HC Deb 21 February 1952 vol 496 cc457-81

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £2,980,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1952, for the salaries and expenses of the Department of the National Assistance Board and of certain Appeal Tribunals; non-contributory old age pensions, including pensions to blind persons; assistance grants, &c.; expenses of re-establishment centres, reception centres, &c.; and the maintenance of certain classes of Poles in Great Britain.

4.50 p.m.

Mr. Turton

This Supplementary Estimate relates to two sub-heads. First, on salaries, as I explained on the previous Supplementary Estimate, we are having to take into account the increase in pay awarded in February, 1951, and also the more recent pay increase awarded in January, 1952. Those two increases amount to £315,000 for the National Assistance Board. Also it has been necessary to take on extra staff. The average increase in staff has been 165. The number of those in receipt of assistance went up from 850,000 in 1948 to 1,461,000 on 31st December, 1951. Because of that we had to recruit staff, and the total staff today is just over 9,100. The average increase throughout the year was 165.

Mr. J. Griffiths

When the hon. Gentleman compares the total number of people in receipt of assistance in 1948, does he speak of before 5th July, 1948, or after? Before that date this service was administered by the Public Assistance Committees.

Mr. Turton

I am speaking of after the start of the National Assistance Act. The figure for December, 1950, was 1,349,000. This has necessitated an increased in staff for which the cost in this Estimate is £80,000.

In addition, during the last half year a considerable amount of overtime has been worked to deal with the new scales which came into operation on 3rd September of last year. During the calendar year 1951, 438,000 hours of overtime were worked. Of that time, 300,000 hours were worked during July and August to put the new regulations into force. The staff of the Board did a wonderful piece of work in those summer months. I am sure the right hon. Lady the former Minister appreciates that they had a great task to adjust all the allowances and to issue the new order books. For that purpose, they had to work the extra overtime.

The second subject under Subhead F deals directly with the increased rates which came into operation in September of last year. In Cmd. 8280 the previous Government estimated the net total cost of that increase in scale as £7 million in a full year. We found that that was an under-estimate. For the proportion of this current year we anticipate that the expenditure will be in the region of £4,500,000.

However, there was a slight overestimate by the right hon. Lady on the cost of National Assistance before the revised scales were issued. She was working on a basis of an average number drawing assistance of some 5,000 more each week than actually was the case. She also over-estimated the annual drawing in the first six months of the current financial year by about 3d. per person per week.

That has resulted in a certain saving which is set off against the £4,500,000 which the new scales will require. That gives us the figure of £3,250,000 which hon. Gentlemen will see in Subhead F—

Mr. J. Griffiths

If the National Assistance Board is to be brought into the administration of the charges under the Bill which I understand we are to consider some day—and which is due to come into operation on 1st March and therefore will cover four weeks of the financial year—has any provision been made for the extra overtime which will be involved?

Mr. Turton

We have made our estimates of overtime and staff required during this year taking into account all relevant factors. There has been an increase in overtime and staff required in addition to what I have mentioned as a result of the actions of the previous Government, as further staff was required to deal with the charges they introduced in the National Health Service.

Mr. Griffiths

We are within a few days of 1st March, but that is the date provided for in the Bill. We are now providing the money needed until the end of March, and therefore we include four weeks during which, if this Bill eventuates, the Assistance Board will be taking on further work when people bring their prescriptions to the Board to get their money back. Has the hon. Gentleman made any provision for that in this Estimate? If the Bill comes into effect, the Board will have to work a large amount of extra overtime during this four weeks. Has that been taken into account?

Mr. Turton

No. The legislation about the charges to which the right hon. Gentleman refers has not been passed. Therefore, we have not included in these Estimates any provision for extra expenditure.

Mr. Griffiths

I take it that in these Estimates no provision at all is made for the working of this Bill which we are waiting to see?

Mr. Turton

We take the view that it is only in order for us to provide expenditure in connection with legislation which has been passed. It would be wrong for us to ask for expenditure in connection with legislation which is contemplated. When that legislation has been passed we shall bring forward a Supplementary Estimate to deal with the expense involved.

Hon. Members might like to know of one small activity during the year. We have opened the first re-establishment centre ever conducted by the National Assistance Board. We found a suitable site and buildings at the village of Holy Cross, near Clent in Worcestershire. That centre was opened on 22nd June last. The amount of extra expenditure involved is about £2,500. It is an interesting experiment, because we are dealing with one of the most difficult of human problems, involving men who voluntarily try to get re-established but who are not in a sufficiently good condition to require training by the Ministry of Labour.

In the last six months since the centre was opened 69 men have been admitted. It is early yet to say what degree of success this experiment—it is only an experiment—will meet. I am sure that hon. Gentlemen will be interested in it. At present the centre takes a maximum of only 20 men at one time. The idea is that when men have become sufficiently re-established by looking after the gardens and being well-fed and cared for, we try to find employment for them in the neighbourhood. At first, they work in the neighbourhood and remain in the centre. Later, they leave the centre and live elsewhere and continue in their employment. Of the 69 who were there during the centre's first six months, 28 were obtained employment; nine were still in the centre, not having got employment, and of the remainder—

The Chairman

This is going beyond the Estimate. An additional sum is being asked for these re-establishment centres, but we do not want to go into their whole working and results. The question we are discussing is the reason why the original Estimate was too small.

5.0 p.m.

Mr. Turton

If you wish, Sir Charles, I shall not continue to tell the Committee of it. There will be another occasion, no doubt, when opportunity can be provided. I hope I have given a sufficiently satisfactory explanation of the Supplementary Estimate.

Mr. J. Griffiths

We accept your Ruling at once, Sir Charles, but this is an experiment of the utmost importance concerning one of the gravest problems with which we have to deal. There are many reception centres—I remember one in Camberwell. If it is impossible to discuss them today, will the Parliamentary Secretary take an early opportunity of presenting in some way a report on this experiment, which is of great importance and interest?

The Chairman

I quite agree on that point, but I do not think it is in order to discuss it on the Supplementary Estimate.

Dr. Summerskill

Under Sub-head F, on page 43, provision of £3,250,000 is being made for grants for persons in need of assistance. The Parliamentary Secretary will recall that this amount was arrived at last July on the assumption that there would be no appreciable extra charge for certain essentials in the homes of pensioners and the very poor.

Subsequently, a new Government is formed and the Government announce that they propose to make certain charges for things which the Ministry of National Insurance should regard as necessities in the home. In my opinion, in the winter medical treatment for an old person is a necessity, and the minimum that many old people may be called upon to pay throughout the winter months is 2s. a week at 1s. per prescription.

The Parliamentary Secretary has said that the Ministry are not accustomed to anticipating legislation. I cannot agree—that is a little quibble. The Ministry can exercise their discretion on many occasions. They can expect expenditures on assistance—

Mr. Iain MacLeod (Enfield, West)

The right hon. Lady is wrong, because the original National Assistance Act lays down quite clearly in the definition Section, as she will know, that requirements are not to include any form of medical, aural, dental, etc., care; and the only way in which that principle can be breached is by legislation of the House.

It is by legislation of the House, in the Act of last year, that the charges put on dentures and spectacles in the 1951 Act were included in the purview of the National Assistance Board. That action is in the Bill which is now contemplated, and it would not be competent for any Minister of National Insurance to take action having regard to the definition in the 1947 Act, except by legislation of the House, which the Government are taking.

Dr. Summerskill

I recognise that the hon. Member is something of an authority on this matter, but he will recall—he was in the House on many occasions when I answered Questions at the Box—that last year I was often asked, particularly during the winter, whether the National Assistance officials could give a grant for coal, clothes and so on.

Mr. MacLeod

Not medical care.

Dr. Summerskill

Time after time I said I was proud that the officials of the National Assistance Board could exercise a wide discretion; that an applicant would come to an official and say, "These are my conditions. I live in a big, cold, miserable room. I have to have gas on and coal burning the whole time"; and the official could exercise discretion. Therefore, it is quite clear that if the Bill is to be introduced, unless the Government are prepared to be absolutely callous to the very poor, the officials will have to exercise their discretion.

This sum which is in the Estimates today will be handled by the officials, and I think that the Parliamentary Secretary is quite wrong when he says he can estimate only for things which are legislated for. It is possible for his Department to anticipate certain expenditures and to provide for them. I feel particularly strongly about this because I was responsible for the sum last July; the Estimate is identical to it. But I am very much aware that the people for whom we legislated then will be called upon between 1st and 31st March to incur expenditure which has not been provided for.

I shall not, however, press the Parliamentary Secretary on this. I recognise that he is in a very difficult position, and I recall what he has just said on the other Estimate. When I pressed him about how the people suffering from byssinosis, silicosis, and so on, were to be provided for, he said that he could not anticipate legislation. If I am mollified, I understand from that that the Government are going to increase allowances and pensions in order to meet these extra expenditures.

We on this side of the House will sit back and wait. The Budget, I understand, is to be introduced on 4th March. We shall await that time with some impatience, but I assure the Parliamentary Secretary that if the pensions and allowances are not increased to cover these expenditures, hon. and right hon. Members on this side of the House will come to his Department and charge him and his right hon. Friend for not having made provision in the Estimates for these things, which are essential to the poorest people.

Mr. MacLeod

I want to add only one sentence to the interruption I made earlier. I recognise that the right hon. Lady is as deeply concerned as myself or anybody else on this matter. It is not true that we can equate coal, clothing and the other things with medical care, because medical care, and that alone, is the only exclusion from requirements in the 1947 Act. I am pretty sure that we could not anticipate, as the right hon. Lady suggests, without introducing legislation.

Dr. Summerskill

Of course, medical care was not included because under the Labour Government medical treatment was free. But I am pleased to say that the administration of the Ministry of National Insurance is fairly flexible. I dare to say that when another Government come into power and propose to charge an old person for something which is as essential to them as warmth—medical treatment — that Government should at least be prepared to say, "Let the officials exercise their discretion in this matter."

Mr. MacLeod

It needs legislation.

Mr. A. Edward Davies (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

The Minister said in explaining sub-head A that 438,000 hours of over-time had been worked, of which 300,000 related to the new regulations; and he anticipates that some further time may have to be worked. We should like to be satisfied in this regard about the proposed economies in reducing the Civil Service staff as far as the hon. Gentleman's Department are concerned. Is it not a very bad policy to cut down staff and at the same time to pay over-time? I should have thought that there was nothing to be said for overtime if it could be avoided, as far as the personal help of the staff is concerned and on grounds of cost alone.

I hope we may be satisfied that the staff will not be reduced to such a minimum that when the requirements of some new legislation have to be dealt with, the staff have to work overtime. Under the Conservative Government, this Department is likely to be working over-time—the National Assistance Board certainly. It seems a very unwise move to reduce the staff.

On Sub-head F, could the Minister tell us how much of the £3,250,000 represents additional assistance grants? A number of items come under this heading, which is not broken down at all. From what the Minister said, all the money has not been taken up. The Minister suggested that there had been over-estimating to the tune of 5,000.

Mr. Turton

The right hon. Lady had estimated that during her period of office there would be 5,000 more under National Assistance and they would be receiving an average of 18s. 11d. per week. I should like to correct that figure if it is incorrect. In fact they received 3d. less each week than was estimated, but that had all been changed in the second half of the year.

Mr. Davies

It is remarkable accountancy in a time of rising prices if there is 3d. less and 5,000 people have had less benefit than they expected.

I do not want to discuss the savings but the expenditure. Is this £3,250,000 enough to meet the demands of the National Assistance Board in the circumstances in which we find ourselves, because this arises out of legislation and what was done in this House six or eight months ago. Apart from the point raised by my right hon. Friend as to impending legislation and extra costs arising from the payments for prescriptions for medical benefits which have erstwhile been available without payment, there are rising costs to be met by old age pensioners which have been going on over the past months and which arise out of discretionary allowances. If we take the question of coke, or special nourishment, obviously the income of an old age pensioner, like that of any other family person, is of less value than it was last July.

I want to know whether in those circumstances this sum is adequate to meet the problem. If there is this remarkable saving has it come about because people do not know about the payments to which they are entitled, or is there a clear understanding in the departments and can it be shown that there is uniform administration through the country? Whatever it is I contend that the present sum is quite inadequate for the needs of the people for whom it is sought to provide. If the Minister finds himself short of money I hope he will not hesitate to come to the House because we shall support him on this item wholeheartedly.

Mr. George Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)

When we were debating the Regulations last July I made a special appeal to the then Minister to say whether we could get greater elasticity in the interpretation of what were special allowances for clothing, fuel, extra medical attention, and so on. I wonder if the Parliamentary Secretary would give us a more detailed breakdown of this £3,250,000 in order that we may form an opinion as to whether there has been any improvement in the granting of clothing allowances to these people who are in need.

It seems to me that this is necessary, as throughout the past few months there has been a growing increase in the price of clothing and if the present Government proposals for doing away with the utility scheme come into being, there will be a steeper increase. If their present policy of whittling away the food subsidies is to go on there will be a great increase in the price of food. We ought therefore to get a raising of the standards of these extra payments. I wonder if the Parliamentary Secretary can deal with that point?

When we were discussing these matters last July, there was a general understanding that all people receiving National Assistance would receive the equivalent of the 4s. increase given in retirement pension, but we have been finding in the last few months a number of anomalies by which certain people have not got the full benefit of that increase. I refer particularly to those living in local authority homes and hostels.

The previous arrangement was that they should have 5s. pocket money each week for themselves and 21s. should go to the local authority for maintenance. When the increase of 4s. was made, in a large number of cases this was taken by the local authority to meet increased costs and those in hostels only received 5s. with which to meet extra costs for tobacco, entertainment and the little things they like to buy. Will the Parliamentary Secretary take that into account and if it can be covered by these extra assistance grants. Can he let us know, so that people in these hostels and homes may get the full benefits we intended them to have when we brought in the 4s. increase?

5.15 p.m.

The other category of pensioner concerned is the man and wife on National Assistance who before the increase was made were getting 43s. 6d. They understood quite clearly that they would get an 8s. increase yet we find that when it is adjusted they get 6s. 6d. and in fact they are relatively 1s. 6d. worse off than the retirement pensioners. Can the Parliamentary Secretary give any information as to how that problem has been dealt with in the past few months while he has been in office?

Another point which concerns us very much is that we all understood that when the charges for teeth and spectacles were levied, old age pensioners and people on a low income level would be exempt. Yet we find that in a number of cases when old age pensioners go to the Assistance Board because they have some reserve of one kind or another—

The Chairman

Could that be done without legislation?

Mr. Chetwynd

Oh, yes.

The Chairman

I am suggesting that it could not be done without legislation.

Mr. Turton

What the hon. Member is suggesting would require legislation.

Mr. Chetwynd

It has never been made clear to us how these charges were to be levied on the old age pensioner. I understand that an average of six weeks' resources is taken into account and they are charged accordingly. If this is out of order I shall have to leave the point—

Mr. J. Griffiths

Do you, Sir Charles, regard regulations, which can be submitted by the Ministry on behalf of the National Assistance Board, as being legislation?

The Chairman

No, Regulations are not legislation.

Mr. Griffiths

Since, as a matter of fact, apart from the basic Act of 1947, all changes that are made in the provision of assistance are made by Regulations, I presume that my hon. Friend is in order.

The Chairman

If that is so, certainly the hon. Member is in order.

Mr. Chetwynd

I thought I was in order. This is governed by Regulations and to my mind the Regulation is very obscure and is not understood by the old age pensioners because in many cases they have had to pay for teeth and spectacles. A great hardship is being caused to these people by these Regulations, and I doubt if this sum includes sufficient extra funds for those people. If the Parliamentary Secretary wants more than the present amount he ought to ask for more to meet the anomalies with which I have been dealing.

My final point is this. As things are today and with living conditions as we know them, I am certain that this amount is not enough to meet the real needs of those who are receiving National Assistance, and it seems to me that the proposed legislation of the Government and the anticipated Budget proposals will mean that before long the Parliamentary Secretary will have to come again and ask for an increase. I can promise him on behalf of my hon. Friends on this side of the Committee that we shall meet that very readily.

Mr. Steele

I should like to refer to item F of this £3¼ million. I should like to reinforce what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies) and my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) about these descretionary powers. I should like to know what amount of this £3¼ million is to be used for this particular purpose. There has been a great deal of criticism on these benches on this subject, and we should like to know the amount which is to be given to local officers under the discretionary powers and whether that sum will be adequate.

I should like next to inquire what amount is included in this sum which ought to be borne by the Ministry of National Insurance. When the increased rates of assistance were introduced last July, they covered a large number of widows. Those widows are now able to receive National Assistance benefit, but they actually ought to be receiving the full widow's pension from the Ministry of National Insurance.

The position about them arises in this way. If after 5th July, 1948, three years have elapsed and a man has a contribution of 156 stamps, should his wife become a widow she would be entitled to the full pension of 30s. a week. The position is unfortunately different for people who were in insurance prior to 5th July, 1948. Their insurance can go back to July, 1938, and if in voluntary contributions there has been a lapse for a month or two, the widow, while entitled to a pension, would in fact get a reduced amount of benefit. It seems to me unfair that one woman whose husband has been a contributor for many years, has to accept a reduced pension because of a lapse during that period, whereas the widow of a contributor who only entered the scheme since 5th July, 1948, gets the full amount. The widow with the reduced amount can claim assistance from the National Assistance Board under item F but—

Mr. Turton

Is the hon. Member suggesting that this could be done under the National Insurance Act without amending legislation?

Mr. Steele

It could be done by regulation.

Mr. Turton

The hon. Member was Parliamentary Secretary to this Ministry; is he now suggesting that the Act introduced by his right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) lays down that these conditions can be altered in this way—because that is something entirely new to me?

Mr. J. Griffiths

May I assist the Parliamentary Secretary and my old Parliamentary Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, West (Mr. Steele), and support him in what he is saying? The National Insurance Act gives the Minister of National Insurance wide powers to do various kinds of things by regulation, and this has gone on since 1948.

Mr. Steele

I wish to thank my right hon. Friend for coming to my assistance, as he has so often done in the past. I want to bring this issue to the attention of the Minister, because it is important. Let me repeat the position. If a man has come into insurance since 5th July, 1948, and has 156 contributions, his widow is entitled to the whole pension of 30s. per week, whereas the widow of a man who has been in insurance from 5th July, 1938, and even longer, and has been paying voluntary contributions but has had a slight lapse in making those contributions, will only get a reduced widow's pension. In my opinion she ought to enjoy the same rights as the widow of the other pensioner to whom I have referred.

I draw the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary to this only because it means that the widow with the smaller pension is being paid a contribution out of National Assistance which ought to be paid out of the National Insurance Fund, and, further, that widow has to have two books instead of one. It would be much better if this matter could be looked at in the light of the facts which I have given to the Committee.

Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)

I want to return to the question which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies), as to whether the sums provided are anything like adequate in the situation which faces us today. The short answer, as my hon. Friend said before leaving the question to the tender mercies of the Minister responsible, is that it is inadequate for the purpose because of the Government now in existence.

This sum of £3¼ million was arrived at by Parliament in July, 1951, for the standards of assistance which then prevailed. The rate of regression that is going on in every Department of the Government, particularly those concerned with the poorer people of the community, makes it perfectly clear that the sum here mentioned is totally inadequate. I have no doubt that before we finish with this problem there will be further Supplementary Estimates to meet the poverty that this Government are increasingly creating.

I want to ask a question about these travelling and incidental expenses. The sum mentioned is only £5,000. Recently we have been discussing one item where the travelling and incidental expenses for one person—or was it three?—came almost to that amount. I do not suppose I can insist on that item being considered in this Supplementary Estimate, but I can insist that there ought to be very careful consideration given to the additional expenses that are being placed increasingly upon the poor people. I imagine that this figure of £5,000 will be mainly travelling expenses for officials.

5.30 p.m.

I am thinking about people in my constituency who, as they are evicted from their homes, are increasingly compelled to go for National Assistance, and who end up by taking the only shelter available to them, not in my constituency, but far away over the borders in other constituencies. For example, very often the best that the Middlesex County Council—the responsible authority in this matter—can do for them is to obtain at the expense of the London County Council a little spare accommodation that may, for example, be found in places like Paddington, Marylebone, or other areas in London. The consequence is that the man who has been evicted from his home, takes his family far away from both his place of work and the school to which his children have been accustomed. Thus very considerable additions are made to the travelling expenses of people of that kind.

I do not know whether a Government led by a right hon. Gentleman who goes cadging to private companies for his expenses and a Government that permits that sort of thing, and cheers that sort of thing when it is accounted for in the House will trouble its head very much about the proper payment of expenses. But I am suggesting very seriously to the Minister that when he comes to consider the matter and the amount that is put aside under this Supplementary Estimate for this purpose, there ought to be a new survey of the conditions now being increasingly imposed upon poor people by way of travelling expenses owing to the very inadequate arrangements being made for them.

Mr. J. Griffiths

With the permission of the House, I wish to raise one point, because I think it is something to which we ought to give our attention. I am not raising it as a controversial party matter. I think it very important that there should be ample provision for considering these arrangements. We get Supply days and these Supplementary Estimates, but we are obviously very greatly restricted in the matters we can raise in a debate of this kind. Were it not for this National Assistance scheme at the present moment, all these questions would be discussed by scores of public assistance committees all over the country. Indeed, it is one of the problems to which we have to give attention, and we have far fewer opportunities of doing that than before.

There are two or three questions I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary. In the first place, let us make it quite clear that this Supplementary Estimate for the National Assistance Board covers a period up to 31st March. That being so, no contingent fund is provided for anything that may happen on 4th March when the Chancellor of the Exchequer opens his Budget. We had forecasts in another place yesterday of what may hap- pen on 4th March. Far be it from me to say whether those forecasts are accurate or not. We have had suggestions and forecasts about food subsidies and about all kinds of things that may take place on 4th March when the Budget is presented.

This is the last opportunity we shall have before 31st March of making sums available to the Assistance Board. Therefore, there are to be 27 days between the opening of the Budget and the end of the financial year for which the Ministry now presumably asks for the last Estimate. It is quite clear, therefore, that no provision of any kind is made except the one in this Supplementary Estimate.

As I understand it, this provision is required in the main, if not entirely, to meet the increase in assistance consequent upon the raising of the scale last July. It is quite clear, therefore, that from 4th March to 31st March no provision has been made by the Government for what may happen after 4th March. That means that for about four weeks the poor people of this country will have to stand up to what the Budget deals out without any provision from the Assistance Board.

Can the Parliamentary Secretary give us any information on the number of appeals made to the Assistance Board arising out of the fact that—I have had cases in my own constituency, and I believe many of my hon. Friends have also had them—the net increase, owing to the scales for which this provision is made of income received by those on National Assistance, has been less than the net increase provided for those not in receipt of assistance.

This is rather an important point, and I should like to know on what basis this sum of £3¼ million is raised. I hope the Parliamentay Secretary will be able to reply on that point. I will cite an example. We raised the basic pension from 26s. to 30s. a week. All those retired people, aged people, who prior to the increase were receiving 26s. now receive 30s.; but there are still some people who do not apply for National Assistance because some of the bad odour of the Poor Law still clings to it. To that extent our scheme has not been a success. Indeed, it is a measure of our failure. We intended it to be a complete departure from the Poor Law, but there are still some people whom we have not yet convinced that going to the Assistance Board is different from going to the Poor Law.

I know of cases, and my hon. Friends know of others, where the net increase received by persons on National Assistance was less than 4s. That is the problem. I am sure that was never the intention of either the Government or of this House. It must be a slip-up, and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to explain it. I do not know what explanation he can give, but there is always the possibility of producing Regulations within 24 hours. I remember in 1945 particular Regulations being withdrawn in less than 24 hours. One can put these things through very quickly.

Therefore, I ask the Parliamentary Secretary for a reply. I do not know whether this £3,250,000 is provided on the basis of the way in which these Regulations are now operated. I am sure that when we passed these Regulations unanimously and agreeably, no hon. Member thought that the people receiving assistance would have less of an increase than the people who were not receiving assistance. Could any of us have thought that persons receiving assistance would get less than the 4s. we are giving to others?

I understand that is what has happened. How did it happen? This assessment, this Supplementary Estimate, has been made by the Board. Has it been made on the basis that those on assistance as well as those on benefit are entitled to the 4s. 0d. increase? Or has it been made on some other estimate, and if so, what? That is the first question I wish to ask.

Let me now ask something else. Is any provision made in this Supplementary Estimate for making known to persons their entitlement to assistance? I raise that point because it is very important. I hope I am in order in giving an example and in referring to cases which have come to my notice three and a half years after the National Assistance Act has been in operation.

One of the provisions of that Act, for which my right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) and I were responsible and of which we are very proud, was a provision which I discovered as late as last week is still not known in some places. We provided that where in a household there is a person, male or female, of 16 years of age or over who, because of physical or mental disability, is unable to earn his or her livelihood, that person is entitled to claim assistance in his or her own right irrespective of the income of the family. In other words, we recognised that where there is such a person—and there are tragic cases of parents who have carried the burden of a son or daughter who has not grown up mentally and yet is not bad enough to go into an institution—that person represents a burden which ought to be shared by everyone. We provided for that in the Act, and yet there are people who even now do not know about it.

I think we can claim that there never was a time when contact between Members of the House of Commons and their constituents was closer than it is now. We have what are called "political surgeries" everywhere, and when people come to see us we advise them and guide them. But I believe that the National Assistance Board has a responsibility in this matter. I give the Board a full meed of praise, but as a good, candid friend I must say that this is one of the things at which it has failed. It has failed to realise its duty to inform the public. Therefore, I should like to know whether there is a provision in this Supplementary Estimate to make available to the public knowledge of the assistance which the Board was set up to provide, for which the Act makes provision and which the Regulations implement.

Since I have spoken very candidly and have offered some criticism of the Board, I should like to join at the same time in paying tribute to the staffs both of the Board and of the Ministry of National Insurance. We have had now three-and-a-half years' experience of this service. It was a big venture and a big change, but on the whole I think it has worked well. But certainly at the end of five years, I think there should be a complete review of all these schemes. I suggest to the Parliamentary Secretary and to the Minister of National Insurance that now, after three-and-a-half years' experience of working these schemes and in the present changed circumstances, the time has come when they ought to present to the House a complete and comprehensive report of how the schemes are working so that we can give full attention to them.

I believe these schemes have become a model to the whole world, but we have a duty to see that we are not only proud of the schemes but that we shall continue to be proud of them. I hope that in future we shall have many more opportunities, and perhaps opportunities wider than those now prevailing, of dealing with services that vitally affect millions of our fellow people.

I beg the pardon of the Parliamentary Secretary for not having given notice of some of the questions which I have asked. If he cannot answer them now, I shall not complain at all, but I hope that some of my questions, and doubtless others put by my hon. Friends, can have attention and that in due course he will be able to reply to us in writing, or in some other way.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Turton

I shall do my best to answer the questions put to me by hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite. Those to which I cannot reply today I will deal with by correspondence later. First, I should like to clear a little of the misunderstanding which I think arises in the minds of hon. Members on this question of staffs. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Edward Davies) seemed to think that we were cutting down the staff of the National Assistance Board. That is not what we are doing at present. The number of staff in post on 1st January, 1952, was 9,137.

Mr. Edward Davies

It may be that the hon. Gentleman is not cutting down, but he said earlier that the Board was not recruiting, which is the normal process, and surely to that extent there is a reduction.

Mr. Turton

The hon. Member has confused two Votes. I was dealing earlier with the Vote of the Ministry of National Insurance and I stated what was the position. I am now dealing with the Vote of the National Assistance Board. Unfortunately—as I regard it—the number of those on assistance has grown considerably in recent years. I gave the figure for 31st December last year. One month later, at the end of January, 1952, the number was 1,486,056.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Will the hon. Gentleman please give the previous figure?

Mr. Turton

The figure I gave for the previous year was, I think, 1,349,000. That shows an increase over the year, and an increase over the figure at the end of December—which was 1,461,000—of some 25,000. By reason of the fact that the numbers are growing—which is a matter of great concern to hon. Members in all quarters of the Committee—we have had to increase the staff of the National Assistance Board in the course of the year from a figure of something like an average of 8,913 in the earlier part of the year to a figure of 9,137. Therefore, there is no question of cutting down. The Board requires the staff.

Mr. Percy Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

Would it be true to say that the increase has come about exactly because many people are beginning to get to know about the National Assistance Board and the things which they can claim, and that, furthermore, in the previous two years many were able to manage without assistance but that with the increased cost of living they are now struggling and are going to the Board for help?

Mr. Turton

The hon. Gentleman has given his interpretation. It might be so. I think it is agreed by both sides of the Committee that the very large increase in the cost of living that has gone on for the last two years has made a great many more people go reluctantly to assistance, and it is our duty to provide for that.

I think there is a little confusion as to how we reached this figure of £3¼ million. First let me clear out of the way many of the questions that were asked by saying that I am dealing, in this £3¼ million, with the revised scale of rates which was made by the Assistance Board and passed by this House when the right hon. Lady opposite was Minister of National Insurance. At that time the Government of the day and the Assistance Board anticipated that the additional expenditure for the part of, the year from 3rd September, 1951, to 31st March, 1952, would be of the order of £4 million.

In fact, it has worked out at something in the region of £4½ million, and that is a figure that I am asking for in that £3¼ million. But there was a slight error in the previous assessment of what was going to happen for the first part of last year—and here I should like to correct a figure which I gave in an interjection. The original Estimate was based on a figure of those drawing assistance and it was estimated that they would get an average of 18s. a week. In fact, during the first half of the year, those drawing assistance only received, on an average, 17s. 8¾d. a week. By reason of that fact the gross Supplementary Estimate is reduced from £4½ million to £3¼ million. Those are the facts.

There were a number of detailed questions put to me. I should like to answer the question put by the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), on whether we had taken into account what was going to happen about the Budget. How could we do that? The right hon. Gentleman has himself had a distinguished career as Minister of National Insurance and Colonial Secretary. I cannot believe that when he was holding those offices he would have made provision to introduce Supplementary Estimates to deal with a Budget if it had not been introduced.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Of course not, for the simple reason that in my time the Budget was not introduced on 4th March but after the end of the financial year, and an Estimate would have been made for the new year; but this is a Government of non-planners. Their left hand does not know what their right hand is doing, and their right hand does not know what their left hand is doing. This is a Government which introduced a new date for the financial year—4th March—and therefore I am perfectly right. Unless the Minister has made some provision for any extra, there is nothing for those four weeks.

Mr. Turton

I do not think the right hon. Gentleman will get away with that. If the Budget were after the end of the financial year, on his argument in this debate, he should be devising a Supplementary Estimate to provide the extra expenditure in the Budget, and he did not on those occasions because he did not know what was in the Budget. Certainly the Chairman of the National Assistance Board does not know what is in the Budget, and therefore no provision can be made by way of Supplementary Estimate. We are satisfied, from what we know at the present time, that we are making sufficient provision for what we will require under the existing Regulations.

Mr. Griffiths

I am sorry to interrupt, but this is very important. Are we entitled to understand, therefore, that, whatever happens to this Bill, its provisions will not begin to affect those on assistance until after 31st March of this year?

Mr. Turton

I think the right hon. Gentleman has now changed from discussing the Budget to discussing a Bill which has not yet received its Second Reading. In this Supplementary Estimate we have made provision for what we will require under existing Regulations and under existing legislation, and I believe that to be in accordance with the normal custom of this House.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me how many appeals there had been. The answer is 10,000, out of applicants who number something like 1½ million; so I think he will agree that it is not a very large proportion of appeals. He also asked me how many people there were who were not drawing the full 4s. a week increase. The position is that 103,000 out a total of 1,358,000 have not received the full benefit of the 4s. a week increase. In many cases, those were people who were paid on a board and lodging basis, who have not received an increased charge for board and lodging, and therefore their pocket money has increased by 1s. under the Regulations introduced by the right hon. Lady. Therefore they come in the category of an increase of less than 4s. a week.

Mr. Griffiths

I want to get this clear, because I think it is important for the Committee to realise it. First of all, there are 103,000 recipients—people in receipt of assistance—who did not get the 4s. a week. That is the position. Speaking for myself—and I think I am also speaking for the Committee—I can only say that I am very sorry to hear that. I hope it is not what we intended. There is a large proportion of the 103,000 who will only have received a net increase of 1s. I gather that is right. I do not say the whole 103,000 but a large proportion of them will have received only 1s. There it is. The hon. Gentleman did indicate to us that the Assistance Board had over- estimated the amount that would be required. Do I gather that is right?

Mr. Turton


Mr. Griffiths

Under-estimated. Was the estimate made on the basis that there would be 103,000 people who would not get that 4s. extra? Will the Parliamentary Secretary ask the Board, because this is rather important? If we decide that owing to the cost of living and circumstances generally, people who are in receipt of benefit are to get 4s. a week we want them to get it. All this is a matter of drawing up Regulations, which begin with the Board and the draftsmen and so on.

I am sure it is the desire of all of us not to make this a party issue. From my knowledge, some of the people who have only had the 1s. increase were in greater need than those who got the 4s. This is something that ought to be looked at. It is disturbing to know that there are 103,000 old age pensioners who have not had that 4s. increase.

6.0 p.m.

Mr. Turton

May I try to clear this up? I think there is a little misunderstanding. Of course, there is no party issue in this. We all want to see that each applicant is treated fairly and justly.

A great proportion of the applicants will be receiving assistance and a rent allowance. Those applicants will be receiving the increase that the right hon. Gentleman anticipated. There will be other applicants who are not paid in that way but who are paid a sum for board and lodging and an additional sum in respect of their expenditure. In those cases the increase of 1s. which I have mentioned is an increase for personal expenditure. In cases where the lodger has not had to pay an increase for board and lodging, he has not had an increased grant for that purpose from the Assistance Board, but, of course, where he has had an increased amount to pay for board and lodging, then he has received that increase from the Assistance Board.

Mr. Griffiths

I will be perfectly frank here; I admit that it is some time since I was giving detailed consideration to this matter. Where does the 1s. come from? This House did not vote an increase of 1s. for anybody. We decided that there should be an increase of 4s. for pensioners. The position now, as I understand it, is that if persons who pay board and lodging have had the cost of that board and lodging increased, then they receive the increased grant. Is there any limit to that? Assume that a man is receiving 26s.—the standard retirement benefit. Do I understand that in addition to the 26s. he is paid a supplementary amount to meet the difference between that and the cost of his board and lodging, plus 1s. and, if so, where does the 1s. come from?

Mr. Turton

I had hoped that I was explaining the position satisfactorily, and I do not want more confusion to be created by the right hon. Gentleman's intervention. The position is that before the 1948 Act, these persons on board and lodging received the board and lodging amount plus 5s. for personal expenditure.

Mr. Shurmer

There were quite a number of these cases in Birmingham. In some cases the people on the Assistance Board's list were receiving a higher amount than the old age pensioner was receiving. To bring them into line, when the increase was granted we could give the man receiving the Assistance Board's scales only 1s. If we gave him 4s. he would be far above the 30s. which the old age pensioner was receiving.

Mr. Turton

What I was explaining was that before the 1948 Act they received a personal allowance of 5s., plus board and lodging. That scale was increased until they received a personal allowance of 7s. 6d., plus board and lodging. The Regulations introduced by the right hon. Lady, the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill), who is no longer in her place, increased that amount last year to 8s. 6d. Let there be no misunderstanding about this. I have here the Explanatory Memorandum produced by the previous Government. There is no party question about this, and I will read out paragraph 7, which deals with the point: Assistance sometimes has to be fixed by reference to considerations which make the scale rates inapplicable: for example allowances to meet an inclusive charge for board and lodging and allowances fixed by reference to an amount received from a Local Authority before 5th July, 1948, which, in a small proportion of cases, was higher than the amount payable under the current Regulations. In such cases the applicant's income may not be increased, or may be increased by less than the normal amount. What I am telling the House, in answer to the right hon. Gentleman's question—and he asked me the figure—is that the total number of these cases is 103,000. He must not be surprised, and his colleagues must not be surprised, to find that there was this number, because it was foreseen in the Regulations.

Mr. Chetwynd

Is it not the landlady who is suffering in these cases, because a large number have not increased their charges to the lodger by the 4s. Where she does increase the charge, by no matter what amount, he is recouped by the Assistance Board. Has anything been done to let the Assistance people know that it is possible to do so?

Mr. Turton

Where the board and lodging charge has been increased reasonably, then the Assistance Board have a discretion to look into the matter. It is within their discretion. I will not say anything from this Box to suggest that everybody should charge more for board and lodging, and I am sure that on more mature reflection the hon. Member will not wish me to do so.

There are only two other points I want to mention. The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) asked me about the grants for clothing. They do not come under this sub-head and I should be out of order in dealing with them. What we are dealing with here is the increase in the expenditure occasioned by the new Regulations which came into operation on 3rd September of last year.

I want to answer the right hon. Gentleman's query about publicity. I attach great importance to this. As he knows, the National Assistance Board are a growing service. They have some 334 offices throughout the country, and we are using over 1,010 caller stations. The Ministry of National Insurance and the Ministry of Labour and National Service are co-operating in bringing to the attention of those who visit those offices—the vast proportion of the population—the provisions under the National Assistance Act and under these Regulations. We attach great importance to co-operation from Members of all parties in letting their constituents know what are their rights under these Acts. I hope this is a sufficient explanation of the points raised, and if there are any which I have not answered, I will deal with them in correspondence.

Question put, and agreed to.

Resolved, That a Supplementary sum, not exceeding £2,980,000, be granted to Her Majesty, to defray the charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1952, for the salaries and expenses of the Department of the National Assistance Board and of certain Appeal Tribunals; non-contributory old age pensions, including pensions to blind persons; assistance grants, etc.; expenses of re-establishment centres, reception centres, etc.; and the maintenance of certain classes of Poles in Great Britain.