HC Deb 18 November 1957 vol 578 cc161-3
Mr. B. Taylor

I beg to move, in page 2, line 33, to leave out subsection (1).

I call this a "T.T." Amendment. It has nothing to do with agriculture or motor racing. It is far more important than that, because it deals with a very important section of the community, the old folk. It has been said on a number of occasions during the past week that a large proportion of the old folk have for ten years enjoyed an amenity in the form of tobacco tokens. The subject was very fully ventilated on the Second Reading of the Bill, and I have no doubt that many comments will be made at this stage about the miserly action which the Government propose to take.

Last Wednesday the Minister gave his reason why it had been decided to withdraw tobacco tokens from the old folk. He said: … the time has come to end it…."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1957; Vol. 577, c. 982.] We have read in the newspapers of notes like that being written on very sad occasions by people who have decided to "end it". It may be that by doing this the Minister is committing political suicide. In all fairness to the right hon. Gentleman, I must say that he commended the intention of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Dalton) when he introduced this concession for the old people. My right hon. Friend is present, and if he is fortunate enough to catch your eye, Sir Charles, he may have something to say about why it was done.

Has the Minister decided that the concession must come to an end for one of the following reasons or a combination of them? Has he decided to end it because of administrative difficulties, or, as he said last Wednesday, to do justice between one pensioner and another, or as an economy measure to save the Exchequer £16 million? I suspect the latter is the main reason why he has taken this course. It is passing strange that at the time when the Government are talking about inflationary pressure the Minister announces the decision to end this concession to the old people.

When the increases were announced it was placarded in the boldest possible headlines that the pensioners were to have a 10s. a week increase in the basic pension, but that is only half the truth. It applies only to a minority of the old-age pensioners. During the Second Reading debate on Wednesday the Parliamentary Secretary said that 54 per cent. of the pensioners receive tobacco tokens. I do not dispute her figures, although I thought the number was greater. More than half the pensioners receiving the basic retirement pension will not get 10s. extra. Even those not receiving National Assistance will get 7s. 8d. and those receiving National Assistance—as we shall show when we discuss the Regulations—will get much less than 7s. 8d.

The pensioners are very disappointed, frustrated and resentful, and the same feeling exists among other sections of the community. I agree with those pensioners who believe that the proposed increase of 10s. is inadequate, but to take away 2s. 4d. is described in my home area as "put and take"—to put with one hand and take with the other. That represents the action of the Minister. To continue to say that it is a 10s. rise for all the pensioners is not only untrue but bad. It is not according to the best standards of honesty, and I say to the right hon. Gentleman that this is a mean and shabby trick to perpetrate on the old-age pensioners.

Mr. J. Paton

We are discussing a mean-spirited Bill, and this proposal to abolish the tobacco tokens is the meanest part. We have been told that the reason is that the provision of tobacco tokens is illogical and anomalous as between one pensioner and another. But the whole of our financial legislation is studded with anomalies and illogicalities. Therefore, in that respect the provision of tobacco tokens is no better or worse than thousands of other provisions which are still retained.

I am quite sure the Minister does not wish to go down in Parliamentary annals as the right hon. Scrooge, but as has been said already, some of the provisions in this Bill are characteristic of the Scrooge manner. The Minister has been described as a kindly man. I hope that tomorrow, after hearing the discussion on this Clause he will have been moved sufficiently to give some expression of his kindness—

It being Ten o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair to report Progress and ask leave to sit again.

Committee report Progress; to sit again Tomorrow.