HC Deb 25 February 1957 vol 565 cc867-999

3.31 p.m.

Mr. H. A. Marquand (Middlesbrough, East)

I beg to move, That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government immediately to increase the level of retirement and old age pensions and other National Insurance benefits and to request the National Assistance Board to adjust its scales of assistance. I notice that the Prime Minister, whom we were glad to see here a short time ago—we are sorry we do not see him here now—the Home Secretary, whom we are glad to see here, and other Ministers, have tabled an Amendment to this Motion. We put the Motion on the Order Paper on Thursday and the Amendment was put down on Friday, I think. Since then we have read in the Press that the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and other distinguished members of the Government have been at Chequers at the weekend, and we have been told, also, that there they have been rethinking their policy, and I hope that in rethinking their policy they have thought particularly about their policy for the old-age pensioners and people on National Assistance.

Last Tuesday, we listened to a shocking announcement from the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the intention of the Government to attack the standards of living of the lower-paid workers, the parents of large families and the children. The next day the Daily Sketch, one of the newspapers which support the Government—I suppose they are not entirely proud of support coming from that quarter, but, at any rate, it is one of the most prominent, continuous and persistent supporters of the Government—told us: Steps announced by the Government yesterday make it certain that Income Tax will be cut in the Budget, in April. The Prime Minister and his colleagues must have been thinking about the Budget when they met at Chequers. This is the time of year when the Estimates have been completed, at least in broad and general terms, and when the Chancellor of the Exchequer is formulating the general shape of the Budget to come. I say that it would be an outrage if, in the Budget which we are to hear next April, there were to be yet another hand-out to Income Tax and Surtax payers and nothing done for the poorest of the poor.

We move this Motion at this time to declare our view of what should be one of the priorities in the coming Budget. It is not our view alone. The Minister must be aware of the resolutions passed by the Trades Union Congress, the last of them passed only a short time ago, in September. The Trades Union Congress speaking for the mass of the organised workers, has put itself on record as saying that the present rates of retirement and other insurance benefits do not amount today to a reasonale subsistence level. I am quite sure that, the Trades Union Congress having passed that resolution in September, its leaders must already have made the Minister aware of their feeling on this subject and asked him what he is going to do about it.

What criteria determine the adequacy of these retirement benefits and other benefits provided under the National Insurance Act? I think there is general agreement on both sides of the Committee on this aspect at least of the matter, what the criteria of the adequacy of the benefits should be. The former Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, Mr. Peake, as he then was, laid particular emphasis on one of these criteria. I shall deal with that first, namely, the numbers of retirement pensioners, and of recipients of unemployed and sickness benefit as well, who find themselves obliged to resort to National Assistance. That is one of the criteria, and a criterion to which Mr. Peake, I think very rightly, attached a great deal of importance when he spoke on these subjects in the House.

Let us see how these figures have moved in the last few years. In 1946, no fewer than 1,539,000 supplementary pensions, as they were then called, were being paid. Then the Labour Government raised the pension from 10s. to 26s. —still the largest increase in the retirement pension which has ever been given. As a result of the raising of the pension to that new level of 26s. the number of supplementary pensions fell, in 1947, to 567,000 and, in 1948, to 526,000.

It is true, of course, that it rose later, but even in 1951, the year of the maximum impact on the economy of this country of the Korean War, there were only 767,000 retirement pensioner households receiving National Assistance. By 1955 the number rose to over 1 million—1,001,000; and then the Government, and Mr. Peake as the Minister, raised the pension, and the number on Assistance fell to 895,000, after the increase in April, 1955.

The number soon began to rise again. The cost of living soon began to run away from the pension. Retirement pensioners and the unemployed and sick evidently found it increasingly hard—and almost as soon as the pension was raised—to maintain themselves on those levels, and in December, 1956, the last date for which we have figures, the number stood at 927,000–160,000 more than in the last year of the Labour Government, and not very far below the figure of 1 million which it had reached when Mr. Peake felt that, among other things, I know, an increase was justified in the pension.

I hope that the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, or possibly the hon. Lady the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, if she speaks early in the debate, will be able to give the figures for January. The last figures in the green book are for December, 1956. I know that the figures in that book are quarterly figures, but I do not suppose that there is any difficulty in finding out what they are for January. I feel sure that if the Minister is doing his job with the keenness and efficiency that we expect of him he knows the figures already. We should like to have them for the purposes of the debate.

These figures, with the remarkably high level which they have reached in recent years as contrasted with the figures for the earlier years immediately following the war, though, in part, they must indicate the increased number of pensioners, in the main reveal a truth which is very often overlooked in debates on this subject. As the pensioners grow older their resources are used up and more and more of them have to resort to Assistance.

Even a very small rise in prices increases the figure substantially, whereas previously a rather large rise had to take place before there was a substantial increase in the number. Old people drawing these pensions and allowances are growing older, and larger numbers of them are surviving to a greater age than used to be the case. They are finding it increasingly difficult, as the years pass, to refrain from resorting to National Assistance. Increasing numbers of them have to apply for it.

If the figure of 1 million retirement pensioners drawing National Assistance largely determined Mr. Peake's decision to raise pensions last time, I submit that the figure of 927,000 is enough to justify a rise being announced in this year's Budget, two or three months' hence. Will we have to wait another year? These announcements are usually made, rightly or wrongly, at Budget time. Chancellors of the Exchequer have to formulate and consider their ability to make an increase before their Budgets. Do we have to wait another year before any announcement of an increase is to be made? How many retirement pensioners will be resorting to National Assistance by the time another year has passed, if no change is made now? It would be wrong to wait now. We feel that on this count alone the numbers today justify an increase in pensions, and we must look forward to the increased difficulty of the retirement pensioners to maintain themselves on their pensions. We know that that is bound to happen through the actions which the Government themselves are taking.

This leads me to the second criterion which ought to determine why an increase in pensions is necessary. The second, of course, is the cost of living. We have had so many debates on this subject, several quite recently, and so many Questions asked in the House and so much information given in the columns of the OFFICIAL REPORT, in the green books and the reports of the National Assistance Board, and by other sources, that I certainly do not want to try to repeat them all today.

Large numbers of figures are essential to a proper consideration of this question, but they are somewhat of an impediment to an easily understood debate and I do not want to give many figures. If hon. Members ever talk to retirement pensioners in their constituencies and when they come on deputations to present their case to groups of Members, they must know that they feel that the cost of living is rising very rapidly at the present time.

The Minister said earlier this afternoon that he could not confirm the accuracy of every one of the list of commodities and services, the prices of which had gone up, which were contained in the three Questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, North (Mr. Lewis), but if he cannot confirm every single one he must be able to confirm the great majority. We knew that the prices of tea, bread and sugar have gone up. We know that the price of milk has gone up, because, unfortunately, the House approved the Orders raising the price of bread and milk. We know that bus fares have been increased and that the prices of gas, electricity and coal have gone up. There is no doubt at all about these facts, although there might be in my hon. Friend's list one or two cases where fluctuations have possibly taken place in the meantime.

I will not base myself on that kind of argument. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary can produce some information about cheese or some other commodity if she wishes. I will base myself on figures given by Her Majesty's Ministers. That is the best way to put the point. Let us look back to 1954, when Mr. Peake, as he then was, introduced the last Measure authorising an increase in pensions and benefit rates. He said, on 8th December, 1954: …the Bill restores the value of insurance and industrial injuries benefits and pensions to the level that we all intended they should command when we settled what they should be in the two great Acts of 1946."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th December, 1954 Vol. 535. c. 979.] That was a Conservative Minister speaking.

Without quoting any more of the great variety and volume of information which my hon. Friends have collected in all their researches and Questions to Ministers, I pass to what the Government say today. Here it is. Only two or three weeks ago answering a Question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) the Minister said: On the basis of the retail prices index 40s. today"— that is the rate of pension payable to-day— is the equivalent of 37s. in April. 1955."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th February. 1957: Vol. 564, c. 16.] On 18th February the Minister told us that the index—the only index that we have for these purposes although unfortunately it does not include the expendi- tures of retirement pensioners—shows an increase between April 1955 and today of 9 per cent.

Therefore, on the Minister's own admission, the Government are now failing by 9 per cent., that is, by 1s. 9d. in the £. Eleven years after the war ended, and after six years of office, though they said that they were going to stop the hole in the purse, the Government are failing today by 1s. 9d. in the £, to make good an obligation which they accepted as reasonable only two years ago, namely, the obligation to maintain the standard of living which was provided for pensioners in 1946.

That was the year when the whole nation was exhausted by the strain of the greatest war it had ever fought, when half of its merchant fleet was at the bottom of the sea and two-thirds of its export trade had had to be sacrificed in the interest of national effort. We were then at a very low level of economic activity because of our great war effort. We thought that figure was reasonable then. Now, eleven years later, we are failing by 9 per cent.—by 1s. 9d. in the £—to maintain the standard of living which the nation accepted as reasonable eleven years ago.

Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)

While accepting the validity of the right hon. Gentleman's statement about 1946, to be perfectly fair would he not agree that the value of that 26s. had sunk considerably by 1949, and that even by early 1950 there had been no increase?

Mr. Marquand

Of course, I am not seeking to deny facts or to twist facts in any way.

This is the fact which the House of Commons must face: that we are short today by 9 per cent., or 1s. 9d. in the £, of being able to fulfil an obligation which the nation undertook when it was far weaker, far less able to do these things; when its economy was strained, and in some places almost cracking, and had to be rebuilt after the war. The rebuilding is over. The economy today is in reasonably good shape, with vastly increased investment and vastly increased employment compared with what it was eleven years ago.

It is no comfort to old-age and retirement pensioners—as the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) must know very well—if the hon. Gentleman goes to Barry, where they are pretty outspoken people, and tells them, "Ah, but way back in 1949 people had less than this." It will not butter many parsnips, and it will not convince many Welsh people in Barry that his argument is relevant to their plight today; and it is their plight today with which the House of Commons should concern itself this afternoon.

As I have said, we know that the cost of living is rising for these people. We know that bus fares are dearer. We know that coal, gas, electricity, tea, and so on, are more expensive for them. We know that they have to rely a great deal upon these necessities of life, and the little comforts. We know the comfort that tea brings to the majority of the British people. We know that the cost of these things has been rising. We know, moreover, that the two most important of them, bread and milk, necessary in the diet of very poor people to maintain bodily strength and energy, not only of children but of old people, also—we know that the price of these two important foods has been raised not by the accident of the movement of external prices over which the Government have no control, but by the deliberate action of Her Majesty's Government.

We know, further, that before long the difficulties of these people will be increased once again by the deliberate increase in rents—

Mr. John Paton (Norwich, North)

And rates.

Mr. Marquand

And rates. Indeed, we know that rates and rents can be paid by the National Assistance Board.

What will be the increase in the numbers on National Assistance when the increase in rents and rates comes into full operation? I would like to know the Minister's estimate of that figure? Will not many of these increases affect pensioners before the next Budget? Is it reasonable or sensible, therefore, to tell these people to wait until the Budget of 1958 before they get any alleviation?

When the Government move their Amendment to the Motion we shall be asked to support them— … in all measures they may take to protect the real value of these benefits. The key word in that sentence is "may". The House of Commons and the country, and especially the old-age pensioners, are asked, by the Amendment, to buy a pig in a poke. They are asked to wait for something which may happen. We say that it is the duty of the House of Commons, of Parliament, of the Government, now to recognise the facts of the situation, and the failure of the nation to live up to the promises made in 1946, and to raise the pensions immediately.

The Government, of course, have an answer to this, an answer which they always make; an answer which was suggested in the intervention made just now by the hon. Member for Barry. It is the old familiar answer, "Yah, what did you do?" The Minister of Labour gave this answer at the end of a recent debate. The right hon. Gentleman gave it with great éclat. It won him a storm of cheers. He said: The Socialist Government raised the pensions—only for some pensioners—in 1951, five years after the previous increase, after a 28 per cent. rise."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th February, 1957, Vol. 564, c. 1211.] The implication seems to be that the pensioners must wait, two years is too short a time. The pension was raised two years ago, to raise it now would be too soon. To raise it after only a 9 per cent. increase would not be justified.

We have heard the argument many times in the last six years during debates on the National Health Service and on many other subjects. What does it amount to? It amounts to saying to us, "You did no better, why should we?" That is the kind of argument which has some effect in a debate across the Floor, but what good is it to the country, what use is it to the old-age pensioners?

When the Government give that answer to us, do they ever tell the old-age pensioners, do they ever tell the country, did they tell the electorate when they went to them at the General Election, that all they could promise to do would be to be no better than the Labour Government? It seems to me that they promised a great deal more, but that is all that they can say now.

When right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite go to by-elections, after six years of Tory rule, do they tell the country that the nation is in a better position to help those poorer citizens than it was at the end of the Second World War? Do they?

Mr. Arthur Lewis (West Ham, North)


Mr. Marquand

Apparently the answer is, yes, and I seemed to get a somewhat hesitant nod from the hon. Lady the Joint Parliamentary Secretary.

Do they tell these people that the country is in a better position today than at the time of the Korean War? If the answer is, no, does this mean that the old-age pensioners are to suffer because of the cost of the war in Egypt? On the other hand, if the answer to this question is, yes—and it was, yes, to the first question—then why, if the nation is in so much better a position after six years of Tory rule than it was in 1946, cannot those pensions be raised now? Indeed, something better is obviously required, for the standard of the nation as a whole is much higher.

Let us look for a moment at the figures. By September, 1950, the cost of living was about 6 points above what it was when the National Insurance Act became law. It was 14 points above the 1946 level. At that time, in September, 1950, the Labour Government accepted the immense new burden of rearmament. We need not discuss that question now—it would probably be out of order to do so—but hon. Gentlement opposite did not object at that time. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) said that it was a right decision, and he applauded it.

Shortly after this immense new burden on the revenue was accepted in the autumn of 1950, the Korean War began to affect our cost of living. By the end of 1950 import prices had risen 28 per cent. above the 1947 level. By 1951, they had risen a further 33 per cent., making a total of 61 per cent, above the 1947 level. Such a stupendous increase in so short a time was bound to affect our cost of living. It was beyond the control of the Government that every nation in the world was piling up stocks of the raw materials without which we cannot carry on this country's trade, and thus raising prices.

It was in April, 1951, that the decision to raise pensions was announced in the Budget. The index then was 19 points above the 1946 level—not 28 points. The index went on rising until January, 1952. Indeed, it rose 23 points between April, 1951, and January, 1952. It was the burden of arms caused by the threat of a third world war which made it difficult to find the funds for pensions. It was the rise in external prices caused by the Korean War which caused the rapid rise in the cost of living.

That was the situation in 1951 when the decision was taken to raise old-age pensions. It was not as much as we should have liked or as soon as we should have liked, but that was the position of affairs at that time—an immense new armament burden suddenly undertaken and war actually raging and forcing up external prices, which, in turn, affected our cost of living.

What was the situation between 1952 and October, 1954, after the Conservative Party had taken power? Import prices were falling, and, although they have since risen, they are still very much lower than they were in 1951. It should have been easy, during that period, not merely to get back to 1946 standards, as was briefly done in 1955, but to give the old people, the sick and the unemployed substantially more than the 1946 standard.

Today, world prices are still below the 1951 level, and now the order of the day is not rearmament but disarmament. Right hon. Gentlemen opposite have the advantage of lower external prices than we had and the advantage of a situation in which, apparently, we are all agreed that the time has come to reduce the burden of armaments on the Exchequer. Surely everything is now ripe for giving the old, the sick and the unemployed a better share of the national income than they have hitherto had. Through full employment, hard work and collective bargaining, our workers have been able to raise wages at a much faster rate than pensions have risen. Pensioners have no such power. They cannot bargain collectively, and they cannot go on strike. All they can do is endure and plead.

In consequence of the hard work of our people, the national cake has greatly increased in size since 1946. The trade unions have declared, through the Trades Union Congress, that they do not wish to be selfish and keep the whole of the increase for themselves, but are prepared to share it with their fellows, who have grown too old to carry on the daily toil.

In 1946, the 42s. pension for man and wife represented 31 per cent. of average wages. Today, the 65s. pension for man and wife represents only 28 per cent. of average wages. The same percentages apply to unemployment and sickness benefit. If we go back to 1938, we find that unemployment benefit represented 38 per cent. of average wages.

Looking at these figures, one can see that the Beveridge plan was a great advance on what went before. If mass unemployment had come, it would have been a great shield against adversity; but it did not. Instead, our enemy has been not slump but inflation. In these changed circumstances, something different from the Beveridge plan which we adoptd in 1946 is now seen to be required.

I believe that in future there must be a much closer relation between pensions and the level of wages. Pensions cannot always be left lagging behind the wage level. For this purpose, the wage level is taken as roughly indicating the increasing productivity of the nation as a whole. A means can, and must be, found to protect pensions from erosion by inflation. We believe that we have found a way of doing this.

The Phillips Committee's Report states, in page 81, that a flat rate contributory scheme … cannot be expected to provide a rate of pension which would enable everybody … to live without other means. The result, which we can now see very clearly before us after eleven years' experience, is that we had two "nations" in old age. One "nation" consists of the people with retirement pensions plus National Assistance. There are 2½ million people on National Assistance, and 88 per cent. of them are retirement pensioners. The other "nation" consists of those who have retirement pensions plus some form of superannuation benefit.

People who say that the burden on the Exchequer would be too heavy to finance the immediate improvement in retirement pensions and unemployment and sickness benefit for which we ask ought to be reminded of the burden on the Exchequer in the form of relief of tax on all sorts of superannuation schemes. The Millard Tucker Committee estimated, on the basis of the 1951–52 figures, that the burden on the Exchequer was about £100 million. It must be £125 million by today, because the number of schemes is increasing all the time. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us last year that his proposals for helping the self-employed to provide for their old age would result in a tax loss of about £50 million.

Therefore, the total State support for privately financed superannuation schemes is about £175 million. The State contribution to National Insurance pensions is £48 million, plus remitted tax on contributions to National Insurance £34 million, plus National Assistance for the aged £55 million, which gives a total of £137 million. Thus, as against £175 million for State support of privately financed schemes we have £137 million in support of National Assistance. If my calculations are wrong, I am sure that the Minister will correct me before the debate is over, but, whether the figures are precisely accurate or not, they are the measure of what we are doing, which is increasing—not diminishing—the difference between the two "nations".

At least one-third of our working population have no hope of ever participating in a private superannuation scheme. Is the farmer employing two, three, four or five men likely to provide them with a superannuation scheme? Is the small restaurant proprietor likely to provide his employees with a superannuation scheme? Are the large numbers of small employers in the building industry, with all their fluctuations in employment, likely to provide superannuation schemes? We cannot rely upon such schemes for at least one-third of our working population We have to remember that in formulating our policy.

Mr. G. B. Drayson (Skipton)

Would it not be within the ambit of trade unions to work out a scheme to which their own members could subscribe, even if it were not covered by existing legislation?

Mr. Marquand

Trade unions do. The miners' union does. Strong and well organised unions can, but not every employer can engage in such schemes. If the hon. Member will think it out quietly, he will see that the sort of industries I have mentioned could not have such a scheme.

Mr. Drayson

The agricultural workers' union.

Mr. Marquand

How could it? Is it to organise all the farmers in the country into one all-embracing national scheme? How could the cotton industry do it? How many industries faced with competition in the export markets could undertake such a scheme?

At least a third of the working population is left out. We cannot use the fact that there are such schemes as an excuse for not developing a national scheme. Until a more satisfactory scheme for National Insurance and pensions can be worked out, a scheme which will take account of the feeling of our people that they should be able to retire on something more than one quarter of their earnings, which is the present figure, there must be a substantial rise in the basic benefit, for the retired, for the long-term sick and the long-term unemployed, whose difficulty in making do on the basic 40s. per week is as acute—and sometimes more acute for the sick—as is that of the retired pensioner.

If we raise benefits, we certainly cannot leave the poorest of the poor without some improvement and that is why we have included old-age pensioners and those on National Assistance in the terms of the Motion. In December, 1956, 1,656,000 weekly assistance allowances were current. Taking account of wives, children and other dependants, that means that many more than 2 million were on National Assistance. There were 604,000 dependants in 1954 and today the number on National Assistance may be 2½ million. I do not believe that that figure is fully understood in the country. If it is, then I am astonished that our newspapers do not give it more publicity than they appear to do. It is a shocking thing to contemplate when the rates are so low as we know they are.

The Prime Minister, in a television broadcast to the nation, said, quite recently: We have built our defences against want and sickness and we are proud of it. Is he proud of this figure of approximately 2½ million people dependent on National Assistance? Is he proud of the way in which such people have to live? There is no intended criticism whatsoever of the administration of the Assistance Board.

In the Amendment the Committee is asked to express its confidence in the discharge by the Assistance Board of the duties laid upon it by Parliament. We are second to none in praising the discharge of the Board's administrative dutes. That is common ground and no one should say otherwise. I cannot dwell on it at length, because I do not have time.

Nevertheless, we must distinguish between policy and administration. We are entitled to question and criticise the adequacy of the allowances, because they are recommended to us. Those allowances cannot come into force until we approve them and take responsibility for them. We are not saying anything against Sir Geoffrey Hutchinson and his colleagues On all grounds they are highly efficient, but we do not understand how they arrive at some of their figures.

We are not given full information. I am glad that the Minister has said that the Board has information—which Parliament has been denied—about the pattern of expenditure of the least well-off people. We will not get that information until the middle of next year, after the Budget is over. The Board has it and I am very glad. We have many times pressed for an adequate index on which we could measure the needs of people on Assistance and the extent to which the allowances met those needs.

Do not let us be misunderstood on this matter. In pressing for an index—as the Phillips Report said there should be—we are asking not merely for the pattern of the expenditure which the least well-off people are able to afford, but for an evaluation of what they ought to be spending, what they need to spend to maintain themselves in good bodily condition, with adequate clothing and certain of the amenities of life.

We want an inquiry into what the poorest people in this Great Britain of ours, about which we are now hearing so much, ought to have as minimum physical standards. We want that laid down by an authoritative commission. We want an index based upon those findings, because what was done by Lord Beveridge and his colleagues during the war is now out of date. That was based on surveys and figures when we had 2 million unemployed. We want a survey of what is adequate, decent and reasonable in 1957. After years of experience, we have come to the conclusion that the administration of these matters should be the direct responsibility of the Minister, answerable to the House and able to explain and justify the rates.

Let us take one example of the scale rates of National Assistance. According to the Report of the Board for the year 1954, at least 309.000 children under 16 years of age—about as many children as in the whole of Wales—are the children of parents on National Assistance. Of those, no fewer than 266,000 belong to homes which have three or more children, which is probably one of the reasons why their parents are on National Assistance—that they dare to have more children than the average. That is no reason for penalising the children they have had.

Page 8 of the Board's Report for 1955 shows that the allowances for these children are: under 5 years of age, 13s. a week; between 5 and 11 years of age, 15s. 6d. a week; between 11 and 16 years of age, 18s. a week. I simply cannot understand how those figures are calculated. The rate is 40s. for an adult and 18s. for a child between 11 and 16, an age when, if properly fed, a child should be rapidly growing and needing new clothes and new shoes every few months and eating body-building foods which an adult no longer requires.

Mrs. Patricia McLaughlin (Belfast, West)

Has the right hon. Gentleman included family allowances of 8s. a week, or 10s. for the third child?

Mr. Marquand

I am glad that the hon. Lady has asked that question. I know that she is sympathetic towards these children. These are the basic rates of the National Assistance Board, When assessing the needs of a family, the Board is obliged to take account of family allowances already paid.

That is our quarrel with the present Prime Minister. When, last year, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, he introduced the extra family allowance of 2s. a week to help the largest families, these children received no benefit. The right hon. Gentleman reminded me this after- noon that I had raised this matter again and again. I shall continue to raise it until the matter is put right. Something must be done about it.

In 1954, the National Food Survey found that "there was a continued improvement in the diet of all groups except the largest families. Families with several children consumed much less than their share of meat, cheese, fish, fruit, and fresh green vegetables"—the bodybuilding and protective foods, and the worst off of those large families are obviously the ones to whom the 266,000 children to whom I have referred belong. I wonder whether the Prime Minister really knows about this. I wish he were here. I somehow doubt whether he does know. I wonder whether the Home Secretary knows. He has some responsibility in the matter.

The other day, in answer to a Question, the right hon. Gentleman told me that According to the revised estimates of local authorities, the average weekly payment for all children up to the age of 18 boarded out in England and Wales was £1 12s. 8d. a head in the financial year 1955–56. He went on to say—quite rightly—and I praise him for it: Local authorities are free to make what reasonable payments they think necessary up to an average of 40s. a head a week."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th February, 1957; Vol. 564, c. 26.] Does not the House feel that that is a little nearer what children should be getting? If children have to be looked after by foster parents they receive an adequate payment, but if they are looked after by their own parents, who may have had some ill-luck, or have been unemployed or sick for a long time, they receive this miserable amount. It seems to be a hang-over from the days of Mr. Bumble, when there was a belief that in some way or other parents must always maintain their children.

If 40s. is a reasonable sum to maintain a single person living on assistance—if it is just enough to keep body and soul together and allow him to buy food, clothes and, with the tiny extra that remains, to buy a reasonable amount of tobacco and enjoy a little entertainment, how can 18s. be enough to maintain a child, especially when children who are looked after by foster parents receive 32s.? It cannot possibly be fair. That is why we cannot understand how some of these allowances are fixed.

The old people are sometimes told that they should have saved. People who are now aged between 65 and 70 years of age were between 40 and 45 in the days of the depression. I used to meet them in South Wales then, and many of my hon. Friends worked among them. They were either unemployed, or were working in the coal mines for £2 a week.

Mr. Percy Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

In Birmingham, it was for 18s. a week.

Mr. Marquand

I believe that.

Mr. Shurmer

I have worked for it, too.

Mr. Marquand

When those people were younger, and when they might have been in a position to begin to save, by reason of their children having grown up, it was impossible. Even if they did manage to save, their resources have been quickly eroded by the rapid inflation which has gone on in recent years.

I ask the Government this afternoon to give them some hope, something better to look forward to than will be achieved by the Government taking all measures they may take to protect the real value of these benefits, in the words of their Amendment. The case for increasing those benefits is abundantly proved by the experience of every one of us whenever we meet our constituents. It is an insult to ask them to wait for something which may happen. In the words of the old song of the I.W.W. they are being told: You'll get pie in the sky when you die. I have tried to be not unduly partisan, and I plead with the Government to reconsider their decision and to accept the Motion.

4.26 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Miss Edith Pitt)

I will endeavour to take up some of the points which the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) has just made. I find myself in some difficulty in the matter, however. I am not sure whether his speech was critical of the present Government or defensive of his own, because he strayed a great deal into past history, and he must not mind if I do the same.

I shall begin by declaring an interest in the debate. I have an aged father, who is 78 years' old and whose only income is a retirement pension of £2 a week.

Mr. Percy Collick (Birkenhead)

The hon. Lady should be ashamed of herself.

Mr. Shurmer

They do not all have daughters who are Members of Parliament.

Miss Pitt

The hon. Member thinks that my father is lucky to have a daughter who is a Member of Parliament.

Mr. Shurmer

And one who looks after him.

Miss Pitt

I am happy to hear that compliment. It is a great pleasure for me to look after my father. I am not alone in that respect, and neither are many other pensioners.

When the new pension rates were introduced by the present Opposition, in 1946, I was very glad that they were increased to 26s. for the single man; I give the Opposition full credit for that. They introduced an Act which was based upon the framework created by the Coalition Government during the war. I was glad, because it helped to provide a larger measure of security in old age for our working men and women. This was something which had always worried them during the years up to and during the war. It also provided a minimum amount, upon which they could reply, from the State. They knew that it would meet their essential expenses.

Before that the pension was 10s. a week. It was certainly something. The married couple had £1, and many persons who were approaching retirement age told me that 10s. would pay the rent. When the 26s. pension was introduced, however, it meant something extra. I confess that at that time, not being a Member of Parliament, I did not reflect very deeply upon the cost of providing the pension part of the National Insurance benefits—a cost entailed by disregarding the Beveridge recommendation that retirement pensions should come into operation on a gradual scale.

Mr. John Hynd (Sheffield, Attercliffe)

Twenty years.

Miss Pitt

Instead of accepting that recommendation the then Government introduced the new pension at once, irrespective of the fact that many pensioners who were then eligible—this was in 1946—would have contributed nothing like the appropriate rates. They had, in fact, contributed for the 10s. pension, to which I have referred, from the time that it was introduced in 1926. Many other pensioners who would benefit in the immediately following years could not possibly pay anything like the appropriate rates for the pension they were now to enjoy.

Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)

The Minister said that she regretted the figure of 26s.—

Miss Pitt


Mr. Hynd

If she does not regret the 26s., what does she mean?

Miss Pitt

The hon. Member must not put words in my mouth.

Mr. Hugh Delargy (Thurrock)

It is high time that somebody did.

Miss Pitt

I did not say that I regretted the introduction of the 26s. figure. In fact, I said that I was very glad about it. But, having little responsibility at that time, I did not reflect very deeply about the burden which was being placed on that generation and succeeding generations of workers of maintaining the full pension. I hope that that makes it clear.

Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)

No, it does not.

Miss Pitt

Let us see what has happened since the appointed day in July, 1948, when all the National Insurance benefits came into operation. The rates then for the main benefits, sickness, unemployment and retirement pensions, were 26s. for the single person and 42s. for the married couple. If the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East had not gone back to 1946 for some of his comparisons, I should not now use the comparison which I wish to give. I should have been content to work, for all the benefits, from 1948 values. But, in fact, the retirement pension came in two years earlier. Its purchasing power had already diminished in that transitional period and yet the Opposition, then in power, took no action whatever in 1948 to amend the rate of the retirement pension. They simply renewed it at the same rates, 26s. and 42s., with the other National Insurance benefits.

Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)

What were the Conservatives doing?

Miss Pitt

Hon. Members opposite must not mind if they are reminded that the pension steadily diminished in purchasing power when they were in office and that it was a very long time before they took any action.

Mr. J. Paton

May I ask the hon. Lady whether, for the information of the House, she will quote any Amendment proposed by the then Conservative Opposition to increase the retirement pension?

Miss Pitt

Offhand, I cannot quote any such Amendment.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

There was none.

Miss Pitt

I will certainly have that checked. But is the hon. Member suggesting that his own party, when in power, should never have taken action except when prodded by the Conservative Opposition?

I still wish to make my point, because I think it important as we are considering what has, or has not, been done with pension rates. In October, 1946, the rate was 26s. for a single person. A year later, by October, 1947, the purchasing power had dropped to 25s. 8d. A year later, by October, 1948—that was the year when the other benefits came into effect—the purchasing power had dropped to 24s. A year later, by October, 1949, the purchasing power had dropped to 23s. 2d. A year later, in October, 1950, the purchasing power had dropped to 22s. 7d. a—[HON. MEMBERS: "A year later."] In September, 1951, the purchasing power had dropped to 20s. 4d. and it was not until September, 1951, on the eve of a General Election, that the Socialist Party took any action whatever to improve the rate of pension.

Mr. Lewis

Why not stick the rate up now and have an Election yourselves?

Miss Pitt

If history repeated itself, we must remember that when the Socialist Party put on an increase in October, 1951, the electorate rejected it at the General Election. When later, the Conservative Party acted much more generously to everybody in respect of National Insurance benefits, the electorate returned the Conservative Party to power with an increased majority.

Mr. Lewis

What about Lewisham?

Miss Pitt

In September, 1951, as I have reminded the House, the then Socialist Government took some action and raised some pensions. The single pension was raised to 30s. and the pension for married couples to 50s., but that related only to a limited number of pensioners. The original Measure was intended to provide an increase for pensioners over 70 years of age. The then Government accepted an Amendment to give the increased benefit to those men who would reach the age of 65 and those women reaching the age of 60 by 1st October of that year.

That created an anomaly which was unfair and unjust to many pensioners. In those days, as a welfare worker, I was frequently in difficulty when trying to explain to a bewildered elderly man who had reached the age of 65 in, perhaps, November, 1951. why he got only 26s., when his friend, "Bill Brown," who was 65 a couple months earlier, got 30s. I think that that anomaly was very wrong—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am glad to hear that chorus.

But, apart from the anomaly which was created, the then Socialist Government did nothing whatever about the other main rates of benefit. There was only a limited increase for a certain number of pensioners. The Government did nothing to increase the widows' pension and nothing to restore the full purchasing power of the pension as compared with the original figure in 1946, nor even with the figure in 1948.

Mr. Shurmer

I agree that many of us were dissatisfied with the position referred to by the hon. Lady. But now we have widows who should have received an extra allowance for their children of 2s., 4s. or 6s., according to the size of the family, and that amount has been stopped from the National Assistance money. But a next-door neighbour, whose husband may be working, gets the whole of the pension. The Ministry have refused to alter that position. How do we explain it to the widow?

Miss Pitt

The same position obtained when the party opposite was in power. The disregards have not been changed at all. I am not suggesting that two wrongs make a right, but I do not think that the hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer) can now claim to be defending the widow with children when his own party gave her far less generous treatment; because the allowances for her children were much lower in the days when the Socialist Government were in power.

I wish to remind the House that the Socialist Government left retirement pension rates at the same level for five years before increasing some of them, but not all, as I have explained. They did not even restore the full purchasing power of the pension, because in those five years prices had increased by 28 per cent., and the then rate for a single person was, at today's values, worth 7s. less than now. I do not know why the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East should be so critical of what has been done by this Government.

Mr. Marquand

Why does the hon. Lady say that she must remind the House of these things? This is what I was telling the House a few minutes ago. I do not seek to deny the facts. Does the hon. Lady propose to answer my argument about the difference between the economic circumstances of that time and today?

Miss Pitt

I will do my best to come to that.

It was left to the Conservative Government, later, in October, 1951, to remove the anomaly to which I referred earlier, and to improve the main rates, not just of the retirement pension, but of unemployment and sickness benefit, and so on, and in October, 1952, they were raised to 32s. 6d. for single people and 54s. for married couples.

In April, 1955, the Conservative Government again increased the main rates to the present figure of 40s. to 65s. respectively. This was, I think, a generous increase. It not only restored the purchasing power which had depreciated to such an extent over the preceding years, but provided a margin above it. If I may, I should like to quote to the House my own father's remark at the time he received his first payment—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] My father is a pensioner. Are not hon. Members opposite interested in him?

Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)

May I suggest to the hon. Lady that she may quote her father as an example of an old-age pensioner with £2 a week only if he has only £2 a week; and if her father has only £2 a week, she should be ashamed of herself.

Miss Pitt

The hon. Lady must not put words into my mouth. My father has £2 a week and no other income from any other source, save that he has a family which is very fond of him and looks after him —[Interruption.] Hon. Members really must not be critical of this generous spirit in human nature. Surely they do not deny it.

When this increase was granted in 1955, I said to my father, "Have you drawn your £2 pension?" and his answer—

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)

"He said" and "she said".

Miss Pitt

His answer was "Dog bite old Roper"—a Midlands term which is intended to express extreme surprise—"40s. a week for doing nothing. That was a good week's wages when I was a young man." This benefit was provided by a Conservative Government.

Mrs. Alice Cullen (Glasgow, Gorbals)

Can the hon. Lady say what the old-age pensioners in her constituency say to her, never mind her father?

Miss Pitt

I will come to those in a moment. I have a fair amount of experience among the old-age pensioners in my constituency.

Since that increase was granted in April, 1955—and this is the important point, and the point at which I take up the right hon. Gentleman's argument—prices have gone up by 9 per cent., as he mentioned. Food prices have gone up slightly less than that, but the fact remains that the present-day value of the pension is higher than it was in 1948—or in 1946. It has a better purchasing power today than it has had at any time for seven years. [HON. MEMBERS: "Rubbish."] It is correct—the years from 1948 to April, 1955.

Mr. Percy Daines (East Ham, North)

Referring to the hon. Lady's previous point, is her solution in relation to old-age pensioners with no other source of income that we should make sure that they have a daughter who is a junior Minister?

Miss Pitt

I can well understand and sympathise with the very natural desire of pensioners to improve their benefits to some higher figure. Incidentally, what higher figure have hon. Members opposite in mind? If they are to sit on these benches, as they confidently tell themselves they will one day, what action are they prepared to take? The right hon. Gentleman gave us no indication, and I think that he should put forward a positive alternative.

Mr. Marquand

The point is that we cannot do it now, because we do not know by how much prices will have risen by that time.

Miss Pitt

But the right hon. Gentleman is asking for an immediate increase—that is what the Motion asks. If he is not prepared to say at what figure he would put it, perhaps the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) will tell us later.

It is not just a question of an increase to one individual pension. A responsible Government must, as this Government are doing, watch carefully the movement of prices as they affect National Insurance benefits. They must make every endeavour to stabilise prices, as the Government are doing—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"]—and have done, and with a considerable measure of success, this year—

Mr. Norman Dodds (Erith and Crayford)

Prices are higher than ever.

Miss Pitt

—as the Government are doing in the interests of all National Insurance beneficiaries, and of all those living on a fixed income of any kind whatever—because they are equally deserving of our consideration.

At the same time, a Government must also take account of the cost of any improvements. National Insurance benefits, including pensions, are not payments according to needs or means; they are paid as a right, in return for contributions. It is an insurance paid for by premiums—that is, by contributions—and if we are to give increased benefits then we must also consider increased contributions.

It is easy for the National Federation of Old-age Pensions Associations to say, as I noticed it said in an article in its journal, a few months ago, that the Government must create more money. It is relatively easy for the non-contributory pensioner, such as the one who rang me up last Sunday, to say "Non-contributory pensions ought to be increased;" and whose comment, when I spoke to him, was "I don't care where the money comes from—they ought to find it." I can understand that point of view, but a Government must take a broader view. Far too many people today think that the Government have a bottomless reservoir of money, a belief which can wholly be blamed on the Socialist Party, which has consistently plugged that idea for years.

The Government have no money except what is raised from taxation or contributions. What we can afford to do must be a matter for earnest consideration, as also must be the burden which we are placing on succeeding generations. I have some figures which are of great importance in this debate. If we take the retirement pensioners alone there are, at present, about 4,600,000 of them, and by the end of 1958 that figure will have gone up to about 5,200,000.

Mrs. E. M. Braddock (Liverpool, Exchange)

If the Government have not starved them all to death before then.

Miss Pitt

Two years ago, when I was speaking in a pensions debate as a back bencher, the hon. Lady intervened and made exactly the same comment.

Mrs. Braddock


Miss Pitt

If the hon. Lady intervenes she really might listen to the answer. I have allowed myself to be distracted, because she has just made the remark, "if we have not starved all the pensioners to death."

Mrs. Braddock

The party opposite is gradually starving them to death.

Miss Pitt

The hon. Lady made exactly the same comment when I last spoke on this subject in this House—

Mrs. Braddock rose

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)

Order. I think that one hon. Lady speaking at a time is enough.

Miss Pitt

—and then the hon. Lady said that she would take me to Liverpool and show me pensioners who were starving.

Mrs. Braddock

The hon. Lady was frightened to come with me.

Miss Pitt

This discussion across the Floor of the House will waste much time. However, I did offer to go with the hon. Lady or, indeed, with any other hon. Member who would not take me on a wild goose chase. I still have not had such an invitation.

I should like to get back to these important figures which I think everybody should have in mind. I have given the total number of retirement pensioners—the total which is expected in 1958. Incidentally, the 1958 figure is increased by the late-age entrants who come into benefit in that year. There are about 500,000. By 1980 it is estimated that there will be 7½ million pensioners in all. Retirement pensions at the present rate cost £450 million a year. In twenty-five years' time the cost will be £800 million a year. To give a £3 pension now, as has been suggested, would cost an extra £220 million a year, and that is equal to 4s. on the joint contribution. In twenty-five years' time it would amount to £370 million extra, or about 7s. on the contribution.

Nor is this all. It is also necessary to consider the question of increasing other benefit rates, because this is a universal insurance scheme and there is no case for paying higher benefits to retirement pensioners and not to others such as long-term sickness beneficiaries or widows. In fact, the Motion refers to all National Insurance benefits.

The cost of an increase of £1 in all benefits within the scheme would be £320 million a year now. That is equal to the product of about 6s. on the joint contribution. It would cost about £500 million in twenty-five years' time. It must not be thought from what I have just said that the cost of both present and future benefits is the only consideration that the Government have in mind. The cost is important, however, and I do not think that these figures are sufficiently realised. My right hon. Friend has several times made clear in the House, and recently, that he is keeping constant watch on the value of pensions and other relevant matters.

The Phillips Committee, which has been quoted more than once in the debate, in its Report on the Economic and Financial Problems of the Provision for Old Age, pointed out that there cannot be any stereotyped formula for fixing levels of benefit. Changes should be made at infrequent intervals and should take into account the balance of a number of considerations, particularly changes in the cost of living, the extent to which pensioners have recourse to National Assistance—the point made by the right hon. Gentleman—and the amount of additional contribution required.

It is sometimes said that pensioners are going without the necessities and without essential food.

Mrs. Cullen

It is perfectly true.

Miss Pitt

Where is the evidence? I have none within my own personal experience. Certainly, one reads of cases of malnutrition, but are those really due to lack of money? Loneliness is one of the problems of old age, and not infrequently when we hear of a case of malnutrition or starvation it concerns some old person who has no friends or relations to help her, who cannot get out and who has not got good neighbours.

In my experience, which I am sure is shared by other hon. Members, quite often that person found suffering from malnutrition is not in need of money. In fact,. it is in the better districts where they do not "neighbour" that this happens.

Mr. Collick rose

Miss Pitt

I am sorry. I do not want to give way again. I do not in the least mind trying to answer, but it is not fair to other hon. Members who hope to contribute to the debate later.

It is sometimes people who are better off, who have got money, but who do not "neighbour" and have no one to care for them, who are suffering; whereas in the poorer districts people go in and out to "do" for each other, and that does a great deal to avert loneliness. It is lack of care, lack of interest, lack of relatives, and it is sometimes even among those who are poor managers and do not spend money to the best advantage there is suffering.

I am not suggesting that there is a majority of old people like this who are not able to manage or who have no one to care for them. The reverse is true. We hear of the occasional one who gets into difficulties. We do not hear of the vast majority who have relatives or friends to look after them, and of those who are able to look after themselves and who, according to the Report of the National Assistance Board, very often keep good homes spotlessly clean and have all the care that we should wish them to have.

A comment from one of the many surveys which have appeared about conditions among people aged over 65 interested me immensely, and I should like to repeat it. It said: The principal causes of deficient diet or under-nourishment were physical disability, money trouble and masculine inefficiency in that order of frequency. That has some bearing on the point I have been trying to make. The House must not misunderstand. I am not suggesting that pensioners live in luxury—

Mrs. Harriet Slater (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

The hon. Lady has just said that they do not manage.

Miss Pitt

—but a number of them live quite comfortably. There is a smaller percentage who are in need and who are cared for by the National Assistance Board, and I will refer to them later.

On the question of nourishment and care, we have recently had figures from the National Food Survey which provides details of food expenditure and consumption for pensioners. The latest information covers the period April to June, 1956, and it shows that expenditure per person in all households was 28s. 4d, per week on food alone. The figure for the old-age pensioner is 25s. 5d. I should like to compare that with the corresponding quarter of 1955—the previous year—when the expenditure per person in all households was 26s. and for the pensioners it was 22s. 7d. The difference has narrowed between the two years to 2s. 11d. compared with 3s. 5d.

This suggests that the expenditure of the pensioner on food has kept up with any rise in prices. In fact between these two quarters the old-age pensioner spent 12½ per cent. more on food compared with 9 per cent. more in the average household and the actual increase in food prices during that period was about 3½ per cent.

Dr. Dickson Mahon

The hon. Lady has quoted the latest National Food Survey, and earlier she referred to malnutrition. Will she read the paragraph in the latest Report referring to the general deficiencies in diet of the six major items of diet of old people? This is of great concern in the medical profession, which has kept reminding hon. Members that the position is becoming more and more aggravated by recent Government cuts in subsidies.

Miss Pitt

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman's information is correct. The National Food Survey shows that both in 1954 and 1955 the diet was over 100 per cent. of B.M.A. requirements under all headings save one—iron.

Dr. Mabon


Miss Pitt

I do not propose to go into considerable detail about calories and proteins. I do not think that the old-age pensioner is interested.

Dr. Dickson Mabon


Miss Pitt

He is not interested in how many calories he is supposed to consume. The two most recent surveys show that the old-age pensioners' diet is above 100 per cent. of what the B.M.A. recommends. The National Food Survey shows that the old-age pensioners' consumption of liquid milk has been maintained. Their consumption of butter has been increased and their consumption of margarine correspondingly reduced. Their consumption of bacon, ham and meat has increased. Consumption of eggs fell a little, but this is talking about last year and I should expect to find a different pattern now that eggs are cheaper. No change is shown for tea, but an increase is shown for fish and fruit; bread was the same and consumption of potatoes decreased.

Mrs. Lena Jeger (Holborn and St. Pancras, South)

Is the hon. Lady saying that the prices increase or that the quantities of food consumed increase?

Miss Pitt

I am glad to make it quite clear that the quantities in the summary as reported in this last survey show either these increases or decreases to which I have just referred. The survey is available to the hon. Lady. They are consuming the same amount of bread, but consumption of potatoes has decreased. That confirms that the majority of pensioners are doing reasonably well, because surely if they were unable to buy the better foods they would fill up with the cheaper bread and potatoes—[HON. MEMBERS: "Cheaper?"] I mean cheaper by comparison with other foods.

I do not suggest for a moment that anyone can live on £2 a week, but then, nobody has to. There are those who are helped because they enjoy the benefits of private supplementary pensions. The Phillips Committee, to which reference has been made, estimated that about 7 million workers were acquiring rights under pension schemes, figures which have trebled in less than twenty years. The numbers covered in that way are estimated to be increasing by nearly half a million a year. Our own Ministry inquiry in 1953 into the reasons for retiring or continuing at work showed that at that time three men out of ten going on pension were also getting a pension from another source.

There is also the benefit that many pensioners derive from increments to their pensions and, as my right hon. Friend said today in reply to a Question, 22 per cent. of all men retirement pensioners receive increments, the average being about 7s. 6d. If they are married there are also increments on their wives' pensions, provided, of course, that the wives have reached retirement age, and more than 50 per cent. of the men retiring today have obtained increments, which average nearly 10s., on their pensions.

Mr. A. Woodburn (Clackmannan and East Stirlingshire)

I think that old-age pensioners generally feel that it is a very mean trick on the part of the State that when they go on National Assistance that extra is taken from them.

Miss Pitt

I am aware of that feeling on the part of pensioners. Nevertheless, that is the way in which the scheme has operated since incremented pensions were first introduced. As the right hon. Gentleman is well aware, the National Assistance Board has to take into account other means.

There are also those pensioners who are able to do part-time work and who add to their comfort and standard of living in that way. I think it fair to remind the House that the National Insurance Act, which we passed last year, increased the amount which pensioners may earn before any deduction is made from their benefit.

There are also those who have some savings. Not everybody has been prevented in the years gone by from making any savings, and there are those—we have already covered the point fairly extensively—who are helped by their families, and I think rightly. The assertion is often made that families do less for each other and for old people these days now that we have the Welfare State. I do not think that that is true. I think that there is just the same spirit, and that sons and daughters are equally anxious and glad to help to give the old people a standard of reasonable comfort in their retirement.

For those who have none of these means available to increase their pensions, National Assistance is available, as it is to all of limited means. That does not mean that people have to be entirely destitute before they may claim National Assistance. They may have a certain amount of capital, as will be known to Members who interest themselves in this subject. I was interested to find that the capital disregarded by the National Assistance Board amounts to no less than £40 million, which is evidence of the fact that assistance is given to people who have a modest amount of capital behind them.

The proportion of pensioners receiving National Assistance in September, 1956, which is the latest available date for the Board's figures, was 23.6 per cent. The figure in December, 1954—I will give the full figures later—was 27 per cent. I hope that this indicates that the need to apply for National Assistance is less acute.

It is suggested that pensioners are too proud to apply for National Assistance. I have heard that suggestion before, and I have taken part in discussions on it. But if that is true, it is not really an argument for increasing all pensions. Is it true? It is not my experience. I do not know how other Members have fared. The last time I mentioned this matter in the House, I was able to say that I had never failed to persuade anyone eligible for National Assistance to apply for it. I have met my Waterloo since then.

A pensioner couple in my own constituency wrote to me a few weeks ago. The woman needed some new spectacles and she wondered if I could get her some help. I did, through the National Assistance Board. The Board also told me that she was eligible for a few shillings in National Assistance benefit. The woman said she would not apply. I therefore made up my mind to go and see her, which I did on a Saturday afternoon.

I found them a decent couple living in a snug house in Birmingham. Their income amounted to £2 a week each. When I tried to persuade them to apply for the extra few shillings of National Assistance, they said that they would not do so. I said, "Do. It would make a difference perhaps to your milk bill". The woman's comment was "No, we can manage. I reckon that one £2 pays the rent, the coal and lighting, and the other £2 pays for food and the odds and ends that we need". When I pressed her yet again, she said, "No, we have no children. What is the good of getting a bit of extra money which we do not really need, in order to leave it to somebody else when we die?" [Laughter.] That really is true.

I wish to make one other comment on whether people can be persuaded to apply for National Assistance. Some time ago I had a letter from a man in Clapham. Unknown to me, he had read a comment on a speech that I had made on the subject of pensions. He wrote in not a very pleasant fashion saying that I did not know what I was talking about. [HON. MEMBERS "Hear, hear."] I thought that would provoke some comment. He added that he had spent all his life making people like me rich. He had had to retire at 68 and was trying to live on a pension, and he detailed his modest list of requirements—rent, groceries, etc. He asked how I thought he could live on the amount that he received.

I replied very carefully. I sent him a full copy of my speech and I asked him to do me the honour of reading it because it would explain many things, in particular that National Assistance was available. I added that I was quite sure from what he had said that he was eligible. I asked whether he would allow me to send his name and address to the nearest office of the Board, or whether he would go himself.

A week or two later I had a letter from him, but in a very different vein this time. He said he had read my speech in full and that it had opened his eyes. He said, "It only goes to show, you ought never to believe anything you read in a newspaper". He then told me that he had applied for National Assistance and had been granted it, and that it was making a lot of difference because he had been trying to live on the basic pension eked out by his modest savings. He also told me that his savings were only £60, adding "They would have been higher, but I am afraid there have been too many slow horses in my life". I was very glad that this man wrote to me, because he was another who could be, and was, helped.

That brings me to the part of the Motion relating to National Assistance benefits. I am surprised at the implied criticism in this Motion of the National Assistance Board. I know that the right hon. Gentleman made it clear that his criticism, if any, was aimed at policy and not at administration. In fact, the way in which the Board works has never, so far as I know, been challenged in any previous debate.

The Board was set up by the then Labour Government following their own Act of 1948. It is a duty laid on the Board by the Act to recommend an increase in rates of benefit when it is necessary. The initiative is with the Board, and since 1948 it has moved no fewer than five times to ask for regulations giving effect to increases in benefit, the last of which came into operation in January, 1956. I do not, therefore, think that it can be suggested that the Board is not doing its duty or is not keeping watch on the people who are its charge.

The National Assistance scale is 67 per cent. above the 1948 rate, while the Retail Price Index is only 48 per cent. up. I am not maintaining, nor would anyone suggest, I think, that the all-items Index of Retail Prices, which includes a considerable element for rent and rates, which are separately provided outside the scales of National Assistance, and includes drink and tobacco, adequately shows the changes in the cost of living for those on Assistance. If we take a calculation based on selected items, namely those items of the greatest importance to those on limited means, that is to say food, fuel, light, clothing, household and miscellaneous goods, the rise is 65 per cent. Thus, there is still a margin on the National Assistance rates in operation.

In fact, of course, the way in which the Board assesses its rates and recommendations is to take into account all the knowledge and experience which it has gained. It reaches conclusions on all the information available to it. That knowledge includes information published monthly by the Ministry of Labour and National Service about changes in price levels not only as regards all items together but as regards food, fuel, light, and other items given separately. Lately there has been included also information given to it by the Ministry of Labour and National Service about the pattern of expenditure in certain low income groups according to the Household Expenditure Inquiry, 1953–54.

The adjustment of the Board's scales is not just a matter of arithmetic. It is based on the Board's knowledge and experience, and the fact that its officers make millions of visits each year to people's homes, those visiting officers being not merely the welfare officers but the Chairman and other members of the Board, who regularly visit the areas and in fact at times themselves visit recipients of National Assistance in their homes.

The scale rates now for National Assistance are 40s. for a single householder, and 67s. for a married couple. About 94 per cent. of all the allowances which the Board makes are increased for rent, and the average payment is 13s. 2d. a week for either rent—or outgoings, because, in certain cases, of course, people own their own houses.

There are also discretionary allowances available, as hon. Members who interest themselves in this matter will know. Those are granted in special circumstances where there are special needs. They are so granted in 40 per cent. of all cases, or in 50 per cent. of cases of pensioners. They provide for extra nourishment, for extra fuel where it is necessary, for laundry where same old pensioners are unable, perhaps on account of rheumatism, to do their own washing; they provide for domestic help, for night sitters, for window cleaning, for help with shopping, and for help with expenses in visiting relatives in hospital.

Those discretionary allowances are available for anyone who is really in need. I have mentioned the extent to which the Board uses them. The main ones are for extra nourishment, for laundry, and for domestic help. Furthermore, the Board can give special grants for exceptional needs, a "once-for-all" measure, for clothing or bedding which may need replacing. The number and amount of discretionary allowances have gone up each year. It might be argued, as some hon. Members may do, that that is a sign of hardship; but I would suggest that it is more correct to take it as evidence of the way in which the Board is using its discretionary powers, of the willingness of people to go to the Board for help, and as evidence of the experience which is being accumulated by the Board.

Mr. Bence rose

Mr. Collick rose

Miss Pitt

I am sorry, but I really have already taken up a great deal of time.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. If the hon. Lady will not give way, hon. Members must resume their seats.

Miss Pitt

I feel rather guilty at having taken so long, but there have been a good many interruptions.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me a number of questions, and I will conclude by doing my best to answer them. In particular, he said that one criterion, amongst others, was the number of families which have to resort to National Assistance. He himself quoted the figures for the number of pensioners in 1948 as 432,000. In December of the same year, the figure was 495,000. In December, 1949, 558,000. In December, 1950, 677,000. In December, 1951, 767,000. In December, 1952, 856,000. In December, 1953, 938,000. In December, 1954, 1,001,000. In December, 1955, 888,000. In December, 1956, 927,000.

The right hon. Gentleman drew a comparison with some of these figures, and he asked me to provide the whole list. He referred to the number of allowances increasing in recent years. I hope he took into account as well the fact that the number of pensioners also had increased in those years.

Mr. Marquand

If the hon. Lady will permit me to say so, I am afraid that she must have misunderstood me. I did not really want the whole list, because it is in Table 31 of the Monthly Digest of Statistics. I asked whether we might be given the figures for the end of January, 1957. We know the figure for December, 1956, but we do not know the figure for January, 1957.

Miss Pitt

Yes, I have a note about that, and it was the next point that I was going to deal with. I am sorry to say that I cannot give that figure to the right hon. Gentleman because these figures are prepared quarterly.

Next, the right hon. Gentleman spoke of prices going up, though he did say that one or two had gone down. In fact, as he should be aware, the price of butter, cheese, bacon and eggs has gone down.

Mr. Bence


Miss Pitt

The price of bacon went down 6d. a lb. last week.

The right hon. Gentleman made rather heavy going of the fact that, on the Minister's own admission, we are now failing by 9 per cent., or 1s. 9d. in the £, to maintain the 1955 figure. In fact, he is talking about what Conservative Governments have done and the improvements they have effected, without drawing the true comparison which really ought to go back to the time when retirement pensions were first introduced.

Mr. Marquand

The 1955 figure, we were told by the then Mr. Peake, was for 1946. My comparison all the time was based on the fact that the nation accepted an obligation in 1946 and it is now 9 per cent. short of that in 1957.

Miss Pitt

No, that is not true. In 1955, the rates were increased not only to make good a reduction in purchasing power but to improve on it. Though it is perfectly true that there has been a 9 per cent. increase in prices since those rates were increased in 1955, the pension still provides a better purchasing power than at any time since 1948. [HON. MEMBERS: "1946."] It is 1948. The hon. Gentleman also made some reference—[HON. MEMBERS: "1946."] Hon. Members opposite took no action to increase it between 1946 and 1948.

The right hon. Gentleman referred to the comment of the Minister of Labour a week or so ago, that, by implication, two years was too short a time for changes to take place. I hope that what I have quoted from the Phillips Report will remind him that that Report recommended very firmly that changes should be made only at infrequent intervals. He mentioned also a reduction in defence expenditure, but if he is suggesting that so that some benefit might be given to retirement pensioners, I wonder what his right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) would say. In the economic debate only a week or two ago, the right hon. Member for Huyton said particularly that the first priority on any savings must be capital investment. Since the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Huyton is assumed to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the next Socialist Government—if we have one—that is a point to be borne in mind.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, East made one other point which I must take time to correct. He said that the Exchequer contribution towards pensions was £48 million, though he did add, I must say in fairness to him, that he was open to correction if he was wrong. In fact, the figure this year is £95 million.

One other point which I must take up with the right hon. Gentleman is the question of children and the amount which is provided under National Assistance for the 309,000 children under the age of 16 whose parents are on National Assistance. The rates are, as the right hon. Gentleman quoted, 18s., 15s. 6d. and 13s., respectively. I hope he will not mind my reminding him, however, that in June, 1948, when his own party was in power, the respective rates were only 10s. 6d., 9s. and 7s. 6d. The current rates in payment by the National Assistance Board for these children are an improvement of between 71 and 73 per cent. on the 1948 rates.

The scale rates for children cannot be considered on their own. After all, these children are members of families and grants are being made to them as a family, including an amount for rent. For example, a married couple with three children aged 12, 8 and 3 years, paying a rent of 12s. 6d. a week, which is the average, would expect to have its income made up to at least £6 6s. a week by reason of the allowances of 18s., 15s. 6d. and 13s. for the three children.

The right hon. Gentleman compared what was being paid under National Assistance with the amount being paid for the boarded-out child, but there is a great deal of difference in the type of family. The boarded-out child goes to strangers who will care for it. Therefore, some payment is made to them for the service. The other child, however, is the natural child of the family and is cared for within the family. There is, I suggest, a tremendous difference in the way in which we should view the amount of money made available in these differing circumstances.

Mr. Marquand

Since the hon. Lady quoted earlier the figure of 25s. a week as expenditure on food, how does she think that that family, receiving just over £6 a week, could cater for five people at 25s. a week each for food only?

Miss Pitt

They also get, or can get, free school meals and free welfare milk if they are on National Assistance. There are one or two more points that I should like to have taken up with the right hon. Gentleman, but I hope that I have dealt with them in passing.

It is because I believe that the present Government have protected pensions and other National Insurance benefits, and will continue to protect them; it is because I believe that the National Assistance Board has done a first-class job and one that improves year by year as its experience grows, and because the criticism as implied by the Motion is unwarranted, that I ask the House to reject the Motion and to support the Amendment.

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: notes with approval that Her Majesty's Government, having made substantial increases in the rates of National Insurance benefits in 1955, is maintaining them at a higher standard than has prevailed during the greater part of the existence of the National Insurance Scheme; expresses its confidence in the discharge by the National Assistance Board of the duties laid upon it by Parliament; and will support Her Majesty's Government in all measures they may take to protect the real value of these benefits.

5.24 p.m.

Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)

It is a tragedy to me, as one who occupies a responsible position connected with the old-age pensioners, that we have to listen to what I must describe at the very commencement as a slanging match about what the Labour Government did in 1946. Surely, we in this House can rise above that. We ought to be men enough and women enough to rise above a slanging match in this great human problem that confronts us. To me, it always has been, and will always remain, a great human problem and one which, as I have said before, ought to be kept apart from the kind of remarks that have been made today.

There is one thing in which I and, I think, the whole House agree with the hon. Lady. She said that £2 a week was inadequate for a pensioner to live upon. We should tie the hon. Lady down to that statement and I hope that as the debate proceeds hon. Members, not only on this side of the House, but Members opposite, because they, too, are pledged to help, will express their concern about the plight of the old folks as we see it today.

Realising that this debate was taking place today, practically every national newspaper—not only the Labour and the Conservative Press, but almost every newspaper—expressed the hope that the Government would apply their mind and a statesmanlike attitude to the plight of the old-age pensioner. This is an opportunity, which is long overdue, of focussing our minds on the plight of a section of the community which has been overlooked. At one time, we brought the sick, the aged and the infirm a little nearer to the front of the queue, but now we find that they are at the back once again.

All we ask is that the old people, the sick and the infirm should have their social and economic conditions improved. Having regard to the increased cost of living, these improvements should have been high up in the list of priorities. Instead, however, we now find that these people are at the back of the queue. I express the profound hope that something tangible will be forthcoming as a result of this debate.

I hope that in considering what is said in this debate, the Minister, his two Joint Parliamentary Secretaries and the Department will have before them the words of a great Prime Minister when he said: How we treat our old people is a crucial test of our national quality. A nation which lacks gratitude to those who have worked for her in the past when they had the strength to do so, does not deserve a future, for she has lost her sense of justice and her instinct of mercy. Later, that same Prime Minister gave expression to these words: A nation only finds its soul when it cares for its aged and its infirm. Those words were spoken by the late Lloyd George when he was pleading for some relief and improvement in the economic and social conditions of the people. He gave expression to those thoughts as the result of having applied his mind to this question and with the firm conviction at that time, in 1908 or 1909, that the nation was not doing all that it should have been doing for the old people of this country. [Interruption.] I will not say what the Tories did, because it has been repeated time and time again, and I am not here to indulge in political recriminations. What I do say is that today we are pleading that something should be done and done quickly to relieve the old people of their anxiety and worry, which has become intensified during the past five years.

In my humble way, I have always maintained, and I think I shall maintain it as long as I live, that it is the duty of every citizen of this country to do his or her best for the industry in which he or she works and for the country as a whole, and that, having done his or her best, industry and the State should protect him or her from poverty in later years. That is my philosophy. I contend that, having done their best for industry when they were able to do it, and having given years of service, often for very low wages, these people ought to be given the best and highest pension by industry and the State. Can anyone from any quarter of the House deny or challenge that philosophy? Our job here, and I think we shall have to face up to it, is to do the best we can for this section of the community, which so richly deserves it.

As I see the picture before me, I do not think we have been doing our best. I know there are people who will disagree with that. I am not unmindful, as I have said before in this House, of what has already been done and what we have tried to do, but a lot more needs to be done before the old people, the sick and the infirm can live the lives which it is intended they should live.

Therefore, I make my plea to the different Government Departments whose responsibility it is to apply their minds to this great human problem of the ever-increasing number of old people who are living in poor circumstances. The hon. Lady the Joint Parliamentary Secretary may ride off by quoting her own personal and domestic life, but there are a tremendous number of people in this country who are living on or below the borderline of poverty. I do not under-estimate the size of the problem; indeed, we should be very foolish in this House if we did. It is a vast problem, but it is one that ought to be tackled with courage and determination. As Britishers and as legislators in this House, and if Britain is to be worthy of the name of a Christian country, we must have the foresight, the courage, and the determination to do something more than we have done so far to assist the old-age pensioners and the people in the lower income groups.

I have long held the opinion, which dates back to 1919, when I first entered the movement, that a person should be able to grow old with dignity and with a contented mind. Does anybody challenge that statement? The people who have served their day and generation should be permitted to grow old with dignity and a contented mind, and foremost in our minds on this question are the old-age pensioners, the sick and infirm, and those in the lower income groups. These people have borne the heat and burden of the day with great courage and fortitude, and now in the eventide of their lives, they are finding it extremely difficult to make ends meet because, as the hon. Lady said, of the inadequate pensions they are receiving.

Can anyone deny that the old-age pensioners today are worse off on their £2 per week than they were ten years ago on their 26s. a week? I challenge the hon. Lady on this point, and I say that Lhat situation must be remedied. This is a matter of urgent and immediate importance. It is generally agreed in all quarters of the House, and the hon. Lady herself mentioned it two or three times, that what the old people mainly require is more heat, more food, and more light, but they just cannot afford these things because they have not the means to buy them.

To my mind, it is an affront to decency to pretend that an ordinary old man or woman can buy the various necessities of life out of the 40s. a week pension, when food prices have doubled in the past ten years and when the pension itself has increased by only 54 per cent. If the hon. Lady will make a calculation, she will discover that it is true that the pension has increased by only 54 per cent.

Let us take note of the increase in old-age pensioners since 1953. After all, the numbers are of paramount importance. In 1953 there were 4,653,000 in receipt of pensions, and in 1954—I think these are the figures which the hon. Lady gave—the number had risen to 4,750,000. In 1955, the figure was 4,834,000 and in 1956—these are the latest figures which I have been able to obtain—the number was 4,891,000.

There we have the size of the family with which we have to deal, and. as the hon. Lady indicated, that family is increasing year by year. Are we to run away from the problem? Are we to abdicate our responsibilities? I am fully aware of the economic position of the country and I realise that some things which we as sensible men would like to see done will have to wait, but I say that when it is a question involving suffering for human beings, and I believe that with firm conviction, the question of relieving that suffering just cannot wait. We must do it.

On Wednesday last I had the honour of presenting a Petition signed by 133,000 people which referred, amongst other things, to a request for free medical prescriptions for old people. It was not asking for very much. I wonder if the Government have examined the situation been brought about in the case of old-age pensioners as a result of the increase in prescription charges. Have the Government examined the effect of that policy which has been in operation for only a few months? If they have, they will have found that it is definitely hurting the old folks. The News-Chronicle of 4th January carried a report from the National Pharmaceutical Union to the effect that there had been a reduction of 20 per cent. in prescriptions, and that most of this reduction applied to old-age pensioners. It stated that one chemist in my district, which is an industrial area, had reported that his prescriptions were down by 50 per cent., while another said that his were down by one-third.

It is significant that all these reductions in the numbers of prescriptions were to be found in industrial areas. Therefore, in my submission, there ought to be art examination without delay of the effects of the Government's policy for prescription charges which became operative on 1st December, 1956, and the effect upon the old-age pensioners. I hope that that examination will cause the Government to repeal the Regulations governing the cost of those prescriptions.

The Minister, his Department, this House and people outside are encompassed by a great cloud of witnesses, all of whom testify, when examined, to the growing need for something to be done for the old-age pensioners. Not long ago a check was made by experts who found that twenty-three out of every 100 old-age pensioners were short of money to buy the bare necessities of life; sixty-seven out of every 100 could just barely live; seven out of every ten women pensioners were living alone—and loneliness is a terrible thing; seven out of every ten men pensioners were living alone. Old-age pensioners who cannot afford to buy enough food are suffering from under nutrition. Many others are on the border line of anæmia, a weakening and distressing complaint. Those experts found that many old-age pensioners are suffering by continually going hungry. The disclosure was made that many old-age pensioners are existing on near starvation diets, which are also deficient in vitamins, iron and other minerals. That was what was reported by that committee of experts.

We boast that our standard of living has increased during the past few years, but I repeat again with all the emphasis at my command that that is not true of the old-age pensioners of this country. I visit them in their homes. I visit them in their clubs which we provide for them for the alleviation of monotony. I find that since 1951—and I am not mentioning that year because that was the year the Conservative Party came into power—there has been a depreciation in the physical condition of the old-age pensioners.

I was happy to notice, after that memorable meeting of Cabinet Ministers and Government supporters at Chequers, that the Lord Privy Seal, so the Press say gave expression to this thought: In the sphere of social services the Government's aim is to ensure that the Welfare State works to comfort the afflicted rather than to afflict the comfortable. They consider that stable prices are an extremely important element in social security. So do we. We believe that. We believe that stable prices are one of the assets of social security, an indispensable factor connected with social security. If we fail to obtain stability of prices, we fail completely.

I say that we are not getting stable prices. That is the trouble. I know the Government are not 100 per cent. responsible for the fluctuation of prices, but it is no use advancing the argument that stable prices are part of social security when in a country like this prices are not stabilised to any great degree, but fluctuate up and down, more often on the up grade.

I come to National Assistance. I have paid my tribute, and I pay it again, to the National Assistance area officers. They deal with the people very kindly and with sympathy. Two or three chief area officers in districts which I visit and which are in my constituency go so far as to say, "Would to God, Mr. Brown, we could go a bit farther." They feel the difficulties. They feel the handicap when hard cases come before them—and they wish to exercise the discretionary powers which they have—that those powers do not enable them to go far enough.

There are a few black sheep, and it is the black Sheep that I want to become white. Therefore, I say to the hon. Lady and to the National Assistance Board that they had better examine some of the chief area officers in some of the districts, and I tell the hon. Lady and those responsible for the administration of the National Assistance Board that invariably the black sheep are found in our seaports. That is the regrettable fact.

Occupying the position I do, I receive many domestic budgets of old-age pensioners, and I want to read out one of the best of those I have received. It is the budget of a 70-year-old lady who is suffering from arthritis. The doctor has told her to keep warm in the cold weather. That means keeping the fire burning day and night. She burns nearly two cwt. of coal a week in her wasteful, broken down grate. It costs 17s., and 17s. is a lot of money when one's total income is only 40s. a week apart from rent allowance. That old lady lives alone at the top of the house. "It is cheaper to rent at the top," she says. Despite the fact that she is over 70 and very crippled she did not get anything extra for coal from the N.A.B.

Here is her budget, and I can vouch for its accuracy: 2 cwt. of coal, 17s.; tip to carrier to take it up four flights of stairs, 3d.; milk, 2s. 4d.; cheese, 9d.; cuttings off the outside of a boiled ham, 6d.; ½1b. onions, 5d.; bread, 1s. 11½d.; ¼1b. tea, 1s. 8d.; ½1b. pieces for stewing, 1s.; ½1b. margarine, 8d.; three eggs, 1s. 1½d.; soap, soda, cleaning materials, 6d.; gas cooker, 4s. 6d.; electric light at a fixed price, 1s. 4d.; 2 1b. potatoes, 8d.; oxo cubes, 6d.; ½1b. sugar, 3½d.; ¼1b. cooked meat, 10d.; window cleaning per week 7d. or 1s. 2d. a fortnight; medicine, 1s.

The total expenditure of that old lady is £1 17s. 10½d. What is left is a narrow margin of 2s. 1½d. which has to be spent on boot repairs and clothing. Surely we cannot and must not allow those conditions to continue for our old folk. The hon. Lady said she had not the figures of the number of people who are now in receipt of National Assistance.

The acid test of a Government's administration is whether or not the number of people who are forced by economic circumstances to go to the National Assistance Board has increased, because people do not go to the Board for the sake of going. They go because they are in dire need. It is true to say, and I want to be fair, that in 1953 there was a decrease in the number, but since 1954 there has been a considerable increase. In 1955, 1,612,000 people sought assist- ance from the Board. At the end of 1956, there were 1,628,000 seeking assistance, and at the end of January of this year there were 1,677,000. Therefore, from 1955 to 1957, there has been a considerable increase. My point is that as long as the number is on the increase it is an indication that people are not getting what they want through the medium of the basic pension.

Sir Keith Joseph (Leeds, North-East)

I fully take the point that the hon. Member makes about the proper concern of the House over the increase in numbers, but the hon. Member will see from page 44 of the Report of the National Assistance Board for the year ended 31st December, 1955, that the proportion of pensioners forced, obliged or wishing to turn to the Board has fallen significantly. In 1954 it was 27 per cent., but by December, 1955, it had fallen to 23.3 per cent., a fall of one-sixth of the total number.

Mr. Brown

I agree that the number of applicants seeking assistance from the Board fell when the pension was increased, but now, owing to the increase in the cost of living, these people have to seek assistance from the Board.

This is a problem which the House must face. However much we detest encroaching upon the national finance, and however much we say that other things should come before alleviation of the suffering of the old, we cannot and must not be permitted to get away from our responsibility as legislators. We must accept that responsibility. In accepting it we are only fulfilling the claim that we make that we live in a Christian country which cares for its old, its infirm and its sick. I said on 9th November: To me, life is a wonderful thing. It is a wonderful thing to live, to stand on this fair earth beneath the radiant heavens possessed of the gift of human life—human life with its great possibilities, human life with its lofty ideals, human life with its noble ambitions. And what are they? That every boy and girl, man and woman, old and young, shall have an opportunity of obtaining the highest life that they can."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9th November, 1956; Vol. 560, c. 464.] They should have the opportunity of living the best life for the mind, for the body and for the spirit, but they cannot aim at that high life which the Divine Creator intended that they should have when economic forces are pressing them down below the subsistence level.

5.55 p.m.

Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)

It is always a pleasure to follow a speech by the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown). I agree very much with his first sentence, in which he hoped that the House would rise above slanging matches on this very important subject. I hope that every hon. Member will try to do that, because this is the vital problem of our time. The right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) should be congratulated on the way in which he quite frankly admitted that the Labour Government, from 1948 onwards, had failed over this problem of keeping retirement pensions at or near the subsistence level.

I wonder whether the failure was not due to the Government, but to the plan that they were trying to carry out. I remember that when I was in the Middle East, during the war, the Beveridge Plan was regarded as a war aim when it was published. Everybody thought that if only we could have the Beveridge Plan everything would be perfectly all right in the country, but what would be the Beveridge retirement pension today? It would be 20s. for a single person and 34s. for a married couple.

Mr. H. Hynd

Those figures were calculated on the cost of living at that time.

Mr. Turton

Lord Beveridge worked out a propery contributory pension plan. In that plan he said that there would have to be certain transitional provisions and those provisions would have landed us with a pension of 20s. for a single person and 34s. for a married couple. If we wanted to alter the Beveridge recommendations we should have to add a paragraph to the effect that the contribution would have to rise before the quinquennial year end, which the Beveridge Report never added.

The right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East drew attention to a very important paragraph in the Phillips Committee's Report. While we have not yet had a debate on that Report, I should like to quote the very important paragraph 311, which said: A contributory scheme cannot be expected to provide a rate of pension which would enable everybody, whatever his circumstances, to live without other means. Such a pension rate would be an extravagant use of national resources. That, of course, runs counter to the Beveridge recommendation which said that we cannot get a retirement pension rate at a subsistence level until we have been running the scheme for twenty years. The Phillips Report has said that we cannot have a contributory scheme running in this country except with undue extravagance.

I wonder whether the fallacy of all this is not in trying to have a retirement provision in a contributory pension scheme. I should like the House to consider that. After all, when we insure, we insure against a disability that might happen to us. It may be sickness which we cannot avoid, or unemployment, which is equally something inescapable. Directly we bring in retirement we are dealing with an eventuality over which we have control in many cases, though not in all. A man may say, "I have come to an age when I do not wish to continue work." Is that a right thing to be included in a contributory pension scheme? I myself believe that this requires reconsideration. The other factor we have to consider concerns figures often quoted in this House, which I will give again in order to get the picture into perspective.

In 1911, one out of every fifteen persons was over the present pension age. In 1947, that number had grown to two out of every fifteen. In 1977, it will be three out of every fifteen. This means that unless we have a good system of old-age pensions and of insurance against old age in our country, we shall place an undue burden on the working population in 1977, because there will not be proper provision for the old people.

I have studied the problem of those on retirement pensions and it seems to me that the period of retirement can be divided into three parts. On the present expectations of life a woman faces an average period of retirement of eighteen years and a man twelve years. That is a large proportion of the natural span of life. The first period is when many pensioners are drawing their pension and are also doing part-time work. A man and wife in this period will, therefore, receive 65s. in pension and £2 10s. as part-time earnings, and so such a couple have a weekly income of £5 15s. As they get older, they can no longer do part-time work and so have only the pension of £3 5s.

During this period they will probably get help from the family. My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is right in saying that nearly all old people, at a certain period of their retirement, receive some help from the family, probably amounting to £1 a week. In that case a married couple during this period will be living on £4 5s. a week, which represents a drop of £1 10s. a week from the income received during the first period.

During the third and last stage of retirement propably one of the two has died and the survivor no longer receives help from the family, with the result that he or she is receiving only the pension of £2 a week. I believe that this period presents the most difficult problem in our retirement pension system. As I have said, a married couple start in the early stage with an average income of £5 15s., in the next stage, it is reduced to £4 5s. and the survivor receives only £2 a week. I believe that this is the wrong way in which a retirement pension system should be worked, because a pensioner should not be receiving a lower income as he or she gets older.

The National Assistance Board figures should bear out that argument. If we look at its 1955 Report we shall find, taking the age group below 70—that is, women over 60 and men over 65—that the percentage on National Assistance is 12 per cent. In the age group 70 to 79 the figure goes up to 24 per cent., and in the age group of 80 and over the figure is 30 per cent. It would be fair to say that those figures are not completely reliable, because they do not show how many are actually pensioners; and it is true that in the over-80 group many are not-contributory pensioners.

I have not got up-to-date figures but in an earlier existence, when I was looking at these matters, I obtained the figures from the National Assistance Board and I know that the Minister will check them, and correct them if necessary. It may interest the House to know that in 1953 the figure for pensioners alone below 70 was 18 per cent. Between the ages of 70 and 79 the figure was 28 per cent. For over 80 the figure was 32 per cent. In all cases that is a slightly higher percentage than I have suggested. If those percentages are correct, there seems to be a problem here for which we must try to find a solution.

In recent years I have felt that the right way to deal with this problem is to abolish the retirement pension—obviously preserving existing rights—and to replace it for those under 70 with an invalidity pension. This would mean extending the conditions for sickness and unemployment to cover those of that age who, through age and other factors, cannot work. After all, there are many countries who have similar invalidity pensions.

Up to the age of 70 an invalidity pension would be at the same level as the sickness or unemployment benefit rates. At 70 to 79 it should be possible to give a more attractive pension, and at 80 an age supplement should be added to the pension. Hon. Members may quarrel with me about the ages, but that is the kind of system which I think we shall adopt in time. Such a system would mean that, instead of getting a decreasing pension as one got older, our old people could look forward to getting more as they became aged. I believe that one of the reasons why there is degeneration in the over-80s, or even in the over-75s, is a feeling of hopelessness that their income will go down.

I have not worked out the costs of such a system or fixed rates of pension, but I am certain that employers and workers would be ready to pay increased contributions to get a sensible scheme. At present, if the contributions and pension rates went up beyond a certain level, there would be difficulty with the organised workers, because the income of the part-time worker would be a great deal higher than that of the regular worker, and this has to be watched.

I have not all the figures, and I hope that the Minister will get them, but I know that the percentage of the average weekly wage spent on social security is much lower than that of most other comparative countries. In Western Germany, the worker pays 5 per cent. towards his old-age pension and the employer also pays 5 per ment. In France, the employer pays 10 per cent. and the worker 6 per cent. In this country, the worker pays 3 per cent., and the employer 2.8 per cent. I hope that the Minister will check those figures. We could afford to have higher contributions in order to provide a better pensions scheme.

We also have to bear in mind the very small amount which employers and workers pay under our social security schemes. Last week I was looking at an International Labour Office paper on the subject. The figures given in it are interesting. Workers and employers in this country make a total contribution of 32 per cent. towards our social security schemes and the State contributes 58 per cent. The proportions are roughly one-third from employers and workers together and two-thirds from the State.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

They are to a large extent the same people. They are merely paying in different ways.

Mr. Turton

It is true that they are paying in different ways. Let us see how it is done.

The situation in Sweden is similar to that in this country, but in all the other countries of Europe the proportions are the other way round. In France, 80 per cent. comes from the employers and workers and 14 per cent. from the State. In Western Germany, the situation is exactly the reverse of ours, two-thirds being contributed by employers and workers and one-third by the State.

This shows that there is room in this country for an increase in insurance contributions. Were we so to increase contributions and thus obtain a better pensions scheme, we should not be at a disadvantage compared with countries with which we have reciprocal insurance agreements.

I agree very much with the Joint Parliamentary Secretary that the rate of pension is not the only problem or, indeed, the major problem. I am sure that the major part of the problem of the elderly is loneliness. Hon. Members of all parties will have to tackle the problem of loneliness and see whether we can make the last years of the old people a good deal happier. The Chancellor of the Exchequer can do a certain amount by encouraging, through tax allowances, help for the old people from their families. It is true that some old people are looked after by their families, but under the present system there are cases where the families do not help and I believe that the Chancellor can assist in that respect.

The Minister of Housing and Local Government could also do a lot more to help by ensuring that houses which are being built by local authorities provide accommodation either within the house or nearby for old parents or for the surviving parent. In my previous capacity I saw a certain amount of what was being done to provide housing for old people. The Lancashire and Devonshire County Councils should be given full marks for what they are doing, but far more must be done to provide flats and bungalows for old people. Old people do not want to live in large institutions: indeed, that is one of the quickest ways of bringing about degeneration of mental and physical faculties.

There are at present far too many Government Departments sharing responsibility in connection with this problem. Welfare committees are under one Government Department, housing committees under another, and health committees under yet another. I am sure that the problem of the elderly must be tackled with a policy in which all parties are united.

First, we must ensure that we have a sensible pensions scheme. In that sense, I do not believe that the Beveridge scheme is working well. I believe that the Minister can do a good deal, as I think both sides of the House are trying to do, by tacking on to a basic pensions scheme a supplementary pensions scheme. But, even more important than that, is the provision of proper housing so that we do not have the old people being cared for in mental hospitals when they ought to be living happy lives in bungalows and flats if such accommodation were provided for them. I hope that the result of the debate will be that we shall make some progress on those lines.

6.15 p.m.

Mr. Thomas Hubbard (Kirkcaldy Burghs)

I have listened with great interest to the speech of the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton). It was much more realistic than the speech from the hon. Lady the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. We are aware that the right hon. Gentleman has had some considerable experience at the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, and we appreciate that he has given some study to this matter.

What shocks me is that everyone in the country except the Minister and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary knows that old-age pensioners are in a difficult position. I do not know how people can be so naïve as to believe some of the things that have been said from the Government Front Bench today. It is not the first time that I have heard the hon. Lady speak about "backing the wrong horses" and "drinking the wrong drinks" when speaking about old-age pensioners. That is not the sort of thing to help in providing an equitable standard of living for the old people, to which we must all agree they are entitled, not as a charity but as a right. That, indeed, is behind the Motion that we are discussing. It is all very well for Ministers to speak as though the Conservative Party first came to power in 1951. The Conservative Party has a history which is well known to the country and to the old-age pensioners. In the inter-war years I was a member of a local authority and a public assistance committee, and I recall that at that time the pension was 10s. a week. It is true that the local authority could supplement it, but if it supplemented it by more than 2s. it was surcharged that amount. Thus there was a limit on the amount that we could give.

When we speak about the Tory Government in this connection, we must remember that in 1939 every local authority in Scotland was pressing the Government to provide an adequate old-age pension. I was a member of a deputation which came to the House of Commons. I recall the circumstances quite well. I recall the legislation then produced by the Tory Government. Hon. Members opposite are critical of what the Labour Government did in 1946, but what did the Conservative Government produce in 1939? The Conservative Government granted an increase of 9s. a week to the 10s. a week pension of those days, but this was on condition that no one else in the household was working. If anyone else in the household was working, the pensioner did not get the additional 9s.; a deduction of 7s. 6d. was made from the 9s., leaving the old-age pensioner with an additional 1s. 6d. only. That was what the Tory Government did before the war.

We all know the conditions under which the old-age pensioners were then living. Some of us even recollect the conditions under which they lived before the 1914–18 war, and the earnings which they had. In the linoleum industry the wage was 17s. a week. People employed in that industry were supposed to save something for their old age. In agriculture the wage was 11s., and agricultural workers were supposed to save something for their old age. Those are the people whom we are discussing tonight. Those are the people to whom the Tory Government in 1939 gave a pension of 9s. a week with a 7s. 6d. reduction if anyone else in the house was working, a means test imposed by Tories who are now so critical of what the Labour Government of 1945 did. I do not need reams of paper before me to remember these figures. I can keep them in my head; I remember them very well.

In 1946 we introduced the National Insurance Act and made the first payments on 3rd October, 1946, before the Act was put into full operation and before there had been any contributions, a departure from the Beveridge Report which suggested that a full pension should be paid only after the scheme had been going for twenty years. That was immediately after a war which had cost a great deal of money, destroyed many of our industries and left us almost bankrupt; yet we had a Government with the courage to introduce a scheme for a pension of 26s. a week without a means test.

As an honorary official of an old-age pensions association, I know that the old people have not forgotten. One can delude neither the House nor old people, no matter how strongly the Joint Parliamentary Secretary may say that old people are not badly off. They know that they are badly off and they know why they are badly off, and the Government will not be allowed to forget that in future.

It has recently become the custom for speeches from the Front Bench opposite to take a narrative form, "He said, she said, they said." That seems to be the new Government method of addressing the House, and we had a full dose of it this afternoon. Almost at this moment there is a gathering of people in Glasgow, ordinary people who work in all sorts of industry, coal mines, engineering, factories and in shops. Nearly all of them have applied for increases in their wages because of the increased cost of living. On more than one occasion the Government have given way and have suggested that the workers should get wage increases because of the increased cost of living.

The Government have never denied that the cost of living is increasing. Millions of workers will get increases on that basis, but those same people realise that they owe a debt of gratitude to the old people who went before them, the old people who made this country worth fighting for, as we have fought for it on two occasions. Those workers, who are soon to be paying increased rents, are collecting coppers in Glasgow and in other parts of Scotland so that their representatives may come to London to demand that the Government should do something for old-age pensioners. Their representatives will arrive tomorrow, the day after the debate, but that will be a test of their sincerity.

They know that old-age pensioners are in need. Everybody knows that, except the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. We have all recognised the need. The Assistance Board has recognised the need. In the Division Lobby tonight the Government will win with the majority they gained in the last General Election. Not long ago the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton, when he was Minister of Health, increased prescription charges. We have seen the evil effects of that.

We were told that the people fully backed the Government, but then North Lewisham came along. The Government will get their answer to this at other by-elections. We have seen the Government spend tremendous sums of money for purposes which did not have the approval of the country, and the Government have not asked the country to approve the actions they have taken. I warn the Government that, in spite of the long quotations which we had from the Joint Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon, when Suez is forgotten, when even the Rent Bill is forgotten, the old-age pensioners will give the Minister his answer.

He may speak with all the flowery language which can be printed on a piece of paper, but he will really say nothing about what we see happening around us. In Edinburgh, responsible doctors—not the Socialist Medical Federation, but responsible general practitioners—[Laughter.]—took a sample of the condition of old-age pensioners—I thought that I heard a giggle. Does that mean that the Medical Council is not responsible? I spoke of doctors being responsible not as a political party but as medical men. Is there something laughable about that? They have accepted more responsibility than hon. Members opposite, because they have faced facts.

They collected information and issued a report about the malnutrition which is now evident among old-age pensioners. Is there any doubt about that? The right hon. Gentleman for Thirsk and Mahon knows the number of old people who are in hospital suffering from malnutrition because they have been unable to eat the right food, because they have been eating "filler" foods instead of proteins. That is the evidence of the requirements of old-age pensioners. I feel very strongly about that. No amount of "he said, she said" will answer that.

If it is right and proper that profits should be soaring and that people should be demanding increased wages to meet the increasing cost of living, then old-age pensioners, who have to buy their commodities in precisely the same market, must receive increased benefits. It is absolutely ridiculous to say that it is all right for profits to increase and for wages to increase but not for pensioners to get an increase.

It must be remembered that the Labour Government introduced the National Insurance Act, 1946, in the light of the circumstances of that time. We never thought that we had brought pensioners to the level which we wanted, nor do we think so today. We shall not argue the level of old-age pensioners' subsistence based on one or two pints of milk, or one or two bags of coal. The old-age pensioners, who have done their job, are entitled to whatever we are entitled to have, no less, no more. I realise that the weight of numbers may defeat this side of the House tonight, but we individually will not be the sufferers. It will be the old people who will have to suffer, until some day when they reelect a Labour Government.

6.29 p.m.

Mrs. Patricia McLaughlin (Belfast, West)

I shall not detain the House for long. I have listened with great interest to all that has been said by hon. Members on both sides about this very human problem. We all feel very strongly for the old people. Despite the remarks and ribald comments sometimes directed at us by hon. Members opposite, we on these benches are not in opposition to them on this problem. We must, however, face the fact that we can provide for the old people only so much as we can carry.

The country is faced with a very great problem today. Hon. Members on both sides say that no person can live on £2 a week alone. Many quote National Assistance rates, and so forth. We all know that the lot of the old-age pensioner is that of living, and not of living luxuriously. The art of living is a problem indeed. But we must also face the fact that every time we increase the basic pension the extra money has to come from somewhere. It can come only out of the country's efforts and out of the money which the country makes. It may be true that Western Germany extracts a larger proportion of contributions from employers and employees for her pensions, but we must remember that a great proportion of that money can be afforded because of the increase in output which she has been able to achieve.

We must also remember that the pensions system now operating is not necessarily the one which will be best in years to come. Within a very short time many people will be drawing a retirement pension who will not depend upon it, or anything like it, for their livelihood. More people will be coming in who have been able to save, or who have private means. Are we to provide a private or Governmental pension for everyone, from Lord Nuffield downwards, even if he does not require one? Or are we going to consider the problem in a realistic way and see to it that those who have no other means of subsistence shall be our first charge?

We have our National Assistance, and supplementary pensions scheme, or whatever it may be called, which provide] extras for anyone with no other means of subsistence, but there are still some people to whom the words "National Assist- ance" are abhorrent. They are a decreasing number, but there are still some. It is possible that we may have to look to some other means of providing supplementary pensions for those who have nothing but the State pension to rely upon.

The problem is becoming so vast that to discuss properly it in one day, and on a Motion, is not possible. We cannot even begin to uncover the numerous problems which are involved. Much could be said about the problem of disregards within the framework of National Assistance. On the other hand, a bigger question is whether, in 1982, we are to be able to provide £800 million each year, which would have to be found if we were to increase the pension to £3 a week.

We must be factual about these matters, and put them into their proper perspective. It is very easy to be sympathetic with the old people, but any scheme must be brought forward upon a sensible basis, and at present anyone with nothing but his basic pension can receive National Assistance in many ways, and in respect of many things. It may be that we shall have to offer a supplementary pension, or something similar, at the age of 65, 70, or some prearranged age, to assist people as they are getting older. It is not necessarily correct to pay out the same amount to a person from the day he retires to the day he dies. In my experience those who are over 80 years of age are more in need of the extras about which we have been speaking.

I have also noticed that questions of a home, love and companionship are just as important as the question of money. It is very easy to run in a home for half an hour to cheer a person up and then go away. If any hon. Member were a welfare officer he would realise that it is not always the lack of money which is the difficulty; it is sometimes the lack of strength to make a meal, or to get up, go out and stand waiting to buy things in the shops, especially when one is not feeling well.

The domiciliary services have done much to help in this way, but there is great scope for further endeavour. The idea could be spread much further and it could be of much more value to the old-age pensioner than it is today. That is not to say that the old people do not spend wisely. They do extraordinarily well. But when they come towards the end of their lives they find that the race is trying. As I have said, the domiciliary services are a great help, as is the fact that an increasing number of homes are becoming available for old people. It would be a tremendous advantage if these old people could be provided with homes among generations who were not so tired and elderly as themselves.

The problem of old age is very complicated, and it cannot properly be dealt with by taking pensions alone, completely out of their context. We are faced with an ageing population. Many of our young people are going to other countries because the opportunities there appear to be greater. In years to come we shall have lost their earning value and their output, which is so important.

The Motion does not put the case for the old people in the way that I think it should be put. Their problem is one which will take a long time, and a lot of consideration, to solve. I have not noticed that any of these great problems can be rushed through. They have always taken many years, and this one will no doubt take a considerable amount of time in the future. It is easy to talk quickly, but it is difficult to make proper decisions quickly. We must see whether one scheme or another is more satisfactory. My belief is that the present National Assistance rates and adjustments demand our attention first.

I do not believe that we can afford to go on paying basic pensions which, in some cases, will go into the pockets of people who do not require them. The problem will take a considerable amount of time to solve, and it will need very many people to sit down and investigate all its aspects, fact by fact and figure by figure. We must have a population able to produce enough to supply the money required, whether it comes from Income Tax or from contributions. There is no use our demanding something which cannot be achieved.

What the old-age pensioner and retirement pensioner want today is a stabilisation of the cost of living. In addition, they want love and the ability to live within the community in a proper fashion. They do not want to feel that they are being given something in payment for past services. We are much too inclined to worry about the monetary side of the problem and forget the other factors which are of equal value.

6.38 p.m.

Mr. H. Hynd (Accrington)

The hon. Member for Belfast, West (Mrs. McLaughlin) and the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) made sympathetic references in the course of their speeches which will find a response among hon. Members on this side of the House. When the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton developed his idea about giving more money to old people as they grow older I began to wonder whether he had put forward the same idea when he was a member of the Government, and whether that is why he is now sitting on the back benches.

The hon. Member for Belfast, West took the line—which is an arguable one—that we must first consider whether the country can afford the extra money. I respectfully suggest that, time after time, the country has shown that it can afford things that we did not think it could. The money which was recently spent upon the Suez adventure would have given extra money to old-age pensioners for quite a time.

By the way, when the hon. Member and her colleague referred to the desirability of providing houses for old people rather than putting them into large institutions—with which idea I thoroughly agree—I hope that they had some twinges of conscience about the support which they gave their Government in making it almost impossible for local authorities to build houses for old people, owing to the increased interest charges which the Government are now levying.

Now I must say a word about the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary. I am glad that the hon. Lady is in the Chamber, as I did not want to say this in her absence. To say that I was disappointed in her speech would be an under-statement. Having considered carefully my choice of language, I say that it was disgraceful. I hope that her speech will be read by old-age pensioners, because it is a terrible indictment of the Government. When I intervened during her speech, the hon. Lady complained that I was attempting to put words into her mouth, but she did not need me to put words into her mouth.

I was amazed at the lack of sympathy shown by her sneer about poor managers, about old-age pensioners who had not been able to save out of the house-keeping. I consider that a slander on old-age pensioners. There was also her remark about 40s. being a good week's wages in her father's day. What was the implication? Was it that old-age pensioners do not need any more? The hon. Lady quoted the case of two of her constituents who said that they did not need more than the bare pension. It is always easy to produce an individual case such as that, but I wonder whether the hon. Lady would make that statement on a public platform in her constituency.

The hon. Lady said that old-age pensioners are eating more. In fact, when she went on to make her jibe about "slow horses" and the purchasing power of the pension being greater than for a long time past, I began to wonder whether she was about to propose a reduction in the present rate. The hon. Lady admitted that her father, whose case she quoted, was unable to live on the basic pension and had to be subsidised—quite properly—by members of his family.

It is admitted by the Government that the official cost-of-living figure has gone up by 9 per cent., yet the Government refuse to increase the pension. I thought that this would be a wonderful opportunity for the Government to make an announcement and to give some comfort or, at least, some hope to the old-age pensioners. But they will not have much to hope for unless the Minister intends to tell us something during the last few minutes of this debate when there will be no opportunity to criticise what he says.

I have in my hand a petition, signed by 1,240 of my constituents, which states: We, your constituents, whose names and addresses appear below, ask for your help in bringing to the notice of the Government the great poverty now being endured by the old-age pensioners of this country. As the cost of living is constantly rising and the basic pension remains static, it is quite obvious that pensioners are getting worse off all the time; they cannot buy even the bare necessities of life such as food, fuel or clothing. We look to you, our elected representative, to bring this matter to the notice of the Government at once. Tell them that to expect elderly people to live on such a pittance as £2 a week is a disgrace to any Christian country. We demand an immediate increase of not less than £1 a week for all men at 65 and women at 60, plus any increase in the cost of living. That epitomises the case for the old-age pensioners and, therefore, I do not propose to say any more about it, particularly as so much more will be said by hon. Members from, I hope, both sides of the House.

I wish to comment on what was said by the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton about the earnings rule. I should like to see the earnings rule done away with altogether and no limit imposed on anything that the old-age pensioners can earn. If a retired general becomes a director, we do not knock something off his Army pension. If a man who is already pensioned becomes a Member of Parliament, no deduction is made in his pension. It is a peculiar arrangement which allows people who are the worst off to suffer a reduction in their pensions if they happen to be earning anything.

I wish to make two special points about the National Assistance Board and I appreciate the opportunity which this debate affords for me to be able to do so. When they are criticised about the Assistance Board, which they control, the Government always take shelter behind the obligation of the Board to take certain amounts into consideration. That situation could be altered at any time by Parliament, and I think it is about time we took a good look at the question of disregard and brought them up to date.

For instance, the other day I raised with the Minister the matter of the new special allowances for war pensioners. We were delighted when, last November, the Minister announced that the aged war pensioners of the First World War who were over 65 were to have this little extra comfort in their last few years, because of their disability. The extra amounts ranged from 5s. a week up to 15s a week.

That was good news. One of my constituents who qualified for 5s. was feeling very pleased with himself, until he discovered that 4s. 6d. of it, which was the amount he was receiving from National Assistance, would be deducted. There must be many other people in the same position. What a shock it must have been to these ex-soldiers, who had welcomed the announcement and thought that at least they were to get this small amount extra in their last few years, to find that a corresponding deduction was made in the National Assistance grant. The Minister, in reply to my questions said, quite rightly, that the Board was bound to take the amount of National Assistance into consideration. If that is the position, it is time it was altered.

But the National Assistance regulations allow for an adjustment of assistance in special circumstances. I should have thought the regulations were sufficiently elastic to allow for this to be regarded as a special circumstance. After all, that is why the Minister gave this little extra money. It is a special circumstance. The recipient is a man over 65 who had suffered from his war disability and has not much longer to live. Are his circumstances not special? Apparently they are not, and I consider it is time things were altered. I throw that out as a suggestion, and I am sure that the Minister will regard the matter sympathetically.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) said that there is no criticism of the National Assistance Board administration, but I cannot fully agree with him. Although I may have been unfortunate in my experience, I sense a hardening in the attitude of the Board's officials in certain districts during the last few years. I do not know whether they have received a directive from above that they have to be a bit tighter in their administration, or whether they feel that if they are too sympathetic, with a Tory Government in power, they may get their knuckles rapped. I should like to hear the experiences of other hon. Members in this connection.

I will quote the case of a man who has been out of work for a time and whose resources have run out. Finally, he finds a job, but he has to tide himself over the first week or two until he receives his first wage. He has no means, and so he goes to the Assistance Board for help. When it is discovered that he has a job to go to, he is told, "You cannot get anything. You must go to your new boss and ask for a 'sub.'." Perhaps that man has been searching for a job for a long time and at last finds one. Then the first thing he must do is to go to his new boss and say, "Please can I have a 'sub.?" What a way to start a new job!

I have complained about this, but apparently nothing has been done about it. That is what the officials have to do, so they themselves say, and that practice is in operation. It is something that the Minister really ought to stop, because it is a very bad thing.

The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)

The information which I gave to the House when, I think, the hon. Member raised it, was that this action was taken only when a man had a week's wages owing to him but his employer, for his own convenience, only paid that after the lapse of a fortnight. If the hon. Member has any case such as that which he has described—where this demand is made on the day when the man resumes work—and will send it to me, I will gladly discuss it with the Board, but, in the Board's defence, I must say that I have never come across such a case.

Mr. Hynd

I can assure the right hon. Gentleman that there are such cases. If I have done nothing else by speaking except get this cleared, up, I shall feel that I have done a useful job. Having had that assurance, I will not go any further. I am delighted to hear it, and I hope that that will be made clear to the local officers and, may I say, particularly to those in my constituency.

6.50 p.m.

Sir Keith Joseph (Leeds, North-East)

I wish to cover rather quickly the common ground which I think exists between both sides on this very important and sympathetic subject. We are all agreed that some pensioners, obviously, are in hardship, and it is entirely understandable that on behalf of all pensioners, because of these relatively few, there should be pressure for an increase. I hope, however, that the House will think of this matter not in terms of money—since that is most misleading in this case—but in terms of resources.

If the country is to free more resources for the use of pensioners, those resources have to come by other people doing without them or, if there is no forgoing of those resources, there will be more inflation and price increases will grow. If we think of this in terms of resources being freed for pensioners we shall realise, as my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mrs. McLaughlin) said, that it is not a matter of good will and sympathy, but of taking from one group of people in order to give to others.

In my constituency I find that a large number of the pensioners do have families or do have savings, and that relatively few have to live on their pensions alone, as unsupplemented by the National Assistance Board. There seems to be agreement between the parties that the basic pension is not enough for any individual to live on alone. The key figure is that to which I referred earlier in an intervention, and which is given on page 44 of the National Assistance Board's Report for 1955, which shows that a much smaller percentage of retirement pensioners than in previous years are having to have recourse to the National Assistance Board; thus showing, presumably, by implication that 77 per cent. of the retirement pensioners now have either sufficient income—that is, more resources than the National Assistance Board consider necessary for a decent subsistence—or will not use the Board. That is a very small number.

Mr. Hannan

Will the hon. Member deny that the number of pensioners approaching the Assistance Board is increasing, and that that is why they are asking for an increase in pension now?

Sir K. Joseph

I quite agree with the hon. Member that the absolute numbers are increasing, but the number of pensioners is increasing much faster, and the proportion of pensioners having recourse to the Board has fallen by one-sixth. If he will look at page 44, Appendix 3, of the Board's Report, he will find that 24 months ago more than a quarter of all retirement pensioners applied for and received supplementary allowances. The figure has now fallen by one-sixth to 23.3 per cent. Therefore, I feel that the absolute figure is not so important in global terms as is the fall in the proportion.

I turn to what, if I may say so, was the excellent speech made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand), and to the interesting question which he asked. He asked the House to consider why, if the general standard of living of the country as a whole is rising, part of that increase has not been allocated to the retirement pensioners. I have no figures on this, but it seems to me, first, that quite a large amount of the increase in the standard of living of this country has gone—and I do not quarrel with this, it is perfectly proper—to the wage earners. If they have an amount disproportionate to their numbers, then the others, be they middle income, professional, fixed income or retirement pensioners, have less than their proportion.

Retirement pensioners have had improvements in their circumstances. As my right hon. Friend said in Answer to a Question of mine this afternoon on increments, nearly a quarter of those on retirement pensions are now in receipt of postponed retirement increases. This is an improvement on the pensioned rate. Secondly, more than one-third of the wage earners are in private pension schemes. In addition, of course, there has been a very great increase in the domiciliary services for the benefit of such people as retirement pensioners.

The problem is two-fold. First we have to deal with those now in receipt of retirement pensions, and here we must rely on the National Assistance Board's discretion. Anyone reading the extraordinarily humane account in the last of the Board's Reports must be struck with the wide range of that discretion. I would say that to urge that a list should be made of the things that the Board will or will not do for these people would be to hinder it in the discreet disobedience of the rules which it often, I feel, practises.

There is something else which can be done for the present retirement pensioners, and here I speak from experience as founder of an old people's club, in which, I am glad to say, many people of over 70 years of age have married. This club is of great benefit, not only because of cheerful circumstances and surroundings for old people who could not afford them on their own; not only because it provides safe surroundings so that families are relieved for perhaps half a day or maybe two days a week from staying at home to look after grandmother, but because the old people are under affectionate surveillance, and if they lack something it is more than likely that the club supervisor will recommend them to the welfare officer, or to one of the many of the voluntary, statutory or local authority services available.

Mrs. Slater

Does not the hon. Member realise that many of these people go to old people's clubs not only to avoid loneliness but because there they get, perhaps, cheaper meals and a warm place in which to sit, when they cannot afford the food and the coal at home?

Sir K. Joseph

I quite agree with the hon. Lady. That is why I helped to found the club some years ago, but for the purpose of shortening my speech I took such matters for granted.

Secondly, we must concern ourselves with the retirement pensioners of the future—those people who are working today. Before dealing further with this, I should like to try to correct one misapprehension in the speech of the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East. He spoke as if the Treasury was giving a present of remitted taxation to those people who take out retirement pensions under the recent scheme. The Treasury gives nothing. It remits, for the moment only, some taxation, since it draws full taxation on the pensions resulting from these superannuation arrangements.

Superannuation seems to me to be the arrangement of the future, I think that it will be a very good principle if we can so arrange things that all pensions in future are earned out of the work done today; whether by private superannuation schemes or by any broader arrangements is outside the subject of this debate. As a general principle, we shall be in far safer water if such pensions are earned during the working life of the pensioner. It must go with that that the Government of the day must succeed in stopping inflation, otherwise these contractual pension sums are whittled away in terms of real money. Here I would like to pay a tribute to this Government for having put a halt to inflation in the last year.

The third conclusion I should like to draw is that we should logically support a rapidly increasing National Assistance standard. We are all concerned about those who are on the lowest standard of living. We all admit that many people have, in addition to their basic pension, such additional benefits as family help, savings, friendly neighbours, or clubs. It must follow from that that if we are concerned about those on the lower standard of living, they can be helped mainly through National Assistance Board grants. It seems to me retrograde, therefore, that at the last alteration in pensions the basic pension gained in relation to the National Assistance Board subsistence level ignoring rent. I admired that very much at the time, but it seemed to me ultimately to be a retrograde step, and we shall want the National Assistance Board level, which is an absolute one reflecting a view of subsistence, to increase as we expect the lowest level of income receivers to have a better standard of living from time to time.

It seems to me, in view of this, that it is absurd to criticise the rule whereby the National Assistance Board deducts from its grants any extra income received by the recipient. One is only entitled to a National Assistance Board grant because one's total resources from other means comes to less than a stated figure. If one's total resources come to that stated figure, or exceed it, one is not entitled to a National Assistance Board grant, and it seems to my hypocrisy for anyone to pretend that we should spend public money in that way.

The fourth conclusion that I would draw is that for a very long time we shall need to increase the voluntary and local authority help to retirement pensioners of all sorts. The activities of home helps, the work of old people's welfare committees, of which I believe there are 900 all over the country, and the clubs to which I have referred, as well as the mass of visitors to the homes, contribute a great deal to the welfare of retirement pensioners.

I would make only one comment on this matter. It seems peculiar, looking at the figures, that so very few welfare cases are recommended to the proper authorities by general practitioners. In a recent survey I read of some local authority investigation, only 2 per cent. of the retirement pensioner cases referred to the local authority welfare services had been referred by general practitioners.

I have had some experience in the last few years as chairman of a voluntary committee on senility. As chairman of that committee, I should like strongly to support the remarks made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) about the importance of loneliness in these cases. Malnutrition is not always a question of money. The survey that we made in this examination of senility showed in many cases that loneliness, eccentricity, boredom and all sorts of reasons like that lead to malnutrition from sheer indifference or ignorance.

This is not a political point. It can only be dealt with by increasing the voluntary and local authority activities which watch out for these danger signs, see that people get good meals and take them in before it is too late. None of us knows whether people do not join clubs because they are eccentric or whether they become eccentric because they do not join clubs. But we cannot rely on the clubs and such like voluntary activities to solve our problems. We have to increase the number of voluntary people who visit old people in their homes.

The only real panacea to our problems is a great expansion in national wealth whereby we can make absolutely sure that the standard of living of retirement pensioners goes steadily up with the progress of the whole economy.

7.4 p.m.

Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)

I have great pleasure in supporting this Motion, because it has been truly said that this is a human problem. I support the pleas that the local authorities should do more for old people. My own local authority is very active in providing a hot meal service for old people at least once a week, at a small cost of Is. and also in building old people's bungalows on their housing estates. There are also the churches with their Darby and Joan clubs, and the National Federation of Old-Age Pensions Associations, who bring into the lives of old-age pensioners comradeship and friendship at their weekly meetings and outings.

Many people, especially hon. Members opposite, say that they would like to increase old-age pensions but that they cannot afford to do so. I cannot accept that argument. I say that we cannot afford not to do so. Today, in this modern age, £2 a week is not good enough for the old-age pensioner. I do not want to go too far back into the past. Hon. Members opposite often accuse us on this side of the House of going back into the past. One thing that I know about the past is that it was the pioneers of the Labour Party and of the trade union movement who, from the beginning of the century, in 1902, campaigned for years and years to get old-age pensions for people on retirement.

In 1911, 5s. a week was granted. If any hon. Member, in 1911, had said in this House that in 1957 people should be given an old-age pension of £2 a week, I am certain that hon. Members then on the benches opposite would have said the country could not afford it. Therefore, let us not be nervous about figures. After all, with the great growth in modern production we have no need to be nervous of the number of old people whom we are likely to have in 1982, provided that we have the courage and the good will.

The last pension increase was in April, 1955. Several weeks ago I asked the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, in a Question, the value, in purchasing power, of the £2 a week old-age pension. I believe that the Minister said that it was 37s. 6d. Since then there has been a slight increase in the prices of several foods. But let us take the Minister's figure. That means that from April, 1955 old-age pensioners have lost 2s. 6d. a week. That is not a lot to a person receiving £20 or £15 or £10 a week, but it is a lot of money to a person receiving only £2 a week.

On those grounds alone we can definitely say that a case has been made out for increasing the basic rates of old-age pensions. We know the problems of old people. We are debating this Motion in the winter, when their problems are much heavier, when the nights in February and March are getting much colder. One of the important items for old people in the winter is the cost of heating—electricity, coal and gas. I have had a recent case of two old people in my constituency, living in one room. There was no fireplace, but there was a gas fire. The gas cost 14s. a week. I will be frank with the Minister. I drew the attention of the National Assistance Board to this case, and the Board increased the amount of assistance by 5s. a week until the end of March. That still leaves those old people with 9s, a week to find from their pensions for one gas fire.

Like the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), I willingly pay tribute to the National Assistance Board, particularly in my own area. Every old-age pensioner whom I have sent to the Board has been treated with great courtesy and kindness, and, within the limits of the Board's legal powers, I have no complaint against it.

The problem of the old-age pensioner remains, especially in winter. One only has to go to the public libraries in the winter, especially on a cold day, where one sees old people gathered in the reading rooms. I am quite certain that those people go to the libraries and reading rooms because there is central heating in those places and they can find warmth there. Moreover, old people go to bed early to save coal, gas or electricity. Often, they are forced to buy cheap food, but cheap food is not really cheap; if one uses a cheap tea, it often means that two teaspoonsful are required in the teapot instead of one. If old people buy the cheap cuts of meat, it generally means that they buy meat with a large proportion of bone and gristle. To buy cheap tea, cheap meat and other cheap food is often really to buy the dear food, and the Minister should remember that.

Why should not the old people have some of the small luxuries of life? Why should they not have sweets or fruit, why should they not have a packet of cigarettes or a half-pint of beer if they want it? The old people of today probably spent the greater part of their lives in industry, producing the wealth of industry and helping to make this a great industrial nation. Why should they not have some little luxuries in their old age? The Minister should bear in mind that the bulk of old people on retirement pensions have not earned big wages; they are among those, I should imagine, who probably never earned more than £3 or £4 a week in their lives, and some of them probably earned even less than that, an average of 50s. per week perhaps. They had very little opportunity of saving in the 1920s and 1930s, when unemployment also entered their lives at different periods.

No one can deny that living standards have gone up considerably. It has, in fact, been one of the joys of my life to see the living standards of people in this country rise greatly during the last thirty years. But one cannot say the same about old-age pensioners. The National Federation of Old Age Pensions Associations has come forward with a request to the Government for a pension of £3 a week. I will be quite candid tonight and say that I support that claim. I myself should not like to have to live on £3 a week, and I do not imagine that many hon. Members of this House would like to try.

As a country we are not today foremost in pensions. We say we cannot afford £3 a week, yet in Australia the rate for a single person is £4 a week and the rate for a married couple is £8 per week. In Western Germany a scheme has been brought forward by which pensions are linked to wages and the pensioner of the future will get 60 per cent. of his wages. When all is said and done, we won the war, yet Western Germany, which was defeated, can bring in a pension scheme of that type which is far in advance of this country's pension scheme.

I am confident that public opinion is behind the old-age pensioners in their request for £3 a week. I heard of a school teacher who set a class of 40 children a composition on what improvements they would like best in life. Thirty-one out of those 40 children said that they would like to see more aid for old people. Most children have grandmothers and grandfathers living; they know old people. If children know that their grandmothers and grandfathers are short, that should surely be a sign to Members of the House of Commons.

I have often heard of children taking old people packets of tea and sugar. I heard of an old lady who used to send a young girl out on Saturday to get her groceries. Not knowing how much food had risen in price during recent years, she did not give the child enough money, and the child used to add a few coppers out of her own purse each week rather than ask the old lady for the extra money.

I am quite certain that the sympathy of hon. Members on both sides of the House is with the pensioners in asking for an increase in the basic rate of old-age pension. In fact, I put this challenge to the Minister: submit a Motion to the House for an increase in the basic rate of old-age pensions, and take the Whips off. If he does, I am certain that the Motion will be carried.

7.12 p.m.

Mr. Douglas L. S. Nairn (Central Ayrshire)

I will not delay the House for very long. My right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) have already dealt with many of the points I had in mind. Nor shall I refer very much to speeches made by hon. Gentlemen opposite. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) indicated in his speech, on their own admission, the record of members of the Opposition is rather feeble and inadequate.

Mr. Collick

He said nothing of the kind.

Mr. Nairn

He admitted as much in his speech.

The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Hubbard) looking at me, said, "Why so critical of the Labour Government?" The reason why this side of the House is critical of the Labour Government is not because of what the Labour Government did for old-age pensioners but because of what they failed to do. By 1951, they had got the finances of this country into such chaos that the good work they had done was rapidly being washed out. It is deeds, not words, which matter.

Mr. Collick rose

Mr. Nairn

I have not said very much; I think the hon. Gentleman had better wait a bit. [HON. MEMBERS: "Give way."] I have hardly said anything as yet. It is quite untrue to suggest that old-age pensioners or retirement pensioners are much worse off or nearly worse off than they have ever been before. The fact is that at the present time the State is doing far more in an effort to nook after old people in every way than has ever been done in the past. This is one of the principles of the Tory Party, and we do not need to be prodded by the hon. Members opposite into carrying out this task.

I hope that it will be possible very soon to introduce better pensions schemes which will allow people in future to have pensions which will be a higher proportion of their normal earned income. But that is not an easy thing to do from the moment the word "go" is given. I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) when he says that there must be an increase in the basic pension, because an increase in the basic pension today is something which must be carried by the people of the future.

Although old people get more consideration today, I agree that there are many who are still not getting adequate consideration. I believe that the right way to see that they get that consideration is, not to increase the basic pension, but to make greater use of supplementary grants through National Assistance. Although there are many who are better off than they have been, I know quite well that the improvement in the standards of many old people is nothing like the increase in the general standard of living throughout the country.

The amount of welfare which the country can afford at any time is limited. In my view, too much of the money available for welfare has, since the war and recently, gone on the young and able-bodied and not enough consideration has been given to the old. Occasionally, if one says that the old people are the ones who have been through two wars and have suffered unemployment in the 'thirties, one is told one is being sentimental. Yet it is the old people who have given us today the standard of living which this country enjoys, and I believe that they deserve special consideration.

The problem we must face is the problem of the old people in need now, not the possible needs of old people in the future who may be helped by future schemes. To help everybody indiscriminately by an increase in the basic pension might, in these days of financial difficulty, mean that those people most in need would not get that extra help. The only answer, I think, is more generous assistance to those in need and a more intensive effort on the part of the National Assistance Board to find the people who are in need.

Very largely, the people who are most in need are the 75's to 90's, the really old people. Nobody can expect them to go to the Assistance Board. With closer co-operation with the welfare committees, these old people should never have to make application or to fill in any forms. If a welfare committee reported to the National Assistance Board that these people were in need, an officer should go and do the whole thing for them and make the payment to them.

That raises a major problem which, in some areas, is a serious one. Many of these old people do not like the National Assistance Board. They are too proud to go or, being very old, they do not understand what it is all about or, as is often the case with old people, they do not like to be a nuisance to others. There must, I think, be some change in the way that National Assistance is administered. I would like to see the National Insurance and Pensions office and the National Assistance office housed in the same building. This would lead to greater co-operation.

I would like to see that office called the Pensions and Assistance Office. Old-age pensioners would be more likely to go there if it had that name. I would like the Board's officers to call on pensioners, and when doing so to describe themselves not as National Assistance officers but as Pensions Assistance officers. I believe that this would help to overcome the difficulty.

The second thing which I should like to see—this was referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East—is greater guidance from the National Assistance Board as to what are "special circumstances". It is difficult to lay down hard and fast rules about special circumstances, and if we were to do so we might do more harm than good, but surely the National Assistance Board could issue circulars outlining the type of cases which they have treated as special circumstances. If people were given examples of similar cases in other areas, they would know what they could ask for when applying to the National Assistance Board. I think, too, that there could be a revision of some of the special circumstances.

I still consider that the greatest cases of hardship are among the very old. Would it be unreasonable to suggest that people over the age of 75 might, perhaps, be given a coal allowance without applying for it, whether they were sick or well, with or without a doctor's certificate? Some of these old people—in fact, any old people over the age of 75—if living on their basic pension alone cannot keep warm in Scotland at this time of year. A reconsideration of "special circumstances" might be very helpful for the old people.

We ought also to try to change the disregards. They have remained the same since 1948 although, as we all know, the value of money has changed considerably. In the disregards, the non-contributory old-age pensioners are at the moment better placed than the other pensioners. This is an anomaly which might well be looked into.

On page 11, the Report of the National Assistance Board for 1955 makes a comment on single payments. This indicates clearly that greater efforts should be made to visit the old people. It states: Most of the grants were made to people calling at the area offices. Many people who cannot call at the area offices are often in the greatest need. Of all things, I should like most to see visits by the National Assistance officers, under the new name of Pensions Assistance officers, to the very old people who are in need. It surprises me that on the same page of the Report, while there are references to the grants which have been made for clothing and other things, no mention is made of coal, which, I should have thought, was probably the most important need.

I do not believe that at the present time an increase in the basic pension is the answer. We have to meet the case, which arises now, of certain people who have no help from any other source and this can best be done through National Assistance. When my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary was opening the debate from this side, I was glad to learn from the comments of hon. Members opposite they are agreed that people who can help their parents should do so. That is a principle that hon. Members opposite have not always accepted, but they made it quite clear today that they consider that people who can help their parents should do so. The people whom we have to help most of all are the old people who have nobody to help them.

7.27 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Skeffington (Hayes and Harlington)

The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Nairn) began his speech in a rather unfortunate fashion. Quite obviously he dislikes the policies of Members on this side. It is, however, foolish for the hon. Member and others to deny the credit for the series of great Acts for social welfare that we are discussing tonight which were passed by the Labour Government of 1945 to 1950.

There is one curious feature of the speeches of hon. Members opposite, including the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, which seems now to set a new level in controversy. Members opposite always regard it as a logical defence to suggest that if during the period from 1945 to 1950 the Labour Government failed to do something, then it is perfectly all right if they themselves do nothing during the next five or ten years. We are getting a little tired of this sort of thing, and it is unworthy of the standard which all Members want to try to maintain in this House.

The other curious and, perhaps, slightly sinister feature of some of the speeches made from the opposite side is that it is not only money that matters in regard to old people. Nobody on this side has denied the need of and the very good work that is done by old people's clubs and by neighbourly circles, by individual acts of kindness and by the welfare services of the local authorities. Indeed, many of these experiments were started by the Labour Party—and, incidentally, were derided in some quarters—in the boroughs of the East End of London. But it is no use having clubs where people can go or providing services, voluntarily or statutorily, if the basic essentials by which people live are not available, if they do not have sufficient food with which to start the day. I hope, therefore, that that argument will not be pursued much further, far it may come to be regarded as a weak alibi for doing nothing.

I was astonished at the speech of the Joint Parliamentary Secretary. It was a pathetic performance of absolute complacency in things as they are. Indeed, as the hon. Lady went on I thought that her logical conclusions would be to move a reduction of 2s. in the rates of benefit and pension. I can understand the argument, which any Government has to face when confronted with demands of this kind, that they must be related to the economic resources of the country. The two sides of the House may have different orders of priorities, but to pretend that everything in the pensioner's garden is lovely, as did the hon. Lady this afternoon, does no service to her Government and is liable to be grossly resented by large numbers of people outside this House.

I would also say to the hon. Lady that it really is no good dragging in her father. We are all delighted that she is looking after him so well, as I am sure every one of us does when we have a parent, but to compare our dependents with so many old-age pensioners outside is to live in quite an unreal world, and I am sure that on reflection the hon. Lady will realise that that is the case.

I want to start from the point that, obviously, the position of the pensioner is a Government responsibility, and it is a responsibility which Ministers cannot really push off either by relation to the actions of the Labour Government five years ago or by any other of the arguments that are sometimes used about the time being inopportune. I do not want to be particularly party political about it. I should not dream of making the sort of speech as that made by the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire; but we are entitled to remind ourselves and the country that the economic programme that has been put forward by the Conservative Party at three Elections had a main theme, if one might call it that, to the effect that wise national housekeeping by a Conservative Government would reduce the cost of living. It did not say anything about stabilising it, although that became the substitute as the argument developed. At the last Election, it was not so much the cost of living as "Earnings up" and "See how Conservative freedom works."

Of course, the earnings of the old-age pensioners have not increased, and one of the reasons for the agitation and distress in the country is that all the economic panaceas offered by the Conservative Party at three Elections have not been fulfilled. Indeed, they really ought never to have been made. I do not believe that any political party can go to the country and honestly say, "We can guarantee that we are going to cut the cost of living." A country like ours, which is so dependent on so many external factors, can only do its best and take certain actions which might safeguard the position of these most vulnerable members of the community or stabilise some of the factors for a period.

Of course, many Members of the Government must have known the impossibility of keeping that pledge. The Home Secretary, who had, I am told, a considerable part in drafting the party's Election manifestoes, must have known, because in "Britain Strong and Free"—and I always have this to my little black book, because I find these quotations very encouraging from time to time—we find the sentence, which was probably written by the Home Secretary himself— The Government will be judged according to the effect of its programme on rising costs and prices. It is the failure of this Government to prevent prices rising which is the first reason for the agitation and distress in the country at the present time.

The second reason, which Ministers cannot and must not be allowed to escape, is the deliberate action which they have taken. It is true that at the time of the 1951 Election and shortly afterwards, we were told that there would not be any removal of food subsidies while things were difficult, but we know that within a few months of that Election the first cut in the subsidies came—again by the present Home Secretary. This was a deliberate action which took away that cushioning instrument which we had had before in relation to foods which are such a large part of the budget of the old-age pensioners. By that act and many others, Ministers have deliberately contributed to the difficulties which confront the nation and the old-age pensioners. Further, in a few months' time, they will have to be responsible for the fact that extra rent will have to be paid.

Incidentally, when I hear the talk about people being subsidised, I suppose that under the present arrangement, when the rents go up and there are many old-age pensioners who cannot possibly meet that increased rent, the landlords will have to be subsidised by the National Assistance Board who will give the pensioners a rent allowance. That is something which I hope hon. Gentlemen opposite will consider when they think, as some of them do, that too much money is being spent on the Welfare State already.

What in relation to prices has happened over the six years since 1951? How far have the election panaceas been brought into reality? One of the difficulties we are in is that we have a new Cost-of-Living Index introduced last year on 17th January, and, therefore, we have the difficulty of not being able to see how prices have consistently risen over this period on one index. I have tried to merge quite fairly the old with the new to give the whole story, because it reflects the distress of the old folk which was current during the whole of this period. It is true that there was an increase in the pension in 1955, but there were difficulties before then and they still continue.

Incidentally, the new cost-of-living index achieves at any rate one very ridiculous result. Last year, when for one period of three months food prices were actually rising, the index remained stationary, and we were told that it had remained stationary because the cost of second-hand cars had come down. Old-age pensioners do not eat and are not very interested in second-hand cars, and I therefore hope that the plea made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) two years ago that we should at some time have a cost-of-living index especially for pensions purposes is one that either this Government, or, if not, some other, will implement soon.

If we look at the rise in retail prices since October, 1951, when the Government took office, we find that the index was then 129 points. After two years, it had risen by 11 points to 140. This is reducing the cost of living! After two more years, in October, 1955, it was 152, and in October, 1956, it was 157. It is now 160, a rise of 33 points. Again, that can be reflected—and this is very important, in view of the statement made by the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon—in the purchasing power of the pound. If we take 1947, a few months after the Labour Government had increased the pension from 10s. to 26s., and taking the £ at that time as representing 20s., from that beginning we can see how the purchasing power of the £ has declined.

In 1948 it was 18s. 6d.; in 1949 18s.; in 1950 17s. 7d.; in 1951 16s.; in 1952 14s. 8d.; in 1953 14s. 3d.; in 1954 14s.; in 1955 13s. 5d.; in 1956 12s. 9d.; and in January, 1957, 12s. 5d. Surely, the Parliamentary Secretary can see that a pension of £2, each one of them worth 12s. 5d., making 24s. 10d., is worth less than the 26s. which was then accorded by the Labour Government? Therefore, her statement is quite untrue that the purchasing power of the £ has been more than maintained in relation to the rise in prices, and the statement in the Amendment maintaining that the pension is the highest it has ever been is also untrue.

Miss Pitt

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because it will allow me to correct a misapprehension. I did not say, or I hope I did not say, that the pension was better than that in 1946. I said that its purchasing power was better than at any time since 1948.

Mr. Skeffington

I am quite prepared, if the hon. Lady wants to make that statement, to accept it. What I am saying is that old-age pensioners are faced with the fact that their purchasing power today is less than it was when the pension was introduced by the Labour Government. That is the important point. Therefore, the suggestion in the Amendment of a higher standard than has prevailed during the greater part of their existence conceals the truth, which is that the pensioners are worse off today than they were in 1946. We have only to look at the last twelve months to realise that bread has gone up by 15 per cent., milk 8 per cent. and coal by 4 per cent., so have sugar, sweets, tea and many other items, including bus rides. No wonder the News Chronicle said on 9th January: Up, up, up go the grocery bills. Every week housewives find there is a halfpenny on this or a penny on that. This is reflected in two reports I shall quote. First, I emphasise that we on this side of the House, in complaining of the plight of the old-age pensioners today, are seeking to prove—and have surely proved—that the pensioners have been losing the battle ever since 1946, and at an increasing rate since food subsidies have been withdrawn or reduced from 1951. The first of the two reports to which I have alluded was made by Guildford Old People's Welfare Committee as reported in the Surrey Times of 31st October, 1953. It says: Some old people cannot afford to buy bacon any more and can have very little meat, and only an occasional egg. They seem to have turned to breakfast cereals, Oxo cubes and bread and jam as substitutes. Some have a midday meal of chips, but cannot afford the fish which should go with them. Increasing numbers spend a good part of the day in bed to save food and firing. The constantly rising cost of food hits the old people hard. They do not complain, but adapt themselves as best they can. Visitors have been observing this closely, but unobtrusively, during the past year. The Chairman of Guildford's Citizens' Advice Bureau described the conditions revealed in the report as "perfectly ghastly."

That is part of the story. Our complaint is not only of conditions as they have deteriorated in the past twelve months. It is also that circumstances have become increasingly difficult for the old-age pensioners since the removal or reduction of food subsidies since 1951, and that report relates to a time before the end of 1953.

I now come to the second of the reports to which I alluded, made in 1956. This report appeared in the Edinburgh and Lothians Clarion. I will quote it if my Scottish colleagues do not object. It is of special interest in the light of the Parliamentary Secretary's ignorance of examples of malnutrition among old folk. The report says that Dr. J. G. Thomson, of the city's public health department, told an old people's welfare conference that only about 17 per cent. of old-age pensioners are eating a diet providing a sufficient intake of vitamin C.

The Clarion reported: Dr. Thomson got his figures from a small trial survey he has made in connection with the diet of old people. This, he explained, was only in its early stages, but two other research workers had already stated that 20 per cent. of the old people they had visited were in a poor state of nutrition. That appeared last year. I mention it especially because the Joint Parliamentary Secretary said she had not any indications of real malnutrition amongst the old-age pensioners. Yet there is that Scottish report, which I came across quite accidentally.

While I am dealing with pensioners' conditions, may I mention a piece of Bumbledom, if not of meanness, to which I would especially draw attention? It arises more, I hope, because of administrative difficulty than any conscious desire to make the condition of old-age pensioners worse. It came to my knowledge at the end of last year from a constituent that when an old-age pensioner goes into hospital and is resident there for some time he loses the whole of the value of his tobacco coupons. I have raised this matter with the hon. Lady, who explained the difficulty, and I raised it with the previous Minister of Health, who, when he left office, was considering whether anything could be done about it.

It seems to me peculiarly hard that a man who may smoke in hospital should be deprived of the value of his tobacco coupons and the comfort of his pipe only because there is some difficulty about collecting them and taking them to the tobacconist. My right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) used to say that there were 11,000 people voluntarily helping to run the hospital services, and I make this special plea to them and to the Ministers concerned to consider the possibility of organising arrangements whereby the comparatively few pensioner smokers—there cannot be many thousands of them—in hospital for a long time may be able to get the value of their tobacco coupons and not any longer be denied this one small comfort.

I conclude by repeating that the purchasing power of the pension is less than it was in 1946 and that there is no doubt that there is real distress and a lack of basic essentials amongst many of our old people. I hope that if the Government will not voluntarily do something about it, public opinion will compel them to do something about it before very long.

7.45 p.m.

Dr. Donald Johnson (Carlisle)

We all want to do what we can about this very urgent problem within the limits of what we can afford. Various criteria have been put forward during the debate to measure what we could afford or, perhaps, should afford. One criterion was the numbers of people applying for National Assistance. Another criterion, proposed in a very proper way, was the cost of living. It is inevitable that, since this subject is brought into the sphere of party politics, there should be competitive estimates in this matter, and it is, indeed, one sphere of our national economy in which level tendering is not often found. A third thing which tends to fix the amount of the retirement pension is the interplay of political forces.

I submit, though my submission is an obvious one, that none of these factors has in recent years been sufficient to stop the almost continuous depreciation of all pensions and all fixed incomes, a process which has gone on regardless of the party in power. It bears equally hard on those with contributory pensions, widows' pensions, or other fixed emoluments of this kind.

Although this is a digression from my main theme I would point out that it is hard that a widow, whose husband was killed in the war, should have to write that she is far less well off than a widow under the present scheme of widows' Service pensions as it is today.

The hardship of those people is a symptom of the disease of inflation, which is the endemic economic disease of our time, and it is this which leads many hon. Members to advocate that retirement pension should be tied to the cost of living. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) pressed for a fixed relation between the retirement pension and wages. I am sorry that he stopped himself half way when he began to talk about the question of production as well, because I hope, in the few words I have to say, to press for a more fundamental approach to the problem.

Let us restate our aim. It is essential that we should stop the continued inflation of our currency, which falsifies all long-term contracts, whether for pensions, annuities, or savings certificates, and by which confidence is destroyed and a perpetual sense of injustice and bitterness is created amongst that deserving section of the community whose welfare we seek to safeguard.

It is possible only to a limited degree, in present days, to cure this disease of inflation by adopting a deflationary policy. Our essential need is to make the £ sterling a stable currency, and this, in turn, seems impossible while we have no regular method—and we have not at present—of controlling the issue and the volume of money. When I asked, in a Question to my right hon. Friend the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, what was the regulating factor in the control of monetary supplies early last year, the Answer showed clearly that the controlling factors were of an indefinite nature.

The vast increase in the money that has come into circulation over the past twenty years speaks for itself. I appreciate that this is not a debate on economics, but I think that it would be helpful if I give the House some comparative figures. In 1938, the total volume of coins and banknotes in circulation, and of current bank deposits, was £1,690 million. In 1945, it was £3,904 million and by 1957 it had risen to £6,579 million. At that stage, inevitably, the credit squeeze came into operation to attempt to solve this problem. Here again there has been no particular guiding principle to indicate at what stage that could be relaxed.

It is quite clear that increases of money of this kind must be set against real values of goods produced if we are not to have a continuous and severe currency depreciation. If we are to establish just and equitable conditions for pensioners it is essential that we fix the amount of money in circulation on some form of commodity or real basis. By this I mean a system in which money is issued in direct relation to the amount of goods and services available.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Gordon Touche)

The hon. Member is getting very wide of the subject of the Motion.

Dr. Johnson

I appreciate that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I come back to the main subject of the debate by comparing the figures of the index of actual production with the amount of old-age pensions in recent years.

It is my essential thesis, which I am endeavouring to illustrate, that the amount of retirement pensions should depend upon, and be integrated with, the volume of production, both as a necessity of the economy and also with a view to creating an incentive to production and to seeing that our old people are kept in the state of comfort which they deserve. In this connection I should like to quote some figures. When the index of production, which, as far as I know, was first calculated in 1948, was 100, the retirement pension for a married couple was 41s. In 1951, the index had risen to 117, when the retirement pension for a couple was 50s. In 1956, the index was 145 and now, as we kow, the old-age pension for a couple is 64s.

It is interesting to note that whereas industrial production has risen by 45 per cent. it must be said, in justice to what we on this side of the House say and to the Government's Amendment, that the pension has risen by 55 per cent. There has been a larger rise in pensions than there has been in industrial production. If we are to raise pensions, which we on this side of the House are as eager to do as are hon. Members opposite, it is essential that, first, we should raise production and then should work out a system of passing on this increase in production and seeing that the old people and the pensioners get their share of it. It is only, in the first place, by working out a system of this kind and, in the second place, by selling to the people in general the idea that the welfare of old people depends on what we produce, that we shall ultimately solve this problem.

We know that it is an increase in monetary pension that the old people want first, but what they really want ultimately is not the actual money as we know it but the things which money can buy, the extra coal, the extra food, and perhaps the extra luxuries, which we all know they deserve. We should try to get it clear in the minds of the people that all this depends on what people produce. An appeal to the miners saying, "The old people want a little more coal. Will you not produce a little more for their sake?" would be the fundamental way of solving all these problems.

7.56 p.m.

Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)

It is not surprising, ten years after the Beveridge revolution, that quite a number of speeches and parts of speeches in the debate should have been devoted to stock-taking of our social services as we have seen them develop in recent years. I think, however, that the main issue of the debate is the immediate future, not the future structure of our social security, but the urgency of the need of the people on whose behalf we on this side of the House are making a plea in the Motion.

Whatever the form of our National Insurance Scheme in the future, whether we have something on present lines or develop the idea of a national superannuation scheme or some other form of provision for old age, or whether we adopt the idea of the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) of eliminating the retirement features from our social security scheme, we still have 41 million retirement pensioners today. It is with their position and with their welfare that we are concerned in the motion.

I agree with the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Mahon that it is a pity that we have not had an opportunity up to now of debating the Report of the Phillips Committee, because we do not know which parts of it the Government accept and which they reject. We just do not know the Government's view on many important questions in that Report. Perhaps a debate on the Phillips Report would provide a more suitable opportunity of discussing future developments than does today's debate. What disturbed me about the Joint Parliamentary Secretary's speech was the complete absence of any declaration of policy on the part of the Government. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will repair that omission when he replies to the debate. All we heard from the hon. Lady which really mattered was that her right hon. Friend was constantly watching the situation. I think we are entitled to say to him, "Watchman, what of the night?" What has the right hon. Gentleman to say about the Government's immediate intentions?

It is also significant that in the Amendment to the Motion there is no reaffirmation of the pledge given by the Conservative Party at the last General Election regarding the maintenance of benefits at 1946 value—nothing. Yet in 1954, and early 1955. the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor was stressing the fact that the Government had undertaken to restore in full the 1946 level of benefit. Indeed, that is what the National Insurance Act of 1955 set out to do, and, as the Minister pointed out at the time, it not only restored the value to the 1946 level; it went beyond it; it provided a little cushion for future rises in the price level. Since then, however, the cost of living increases have overtaken the margin of safety provided in the present benefits in 1955.

There can be no doubt about that. The Minister himself, in reply to questions. has revealed that the present level of benefits is below the 1946 purchasing power by several shillings a week, and nothing has been said so far from the benches opposite as to what the Government propose to do about that. I agree with my hon. Friends on this side of the House, especially with the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington), who said that 2s. 6d. may not seem much to those of us who are better placed in life, but to old-age pensioners, as part of their very low standard of life, it matters a great deal.

So I want to know how long these old people have to wait. Is it to be a continuing process of restoring the 1946 purchasing power, and if so, how is it to be made so? Do the Government intend to let the cost of living rise still further before they act, and if so, how much further? I think that the old folk, and we on these benches, are entitled to know what the Government have in mind to do.

The Minister, in reply to a Question I put to him the other day on this point of the present value of the National Insurance benefits in 1946 terms, in an aside referred to an observation of the Phillips Committee that "changes should be at infrequent intervals." In heaven's name, why? Why at infrequent intervals if the circumstances of the day require adjustments to be made at frequent intervals? Surely the only satisfactory basis upon which we can keep faith with the old people, and the Government can keep their pledges to them, is to review the pension level as frequently as is necessary by changed conditions.

Now the Phillips Committee mentioned three criteria, by reference to which they thought a review of benefit level should be undertaken. We are entitled to ask the Minister whether he intends to adhere to these criteria. Are they his guiding lights in his approach to this problem? The right hon. Gentleman will be familiar with them, and so will many of my hon. Friends. The first one was a change in the cost of living, due regard being had to the circumstances giving rise to it and the likelihood of its continuance. The second was the extent to which pensioners are having to go for National Assistance. The Committee said: … this being broadly indicative of the relation between pension rates and the cost of subsistence The third was the amount of additional contribution required by increase in pension rates and increase in future charge on the Exchequer.

Those were the three criteria. Hon. Members will notice an absence from them of any reference to wage levels, whether in money terms or in real value. There was nothing about doubling the standard of life of the old-age pensioners in the next twenty-five years. There were just the bare bones—the cost of living, the proportion going on National Assistance and the cost. Very well, let us examine the present situation by reference to those three criteria. I invite the Minister to tell us, when he replies to the debate, what he has to say about all this.

Before examining the cost of living, however, I want to go back to the adequacy of the base line. Having completed this "simple act of justice", to give back to the pensioners, at any rate, the value which their pensions bore in 1946, nevertheless the fact remains that, in the words of the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor in 1954, … the insurance pension, since its inception at the 10s. rate in 1926. has never been sufficient for the average pensioner to live on unless he had some other resources. That I think is true even for those few weeks in 1946, after the 26s. rate was first introduced. The Minister then went on to define what he called the "big issue". I have referred to this big issue before, and I shall go on doing so because, until the big issue is dealt with, right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will not know where they are going on social security. The question he posed was— … on what sort of income do we want these old people to have to rely? And to find the right answer to that is the problem which faces us again today, as it faced us in 1943. Do we want our old people to be dependent on a grant, to get which they must show need, or do we want them to receive an annuity earned by virtue of contributions paid into an insurance fund? That is the big issue."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1954; Vol, 533, c. 233–6.] The one thing that disturbs me greatly about what I have heard from the benches opposite today is the stress which is now being placed upon the part played by National Assistance. Hon. Gentlemen opposite do not seem to understand that to reduce National Assistance to minimum proportions was one of the fundamental aims of the Beveridge plan. Nor do they understand that National Assistance robs an individual of freedom and the dignity of citizenship. Unless we get that clear in our minds, we do not understand why we want an adequate basic pension as of right, without reference to National Assistance on a wide scale. I am afraid that the aims of social policy are getting lost in fulsome praise for the National Assistance Board, whose work I admire, but the extent of whose activities I want to see reduced substantially. Until that is done, there will be no health in our social security scheme.

The next question I want to ask the Minister is whether the policy of the Government is still in favour of an adequate subsistence pension as of right. That is a fundamental question. The Phillips Committee did not really deal with it. The Committee certainly refrained from suggesting any figure of the level of pension, though it did make the observation, which has been freely quoted this afternoon, about the potential waste of our national resources in paying too high a pension without regard to need. But we are not concerned at the moment with what the Phillips Committee said, because we do not know what right hon. Gentlemen opposite feel about that. Therefore we have to deal with policy as we see it, apart from the Phillips Committee which did review the several standards of social provision.

It looked at Beveridge, who said that: … social insurance should aim at guaranteeing the minimum income needed for subsistence. It looked at the Coalition White Paper, which watered Beveridge down somewhat when it said that: … the right objective is the rate of benefit which provides a reasonable insurance against want, and at the same time takes account of the maximum contribution which the great body of contributors can reasonably be asked to bear. The National Insurance Act, a Labour Measure, put Beveridge back on his pedestal, because its aim was: … to give a broad subsistance basis to the leading rates within the framework of a contributory insurance scheme. The Phillips Committee admitted in the course of its review that from the evidence it had received: … the view is widely held that the minimum standard rate of pension ought by itself to provide 'subsistence'. Lord Beveridge, in a series of articles in the Sunday Times in 1954, reaffirmed that his Report required: … that the benefits given as of right should be enough for subsistence of the recipient and his family even if he had nothing else at all. He went on: The subsistence principle as a guide to benefit rates holds the field today. He also said: It was the central feature of the Report of 1952 and is enshrined in Section 40 of the Act of 1946. It alone makes possible abolition of want without damage to freedom and responsibility of the citizen. Do the Government subscribe to that? The Phillips Committee was hesitant about it. As far as I know, the Government have given only one pledge, that which they kept in the 1955 Act, and about which they are now silent in the Amendment. It was done in 1955 with a moral flourish. "A simple act of justice" declared the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor. No moral note is struck in the Amendment. Consequently, I ask whether the maintenance of the 1946 value of the pension is still Government policy, that and nothing less, or is it that and something more? Do the Government, like the previous Minister, agree that: it would be wrong to regard subsistence as a static conception …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st December, 1954; Vol. 535, c. 2673.] If so, let them attempt to define their immediate approach to the problem. That is what we are asking for today.

I very strongly challenge the adequacy of the base line of 1946. There is overwhelming evidence to show that that was out of date in 1946 and is obsolete today. How was it constructed? It was done on 1938 prices. It was made up as follows, the figures being in respect of a man and his wife: food. 13s.; clothing, 3s.; fuel, light and sundries, 4s.; margin, 2s.; rent, 10s. That makes a total of 32s., and those were the basic ingredients taken by Beveridge for the purpose of recommending the benefit rates in his Report. He increased this by 25 per cent. on the assumption that there would be a higher cost of living after the war. The Coalition White Paper wrote it up to 40s., and the Labour Government wrote it up to 42s., which it applied for the 1946 level of benefits.

What sort of living was provided by 32s. for a married couple and 19s. for a single person in 1938? Was it subsistence? Thirty-two shillings in 1938 represented about half the average wage for a man, and was just a little more than the unemployment assistance rates in 1939. The present benefit for a married couple is just Is. more than twice the 1938 budget that I have just given. The cost of living has risen one and a half times since 1938. Therefore, the value of 65s. today falls short of the Beveridge pre-war standard of subsistence of 32s. for a married couple, which was low enough.

Whatever the figures show, and many have been given in the debate, we know that it is not enough to live on. That was one of the few admissions made by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary in her speech. After giving us the impression that all was well with the old-age pensioners and that life was happy and contented and leading us to the point of accepting her contention that the pension was too high, she turned round to us and said that nobody could live on 40s. a week. I found that contradiction in her speech remarkable.

The National Assistance Board has told us that it is not enough to live on. That is why the National Assistance scales are higher than the basic pension. We find that the average supplementation to retirement pensioners is 1ls. or 12s. a week, and three-quarters of those on National Assistance have 5s. 6d. a week or more. All this goes to show that for those who have nothing else this is nothing like enough.

That is the degree of our failure to maintain the principle of a subsistence pension as of right. If our aim is the abolition of want only in the sense of abolishing destitution and privation, we may just about have done that, but if we are going to put minimum living standards in the modern State in any sensible relationship to our social security standards, we have not done anything like enough.

Therefore, I plead for a re-examination of the basis of subsistence. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) said, we are not asking merely for a record of what impoverished old-age pensioners spend. We want a reappraisal of what they should have to give them a reasonable standard of subsistence. The Government should tell us what it will cost, and then we shall know what pension to give them. There is no point in having a cost of living index for a starving man. We want to know his needs before we can cost them.

We are frequently told that the National Assistance Board knows all this. Very well, let it tell us what it knows. Otherwise we must conjure up new Rowntrees and new Bowleys to go into the question of the living standards of old people and tell us what they really need.

Among the general recommendations of the Phillips Committee was one which said: … the broad aim should he to enable old people to live in their own homes. Is that accepted, or is the policy now to squeeze them out of their own homes in the name of the more economical use of living accommodation? I warn the Minister, from personal experience, that nothing will kill off old people quicker than uprooting them from their homes.

I want to know what the Government's policy on this is. How do the Government propose to enable pensioners to meet a doubling of their rents? Will the National Assistance Board take fully into account the rent increases in making rent allowances in future? The Phillips Committee said that in looking at the cost of living we should have due regard to the circumstances giving rise to change and the likelihood of its continuance. The cost of living is rising. Is there any hope of a fall? With rent increases coming? One thing about rent is that it is one of the factors in the cost of living that one cannot dodge. The rent collector comes for the rent, and one cannot do without rent in the way that one may be able to go without certain of the other requirements of life. Consequently, the right hon. Gentleman has a number of questions to answer.

I will deal briefly with the other two criteria which the Phillips Committee mentioned. The first is the extent to which retirement pensioners are having to have recourse to National Assistance. The figures have already been given. They are lower than they were in 1954. It is true that the pension increase in 1955 reduced the numbers and the proportion considerably, but now the proportion and the numbers are rising. The right hon. Gentleman must ask himself whether nearly one-quarter of retirement pensioners on National Assistance is his idea of the adequacy of the basic pension rate. I believe that by any standards, by all that Beveridge said and by all the architects of the 1948 scheme envisaged for the rôle of National Assistance, one-quarter of retirement pensioners on National Assistance is far too many and ought to be drastically reduced. It should be the policy of Her Majesty's Government to achieve that by increasing the basic pension.

I conclude with a reference to the third criterion, which was the level of contributions. I know that contributions are higher and are to be increased by the addition of 8½d. for the National Health Service, as announced recently by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Later, we may have to look at the rising incidence of contributions in relation to ability to pay. For the moment, we have a flat rate scheme, a flat rate contribution for a flat rate benefit.

Contributors to the National Insurance Scheme will be ready to bear their share of the cost for increased pensions to our retirement pensioners. I have no doubt about that, and the right hon. Gentleman should not shrink from doing his duty on that account, if, indeed, that weighs heavily with him. However, the workers want to see that the Government, too, are standing their share under the original conception of the 1948 Act. The T.U.C. protested, as did we on these benches, at the time of the 1955 Measure at an increase in contributions beyond the actuarial contribution. That warning certainly has to be given in discussing a rise in the contributions.

There can be no peace among fathers and mothers and grandparents of the present working generation, no contentment in the minds of their sons and daughters, until the basic pension for retirement pensioners is put on a more adequate and satisfactory basis. Lord Beveridge has always reminded us that social security is worth its money price. That was accepted by the whole population in 1946 and 1948. When he was reminded that in 25 year's time pensions might cost £970 million against a revenue of £550 million and he was asked whether he thought that Britain could afford both the cold war and the Beveridge Plan, he said that he thought she could, and so do I.

The question of what we can afford is mainly a question of how much consuming power in other directions we are prepared to give up and what transfer payments we are willing to make in the interests of greater social justice. The time has arrived for a further bold move forward towards security and comfort for old people. The Government need not shrink from the implications of a progressive and courageous social policy. To be able to say nothing more than did the Joint Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon is to declare the bankruptcy of Her Majesty's Government in social problems.

8.24 p.m.

Mr. Nigel Nicolson (Bournemouth, East and Christchurch)

During the last year or two. I have raised with my right hon. Friend and his predecessors the claims of a very special category of the old, claims which have not so far been advanced in the debate and which, so far as I know, have never before been advanced publicly. My right hon. Friend has been most sympathetic and patient with me when I have pressed upon him these hard cases. I have a special right to do so, because a great many of these people live in Bournemouth, part of which I still have the honour to represent in this House.

I am speaking of the 40,000 men and women of pensionable age who are not in receipt of any State retirement pension, because they were excluded by the pre-war old-age pension Acts from contributing towards it. The more recent post-war Acts have not admitted them into existing schemes. They were excluded largely because of their profession. They are the retired bankers, clergy, officers of the Armed Services, ex-local government officials and civil servants, people who are, in the main, dependent on pensions paid by their employers.

In some cases, their pensions have kept pace, more or less, with the cost of living, but in many cases, perhaps the majority, they have not done so. I know personally of several where there has been no increase in the pension since it was first awarded. These are men of what we normally call the middle classes. They are men who, in the past, have borne the brunt of inflation. They reared their families at a time when there was no State aid for houses, health and little for education. They have contributed perhaps more than anybody to the prosperity of the country, and they are getting least in return.

I believe that the Acts should be amended to include them in existing schemes. It is perfectly true that if they descend so far in their standard of living that they are eligible for National Assistance, they can apply for it, but, as the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) said, National Assistance to all people, and perhaps particularly to people of this type, is something for which they would rather not apply, if they have any other resources left at all.

Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

That is the wrong attitude.

Mr. Nicolson

It is the wrong attitude.

National Assistance is simply one form of State aid. It is nothing of which to be ashamed. We constantly preach that to our contituents, but the fact remains, as my right hon. Friend will acknowledge, that in itself it implies a sense of degradation for a man of that type, degradation in the sense that he is stepping down from the standard of living which one would associate with professional men to a standard of living which one would associate with the poorest in the land. It is not surprising that they do not like applying for it.

They are being unfairly excluded from the benefits of our National Insurance scheme. They are told, as they were told by Mr. Peake, as he was then, when he was Minister, that the present retirement pension is a wonderful bargain. I remember Mr. Peake saying in the House that no man could personally have contributed more than £70 towards a retirement pension which, at its minimum, is £104 a year. If a person were to try to buy at the Post Office an annuity for £104 a year at the age of 65 he could not do so for less than £1,100, but under the present scheme a man receives more in one year than he could have contributed throughout his working life. His employer has contributed a sum equal to that which he himself has paid, but by far the larger part of the present retirement pension is contributed by the general taxpayer.

I contend that the element of State aid contained within the pension of men who have passed the retirement age should be available to all, whatever the pre-war Act said. I do not ask that these men should be immediately included in the scheme without any payment at all; I ask that they should be permitted to contract into the scheme by payment of a lump sum, representing the total which they and their employers would have paid during the course of their working life if they had been permitted to do so. If my calculations are correct, the maximum payment would be about £150. If those of whom I am speaking had not got so large a sum available, they should be permitted to pay it in annual instalments, deducted from the pensions which they receive.

I do not know what the hon. Member for Sowerby would think of such a scheme. It may be that he knows other and better ways of helping these people, who have served their country so well and have borne a terrible share of the load of inflation in recent years. I do not know whether there is any better method; I am simply putting forward one suggestion which strikes me as being fair.

I would remind hon. Members that, owing to the operation of the Acts, the men of whom I am talking cannot be any younger than 77 today. The problem will, therefore, cure itself by their death in a few years' time. During the few years which these diminishing 40,000 still have to live let us give them the benefits of a scheme which was intended to apply to all and does so, except for these few.

8.33 p.m.

Mr. A. E. Oram (East Ham, South)

In a debate of this character I suppose it is inevitable that a great range of statistics and figures should be quoted. We have certainly had them today, and I am afraid that my contribution will also be an examination of some of the basic figures in this controversy. The present level of pensions was justified when it was introduced early in 1955; it was justified by the Minister of Labour a fortnight ago, and by the Parliamentary Secretary this afternoon—largely on the basis of the cost-of-living index. It is completely unjust and unrealistic to measure the value of old-age pensions in terms of the retail prices index.

The reason is well known; it has been stated often, and it was mentioned in this debate. The people of whom we are speaking, who are forced to live on very low incomes, inevitably spend a large proportion of them upon food. The costof-living index does not give an adequate representation of the price of food. Since food has risen more in price than anything else since the end of the war it means that the people who have been living on National Insurance benefit and old-age pensions have been the most adversely affected section of the community.

The Parliamentary Secretary quoted from the latest Report of the National Food Survey, to the effect that, on an average, in 1954 old-age pensioners spent 2I s. 9d. a week upon food. The aspect of that which seemed to appeal to her was that it was a large figure, and it was a good thing that they still were able to maintain that amount of expenditure on food. But the aspect which impresses me is that it is a very large proportion of a small income for an old-age pensioner to have to spend on food, and that the margin left is too small to deal with all the other necessities of life.

On that calculation, in 1954 the proportion spent on food by an old-age pensioner was about 60 to 70 per cent.—and probably the same figure holds true today —as against 35 per cent., which is the weighting allowed for in the official index. I am not arguing against the accuracy of the index when used for its proper purpose. My point is that it is not a proper index to use in the kind of discussion we have had today.

It seems to me that the sort of calculations which have been made would have been better made on the basis of the rise in the index of food prices. That would have been a nearer indication of the true value of pensions. Had that been done back in 1955 the level of pensions then set would have proved not better, as was claimed by the Parliamentary Secretary, in terms of purchasing value compared with 1946 or 1948, but even in 1955 they would have been inadequate by comparison with what was passed in 1946.

We have some indication of the different pattern of expenditure on food in old-age pensioner households compared with the general run of households. That is given in the same document from which the Parliamentary Secretary quoted. There is a table, I think it is Table 33, which shows that old-age pensioners rely to a much greater extent than do other people on the basic foodstuffs which were subsidised during the war and in the immediate post-war years.

The cost of those basic foodstuffs enters into the budgets of old-age pensioners to a far greater extent than into the budget of an average householder. The figures show that old-age pensioners spent significantly more on milk, sugar and tea than did other members of the community. The average old-age pensioner spent 31.83d. on milk compared with only 25.71d. per head per week spent by the average household. The expenditure on tea by an old-age pensioner is 15.79d. compared with the average household figure of only 12.23d.

These are the commodities which, under a Labour Government, were subsidised. The removal of the food subsidies over recent years has hit the old-age pensioners hardest, because they relied more than any other section of the community on the food policy of the Labour Government. I had occasion to make that point when, lately, the House—mistakenly, in my view—permitted a second rise in the price of milk ½d. a pint. Recently, the Government have opened up the sugar market to free enterprise, and that has been accompanied by an increase of 2d. a lb. in the retail price of sugar. We all know what has happened about tea. It now costs 7s. a lb. When the Labour Government went out of office the price was only 3s. 10d. These commodities and their prices are a significant factor to the old-age pensioners. These are the things which bring a little comfort to their lives, and it is the price of these commodities which is being sent up and up by the food policy pursued by the Government.

It has been said several times during the debate that price stability is the best contribution that can be made towards social security. I thoroughly agree, but, if the Government sincerely believe that, why are they containing to pursue a dear food policy which is the one thing about which old-age pensioners are most bitter?

I referred to the index upon which many calculations have been made today. The best that can be said for that general index is that it is an average of a vast mass of figures. I am sure that the arguments both in this House and in the Press about the adequacy of this sort of index must be very frustrating to the old-age pensioner who does not see things in percentages and abstract statistical calculations, but in the real, hard facts of life and in the halfpennies and pennies that have to be produced at the end of the week with which to pay the grocery bill. I hope that there will be less bandying about of these index figures which, to the old-age pensioner, are really meaningless and frustrating.

When I handle this green book of statistics and remind myself that it is crammed full of averages and that averages have many defects when cited in discussion, I am often reminded of the story of the three men in a boat which capsized. One of the men, being a strong swimmer, easily got to the shore; the second clung precariously to the boat; and the third, unfortunately, sank. I suppose that, on average, those three men just kept their heads above water, but that was no consolation to the man who sank. The old-age pensioners are in the position of the man who sank, and it is no consolation to them to see others swimming strongly for the shore while they are struggling to meet the tremendous increase in prices.

I believe that in dealing with these human problems we should do so, not in cold statistical terms, but in a human way. We should remember that these people are struggling like the man who was in difficulties when the boat sank. It is our duty and the duty of the Government to go to their rescue. The first and best step which the Government can take in that direction is to give support to the Motion now before the House.

8.44 p.m.

Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)

In an effort to help the hon. Member for Sparkbrook (Mr. Shurmer), who has been sitting here all day, I propose to abbreviate what I have to say. It will be agreed on both sides that this debate has been far better than we had reason to expect or to hope. For that, I suppose, we are largely indebted to those who have taken part in it, to the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) who moved the Motion, and, as usual, to the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) with his great knowledge of these subjects, and to the characteristically well-informed speech of our old friend the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown).

We on this side of the Committee respect the contributions made by the hon. Member for Sowerby and the hon. Member for Ince to our knowledge of this subject, but while I recognise that it is a subject which any Opposition should properly examine and, if necessary, speak in criticism of the Government of the day, it is one which has often been made by some hon. Members opposite and by some of their supporters in the country an opportunity for quite fantastic and blatant political propaganda.

I cannot forget that when my right hon. Friend's predecessor was contemplating the introduction of the last increases, but made it perfectly clear in debate that it was for him and for the Government to fix the time of those increases and not for the Opposition to do so by way of a Motion such as this, at that time, although it was fairly obvious that the Government were about to increase pensions, all the names of Conservative Members who did not support the Labour Motion were published, in a certain daily paper which is not unfriendly to the party opposite, as opponents to any increase to old-age pensioners. Sometimes, even now, I get pensioners who say "You opposed an increase in pensions" and are rather surprised to know that a week or so later I voted for one of the largest increases of pensions ever put on the Statute Book.

There have been one or two cases of this spirit showing among individual pensioners themselves. I hope that there will be less of party propaganda in this field than there has been in the past, propaganda of the kind which induced an old-age pensioners' branch in Cardiff, for reasons understood to them, to disaffiliate from one of their own national bodies on the grounds that the work and facts put before them savoured too much of party political propaganda.

Having said that, I have to ask my right hon. Friend one pertinent question. Between 1951 and 1956 there were two increases in pensions, the second being quite a large one in 1956. It occurs to me that it might have been preferable had half the amount been granted rather sooner, say, half-way through the period. In other words, I am inclined to underline the question asked by the hon. Member for Sowerby: can it not be arranged that these increases, even though they may not necessarily be on the same scale as the last, should take place a little more frequently, in order to keep them more in touch with trends and changes in the cost of living?

I would now like to repeat a question which I asked my right hon. Friend some time ago about the administration of the National Assistance Board. Is it not possible for him to reconsider the present disregards? I submit that if successive Governments have recognised that the pensions scales of 1946 and 1948 were inadequate, there seems a reasonable case for suggesting that the scales of disregards which were then instituted may also be deemed to be somewhat inadequate.

I am not asking for the same change in the disregards, or for a change on the same scale as has taken place in regard to pensions, but I suggest to my right hon. Friend that this is the case for the most earnest consideration. because, if we are asking and hoping that large numbers of pensioners will work a little longer in order to earn a little more pension, we are bringing a contrary pressure to dissuade them from doing so by not increasing these disregards to some degree.

8.49 p.m.

Mr. Percy Shurmer (Birmingham, Sparkbrook)

The Government's Amendment states: … having made substantial increases in the rates of National Insurance benefits in 1955, is maintaining them at a higher standard than has prevailed during the greater part of the existence of the National Insurance Scheme … What we are now arguing is not about what old-age pensioners have been given in the past but what they are suffering today as a result of the Government's policy resulting in the increase in food prices. Today, at a meeting of the Railway Staff National Tribunal, the Secretary of the National Union of Railwaymen brought forward as a witness the wife of a porter, a person whom he said he had chosen as one of a happy couple, someone on whom he could rely. She said: My husband's wages are £7 13s. per week. If he cannot have a better wage, then he will have to pack up working on the railway. We cannot make ends meet. I have to go from shop to shop to find the cheapest things I can. She says that she has a coat which she has had for three years and that her husband has not had a new suit since they have been married.

That is a case of a man, his wife and small child living on £7 13s. a week, but what must be the position of old-age pensioners who have to live on their meagre allowance? I have a long letter, which I shall not read now, owing to the time, written by the hon. Lady the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to one of her constituents. She would not dare to write to a person living in the centre of Birmingham saying what she said at the Box this afternoon.

Many old-age pensioners live in our great industrial centres. For the past thirty-six years I have been in public life, and I have lived in slums by choice. I live there now in that great industrial centre. I see many of the old-age pensioners who are suffering. It is utterly impossible for these people to live on £4 1s. per week and to enjoy some of the luxuries of life. They cannot buy even the bare necessities of life. These people in Birmingham and elsewhere work for 17s. and 18s. a week, and they cannot save anything.

There are 4½ million pensioners. Nearly 1 million of them live on National Assistance and receive 81s. a week with which to buy such necessities as coal and light. Close on 3½ million are not on National Assistance. Let us remember that many of these old-age pensioners receive just a shilling or two above the National Assistance scale. They receive about 85s. or, 86s. a week, and their position is utterly impossible. We know how difficult our wives find it to manage on our salaries. Three out of ten men have some other income when they retire. Seven out of ten have no other income. One can imagine how difficult it is for these people to manage when one considers the statement by the wife of the railway porter who finds it difficult to make ends meet on £7 13s. a week.

These people are entitled to coal, light. clothing and even cigarettes and a drink. If my wife buys a piece of meat, it costs us lOs. and it lasts us two days. What chance has an old-age pensioner and his wife to buy a piece of meat for lOs.? What about fruit and vegetables? Are not old-age pensioners entitled to these commodities and perhaps a bunch of flowers for the weekend? We know the life that they have had to spend in years gone by. These poor old people who worked for low wages provided the men for the Army. The men in the Army before the war came out of the back streets of our great towns and cities. In every regiment in the country before the war one could find a Birmingham man who had been out of work, whose mother and father were existing on low wages. and who was glad to join the Army. These people provided the wealth of the country.

I make no complaint against the National Assistance officers. I admit that they are generous and will never refuse an application. But that does not provide the old-age pensioners with sufficient money. There is only a certain scale. The National Assistance officers themselves on many occasions marvel at the way that the people whom they visit are able to exist on their pensions.

I plead with the right hon. Gentleman that he should not wait until an Election is coming along to put up the pension. We are told that we on this side are being political when we put forward these proposals. But is it any more political that old-age pensions should be held up until an Election is coming? Must old people wait until then? Many of them will die before that time comes, and I think we owe it to them that they should live a bit decently in the remaining years of their lives.

I beg the right hon. Gentleman to realise what the true facts are. In fact. I put this challenge out to hon. Members opposite. I do not blame them, because many of them represent constituencies which are not industrial, such places, for instance as Bournemouth and Eastbourne which have been referred to, where a different type of person lives; but I challenge any hon. Member opposite to give up everything and for a month to live with his wife on £4 1s. a week. Let him then come back to the House of Commons and say what he has learned.

Deep in their own minds, all hon. Members know that we are not acting fairly towards old-age pensioners. We are not being decent to the old people who have helped to build this country in the past. If it is a question of finding the money, let the Government find it for this purpose. Let us find the money for preserving human life as long as we possibly can, rather than destroying it. I hope that some of the hon. Gentlemen opposite who have expressed their sympathy will come into the Division Lobby and be bold enough to vote for the benefit of these dear old people. I am confident that they will feel glad at having done something for those who really need help in the closing years of their lives.

8.57 p.m.

Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)

This has been a good and an interesting debate. There seems to be a quite clear division of opinion on this matter of a rise in old-age pensions. Many hon. Members opposite feel that a rise is necessary at this very moment, but it seems that they want this rise to come from the National Assistance Board whereas my hon. Friends have been insisting on a rise in the basic scale of pensions.

The Opposition makes a clear and unequivocal demand in the Motion. We ask for an increase in retirement and old-age pensions and other National Insurance benefits, and we ask the Government also to request the National Assistance Board to adjust the scales of Assistance. An Amendment has been put down by the Government which makes it abundantly clear that the Government are shockingly complacent about the plight of old people today. Had we had any doubts about what that Amendment meant, they were completely wiped away by the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary, when she opened the debate.

If we look at the Amendment, we find the usual back-slapping, the usual references to "the wonderful job that we as a Government have done." We find the almost monotonous hiding behind the former Labour Government. I say to the Minister most sincerely that our old people are sick to death of this attitude of the Government; indeed, that is the feeling of not only our old people but of everyone in Britain who is interested in the well-being of the old, the chronic sick and the long-term unemployed.

The Government must tonight answer one simple question. Are the benefits which our old men and women, the sick and the unemployed, receiving adequate to give them a decent standard of living? If the Government answer "No", as in all honesty they must, the next question for them to answer is what they will do to make these benefits adequate for a decent standard of living.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand), who opened the debate, did so in a reasonable and excellent speech. That was pointed out by the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower). I could not help feeling that my right hon. Friend gave the debate a good beginning and I wish that the Parliamentary Secretary had followed him in the same reasonable and thoughtful way.

Listening to the hon. Lady, it seemed to me that she was living in cloud-cuckoo-land. Perhaps it would be more correct to say that she is living in the days of charity of the nineteenth century. I am sure that all of us who have aged parents are proud if we are in a position to help them to have a decent standard of life. Nobody can say that £2, or even the extra money that might be obtained from the National Assistance Board, provides that reasonable, decent standard of life.

Not every old man or woman, however, has relatives who can help. Some have no relatives at all. In some cases the son may be earning a small wage and have his own family. It would be wrong far any Government to expect that these old people should have to depend on money from such families, who need every single penny themselves. Therefore, the Government cannot ride away from the question by saying that the majority of our old people have families who can help. Most families are willing, but many families are not in the position to help their own old people.

My greatest objection to the speech of the hon. Lady was when she said that same of our old people might be better off if they were better managers. Old people are sometimes feeble people and it is difficult for them to manage as young, able-bodied people can manage. Even with the best health in the world, these old people would not have to be good managers; they would have to be magicians to make do on the £2 or the additional supplementary benefit that they get. Many old people tonight will he very hurt indeed when they hear of that indictment made against them by the Parliamentary Secretary.

The hon. Lady asked my right hon. Friend to what figure we on this side would increase the pensions. I remember time and time again, when we were on the other side of the House, the party opposite telling us that it was not their job to make suggestions like that but was the Government's responsibility. Only in September did the Trades Union Congress pass a resolution, in very clear and defined terms, calling for substantial increases in the rates of pension. Would it not have been wise for the Government afterwards to ask representatives of the T.U.C. to meet them to discuss these matters and to find out what they were willing to do if the Government were at all willing to give those substantial increases for which the Trades Union Congress was asking? As far as I am aware, the Government did not do that.

In that same resolution, the T.U.C. asked the Government to restore to the Insurance Fund the money which it should have had according to the actuarial provisions but which has been withheld since 1951. That would have enabled an increase to be given to our old people, not the size of increase that we feel they should have, but it would have gone some way towards meeting it. Instead of meeting these responsible men and women of the Trades Union Congress and discussing this important matter with them to find out how the Government and the trade unions between them could bring about this very necessary increase. the Government "go it alone" and add another 10d. to the contributions, not for increased pensions but for some other matter. I say to the Minister that it is not the work of the Opposition to rescue the Minister or the Government from the folly of not taking up this very important matter with the Trades Union Congress.

In dealing with the question of the levels of pension at various times, my right hon. Friend pointed out very clearly how difficulties were placed in the way of the Government, and indeed, of the whole country, particularly by the war in Korea, when prices jumped as a result, and how the pensions became less in value. The Government cannot say that that sort of thing has happened. For most of the time of the Government, the terms of trade have been in their favour, and if they had taken this wonderful opportunity that was presented to them, they could, by using budgetary or fiscal methods alone, have given the old people and the chronic sick adequate rates of pension.

The Parliamentary Secretary said that what the Government were doing, and doing successfully, was making every effort to stabilise prices. That is a most farcical statement, and I would say to the Minister that the efforts they have been making in this direction have been weak and ineffectual. They have been as weak and ineffectual in this field as have been their efforts in other important fields, like those of production, exports, and building up our gold and dollar reserves. if they had been really effectual in this matter, our old people might have had a better chance this evening of a satisfactory reply from the Minister.

I will quote some figures, and here I want to say that I abide by everything that my right hon. Friend said at the beginning of the debate. In 1951, when we left office, the pension was 30s. Today, it is 40s., which is an increase of 33 per cent. The Chancellor of the Exchequer told us, only the week before last, that the purchasing power of the £ in 1951 had now fallen to 16s. 2d. I have worked that out, and it gives a 20 per cent. decrease in value.

Therefore, on these figures, it would seem that the Government had done very well with their increase in pension. As many of my hon. Friends on this side of the House have pointed out, these figures cover many items which the pensioners, the chronic sick or the long-term unemployed could never hope to purchase. They just cannot have them in their homes, and could never hope to buy them.

Some of my hon. Friends have already pointed out that the way to find out whether or not the pension is adequate for our old-age pensioners is to look particularly at the increases in the cost of food. If we do that we find that since October, 1951, food prices have increased by almost 40 per cent. Many of these increases in prices of food have been the result of the deliberate policy of the Government. They have not happened by chance; they have been brought about by their deliberate policy.

I can well remember—because I did one of the political broadcasts in that same Election—how Lord Woolton, broadcasting in October, 1951, said that there was a false rumour that the Tories would cut the food subsidies, and how he said: There is not a word of truth in any one of these charges.

Mr. Shurmer

But every subsidy has gone now.

Miss Herbison

Scarcely had the Tories returned to power when the food subsidies began to be cut, and today all the food subsidies have virtually disappeared. So much for promises, and so much for action.

Food prices, as I said, have increased by 40 per cent.; that is, all food prices. Let us consider particularly the food which the old-age pensioners mostly take. The loaf has increased in price since 1951 by 100 per cent. under this Government. A pint of milk has increased by 45 per cent. in price since October, 1951. Everyone who knows the old people knows that they eat bread, sometimes more than they should because they cannot afford other things, and everyone knows that they would like to use more milk but often cannot afford to get all the milk they would like to have. The increase in the price of cheese is 157 per cent., of sugar 66⅔ per cent., of tea 100 per cent. Everyone in the House knows how much the old people love their tea, and that they like it with sugar.

Mr. Shurmer

And milk.

Miss Herbison

Figures such as these show how very hard hit the old people are at the present time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Greenock (Dr. Dickson Mahon) raised a question with the Parliamentary Secretary and she quoted certain figures from the National Food Survey. The only one that we can find was published in 1956. It gives the figures for 1954. Yet in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock the Parliamentary Secretary gave the information not only about 1954, which is the latest available to any other Member of Parliament, or anyone not a Minister, but the information about 1955 and 1956. This is another example of the Government's holding back information which every Member of Parliament ought to have, and I ask the Minister to deal with that when he replies to the debate.

A leading article in The Times of 8th September, 1956, began: Bread is the largest and most important single item of the diet in this country. It provides between one-fifth and one-third of the calories and protein and a high proportion of other essential nutrients. Yet under this Government bread has gone up in price by 100 per cent.

I turn to the actual value of the pension. The Joint Parliamentary Secretary made comparisons with 1948. We have to make a comparison with 1946. The Government, in their Amendment, and the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, claim that they have at all times done better than we of the Labour Government did. But what are the facts? A pension of 20s. in 1946 is worth only 12s. 5d. today. That gives some idea of the fact that the pension today is not equal in value to the pension in 1946.

There is another way in which we can judge whether or not our old people, our sick and our unemployed are having a square deal. The total average earnings of an adult man wage-earner in October, 1946, was £5 1s. The single pension rate was 26s., or 26 per cent. of the average wage rate for a man. In 1956—and prices have gone up since then—the average wage-rate was £9 17s. 9d. and the pension for a single person was 40s. If a single pensioner were given the same proportion of the wage-rate today as he had in 1946, he would receive a pension of 50s. A married couple would receive £4 2s. 3d.

The Government are always willing to go back to 1946–47, but if we go back to 1938 we find that the pension for a married couple today is a lower percentage of earnings than was the case in 1938. That seems to me a great indictment of the country. In 1938, a couple had a pension of 20s. which was 29 per cent. of the wage-rate. Today, a couple receive 65s. pension, but it is only 27.6 per cent. of the 1956 wage-rate. If there is any increase in the national cake, in what we hope is a civilised, Christian country, every one of us ought to ensure that our old people have a fair share of that increase. The figures that I have quoted show very clearly indeed that our old people have not had that fair share.

I was very interested in many of the speeches by hon. Members opposite. They seemed to deal with many matters which are not included in either the Motion or the Amendment. I wondered whether hon. Members opposite were speaking in that way purposely to take our minds from the increase in pension for which the Motion asks. They spoke about the loneliness of old people, about housing and about better social facilities. We all want these things. Our people desperately need them, but our old people need most of all an adequate pension on which to live.

It is not long since we had a debate in the House on an Opposition Amendment which asked for better subsidies, or for at least the retention of the existing rate of subsidies, to help to house old people. I wonder whether any one of the hon. Members opposite who spoke today about better housing for old people went into the Division Lobby that night with us to give the local authorities a better chance of building those houses. Our old people, our sick, and our unemployed will judge a Government not by what they say but by what they do. There was a definite chance on that occasion of helping our old people to secure better houses, but not a single hon. Member opposite took the opportunity.

There has been much reference to the question whether there should be a rise in the basic rate of pension or only in the rate on National Assistance. It seems to me that almost all those on the benches opposite who have been in favour of an increase have asked for an increase only in National Assistance. We on this side of the House say clearly that we are asking for a rise in the basic rates because we think that our old people have a right to this rise, and that they have a right to it without any needs test attached to it. We want the Minister, when he replies, to tell us whether the backbenohers opposite have been giving the policy of the Government or whether the Government are without any policy tonight, either on the basic rate or on National Assistance.

The greatest need is for a money increase. Many of our old people are lonely. They are lonely, as one of my hon. Friends reminded me, because of their lack of decent pensions. In the homes of old people everything becomes shabby when they have been living on a small amount for a long time. Their own clothing becomes shabby, and they begin to feel that they cannot even go along to those clubs for old people because they do not want comparisons made. Because their homes become shabby, different from what they used to be, they feel they cannot invite their friends along to their homes, so they become lonelier and lonelier. If backbenchers opposite are really worried about this loneliness—and I think that they are, as we all are—then one way of trying to get rid of some of the loneliness is again to give adequate basic pensions to all of our old people.

There is one further thing I want to say about the children of parents who are on National Assistance. My right hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough, East dealt fairly fully with this point, but he did not receive an adequate answer. The parents of those children received no benefit from the increase in family allowances. That ill accords with a statement made by the Prime Minister in his broadcast, as follows: No one should be allowed to sink below a decent level, but everyone should be free to rise according to his gifts, his work, and his worth. Does that apply to those children of parents on National Assistance? Of course it does not. They have been denied an increase that goes to the children of parents who are earning, and it means that, almost inevitably, no matter what their ability, no matter what their talent, they will be the children who will have to leave school at the age of 15. I beg the Minister to have another look at this matter and do something to help such children.

I know that the Minister wants to begin his reply to the debate in a minute, so I say this finally to him. There are millions of people in the country who are waiting to hear what the right hon. Gentleman is going to say, who are hoping that he will give them some help. But, when we talk of millions, we have to think of them as individual men and women—an old man or an old woman living alone, an old couple living alone, a chronic sick man with his family at a very low level of living. Every single one of these people is waiting on the Minister's answer. They all want to know whether they really are to be given a chance to have at least the necessities of life. My hon. Friends and I ask not only that they should be given a chance to have the necessities of life, but that every single one should have a chance to have a few of the luxuries of life. These are the things for which we are asking, and I hope that the Minister will answer the questions that have been put to him and give hope to these people.

9.25 p.m.

The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)

I can agree with at any rate the opening sentence of the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison). This has been a good debate. It has rather surprisingly been a good debate, for it has been on a very bad Motion. The hon. Lady herself all but admitted that when she said that some of the speeches which had illumined the debate on the wider issues which concern us—which I do not think divide the two sides of the House anything like as much as the hon. Lady thinks—were made on the fringes of the Motion.

It is true that these issues, as was so well said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) in a most impressive and effective speech, raise the great problem of our time, the problem of how a nation whose age distribution is rapidly changing, which has to face the prospect in a comparatively few years of a very large population above the retirement pension age, and whose main National Insurance Fund goes into deficit as soon as the year after next, shall cope with the very great problem of making adequate provision for its ever-increasing number of old people.

Those are great issues. They are issues which demand, as the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) well said, re-thinking in many directions. They are not, of course, the issue which is posed by this much more limited Motion. It is inevitable, therefore—having said that I listened to and noted the speech of my right hon. Friend, the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph)—one would expect wise words on national insurance from the representative of that constituency—and the speech of the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton)—that my duty none the less remains to deal, not with those great issues which it may be that one day we shall have an opportunity of discussing more fully, but with the much more limited proposal which has been put forward in the Motion and with the counter-suggestions which are made in the reasoned Amendment standing in the name of my right hon. Friends and myself.

I said a moment ago that it was a bad Motion. It is bad for two reasons. In the first place, it is completely imprecise. The hon. Lady, like her right hon. Friend, avoided the plain questions which my hon. Friend put to the Opposition. What is the nature of the proposal? What is the figure of the increase which the Opposition recommend? The hon. Lady and the right hon. Gentleman refused to answer. If this is a serious proposition, seriously and responsibly put forward by the Official Opposition in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and his senior colleagues, we are at least entitled to know what the proposal is that they put forward, if we are to consider that it is a serious proposal at all.

It is a bad Motion for another reason, and that is that it does not represent the policy of the Socialist Party, at least unless it is prepared to reverse and to denounce its own policy in office. The right hon. Gentleman was a little sensitive, I thought, to the references which some of my hon. Friends made to the conduct of the Socialist Party in office in this matter. He seemed to think that it was irrelevant to this discussion. The right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friends must face this: if somebody puts forward a proposal about what they say they would do if they were free to do it, it is at least relevant to consider whether, when they were free to do it, they did anything of the sort.

It is for that reason, not because one wants to score points against the late Socialist Government—that is easy enough—but in order that we—and, what is more important, if people outside to whom the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North referred most movingly in the closing passage of her speech—can make up our minds whether this is a serious proposition, seriously intended by the Opposition, that it is at least material to know whether it is consistent with what the Opposition did when they had the power to do it.

I must therefore examine whether that be so or not. The facts are simple and well known. From 1946, when the present scheme of National Insurance pensions at a rate of 26s. was put into effect, the party opposite had a majority in the House of 200 and complete control of the legislative programme of the House. Yet it remains a fact that during the whole of that Parliament, with the cost of living rising steadily, they made no change whatever in the rate of pension—that, indeed, they waited until almost the dying gasp of the succeeding Parliament, when, on the verge of the General Election, they made an increase of 4s. for some, but not all, of the pensioners; this was although over that period up to the time of that small increase, which did not even then restore the initial value of the pension, the cost of living bad risen by 28 per cent.

If we are to ask, as I do ask, the House and the country to have confidence in our handling of the matter, it is material to consider the other side of the picture. We raised not some but all pensions within a few months of taking office in 1952. And in April, 1955, we raised them to 40s., the highest figure since the National Insurance Scheme began. It is less than two years since that increase, and over that period the change in the cost of living has been almost exactly 9 per cent.

If the Opposition meant in office what they say they mean by the Motion in Opposition, that is, that after less than two years and a variation in the cost of living of 9 per cent., the main rates and benefits of National Insurance should have been put up, they should themselves have put them up, not in October, 1951, but in 1948 at the very time when the main National Insurance Scheme was being put into effect—[HON. MEMBERS: "Three years after the war?"]—because by the time the main National Insurance Scheme was being put into effect the cost of living had moved 8 per cent., within one point of the move since our improvement in April, 1955.

If there be force and truth in the Opposition's claim that a change of that order demands some unspecified adjustments of the rates of National Insurance benefit, then it is extraordinary, that at the very moment when the whole main scheme was being put into effect, the cost of living having altered by 8 per cent. since retirement pensions were started, the Opposition did not live up to the principles they now proclaim and put them into effect.

We can sum up the comparison in a few sentences and leave it for the country to judge.

Mr. G. Lindgren (Wellingborough)

It will.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

After five years, and with an increase of 28 per cent. in the lost of living, they made one change in the rates—not for all pensioners, but for some—of 4s. During a period of about the same length, since this Government have been in office, the cost of living figure has risen slightly less—by 24½3 per cent.—and we have made two increases in the main rates, totalling 10s. On that form, I do not think that people outside will necessarily take the protestations of the Opposition this evening very seriously.

Mr. Lindgren

Give them the chance.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

It is, however, my duty to examine the arguments which, none the less, and for whatever reason, have been adduced in support of the Motion.

Mr. Marquand

Will the Minister answer the question with which I concluded my examination? I asked whether or not, after six years of Tory rule, the whole country was not now in a very much better position than it was in 1951, in the midst of the Korean War,

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings cometh truth. Of course, I accept the right hon. Gentleman's assurance that we have greatly improved the condition of the country. I will spare the right hon. Gentleman the exertion of another intervention, because he seemed a little tired today and I want to help him. I will do so by saying that at the same time, as our Amendment shows, we have given National Insurance benefits a higher value in terms of real purchasing power than the party opposite did over the whole period from 1948 to 1951.

Mr. Marquand

The right hon. Gentleman must in fairness now allow me to ask a question. If the situation is now so much better, as he claims—and as I knew he would—[HON. MEMBERS: "You claimed it."]—ought not the improvement in pensions now to be correspondingly greater? Is it sufficient merely to say that the Government have done what we did in 1946?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I say at once that I did not say that we have merely done what the party opposite did in 1946; that would have been a poor and shabby story to have told. The whole purpose of my argument, and of the figures that I have quoted, was to demonstrate—as I believe the figures will to any objective person—how much better we have done than the party opposite. I am glad that we were able to do it because of the improvement in our economy brought about by the policies of my right hon. Friends.

Now let me deal with the major matter of the debate, in so far as it concerned both the hearts and heads of those who took part in it; the question whether the present rates were causing excessive and undue hardship. That is a matter which is at all times worth serious examination on the Floor of the House. One or two hon. Members, with a gift of over-simplification which is perhaps more admirable than persuasive, posed the question of how anybody could live on 40s. a week. That begs the whole question as to whether in truth and in fact anyone is called on to live at that rate. That is a matter which I propose now to examine.

In the first place, as my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East reminded us, in the course of a Parliamentary Answer this afternoon I told the House that of the men pensioners at present drawing pensions, 22 per cent. were drawing, not the bare National Insurance basic pension, but a pension incremented as the result of their continuing at work over the age of 65; and there is also the more significant and much more interesting fact, that of the men now retiring about 50 per cent. have earned an incremented pension. Indeed, the pensions for those already retired, the 22 per cent., average an increase of 7s. 6d. on the basic pension; and those now retiring a rather higher increment of 9s. 8d. There is a certain number of pensioners—

Mr. Hubbard rose

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I will certainly give way to the hon. Gentleman when I have finished this part of my argument; but I think that the House and the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that unless I can present the picture as a whole on this point I shall waste the time of the House, because we shall get an interrupted and. jagged argument.

The point I am on is whether in truth or in fact anybody is called on to live on the basic National Insurance pension of 40s. I have mentioned one section of the pensioners—22 per cent. of men pensioners at present, and an increasing proportion—who draw an incremented pension. Another section is those who draw pensions from supplementary or private schemes. About one-third of the insured workers in this country are already covered by these schemes, which are increasing in scope. Even four years ago an inquiry by my Department showed that of the men actually retiring, three out of ten drew supplementary or industrial pensions. That is another large section of pensioners.

Then there are those, to whom reference has been made more than once today who live with or who are helped by their families. The hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann), with her customary vigour, made the point that that was right and should be so. Then come the 23.6 per cent. of the total who receive supplementation by way of National Assistance. When allowance is made for rent the National Assistance scales are fixed above the basic pension. Therefore, so far as any pensioner who is a householder is concerned, it seems to me difficult to imagine a situation in which the pensioner who has nothing but his bare pension would not be entitled to supplementary National Assistance. I will now give way to the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy—

Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)


Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I accept the amendment of pronunciation but not of identification.

The point I put to the House is that the question, "How would you live on 40s. a week?" though no doubt a rhetorically effective question, is not one which gets to grips with the problem. Now, as I promised, I will give way to the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Hubbard).

Mr. Hubbard

Is it a fact that those old-age pensioners who gain this increment by remaining longer in industry have that taken into account and do not get the supplementary pension? Is not that a shabby, mean trick which is played on these old-age pensioners? They are encouraged to remain in employment and then the money is taken from them.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The hon. Gentleman knows that there is nothing new in the arrangements under which these increments are not disregarded. He will appreciate, as will hon. Members who have criticised retirement pensioners having to resort to National Assistance, that one of the advantages of the system of increments is that they very often take the pensioner concerned right out of the need for supplementation, and above the scales of National Assistance, and therefore free the pensioner from the necessity for applying for a necessarily means-tested grant. Although the hon. Gentleman raises an interesting side issue, it seems to me that he does not raise any point which undermines the strength of my main proposition, that is to say, that the question about 40s. a week is quite irrelevant to this issue.

Now we come to the question, which is connected with this matter, of the diet of these retirement pensioners about which, very naturally and very properly, a good deal of concern was shown. My hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary made it very clear that we keep in the closest touch with the various sources of information about what the diet actually is. The hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North was a little disturbed as to where the figures which my hon. Friend quoted came from. They are the figures taken as a quarterly sample by the Department of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in order to construct the main report on nutrition which, as the hon. Lady knows, my right hon. Friend submits to Parliament in due course.

The figures are communicated by my right hon. Friend to my Department, which seeks these figures for the reason, which I am sure the House would approve, that we regard it as our duty to have all the information possible as to how pensioners are doing. When such information is collected for the purposes of my right hon. Friend, we make it our business to obtain it in order to do our job of keeping a clear view as to the position of these pensioners.

That is the explanation of the figures I have given, and I hope that the House will be as glad as I think it will, that those figures simply do not support the suggestion that the diet of the retirement pensioner is deteriorating. They do not suggest—and I am not suggesting it to the House—that there is anything excessive or luxurious about the diet, but the vital point, in view of the allegations that have been made, is that on all the evidence of a dispassionate survey the diet is improving rather than deteriorating.

Miss Herbison

Does that mean that the Minister and his Department have information which hon. Members on this side of the House and opposite will have to wait two years to get?

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

It means that we have information which will be embodied in the formal reports which were initiated, I think, by the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) when she was at the Ministry of Food and which my right hon. Friend submits in due course to Parliament. I hope that the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North is not objecting to our obtaining the earliest possible information in order that we may do what hon. Members on both sides of the House have been urging that we should do and which we accept as our duty, that is, to watch most carefully, accurately and in an up-to-date way the interests of retirement pensioners.

I now come to the next part of the Motion, which refers rather curiously to old-age pensions. I understand that what right hon. Gentlemen opposite mean by that is the non-contributory old-age pension which was one of the transitional provisions of the 1946 Act. I am a little surprised that in the Motion they ask for that pension to be increased. It is paid, as I think the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North knows—the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East certainly does—by the National Assistance Board with a means test and without contributions. In that way it can, of course, if it be inadequate, easily be supplemented, as it often is, by the National Assistance Board. Indeed, it has always been the provision that after 1961 no new pensions of this kind will be issued except to people over 70 at that time.

It is significant that that pension has never been increased before when retirement pensions generally have been increased. I make no point of it, but right hon. Gentlemen opposite did not increase it in 1951, nor did we in 1952 or 1954, and I am really surprised that this pension, which right hon. Gentlemen opposite themselves intended should be simply a transitional one, should now, at this time of day, be singled out for a proposal that it should be increased. I am bound to say that this further departure from the principles which right hon. Gentlemen opposite have followed regularly invites even more doubt as to the seriousness with which they have approached this problem.

On the matter of assistance scales, the Motion seems to suggest that the National Assistance Board is not carrying out the duty imposed upon it by Parliament and that it is therefore necessary to make the suggestion, that it should do so. That is a wholly unfounded suggestion, and I must say that I believe that this is the first time that right hon. Gentlemen opposite have put a Motion of this character on the Order Paper. The National Assistance Board was their own creation. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) went out of his way, when setting it up, to point out that the prime responsibility for initiating a change in rates was imposed on the Board and not on the Minister.

There is not the slightest reason to doubt that the National Assistance Board will do its duty when, in its judgment, the right time comes to make such a proposal. The Board, again, is entitled to rely on its record as justifying that proposition. Since it was set up it has moved no fewer than five times—in 1950, in 1951, 1952, 1955 and 1956—and I have no doubt at all that, with the very wide body of information which it has available as to the position of persons seeking assistance, it will make a proposal when, in its judgment and on the information before it, the time seems right. I should very much regret, the House would very much regret, and I think that right hon. Gentlemen opposite if ever they were in authority in this country, would regret it, were attempts made to undermine the independence of the National Assistance Board in carrying out the duties which are imposed upon it.

I should like to deal with one or two criticisms made about the Assistance scales. I do not think that some hon. Members opposite appreciate the extent to which discretionary additions to the scale rates are made by the Board—discretionary additions made on the facts of the individual's case over and above the scale rates, and over and above, also, the additional payment for rent.

The Board makes discretionary additions in 40 per cent. of the cases in which long-term payments are made and—and it is germane to this debate—in 48 per cent. of cases where the Board supplements the pensions of retirement pensioners. That, in itself, constitutes a further argument in relation to our social services generally that, hard and difficult as, of course, is the situation of many older people, the extremes of hardship which have been suggested this evening are not consistent with the facts.

The hon. Lady for Lanarkshire, North suggested that one of the solutions to the problem might be to alter the Exchequer contribution to the National Insurance Fund. I might remind her that the main change was made by her right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in the Finance Act of 1951. I must say that I do not quarrel with it—it was a perfectly sound proposal—but it is not quite fair for the hon. Lady to use it as a criticism of us.

She also said, and here I can agree with her, that in regard to the people about whom we are concerned the main cost-of-living index was not, perhaps, a very accurate barometer, and that food was what mattered. I would not quarrel with her on that, but I would remind her that since the increase that came into effect in 1955—which her right hon. Friend hailed as an announcement of a new standard—whereas the main index has moved 9.1 per cent., food has actually moved a little less 8.8 per cent. [Interruption.] Those figures are the results of an objective survey published and available to all hon. Members.

As I have told the House, we do regard it as our duty to keep in the closest touch with the needs and the position of retirement pensioners, and the other beneficiaries of National Insurance, and those on National Assistance, and the fact that I have found it necessary to deal with some of the exaggerations which have been made this evening does not, of course, indicate that we do not realise the difficulties which they, in common with many other people living on fixed incomes, face in these days.

It is true that for the main bulk of the population who are in work standards of life and prosperity are higher than they have ever been. It is equally true that for those on fixed incomes, pensioners and others who are not National Insurance pensioners but have small pensions and savings of their own, these are clearly very much less easy times. It is obvious that the sort of appeals that have been made this evening naturally strike sympathetic echoes in everybody's mind.

I think we are entitled to say that the undertaking that I have given more than once to this House, that the Government will closely follow the position of the beneficiaries of these schemes and will not hesitate when they deem it necessary to take action, is a pledge which, on our record, bearing in mind the fact that twice in the last five years we have in

fact moved, is one that is likely to carry a great deal more confidence and reassurance to those outside than that of right hon. Gentlemen opposite, in the light of their record.

It will not be forgotten that it is less than two years since we made the biggest increase in the whole history of the scheme, an increase of 7s. 6d. Those facts—what we have, in fact, done in this direction—are surely as good an earnest as is possible that, when we say that we will watch and take action when necessary, we will carry out that pledge to the hilt.

In contrast, we have this Motion, ill-considered, without even a figure assessed in it as to what are the Opposition's intentions, put forward in flagrant contrast with what they actually did when they had the power to do it. It is a bad Motion and we must amend it to make it consistent with the truth, with the realities of our national situation, and with the needs of this country and of its old in these difficult times.

We must bring the Motion into line with the spirit and the necessities of the time and make quite sure that the original Motion is not allowed to go forward as a gesture or a manoeuvre in connection with Opposition tactics at impending by-elections.

Question put, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 252, Noes 306.

Division No. 71.] AYES [9.58 p.m.
Ainsley, J. W. Burton, Miss F. E. Delargy, H. J.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Dodds, N. N.
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Donnelly, D. L.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Callaghan, L. J. Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwch)
Awbery, S. S. Carmichael, J. Dye, S.
Bacon, Miss Alice Castle, Mrs. B. A. Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.
Baird, J. Champion, A. J. Edelman, M.
Balfour, A. Chapman, W. D. Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)
Bellenger, fit. Hon. F. J. Chetwynd, G. R. Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)
Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.) Clunie, J. Edwards, Robert (Bilston)
Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S. E.) Coldrick, W. Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)
Benson, G. Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead) Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)
Beswick, Frank Collins, V. J. (Shoreditch & Finsbury) Evans, Edward (Lowestoft)
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Corbet, Mrs. Freda Fernyhough, E.
Blackburn, F. Cove, W. G. Fienburgh, W.
Blyton, W. R. Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Finch, H. J.
Boardman, H. Cronin, J. D. Fletcher, Eric
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Cullen, Mrs. A. Forman, J. C.
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.) Daines, P. Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.
Bowles, F. G. Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Gibson, C. W.
Boyd, T. C. Darling, George (Hillsborough) Gooch, E. G.
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.
Brockway, A. F. Davies, Harold (Leek) Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Grey, C. F.
Brown, Thomas (Ince) de Freitas, Geoffrey Griffiths, William (Exchange)
Grimond, J. MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles) Royle, C.
Hale, Leslie MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling) Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley
Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley) Mahon, Simon Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.
Hamilton, W. W. Mainwaring, W. H. Short, E. W.
Hannan, W. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg) Shurmer, P. L. E.
Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.) Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.) Silverman, Julius (Aston)
Hastings, S. Mann, Mrs. Jean Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)
Hayman, F. H. Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A. Skeffington, A. M.
Healey, Denis Mason, Roy Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)
Herbison, Miss M. Mayhew, C. P. Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)
Hewitson, Capt. M. Mellish, R. J. Snow, J. W.
Hobson, C. R, Messer, Sir F. Sorensen, R. W.
Holman, P. Mikardo, Ian Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank
Holmes, Horace Mitchison, G. R. Sparks, J. A.
Holt, A. F. Monslow, W. Steele, T.
Houghton, Douglas Moody, A. S. Stewart, Michael (Fulham)
Howell, Charles (Perry Barr) Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.) Stones, W. (Consett)
Howell, Denis (All Saints) Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm, S.) Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.
Hoy, J. H. Mort, D. L. Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall)
Hubbard, T. F. Moss, R. Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)
Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Moyle, A. Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.
Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Mulley, F. W. Swingler, S. T.
Hunter, A. E. Neal, Harold (Bolsover) Sylvester, G. O.
Hynd, H. (Accrington) Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon) Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)
Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, S.) Taylor, John (West Lothian)
Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) O'Brien, Sir Thomas Thomas, George (Cardiff)
Irving, Sydney (Dartford) Oliver, G. H. Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)
Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Oram, A. E. Thornton, E.
Janner, B. Orbach, M. Timmons, J.
Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Oswald, T. Tomney, F.
Jeger, George (Goole) Owen, W. J. Turner-Samuels, M.
Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pncs, S.) Padley, W. E. Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Jenkins, Roy (Stechford) Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearns Valley) Viant, S. P.
Johnson, James (Rugby) Palmer, A. M. F. Wade, D. W.
Johnston, Douglas (Paisley) Panned, Charles (Leeds, W.) Warbey, W. N.
Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech (Wakefield) Pargiter, G. A. Weitzman, D.
Jones, David (The Hartlepools) Parker, J. Wells, Percy (Faversham)
Jones, Elwyn (w. Ham, S.) Parkin, B. T. Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Paton, John West, D. G.
Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Peart, T. F. Wheeldon, W. E.
Kenyon, C. Pentland, N. White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Plummer, Sir Leslie White, Henry (Derbyshire, N. E.)
King, Dr. H. M. Price, J. T. (Westhoughton) Wigg, George
Lawson, G. M. Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.) Wilcock, Group Capt. C. A. B.
Ledger, R. J. Probert, A. R. Wilkins, W. A.
Lee, Frederick (Newton) Proctor, W. T. Willey, Frederick
Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock) Pryde, D. J. Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Lever, Harold (Cheetham) Pursey, Cmdr. H. Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Lever, Leslie (Ardwick) Randall, H. E. Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Lewis, Arthur Rankin, John Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)
Lindgren, G. S. Redhead, E. C. Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)
Lipton, Marcus Reeves, J. Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Logan, D. C. Reid, William Winterbottom, Richard
Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Rhodes, H. Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
MacColl, J. E. Robens, Rt. Hon. A. Yates, V. (Ladywood)
MoGhee, H. G. Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
McGovern, J. Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon) Zilliacus, K.
McInnes, J. Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)
McKay, John (Wallsend) Rogers, George (Kensington, N.) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
MacDermot, Niall Ross, William Mr. Popplewell and Mr. Pearson.
Agnew, Sir Peter Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Burden, F. F. A.
Aitken, W. T. Bennett, F. M. (Torquay) Butcher, Sir Herbert
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Bennett, Dr. Reginald Butler, Rt. Hn. R.A. (Saffron Walden)
Alport, C. J. M. Bevjns, J. R. (Toxteth) Campbell, Sir David
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Bidgood, J. C. Carr, Robert
Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Biggs-Davison, J. A. Cary, Sir Robert
Anstruther-Gray, Major Sir William Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Channon, Sir Henry
Arbuthnot, John Bishop, F. P. Chichester-Clark, R.
Armstrong, C. W. Black, C. W. Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)
Ashton, H. Body, R. F. Cole, Norman
Astor, Hon. J. J. Boothby, Sir Robert Conant, Maj. Sir Roger
Atkins, H. E. Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A. Cooper, A. E.
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. Boyle, Sir Edward Cooper-Key, E. M.
Baldwin, A. E. Braine, B. R. Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.
Balniel, Lord Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Corfield, Capt. F. V.
Barber, Anthony Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H. Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)
Barlow, Sir John Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Crouoh, R. F.
Barter, John Brooman-White, R. C. Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)
Baxter, Sir Beverley Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton) Currie, G. B. H.
Beamish, Maj. Tufton Bryan, P. Dance, J. C. G.
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Davidson, Viscountess
D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Pilkington, Capt. R. A.
Deedes, W. F. Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Pitt, Miss E. M.
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Johnson, Howard (Kemptown) Pott, H. P.
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green) Powell, J. Enoch
Doughty, C. J. A. Joseph, Sir Keith Price, David (Eastleigh)
Drayson, G. B. Joynson-Hicks, Hon. Sir Lancelot Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
du Cann, E. D. L. Kaberry, D. Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.
Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond) Keegan, D. Profumo, J. D.
Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. Kerby, Capt. H. B. Ramsden, J. E.
Duthie, W. S. Kerr, H. W. Rawlinson, Peter
Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David Kimball, M. Redmayne, M.
Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West) Kirk, P. M. Rees-Davies, W. R.
Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Lagden, G. W. Remnant, Hon. P.
Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Lambert, Hon. G. Renton, D. L. M.
Errington, Sir Eric Lambton, Visoount Ridsdale, J. E.
Erroll, F. J. Lancaster, Col. C. G. Rippon, A. G. F.
Farey-Jones, F. W. Langford-Holt, J. A. Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)
Fell, A. Leather, E. H. C. Robertson, Sir David
Finlay, Graeme Leavey, J. A. Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)
Fisher, Nigel Leburn, W. G. Robson-Brown, W.
Fletcher-Cooke, C. Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield) Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)
Fort, R. Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.) Roper, Sir Harold
Foster, John Lindsay, Martin (Solihull) Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard
Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone) Linstead, Sir H. N. Russell, R. S.
Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale) Llewellyn, D. T. Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.
Freeth, Dentil Lloyd, Rt. Hon. G. (Sutton Coldfield) Schofleld, Lt.-Col. W.
Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D. Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.) Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R.
Garner-Evans, E. H. Longden, Gilbert Sharpies, R. C.
George, J. C. (Pollok)
Gibson-Watt, D. Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.) Shepherd, William
Glover, D. Luoas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick) Simon, J. E. s. (Middlesbrough, W.)
Godber, J. B. Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Smithers, Peter (Winchester)
Gomme-Dunean, Col. Sir Alan MoAdden, S. J. Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)
Gough, C. F. H. Macdonald, Sir Peter Soames, Capt. C.
Gower, H. R. Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry Spearman, Sir Alexander
Graham, Sir Fergus McKibbin, A. J. Speir, R. M.
Grant, W. (Woodside) Mackie, J. H. (Galloway) Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)
Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich) McLaughlin, Mrs. P. Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P.(Kens'gt'n, S.)
Green, A. Maclay, Rt. Hon. John Stevens, Geoffrey
Gresham Cooke, R. Maclean, Fitzroy (Lancaster) Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)
Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) McLean, Neil (Inverness) Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)
Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.) Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.)
Gurden, Harold MacLeod, John (Ross A Cromarty) Stoddart-Scott, Col. M.
Hall, John (Wycombe) Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold(Bromley) Studholme, Sir Henry
Hare, Rt. Hon. J. H. Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax) Summers, Sir Spencer
Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.) Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries) Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)
Harris, Reader (Heston) Maddan, Martin Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon) Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle) Taylor, William (Bradford, N.)
Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark) Teeling, W.
Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macolesfd) Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R. Temple, J. M.
Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.) Markham, Major Sir Frank Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)
Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Marlowe, A. A. H. Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)
Harvie-Watt, Sir George Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E. Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)
Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Marshall, Douglas Thompson, Lt. -Cdr. R. (Croydon, S.)
Henderson, John (Cathcart) Mathew, R. Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.
Hesketh, R. F. Maude, Angus Thornton-Kemsley, C. N.
Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W. Maudling, Rt. Hon. R. Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)
Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton) Mawby, R. L. Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Medlicott, Sir Frank Turner, H. F. L.
Hill, John (S. Norfolk) Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R. Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.
Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh Tweedsmuir, Lady
Holland-Martin, C. J. Moore, Sir Thomas Vane, W. M. F.
Hope, Lord John Morrison, John (Salisbury) Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.
Hornby, R. P. Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles Vickers, Miss J. H.
Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Nabarro, G. D. N. Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.
Horobin, Sir Ian Nairn, D. L. S. Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon. Dame Florence Neave, Airey Wakefield, Sir Waved (St. M'lebone)
Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire) Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham) Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. D. C.
Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives) Nicolson,N. (B'n'm'th,E. & Chr'ch) Wall, Major Patrick
Howard, John (Test) Nugent, G. R. H. Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)
Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.) Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Hughes-Young, M. H. C. Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. D. Watkinson, Rt Hon. Harold
Hulbert, Sir Norman Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Webbe, Sir H.
Hurd, A. R. Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.) Whitelaw, W.S.I. (Penrith & Border)
Hutchison, Sir James (Scotstoun) Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-S-Mare) Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.
Hyde, Montgomery Osborne, C. Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry Page, R. G. Wills, G. (Bridgwater)
Iremonger, T. L. Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Partridge, E. Woollam, John Victor
Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Peyton, J. W. W. Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Pickthorn, K. W. M. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Jennings, Sir Roland (Hallam) Pike, Miss Mervyn Mr. Heath and Mr. Oakshott.

Question put, That the proposed words be there added:—

The House divided: Ayes 304, Noes 249.

Division No. 72.] AYES [10.10 p.m.
Agnew, Sir Peter Farey-Jones, F. W. Lambert, Hon. G.
Aitken, W. T. Fell, A. Lambton, Viscount
Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.) Finlay, Graeme Lancaster, Col. C. G.
Alport, C. J. M. Fisher, Nigel Langford-Holt, J. A.
Amery, Julian (Preston, N.) Fletcher-Cooke, C. Leather, E. H. C.
Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton) Fort, R. Leavey, J. A.
Anstruther-Cray, Major Sir William Foster, John Leburn, W. G.
Arbuthnot, John Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone) Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)
Armstrong, C. W. Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale) Lindsay, Hon. James (Devon, N.)
Ashton, H. Freeth, Denzil Linstead, Sir H. N.
Astor, Hon. J. J. Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D. Llewellyn, D. T.
Atkins, H. E. Garner-Evans, E. H. Lloyd, Rt. Hn. G.(Sutton Coldfield)
Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M. George, J. C. (Pollok) Lloyd, Maj, Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)
Baldwin, A. E. Gibson-Watt, D. Longden, Gilbert
Balniel, Lord Glover, D. Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)
Barber, Anthony Godber, J. B. Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick)
Barlow, Sir John Gomme-Duncan, Col. Sir Alan Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh
Barter, John Cough, C. F. H. McAdden, S. J.
Baxter, Sir Beverley Gower, H. R. Macdonald, Sir Peter
Beamish, Maj. Tufton Graham, Sir Fergus Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry
Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.) Grant, W. (Woodside) McKibbin, A. J.
Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.) Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich) Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)
Bennett, F. M. (Torquay) Green, A. McLaughlin, Mrs. P.
Bennett, Dr. Reginald Gresham Cooke, R. Maclay, Rt. Hon. John
Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth) Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury) Maclean, Fitzroy (Lancaster)
Bidgood, J. C. Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G. MoLean, Neil (Inverness)
Biggs-Davison, J. A. Gurden, Harold MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty)
Birch, Rt. Hon. Nigel Hall, John (Wycombe)
Bishop, F. P. Hare, Rt. Hon. J. H. Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley)
Black, C. W. Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.) Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)
Body, R. F. Harris, Reader (Heston) Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)
Boothby, Sir Robert Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon) Maddan, Martin
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A. Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye) Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)
Boyle, Sir Edward Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfd) Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)
Braine, B. R. Harvey, Ian (Harrow, E.) Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.
Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.) Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.) Markham, Major Sir Frank
Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H. Harvie-Watt, Sir George Marlowe, A. A. H.
Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E.
Brooman-White, R. C. Henderson, John (Cathcart) Marshall, Douglas
Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton) Hesketh, B. F. Mathew, R.
Bryan, P. Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W. Maude, Angus
Bullus, Wing Commander E. E. Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton) Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.
Burden, F. F. A. Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe) Mawby, R. L.
Butcher, Sir Herbert Hill, John (S. Norfolk) Medlicott, Sir Frank
Butter, Rt. Hn. R.A. (Saffron Walden) Hinchingbrooke, Viscount Milligan, Rt. Hon, W. R.
Campbell, Sir David Holland-Martin, C. J. Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh
Cary, Sir Robert Hope, Lord John Moore, Sir Thomas
Channon, Sir Henry Hornby, R. P. Morrison, John (Salisbury)
Chichester-Clark, R. Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P. Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles
Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.) Horobin, Sir Ian Nabarro, G. D. N.
Cole, Norman Horsbrugh, Rt. Hon, Dame Florence Nairn, D. L. S.
Conant, Maj. Sir Roger Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire) Neave, Airey
Cooper, A. E. Howard, Hon. Greville (St. Ives) Nicholson, Godfrey (Farnham)
Cooper-Key, E. M. Howard, John (Test) Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)
Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K. Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J. Nugent, G. R. H.
Corfield, Capt. F. V. Hughes-Young, M. H. C. O'Neill, Hn. Phelim (Co. Antrim, N.)
Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne) Hulbert, Sir Norman Ormsby-Gore, Hon. W. D.
Crouch, R. F. Hurd, A. R. Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Crowder, Sir John (Finchley) Hutchison, Sir James (Scotstoun) Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)
Crowder, Petre (Ruislip—Northwood) Hyde, Montgomery Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian (Weston-S-Mare)
Currie, G. B. H. Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry Osborne, C.
Dance, J. C. G. Iremonger, T. L. Page, R. G.
Davidson, Viscountess Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)
D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich) Partridge, E.
Deedes, W. F. Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Peyton, J. W. W.
Dodds-Parker, A. D. Jennings, Sir Roland (Hallam) Pickthorn, K. W. M.
Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA. Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle) Pike, Miss Mervyn
Doughty, C. J. A. Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Pilkington, Capt. R. A.
Drayson, G. B. Johnson, Howard (Kemptown) Pitt, Miss E. M.
du Cann, E. D. L. Jones, Rt. Hon. Aubrey (Hall Green) Pott, H. P.
Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond) Joseph, Sir Keith Powell, J. Enoch
Duncan, Capt. J. A. L. Joynson-Hicks, Hon. Sir Lancelot Price, David (Eastleigh)
Duthie, W. S. Kaberry, D. Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)
Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David Keegan, D. Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.
Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West) Kerby, Capt. H. B. Profumo, J. D.
Elliot, Rt. Hon. W. E. Kerr, H. W. Ramsden, J. E.
Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn Kimball, M. Rawlinson, Peter
Errington, Sir Eric Kirk, P. M, Redmayne, M.
Erroll, F. J. Lagden, G. W. Rees-Davies, W. R.
Remnant, Hon. P. Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir p. (Kens'gt'n, S.) Vane, W. M. F.
Benton, D. L. M. Stevens, Geoffrey Vaughan-Morgan, J. K.
Ridsdale, J. E. Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.) Vickers, Miss J. H.
Rippon, A. G. F. Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.) Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.
Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley) Stewart, Henderson (Fife, E.) Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)
Robertson, Sir David Stoddart-Scott, Col. M. Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)
Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.) Studholme, Sir Henry Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. D. C.
Robson-Brown, W. Summers, Sir Spencer Wall, Major Patrick
Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks) Sumner, W. D. M, (Orpington) Ward, Rt. Hon. G. R. (Worcester)
Roper, Sir Harold Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne) Waterhouse, Capt. Rt. Hon. C.
Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard Taylor, William (Bradford, N.) Watkinson, Rt. Hon. Harold
Russell, R. S. Teeling, W. Webbe, Sir H.
Sandys, R. Hon, D. Temple, J. M. Whitelaw, W.S.I. (Penrith & Border)
Schofield, Lt.-Col. W. Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury) Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)
Scott-Miller, Cmdr. R. Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway) Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)
Sharpies, R. C. Thompson, Kenneth (Walton) Wills, G. (Bridgwater)
Shepherd, William Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R.(Croydon, S.) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Simon, J. E. S. (Middlesbrough, W.) Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P. Wood, Hon. R.
Smithers, Peter (Winchester) Thornton-Kemsley, C. N. Woollam, John Victor
Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood) Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.) Yates, William (The Wrekin)
Soames, Capt C. Tilney, John (Wavertree)
Spearman, Sir Alexander Turner, H. F. L. TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Speir, R. M. Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H. Mr. Heath and Mr. Oakshott.
Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.) Tweedsmuir, Lady
Ainsley, J. W. Edwards, Robert (Bilston) King, Dr. H. M.
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Edwards, W. J. (Stepney) Lawson, G. M.
Allen, Arthur (Bosworth) Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.) Ledger, R. J.
Allen, Scholefield (Crewe) Evans, Edward (Lowestoft) Lee, Frederick (Newton)
Awbery, S. S. Fernyhough, E. Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)
Bacon, Miss Alice Fienburgh, W. Lever, Harold (Cheetham)
Baird, J. Finch, H. J. Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)
Balfour, A, Fletcher, Eric Lewis, Arthur
Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J. Forman, J. C. Lindgren, G. S.
Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.) Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N. Lipton, Marcus
Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S. E.) Gibson, C. W. Logan, D. G.
Benson, G. Gooch, E. G. Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson
Beswick, Frank Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C. MacColl, J. E.
Bevan, Rt. Hon. A. (Ebbw Vale) Crenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R. McGhee, H. G.
Blackburn, F. Grey, C. F. McGovern, J.
Blyton, W. R. Griffiths, William (Exchange)
Boardman, H. Grimond, J. McInnes, J.
Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G. Hale, Leslie McKay, John (Wallsend)
Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.) Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley) MacDermot, Niall
Bowles, F. G. Hamilton, W. W. MacMillan, M. K. (Western Isles)
Boyd, T. C. Hannan, W. MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)
Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.> Mahon, Simon
Brockway, A. F. Hastings, S. Mainwaring, W. H.
Broughton, Dr. A. D. D. Hayman, F. H. Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Healey, Denis Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.)
Burton, Miss F. E. Herbison, Miss M. Mann, Mrs. Jean
Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.) Hewitson, Capt. M. Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Hobson, C. R. Mason, Roy
Callaghan, L. J. Holman, P. Mayhew, C. P.
Carmichael, J. Holmes, Horace Mellish, R. J.
Castle, Mrs. B. A. Holt, A. F. Messer, Sir F.
Champion, A. J. Houghton, Douglas Mikardo, Ian
Chapman, W. D. Howell, Charles (Perry Barr) Mitchison, G. R.
Chetwynd, C. R. Howell, Denis (All Saints) Monslow, W.
Clunie, J. Hoy, J. H. Moody, A. S.
Coldrick, W. Hubbard, T. F. Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)
Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead) Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire) Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm, S.)
Collins, V. J.(Shoreditch & Finsbury) Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Mort, D. L.
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Hunter, A. E. Moss, R.
Cove, W. G. Hynd, H. (Accrington) Moyle, A.
Craddock, George (Bradford, S.) Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe) Mulley, F. W.
Cronin, J. D. Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill) Neal, Harold (Bolsover)
Cullen, Mrs. A. Irving, Sydney (Dartford) Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)
Daines, P. Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A. Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, S.)
Dalton, Rt. Hon. H. Janner, B. O'Brien, Sir Thomas
Darling, George (Hillsborough) Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T. Oliver, G. H.
Davies, Ernest (Enfield, E.) Jeger, George (Goole) Oram, A. E.
Davies, Harold (Leek) Jeger, Mrs.Lena(Holbn & St. Pncs, S.) Orbach, M.
Davies, Stephen (Merthyr) Jenkins, Roy (Stechford) Oswald, T.
de Freitas, Geoffrey Johnson, James (Rugby) Owen, W. J.
Delargy, H. J. Johnston, Douglas (Paisley) Padley, W. E.
Dodds, N. N. Jones, Rt. Hon.A.Creech (Wakefield) Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)
Donnelly, D. L. Jones, David (The Hartlepools) Palmer, A. M. F.
Dugdale, Rt. Hn. John (W. Brmwoh) Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)
Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C. Jones, Jack (Rotherham) Pargiter, G. A.
Edelman, M. Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham) Parker, J.
Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse) Kenyon, C. Parkin, B. T.
Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly) Key, Rt. Hon. C. W. Paton, John
Peart, T. F. Silverman, Julius (Aston) Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn
Pentland, N. Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill) Viant, S. P.
Plummer, Sir Leslie Skeffington, A. M. Wade, D. W.
Price, J. T. (Westhoughton) Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.) Warbey, W. N.
Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.) Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.) Weitzman, D.
Probert, A. R. Snow, J. W. Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Proctor, W. T. Sorensen, R. w. West, D. G.
Pryde, D. J. Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank Wheeldon, W. E.
Pursey, Cmdr. H. Sparks, J. A. White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)
Randall, H. E. Steele, T. White, Henry (Derbyshire, N. E.)
Rankin, John Stewart, Michael (Fulham) Wigg, George
Redhead, E. C. Stones, W. (Consett) Wilkins, W. A.
Reeves, J. Strachey, Rt. Hon. J. Willey, Frederick
Reid, William Strauss, Rt. Hon. George (Vauxhall) Williams, Ronald (Wigan)
Rhodes, H. Stross,Dr.Barnett(Stoke-on-Trent, C.) Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)
Robens, Rt. Hon. A. Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E. Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Swingler, S. T. Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)
Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon) Sylvester, G. O. Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)
Robinson, Kenneth (St Pancras, N.) Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield) Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)
Rogers, George (Kensington, N.) Taylor, John (West Lothian) Winter-bottom, Richard
Ross, William Thomas, George (Cardiff) Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.
Royle, C. Thomson, George (Dundee, E.) Yates, V. (Ladywood)
Shawcross, Rt. Hon. Sir Hartley Thornton, E. Younger, Rt. Hon. K.
Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E. Timmons, J. Zilliacus, K.
Short, E. W. Tomney, F.
Shurmer, P. L. E. Turner-Samuels, M. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Mr. Popplewell and Mr. Pearson.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House notes with approval that Her Majesty's Government, having made substantial increases in the rates of National Insurance benefits in 1955, is maintaining them at a higher standard than has prevailed during the greater part of the existence of the National Insurance Scheme; expresses its confidence in the discharge by the National Assistance Board of the duties laid upon it by Parliament; and will support Her Majesty's Government in all measures they may take to protect the real value of these benefits.