health showing that the reasonable rent in two outstanding places in Scotland is 8s. and in a similar number of outstanding places in England also 8s. Judging by this information, the reasonable rent figure is not the explanation for the lower rate of supplementary pension in Scotland as compared with the rate in England. I am not dealing with it on grounds of nationality; I am concerned about a set of Regulations which, I think, should be applied equitably all over the country, and I am trying to show there is a differentiation. I want to ask my hon. Friends who represent Scotland whether or not the office of the Secretary of State for Scotland is as efficient in watching the administration of supplementary pensions as is the Ministry of Health in England. I do not think so. So far I can find no other explanation for the difference in the rate as between Scotland and England and Wales.
First of all, I want to indicate what the Regulations do. First, they are passing to the old people an additional sum of £7,250,000. They are abolishing rural discrimination, a matter at which we have hammered away from this side of the House and a matter about which there must be a great deal of pleasure, especially in the mind of one hon. Member who is not here—the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Jackson), who, when he was able to be in this House, always agitated about this question. Then it abolishes, as the Minister has said, the differences between the sexes. There is a shilling advantage there. It abolishes the financial difference between the married woman who has a pension and the married woman who has not. 1224 They are all advantages. [An HON. MEMBER: "But trivial."] I shall describe their quantity when I come to my criticism. I want us to appraise these things. Let us put all the goods in the window, the good ones and the bad ones. The next point is that the winter allowance has been spread over all the year. I do not think we ought to quibble about this. The same amount of money is paid under this method as under the old method. I, like the rest of hon. Members, welcome the simplification of the code. One other point is the increasing of the earning disregard to a flat 10s. a week. That indeed is of considerable advantage to a lot of people who are following some occupation.
Having said all I can say in favour of the Regulations, I now want to come to the criticisms. In the first place, I want to deal with this reasonable rent proposition. What is it that is meant by the Assistance Board? Is it that the average rent is the reasonable rent, because in every council house practically in England and Wales the rent is above the reasonable rent figure? It is no use Members assuming that because they have all sores of assurances from the Assistance Board there will be no hardship that the rent is to be paid even when the rent is reasonable. Let us quote an answer which was given to-day. Here is the Question:To ask the Minister of Health whether the amount of rent in excess of the reasonable rent figure is allowed in cases in which old age pensioners are in receipt of amounts which are required by statutory provisions for the purpose of calculating scale allowances?What is the answer?The Assistance Board's practice in this matter … is to make an allowance for rent in excess of the limit recommended by the local advisory committee in cases where failure to do so would cause hardship by leaving the applicant with insufficient money to meet his other needs.I hope that is clearly understood. Here is the Assistance Board's reply to-day, that where a pensioner has other resources, even though this House says that these resources must be disregarded, if that pensioner is paying more than the reasonable rent he will not get that rent above the reasonable rent figure given to him in his supplementary pension.
§ Mr. R. Morgan (Stourbridge)
Is there not such a thing as the excess profits rent 1225 which prevent landlords charging a rent higher than the rateable value level?
§ Mr. Edwards
That is an interjection which helps me. Most houses are under the Rent Restrictions Act, therefore rents are fixed, but the reasonable rent figure of the Assistance Board is not the figure that the tenant is bound to pay under the Rent Restrictions Act. The reasonable rent figure of the Assistance Board is an artificial figure very largely fixed as the result of persuasion from the Assistance Board. The decision of the local advisory committees is not final. They are only advisory to the Board, and the Board fixes it. Let me quote a list. The reasonable rent figure in Manchester is 8s., in Wigan 8s., in Stoke 8s., in Leigh 8s., in Wrexham 8s., in London 10s. 6d. to 11s. 6d., Bournemouth 8s., Oxford 8s., Swansea 9s., Bridgend 9s., Dundee 8s., Stirling 8s., and Newport 9s. It is an average rent, it is a rent fixed for the purpose of enabling the Assistance Board to use moneys and resources which this House says shall be ignored in order to refuse supplementary pensions.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour, I know, takes a very broad view of this matter. I am sure he does not want to penalise the pensioners who live in decent houses. If he wants to give effect to his desires, he must have it definitely from the Assistance Board that rents permitted by the Rent Restrictions Act shall be paid in every case by the Assistance Board to the claimant. Wherever the rent is the permissible rent under the Rent Restrictions Act, that rent figure ought to be reasonable for the purposes of supplementary pensions. I think he must go further. He must say that when the House of Commons has decided that 5s. friendly society sick pay is to be ignored it must be ignored for all purposes; it must not be taken into account behind the scenes by the Assistance Board in order to prevent giving to a pensioner that amount of rent he ought to have to pay the rent which he is bound to pay. On that point I would ask my right hon. Friend to make sure about it, and perhaps he will see that the Assistance Board's instructions to its officers on this question shall be made available to Members of Parliament. We do not want the Assistance Board to go behind the back of Parliament, to do something in secret that they dare not do in terms of a Regulation 1226 which has to come publicly before this House.
I wish to take one or two other points. There is a distinction between the householder and the non-householder. We come back to it again. It has always been my contention that this distinction is the last vestige of the family means test that remains. Let me put it quite simply. John Jones is married; his wife dies. He remains in his house, and he gets a scale rate of 20s. But if he decides not to remain in his house but to go and live with strangers, he still gets 20s. and a proportion of the rent. But if he decides to go and live with a nephew, he will get 17s. 6d. and a proportion of his rent. But why does he lose 2s. 6d? A man who is lodging with strangers, who is living as a member of the family if you like, will get £1, but the man who lives with relatives, no matter how distant, in precisely the same domestic relationship will get 17s. 6d. The Minister of Health said that when people live together there is a saving. Is that not true of a lodger? If a lodger lives in a house with two other people, surely the expenditure of that house is the same as a father, son and daughter living in the same house. Of course it is not cheaper because he is a relative. There is no justification at all for this distinction in these two categories.
My right hon. Friend wishes to abolish the inquiries. He wishes to abolish the investigations. Everything he has done has been done with the object of limiting the inquiries. Here is the chief factor, the chief cause of the major number of inquiries made under the Assistance Board. What is the reward if the Assistance Board officer is successful in establishing that a man is not a householder? There is 2s. 6d. saved on it, and there is a financial saving to arrive at the conclusion that the man really is not a householder but is living as a member of the family. At the same time the Assistance Board says that he cannot be living with them as a member of the family unless he is related to them. There is no sense in this. We ask the Minister of Labour to use his great influence in this matter and get rid of this cause of unnecessary investigation.
I wish to make one or two other points. What does this increase amount to? It has been put that per case it amounts to 2s. 2d. per week. Per pensioner, the 1227 average weekly amount of increase is 1s. 10d. Let us break it up. A person living alone who was having a winter allowance has an increase over the year of 1s. 9d. per week. If he was not having a winter allowance, he will have 3s. a week increase over the year. Married couples, both pensioners, will get an increase of 1s. 4½d. each per week over the year. A married couple, with the wife not a pensioner, will get an increase of 1s. 10½d. each per week over the year. The pensioner living with relatives will get 1s. 6d., but the pensioner not living with relatives 3s.—the distinction between the householder and the non-householder coming in again, to rob the old age pensioner who has lost his wife or rob the widow old age pensioner because they have gone to live with relatives. Then I come to the case of the widow with one child aged five. There would be 3d. per week reduction over the year. I agree that 3d, per week reduction over the year in the case of a widow with a child aged five will not operate in the case of those widows now on the books, but the new widows, the ones who come on to supplementary pensions in future, will have a reduction of 3d. per week over the year compared with those now on. A widow with two children aged 5 and 7 will get 6d. a week reduction over the year, and a widow with two children aged 13 to 11 will have 5s. 3d. increase per week over the whole year.
I view this with some apprehension, because I regard this set of Regulations as one part of the Government's post-war plan for dealing with that segment of the community who cannot be covered under a comprehensive insurance scheme. To my mind, that causes the gravest apprehension. Here is a part of the Government's post-war plan, here is its standard, here is its test of human values and human needs, here is the standard of living to be laid down for some years to come, both during the war and the post-war period. This House will have to insist on the right to discuss the whole of this position when we come to discuss the comprehensive scheme. This standard is not adequate to meet the needs of the old people. Take the straight case of a single pensioner. He is given in pension and supplementary pension, less than enough to pay for his board and lodging. 1228 Board and lodging cannot be obtained anywhere at under 25s. a week—I do not know where you can get it under 30s. The old age pensioner is allowed 22s. 6d., and, in the places where the rent is highest, 27s. I submit to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour that that is not going to be a satisfactory example of the new world for which the boys are fighting. That is not a scheme on which you can get unity, in this House or outside. The co-operation for which we have had all these requests cannot be built on a standard rate of supplementation which is inadequate to meet the normal needs of our people. While I cannot vote against these Regulations, while I have to recognise that they contain certain advantages, while we are going along the same road, and have come a long way, I ask my right hon. Friend to increase the pace, and to put into this job a far greater measure of generosity and justice than has been shown so far.
§ Mr. Henderson Stewart (Fife, East)
With the latter part of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards), most of us will agree. The scales provided here are, from what he calls the human point of view, much less than any of us would desire. I hope that when the post-war period comes and we have a Beveridge scheme, or some other scheme, a scale of payments much better will be provided. I would say a word or two about the Papers we are now considering. I agree with most speakers to-day in welcoming this improved method of presentation of difficult Regulations. Like other Members, I have often found it necessary to meet groups of old age pensioners. It has been exceedingly difficult to explain what it all meant. Here we have something short, succinct, plain. If the Home Secretary could only have reduced his Fire Guard Regulations into some comparable scope, he would have been a very great man. As it is, I notice that, despite the tens of thousands of words in the document for England, he had to add several thousands more for Scotland. So far as this deals with a number of anomalies, it is well worth having. But it deals with supplementary pensions. I suggest that it is not so much the amount paid to old age pensioners that worries them, as the character of the payment. Frankly, the demand of the old 1229 age pensioners is not so much for a greater total pension, including supplementary pension, as for a substantial increase in the basic pension.
I imagined that it would not be, and I do not propose to pursue it. But I think it would be in Order for me to point out the weakness of the present scheme. Under the supplementary scheme, the objection of all decent people, old and young, is this. The more hard-working they have been throughout their lives, the more thrifty they have been, the more they are penalised. An old man wrote to me from Dundee the day before yesterday. He had been in the printing trade for 47 years. He had been a member of the union during all that period, and had been contributing a substantial amount weekly for his old age. He retired, and he draws a sum—I do not recollect the figure, but it is a substantial number of shillings—per week. Because of that, he does not get so much in supplemenary pension as some comparatively lazy fellow who never saved. Hon. Members opposite look at this from the point of view of their own political philosophy; let me put it in the form of my own political philosophy. I believe in profit, I believe in private enterprise, and, because I believe in these things, I believe in thrift. I believe that by this method of paying supplementary pensions you are largely destroying thrift. That will undermine the stability of the country, and I do not like it.
I have made my point. That is my own point of view, and it is very fortunate that it leads me to a position which coincides with the position of hon. Members opposite. These Regulations fall far short of the ideal, and we shall not be content with anything short of a substantial increase in the basic pension itself, free from any supplementation at all.
§ Major Procter (Accrington)
Most of us who have been considering the future of our country are very much concerned with the problem of the aged people. It would appear that this country soon will 1230 have a far larger proportion of aged people than it has had in any period of our history. I welcome this Measure, because it is a milestone on the way to that social security that we all desire. But there are several things which disturb me very much. One of them—which I am pleased to say has been answered by these Regulations—is the fact that the Beveridge Report left entirely out of the picture the old age pensioner who was now living.
§ Major Procter
I realise that. I was just mentioning in passing that this Measure helps to remove what I regard as a great social injustice against the present day recipients of old age pensions, and that is one of the reasons why I welcome the Regulations. I was very much struck by the words of the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton). He always expresses in fine, idealist language the ideas in his mind. When he was speaking the question came to me whether the ideas which he set out—which pass far beyond what is proposed here, namely, to increase the old age pension to 30s. a week, without a needs test—were practical politics. It is characteristic of the hon. Gentleman to make the idealistic seem practicable, but there is a warning in the fate of the Petition which he himself presented. Although it was put solely into his keeping, it was found to be no good at all for practical purposes, because it was out of Order and could not get past the Committee. Similarly, the set-up which he visualises, under which each man and woman would be paid 30s. a week—which every one of us would like to do—is impracticable, unless there is a needs test.
§ Major Procter
Yes, but not without a means test, and even then it nearly brought New Zealand to bankruptcy. New Zealand was saved only by the war from the errors of its politicians.
§ Mr. Silverman
New Zealand is still paying it. I have never heard that New Zealand was in danger of going bankrupt, or that she had failed to make a very magnificent contribution for the prosecution of the war.
Mr. Graham White
Since the subject of the means test has been mentioned, was there not in fact a very stringent needs test in New Zealand? Would my right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour confirm that?
§ Major Procter
That is what I was coming to. When we speak of practicability, I refer to this country. I can envisage a state of affairs, in which 30s. a week, or even £3 a week, would not be enough, especially if we had inflation, accompanied by prices rising in an ever upward vicious spiral.
§ Major Procter
If we are to help our old age pensioners now we must therefore limit ourselves to what can be done in the near future. I wish it were possible to abolish the means test, as has been suggested. But again this question of practical politics comes in. I have a case in my own constituency, and I would like hon. Members opposite to give me the answer, because, in all sincerity, I do not know it. There is a lady of 73, who had saved £1,300. She wanted to know why she could not get the supplementary pension, and she wrote to me about it. If she lived another 10 years and utilised £100 a year, she would have approximately £2 a week, plus the 10s. basic pension, which would supply all her wants. But if you had no needs test and paid her 30s. per week or £3 per man and wife, which is what is demanded, what would be the result? That woman would actually be worse off because if she did not spend her savings she would receive only the 30s. a week, whereas if she used her own money for her own benefit she would have £2 10s.
§ Mr. Silverman
Does not the hon. and gallant Member realise that if the lady to whom he refers had been a civil servant or a school teacher, she could have saved anything she liked and still get her pension in addition?
§ Major Procter
I am fully aware of that and the answer must be obvious. The school teacher's pension is deferred salary.
§ Major Procter
The supplementary pension comes out of the taxpayers' money and out of public funds. It is an addition to the basic rate which comes to the pensioner by right.
§ Major Procter
As I have said, this lady in the one instance would receive approximately £2 10s. a week, and in the other case she would receive only 30s. a week. Here is a problem which I put to the hon. Member opposite. If you abolished the means test and gave supplementary pensions to everybody whether they needed them or not, what would be the practical result? You would not be benefiting the person who had saved money. You would only enable her to pass that £1,300 on to her heirs; you would be subsidising, out of public funds, her grandchildren, and you would not be doing her any good.
§ Major Procter
I do not intend to be led away by interruptions into a side track. I come to the third point. We would all like to see the basic rate raised and supplementary pensions put as high as possible. Let us be thankful for what has been done in these Regulations and go forward within the capacity of the country to pay. Do not forget that the former source of taxation, that is, the rich people, has almost disappeared. The total amount remaining in the pockets of the Super-tax payer is only £30,000,000 per year, and therefore it would mean that the £500,000,000 per annum, which old age pensions of 30s. per week without a means test would cost, would have to be raised in other ways. The result would be that the working men and women taxpayers would have to pay another 3s. or 4s. in the pound in Income Tax. In my opinion to ask the working men and women to pay 13s. in the £ Income Tax is to place too great a burden upon them, even for such a great and beneficent cause as that of improving the standard of life of our old people whom we all wish to help. I suggest that it would be a great help if hon. Members opposite, instead of putting forward merely their wishes, would also put forward practical methods whereby these 1233 schemes could be carried out, without placing too heavy a burden upon working people many of whom can ill afford to pay the existing high taxes.
§ Mr. Graham White (Birkenhead, East)
I do not wish to follow the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Accrington (Major Procter) in dealing with the means test or indeed with any of the other figures involved in this Motion, because I understand that this is not the occasion to go into all these matters, even if we were minded to do so. We here are simply carrying out what has been the traditional practice in this country since about 1907, in connection with these Regulations. We are carrying out a policy of social security on the instalment plan. We have, from time to time, in response to political agitation or to some suddenly-felt need, introduced, either by legislation or by Regulation, something which has ameliorated the condition of some section of the community at the cost of adding to anomalies and disabilities already existing in the benefits given to other people. The difference between that traditional process of working on the instalment plan and creating fresh anomalies by everything we do, and what is before us to-day, is that the machinery has been put into reverse, and we are now, by Motions such as this, endeavouring to remove anomalies which have been created over the last 20 or 25 years. Therefore I and my hon. Friends accept these Regulations just for what they are. They bring benefit to some people, they do harm to none, and therefore the House of Commons will, I imagine, accept them. It is true that our ambitions in connection with matters of this kind have been encouraged by the discussions which have taken place recently and that we are beginning to get a little bit impatient, because we want to see not social security on the instalment plan, but a comprehensive plan. It is in anticipation of such a comprehensive plan that we accept this instalment plan, which will create no serious fresh anomalies but may remove some of those which, in accordance with our constant practice in this country, we have been creating by our efforts in the past.
§ Mr. McLean Watson (Dunfermline)
I should not have intervened in this Debate but for remarks made by some of the previous speakers. My hon. Friend the 1234 Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan), who has left his place, said that to-day we were saying our last word on old age pensions for a considerable time. Then my hon. Friend the member for East Fife (Mr. Henderson Stewart), who has also left his place, said that the next time we would be dealing with this question would be after the war. He also referred to post-war plans. I hope the Minister is not going to tell us that nothing more will be done about old age pensions until after the war. We understood that a White Paper on old age pensions was coming along and that failing old age pensions we would get the alternative to the Beveridge plan. But if my hon. Friends are correct, there is nothing but a sad disappointment awaiting the old age pensioners. I understood that to-day we were passing Regulations meant to simplify and codify the Regulations already passed, which were difficult to understand. But I hope that we are not disposing of this question finally or even for a year or two ahead. It is true that this matter has been before the House almost continuously since 1940. That has been because the Government have never faced the question properly. Instead of dealing with this supplementary pensions system as they have done, the Government ought to have laid a comprehensive scheme before the House and passed it, and then we would not have this question recurring continuously. But no sooner was the last Act passed than we had a Petition signed by millions of people asking for a reconsideration of the old age pensions problem.
I have not the time to deal with many of the Regulations on which I would like to touch, but I would say to my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards), who also has left his place, that I do not know any reason for the differentiation between the rates in England and Wales and the rates in Scotland unless it is the rent factor. I believe it is generally understood that rents are lower in Scotland than in England. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] I have always understood so, and I must leave the matter there if hon. Members disagree with me. I was certainly under the impression that the rent factor was the main factor in the difference between the rates paid in supplementary allowances in England and Wales and those paid in Scotland, and until other facts are produced, I am prepared to believe that.
1235 There is just one other point that I would put to the Minister. It was touched on by the hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke), who is, I am glad to see, in his place. He referred to the need for dealing with disregards. I hope this question will be considered by the Government. I dare say that there cannot be any change in these Regulations; we have either to accept them or reject them and we are not prepared to reject them. But I assure the Minister of Health and the Minister of Labour that there is deep feeling among old age pensioners at the difference which applies in the treatment of savings and in certain disregards concerning savings. You cannot get an old age pensioner to understand why, in one case, £375 is ignored in the assessment of the supplementary pension, whereas a man who has only £50 has 6d. a week deducted from his supplementary pension.
I hope this will be dealt with on a future occasion when we have the Government's great and comprehensive scheme of old age pensions, and I hope we shall not have to wait for the Government's new plan until the war is over. We can quote the Minister of Labour as indicating that we need not necessarily wait until the war is over before the alternative to the Beveridge plan can be produced. Nobody can say when the war will end. It May not be for another couple of years, and we cannot wait for another couple of years before dealing with this question. I hope that when we deal with this matter again, we shall get rid of all anomalies and produce an old age pension scheme which will be accepted by the people as a final settlement of the problem. This is merely a temporary expedient to tidy up what has been done in the past. It is not an attempt to deal with the great problem of old age pensions as we understood it was to be dealt with by the Government.
§ Mr. Sloan (South Ayrshire)
I am distrustful of the Regulations that are to be passed to-day. My hon. Friend who opened the discussion said that he welcomed them as a step in the right direction. I remember, when I was a boy, that we used to buy pit boots tied together with string, and I think that my hon. Friend must have had on his pit boots and that the step forward of which he 1236 was speaking was just the length of the string with which the boots were tied together. There is no step forward. To say that 1s. 10d. a week on an average is a step in the right direction is really an insult to the old people. We have been told that wonderful progress has been made on the question of old age pensions during the war. That wonderful progress can be measured by the few shillings that have been granted, but viewed in the light of the demands of trade unionists who have had pounds upon pounds a week increases because of the increased cost of living, we can easily understand that any advantage that has been given to these old people has been scaled off rapidly at the other end. An hon. Friend mentioned the other day that more than the whole of the increase that had been given to old age pensioners had been swallowed up in the increased prices of the few commodities that they use and that, therefore, they were really worse off.
While there is a differentiation between Scotland and England, it is not worth our while kicking up a row about it. The difference amounts to 11d. a week, and we are not prepared to make a disturbance over 11d. a week. I do not believe that rents are lower in Scotland than in England. You cannot build houses cheaper in Scotland than in England; in fact, they are more expensive. The local authorities discovered that fact when they started to build houses, and both rents and rates are higher in Scotland, but if you take the average of the rotten old houses still in existence, perhaps in the ultimate you might build up a case of that kind. I do not want to prevent the right hon. Gentleman from replying to the discussion, but only to say that I am not satisfied. I am firmly disappointed that this is the best that the right hon. Gentleman can produce for us.
§ The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Bevin)
It would almost disappoint me if my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Sloan) was satisfied I do not believe during all the years I have known him I have ever heard him express satisfaction with anything. If one day he should break out and say, "I am satisfied," I would not believe my own ears. Therefore, I can appreciate his attitude towards these Regulations. An increase to old age pensioners was granted 1237 some little time ago, and the widows were transferred to the Assistance Board away from the Poor Law. We did not get any credit for that, but I can assure hon. Members that one of the best things we have done is to take people away from the historic Poor Law and put them under the different methods of treatment.
§ Mr. Bevin
When hon. Members talk about an increase to meet the needs of old age pensioners and about increases of wages, I beg of them to draw the right distinction. To an old age pensioner it is 1s. 10½d. per person, but if a workman gets 5s. a week, it may be for a whole family and not one person. They have not had pounds per week increase since the war. The average increase in wage rates as distinct from earnings since the war, I would say, in reply to my hon. Friend, is just over a guinea a week, and that has to cover a family in most cases and not an individual. There has been appreciation of the levelling up of the rural rates. When I took office in 1940 I was asked to put the Restriction of Engagements Order on to the agricultural workers of the country to prevent them leaving their job. I asked, What are the wages before I do it? What were the wages? The wages were on the average 33s. throughout the country. At least the Government now are coming along and are saying to the old couples in the country, "35s. for a man and wife plus rent, which is 2s. higher than the total wage of the agricultural workers, including rent, when we took office in 1940." I think that at least the Government are entitled to some credit for the step they have taken in this direction. I am not saying that the wages were right.
§ Mr. Bevin
That was so, but the agricultural wages have also gone up, and I cannot enter into the points raised by the hon. Member for Gorbals (Mr. Buchanan) as to the subsequent decisions, which I agree with him must inevitably follow in the development of equality between town and country. But as one who was born in the country and knew what country life was, nothing gives me greater joy than to see the independence 1238 of the old people in the villages as a result of these pensions. The main discussion has turned on the question of rent. The old age pensioners presented a Petition asking for 30s. a week in London, and, remember, that included rent. In London these new Regulations will in many cases give the person living alone more than the 30s. which was asked for in that Petition, and in most parts of the country it will be almost equal to the demand made in the Petition. The amount left for food and clothing is almost comparable with what the old age pensioners demanded, especially when you take account of the disregards. Some people have said that in the disregards we are penalising thrift. The recent Act upon which these Regulations are based can surely be said to have removed any attack on thrift. There is a disregard of 10s. 6d. for superannuation and certain other figures for sick pay and the rest, while in the case of savings we have allowed up to £400 instead of £300 and 6d. instead of 1s. deduction. I cannot accept the position that the State is expected to subsidise the second generation.
I do not think that is fair. This is not a question of money. I do not count these pensions or approach them in terms of money at all. What I have to ask myself is what they cost in terms of man-power, for every cost that you put on has to be translated into terms of goods and services. I have not worked it out in terms of hours of work, but if you get 16,000,000 people the total value of whose output is so much, you must take from that the cost of what is given to the non-producer. There is so much on which he has to live in terms of clothing, accommodation and services. That is what it amounts to. You must balance the claim of the non-producer against the standard of living of the man who is producing, because it is from him that the cost has to come. If there is only £100 to play with and someone takes too much of it, it must be at the expense of the workman who produced it. Nothing exists except through the producer; that is where wealth comes from. When he produces his £100 you proceed to divide it up, and you have to say how much goes to one category of people in goods and services and how much to another. That is exactly what happens. [Interruption.] It is very nice to jibe at one another, but the public 1239 ought to appreciate what this means. The House is entering upon a discussion which will arise in a far more acute form in a few months' time.
§ Mr. Silverman
Is the right hon. Gentleman assuming that the old people are not going to be kept? Is not the real question whether the individual old age pensioner is kept by his relatives out of what they get or whether the burden is spread over the whole community?
§ Mr. Bevin
I am assuming that it is going to be spread over the whole production, whichever way he is kept, because the time has come when the standard of living has to be looked upon as a whole and not merely segregated into different categories. The Government are faced with the problem of looking into the job as a whole, and we must have regard to this. So that I say to the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Ellis Smith) that I claim that in these Regulations we have very nearly met the position by the rent allowances and by the amount of money—perhaps not quite met it in certain cases, but on the amount that is left after rent is paid in relation to what the old age pensioners themselves have in mind we have virtually met it.
Now I come to the question of rent. It is well known that the Government cannot undertake to pay any rent paid by a person under any conditions. It would lead to the most grave abuse. Quite recently the Secretary of State for Scotland had to bring in a Bill to try to regulate the cost of rooms because of the grave abuses that are going on. You cannot in those circumstances say you will pay any rent that anyone has decided to charge to a pensioner. There is no intention in this proposal of altering the present practice of meeting the rent. But the State is entitled to have advice as to whether that rent comes within a reasonable distance of properly accredited rents in that area. That is not an unreasonable practice, and that is what we have been doing for some time. I have no fear about the rent rule at all. I am glad that arrangements are being made to keep rent separate because I am convinced that the day is not far distant when the whole question of the accommodation of our older people will have to be dealt with on a different footing from terms of money. 1240 If we are to do that, we shall have to separate the cost of habitation from other costs. I regard this as establishing a principle in connection with habitation which may lead us a very long way in dealing with the whole problem. I should have thought hon. Members would welcome that.
§ Mr. Bevin
I am glad to know that, but welcome takes such different forms.
The hon. Member for West Lewisham (Mr. Brooke) raised the point with regard to the question of disregard as between superannuation from a firm when the recipient dies and the firm continues a payment to the widow. The Act expressly says superannuation, and if it is not superannuation it comes into the category of "other disregards," and it is totalled up as a rule to about 7s. 6d. You cannot very well distinguish between one sort of income, say, from a society or a charity, and from the employer, and, therefore, as you have to have some definition, the definition that was put into the Act was, as I understand it, superannuation. On that basis it is being administered at the present moment.
§ Mr. R. J. Taylor (Morpeth)
In the case where the recipient dies and the firm passes on an equal amount to the widow, would that be treated as a gift and disregarded?
§ Mr. Bevin
Yes. It does not come within the term "superannuation." It may be right or wrong, but when the last Act was introduced the question of superannuation was decided, and 7s. 6d. was raised to 10s. 6d., and the term "superannuation" was used. That is the difficulty. The other point is that if it is not superannuation, it might be stopped by the employer at any time. It might be a gift, but it has been classed hitherto in the manner I have indicated.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
The right hon. Gentleman is not suggesting, is he, that a regular gift of so much a week is disregarded?
§ Mr. Brooke
May we get this perfectly straight? If a pension is paid from an employees' benefit fund to a retired workman, 10s. 6d. is disregarded. It ranks as a superannuation allowance in terms of the 1940 Act. The man dies, and under a standing arrangement which the company has with all its employees a pension continues to be paid to his widow. The Board then regards that, not as a superannuation payment but as a charitable gift, and disregards only 7s. 6d. They have discretion to disregard what they like, for the treatment of charitable gifts is not fixed by law. It seems to me more reasonable that these two cases should be treated alike, because in origin they appear to be alike to everybody concerned.
§ Mr. Bevin
I would submit to my hon. Friend that superannuation is an obligation of a trust fund to a person that cannot be avoided. A charitable gift is a gift, probably from a pension fund that can be stopped at any moment and the liability thrown back on to the Assistance Board. Therefore, it seems to me that the rules of the fund itself need changing, and if the widow is to be entitled to a payment from the fund as superannuation, it is open to the firm to make it as a superannuation payment which the fund is under an obligation to pay. The rules of the fund need to be cleared up or the administration of the fund may be placed in a difficulty in this respect. I do not think that an officer of the Board should be left in the difficulty of having to decide whether or not the payment to a widow is superannuation or a gift. The rules of the fund itself should make clear whether it is or is not superannuation. If it is, the answer is clear. If it is not, it is an ex gratia gift and must be treated as a charity. I would ask my hon. Friend, if he is connected with any of these funds, to ask the Committee, for the sake of the members of the fund, to put the matter legally right in the rules.
§ Major Procter
How can it be called superannuation when the man dies? Superannuation exists only as long as the holder is alive.
§ Mr. Bevin
Oh, no. In my own society the widows of all our officers are entitled by right to half the pension that the husband got while he was alive. It is a good thing to provide for women in superannuation funds and I am glad to say 1242 the practice is growing. I hope it will continue to grow, for the woman often gets the worst end of the stick when her husband dies. Hon. Members have asked me for many more interpretations of points. I would only like to make this observation to the hon. Member for Gorbals. It is a difficult thing for a Minister to know when he is right. Perhaps that is why he is a Minister. You accuse us to-day of being so unkind as not to produce clothing and all the rest of it, but really I cannot forget the last Debate. The Board at that time to their credit got hold of over 130,000 blankets and they distributed them to old age pensioners. What happened? I was denounced by one of my hon. Friends afterwards for walking round with blankets instead of money. A lot of other people would be glad to give up money for blankets if they could. You change your tune from one meeting to another—
§ Mr. Buchanan
But the right hon. Gentleman has changed his tune once or twice himself; he would not have been a great leader if he had not.
§ Mr. Bevin
But I like to have the advantage of waiting long enough for the old tune to die away before I sing another tune. The trouble in this matter is that you do not give us a chance even to forget the old tune.
I welcomed the reception that has been given to these Regulations to-day because in 1940 we were faced with the household means test, and there was a lot of irritation about it. I do wish that hon. Members would drop that term for ever because the Act under which we are working now is a needs test, a regulated needs test. I agree with the hon. Member for Bridgeton (Mr. Maxton) that there has been a great change. The investigations that have now been imported into this as compared with the old household means test are more in conformity with the Income Tax than anything else that has been done. Of course, I cannot hope to compete with the hon. Member in the method and the way in which he would run the Government or the Cabinet. I was illuminated by the revelation of how 1243 his mind was working, and I got to understand from his speech to-day why he saddled MacDonald upon us in those old days—
§ Mr. Bevin
—because I can see how he wanted the country to be run by that marvellous description of what we are supposed to do inside the Government today. I want to express my appreciation of the way hon. Members have received the introduction of the Regulations by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health in his new post. I am satisfied that when they have been worked out and administered fairly we shall have got over the first real difficult stile so far as our old people are concerned.
§ Mr. Ness Edwards
Will my right hon. Friend deal with the point about making the instructions issued by the Assistance Board available in the Library?
§ Mr. Bevin
How can I do that? The hon. Member has pressed this on more than one occasion. The Government cannot be a party to having all the instructions and Regulations of its Departments being issued in that way. They are issued every day. If we do not interpret the Act aright, the House can challenge us, but the Executive must be responsible for the administration.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That the Draft Supplementary Pensions (Determination of Need and Assessment of Needs) Regulations, 1943, made by the Minister of Health and the Secretary of State for Scotland, acting in conjunction under Section 38 of the Unemployment Act, 1934, as applied by Part II of the Old Age and Widows' Pensions Act, 1940, a copy of which Draft Regulations was presented to this House on 1st December, be approved.