§ 6.38 p.m.
§ The Minister of Labour and National Service (Sir Walter Monckton)
I am glad to be able to tell the House that an agreement has now been reached as a basis for the subsequent settlement of matters in dispute on the railways and that the strike is being called off forthwith. Copies of the agreement will be available to members at the earliest possible moment in the Vote Office.
It is not necessary for me to enter into the details except to say that the agreement does require me to appoint a referee for a limited purpose and that I have appointed Lord Justice Morris, who has made himself available immediately.
I am sure that the House will share my feeling of satisfaction and relief that this serious and costly strike has now been ended.
§ Mr. C. R. Attlee (Walthamstow, West)
I am sure that we have heard the statement made by the Minister of Labour with the very greatest satisfaction and that we would all like to pay a tribute to his efforts, to the efforts of the Trades Union Congress, and to all who have been trying to get this dispute settled.
We were to have a debate on this whole matter. I do not know when it would be considered desirable to have a debate, but I imagine that the Minister has had a very hard time and would wish for an interval before we discuss the stoppage. Perhaps the question of a debate might be discussed through the usual channels and a day taken for a debate next week.
§ The Prime Minister (Sir Anthony Eden) indicated assent.484
§ Mr. Frederick Lee (Newton)
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that those of us who know something of the background of Lord Justice Morris congratulate the Minister on getting him to undertake this onerous task? We are quite certain that he will do it in an exemplary manner.
§ Mr. Clement Davies (Montgomery)
May I be allowed also to add my congratulations to the right hon. and learned Gentleman upon his tact, wisdom and patience? What he has just told us has brought to our minds only one thought:For this relief much thanks.We congratulate and thank the Minister.
§ Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness)
We all rejoice that this unfortunate strike has been brought to an end and I should like to pay tribute to the members of the T.U.C., who have certainly worked assiduously for the desired result. I, too, would like to pay a tribute to the Minister. He certainly has done great work, and on behalf of my fraternity I should like to express our very best thanks. The conduct of the footplatemen in this struggle has been exemplary, and I should like to say to all concerned that we want the result of what has been done to lead to an expeditious settlement.
§ 6.42 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
This is indeed calm after the storm. The House now has the opportunity to return to a calmer atmosphere. To my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Labour, who has, I know, had such a very difficult task in recent days, the House is very grateful.
I am glad to see that some of the "aged" have now remained in the House notwithstanding the quips of the hon. Member for Tottenham (Sir F. Messer), who last spoke before this very happy settlement was announced. It is a great pleasure to follow an announcement of this kind, because, strangely enough, the subject that I want to develop this evening follows the run of the earlier debate.
I have been here since the start of the debate this afternoon and, with other hon. Members, have heard some interesting maiden speeches. In the course of those speeches the theme which has been running through the debate has been the 485 liberties of our people. It has been a curious feature of the afternoon's debate that while there have been some practical suggestions for improving the machinery of the social services, in the main the speakers have stressed certain personal ideas of their own.
The hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon), for example, coined a new and horrible word. He talked about "depersonalization." It was something which, I thought, must have come through the colleagues of the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), because only the Inland Revenue could think of an expression of that kind.
§ Mr. Rees-Davies
I am sure they did.
Nevertheless, when the hon. Member for Bootle said that he feared there was not a true recognition of the dominant force of politics today, he was expressing the Liberal upsurge of feeling which I found very much in evidence during the Election and one which some Liberal Members may have noticed. It was certainly noticed by the candidate who fought Hereford very effectively against my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty and by many others. What I want to say, therefore, is that the most powerful of the social services is the liberty of the individual himself to be able, within the realm of the laws, to find the proper expression of his views and the protection of his rights.
The Gracious Speech mentions the extension as a practical measure of legal aid to the county courts, which I welcome. But it also mentions the necessity for an inquiry into the tribunals, administrative or otherwise, which run the administrative system of this country. My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. J. Eden) developed some of the dangers which we find today in the tribunals and he referred in particular to the injustices which one finds with the rent tribunals, themselves quite efficiently set up in their general structure, but tribunals in which there is no right of appeal and no power to control the persons who appear before them.
I should like to give a few illustrations from my own experience of the sort of human injustices which we encounter for 486 people who come, at any sphere, into conflict with the administrative system. We know that great concentrations of power as found in our present administrative system inevitably lead sometimes to tyranny. We know that human beings are fallible and that, therefore, the institutions which they set up are fallible. We believe, therefore, that a review of this system is now required. Those of us who have any experience of the system know that there are certain rules of natural justice which must prevail if that system is to be made effective.
I say that there is no reason why our administrative system should not be as fair and just as the judicial system and that a review must take place to ensure that, consistent with upholding the needs of efficiency and of consistency, none the less we can found a system which will ensure that it is just as fair and just in decision as between the State and the citizen as when somebody goes to a court of law.
Let me give a few shocking examples. First, there is the case which was dealt with before the St. Pancras Rent Tribunal some years ago, when an Irishman who was a tenant asked for the reduction of his rent. In the course of the proceedings, he got into a violent altercation with the chairman and he told him that the rent was grossly excessive. He then proceeded to say that he thought that the rent b— well ought to be reduced. The chairman then attacked the man, and the result was that the litigant went out of the court to fetch a constable to arrest the chairman for slander. That was an occasion when I was present, and is one example. The moral is that there is no power to arrest for contempt and no control by the chairman over the litigants who attend.
The chairman had asked for certain papers and the tenant had refused to produce them, whereupon he went outside to get the policeman and the case was dismissed. When he came back and discovered that the case was dismissed, he found that he had no right of appeal at all because, having shown such shocking bad manners, the chairman had dismissed the case.
Let us take another example, that of the taxi drivers, for instance, when they "get across" the police. When the taxi driver, as in Parker's case, "gets across" the police, he is told that he is not a fit 487 person to drive. His licence is revoked. He is not entitled to know the reason for the revocation. He is not entitled to know why he is considered a man of bad character. The tittle-tattle which the police may have obtained somewhere may be quite wrong. Nevertheless, the taxi driver has no right of appeal and is not entitled to know the reasons why his livelihood is taken away from him.
Let me take another matter of which I have wide knowledge: town planning. The hon. Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler), in her maiden speech, mentioned compulsory purchase orders. Do the public know, for example, that they can never know the facts or the reasons upon which a decision is founded? Do they know that the inspectors' reports are always secret? Do they know that at the end of a hearing other Ministries, such as the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, when they are affected, make representations to that Ministry behind the backs of the objectors?
All this is regarded as quite proper in the Civil Service. And it is proper, in the sense that it is not the fault of the Civil Service. The newspapers would have us think this is all the civil servants' fault. It is not. It is our fault. This is where the fault lies—make no mistake about it—on the Floor of this House, because in the past fifteen years nobody among Ministers or the House itself has got down to the hard thinking which is necessary to meet the problems of this new age.
During the past two years, however, some hon. Friends of mine and I have deliberated together and have produced a little book. I am sorry, in a sense, that it should have been published by the Conservative Central Office. I should have liked it to have been published by an organisation less party political, but none the less I commend this little book to my hon. and right hon. Friends, and also to hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and I hope that they will read this document, "The Rule of Law." We who considered this matter for a very long time are all of us actively concerned not only as politicians but as lawyers, some of us lawyers whose practice enables us to see this problem at first hand. We have put before the House a 488 blueprint of the way in which, I believe, we can master this important problem and ensure a system of administrative law that can stand fairly shoulder to shoulder with the legal system.
What are the obligations which are required to ensure that natural justice prevails in an administrative decision—any decision, a housing decision, a pension decision, any administrative decision, even if it be a quasi-judicial decision? First, there must be the obligation to hear both sides of the case; not one side, but both. Secondly, there must be the obligation to avoid any bias on either side. Thirdly, there must be the obligation to take reasonable steps to ascertain the true facts accurately and to exclude extraneous material, material which is not part of the scope of the inquiry and which may come in before or afterwards. The fourth and most important obligation of all is to state clear and cogent reasons for the decision when they are asked for.
What machinery is needed to preserve and uphold these four basic principles of natural justice? The first piece of machinery is a suitable tribunal to review disputes. Let me pause for a moment on that. We are far behind America; we are far behind France. In America, there is the Administrative Code of Procedure Act, 1946, which gives every citizen in the land the opportunity of a fair hearing and to be given the reasons for a decision when he comes into conflict with the Executive. In France, there is the Conseil d'Etat, a most efficient although an administrative court.
After the most careful review of these systems in France and in America we as a body of lawyers and Members of this House came to the conclusion that our essentially British concept was not susceptible to imitating that of America or France. We must have something to suit us. There are many arguments to and fro, but for the sake of brevity I shall pass them over now.
I recommend to the House this: that we should have an administrative division of the High Court of Justice, with a separate court presided over by a High Court judge to sit with assessors who will be administrators of life-long experience. Thus, we should have a marriage between the civil servants, who will trust the administrators drawn from their own ranks, and the benefit of the wisdom of 489 a specially chosen High Court judge of experience. That court will have the power to review all disputes, to know whether a hearing was free and fair, whether both sides of the case were properly heard without bias, to check the accuracy of the facts—I stress the word "facts"—and their relevancy, and to investigate the reasons by which the authorities arrived at their decision.
Although it will have the power to review the facts, and although it will have the obligation to review the reasons for the decision, it will set up its own proper machinery for such review and will avoid interference with questions of policy and of discretion. This may be considered an important matter, because it is for this House to ensure that there is adequate and proper control over Ministers. Ministerial control would not be violated by the administrative division of the High Court. The facts and the reasons would be reviewed but the Ministerial control would remain, and questions of policy, of course, would remain for Ministers alone.
Further, what is vital is to establish, by machinery, the right of the citizen to know, if he desires, by a written statement, the facts and reasons upon which the administrative decision is based so that such decision may be reviewed if it is considered to be wrong. The third piece of machinery is to ensure review of the staffing and the procedure of existing administrative tribunals. With regard to the staffing, I hold the view that the staffing of these administrative tribunals should come under the direct purview of the Lord Chancellor's department, a department renowned throughout the world for its integrity, its impartiality and its ability.
There will be strong feeling in the Civil Service against this recommendation, and if there is such strong feeling I shall say, "All right, let us give way to it," but let us make sure that the inspectorate in each case, of each Ministry, is not directly under the control of the Minister but is hived off into a separate department and certainly in its own separate buildings, where it can be entirely separate.
Moreover, let us give the inspectorate the right to a higher status than it has at the present time. Let us do that if we place greater responsibility upon it. The inspectors are, in the main, a fine body 490 of men, but at present few of us have the opportunity to judge for ourselves how fine, because the facts, the decisions, the reasons for their decisions are never given to the public, nor even to the objectors.
I turn from the staff to the procedure. The procedure in the tribunals under review must first give a right for oral hearing of both sides in the case. There must be full power of interrogation and the right to examine, cross-examine and re-examine witnesses, the power to call for documents or witnesses necessary to arrive at a decision and to ensure that that evidence is heard before the tribunal, and not before or after its sitting. There must be full right of representation. Some times, people can represent themselves in these cases fairly well. At other times they cannot. The representation may be by a surveyor or a lawyer, though not necessarily by a lawyer; but there must be the right of representation by a properly qualified person, if it is so desired.
Perhaps more important than all, there must be full publicity with reporting. That does not mean only reporting by the Press at the time of the case, but means the building up of a code of administrative decisions, upon which will rest the authority of administrators in the future, a code analogous to the code of law that we have in the decisions of the courts of law. I believe that if we can proceed along the lines which I have suggested with a sense of urgency, we may make a great contribution in these next few years for the benefit of a great social service, a social service which is one of the defences of the person's individual rights. I hope that in the coming year all of us in the House will try to urge the Government to get on as fast as possible with this job.
Sir Frank Soskice, the former right hon. and learned Member for Neepsend, who is at present in Athens or on his way there, was just one of those on the opposite side of the House who had a very keen appreciation and understanding of some of the problems which I have stated tonight. We on this side of the House have an abundance of experience in this sphere. The Government need no great inquiry. They can draw upon the experience of the House in this matter and I hope that they will do so. If they draw 491 upon our experience I hope that we shall not be found to be wanting.
I believe that if these principles of natural justice are enshrined in our future, and the system of administration is reviewed, a sound system of administration will arise which can stand shoulder to shoulder with accepted standards of British justice and that then the present deadlock between law and arbitrary power will perish and there will arise, instead a partnership in happy wedlock.
§ 7.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
I am sorry that the House was not full during the speech of the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies). I may not have agreed with certain small sections of it but its spirit demonstrated the work of the House of Commons at its best in preserving the rights of the individual.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for introducing that high tone into the debate. I say that as one who is probably diametrically opposed to him politically. But here we both stand for the application of the basic principles of natural justice to the individual. This is one of the things which has worried those of us on both sides of the House who have been trying to do our job to the best of our ability. The ordinary man in the street who has struggled in war to preserve liberty is never quite sure about the powers of the large numbers of tribunals which exist today.
We know that the most important thing in the world to one of our constituents at any particular moment is the problem which he brings to us. It may appear superficial and trivial to his Member but to the individual it is of paramount importance, and I agree with the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet that we must find a new approach to this complex, fast-moving age in which we live. It must be an approach which will guarantee the basic principles of natural justice for the most humble individual in the land.
Therefore, I ask the Government to consider this problem during the coming months. It may be that at some future date I shall be in a different mood from the one which possesses me at the moment. I shall do ray utmost to see that I harass the Government and have 492 my guns firing from every angle, but if the Government want to do a piece of constructive work in this respect I am sure that the House will agree with me that we should be grateful for the suggestions which the hon. Member for the Isle of Thanet has put forward.
I am going to be brief and set an example to some who have spoken in today's debate. I very much regretted the manner in which the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) jumped up this afternoon to try to imply that some of us on this side of the House deprecated the fact that the Gracious Speech stated that there was to be legislation… to safeguard the health and provide for the safety and welfare of those employed in agriculture and forestry.We are as delighted about that as anybody on the other side of the House. All that we say is that we have had categorical promises from the Government.
On Tuesday, 26th April, in Standing Committee B, I withdrew my Non-Industrial Employment Bill when the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department used these words:If it should be decided to deal with the matter by way of three Bills, complicated questions of timing would necessarily arise, which I could not possibly pretend to answer now. Upon the main question whether the Government are willing to give a pledge that it is their intention to introduce a Bill to deal with the matters mentioned in the Gowers Report as soon as possible, I can certainly say that that is the intention of the Government, and I am most willing to give that pledge."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee B, Tuesday. 26th April, 1955; c. 32–33.]That is not a light matter. It deals not only with three categories of employment, as the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance said today, but with the whole gamut of non-industrial employment, from grave-diggers to dental mechanics. If some attention is not paid to these categories in the next two or three years, hon. and right hon. Members opposite, instead of siting in comfort as Lord Woolton recently assured them they would be, will be hurled from the benches opposite by the party on this side of the House.
I believe that some promise should be made, not only to this side of the House, but to the British people, that after the ten years of work and discussion which has already taken place, this legislation will be introduced, because the health 493 and safety and welfare of the individual are of paramount importance. It is unnecessary for me to make party political points or to deliver a long speech on the subject. We on this side of the House appeal to the Government to keep the pledge which was made in the last Parliament and to try to implement as soon as possible that magnificent job of work which is known as the Gowers Report.
§ 7.10 p.m.
§ Mr. J. K. Vaughan-Morgan (Reigate)
I hope that the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) will forgive me if I follow him only in brevity. But if he listened to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, he will have gathered that by next Session the Gowers Report will be fully implemented.
I should like to add my appeal to those which have come from the benches opposite on the subject of the widows' and dependants' benefits. That, quite rightly, is being considered by the National Insurance Advisory Committee, but it should be urged to hasten its work. It is high time that this thorny and difficult problem should be dealt with.
While on the general subject of National Insurance, I should like to mention one point which has not been raised so far—the earnings limit. All of us have encountered this problem, particularly recently at Election meetings. Of course, the earnings limit must be retained in some form. The Party opposite, when they switched from old age to retirement as the basis of pension, were entirely right. All the arguments put forward by Lord Beveridge are still valid.
But the present limit seems to me to be out of accord with present needs. The right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) adjusted it in 1951, and she also made a particularly sensible provision for widowed mothers on that occasion when she raised the limit for them to £3. I think the general £2 limit should now be raised to accord with the increased pension and the general level of earnings and incomes. We must still retain the principle of the earnings' limit, but adjust it to meet changed circumstances.
§ Mr. Houghton
Has the hon. Gentleman noted the persistent opposition of the 494 Trades Union Congress to lifting the present earnings limit, or the views expressed by the Phillips Committee on this very difficult subject? How can he remove the fears of the trade union movement that to lift the earnings rule might be a temptation, not now but in the future, to employers to use people on pension as a form of cheap labour?
§ Mr. Vaughan-Morgan
I think the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), who is one of my most distinguished constituents, will note that I stated that the principle of the earnings limit must be preserved; and that all the arguments that Lord Beveridge adduced were quite right. As the Trades Union Congress was persuaded to change its mind in 1951, perhaps my right hon. Friend will be as successful as the right hon. Lady was.
Hand in hand with this adjustment there should be an increase in the increments for staying on at work. Before the hon. Member interrupts me again, I will add that I am perfectly well aware that the Committee which investigated this matter said that the pension increments were not the prime reason for staying on at work. The reasons why people stay at work are many and varied, but I am sure that the increments are an important factor and should be increased, just as the pension has been increased.
I turn now to the question of health, and I note, as was stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston (Miss Pitt), that throughout the heavy programme of legislation for the social services envisaged in the Gracious Speech, the accent seems to be on the prevention of ill health rather than on the cure. I endorse all that has been said by other hon. Members about the need for increasing the domiciliary services as the first line of defence in matters of health. We need more home helps, more home nursing, more half-way houses and, particularly better chiropody services for old people, a point which has been over-looked.
All these services should be expanded. We know why they are not. Most local councils, not unnaturally, are reluctant to expand services for which they get only a 50 per cent. grant. So we conic to another important point in the Gracious Speech—the forecast of the reform of local government. I hope that 495 when that is done some means will be found to bring about a closer association between local authorities and the health services, between the hospital boards and management committees and the higher tier authorities, and the lower tier authorities and the personal and domiciliary health services.
This new accent on the prevention of disease rather than cure brings me to another matter, and that is the assignment to Ministers of their duties in connection with health. When the Ministry of Health was founded in 1919 it was given the positive duty of "promoting the health of the people." Since then its powers have been whittled away so that now it is responsible only for the National Health Service, that is, for curing ill health rather than preventing it.
Many of its duties have been reshuffled on to the Ministry of Local Government and Housing, and indeed in that respect it is difficult to draw a dividing line between the duties of the two Ministries. But there are other changes which I think might be contemplated. It is true that the school meal service was handed back by the Ministry of Education to the Ministry of Health. The other day an appeal was made to the children and to their parents by the two Ministers to brush their teeth after consuming lollipops rather than before. I think that was the gist of the message. Frankly, it should not have needed the machinery of the two Ministries to produce such an appeal. I think that had the Ministry of Health been responsible for the school medical services in the years after 1948 the dental service might have received rather better treatment than, in fact, it did.
Then again there is the question of food hygiene. We shall soon be considering the Regulations under the Act passed in the last Parliament. That Act was brought forward by the Ministry of Food, and the duties connected with food hygiene have now passed to the Ministry of Agriculture. Food hygiene seems to be more related to the work of the Ministry of Health than to the Ministry of Agriculture, and the transfer is long overdue.
I turn to another example, the industrial health services. We all welcome the appointment by the Minister of Labour of an advisory committee on this 496 matter, which I hope will in due course produce an outline of an industrial health service for this country, but I should be much happier if that advisory committee were associated with the Ministry of Health rather than the Ministry of Labour. It is only since 1940 that the Ministry of Labour has ever been responsible for the inspection of factories. Prior to that it was a Home Office function. I believe that the time will come when the Factories Inspectorate and the industrial health service which naturally ensues from the work of that Inspectorate should be transferred to the Ministry of Health.
Finally, there is the question of education and publicity. I have given one example of steps taken, but there is much more that could be done in the way of educating our people in health and hygiene. The right Minister to act in all such matters is the Minister of Health. I hope that these plans will be coordinated in one Ministry, and that we shall really be able to take a stride forward. Let us go back to the spirit of the 1919 Act, to which I have referred, and engage in promoting the health of the people.
This is an important period in which to consider these matters. We have the Guillebaud Committee, which will report within the next few months. We have the promised reform of local government, and between these two I think we have the chance to rebuild the National Health Service on a sounder basis. I am delighted that the opportunity will fall to a Conservative Government.
§ 7.32 p.m.
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
There is one omission from the Gracious Speech that disappointed me considerably. When the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance spoke at the opening of today's debate, he said that our prosperity as a nation was bound up with the skill and industry of our people, and I think that there is a great deal of truth in that. I want to speak about 50,000 workers who gave of both their skill and their industry, but who are not having justice at the present time. I had hoped that there would be a reference to the matter in the Gracious Speech.
497 In the last Parliament I was fortunate to be able to present a Private Member's Bill, but I was unfortunate in another sense, because mine was not among the first names to be pulled out of the Ballot. Although I sat here for four Fridays trying to get a Second Reading for that Bill, on four successive Fridays four hon. Members opposite objected to it.
With the Act that went on the Statute Book in December, those injured workmen who were injured after 5th July, 1948, received increases in their benefits. I understand that they received those increases to meet the rise in the cost of living. These 50,000 men about whom I wish to speak received their injuries before 1948, and they have received no increase, and yet they had, even in December, a smaller income than those who were receiving their benefits under the Industrial Injuries Act.
I have quite a number of these men in my constituency, and I understand that, of the 50,000 involved, 30,000 are estimated to be miners or ex-miners, while the other 20,000 are workers from other industries. In a constituency like mine, in almost every one of the mining villages, there are men who are included in these 30,000. Each time when there has been an increase in industrial injuries benefits they have come to me and asked me why they have not benefited from the increase. They feel that they are completely forgotten by the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance.
It is true that most of them did benefit under the original legislation of the first Labour Government. In addition to their compensation under the old compensation Act, some of them were able to get benefits from National Health Insurance. Some of them who were very severely disabled were also able to get the constant attendance allowance and other benefits that came in under these great Acts that began to function on 5th July, 1948, but so also have all the injured workers who have been injured since 1948.
They have received all of these benefits, and today we find that, if one of these 50,000 is a single man, what he receives today is 27s. 6d. a week less than a man in similar circumstances who has been injured since 1948. In the case of a married man, he receives today 17s. 6d. a week less than the married man in 498 similar circumstances who has been injured since 5th July, 1948. It is very difficult indeed for those who are getting their benefit under the old compensation Act to understand why there should be this great discrepancy of 27s. 6d. in the one case and 17s. 6d. in the other.
They feel, and I am convinced that they rightly feel, that if these increases given in December, as well as the previous increases, were given to meet the rise in the cost of living, they and their wives, who have to meet the same rise in the cost of living, ought to have had the same consideration. I am not alone in my fight for these people, because the Minister knows that representations have been made to him on a number of occasions by the T.U.C. I understand that not so very long ago the T.U.C. made very strong representations on behalf of these people.
The National Union of Mineworkers has also been extremely interested and active in this matter, and from time to time has also made representations. I am sorry that the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance is not to reply to the debate, but I hope that he will be able to tell the right hon. Gentleman who will reply that he has come to the conclusion that, although it is not included in the present Gracious Speech, before we have another Gracious Speech justice—and it is only justice—will be done to these men.
I understand that the T.U.C. has made the suggestion that the money could be found out of the Industrial Injuries Fund. We should not be creating a precedent if we use the Industrial Injuries Fund for that purpose, because the Minister knows that it has been used for other matters. The Fund is there, the desire of the T.U.C. and the N.U.M. is there, and it seems to me that it would be a very simple matter indeed for the Minister to bring in legislation. Such legislation would not be at all controversial, nor would it be legislation which should take up much of the time of the House, but it would be legislation that would give to many of these men—and the men in my own constituency of whom I am speaking are in the main old men—some hope and the feeling that they were regarded as just as important as the men who received their injuries since 1948.
499 I turn now to another point, and, again, it is one that affects injured workmen. I have raised this matter a number of times before. I raised it when the charges on appliances were instituted by the previous Government. I visited one of these injured workmen only last Friday. He had asked me to call because he could not come to see me. He is one of the pre-1948 injured workmen, and he is in receipt of 100 per cent. compensation under the old compensation Act, and, through the legislation passed by the Labour Government, he is also in receipt of National Health Insurance benefit.
This man had a serious accident in the pit and, because of that, he had multiple injuries. He wears a caliper on his right leg and needs a surgical belt. Two years ago he got the first surgical belt. It was after the Conservative Government had put charges on those belts and he was charged £1 for it. He tells me that he made application to the National Assistance Board on three occasions. An officer came out in a car to see him about the payment of this £1 but, in spite of all his representations, he had to pay for that surgical belt. Since then he has again been measured for a second surgical belt and, again, he has been informed that he has to pay £1 for this one. I have always thought it was one of the meanest actions of the Conservative Government to make charges for appliances needed by such severely disabled people. Their lives are sufficiently hard without making them even more difficult from the financial point of view.
I would say to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, who intervened in a previous debate when I was making this case, that I have here a letter from another miner in England who reads the reports of all these debates. He wrote saying how true was each thing I said about these appliances. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Lady will convey to her right hon. Friend the very strong feeling in the country about these miserable charges made to such severely disabled people.
Again, the 1s. charge on prescriptions falls heavily on that type of person about whom I have been speaking and it is falling heavily on our old people. It is true that if they are in receipt of National 500 Assistance, the shilling is returned to them. Again, however, during the election a case was brought to me of an old woman who had received her 7s. 6d. increase in pension. That 7s. 6d. caused her to lose all she was getting from the National Assistance Board. In other words she was taken outside supplementary pension and in the very first week in which she lost her supplementary pension she had to pay 2s. for two separate prescriptions. This must have been a great hardship to her. And it is not only one old woman, because this must be happening to many old people all over the country.
Now I want to put a point made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Enfield, West (Mr. lain Macleod), who is now the Minister of Health, when he was speaking from the back benches; indeed, when he made that speech which many of us think brought him to the Front Bench. Speaking on charges, he suggested that if they were imposed and if people had to go to the National Assistance Board, it might be a good thing to have a higher level of income, not the National Assistance Board level, for those making application for repayment of prescriptions and of surgical appliances.
We have had a Conservative Government for three and a half years and the right hon. Gentleman has been Minister of Health for a great part of that time. Therefore, he has had the chance to put forward to the Cabinet those thoughts which he expressed when he was a back bencher. So far as I have been able to find out, these have not been put forward and great misery has been caused to people I know intimately in my own constituency. I do not ask that anything should be done on the National Assistance Board level; I ask that this charge on prescriptions and these charges on surgical appliances shall be taken off.
When the Minister was speaking today about the National Assistance Board and what powers he had as far as it was concerned, he was interrupted on a number of occasions. I was disappointed to find the right hon. Gentleman once again taking refuge in something that was done when we had a Labour Government. After all, we have had a Conservative Government for three and a half years. The original Act specified that there would be a review in five years—the very Act to which the Minister made reference. I think he spoke about Section 40.
501 It seemed to me that the right hon. Gentleman presented himself as helpless and hopeless as far as this position was concerned, and I am sure that he would not want to present himself to the country as either helpless or hopeless in this matter. If he really feels that something should be done about National Assistance, he should have the strength to say that if Section 40 prevents him from doing what he wants to do he will bring in an amending Section to that Act. That would be a simple thing to do.
I want to know from the Minister whether he is merely hiding behind Section 40. Does he really believe that what we did in Section 40 was the correct thing, or has he come to the same conclusion as we have come to on this side of the House, after seeing the working of these great schemes, that something ought to be done now? Over 1 million old people and over 300,000 chronic sick people received an increase in their old-age pension and in their sickness benefit and, in the same week, received a decrease in their assistance. Again, that seemed to me a very shocking thing to happen, particularly in a country which we are told by the Government is now prosperous. These people do not feel that they are prosperous, they do not feel that this is a prosperous country, because they feel strongly that if we were the prosperous country the Government are trying to pretend, we would not be as hard on them as we have been.
My own mother is an old-age pensioner. Her wants are simple and few, but I am glad that she is able to have them met and to have those things which I feel are necessary. I know, however, that if she were dependent—as over 1 million old people in this country are dependent on their pension and on a small supplementary pension—even her few simple wants would not be met. And what I would want for my mother, I have no right not to work to get for every elderly man and woman.
I am sure that the Minister can find ways and means of getting over Section 40 and of getting the National Assistance Board at least to give back to those old people what they have lost. Even if they get that back, they will still not be able to get what I think every old man and woman ought to have. I conclude with the words of one of our great poets— 502 something which old people have expressed to me time and time again:Man's inhumanity to manMakes countless thousands mourn!
§ 7.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Remnant (Wokingham)
I hope that the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) will not think me discourteous if I do not follow her in the observations which she made in the earlier part of her speech. Her closing remark gives me the opportunity to follow much the same line of thought as she did, but in rather a different direction.
I imagine it was an experience common to all of us last month that our audiences, particularly when given the opportunity, were extremely sympathetic towards people living on small fixed incomes, whatever the source. While it is very difficult to assist certain types of such people, such as persons living on annuities or small investment incomes below the exemption limits, there are others who not only could be helped but certainly should be helped.
I was very glad to hear my right hon. Friend refer to the widow with a pension of 10s. a week, but I hope no one will think that that is the only class to which I refer when I speak of the need of persons, in justice, to be helped. It may be that in this matter I have fancies in one or other direction, but I certainly feel that the pre-Oaksey police widows have not been treated as well as I should like them to be treated. Also, there are certain semi-State pensioners of pre-war times, like the county police, who are still on the same rate of pension as they received at a time when they were not permitted to contribute to any State scheme.
I take my stand as follows. If I, as an employer of labour, including salaried staff, were content to leave anybody who had had a considerable number of years of service and had reached retirement age in, say, 1935 on the pension which was considered at that time by the board or by me to be adequate and fair, I should then consider that I could very justifiably be criticised.
Consequently, I consider that the State and local authorities must set out to be good employers. Whatever the means and the difficulties were, I believe that the country would be behind the State and 503 the local authorities, not necessarily in bringing pensioners to the same level as is granted now when contributions are paid, but at least in going some way towards giving them the employers' share. I hope that the matter will be carefully considered by all concerned.
One does not want to compare one type of person with another, but there has undoubtedly come about something akin to an unfair reward in old age for the service rendered by individuals to their employers where the State and local authorities are judged by present day standards. I hope my right hon. Friend and his colleagues will give the closest consideration not only to the angle which I have mentioned but also to the angle mentioned by the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North.
I turn now to the remark of the Prime Minister that the prospect for wage earners, and perhaps salary earners, of having a greater share in industry lies not in nationalisation but in co-partnership, profit sharing, and so on. I have been propounding that doctrine for a great many years, and so I welcome that statement at least as much as anybody else. However, having spent a considerable number of hours endeavouring to work out schemes which could be operated, and having at the end of it found it easier to pull them to pieces because of their faults than to propound their virtues, I am convinced that there is no general scheme which can be operated throughout the country and throughout industry. I am certain that each industry, and perhaps each firm, must work out its own proposals.
I want to utter a word of warning to employers who contemplate introducing such schemes, as I hope employers will do. I believe a necessary preliminary to be a consultative council where executive management can meet wage earners and salary earners. Lack of information and understanding leads to lack of confidence. These schemes have gone wrong in the past in that, while the profit, bonus, and so on, has been on the upgrade it has been gratefully received, when things have turned the other way wage earners have been inclined to think that they have been "had for mugs," perhaps because of some technicality.
504 That does not happen where there is machinery to enable representatives of the wage earners to consult the management, who should be explaining every month why they are doing something and not doing something else. Incidentally, that is an education to the people on the consultative councils, and helps them to take higher and more responsible posts. A word of warning must be uttered here. Such a consultative council must on no account trespass upon matters which are normally the subject of negotiation or consultation between industry and the trade unions, such as wages.
If such consultative councils are organised in order to provide a two-way flow between the two sides, confidence is engendered between them, and that, particularly if allied with co-ownership, co-partnership or profit sharing, will lead to peace in industry, which is what we all seek. It will also give individual wage earners their share—I will not be tempted into details because it is a very big subject—of the good times, to which, I candidly believe, they are entitled, apart from through the wage machinery. There are hon. Members opposite who are operating some extremely successful schemes. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House will examine schemes which are already in existence and ascertain how they can be adapted to their own industrial concerns, for I am sure that they will be beneficial to the individuals and the firms themselves.
I want to speak briefly on an entirely different subject, which I note has been omitted from the Gracious Speech, perhaps because of the modesty of the Government Front Bench. There has been considerable feeling on both sides of the House that an increase in the salaries of junior Ministers was long overdue. Certain hon. Members opposite may wish to see that remain a hope.
The salaries of junior Ministers today, however, allowing for the alteration made in their Parliamentary salaries, are not comparable with what those men and women would be able to earn in industry. What is more, the effect of the performance of their duties in the House is of far greater importance to the country as a whole than would be the case if they were in industry. I hope, therefore, that this modesty, if modesty it be, will be 505 put into the background and that before long we shall see some Measure introduced—perhaps after negotiations through the usual channels—for the salaries of these men and women to be put on a higher level.
§ 7.51 p.m.
§ Miss Elaine Burton (Coventry, South)
Although it may seem a relatively small matter, I should like to add my support to the plea made by the hon. Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan), who spoke about a chiropody service for old people. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health may remember that a short time ago she answered a Question of mine on this subject and I know that other Questions have been put by other hon. Members. If I remember her reply correctly, it was to the effect that her right hon. Friend would like to do more, but did not have the finance available. We all know that the care of the feet is a matter of great importance to old people and this scheme is something I should like to see throughout the country on a much bigger basis. If that topic could be mentioned in the reply to the debate tonight, it would be of great interest both to local authorities and to old people.
Although it is not my intention to develop this theme, I was particularly distressed that in the Gracious Speech there was no mention of old-age pensioners. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summer-skill) opened the debate, and referred to National Assistance and the National Assistance scales, the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance afterwards said that with her experience my right hon. Friend should know that there could be no mention of that in the Gracious Speech. However, I am quite sure that he fully realised what she intended to convey.
We were all deeply distressed to find out—particularly during the Election campaign—that old people who have had the increase of 7s. 6d., and who then have had 5s. or more taken away from their National Assistance scales, are not only unable to have an increasing standard of living, but are quite unable to buy the necessities of life. I cannot believe that there is any hon. Member on the Government benches who would not accept that fact.
506 The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, both at Question Time yesterday and in the debate today, has consistently shied away from the possibility of doing anything about that matter. It is not possible to avoid it by saying that matters have been referred to national advisory committees, or that we are awaiting a debate on the Phillips Report. We on this side, and, I venture to say, on that side, too, believe that one of the biggest blots on the record of this Conservative Government is that in the Gracious Speech they talk about an ever higher standard of living being secured for the whole nation and, at the same time—as every hon. Member knows who has knocked on the doors in the Election campaign—there are hundreds of thousands of old people who do not know which way to turn. I hope that if the Minister says he does not have the powers to do something about this at present, he will seek to take them. There is not the slightest doubt that he would receive the support of the entire House.
I want to turn to something else and to look at the social services in general. If we look back over the past, social service legislation in this country has been a patchwork. If we look back as far as the nineteenth century, we can see that our social services developed in a very haphazard way. That was because in the nineteenth century people suddenly became aware of an abuse. There was then a public outcry about that abuse, and if the outcry was sufficiently vocal we had legislation.
That meant that although that legislation was very necessary, it bore no relation at all to social priorities. In the twentieth century we have seen a change in development and I need only give three obvious examples, the Minority Report on the Poor Law, the Beveridge Report and the legislation of the Labour Government. These show that, at last, we were getting unification of the social services and, even more important than that unification, we have in this century been establishing the principle that the community must provide these services for its citizens in any new social order which we seek to build.
We have heard a lot in the past few months to the effect that there is very little to choose in some matter of policy between the opposite sides of the House. 507 In social policy there is all the difference in the world. If one looks at the way social affairs have been tackled in this country through the ages, there, deep down, one will find the roots which separate the two main political parties. I should like to be fair, but I believe that if one looks back at the Tory attitude on the social services and administration of the social services, one will see that the Tories have said "Why should any social service be provided without a test of need?"
I believe that the right hon. Gentleman himself, in conjunction with his colleague the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), in 1952, asked in a publication of the Conservative Central Office, why there should be any social services without test of need. On this side of the House we look upon social security as a right of the citizen. I very much hope that in the years to come we shall try to develop the social services with the aim that they should be given to a citizen as of right, without test of means.
It would be no use saying that, unless one explained how the money should be found. As we are now discussing social services in general, we may look at this matter, because it is obviously most important. There are three ways in which money for the social services may be provided, particularly if we need that money to provide these services as of right, without their being subject to a means test. The first is a scheme of graduated contributions.
Obviously, if contributions were assessed according to income, the poor would pay less and the rich more while the scheme would remain actuarially sound. However, there are three points we should consider. The first is that if we make too steep a graduation in contributions, that may lead to a demand for increased benefits by those paying the larger contributions, or, alternatively, those paying the larger contributions may ask permission to contract out of the scheme. Secondly, such demands would be difficult to oppose, because we have to remember that the higher income groups were not covered by the pre-war insurance scheme. Thirdly, employers' contributions would also have to be considered. Should this be graduated according to the employees' wages, or remain 508 at a flat rate? The last point I want to make here is that even if we had such a scheme the labour of sticking on the stamps each week would still be necessary, as would a large staff to check the number of contributions paid.
A second method of providing the money would be to impose a social security tax. Such a tax, like the graduated contribution scheme, would be linked to ability to pay, but I believe that it would have four definite advantages over the contribution scheme. First, while safeguarding the solvency of the fund, it would be a much more difficult scheme to contract out of than an ordinary scheme of graduated contributions. Secondly, such a tax would not cost as much to collect, because the existing Inland Revenue machinery could be used.
Thirdly, it would save the enormous amount of work which is involved in stamping the cards and examining them to ensure that everyone has made the correct contribution—because if such a scheme were implemented, benefits would be available to all as of right, as in the Health Service, and not only by virtue of having paid sufficient contributions. We all frequently hear very distressing tales about people who are just not eligible for social security benefits because they have one stamp too few. A social security tax would remove that hardship. Fourthly, such a tax would automatically bring in more income in times of inflation and rising wages, and that would help to meet the increased cost of benefits.
It is only fair to put the other side of the argument. First, we should have to decide whether such a tax should apply only to the existing Income Tax ranges or be extended to cover all workers, so that everyone would pay something. It is arguable that if such a tax were extended to cover all ranges of incomes the underlying element of the contributory principle would be maintained. Secondly, we should have to consider the position of the employer. At present, he pays almost half the National Insurance contribution. Should he pay a social security tax in respect of each of his workers? Hon. Members will know that in New Zealand, where a social security tax of 7½ per cent. is levied on all incomes, the employer pays a tax not in respect of each employee but in respect of his own corporate 509 income. Thirdly, we should have to consider whether this tax should be limited to cover the existing insurance scheme, or be extended to other social services, such as the Health Service, which is at present provided for out of general taxation.
That brings me to a third method of raising the money, namely, out of general taxation. I know that some of my hon. Friends do not agree that this ought to be done. But in 1911 the Labour Party was divided on the issue of whether the National Health Insurance scheme should be financed out of public funds or should be contributory. To those people who say that it would be a radical departure from the insurance principle to provide social services out of general taxation I would only say that there is already a large Exchequer contribution from general taxation to the National Insurance Fund which, in itself, involves a radical departure from insurance principles. There is no question but that it would be administratively much more simple to find all benefits out of general taxation, which, in any case, is related to ability to pay.
In this modern age I believe that it is quite wrong that social services should be paid for by all citizens at the same rate, irrespective of what they earn.
§ Mr. Houghton
Does my hon. Friend mean that all benefits would also have to be graduated—or would they be flat rate benefits?
§ Miss Burton
I shall deal with that question, although I have not as much knowledge of it as has my hon. Friend.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Iain Macleod)
I am interested in this suggestion although, quite frankly, I do not see how it can work. It is simple if one is self-employed, or has only one employee, but does the hon. Member suggest that people who have thousands or tens of thousands of employees should pay their insurance?
§ Miss Burton
I shall not insult the right hon. Gentleman by saying that he was not listening to what I was saying; so I presume that I did not make myself clear. I was suggesting three possible methods of paying for social services—first, a graduated contributions scheme; secondly, a social security tax; and, thirdly, a contribution from general 510 taxation. Speaking in connection with a social security tax, I did say that this system was in vogue in New Zealand—and I can see no reason why what New Zealand can do we cannot do.
To reply to the point mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), I had not assumed that people would receive different benefits. I was putting forward the principle that in the world of today payment for social services should be made by people according to their incomes. In other words, those who receive more should pay more. I certainly had not in mind that there should be a different scale of benefits. I believe that those who are earning £10 or £20 a week should pay more towards social service benefits than those earning £5 a week.
It appears to me that in roughly 20 years' time we shall have one person retired for every three who are at work. I have been told—I do not know whether it is correct—that the cost of old-age pensions in that case would be more than that of the present Health Service. I believe that such a position would be impossible to meet by a system of flat-rate contributions from all members of the community, because such contributions would have to be far too large; indeed, contributions have been increased during the past month.
I believe that when people reach the retiring age they should receive pensions upon which they can live, not in luxury, but at a reasonable standard. I do not believe that that position can be achieved by collecting a flat-rate contribution from everybody. It would be quite wrong of me to say that unless I were prepared to suggest the way in which the money should be raised. I believe that it should be collected from all our citizens, and that contributions should be graduated according to ability to pay.
We on this side of the House believe that we have a moral obligation to look after the old and the weak—and we would aim at this being their right, and that they should not have to come and ask for it. I am not trying to be rude, but one of the main differences between hon. Members opposite and the Labour Party is that the Government have always "separated" the people who are in real need from those who are not. They "separate" 511 people who live on their old-age pensions from those who cannot manage on them because they have nothing else, and have to apply for National Assistance in addition. The Tory thesis is that people must "come and ask for it" and must prove their need.
I am not concerned with which party introduced which Act, but social security, today, is not being provided as of right. It is being provided by the National Assistance Board which, before it is able to help anyone, has to satisfy itself that the person in question is poor, that he is in need of poor relief—and I believe that to be quite wrong. That is why we on this side of the House, as a first step forward anyway, proposed that there should be established a Ministry of Social Welfare. I was not surprised when hon. Members opposite asked "Why do that?" rather implying "What's in a name?" There is everything in a name to people who know full well what it is to suffer from a means test and to have to ask for National Assistance.
I believe that Mr. George Buchanan, who went from this House to be Chairman of the National Assistance Board, did a wonderful job in that post. He humanised the Board in a way that had never been done before. But I believe that today it would be a very great advantage if people who still have to ask for supplementary help did not have to apply to a board which was separated from the place where other people get their pensions. That is why we have suggested that there should be a Ministry of Social Welfare.
I have put forward these opinions because this is a new Parliament, and there is no reason why we should always go on as we have done in the past. I believe that pensions for the old people today are inadequate. I see no way of making them adequate unless those of us who earn more are prepared to make a bigger contribution towards those pensions than people who earn less.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Finch (Bedwellty)
I want to join with some of my hon. Friends in expressing keen disappointment at the fact that the Gracious Speech, apart from references to family allowances, does not mention proposed changes in National Insurance, including industrial injuries. I 512 deplore the fact chiefly because we never had an opportunity of considering in any detail, on the quinquennial review, the administration and structure of the National Insurance Act. It will be recalled that the Government Actuary's Report on industrial injuries came after the debate on the general comprehensive National Insurance Scheme in December. Therefore, after five years' experience of the working of the National Insurance Act, the House has never had the opportunity of dealing with the anomalies and injustices which experience has revealed in the working of that Act.
The Minister said earlier today that although the Gracious Speech did not contain any reference to the National Insurance Act, it did not follow that some changes may not take place in National Insurance, even during the present Session. The House is entitled to know what the Minister has in mind, and if he proposes any changes we ought to know what they are likely to be. After all, we are dealing with the poorer sections of the community—the disabled, the sick, and the retirement pensioners. The House should have an opportunity of knowing what the Minister has in mind, and, in any event, I should have thought that on such an important matter the Gracious Speech would have contained some reference to the National Insurance Act and its administration.
I want to draw attention to certain anomalies which still exist under the Act. It is a question not so much of rates of benefit as of the anomalies which are giving rise to a lack of confidence in the National Insurance Scheme. Some of the principles of the Scheme are very sound, but the Scheme is being undermined because of the continued existence of administrative anomalies and the lack of any regulations to remedy them. It is not only a human problem. The National Insurance Scheme and the Industrial Injuries Act cannot be dissociated from the economic situation of the country, They are interlocked.
Reference was made by a previous speaker to retirement pensions. The Labour Government introduced a scheme whereby men were encouraged to work after 65 years of age. We hear in the House and in the country talk of the necessity for giving every encouragement to men, and women if necessary, to continue to work as long as possible. We 513 have heard that we need higher production, and we should do all we possibly can to maintain and improve our economic position. That involves manpower. We have heard that on every side.
It has been suggested that there should be a scheme whereby people employed in Government Departments should be encouraged to work after the age of 65. No doubt, the Labour Government had that matter in mind when they brought into operation a scheme whereby increments were given to men who were prepared to work after 65 so that their pensions could be increased by the time they retired. Many men are capable of doing certain forms of employment and they are better off for doing the work.
The Labour Government put that scheme into operation several years ago. Having heard so much talk about retirement pensioners and the added liability upon the State, I should have thought that we should have heard from the right hon. Gentleman that he was prepared to put into operation some scheme which would increase these pensions in order to give further encouragement to retirement pensioners.
As I have said on a previous occasion, that is not the most serious aspect of the problem. Those men and women who work after 65 years of age may have to give up working subsequently. They may have earned the added increments. It may be 5s. or 7s. 6d. for a man and his wife. They may fall sick. They have made every effort to continue in employment, but find that they cannot continue any longer, and have to apply for National Assistance.
What I deplore is the fact that if those people have to seek some supplementary National Assistance, the increments that they have earned after 65 are taken into consideration in assessing the amount of supplementary National Assistance. That is a miserable and niggardly policy to adopt. Elderly men are being asked to continue working after 65, and yet the Government say to such people, "We are bound to take into consideration what you have earned after 65 years of age when ascertaining need."
That policy ought to be abolished. I should like to hear from the right hon.
514 Gentleman whether the Government intend to continue such a policy. There is an economic aspect to this problem. There is the necessity for more manpower and more production. Yet there is no real encouragement to people to work longer and produce more.
There is another problem. The Minister of Health and others, including the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, who have spoken on National Insurance from time to time, have said that we should do everything possible to encourage superannuation schemes in industry. The miners now have a pension scheme, after lengthy negotiations. The men contribute to the scheme. But now everything they get over 10s. 6d. by way of pension is taken into consideration for National Assistance purposes. Many men say, "What is the purpose of the scheme? If some of us have to go on National Assistance, this pension towards which we contribute is taken into consideration when ascertaining our need."
There is therefore a feeling among the miners that in the circumstances this pension scheme is hardly worth while. That is not the way in which to encourage superannuation schemes. While I agree that some figure must be laid down, surely the present figure of 10s. 6d. should be raised to at least £1. The same situation arises in connection with workmen's compensation. If a man is receiving anything over £1 a week in compensation, that amount is taken into consideration for National Assistance purposes.
These rates of benefits have been in operation for some years, and I submit that these disregards could now very well be raised. Why not raise the disregards which have been so irksome to ageing workmen and those who are injured?
§ Mr. Finch
I was glad to hear from the right hon. Gentleman that the question of those widows receiving 10s. a week and of other widows has been referred to the Advisory Committee, and that we shall hear more about those matters later. As I have said before, however, this is a very spasmodic way of dealing with the problem. In this case we are dealing only with widows. Their problems are very important and I do not want to belittle them but, as I have 515 already mentioned, there are other aspects of the National Insurance and Industrial Injuries Schemes. The right hon. Gentleman gave us not the slightest indication that we are to be given an opportunity of reviewing the anomalies which exist under the National Insurance Act.
Let me refer, briefly, to one or two cases. Some time ago I referred to the question of the unemployability allowance. I hope that the Minister of Health, with his experience, will take note of this. What is the unemployability allowance and for what is it paid? It was put into operation under the Industrial Injuries Act for the purpose of giving some payment to a man who was not entitled to sickness benefit but who to some extent was incapable of employment. He could be given unemployability allowance. In accordance with the Act, the Commissioners have given a fair interpretation of Section 13, and have said that where a man is capable of earning more than £1 a week he is not entitled to unemployability allowance. That figure of £1 remains today. It has not been increased.
I could cite case after case to the House of men, some suffering from new pneumoconiosis, where a medical board has said, "This individual is capable of only a sitting down job. He is capable of only the very lightest work." I will not burden the House with the details but I have a case of a man of whom the authorities have said that owing to the loss of a leg and incapacity to his arms he is capable of doing only a very light job indeed, but the Commissioners have said that he is capable of earning £1 a week.
That figure of £1 has lost its value. One could almost say that a man who is totally incapacitated might be able to pick up a job for a few weeks at £1 a week. The margin between being totally incapacitated and being able to earn £1 a week is such that one could say that there is scarcely any difference. I submit that the figure of £1 could very well be raised. Where a man has applied for unemployability allowance £1 is a very low figure on which to decide whether he is capable of work or not.
Another aspect of this problem, on which my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) and others have spoken with me on previous occasions—and I will not take up much time on it— 516 is that of the hardship allowance. We have raised this question in the House on a number of occasions but we do not seem to be making any progress. That, again, is having a very serious effect upon industrial workers. Here again I am not referring principally to rates of benefit. I do not regard the hardship allowance as sufficient; but what is more serious is the fact that it is not payable in so many cases where a man "tries his employment."
In order to receive hardship allowance a man must be permanently incapacitated or since the end of the period of injury benefit must have been unable to return to his pre-accident employment or employment of an equivalent standard. There are many men who "try their employment," who say, "I am going back to work at the end of the injury benefit period. I intend to have a go at it and to try." They may have been colliers on piece rates or skilled engineers, and they try to do their work for, say, 6, 9 or 12 months. Because they go back to their old jobs for such a time—anything over three to six months—the hardship allowance is not payable if they ultimately fail. Here we are putting a penalty upon the trier, upon the man who has responded to the appeal, "Try your job! Go back to your ordinary work and increase production." He does so and then suffers a penalty.
Under the Workmen's Compensation Act, a county court judge, faced with a case in which a man has "tried his work," and having been convinced on the evidence that the man has been a trier, would regard him as entitled to compensation at the maximum rate. I have raised this question in the House before, but I see very little progress being made. It is creating a lack of confidence among industrial workers in the administration of this Scheme.
Three years ago my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnor (Mr. Watkins) brought forward a Bill to deal with the question of accidents. The House will recall that under the Industrial Injuries Act, as under the Workmen's Compensation Act, before a man is entitled to compensation or injury benefit he must show that he has sustained an accident arising out of and in the course of his employment. "Accident" means something which has happened at a particular moment. If the trouble is brought 517 on gradually, then unless it is a scheduled industrial disease the man is not entitled to compensation.
We had a long debate on the subject, and ultimately the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance agreed to refer it to a committee, now known as the Beney Committee. That was three years ago. Particularly in the mining industry we had in mind the case of a man suffering from rheumatism as a result of working in water. If he suffers from rheumatism as a result of a sudden inrush of water, that is something which happened on a certain date and at a certain time and can be regarded as an accident. If the man has been working in water underground for a month or two months and then sustains rheumatism that is not regarded as an accident.
We wanted the definition widened. The Beney Committee was set up three years ago. We have heard nothing about it since, and three years is a long time. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some information as to the position in regard to definition of accidents.
I wish to join with my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) in saying that the time has arrived, after five years' operation of the National Insurance Act and the National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Act, when we need to reorganise this vast scheme. It was a great experiment, and those who supported it at the time regarded it as a great step forward. That is why we were so disappointed when last December there was not a thorough review of the Scheme. We have had no assurance from the Government this evening that they are going to review the Scheme.
Apart from that we say that the five years' working of the Scheme has shown that National Assistance should be merged with the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. That should be done, not only by an alteration in name, but in order to co-ordinate all this work. The National Assistance Board has done a good job, but it is a separate statutory body. Thousands are receiving injury benefits or sickness benefits and supplementary pensions from the National Assistance Board. It is all, as it were, under the same scheme. We are supplementing sickness insurance or injury benefit and the time has come to co-ordinate these various Departments 518 and put them under the Ministry of National Insurance.
I hope that one outcome of this debate will be that the Minister will seriously consider the points of view which we have expressed today. He has been given a wealth of knowledge by the speeches delivered in the House on this subject in the last 12 or 18 months by my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby and by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), who have made valuable contributions to these debates but it seems that nothing has come out of all this effort. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that miners, in particular are losing confidence in these great National Insurance Acts.
The anomalies to which we have referred could be put right by regulations. I am not referring at the moment to increases in benefits but to what could be done by regulations in order to improve the smooth working of these great Acts. I hope that what has been said by my colleagues will receive serious notice so that anomalies and injustices may be removed and we can make this great Scheme better than what it is.
§ 8.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
The hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Finch) —whom I often feel inclined to describe as "my hon. Friend"—always makes an important contribution to debates on these subjects. I should like to support what he has suggested about the different disregards. As the benefits which were originally fixed have now been deemed inadequate and this House on a number of occasions has increased those benefits, there seems to be a strong case for taking the view that those disregards, deemed adequate years ago, might similarly be not adequate under present conditions.
I also take that view in respect of the so-called earnings rule. I do not share the views of those who have sometimes suggested in this House that the earnings rule should go altogether because I feel that that would have the obvious effect of destroying the other aspect of the National Health Scheme, which we want to encourage—to persuade people, of their own volition, to work a little longer. In that regard we have been reasonably 519 successful—more than reasonably successful—as now a large number of retirement pensioners work until the age of 67 and even 68 and the average is considerably above the retirement age of 65 in respect of men. If we removed the earnings rule altogether and permitted people to earn unlimited amounts of money and receive their full pension, obviously all would do so.
Nevertheless, with that reservation, I think there is a considerable case for saying that if a certain sum of money were deemed adequate when the Scheme first came into operation and was then the correct amount, it should now be proper for a retirement pensioner to earn £1, or perhaps even a slightly larger sum, in addition to the amount he is at present allowed, without diminution of his retirement pension.
§ Mr. Gower
I appreciate that, but I do not think it destroys the argument. As there was a case for the increase from 20s. to 40s. there is now a case for an increase to a larger amount.
I hope that my right hon. Friend, who obviously is bound to consider all these matters, will give special consideration to the possibility of increasing the amount which retirement pensioners may earn without suffering deduction of their retirement pension. As the hon. Member for Bedwellty has said, that would appear to apply with equal force in respect to the disregards.
We in this House certainly want to encourage industrial pension schemes of all kinds, whether in nationalised or private industry. One of the most appropriate methods of encouraging these schemes is to make the beneficiaries sure that in their retirement they will be able to receive most of the proceeds of their industrial pensions without losing something of the benefit of their retirement pensions. This is an extremely important matter. In the last Parliament, I had the honour to introduce a Motion on pension schemes in conjunction with co-partner-ship and profit sharing, and on that occasion the House accepted the Motion. I ask my right hon. Friend to represent to the Chancellor of the Exchequer in 520 particular that there are still serious obstacles to firms and companies who seek to introduce either co-partnership, profit sharing or pensions schemes.
I have had experience recently, both in my constituency and in the City of Cardiff, of enlightened firms which sought to introduce such schemes but which appeared to come up against all kinds of obstacles in the shape of Regulations and ancient Acts of Parliament. It is a most noticeable disincentive to them when they try to introduce these schemes. I hope that measures may be taken whenever possible to smooth out the difficulties and make the introduction of such schemes far easier than at present.
The peculiar problems of the so-called 10s. widow have been mentioned a great deal in this debate. I know that probably in the strict logic of things it may be said that this class of the community has received all to which it is strictly entitled. It may be said that the case is not comparable with that of pensioners whose benefits have been increased progressively so many times in the last five years. That argument breaks down, however, when we realise that many of the people who receive the increased benefits, even by way of retirement pensions, will never have paid for them. Indeed, all the older beneficiaries will have their benefits paid for by the younger contributors.
If there is—and it has been accepted that there is—a case for all people to receive the larger benefits irrespective of whether their own contributions have earned those benefits, there would seem to be a reasonable case for taking a more humanitarian view of the benefits which are paid to these widows. It is all very well to argue these things out in theory but it is extremely difficult to explain to a widow who receives 10s. a week why her pension has remained stationary while all other pensions have risen several times.
I should like to call attention to something which is related to another social service, that of housing. I refer to those private roads about which a Question was asked this afternoon by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler). There are a large number of these private roads in the part of my constituency which abuts upon the City of Cardiff. It is exasperating for people who occupy houses on these private roads to see newer 521 roads, on private and municipal estates, being built and to see families move in and enjoy the amenities of decent roads while they themselves have lived in private streets which have been unmade since 1939 or for even longer periods.
There is another aspect of the problem. Every year, every month, that elapses the amount of the road charges which these people will be required to pay is likely to increase. So I submit that this is a matter which should be regarded with some urgency. First the Minister of Housing and Local Government should address himself to the problem of providing greater assistance to local authorities, and should convey to the local authorities which are concerned with the matter a greater sense of urgency in dealing with it.
The first thing is to get the job done. Every winter many of my constituents, and, I am sure, constituents of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House, who have to live in such places in such conditions, find themselves, their children and their older relatives, struggling through badly lit streets, and up to their ankles, sometimes up to their knees, in mud. Those are conditions which very few if any of the people living in new houses, whether privately owned of municipally owned, have to endure. So the first thing is to get the job done, to sage many families from having to endure next winter such conditions as they have endured for so many winters since before the war.
§ Mr. Bernard Taylor (Mansfield)
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that this situation has been made more difficult for owner-occupiers by the raising by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the interest rates?
§ Mr. Gower
I think that the conditions have always been difficult for these people.
Nothing has been done about this problem for about twenty years. The war made it extremely difficult to get this job done, and I exonerate Governments of both parties because of that fact. Had there been no war the job would probably have been done. However, now, in this year of grace, 1955, we should be finishing this job, overcoming this problem. It is urgent, too, because we want the job done before 522 the price of doing it goes up any more. I hope that a solution will be found, and I put this case forward reasonably, I hope, but with as much force as, I believe, it merits.
I sincerely hope that the clearing of the slums and the older houses, and the provision of improved amenities, will be accomplished within the lifetime of this Parliament, to such an extent that this Parliament may be remembered for doing that job, as probably the last Parliament will be remembered as being the one which saw the breaking of the main problems in the provision of new houses.
§ 8.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
I shall take only a few minutes of the time of the House. It will be long enough to express my grave disappointment at the speech of the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance. I do not complain unduly that the Gracious Speech had to leave a great deal out. Obviously, it could be of a certain length only, and could not cover everything, but one would have expected the speech of the Minister responsible for these services, the first Ministerial speech on social services, to have had some grandeur about it, some nobility.
One would have expected some dreaming of dreams in it, some vision of the future, even although the Government had to confess after two or three years in office that they had not yet realised their main objective. There was no such grand conception in the Minister's speech. It was an assortment of bits and pieces. Important bits, important pieces; I do not decry them; there are many things to be tidied up before the social insurance schemes are satisfactory in all respects.
It is quite surprising how keenly some people feel about the injustices, as they see them, in the operation of the National Insurance and Industrial Injuries Schemes. Their sense of grievance against the minor injustices of administration or the rules of the Schemes seems to be greater than their complaint about the bigger social inequalities which confront them every day of their lives, and we have to attend to that if people are to be satisfied.
I believe that in this Parliament, however, there should be some fundamental thinking about the future aim of social 523 security and we on this side of the House will have to do it, because I do not think that the Tories will. They are not given to fundamental thinking on social development. Indeed, they have retained power merely by stealing other people's thunder. They have never made any thunder of their own on problems of social provision, and from this side of the House we have to answer some important questions.
What are the basic aims of social security? Are we prepared any longer to think in terms of Beveridge minimum subsistence pensions? Are we to think now in bolder terms, not in terms of the construction of a cost-of-living index for old people or even of looking at the cost-of-living index itself, but of having more regard to the wage level? The standard pension for married couples now is only one-third of the average wage. That is not adequate social provision for one's retirement. The civil servant and the local government employee and the teacher would not think so, and thousands of executives and directors throughout industry would not think so either. Therefore, we have to look at our scheme of social security more in relation to a national superannuation scheme than to an insurance scheme which is based on outmoded prewar thought which has its foundation dug deeply into prewar Public Assistance, for that was the Beveridge conception written up to date.
How it is to be paid for opens up some challenging thoughts. I warn my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton), who put forward some interesting but not new suggestions on how social services should be paid for, that we shall encounter the strong traditional thought of the trade union movement on the contributory principle, the Hat-rate principle of contributions and benefit, and on the right to benefit. All are vitally important to trade unionists. They will not relinquish them lightly without very firm guarantees that social security to them will be as secure in the future as they believe the existing scheme to be. We have to build on that conception.
There are all sorts of developments of that theme which we can incorporate into a bolder National Insurance Scheme. I 524 do not believe that we need shrink from asking the country quite seriously to consider what it wants in our social provisions in the future. I am sure that it will say one thing—that it wants to get rid of National Assistance. There is far too much of it. The Minister hoped that it would be drastically reduced, but he did not suggest that that should be done by making retirement pensions more adequate.
He suggested as a possible means of reducing claims on National Assistance a combination of other factors, such as vocational superannuation, the product of thrift and other ancillary aids to retirement. I do not deny that they are important, but I think that the only real challenge to the inroads of National Assistance on our scheme of social security is to make National Insurance pensions more adequate for the modest needs of old people, and I believe that the country would be prepared to pay for it.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in Income Tax remissions in his last Budget alone, relieved taxpayers of an amount which would have increased every retirement pension and widow's pension by 10s. a head. That would have been a great advance and would have brought the Government back by a majority of 159 and not 59. The Government chose to do it the other way. It is no good the Government saying the country cannot afford it. It is no good saying that a community with a rising national income cannot afford more adequate provision for the aged.
Let me say this, in conclusion. The people who ought to be thinking of social provision for old age are not the old-age pensioners of today. Those who can shape the future are those who, at 5[...] have ten years in which to do it before their turn comes. All those who are middle-aged should now be giving serious attention to the problem of provision for their old age.
Members of the trade union movement will have to give more challenging thought to how they will provide for their own retirement in due course. There is no hope of the Government doing any more than patching up, removing anomalies, scraping together the bits and pieces and getting along with the minimum amount of original thought about 525 the Scheme. So I hope that in the next three or four years, while we have the opportunity, we shall give the Government something to think about.
§ 8.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) has referred in glowing terms to a future of unlimited expenditure, and total disregard of the insurance principles which the country desires to retain in its National Insurance benefits. I do not propose, beyond that, to follow him in what he has said, but will deal with one or two questions about mental hospitals, educational services and taxation, though if I have time to deal with more than the first I shall be surprised.
Mental hospitals, under this Government, have been promised a better future than they have had a past. That does not relate only to buildings, but also to staff as well. These institutions are large in number and their welfare in the future is extremely important. I have a case in my own constituency where a very large mental hospital has been unable to obtain proper buildings for training for nurses of both sexes because the regional hospital board will not provide the necessary facilities. If I have not sent the Minister full particulars of that case I promise to do so in the near future. Unless the young people are given proper training facilities and proper buildings in which they can carry out those functions, we will be unable to obtain recruits for the mental nursing service which is so vital to this country.
Then there is the question of salaries. The salaries in the neighbourhood of the big towns, particularly London, are weighted, that is to say, a higher amount of salary is offered nearer these big towns than is the case further out. In theory, that is a very good idea, but in practice. where one mental hospital is just on one side of the line and another on the other side, it is very difficult to explain to the staff getting the smaller income why they should be worse off than those in the neighbouring nearby institution, because they look upon it that they are living in exactly the same district with the same expenses to meet. This is a question which will have to be looked at with a slightly more human eye than has been the case in the past.
§ Mr. Albert Roberts (Normanton)
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman tell us where the line should be drawn?
§ Mr. Doughty
The line should be properly drawn with a view to where the hospitals are situated rather than a geographical line. The latter might pass through the grounds of one hospital, but outside the grounds of another. There ought to be a readjustment one way or another so that both hospitals are either inside or outside the line, preferably inside. Where the line is drawn arbitrarily on a mileage basis there will be these irregularities where one hospital gets the extra emoluments while another nearby does not.
Many of the older mental hospitals were designed many years ago and were the best that then could be provided. Today, although the buildings are very sound, they are very old-fashioned, and I assure the Minister of Health that, where money can be spent upon the wards of these hospitals, they can be enormously improved for quite a small outlay. The old wards which have brick walls and are equipped with very hard beds and are unattractive, but when a certain amount of money has been reasonably spent on them, the wards become more attractive, the beds more pleasant and life is less hard for the patients in them.
I have been round one such large mental hospital in my own constituency, and I can assure my right hon. Friend that between modernised wards and the old ones not yet modernised there is all the difference in the world in appearance, while the difference in expense is really very slight indeed. I mention that because I think this question cannot in every single case be left to the regional hospital board, but that where we are to modernise old hospitals the Minister of Health himself must take an active personal interest in proposals and suggestions for modernisation.
Passing from mental hospitals to the ordinary general hospitals which the public use, I want to issue a word of warning against over-specialisation. It may be sound from the medical point of view for each particular hospital to deal with a particular subject or form of complaint, and the medical point of view may be very good, but it is not always the best for the patient. If the patient is suffering from a complaint 527 which can be dealt with perfectly well in a general hospital, and if the matter is not one of some complication, demanding expert knowledge, it is much better that the patient should be treated in a hospital, small or large, not too far away from his home, at which his friends can visit him and from which he can be allowed out for a short time. In such circumstances, patients would not feel themselves carried too far away from the circles in which they have been brought up. If, however, the patient is suffering from a rare complaint which requires very complicated treatment, it may be necessary to take him to a special hospital, but, with the exception of that particular kind of case, I ask my right hon. Friend not to apply over-specialisation to the hospitals.
The Gracious Speech also refers to the provision that will have to be made in the course of this Session, and we are all agreed at least upon one matter. As the hon. Member for Sowerby said, taxation in this country is too high. If taxation is too high, trade will suffer and we shall be priced out of the markets of the world. There was a welcome reduction during the last Parliament, and I hope that the rates of taxation will again be reduced in this Parliament, though as soon as we begin to talk of any reductions in taxation, every hon. Member has his own particular favourites to bring forward in regard to both direct and indirect taxation.
I would recommend hon. Members to read the Report of the Royal Commission on the Taxation of Profits and Income. I do not claim to have read it all myself, but I have read some of it, and I think that parts of the Report and excellent. I am quite sure that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, when he deals with his next Budget, will refer to some parts of that Report. As far as the proposed capital gains tax is concerned, I hope that we have finally heard the last of it. From those who understand the matter, we certainly have. The extra inquiries and the private matters that would have to be disclosed if the recommendations of this Commission were adopted are such that I hope they will not be included in any Finance Bill.
I want to put in a word for the Millard Tucker Report. Here, like all Members 528 of the House of Commons, I have to declare an interest. Unless this Report is adopted, professional people and people who are self-employed will be unable to save for their later life. I therefore hope that when the Chancellor of the Exchequer introduces another Finance Bill he will refer to the Millard Tucker Report and its recommendations.
There were other matters that I had intended to raise, but time is passing, and I will, therefore, conclude my remarks on the Gracious Speech with what I have just said.
§ 9.1 p.m.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
We have had a debate today on the Loyal Address which our forebears a generation ago would have called a debate on the condition of the people, in the course of which we have had many notable speeches ranging over many subjects and raising important issues to which I hope we shall return, because many of them deserve special consideration in this Parliament.
I want to join in the tributes already paid to three notable speeches we have heard today, those of my hon. Friends the Members for Bootle (Mr. Mahon), Salford, East (Mr. Allaun) and for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler). Those of us who heard these three maiden speeches were deeply impressed by the knowledge and experience which the hon. Members brought to the problems with which they dealt. Having heard them overcome this first hurdle, we shall look forward with great interest to their contributions to our future debates because we believe that all three hon. Members have a notable contribution to make to our discussions.
One thing is clear, that this Session, which is due to last until the end of the summer or autumn of next year, will not be a notable one in the sphere of social services. There is to be a Bill, which we welcome, to amend the Family Allowances Act but, apart from that, there is no indication that any big change is contemplated in this respect. It will, therefore, be a disappointing Session to all of us who had looked forward to the gathering together of the experience gained in these matters in the last few years, and to that fundamental thinking which some of my hon. Friends, such as the hon. 529 Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) have been giving to social insurance.
Nine years have gone by since we framed the 1946 legislation. By 5th July of this year we shall have had eight years' experience of its working and of the first attempt ever made in any country to try to apply the traditional methods of contributory insurance to the entire population. In the course of that experience we have learned a great deal, and I regret to confirm what has been said already, that in the speech of the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance this afternoon we did not find that breadth of view, that vision, or presentation to the House and to the country of all that has been learned from our experience of these schemes.
In the time available I propose to confine myself to trying to express some of the things which we believe this House ought to be considering and, indeed, the things we would be doing if the Election had turned the other way. Let me, therefore, come to the major lessons we have learned—all of us, including myself and all those who had a part in framing the legislation which brought these schemes into operation.
It began in 1942 with the publication of the Beveridge Report. Beveridge laid it down that we ought to seek, by the insurance principle, to cover virtually the whole of the population, and to provide what he described as a subsistence rate of benefit to cover the major adversities of life. By and large, the House adopted his proposals, his schemes, his principles, and tried to translate them into legislation.
What has happened? The first thing is that we have not been able to provide on a contributory basis a scheme which covers everybody in the population. The last Measure which the Minister brought before the House was a confession of that. We welcomed that small Measure, but I hope we understand its significance, which is that we must raise the income levels below which people will not be compelled to pay contributions. I ask the House to realise that by exempting more people from paying contributions we are destroying one of the principles of the Beveridge proposal—its universal character. By so doing, we are, in effect, saying that there is a certain section of our population, the size of which is growing, for the compulsory insurance of 530 which a flat-rate contribution cannot make provision. The Minister has not been able to give us any figures, but it is clear that that section is growing all the time.
There is another fact which is of very great importance. In spite of all our efforts, from the very outset almost, the benefits have continually been falling behind the cost of living. We have a problem there. How are we to deal with it? The Minister has not had yet even suggested that it is a problem; but it is. The proposals for the new benefits which came into operation in April were before this House at the end of last year. Between the time the Bill was before the House and the time the new scales were brought into operation, their real value had fallen behind. They do not mean now what they meant in terms of purchasing power last December. How are we to deal with the problem of having a scale of benefits which is continually being undermined by the rising cost of living?
The Labour Party sought a solution. In our Election manifesto we put forward a proposal that there should be an annual review of all benefits to ensure that their real value is maintained from one year to another. The Government are entitled to reject that proposal. I should like to know whether the Minister of Health rejects it, and if so, for what reason. If he rejects it, what is his solution? No one can deny that the problem exists. Consequently, if our solution is rejected, what is the Government's solution? Or do the Government propose to allow the cost of living to rise until, in the end, public opinion drives them to bring in a new Measure to try to catch up with the problem?
There is another problem of immense importance. When we began the scheme we hoped to provide for the needs in adversity of most of the people by means of the basic benefits under the National Insurance Scheme. That has not been done. As the Minister said, the number of people in receipt of National Assistance has been climbing all the time. The number is greater now than it has ever been.
§ Mr. Griffiths
Let me correct what I said. Before the last increases were made, the number receiving National Assistance was greater than it had ever been. When we discussed the National Assistance Regulations in December the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said, in column 2449 of the OFFICIAL REPORT for 20th December, that the number of people affected by the regulations was 2½ million. The Minister told us this afternoon, in reply to a question which I put to him, that the number of persons in receipt of National Assistance has declined by 111,000 in consequence of the recent increase in the basic rates. That means that there are still more than 2 million receiving Assistance. That means that 22 per cent. to 23 per cent. of all the retirement pensioners in this country were receiving Assistance to supplement their basic rate last December.
What is the percentage now? Is it 20 per cent.? Let us assume that it is. That means that having had this recent increase at the expense of 1s. extra on the contribution paid by the worker, one in five of all pensioners now have to ask for Assistance to supplement their basic pensions. There is the problem. Are we to leave it there? Is the Minister bringing forward legislation to deal with that problem, or are we now confronted with the fact that it is accepted as a permanent part of our social service scheme that benefits are to be left at such levels that 20 per cent. or 25 per cent. of all retirement pensioners will have to seek Assistance? Those are the fundamental changes which have taken place and in the Gracious Speech there is no indication that we are to deal with this very big and fundamental problem which has arisen in our experience of the Scheme.
I turn to one or two other points which have already been raised. If we are to consider making the Insurance Scheme a scheme to provide benefits by which the bulk of the people will be covered, and we are to retain the contributory principle, do we believe that that can be done in 1955 by retaining the principle of a flat-rate contribution? The flat-rate contribution has already reached the stage where it is the most aggressive tax we have. I had a good deal of hesitation in raising it to merely 5s. Let us look at what it has now become.
532 Would the Minister care to tell the House how many of the self-employed are finding it impossible to pay the contributions? What is the number of evasions? Small shopkeepers and people engaged in trade on their own—and we have heard a lot of talk about the difficulties of these people—are finding it impossible to maintain their contributions. What is the size of the problem of evasion? My own view —and I say this to my friends in the trade union movement as well as to my friends here—is that our experience proves conclusively that if we are to retain the contributory principle, the insurance principle, if we are to raise the basic benefits to a level at which it will be unnecessary for one in five of our pensioners to seek Assistance, then we have come to an end of the value of the flat-rate contribution in our Insurance Scheme and we have to think again.
I know that there are all kinds of difficulties. I know the views of the trade unions and the views of industry. But in the industries I know best, as well as in others, the proportion of the contribution to the total earnings of the lower paid man compared with the higher paid man raises a serious problem. That problem has been aggravated by the relationship of the contribution to taxation. I have said before and I will repeat it, because it is important, that the only person who now pays the full insurance contribution is the one who does not earn enough to pay Income Tax.
The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance does not deny that and the Minister of Health will not deny it. We may pay insurance contributions, but a substantial proportion is set against Income Tax. Those who earn the biggest incomes in industry do the same thing. The only person who pays the full contribution is the one who has had it deducted from his earnings and who does not pay Income Tax. The flat-rate contribution has become the worst kind of aggressive taxation and should be seriously considered.
There are alternatives, which have been discussed today. I would ask the Minister whether it is not time that the fundamental problem of financing the scheme should be referred to the National Advisory Committee. He has told us that he has referred four problems dealing with the structure of the scheme to 533 that body, namely, the re-examination of the problem of short spells of sickness and unemployment; the liability of persons with small incomes; contribution conditions, and the question of widows' benefits, including that of the 10s. widow. They are all important anomalies which have been revealed in our experience of the working of the Scheme, but there are many others, both in the National Insurance Scheme and in the Industrial Injuries Scheme.
I should have thought that with the advantage of our years of experience of the working of the Scheme, and the actuaries' reports we should now be in a position to refer to the Advisory Committee some of the fundamental problems which have arisen. What is to be the future method of financing this Scheme? Are we to retain the subsistence principle in fixing our basic benefits? If so, how are we to fix those basic benefits? Upon what criterion are they to be based, or upon what cost-of-living index? Can we maintain the subsistence principle either upon the Beveridge basis or any other basis in the future, while still maintaining the flat-rate contributory principle? If we cannot, what is the alternative; a system of graduated contributions, a social security tax, or the transference of some part or all of the scheme to general taxation? There are all kinds of variants and problems which ought to be considered. Surely they should be referred to the National Advisory Committee.
In the light of what he has heard today I hope that the Minister will reconsider referring some of the basic problems to the Committee. When the announcement was made of the setting up of the Phillips Committee I understood that it was set up to consider some of these fundamental questions, which it was thought the National Advisory Committee could not consider. We have had the Report of the Phillips Committee. One of its recommendations was that the retirement age should be raised. I understand that the Government have rejected that recommendation. We have heard nothing about the rest of the Report. In setting up this Committee we asked busy people to give their time and effort, and they have made their report. The Minister has made only a cursory reference to the Report; there has not been a debate upon it, and we have not been told a word about the conclusions which the 534 Government draw from the recommendations. We have had no real quinquennial review of this Scheme.
Now I come to our proposals, and the reasons for them. We propose that a Ministry of Social Welfare should be set up. That Ministry should undertake the work which is now carried on by the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, and it should also absorb the functions which are now performed by the National Assistance Board. It would mean the abolition of an independent Assistance Board.
Why do we advocate that step? First, we believe that unless a fundamental change is made in our system of social insurance, National Assistance will become, increasingly, not a residual service but an integral part of our welfare system. At present, there are between 2 million and 2½ million persons on National Assistance. From our experience in going about the country and in visiting our constituencies we know that many people—and they are among the best of our people—will not apply for National Assistance.
I am not blaming the Assistance Board; it has done a good job. I am not blaming the local officers, who have also done a good job. I wish especially to make that point clear. The fact is that we set out to abolish the Poor Law and replace it by National Insurance and National Assistance. We have not succeeded. I say that "we" have not succeeded. This House has not. Successive Governments have not. There are still people who are in dire need of Assistance which could be provided, but who will not ask for it because they feel it would lower their dignity if they did so. There is still a tinge of charity about it, and so long as that remains we shall have failed.
How shall we overcome that problem? I have come to the conclusion that we shall never do it so long as we have a separate Assistance Board and separate Assistance officers. We therefore propose to absorb it into the Ministry of Social Welfare. We propose that there should be one local office, the office of the Ministry of Social Welfare, which will deal with all pensions, insurance benefits, supplementary benefits and the rest. We propose that the Minister shall be responsible to Parliament, because we believe that until 535 we recast the whole of the Scheme, Assistance is such an important part of the provision that we make for people's welfare and needs, that the Minister ought to be directly responsible to Parliament. We propose that every year the Minister should come to the House and review all the benefits, and the rates of Assistance, and should give a report to the House and relate it to this problem of maintaining the real value of benefits and assistance.
The Government may reject that proposal, but if they reject it what is their alternative? Are we to go on for another year or two while there are still people in need of help and who will not go to the Assistance Board because they believe it is undignified to do so? There is the problem, and there is our proposal. If the Minister is to reject it, I would like him to reconsider what his alternative is, or does he propose to let the present state of affairs continue?
All of this illustrates the point which I am making, that our aim of providing a national scheme in which the basic pension covers people's needs has not been achieved. One of the consequences of that is that the people are looking outside the Scheme for some other provision to do what Lord Beveridge thought the Scheme itself would provide. There is a growing demand among workers in industry for voluntary superannuation schemes. At present, one-third of all the workers in the county—8 million out of 24 million —are covered by superannuation schemes. The number is increasing every year.
The result is that workers are contributing towards the National Insurance Scheme on a flat-rate contribution basis, and towards their voluntary superannuation schemes on either a flat rate or some other basis, and the number grows all the time. What are the Government's views about that? Do they propose to encourage it? If they propose to encourage it, what steps do they propose to take to ensure that the two-thirds of the workers not covered by the schemes are covered by them? Do the Government realise that this becomes an increasingly acute problem as the number of persons covered by voluntary contributory schemes increases, by reason of their non-transferability?
Does the Minister realise that if a person who has contributed for ten or 536 fifteen years to a voluntary contributory scheme in a firm leaves that employment, even if it is better for him or for the nation that he should leave that employment, he surrenders all or most of the benefits which have accrued while he has contributed towards his pension? Has consideration been given to the question of transferability, of arranging for these schemes to be transferable from one job to another so that a man may be free to change his job if he finds another in which he can render greater service for the nation?
Those are some of the enormous problems which exist. I have mentioned only a few and my hon. Friends have mentioned others. They are some of the problems which have developed and grown in the last seven or eight years—indeed, in the ten years which have passed since 1945. I had thought that in the speech which the Minister had the opportunity to make this afternoon we should have from him a comprehensive survey of the changes which I have mentioned and of all the other changes which my hon. Friends have mentioned. I had thought that he would give us his view of what consideration of a fundamental kind should be given to the future of the social services.
I want to mention one other aspect, if I may. We accepted the Beveridge proposal about subsistence, but the fact that we accepted it then does not mean that we are tied to it for ever. Have the sick and the unemployed, and, in particular, the old, always to be tied to a subsistence basis? Are they in any way to be provided with some increase related to the increased prosperity and productivity of the country? Or are they to be the only persons tied to a subsistence level, while everybody else is developing towards a higher standard of life? What my hon. Friend said is perfectly true; pensions and benefits, in proportion to earnings, are becoming lower every week.
What would happen if we had a touch of unemployment and people went straight from wages to unemployment benefit at existing levels? If we have a recession, as we might, and if October holds for us what the Chancellor of the Exchequer was afraid it held for us when he spoke in February, and we have unemployment, it will destroy the Scheme 537 in a week. I speak with some experience. If we have unemployment in industry, and men go from their wages to unemployment benefit at the existing rates, that will create a very serious position. All these are problems which deserve full consideration. With my hon. Friends, I am disappointed that the Minister gave no indication that either he himself, directly as a Minister, or his Advisory Committee is to give serious consideration to these fundamental problems.
Is there any hon. Member on either side of the House who has not come back from his Election experiences on Assistance convinced that these 2 million people are getting a raw deal? Consider the old age pensioners who are on Assistance and whose Assistance level was raised and then dropped as the insurance benefits were increased. Consider those of 65 or 70 years of age who have been through 10 years of war and through years of depression in their working lives. Has any hon. Member returned from his Election experiences who is not convinced that they are getting a raw deal from us as a Parliament and as a nation?
The Minister spoke of leaving the initiative to the National Assistance Board. I remind him that I, too, have been a Minister. I say that these people who are on Assistance and who are getting the worst deal of all, who really are suffering, ought to be the first priority. The Government ought to indicate to the Assistance Board that the matter should be dealt with at once. I beg the House to realise that, having dealt with that first priority, we must recognise that it is time that we gave consideration to some of the basic problems which I have sought to raise.
§ 9.29 p.m.
§ The Minister of Health (Mr. Iain Macleod)
I am bound to confess that when I first heard that we were to have a debate on the social services today my heart sank, because we had the identical debate—and a rather desultory debate it was—just before we left for the hustings, indeed, when most hon. Members had already gone. I rather feared that the new knights and burgesses of the Parliament who had returned would be making the same speeches which were made two days before Parliament was 538 dissolved. However, one can say—reversing the usual order of things—that the maidens came to the rescue of the knights. We have had three excellent maiden speeches on which I should very sincerely like to congratulate those who made them.
I will take in a sense as a text for what I want to say, one sentence from something said by the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Mahon). The hon. Member spoke of the tuberculosis figures in Bootle. Very serious indeed they were, but if we look at the figures we find that in 1949 in Bootle the death rate per million was 1,043 and in 1954 it was 273. That is an enormous and dramatic change covering the period of both Governments.
I shall have a number of controversial things to say tonight because, unlike the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), I have a very poor opinion of the record of the Socialist Party both in promise and performance in relation to the social services, but we can still take those figures in some way as a mirror of the progress which we have been making in these years. Whatever conflicts we have across the Floor of the House, and whatever pattern the social services take in future, I think we can say that, not just now, but for many years, the social services of this country have been the finest in the world.
The right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) opened the debate with some not particularly kind references to myself. I do not complain about that because last time she was very charming to me and I suppose 50 per cent. is as good an average as I can expect. She will remember that last time she was surprisingly gay. She had shaken off the dust of Fulham from her feet, if that is the right way of putting it, and was going to the freer air of Warrington. She came into the debate with her cane, but she swished it in the air and did not reach out for any more substantial targets. Now she has returned a sadder and—anyway a sadder woman—having converted Warrington into a marginal seat and, so far as I could make out, she took up her speech today exactly as she left off seven weeks ago.
I am bound to say that, although no doubt it was an excellent speech, it seemed a little hard on the rest of us. I 539 can see no reason why the class should be kept in because teacher wants to finish her prep. The right hon. Lady succeeded also in getting more fallacies into what she said about the Gracious Speech than would be possible without very concentrated thought.
Of course the Gracious Speech covers only one aspect of the programme which we have outlined in our policy statement. Of my own subjects, the only promise of legislation was in regard to medical auxiliaries. I do not think it likely that that legislation will be ready for this Session, although considerable progress has been made. As to some of the other matters concerned, the hon. Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) mentioned the Gowers Committee Report. Naturally, the promise that was given will be fully implemented, and the Bills will be brought forward.
As to matters which do not particularly concern legislation, such as poliomyelitis, to which the right hon. Lady referred—on which legislation is not at present needed—I hope, in the course of my remarks tonight, to carry a little further what I said in answer to a Question yesterday. The right hon. Lady asked me some very important questions, and throughout the day that was rather the theme of the debate. I was asked an immense number of questions covering six or eight different Ministries. I will do my best to answer them although those concerning another Minister that are in particular detail can perhaps best be dealt with by correspondence.
The right hon. Lady's most important question—the one that worries us all—is how we are getting on with the provision of beds on the mental side. It is easier to talk about mental deficiency, because there is a recognisable waiting list against which progress can be measured, which is not true, at any rate in general, of the mental hospitals. As far as mental deficiency is concerned, schemes that are already approved and in current building programmes will provide 7,000 new beds and there are under consideration schemes which will provide at least another 2.000.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The Minister says that they are "under consideration." What we want to know is when the beds will be occupied.
§ Mr. Macleod
One cannot give a precise figure for that, for some of the big schemes, like Greaves Hall, which is going up near Southport, will extend over a number of years. These are schemes which are already approved, in current building programmes, and take no account of the new capital investment programme which I announced to the House a short time ago.
§ Dr. Summerskill
The right hon. Gentleman must not mislead the House. If these schemes have merely been approved, building may not commence for two or three years and it may be ten years before the 7,000 beds to which he refers are occupied.
§ Mr. Macleod
Some of the very big schemes, such as Greaves Hall, certainly take a considerable number of years. How many years, one cannot say precisely. But against that figure we have to look at the waiting list, which at 31st Dceember, 1953, was 8,442. It was reduced—this shows the progress we are making—at the end of December, 1954, to 7,033, a reduction of 1,400. It will, therefore, be seen that we have already approved, quite apart from the schemes coming forward in proposals that will be laid before the House, sufficient beds to measure up to the size of the problem as far as mental deficiency is concerned.
As far as the mental hospitals are concerned, 1,000 extra beds have been provided since 1948. Beyond that, 3,000 have been approved in the current programme and we are looking at proposals for another 500. That is not a contribution to deal with a waiting list but is essentially a contribution to ease overcrowding, which—I do not pretend anything else—is very serious indeed. Although in many places the figure is much worse, the average is 15.6 per cent. Therefore, quite apart from that, we plan in addition to build new hospitals. I announced in the programme that one of the first hospitals to be built will be a mental hospital near Wolverhampton, and others are planned both for Lancashire and Yorkshire.
As far as the staffing problem is concerned, to which the right hon. Lady referred, there is a deficiency which might 541 be estimated at about 10,000. But the nursing staff as a whole—I am talking still of the mental side—has been slightly increasing year by year. We should not forget that. Too often the impression is given that the numbers of staff are declining—they are not. The grave problem is that of attracting, and above all keeping, student nurses. We have taken a great number of steps in this matter. I have outlined them many times to the House.
We have now deferment from National Service for male student nurses. Moreover, it has been agreed with the Service Departments that when, after their training in nursing, those men do their National Service, they do so in a nursing capacity. We have tried, by the employment of nursing assistants, by different methods of training student nurses, by refresher courses, and by inquiries into working conditions, to help to solve this problem, but I admit that it remains one of the most intractable which a Minister has to confront.
Still in answer to the right hon. Lady, I will very quickly give some information about the home-help service in which she was interested. The numbers have gone up from over 11,000 at the end of 1948 to over 33,000 at the end of 1954. They make, therefore, a most important contribution to the care of the sick. In the last year 62 per cent. of the cases they looked after were, I am told, classified as chronic sick.
§ Mr. Macleod
All the figures, unless I say to the contrary, are for England and Wales.
There is no absolute duty under the National Health Service Acts to provide this service, but all the local authorities, I am glad to say, provide it.
The right hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. J. Eden) dealt with the need for provision for the elderly sick.
§ Miss Herbison
It looks as though the right hon. Gentleman has now stopped giving figures about hospitals. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) made her speech she spoke for the whole of the United Kingdom, but now the right hon. 542 Gentleman, although we have been listening and waiting for figures for Scotland, too, has given us figures which apply to England and Wales only, and has not given us a single one for Scotland.
§ Mr. Macleod
The figures I have been giving are those for which I am responsible as Minister of Health in England and Wales, but I do not think that the pattern is very different in Scotland.
The very next point I was going to make was that it was a Scottish committee that suggested what, in ideal circumstances, the ratio might be of beds for the elderly sick. It was suggested that 1 per 1,000 was a suitable figure, though my own view would be, as, I think, that of most people would be, that we probably need a higher ratio than that. Clearly, what matters is that all these services, the hospital services, the local authorities' services, the welfare services, the general practitioner services, and the services of the voluntary bodies and the rest, must march together if we are to provide adequately for our old people.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) mentioned a circular that relates to remuneration. That circular was agreed with the Whitley Council with which it was negotiated, and was for a grade of nursing auxiliaries which had not previously had a recognised scale of remuneration.
I take up now the point about teachers' pensions being paid quarterly. I understand from the Minister of Education—I think he said this in the House—that this will be included amongst those matters to be discussed in the forthcoming consultations with the teachers and the local authorities on the superannuation scheme.
Next I come to the very notable point indeed made by my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) on liberty and the law. I am not to be taken as agreeing with the conclusions which he set before the House, nor with those contained in the admirable pamphlet called "The Rule of Law," which a number of my hon. Friends have produced, but we recognised in our election manifesto that there is considerable anxiety on this score.
Speaking entirely personally, it does trouble me that as a Minister I have such powers in my hands, against which there is no appeal, powers under which 543 enormous fines can be imposed, under which, indeed, since virtually there is more or less a monopoly of health services in this country, I can take away a man's livelihood. It is true that one spends a great deal of time studying these matters but the conning of minutes is not the same thing as the hearing of evidence, and I think that we all feel that there is here a problem which we cannot brush aside, and one into which we should like to inquire.
My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate (Mr. Vaughan-Morgan) generously suggested that I should take upon myself an enormous extra load of work in connection with school dental and medical services, food hygiene, the industrial health service, and so on. It is true, as he said, that reports are being made on different aspects of the social services, for example the Guillebaud and the Phillips Reports, and therefore it is natural that we should begin to look at the administrative structure of the social services.
The hon. Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) devoted a good deal of her speech to the question of the old workmen's compensation cases, and urged that something more should be done for them. It is a problem which we all know very well and one about which people feel deeply. It is one to which the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) and the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington could not find an answer, although they both tried.
My right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance did something in 1952 for these men who are unable to work, and again at the end of last year, by increasing the sickness benefit and their unemployability supplement. These matters were discussed by my right hon. Friend and the T.U.C. before the Election, and no doubt now that the Election is behind us they will be discussed again.
Before referring to the speech of the right hon. Member for Llanelly, perhaps I should say a few words about a point which was made in many speeches on the question of disregards and the earnings rule. One should keep in one's mind, when considering disregards, which in my view are extremely generous, that if one alters the disregards upwards one does 544 not help the poorest of the poor. That can only be done by an increase in the scale rates.
Secondly, one should remember that the earnings rule, in respect of which the maximum has been increased since the scheme was introduced, is clearly bound up with the retirement principle. If we elect to scrap the retirement principle there will be no need for an earnings rule, but if we are going to keep pushing up the earnings rule it is bound to come into conflict with the retirement principle itself and may well induce men and women to leave full-time employment. It is important, though it need not be decisive in our minds, that the Phillips Committee reported against the suggested change.
§ Mr. G. M. Thomson (Dundee, East)
The right hon. Gentleman's remarks about the earnings rule do not apply to widows' pensions. Will he say a few words about them?
§ Mr. Macleod
I was talking about retirement pensions, and I should not like to add to what my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance said in his opening speech today.
We heard a good deal from the hon. Member for Sowerby about the need for basic thinking about the social services. I am not particularly impressed by the Socialist record. The Socialists have been in power four times and they have never produced a Bill of any importance at all to deal with housing or a Bill of any sort on education, and they have done nothing at all in respect of National Insurance and National Assistance except pick other men's flowers. They have been rejecting today every single one of the principles entrenched in the 1946 Act. One by one all these are being defended from this side of the House. It is from the other side of the House that the attack comes on National Assistance, on the retirement principle, on the insurance principle, and on the flat-rate benefit.
All I should like to say is that this is a matter of great importance. It would be helpful if the Opposition would devote to it some of the years ahead of them in opposition. They have begun a long lease of the benches opposite—yes, 545 the freehold. We will apply the Landlord and Tenant Act to them in due course.
It would be helpful if hon. and right hon. Members opposite made up their minds on some of these issues. There is one particular matter on which there was a certain amount of original thought from the Socialist Party, and that was the National Health Service Act. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, a certain amount. I am always very generous in these matters. I have always stated that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) had every qualification to bring in the National Health Service except common sense. I profoundly believe that to be true.
What does delight us on this side of the House is that some time this year, probably in the autumn, we shall have a report from Mr. Guillebaud's Committee. This Committee was set up by a Tory Minister and it will report to a Tory Minister. The review and any reconstruction in the National Health Service that will follow from that will be carried out by this Government.
I turn, if I may, to the speech of the right hon. Member for Llanelly. He is what might be described in the social services as a founder member of the "ask your dad" school of debate. He put a number of questions to me about the policy on which he fought the General Election, and asked me whether I accepted or rejected it. The short answer to that is, I do not have to. The country has already done it. The electors have already rejected the proposals which the right hon. Gentleman has now put before this House.
The solution that he brought up again was to link the cost of living and pensions. The difficulty is to tie the two together. That solution is the one thing that he himself described a few years ago as impracticable. He knows he did so, but he has now changed his mind. He is perfectly entitled to change his mind.
§ Mr. J. Griffiths
But the Minister himself has changed his mind, as has his party. He has just paid a handsome tribute to the National Health Service, which hon. Members opposite resolutely opposed when it first came before this House.
§ Mr. Macleod
The right hon. Gentleman urges an annual review of benefit rates, which means an annual review of contributions. He asked me to comment on it. I will answer him in the words of the Phillips Committee, in paragraph 215.On the whole, the conclusion we have reached is that there cannot be any stereotyped formula for fixing the level of benefit and changes should not be made except at infrequent intervals and unless there are compelling reasons.That is exactly the same point that we on this side of the House take, and we reject the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman, as the country has already rejected them.
The hon. Member for Sowerby said in his speech that it was necessary to try to think out the way that these social services should go ahead. I would agree with him but would differ from him as to whence the constructive thought will come. No constructive thought can be expected from the benches opposite.
It is after the passing of the legislation that the work begins, and we ought now in all these schemes to be breaking clear of the teething troubles that were bound to affect some of them, whichever side of the House sponsored their passage into law originally. Is it possible to find some principles that should guide us in this period ahead? I should like to put three before the House. First, I think that increasingly we would like to see—particularly on this side of the House—responsibility going where the work is done. That will mean, of course, a trend in responsibility downwards. It is one of the matters that are being considered by the Ministers concerned with local government, and the House will remember the references to local government reform in the Gracious Speech.
Secondly, I think we should try to bind together more closely than we have done already, not in opposition but in comradeship, the voluntary and the State services. That is the second principle which we should try to follow. It means that we should try to get leagues of friends increasingly active in the hospitals. It means that the hospitals should be more open than they are now. It means that the mental hospitals should have more open days. It means that people should begin to feel that they own the hospitals 547 and the schools just as much as they own the town hall or the football ground.
The third and last principle is that we should try to encourage diversity in the social services. We have no use for the strait-jacket approach of hon. Gentlemen opposite. In the Health Service we have no interest in trying to prevent people buying privacy for themselves or their families, if they want to, when they or their families are ill. That was the one and only positive proposal which the party opposite found in the National Health Service to put before the electorate.
I do not believe that any single pattern can cover the range of the social services, and it is, therefore, of great importance that we should encourage independence in every possible way. I think also that we should not be ready to shrug off on to the State our own family and personal problems, and I think it is of great importance that we should encourage people deliberately to seek for, and to save for, a higher standard than the minimum provision of State insurance or assistance.
We reject altogether the proposals for insurance that have come from the opposite bench today. Indeed, they are the proposals which the Tory Party fought for and lost over in 1910. The Labour Party find themselves today—particularly its Left wing—ensconced in exactly the same ditch that we abandoned before the First World War.
Finally, it has to be remembered that the social services have to be earned and paid for by the prosperity of this country —my right hon. Friend made that point in his opening speech—because these social services are not a gift of Government. They are not the property of any political party, in spite of the protestations of the party opposite. They belong to the people. They are their services, and it is the duty of social service Ministers to do what they can to administer them in the interests of the people.
§ Miss Herbison
May I ask the Minister a question about Scottish affairs? He said he was speaking as the Minister of Health. The right hon. Gentleman has covered so many subjects tonight that 548 he has not been speaking as the Minister of Health but for the Government. In the pathetic speech he has made he has not given one answer to any of the questions affecting the great country of Scotland. Can he give us any of the figures for Scotland corresponding to those which he gave for England?
§ Debate adjourned.—[Mr. R. Thompson.]
§ Debate to be resumed Tomorrow.