§ Considered in Committee.
§ [COLONEL SIR CHARLES MACANDREW in the Chair]
§ Clauses 1 and 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.1164
§ 7.23 p.m.
§ Mr. W. J. Brown (Rugby)
I beg to move, in page 3, leave out lines 19 and 20. The effect of the Amendment, if it were carried, would be to remove from the scope of the Bill an Act of Parliament in which I have a special interest. That Act is the 1944 Pensions (Increase) Act. I do not seek to remove this Act from the scope of the Bill because I want it to come to an end; I seek to remove it because under the Bill the House is confronted with one of two alternatives, neither of which it may like. If it votes for the Bill, it extends those Acts of Parliament mentioned in the Schedule without any kind of alteration. If it votes against the Bill, it will bring these Acts of Parliament, which would otherwise be extended, to an end. That choice may be perfectly proper in regard to most of the Acts mentioned in the Schedule, but, as I shall seek to prove, when dealing with the Pensions (Increase) Act, we ought neither to extend it without amendment, nor bring it to an end; we should insist upon a new Measure which can come before the House in a form permitting of its amendment Clause by Clause if the House is not satisfied with the present Act.
It will be necessary to explain something of the circumstances in which the Act which I seek to delete was passed. Members who sat in the last Parliament will be fairly familiar with the long par- 1165 liamentary battle which led up to the production of the 1944 Pensions (Increase) Act. Members coming to the House for the first time will not, perhaps, be so familiar with what happened, and it may be to the advantage of the House if I recapitulate what happened, and why it happened, in 1944.
During and after the last war there was a sharp upward move in the price level in Britain. Taking the cost of living figure in 1914 as 100, the cost of living rose to a peak point in September, 1921, when the index figure stood at 276. The cost of livinghad risen by 176 per cent. Because of the acute hardship which that involved for Civil Service and other State pensioners living on modest pensions, the Government were impelled to do something to relieve their position. An Act was passed increasing to amodest extent the size of the various Civil Service pensions in order to give relief to the pensioners.
At a later stage a sliding scale arrangement was worked out, and agreed upon between the Civil Service trade unions and the Government, under which both the Civil Service cost of living bonus and Civil Service pensions were related to the movement, up or down, of the index figure. That meant that for every five points that the index figure went up, there was a slight increase in the amount of the pensions of our old public servants. From 1921 to 1935, the cost of living, instead of continuing to rise, steadily fell. It fell from 276 in September, 1921, to 155 in 1935. Throughout that period of 14 years, the pensions of Civil Servants were adjusted downwards as the cost of living fell. Nobody grumbled and nobody protested about it. We had had the advantage of more money when the cost of living went up, and it was only fair that we should have the disadvantage of less money when the cost of living fell. Not a groan or a murmur proceeded from the public service or the pensioners during that period.
In 1935 something else happened. The Government, not by agreement with the Civil Service trade unions, but in spite of their opposition, decided to scrap the sliding scale basis of pay and pensions which I have described, and to consolidate wages and pensions at their then level. Thereafter there was to be no movement up or down because of variations in the cost of living figure. From 1935 until 1166 1944 the cost of living figure was rising again, and now stands at a very much higher figure, as every hon. Member is aware, than it did when this war broke out, and still higher than it was in 1935. During all that period the pensioners of the public services received no compensation whatever for the rise in the cost of living. Having had deduction after deduction for 14 years while the cost of living was going down, for the years from 1935 to 1944 they were given no increase whatever, although the cost of living had gone sharply upwards.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Up to now I have mentioned civil servants, but in order to make plain the scope of this matter I must tell the Committee that what was done in the Civil Service was imitated in other branches of the public service; for example, a similar sort of arrangement was applied to teachers, and to local government officers, and indeed the Army and the Navy were affected though their circumstances were not the same in detail. The pensions of retired Army officers and men and naval officers and men—
§ Colonel Wigg (Dudley)
Will the hon. Member allow me to point out that there is a distinction between an officer's pension and an other rank's pension?
§ Mr. Brown
I am very much obliged. I am always willing to acquire information from whatever source it comes, but if the hon. Member will allow me to develop my point I think he will find that his interruption was unnecessary. Although the detailed circumstances in the Army and Navy were not the same as they were in what one might call the "civil" services of the country, there was a certain analogy in principle on one point. What happened in the case of the Army and Navy was that a definite cut was made, a cut in the pension, which remained long after the fall in the cost of living which had given rise to it had been replaced by a steady upward movement. Although the details were different the broad issue was the same, whether you were dealing with officers from the military services or with ex-civil servants, ex-teachers, ex-policemen, ex-prison officers, ex-local government servants and the rest.
In 1942, after a period of absence from this House, I returned to it. I always felt that the old place was never 1167 the same since I left it in 1931, and I rejoiced greatly at the privilege of rejoining the House in 1942. I came back here determined to try and do many things, but one thing I swore I would do. I swore that that issue of the harsh, unjust and ungenerous treatment of the pensioners from the public services should be put right. As all Members of the House will know, I launched an agitation, supported on all sides of the House—it was not a party issue—which ultimately reached the point where no less than 250 Members of this House—which was more than half of its effective wartime strength—had their names on the Order Paper attached to a demand that the Government should do something to deal with those poor pensioners.
At long last, after many disappointments and delays, after great travail of spirit and exertion of body, in 1944 the Coalition Government brought in a Bill to give some sort of relief to the various categories of pensioners. The Bill passed into law in March, 1944, as the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1944.
I do not deny, and it would be ungenerous of me to deny, that that Act of Parliament did confer relief on very many of the three-quarters of a million people I am talking about. Perhaps I had better emphasise that. It is not a tiny issue, it affects about three-quarters of a million people of one sort or another. It would be ungenerous and wrong to deny that it gave some measure of relief to that large body of retired servants. There were, however, two things wrong about that Act, and it is because they were wrong that I want to take the Act out of the scope of the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. Since, if it is not taken outside the scope of that Bill, I cannot get those two wrong things put right. Therefore, as a preliminary to getting the two wrong things put right, I must urge the House to delete the Act from the scope of this Expiring Laws Continuance Bill.
What were the two respects in which that Act was wrong? First it was wrong because it did not restore to the State pensioners what had been taken away from them during the period of declining price levels. The Government did not say, as they ought to have done and as any just Government would have done—but 1168 no Government is just, a Government, as I said the other day, is never a good thing, at best it is a necessary evil—a just Government would have said, "we will treat these men and women with the cost of living going up in exactly the same way as we treated them when it was going down." In other words, if they knocked off a bob a week for a decline of five points in the cost of living, they should put on a bob a week for every rise of five points. That puts it as clearly as I can without giving a lot of figures. That Act, however, did nothing of the kind. What it did was to distribute a relief wholly unrelated to the actual risein the cost of living figure, and of a very much smaller amount than would have been the case if we had done the just thing.
Secondly, and on this I hope to evoke loud and responsive cheers from my comrades on the other side—[Interruption.] Yes, anybody who supports me tonight is a comrade, and as for those who do not—they shall be cast into outer darkness! The second great difficulty about this Act was that even the measure of relief which it gave was given on a "means test" basis. You had to establish need before you got even the modest measure of benefit which the Act provided. Whatever the issues in regard to which I am not at one with my colleagues opposite, there is one issue on which my record in this House has never varied. All the time, from 1931 onwards, I have been opposed to that iniquitous "means test" wherever the ugly thing has shown its head, from the Anomalies Act of 1931, when we were dealing with unemployment, to this Act of 1944 when we were dealing with the retired pensioners.
That was an abominable feature of that Act. Now the Coalition Government knew—because I have been at some pains to point it out—that I was not satisfied with the 1944 Act. The "Caretaker" Government knew I was not satisfied with that Act, and the present Government knows that I am not satisfied with it. Every one of those Governments has known that I have been animated, ever since the Act became law, by the intention to improve it when the time came to renew it, and that time comes in December of this year. I have made representations to the present Ministers, as I made representations to the Ministers of the last Government, 1169 and members of all parties have been associated with me, directly or indirectly, in these representations.
If the Committee votes against my Amendment tonight, it will mean that we shall continue the Act of 1944—unjust, ungenerous, unworthy and mean as it was—unaltered for another 15 months. If the Committee supports the Amendment, we shall compel the Government—I hope they will not need compelling, but if they need compulsion it should be applied—to bring in the Bill for a renewal in a different form, a form which will enable us to debate the Bill Clause by Clause, and to propose the appropriate improvements which the House thinks the merits of the case require. I do not ask hon. Members tonight to pronounce in favour of my view of the 1944 Act; I ask them to give me and others who are interested in the matter the opportunity of demonstrating to the House what our view of it is in circumstances in which, if we convince the House that we are right, we can secure amendments to correspond to the feeling of the House.
I have asked myself why the Government have included this Act in the Schedule to this Bill, and I can think of only two reasons that commend themselves as intelligible ones to me. One reason might be that they desire to avoid a discussion on the merits of the 1944 Act. I cannot think that hon. Members would wish to see 750,000 ex-public servants, who have spent their lives in one form or another of State activity, given no opportunity of arguing their case before the new House of Commons. I hope I will not have to argue with hon. Members opposite that the mere fact that the Coalition Government thought something was right is not of itself an automatic proof that it was! I do not have to argue that. That being so, I ask hon. Members to give us an opportunity of arguing the case of these men and women. The other possible explanation is that the Government have not time. I am susceptible to that argument. It is within the knowledge of all sides of the Committee that I have been outspoken in the view that the machinery of the House ought to be speeded up in order to enable us to deal with more legislation than we do, and I proposed in the Debates on the Address that we should have a Select Committee on Procedure, on which I now 1170 serve. That is evidence enough that I do not want to impede the passage of legislation. Indeed, with other hon. Members I am doing a good deal of hard work on that Select Committee with a view to finding ways and means of speeding up the processes of Parliament. But I hope the argument that we have not time will not be allowed to prevail when the point at issue is whether we are doing the most elementary justice to 750,000 people who have spent their lives in our service.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ I want to remind hon. Members that there are some issues on which civil servants and teachers can exercise some pressure. Civil servants have the right to go to the Industrial Court on various issues such as hours and wages, and teachers have the Burnham Committee to which they can take certain types of cases. But there is none of the people to whom I have referred tonight whose unions can take to arbitration an issue affecting superannuation or pension rights. That is excluded from the scope of arbitral questions by the terms of the agreement between the unions and the Government, so that if the Government treat these old men and women wrongly, as I submit the Government are doing, they cannot get a remedy by going to an industrial court or an arbitration board and there insisting on the Treasury turning up and arguing their case, and getting an independent verdict from outside. If they do not get a square deal from the Government, the only place to which they can come, and indeed to which they are entitled to come, is the House of Commons which, in the last resort, is the employer of the men and women I have been talking about. I cannot think that hon. Members will take the view that we have not time to make quite sure that we are doing the right thing (and if we are doing the wrong thing, rapidly to put it right) by the 750,000 people whose position I have described. In all the circumstances, and not out of hostility to the Government, for my attitude to the Government is one of benevolence—
§ Mr. Brown
Not cheaper than the character of the interruption warranted. But as the numerical strength of the hon. Member's party is only twice the strength of my own, I will from this point onwards ignore him. This is not a party issue. I beg hon. Members to vote for the Amendment in order that we may insist upon this issue coming before the new House of Commons in a form in which the House can discuss it and make up its mind what ought to be done in respect of the pensions of these people. Many of them have insignificant pensions, and they are suffering great hardship. They look to us for elementary justice, and I hope and believe that from this new House of Commons, that demand for justice will not be denied.
§ Major Haughton (Antrim)
As this is the first time I have spoken in this Chamber, I crave the indulgence of the Committee, and in anticipation of that sympathetic consideration which is given so wholeheartedly and generously to new Members, I promise to be as brief as I can and to stick to the point. If the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1944, is continued without Amendment, a grave injustice will be done to certain classes of pensioners, and as I am satisfied that the original injustice was inadvertent, I am equally certain that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will be willing to consider inequalities which otherwise, as the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) has said, will be perpetuated until March, 1947. Already in the House and in this Committee pensions, in their different forms, have been considered and it is obvious that it is the intention of the Government and the wish of Parliament that the old people shall be treated generously and fairly. I am encouraged by that conviction to ask the Financial Secretary to bear with me while I list the arguments for a revision of pensions, in the hope that the Chancellor will authorise considerable adjustment. I have no wish to impede the passage of the Bill and I have not the experience to put down an Amendment, but I feel certain that, if my arguments ring true, 1172 ways and means will be found to adjust inequalities and to redress wrongs. Under Section (1) of the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1944, a percentage increase, varying according to the size of the pension, was provided, but the total means of the pensioner must not exceed, in the case of a single person, £225, and in the case of a married person £300, the first £52 being ignored as far as this particular calculation is concerned. Civil Servants who retired after 1922 have a further option under the Bill which awards a percentage increase varying with the size of pensions without reference to other means. The reason for that differentiation between civil servants and others was that up to 1944 Civil Service pensions contained a variable element which fluctuated with the cost of living. In 1944 these pensions were consolidated on the basis of a cost-of-living figure of 155, and at the time the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1944, was passed the cost-of-living figure was 200. I suppose it was felt at that time that the pensioners were entitled to an automatic increase without any regard to their own needs.
Within my certain knowledge the criticisms of the Bill have followed three main lines. The first is on the score of differentiation, the second criticism is the fact that serving teachers are not subject to a means test at all, and the third criticism is that civil servants who retired after February, 1922, have the option of having their pension increase calculated on a basis without regard to sources of other income. It seems radically unfair that retired teachers must submit to a harsh means test while serving teachers and certain groups of civil servants are free from it. Civil servants now serving with salaries up to £1,500, exclusive of their own private incomes, and exclusive of their wives' incomes, receive a bonus of £60 a year, whereas a retired teacher is subject to a means test of £300 a year, inclusive of his own and his wife's private income. That is particularly hard, because it often happens that a teacher is married to another teacher, and it would really be better, from a financial point of view, if a retired teacher lived apart from his wife rather than be under the present scheme. That seems entirely wrong to me and very unfair. Civil servants and teachers now serving have received a war 1173 bonus from the time the cost of living started to rise, but pensioners received no increase until 1944.
I claim that the means test should cither be abolished or applied to both pensioned teachers and retired civil servants, or, in fairness, the limits imposed by the Act should be adjusted on more generous levels. All salaries and pensions of public elementary school teachers and civil servants come from State funds and the incidence of an increase in the cost of living falls on different classes of people with exactly the same severity. It is fair and reasonable to ask the Financial Secretary to consider these inequalities in the Pensions (Increase) Act.
Little did I think that my maiden speech in this place would be made on this particular subject. I have risen to speak tonight because I feel so deeply about it and fear that an injustice may be perpetuated. I had hoped, in my maiden speech, to follow the fine lead which was given by the hon. and gallant Member for Watford (Major Freeman), when he found an opportunity to speak of his own constituency and of the wonderful things that were done there. I confess that in my amateurish way I might have vied with the hon Lady the Member for Coatbridge (Mrs. Mann) and told an Irish story to enliven the Debate; but those things must wait. They are luxuries which must give place to the needs of the moment. I may have a chance to urge what the linen trade, as the second exporting trade, might do to bring millions of dollars to this country, and what the exportable surplus of Irish agriculture might do to supply the needs of the people of Great Britain. But all these things must rest, and in my maiden speech, if by chance I have made a point which touches some heartstrings in the Financial Secretary, I should be well content and very grateful.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Callaghan (Cardiff, South)
As one whose maiden speech is only just behind him perhaps I may enter fully into the feelings of the hon. and gallant Member for Antrim (Major Haughton) and say to him on behalf of the whole Committee that if he continues to espouse his cause with the sincerity, eloquence and logical persuasion which has characterised his contribution tonight, and in an accent which I find extremely pleasing, then we 1174 shall indeed all be glad to hear his further contributions. I am very glad to find myself on the same side as he is in this matter and to support the contribution which the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) has made, although not necessarily to endorse all the terms in which he made his case. This, as has been truly said, is an all-party matter. I cannot accept the view that this Government is committed, necessarily, to doing something which expediency is pushing it into doing. I think that probably the best way one can make one's case is by referring to the circumstances in which this Act became law, and to expound the argument why it should not find its way, tucked away in Part II of the Schedule, into the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. When one looks at the other Acts which are to be continued, either from their relative importance or the amount of money to be expended, one is bound to conclude that this Act is not in the same category.
I hope I am in Order in referring to the Financial Memorandum on this Bill, for I would like to say that the Coal Mines Act, 1912, which is continued, will cost about £100, the Cotton Manufacturing Industry (Temporary Provisions) Act, 1934, which is continued, will involve us in the payment of only a few small sums, and the Debts Clearing Offices and Import Restrictions Act, 1934, will involve us in some other small amount. None of these is in line with the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1944, which, as the hon. Member for Rugby said, is a matter of very big moment both on account of the number of people it affects and in the cost which is incurred in putting it into effect. I submit to the Financial Secretary that this Act should not have been tucked away in this manner in Part II of the Schedule. It would probably make the case stronger if I might refer to practical reasons why we should have fresh consideration of this question. Let me do so by referring to what was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the Scottish Universities (Sir J. Anderson) when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. On the Second Reading of the Bill which he introduced, on 3rd March, 1944, he said:It follows, I think, from, what I have said, that the Bill should be limited in duration—as it is by its terms—so that it may be reviewed from time to time in the light of changing circumstances. Clause 10 (2) of the Bill limits its duration to the end of 1945 and we have made that provision in 1175 the expectation that, before that time, the whole position will again have been reviewed and the Government will have announced their decision in the light of the then ascertained facts.I know that that was a Coalition Government and does not commit this Government, but, on an all-party or non-party matter of this kind, involving, as it does, so many people, I would say to the Financial Secretary and the Government that that pledge, if I might put it so high, should be honoured and that we should have an opportunity of discussing this matter. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say:Hon. Members, therefore, are right in regarding this Bill as of a short-term, emergency character.Later, in the course of the Second Reading, the right hon. Gentleman said:The Bill is an emergency Measure, to meet the position of the small pensioners."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 3rd March, 1944; Vol. 397, c. 1763–1773.]Finally, on the Third Reading of the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman said:This Bill has been introduced in order that we may go as far as is consistent with present circumstances and with principles which must be maintained towards meeting grievances and relieving hardship on the part of very deserving classes of public servants."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th May, 1944; Vol. 399, c. 1520.]My point is that there may be, legitimately, differences of opinion between the Government and those of us who think differently as to whether, in fact, the whole position ought to be reviewed because circumstances have changed. They may take the view that, shall we say, the cost of living has not increased to the point where we are entitled to ask for more, but that is not the basis on which they have put this. They have just tucked it away so that we have no opportunity of debating the issue and making our case. Everyone affected by it, and those hon. Members concerned with the increase in the old age pension, must see that this is a similar sort of issue, only affecting a particular class of people.
I would just say this on the question whether the circumstances have or have not changed. The hon. Member for Rugby, who did so much work on Second Reading and during the Committee stage, will probably remember the basis on which the Chancellor justified fixing his ceiling in regard to an increase. The right hon. 1176 Gentleman said that he fixed the ceiling at £x on the basis that the bonus now being given to civil servants is not given to people getting more than x pounds. But, since that, as hon. Members know, the bonus has been increased and people on a higher salary level are now getting the bonus. That is precisely a case of changed circumstances which should be taken into account. I apprecite the Government's difficulty on this issue. Whatever the hon. Member for Rugby says, there are only five weeks left to us, and I do not blame the Government for not having done something about it earlier. True, something should have been done about it earlier, but they only came into office in August and events have been jostling them pretty hard ever since. As a Government supporter I say that I appreciate their difficulties, but I think they have an obligation to help us. There are certain pledges which they ought to carry out, and there is a case which can be established on its merits. Therefore, I hope that the Financial Secretary will give us some hope that we shall not have to wait until the end of March, 1947, before the hardship to which these people are subjected can be looked at again. The old age pensioners will, I believe, get an increase before then. Why, then, should these people wait until 1947, when this Bill will come up for renewal? Can the Financial Secretary devise some method to help these people now, in, order to make sure that something is done for them in the next few months?
§ Mr. Lipson (Cheltenham)
May I associate myself with the congratulations offered by the hon. Member for South Cardiff (Mr. Callagan) to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Antrim (Major Haughton)? He told us of a great variety of topics on which he might have spoken, but I think we are all agreed that he chose the right one and spoke most eloquently upon it. My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown), ever vigilant, has performed a public service once again in drawing attention to this Act, and trying to secure a square deal for so many ex-Government employees, ex-teachers and ex-local government employees. I was surprised to find, in my own constituency, how many former employees of the Corporation benefited under this Act. Cheltenham is not a large town, but something like 120 benefited, and, in addition to that, there were many 1177 former teachers and ex-officers and others who did so. Therefore, I think, hon. Members will find that there are a great many of their constituents who are vitally interested in the proceedings of the Committee tonight, and who will call the hon. Member for Rugby not "comrade," but, I think, "blessed," if he can succeed in persuading the Government to give further consideration to this matter.
Many of us thought that the Act gave precious little to these former servants of the community. But even what they were given, when that Act was administered, was not wholly theirs. I drew attention in the last Parliament to the working of this Act as it affected old age pensioners. Some of those who benefited under the Act were men over 70 who were old age pensioners—in some instances they received a few more shillings a week under the Act. What happened to their old age pension? The old age pension was reduced because of the increases given under the Act. That was never intended by Parliament when the Act was passed. The amount given under the Act was little enough, but it was the intention of Parliament that the pensioners should benefit 100 per cent. by the amount provided by the Act, but in point of fact this was not to be so. I raised the matter in the last Parliament and was able to give instances of the following type: Under the Act a former employee was entitled to an old age pension of 10s. a week and he found that 6s., 7s. or8s. of his old age pension was taken away. That sort of thing ought to be put right, and it can be put right. All that my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby is asking tonight is that this Act should be looked at afresh. We have been told that the former Chancellor of the Exchequer intended that the Act should be reviewed if the circumstances changed, and we have had our attention drawn to certain ways in which circumstances have changed. One particular change which has taken place is of very great importance.
This is a very different House of Commons from the previous one. We were told by, I think, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Greenwood) that this was a different House of Commons, that this was a different Government. Here is an opportunity for them to show that, instead of 1178 just feeling that they are committed to what was done by the previous Government, the Government will either be prepared to accept the Amendment of my hon. Friend or at least not to put the Whips on. Cannot this matter be left to a free vote of the House? All the Amendment is asking is that this new House of Commons shall have the opportunity of looking at this problem afresh in the light of the changed circumstances and the fact that the viewpoint of hon. Members is necessarily different from that of those who were in the last Parliament. I do not think there is anything unreasonable in that. I am quite sure that if hon. Members opposite were in Opposition, they would feel there was only one way in which they could vote. Surely, in this matter the party system need not be too tyrannical, and it can allow a little play for the consciences of hon. Members opposite so that they can vote as they want to vote, as their constituents want them to vote, as those who put them in power expect them to vote? This is an opportunity. It is only a small thing we are asking, that the Government show they are worthy of their position, and are not going to use their majority tyrannically. Let them agree to the Amendment which has been moved with his customary eloquence and with more than his customary reasonableness, by my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby.
§ 8.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Burden (Sheffield, Park)
As one who took some small part in the discussion of the 1944 Act, I would urge the Government to think again on this matter and to help us. The Act was introduced in order to assist retired civil servants, local government officers and others, and that implies, of course, that that type of person was badly in need of financial assistance. However, what do we find in actual practice? As has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Mr. Lipson), the fact is that local authorities are obliged to operate in full Section 7 of the Act. As a result, instance after instance is arising where under the Act an amount is given but, on the other hand, it is taken away by a decrease in the old age pension. When the Act was under discussion the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury, gave an assurance that such an anomaly would 1179 be put right by administrative action so far as the Civil Service was concerned, and I believe that has been done, but local government officers and other similar classes are under a double disadvantage because, while they are provided for in the Act, they are not provided for by administrative action so far as the decrease of their pensions is concerned. Therefore, I ask the Government to think again on this matter.
I am sorry also that the Act has been included in this way because, when the Bill was under discussion, we had a more or less implied promise that the railway superannuated staff would be considered. Little to nothing has been done in that connection but, coming up in this way, it is impossible for the matter to be reopened as we would reopen it if a Bill were before the House in the ordinary way. Therefore, in view of these anomalies and difficulties which have arisen in administration, I beg the Government to give us an opportunity, as the Chancellor in the late Government said would be given, to review the whole circumstances once again.
§ Mr. Butcher (Holland with Boston)
I would like to join from this section of the House in an appeal to the Financial Secretary to reconsider this matter and ascertain whether he cannot see his way clear to adopt the Amendment of the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. Brown). I was very much impressed by the quotation from the earlier Debate read by the hon. Member for South Cardiff (Mr. Callaghan). Certainly hon. Gentlemen on the other side of the Committee think we have a better House of Commons and a better Government than when the Bill became law. I am one who does not think so. Indeed, if we had a Coalition Government in Office we would have been able to hold them to their promise of review and, therefore, I urge the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to regard himself and this Government—some of whose most prominent Members were distinguished Members of the Coalition Government—as bound by the pledge for re-examination.
It is extremely difficult to decide whether the 1944 Act can properly be amended while we are debating the question of whether the Second Schedule to the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill shall stand part, and the Committee is in a very 1180 great difficulty. I have come to the conclusion that the time for the means test is rapidly coming to an end, if, indeed, it has not already come to an end. However, I am satisfied of this, that it may be that one can find some section of the community to whom it might, under certain circumstances, be proper to apply a means test. I do not say there is such a section, but it might be possible to find such a section [An Hon. Member:" M.P's."] However, I am satisfied that the section to which one ought not to apply it is those people who, drawn from the respectable ranks of the Civil Service and teaching profession, have spent their lifetime in the public service. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury made, if I may say so, a most admirable speech on the Budget. In the Budget Debate, the point was made, either by him or by the Chancellor, as to the difference between gross cost and net cost. The Chancellor told us how much such a concession would cost, and then said, "But I shall recover this at the standard rate of 9s. in the £." I ask the Financial Secretary if he will give some similar figures under this Bill. What would be the cost of paying these increases without a means test? What would be the gross cost? Will the Financial Secretary tell us how much he would recover in Income Tax as a result in order to do away with the means test on these people? I believe this is not the right way in which an important Measure, passed during the war years, should be reviewed, and I therefore hope that the Financial Secretary will see his way clear to accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. George Thomas (Cardiff, Central)
I would like to pay my tribute to the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) for bringing forward tonight this question, which would have passed my observation, at least, as a new Member of the House. I believe that a question of this character, which affects the whole of the teaching profession, as well as the police force, the Civil Service and others, is not one which should have been tucked away in this fashion.I know that at the moment the teaching profession in this country is already making moves towards asking for the abolition of the means test from the pensions of their colleagues, and nobody would be more resentful or bewildered than the members of that profession if 1181 they found, tomorrow, that an opportunity of amending the Pensions (Increase) Act had been taken from them. I think this is an attempt, quite innocently, to get us to vote in the dark, and I want to say that so long as I am in this House, I shall never vote for a means test for people whose pensions are already too small.
The present Act has many inequalities, and needs improving. If it means that by voting tonight against the Amendment no opportunity is given to amend this Act, which is resented by the profession of which I had the honour to be a member, and which has looked towards this House with confidence, then I cannot vote against the Amendment, and I shall not do so unless we have an assurance that an opportunity will be given to us to consider the means test and an improvement in the basic scales of pension for these people. There are uncertificated people in the country whose pension, even when increased under the present Act, leaves them well below the poverty line. In view of the promise which was given when this Act was introduced, and which was long overdue, we have the right to say to the Government, "You must redeem the promise which was given in the name of the Government of the day to people who were in the employ of the Government." For that reason, I wish again to thank the hon. Member for Rugby for bringing to the notice of the Committee the issue which is at stake.
§ Mr. Osbert Peake (Leeds, North)
The hon. Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden) referred just now to a statement I made when I was Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and perhaps I might offer a few observations at this stage, although I have no wish to curtail the Debate. This matter has been discussed this evening upon a non-party basis. Sympathy has been expressed in several quarters of the Committee for the Amendment which, I think, puts Members in something of a dilemma, because the method of the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) to secure reconsideration of this matter is to move to omit from the Schedule what is admittedly a beneficent Measure. Therefore, whichever way we vote tonight we shall be in difficulties in explaining our actions to our constituents. I, personally, when asked about this matter earlier in the year, when I occupied the position now held by the 1182 Financial Secretary, gave a pledge that although this Act expired at the end of the year the then Government would see that it was renewed. Anxieties were then being expressed as to whether the Act would be allowed to expire at the end of the present year.
Members who support the hon. Member for Rugby in the Lobby tonight will, I think, show rather more confidence and faith in the Government than I myself possess, because they will do so on the footing that if this Act is taken out of the Schedule the Government will, between now and 31st December, bring in a more beneficent Measure, and pass it into law. Although I have sympathy with the case made out by the hon. Member for Rugby I hope the Financial Secretary will beable to make a statement which will enable the Committee to avoid a Division tonight. The Pensions (Increase) Act is admittedly imperfect in one very important particular. When I was at the Treasury several cases were brought to my notice where the effect of an increase of pension under that Act was to diminish entitlement to the non-contributory old age pension to an equal extent and even, in some cases, to a greater extent, than the benefit conferred by the Pensions (Increase) Act. For that reason, if for no other, I hope the Financial Secretary will be able to say that this matter will be looked at again in the near future, long before the date fixed by the Expiring Law Continuance Bill, which is March, 1947, and be able to assure us that the Chancellor will personally look at the matter to see whether the admitted defects in the Pensions (Increase) Act cannot be remedied at an early date. If the hon. Gentlemen were able to take that course it would give great satisfaction in all quarters of the Committee, and enable us to avoid a Division which would be very embarrassing to many Members.
§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Glenvil Hall)
I have no quarrel with my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) who, I think, set down this Amendment largely so that he could put the point of view which he has put with such clarity and force. That point of view is certainly not new to many of us, because the hon. Member put it on more than one occasion in the last Parliament. He also saw, at the Treasury, my right hon. Friend's predecessor, and also 1183 saw the right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake). He said, and others have said to-night, that this is not a party issue, and I think that is true. But while it is not a party issue it is also not as simple an issue as some would have the Committee believe. It is, I am sorry to say, quite impossible for me to go over the arguments which have been used tonight and to answer them one by one, because if I did I should be wasting the time of the Committee. What the hon. Member for Rugby seeks to leave out has been put into the Schedule of this Bill for one reason only, and that is that this Act should continue in being. This is the only method by which that can be done. It is quite impossible, owing to the congestion of the Government timetable between now and 31st December to consider—that itself would take some time—and then to bring in amending legislation to the Act of 1944. Therefore, the Government have done the only thing they can do, and incidently implemented the promise given by my right hon. Friend who sits opposite some months ago when he stood where I now stand. That promise was to include it in the present Bill.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ The only change we have made is to put it in Part II Schedule of this Bill instead of Part I, and the reason for that is this: If it were put in Part I it would lapse on 31st December, 1946. This would mean that only nine months of the next financial year would be covered whilst the Estimates covering it would be for a full year to 31st March, 1947. Therefore, purely for technical reasons connected with the financial side of the Act, we have now put it in Part II, which will carry it like the Estimate on to 31st March, 1947. I can assure the House that that does not necessarily mean that the Government intends to go right through to that date without doing something in the meantime. We realise, as has been said by the hon. Member for the Park Division of Sheffield (Mr. Burden), by the right hon. Member for Leeds, North (Mr. Peake) and other speakers that the present Act has given rise to anomalies which do need ironing out at some time. As indicated in the excellent speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Antrim (Major Haughton), the Government of Northern Ireland is 1184 interested in this Act. It is desirable that the British Government should look at it, and this it intends to do as soon as possible.
§ One of the points made in the Debate was that the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer indicated it was a temporary Measure to meet the greatest cases of hardship; that it would be looked at, from time to time, in order to see the extent to which, if any, conditions had altered. The plain fact is that when the Bill was introduced in March, 1944, the cost of living index figure then stood, I think, at about 30 per cent. above the 1939 figure. The hon. Member for Rugby is a past master in using the argument that suits him best—and I do not blame him—he went back to 1935; but actually, when the Measure was introduced, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer took the figure as it then existed, and compared it with the figure which existed in 1939—when war broke out. He committed himself to that figure—and it was not challenged at the time—that the cost of living had gone up in the interim by about 30 per cent. The cost of living figure today is much the same—about 30 per cent. above the 1939 figure. The figure laid down by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer in March, 1944, approximated roughly to the figure of today, on which he gave an increase of 30, 25 and 20 per cent. to the various categories of recipients and the same figures apply today. The cost of living is practically the same now as when the Measure was introduced.
§ I am not using that as an argument for no change. I am simply indicating to the Committee that, even on the undertaking made by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, namely, that the matter would be looked at from time to time in the light of existing circumstances, even taking his words and applying them to the present time, it is true to say that the situation, so far as the cost of living is concerned, has not changed.
§ The position is today quite fluid, and that is one reason, perhaps, for not rushing in too soon in this matter. We cannot be certain what may happen to the cost of living. We do not know how prices are going to go. There is something to be said for waiting until we know more where we are. No-one knows better than the hon. Member for Rugby how difficult these 1185 things are to settle finally once for all. One of the troubles has been, and it was implicit in something he said in the course of his speech that pensioners who retired in the early nineteen-twenties, had their pensions based on their existing rates, whilst others, who came out of the Service later, because the cost of living had gone down, found they suffered accordingly, and, naturally, felt aggrieved. That meant a great deal of trouble before that matter was settled, it has, in fact, not been settled even today.
§ Therefore, when we do settle this thing, it should be settled, if possible, along just and fair lines which everyone concerned felt were just and fair. All I can say tonight is I hope that the Committee will not agree to this Amendment, but will let us include this Act in the Schedule to the Bill. I can promise the Committee that the Government will look at this—[Hon. Members: "When"?] Give me time to say when. We will look at it as soon as possible; they cannot look at it before then, and, that being so, I think that is as far as the Government can be expected to go tonight.
§ Mr. Harry Wallace (Walthamstow, East)
May I ask whether this review is to be strictly limited to the cost of living? These pensions are grossly inadequate. I hope that the Financial Secretary is not suggesting that it is going to be restricted merely to the cost of living index figure.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
Of course not. All questions that are relevant will be looked at. I was dealing with the cost of living, because it has been said that the cost of living had gone up and created hardship for civil servants, teachers, members of the police force and other pensioners, which this Bill came into being to assist. Quite obviously, therefore, the cost of living will have a lot to do with it. Naturally, however, we do not want to confine consideration just to the cost of living, and go no further than that. The Government will look at this matter during the coming months, and if will look at it with sympathy, because it realises that the present position cannot be continued indefinitely, year after year, in a Bill of this sort. The present Act does contain anomalies and there is feeling about it in all quarters of the House. That being so, the Government will study what has been said during the debate, and will consider what has been said sym- 1186 pathetically to see what, if anything, can be done to put this matter on a satisfactory and permanent basis.
§ Mr. Brown
I do not want to force an-unnecessary Division, but I am an old enough bird at this business to be able to assess, with some degree of accuracy, assurances from the Front Bench, and I have seldom heard a vaguer assurance. Cannot the Minister go further and do the job in three months? If he cannot do justice to it in three months, something must be wrong, but can he give us an assurance that he will do it in the next three or four months?
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall
I am sorry I cannot give any assurance of that kind. I did not go into the matter in the fullest detail, but, quite frankly, now that the hon. Gentleman presses me, the people who are referred to in this particular Act, and are covered by it, are not the only people suffering, or the only people who have a small pension, and find that the rise in the cost of living does not allow that pension to go as far as it previously did. All sorts of people are in the same position. There are the people living on small annuities, or savings, or small pensions not received from the State. The problem is not quite so easy as the hon. Gentleman would lead the Committee to suppose.
We realise that this Measure was, as the ex-Chancellor of the Exchequer said, a temporary one to relieve hardship of a special kind, due to a rise in the cost of living during the war. It was purposely made temporary in character, because nobody knew what the years ahead would bring, and we still do not know that. All we do know is that, thanks to Government policy, the cost of living has not risen to any great extent and is still round about the figure it was when this Bill was passed. Nevertheless, in spite of that fact, the Government give the assurance that during the coming year they will look at the matter with the utmost sympathy to see what can be done to meet the criticisms that have been levelled at it, and at the anomalies, which we all now see are in the measure, and will see what, if anything, in addition must be done. It may be that, when inquiry takes place, it will find little, or nothing, wrong, although I do not think that will be the case. But I do not know; I cannot prejudge the issue. All I can say is that the 1187 Government will, at the earliest possible moment, look at this matter with sympathy, to see what can be done, and, when that has been decided on, will, within the limits of the Parliamentary programme, do what it can in the matter.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Schedule agreed to.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed.