HC Deb 23 January 1947 vol 432 cc413-8

Amendment made:

In line 3, after "amended," insert: to authorise further increases under the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1920."—[Mr. Glenvil Hall.]

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed," That the Bill be now read the Third time."

5.41 p.m.

Mr. W. J. Brown

It is now too late to propose any more Amendments to this Bill, and all I can do is to register an opinion about it before it leaves us for the last time. I speak under stress of some emotion on this matter. This Bill deals with two things: It deals with the question of whether pensions should be increased, and it also deals with the question of the conditions upon which they should be increased, and under what restrictions they should be increased. There are, in fact, two facets to the Bill. The Bill preserves without alteration the restrictions and inhibitions of the 1944 Act. On that aspect of the case it leaves matters exactly as they were before this Bill was introduced. On the second aspect, it makes certain extremely inadequate improvements upon the existing abominably low rates of pension. So, if one might say so, it fails to do either of the two jobs which we might hope that it would have done, and which I specifically asked that it should do.

As I said earlier, there are three conceivable lines of approach which we might have adopted. One was to increase the pensions mathematically on the basis of the increased cost of living. There was, in my opinion, a strong case to be made out for that line of approach. I know that view is not shared by some of my hon. Friends above the Gangway on this side. They take the view that the falling value of the £hit everybody with fixed incomes. It hit, for example, the man who had taken out an annuity and found, when he drew money under the annuity, that the pounds he was being paid would not buy what they used to do. It is certainly true that the rise in the cost of living has deflated the value of the pound for everybody. But, on the Second Reading of the Bill, I made the point I make now—if I am in Order, which I think I am—that we have a special responsibility to the category of people under this Bill. When dealing with the fixed income classes generally, the annuitant and so on, it might be argued that it was just the bad fortunes of war, that when they came to enjoy their annuity, they found the pounds were not worth so much as they used to be. However, the Government have no responsibility for those people except the general responsibility to the community, but here we are dealing with people who have spent their lives working for us, as servants of the State and as servants of this House. And I submit that they are entitled to be paid their pensions in pounds of the same value that the pound possessed at the time when they put their service in. To pay them something on which they cannot live, or can live only meanly and inadequately because the value of the pound has fallen, is a morally wrong thing for us to do.

I would like to give an illustration. Supposing. Mr. Deputy-Speaker,' that you or I had an old friend or servant who had worked for us faithfully for 40 years, on the understanding that when he or she retired we would make provision for their old age. Supposing it was then found that the £1 or £2 a week determined upon was only worth 5s. or 10s. a week. We would not say that that absolved us from responsibility. We would say our responsibility was still to enable that old servant to live, and if the number of pounds we thought about earlier was not enough because of the rise in the cost of living, we would have to increase the number of pounds given. None of us would be content to see an old servant starve on the basis of the kind of argument used in the Debates on this Bill. The second line might have been—and for this there is an unanswerably logical case—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Major Milner)

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I gather he is now suggesting what might, or in his view ought, to have been in the Bill. That, of course, is not in Order. The hon. Gentleman is only entitled to discuss what is in the Bill as this is its Third Reading.

Mr. Brown

I am attacking what is in the Bill, because it corresponds with no conceivable "principle upon which this problem could and ought to have been faced. However, I will not pursue that line of argument if I am out of Order. I will only say that it seems to me incumbent upon us, when we are dealing either with civil servants or with people who have served us in the past, to bring to bear upon that situation some elementary fundamental principles and then decide upon action in the light of those principles. I attack this Bill be cause it is related to no conceivable principle whatever, except the casting of an inadequate bone, to a badly starving dog. That is not the principle by which we ought to regulate the lives of those who have spent their lives in our service. There is nothing more I can say except to place on record my view. First of all, I express my scorn for people who move Amendments and then run away, rather than face up to the choice between quarrelling with their own Party or standing up for the people whose sacrifices have made it possible for them to come here. I also express my regrets for this House. By now we ought to be informed of the merits of this issue, because we discussed it in 1944 and in 1945, and we had a Second Reading discussion in 1946 and a Committee stage in 1947, so that every one of us ought, by now, to realise what are the merits of the case. In spite of that, we have adopted this Bill, which I characterise as mean, ungenerous and unworthy of the House, in relation to the treatment of people who have spent their lives in our service.

5.49 P.m.

Mr. Burden (Sheffield, Park)

After that attack, made in the usual manner of the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. Brown), I feel, as one who has taken some small part in these proceedings during 1944 and 1945, and during the present Debate, that I should say a word or two in defence of the Government and particularly of the right hon. Gentleman in charge of this Bill. The Bill carries out the promise made when the matter was under discussion in 1945, and while it is true that it does not give us all that we would desire, I am sure that the hon. Member for Rugby—who, before he came to play the distinguished part he does in Debates, took part in many industrial negotiations—knows that, in the nature of things, one does not always get all that one desires. In no negotiations in which he has taken part did he ever come away completely satisfied, I am sure.

Mr. Brown

I agree that half a loaf is better than no bread, but what I was protesting about was the philosophy that possibly the half is as good as the whole.

Mr. Burden

Such a philosophy exists only in the vivid imagination of the hon. Member. On behalf of the people who have been in close contact with the Financial Secretary in prolonged consideration of the matters under debate, I wish to thank the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy and the consideration which he has given to the points we have submitted to him.

Finally, I want to deal briefly with the quite unfounded assumption which the hon. Member for Rugby tries to put across to this House, that it was the agitation of the civil servants' organisations which was responsible for this Measure. That is not in accordance with the facts. Retired civil servants will benefit, quite rightly, but there are also many others.

Mr. Brown

But not an hon. Member of this House did anything about it until I came back in 1942.

Mr. Burden

It was mainly to deal with that quite unfounded assumption, which is being made continually by the hon. Member for Rugby, that I rose. I am sure that we thank the Financial Secretary for all he has done, as we look for further consideration later on.

5.52 p.m.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Glenvil Hall)

I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for the remarks he has made about my small share in the production of this Bill. I have said before that I do not look upon this Bill as a major Measure. It does not attempt to do more than a very modest thing. That is to build on the original Act of 1944, with which I had nothing to do, and to try to increase the percentages which were laid down in that Measure. I think we have gone quite a long way to improve the conditions laid down in 1944. We have increased the percentage for those with the smallest pensions. We have increased the income limit up to which pensions can be increased from £300 to £450—which, in fact, means more than £500, because £52 of other income is disregarded in the case of the married person, and from £225 to £350 for the single person. In the case of the civil servant, it goes up to £787 10s. I am not complaining, but stating a fact. The local authority ratepayer and national authority taxpayer, has to bear this burden, modest though it is. As taxpayers and ratepayers they are suffering from the increased cost of living, and the difficulties that fall on all of us, but I think we can say that, modest though it is, it is something towards helping the poorer pensioners of the State, and of local authorities.

We took into our confidence all the organisations concerned, and consulted them at every stage. We had to consult the Trades Union Congress, speaking as it does for workers generally. They gave us good advice, which, I am glad to say, we took. It was not our fault that the Civil Service Clerical Association, and other Civil Service organisations, were not then represented on the Trade Union Congress. That was no reason why we should have ignored the T.U.C We went to the T.U.C, and also to the Civil Service organisations which were then outside the T.U.C, and consulted them through their staff organisations, principally through the Staff Side of the National Whitley Council. What I say about their agreeing to the 40 per cent. is perfectly true. If the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. W. J. Brown) wants me to repeat it, I will repeat that 40 per cent. was the suggestion made, and we accepted it, and in the end we got all the authorities concerned to come into line and to accept it. In the circumstances, I ask the House with some confidence to give us the Third Reading and let us get the Bill on to the Statute Book at the earliest opportunity.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.