HC Deb 09 May 1951 vol 487 cc2098-101
Mr. W. S. Morrison

I beg to move, in page 7, to leave out lines 13 to 15, and to insert: the first day of July, nineteen hundred and fifty-one.

The Deputy-Chairman

I think it might be for the convenience of the Committee if this and the Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies), in page 7, line 15, at the end, to insert: Provided that in no instance shall the appointed day for any purpose of this Act be later than the first day of June, nineteen hundred and fifty-one. were discussed together.

Mr. Morrison

The purpose of this Amendment can be briefly stated. It is an attempt to secure a little more precision and clarity about the expression "the appointed day." "The appointed day" in the Bill means the day from which the benefits of the Bill run, and it does not need a long speech to persuade the Committee that the earlier we can make that day the better, and the speedier we can announce the day the better.

The people for whom the Bill exists and who will benefit from it are, in the first place, feeling the pinch of the increase in the cost of living—that is to say, they are poor—and, therefore, if they are poor the sooner they are helped the better. Secondly, they are old, and old people cannot await a future benefit with the same patience as young people can, because with them the sands are running out. I hope that with that short statement of the position the right hon. Lady will be able to enlighten us a little further as to what she means by "the appointed day" and, if possible, accept this Amendment.

Mr. S. O. Davies

On a point of order. Did you say, Sir Charles, that this Amendment could be discussed with the Amendment standing in my name?

The Deputy-Chairman

I said I thought it would be for the convenience of the Committee if they were discussed together. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to discuss them separately, he may do so.

Mr. Davies

I have no objection to your suggestion, Sir Charles. I intend to be brief. When it was suggested in the Second Reading debate that probably the appointed day would be somewhere about 1st October, I, and, I am sure, a number of my hon. Friends, felt that that was throwing it rather too far into the future, but I must admit that this cuts both ways. If I were to abandon this Amendment I should certainly create quite a number of possibly raucous enemies among old age pensioners, and if, on the other hand, I were to insist that the appointed day should be not later than 1st June I should also create a number of opponents among old age pensioners.

Putting the matter shortly, is it possible for the Minister to bring this date somewhere in October nearer to where we are today? It certainly seems somewhat remote to those who are anxious to enjoy the benefits which the Government have been kind enough to promise to them.

Dr. Summerskill

I am sure that the Committee is grateful to the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. W. S. Morrison) and my hon. Friend the Member for Merthyr Tydvil (Mr. S. O. Davies), who have spoken so briefly on this subject. I can assure the Committee that there is nobody here more impatient than I am to get the Bill into operation. But I must remind my hon. Friend who is asking that the appointed day should be 1st June that this is the Committee stage. The date is now 9th May. We shall not resume our Sittings for some little time, and we have got to have the Report and the Third Reading. Then the Bill has to go to another place. I do not see how we can get the King's Consent before 1st June. If I were to accept the Amendment, it would be ineffective because the Measure would not be on the Statute Book at that date.

With regard to the date mentioned by the right hon. Gentleman, I cannot accept that, simply because we shall not have enough elbow room. I would remind the Committee of 1946. Then, increased pensions were introduced. I agree that my Department was not as well organised then as it is today and by that I mean they had not got the number of local offices which we have today—but it was many months before the necessary work was completed; and then, through no fault of the officials, who, I know, worked desperately hard and who were pressed by the House, when the time came a number of people did not receive their pensions.

We do not want that to happen again. I promise this. I am sure that my officials get irritated when I mention dates now, because I press them to make it as early as possible. I promise that I will bring it forward to 1st September for the three million people, and while I have no ulterior motive the other one million will have to wait to 1st October. We have had another million added today and we must have a little more time to do it. I can assure the Committee that I will do everything in my power to expedite the matter.

Mr. Summers

Did I understand the right hon. Lady to say that if she found it possible she would bring forward the date of the new benefits to 1st September. Would she not penalise those who come under the concession announced earlier in the debate by leaving the appointed day for them at 1st October?

Dr. Summerskill

That really was not the reason at all. That would be dishonest. Despite the fact that that would be hard for a lot of administrative people, obviously it would be better to bring in the whole thing on the first day. Because of what has happened on the Committee stage, we have to include another one million people in the scheme and it will take us another month to deal with them. I repeat what I said. The scheme will come into operation for the three million, 65's and 70's, on 1st September—I think I can promise that, possibly a little earlier if I can—and for the other people it will be 1st October.

Mr. J. N. Browne

I will not detain the Committee very long, but I want to raise one point which is very important. The Minister said she proposed that the date of the National Assistance Board rates should coincide in coming into operation, with the date for the rest of the scheme. But the need is for the National Assistance Board rates to come into operation today, and we know that revised rates could be ready in two or three weeks time. I would ask the right hon. Lady to consider bringing those increases into being right now when they are needed, even if it means a temporary increase in the number of cases before the new pensions themselves go up.

Mr. W. S. Morrison

In view of the assurance given by the right hon. Lady, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.