HC Deb 13 December 1954 vol 535 cc1477-84

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

Mr. T. Fraser

I wonder whether the Minister will say a word about this Clause. I take no exception to subsection (1), but I wonder why the Minister, even though he may think it difficult to do something for the non-contributory pensioners, should set out in clear terms in subsection (2) his determination to do nothing for them. For many years we have conceded to the non-contributory pensioners, those over 70 year of age, a maximum pension, on a very strict test of need, of a sum not exceeding the retirement pension paid to the contributory pensioners at 65 years of age. The limit was raised to 26s. in 1946. It was not interfered with in 1951 or 1952.

I wonder why nothing is being done for these people at this time. They are a diminishing number; they will disappear altogether by 1958, I believe—10 years after the introduction of the 1948 Scheme under the 1946 Act, which operated from 5th July, 1948. They are very old people. They cannot qualify until they are 70 and cannot get a pension at all except through a very strict test of their need. The maximum they can get at the present time is 26s. Why does not the Minister widen the Bill a little by providing for a maximum pension of 40s. for those old people, those non-contributory pensioners? Why does he not take out subsection (2)? He might also ease the test of need a little. The amount of money involved cannot be great.

Mr. H. Hynd

I wish to reinforce the plea of my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) by putting an additional reason why the Minister should listen to it. Many of the people who were non-contributors, and, therefore, come under this heading, were in that class through no fault of their own.

I have in mind retired railway officials, railway superannuitants. They were not in the Scheme because they were members of a superannuation fund. They were, therefore, exempted originally from the Acts which governed National Insurance. Because they were non-contributors they are in the same position, through no fault of their own, as the class mentioned by my hon. Friend. Apparently they cannot be helped through any other statutory source. At least, no progress has been made despite the attempts in Parliament to help them. I therefore think the Minister should have a further look at their case.

The Deputy-Chairman

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but it seems to me that he is now advocating an Amendment to the Clause, as, it seemed, the hon. Member who spoke before him did, too. It is in order to draw attention to an omission from the Clause, but it is not permissible to discuss an Amendment now.

Mr. Hynd

I understood that my hon. Friend was asking the Minister to explain subsection (2).

Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)

I regret that once more those over 70, the non-contributory pensioners, have been overlooked. It is certainly a very serious omission from the Bill. It is a very serious thing that the non-contributory pensioners are not included among those who are to receive the increased benefit. I would remind the Minister that this is the third time that they have been left out. They were left out in 1951 and 1952, and now, again, in 1954. I recall that in Committee on the Bill of 1952 many of us pleaded for these non-contributory pensioners.

It will be within the knowledge of the hon. Members that these people form the oldest class of old-age pensioners. The class came into operation in 1909 and until 1946 the maximum rate of benefit was 10s. per week. In that year my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) increased the maximum from 10s. to 26s. The omission is all the more serious because, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. T. Fraser) said, these non-contributory pensioners are a diminishing number. They are diminishing at the rate of 20,000 to 25,000 a year. According to the latest Report of the National Assistance Board, the number in this class is about 344,000. That is a reduction since 1948 of about 120,000.

Another point is that 75 per cent. of these 344,000 non-contributory pensioners are in receipt of the maximum amount of 26s. On that basis, the majority of them have very slender resources. More than half of the 344,000 are not receiving supplementation from the National Assistance Board. The conclusion which we can draw from that is that they are living on their pension and any slender resources which they may have.

The Deputy-Chairman

Do I understand that the hon. Gentleman's argument is directed really to the Amendment in Clause 4, page 3, line 23, to leave out subsection (2)? If that is the case, those pensioners come under Section 74 (6) of the National Insurance Act, 1946. Being under that subsection, they are outside the scope of the Money Resolution and it would not be in order to discuss the point.

Mr. Taylor

With respect, I am trying to point out that it is a serious omission that this class of pensioner is being excluded from any increase in benefit. This class of people, like everybody else, has been hit by the rising cost of living and changing money values and I am asking the Minister whether he intends to come to their aid. There is not one of these non-contributory pensioners who is under 70 years of age. Their ages range from that age to 80 and 85 and perhaps 90 years in some cases. We feel that they have been excluded long enough.

Mr. Houghton

On a point of order. In my name and in the names of some of my hon. Friends there is on the Notice Paper an Amendment to Clause 4, page 3, line 23, to leave out subsection (2). We have been advised that that Amendment is out of order because it is outside the Money Resolution. In 1952, when a similar Clause appeared in a similar Bill some of my hon. Friends and myself placed on the Notice Paper an Amendment to leave out the first two words of the subsection, those words being "Nothing in …". We were then told that that was out of order because it was outside the Money Resolution. May I ask you, Sir Rhys, how the Committee can take this sort of provision out of the Bill? It may be outside the Money Resolution, but surely we can take it out of the Bill.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member can regret that provision for these people is not included, but the matter cannot be raised because the Amendment comes under Section 74 (6) of the Act. That Section and the subsection are not covered by the Money Resolution and, therefore, a discussion of them would not be in order. The point can certainly be made on the Question, That the Clause stand part of the Bill. Hon. Members can regret omission or inclusion, but cannot argue the point itself.

Mr. Houghton

Further to that point of order. I understand that we cannot put anything into the Bill which is outside the scope of the Money Resolution. But what I cannot understand is why we cannot take this out of the Bill.

The Deputy-Chairman

Because taking it out in this case would add to the financial responsibility.

Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)

I understand that we are now discussing the Question, That the Clause stand part of the Bill. The rubric of the Clause is: Supplementary provisions as to certain classes of persons. If I can read the minds of my hon. Friends aright, we are trying to ask the Minister whether he is prepared to consider bringing into the Bill those who have been left outside these provisions for a large number of years. It is the old story. As the House of Commons has journeyed along the road of legislative enactment it has always left somebody out. It is a somebody who has been left out that we want to bring in. We are asking the Minister whether he is prepared to give consideration to the old non-contributory pensioners.

The Deputy-Chairman

The hon. Member is now raising the point which I have already ruled to be out of order.

Mr. Brown

I ask the Minister, if he is in a generous mood—and he has not been in such a mood so far—to give an assurance that he will give consideration between now and the Report stage to bringing these unfortunate people within these provisions.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Houghton

Without suggesting that this provision should be taken out of the Clause, may I express regret that it is staying in? I understand that to keep within the rules of order I must not suggest that the Clause should be amended, and I am not suggesting that. I am merely saying that it is a pity that the Clause is as it stands and that we would be much happier if it stood differently. It is a matter of great regret that we have to see the Clause stand part of the Bill in this form. Were it not for the other merits of the Clause we on this side of the Committee would probably feel that we should oppose it, but we cannot do that. We cannot ask that it should be amended, but we can go on expressing regret that the Clause is as it stands.

The Minister must fed a little conscience stricken, if that is not too much to expect, that the Clause does not make different and more favourable provision for a body of people who are deserving well of the State, and many of whom have been compulsorily shut out of the contributory scheme in past years. Many of them were employers and paid many employers' contributions for their workpeople but now, in the end, find themselves in hard times. I am very sorry that we have to pass the Clause as it is, but if I say a single word more I shall probably be out of order.

Dr. King

I rise simply to call the attention of the Committee to Clause 4 (2) which states: Nothing in the provisions of this Act relating to retirement pensions shall be taken as affecting the provisions of section seventy-four of the National Insurance Act, 1946, relating to non-contributory pensions. The provisions of the Bill do affect the provisions which have already been made for non-contributory old-age pensioners by the fact that benefits given to one section of old-age pensioners are not given to non-contributory pensioners. The sense of justice of non-contributory pensioners is thereby outraged, and justice does matter in this case. I would merely call the attention of the House and the Minister to the fact that by not making provisions for non-contributory pensioners subsection (2) has really no meaning.

Mr. Mitchison

I wish to ask one short question, which I hope the Minister will answer. We understood from you, Sir Rhys, that we could not move to delete subsection (2) because the Money Resolution did not cover that particular point. What puzzles me is, what difference would it make if we did remove it? Perhaps the Minister would tell us.

Mr. Peake

I gather from your numerous interventions, Sir Rhys, that it is not very easy for anyone to keep in order in speaking to the Question, That the Clause stand part of the Bill, but I should like to tell the Committee what the purpose of the Clause is. Subsection (1) is to adapt the transitional provisions of the National Insurance Act, 1946, to the new benefits which are provided by the Bill and to enable me to make the necessary regulations. Subsection (2) prevents the confusion into which we should get unless some reference was made to Section 74 of the principal Act.

As has been pointed out, that dealt with non-contributory pensions, and subsection (6) provided that: There shall be defrayed out of moneys provided by Parliament … any such increase in the sums authorised to be so defrayed as may he occasioned by regulations under this section… As the Financial Resolution under which we are operating today makes no provision for any increase in the rates of non-contributory old-age pensions, it would, therefore, be out of order for us to delete this subsection from the Bill. thereby increasing the charge to be thrown upon the Exchequer.

On the general merits, I dare hardly venture one word except to say that we are following a precedent set by the right hon. Lady in 1951 and by ourselves in 1952. I would add that those forms of pension are subject to a means test, and as half or more than half of the recipients are now receiving supplementation from the National Assistance Board, we should get into a state of great confusion indeed if we tampered with the rates of pension.

Mr. Mitchison

Could the Minister tell us what the confusion would be if this subsection were left out? It seems to me to be wholly unnecessary.

Mr. B. Taylor

The Minister has made reference to precedents in 1951 and 1952. If he is so much in love with precedents, may I ask him to follow that established in 1946 when non-contributory pensions were raised from 10s. to 26s., or by 2½ times the amount. Let us have that precedent instead of those in 1951 and 1952.

Mr. H. Hynd

I would not criticise your Ruling, Sir Rhys, and I have no doubt that the Minister is technically correct in what he says about the scope of the Money Resolution, but I would remind him that he was asked the other day, by one of my right hon. Friends, what was the scope of the Money Resolution and whether it was wide enough to permit Amendments to provide for increases of benefit, alteration of contributions, and so on. His reply gave the impression that the Money Resolution was wide enough to cover the discussion of any Amendments that we were likely to put down.

The right hon. Gentleman must have foreseen that we on this side of the Committee would have some regard for the people who are the worst-off section of the community and would table an Amendment to cover them. While I would not accuse the right hon. Gentleman of misleading the House, I think it is unfortunate that he did not indicate that the scope of the Money Resolution would not be sufficient to cover this particular type of Amendment.

Mr. Peake

If I may, I should like to reply to the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd). It was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay), who asked me for an assurance that three particular matters would be in order for discussion in Committee. This is what he said.

First, we shall seek to move Amendments to reduce the contributions of the contributors into the Fund.… Secondly, in certain cases we shall seek to move Amendments to increase some of the benefits.… Thirdly, we may wish to move that the Exchequer supplement ought to be increased."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th December, 1954; Vol. 535, c. 1242.] I gave the right hon. Gentleman the assurance that the Money Resolution had been so drawn that the three points mentioned would be debatable. As far as we know, all three matters, to which he specifically referred, are in order on the Committee stage. I made no reference to the non-contributory old-age pensioners, because I was fully aware of the point that reference to them would be out of order, as they had not been selected for discussion in the Bill of 1952.

Miss Ward

I think I shall be in order in saying what I propose to say. I do not think it is at all a good idea to say that the case was rejected because it was a precedent set by a Bill introduced by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite, because I do not think that they have ever done anything satisfactory for the non-contributory pensioners. As to the Ruling from the Chair that it was possible to say, on this Clause, how much one regretted that they were not covered by the Money Resolution. I want to say to the Minister that he must be aware that at our Margate Conference he said he could do almost anything without a committee and, therefore, he could help.

This very deserving section of the community always seem to get left out because they have not got any powerful voices to talk for them. I am extremely disappointed. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] It is no good hon. Gentlemen opposite saying, "Hear, hear." They have never done a thing for the non-contributory pensioners. I hope that in due course my party will do something for them, because they have to pay indirectly for all sorts of benefits for other people. I think it ill becomes the Conservative Party not to say something in support of this very deserving section of the community. I am bitterly disappointed.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.