HC Deb 09 May 1951 vol 487 cc2090-7
Mr. J. N. Browne

I beg to move, in page 7, line 5, at the end, to insert: (d) that a person who at the end of the period of six months referred to in subsection (1) of this section has been registered for not less than three months at a local employment exchange and fulfils such other requirements as the Minister may prescribe, shall be entitled to avail himself of the provisions of this section for such further period beyond six months as the Minister may determine. I would like to explain briefly the reasons why I put down this Amendment. I think the Committee should bear in mind that the right hon. Lady in the concluding words of her speech on the Second Reading of the Bill, said: By putting forward these proposals now we have shown once again our constant concern for those whose need is greatest, and it is in that spirit that I commend the Bill to the House."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th April, 1951; Vol. 487, c. 598.] Many of those on both sides of the Committee did not think that the right hon. Lady was showing concern for those whose need was greatest; and we know and it is history now—that the important Clause in the Bill has been completely altered today. I felt that the proposals then made showed that considerable injustice would be done to two sections of the community—those genuinely seeking work and those who are unable to work for any reason such as sickness or physical incapacity. The facts have shown that the Minister who "was concerned for those whose need was greatest" was not in touch with the facts as they stood; and though she has been given credit this evening for altering the Bill I do not believe that the credit should got to the Cabinet but to the backbenchers of her party and those of us on this side who realised that there was a great deal to be criticised in the original proposals.

We have now new principles embracing the higher pensions to all qualifying at a certain date, but I am still not sure whether there will not again be injustice to those who are genuinely seeking work and perhaps injustice to those who are unable to work. I would ask the Minister, in framing the regulations, especially when the new proposal concerns those coming in after the appointed day, to do something to remove that injustice if she considers that any injustice will be introduced.

Mention has been made today of incentives. I am not keen on this incentive idea because I believe that the old people will rally without an incentive if they are told what the need is.

11.0 p.m.

I do not think the incentive will matter so much, but I would like to examine for a minute what the Parliamentary Secretary said about putting over this scheme. The incentive is now less than it was before, and I believe it is important that people should know what is wanted of them. The Parliamentary Secretary made a very short reference to it. He said that the widest publicity would be given in the Press and over the radio to ensure that those affected by the change would know what they must do to benefit, and there would be leaflets to tell them exactly what they should do. This is not what I wanted him to say. This does not face the problem with which we shall be faced: we have to find work for 500,000 or 600,000 old people, although this need not now be found for six months. Both industry and the old people will need every possible help and advertisement to get jobs for them.

To begin with I would like to suggest there should be a separate department of the employment exchanges so that there are people who have nothing else to do but to find work for them. I think there should be a national advertising campaign to tell industry and employers what is needed. To put these people back is not going to be as easy as we think. It will mean a new policy for industry. In Scotland, where I come from, I know it is going to be very hard for men of 65 to go back into the ship-building yards. There is no great extent of light work there. It could be suggested that Government contractors should take a percentage of old people. I realise that may not be possible. The National Assistance Board, I am told, is still—or was a week ago—turning off men at 65.

We have today had an assurance from the Front Bench that this will not happen. The right hon. Lady's own Ministry is not such an offender in this respect. I make this suggestion, because I would say to the right hon. Lady, in all sincerity, that in my short experience I have not the confidence that many hon. Members have shown on both sides of the Committee that she is in touch with the needs of the people. I would ask her to be most careful in forming these regulations to see there is as little injustice as possible.

Dr. Summerskill

I think the hon. Gentleman has completely misunderstood the Clause. What he is asking for in this Amendment is, of course, already granted, for this reason. I proposed, if it was necessary, having regard to the new provisions of the Bill, that people who had already retired should be allowed to have second thoughts about retirement. Then we inserted the six months' period because we think most people would make up their minds within six months. The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension that the retired pensioner would go to the employment exchange, endeavour to get work and, if he could not obtain work in six months, his option would expire.

This is not the fact. Immediately he has decided to seek work, he would inform the National Insurance Office. He would then go to the exchange and register and would get his unemployment benefit. Then he is in the employment field. He is no longer retired, and if they have not found a job within six months or nine months, it is bad luck for him, but there is no question of his having surrendered his option.

Mr. Browne

I thank the right hon. Lady. That is a point which was not clear, and we have achieved something. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause stand part of the Bill."

Mr. Carmichael

The Clause raises the right of the person who has retired on the prescribed date to re-enter industry. I may be completely ignorant, but I want a point cleared up. If he continues in retirement he gets the increase of 4s. on the prescribed date. Should he enter industry on the prescribed date, he does not get the pension. He goes to the employment exchange. If he discovers in three or six months that he cannot continue at work, or he fails to find work, what will his scale, benefit, or pension be on that day? We have been told today that if a person continues at work for 18 months after the appointed day, he will benefit to the extent of the 4s. 6d. That we all understand. I want to know this: if a person does not accept the pension after the prescribed date—in other words, if he goes to the employment exchange—what is the amount of money he will get should he decide to retire following the prescribed date? I am afraid that if a person decides to continue at work he can get only the 4s. 6d. on top of his 26s. Therefore, he loses the 4s. he gets if he did not work at all.

Dr. Summerskill

I am not quite clear what the hon. Gentleman means. Certainly, if he did decide to register at the employment exchange, he would get his unemployment benefit, but I am not quite sure how the hon. Gentleman relates the increments which have accrued to him after 18 months. The increments would amount to 4s. 6d., as he says.

Mr. Carmichael

Let us assume the appointed day is 31st October. A man makes up his mind one way or another. If he decides he is not going to enter industry, he gets the increase of 4s. on 31st October. But until that date he has had only 26s. From that date, because he was 65 before the appointed day, he is entitled to get the increase of 4s. That is perfectly clear. I could have made it understood better in a smaller committee. There is a very grave danger here—that is why I am stressing the point—that if a person does not go back to work and he is 65 before the appointed day he gets the increase of 4s. But because he is anxious to help the country by taking the opportunity offered by this clause to go back to work he naturally assumes he has already qualified for this 4s.

He enters industry or goes to the employment exchange to enter industry. He probably waits a fortnight there and for that period he loses this money. But after a short period he finds employment and, therefore, he is qualifying for the added money. I want to know if he gets the 4s., plus the augmentation he would be entitled to get by adding the extra money. If not, obviously we are not giving an incentive to bring a person back into work, because he is losing 4s. as soon as he enters industry. He is entitled to 30s. With his wife he is entitled to 50s., against 42s. If he enters industry for a few weeks and then retires he gets 42s. because he did not take the 50s. on the appointed day.

Mr. Peake

I share the difficulty of the hon. Member in understanding how this Clause would operate in view of the concession which the right hon. Lady announced on a previous Amendment, but which we have not yet seen in terms on the Order Paper. It seems to me impossible to have a sensible discussion on the question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill" until we have seen in terms—as we shall not do until the Report stage—precisely what the right hon. Lady has in mind in the Amendment which she contemplates. It will be much easier to await the Amendment, and then to consider whether or not it is necessary to amend this Clause in any way.

Dr. Summerskill

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The more we think about these things the more permutations and combinations there are. My hon. Friend has tonight presented us with one which needs a great deal of thought. I can say, of course, that if a man does go to the employment exchange he will get credits during the period he is unemployed, but that will not entitle him to increments. I will look at HANSARD. I expect that I shall have a lot more of these points during the next few months.

Mr. T. Brown

I would like to ask what steps the Department is taking, on the question of men entering employment from which they have been discharged because they have attained the age of 65, with those nationalised industries which adopted a policy of dismissing men on the day they became 65. I am much concerned by the effect of the policy which has been manifested by the National Coal Board in Lancashire, and I have obtained the figures of the men discharged since the vesting day. In 1947 there were 422 men dismissed on attaining the age of 65; in 1948 there were 331; in 1949 there were 384; in 1950 there were 405; and up to the end of March or April this year there were 106. Most of these men are ready to continue at work on suitable employment in the mining industry, particularly in Lanes. What steps is the Department taking to change the policy which has been adopted in the past by private owners and nationalised industries, to allow these men, if they so care, to go back into industry?

Mr. Hylton-Foster (York)

Would the hon. Member add to his question this—whether the Minister would use her influence with the great trade unions, who are very often, in my experience, parties to agreements with the nationalised employers which, unfortunately, have that result? They find themselves bound by agreement to keep men over 65 out of industry.

Mr. Brown

Speaking from the point of view of Lancashire, representations have been made to the regional labour officer on the question of these men being dismissed, and I am happy to say that I have received today a communication that they have now agreed to change their policy. I am much disturbed about other people in other industries who have not the same advantage as these men will have in the days to come. The problem of re-entry is one with which I am very much concerned. I think the Minister and the Government ought at least to plead with these people to allow the men to go back into industry if they so care.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Pannell

If we are going into this question of getting men to work longer, let us consider those who work in heavy industry as well as those who work in secondary occupations, who are encouraged to leave off working at an earlier age than in heavy industry. Under the Local Government Superannuation Act, local government officers can get full entitlement at the end of 40 years to two-thirds of their salary in pension before they are 60. They often retire and go to the employment exchange and ask for another job. I know of cases where they have actually applied for unemployment benefit.

It often seems that more and more of our legislation penalises people who are in heavy industry, while more things are done of benefit to people in secondary occupations. If we look at the long-term view of this problem of keeping people longer at work, we have to think of the more intelligent use of the manpower that drifts away from local government. There are superannuation schemes which have been framed, with the blessing of this House, placing the retirement age at 55. We will not get men in heavy industry to play their part, when, in effect, we encourage and certainly make respectable the idea that certain workers in sedentary occupations, who enjoy much easier times, should retire at a much earlier age.

Mr. Deedes (Ashford)

I should like to add a word about the effect of this on the nationalised industries. I have made some inquiries about this point, and I assure the hon. Lady that those employed in nationalised industries have no idea of how this is going to work and of what they are going to do about it. As one of a community where there is a considerable number of retired people who have left industry, and are asking now where they stand in relation to employment, I think it is important that the right hon. Lady should make sure that clear and simply worded directions are given, before there is too much disappointment, so that people can understand exactly where they stand in relation to employment, particularly, of course, in the nationalised industries. I assure the hon. Lady that there is great misunderstanding at the moment.

Dr. Summerskill

I am sure that the hon. Gentlemen who have spoken appreciate that all questions concerning contracts of service which affect employees and employers, whether private employers or national boards, do not come within my province, but I am very interested in them because the great schemes which I administer are in part affected by these contracts. I shall do whatever lies in my power. I ask hon. Members who have spoken to look at the OFFICIAL REPORT in which they will see that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour, who was on the Front Bench tonight, made a statement on that subject. There they will find the whole answer.

Mr. Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)

I appreciate what the Minister has said. While I accept the principle that the age should be extended, there are certain complications in this matter, particularly in regard to national insurance. I suggest that the Government might take positive action by calling in the Trades Union Congress and its affiliated organisations to discuss the matter. I realise that there are a number of aspects of this problem which I could deal with, but I do not propose to do so tonight. The difficulty in the railway industry has not been easily overcome. For that reason I suggest that that might be accepted in the spirit in which it is put forward, and that joint consultation might be instituted.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.