§ 11.35 a.m.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
I beg to move,That, in view of the large number of people now in retirement who are suffering severe hardship, this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to introduce forthwith a substantial increase in old-age pensions.That is the Motion, Mr. Speaker—
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I apologise to the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) for interrupting him at this stage, but it might be for the convenience of the House if we could have clarification of the terminology of the Motion. In his Motion, the hon. Gentleman refers to old-age pensions— [Interruption.]—and it might possibly be that he has in mind retirement pensions, supplementary pensions or, in fact, old-age pensions themselves. It is not quite clear from the Motion.
§ Mr. Speaker
That does not seem to me to be a point of order. If the hon. Member should have the fortune to catch my eye—on which I make no commitment whatsoever—he will have an opportunity of asking.
§ Mr. Spriggs
I thank you for that Ruling, Mr. Speaker. I regret, however, that hon. Members opposite—what few are left—seem by the Amendment which they have put down to be trying to take away the operative part of the Motion. When one recalls what was said by delegates to the Tory Party conference on this subject, one can readily understand why the hon. Members concerned decided to try to destroy a Motion put down on behalf of a group of people, a section of the community that is in greatest need.
I will not bore the House by reading at length from the notes taken at that conference, but this is what one member of the Tory Party said:As Conservatives, we should believe that the duty of every man and woman is to save for their old age and to ensure for themselves, with such support as the Government can give them, a reasonable and happy old age.I want to draw the attention of the House to the position of a very large number of working men and women in the period to which those words refer. The railwaymen, the agricultural 1654 workers, the shop workers and many other workers in industry never received in their working lives a wage from which they could save—never. I speak from experience. I was a railwayman, drawing 38s. 5d. a week as a rail worker. How could I save and do justice to my children? How could many of us save and do justice to our children?
Let us look at what this Motion is about. On one side, one can see £ s. d. but, on the other, there are human beings, people. Who are these people? What have they done to deserve the treatment which is meted out by Parliament? When the Labour Party was in office from 1945 onwards huge strides were made in the provision of assistance for pensioners, but I believe that we did not go far enough. I hope to show why hon. Members on both sides of the House should join together and stop the political squabbles and efforts to divide old-age pensioners into two groups. Why should they be divided, these people who have given a life-time of service to the community?
Most of the people to whom we are referring helped to win the First World War. During the period of depression between the wars most of them sacrificed their share of the good things in life for the benefit of their children. They did everything they could to ensure that their children received a better education and a better start in life. We can feel grateful to these parents who are now pensioners when we look around and contemplate what has been achieved by their children.
The year 1945 saw the end of the Second World War. During that war many of the pensioners helped to run the economic machine and worked to keep the war machine going until victory was won. Meanwhile their children fought in the Forces and many gave their lives to help to make Britain great. Now we are discussing a pension for these old people amounting to 50s. a week and we hesitate about increasing the basic pension. The hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) asked for an interpretation of what I meant by the words "old-age pension." The expression "old-age pension" was a common term in years gone by, but now we have a modern version "retirement pension." I am referring to all the pensions.
1655 The Minister and his Parliamentary Secretary have endeavoured to show from time to time that it is unnecessary for people who are in need to go without. The National Assistance Board has done great work to which I pay tribute. We should at no time give the impression that we are trying to discredit the work of the National Assistance Board which is most important. But I wish to inform the House of cases of need among old-age pensioners of which I have had experience. An old lady to whom I spoke said that she needed help but she did not want charity. Goodness knows how many times hon. Members on both sides of the House have tried to explain to constituents that this assistance is not charity but something provided for those in need and paid for out of general taxation. But still we find these proud old people, who have given their all, still determined to refuse what they consider to be charity.
One of the greatest difficulties in this respect is that people in need must ask for the assistance and that is something which many of them, particularly the old people, will not do. I enlisted the help of the National Assistance Board in the case which I have mentioned and after an experienced officer from the Board had visited the old lady I was informed that she was living on a sum that was 11s. 0d. a week below the subsistence level.
Another difficulty is that the same price index is used to estimate the standard of living of everyone. I believe that the Labour Party was right when in its national superannuation plan, published in 1957, it advocated that a new price index should be provided for the old-age pensioner based on the basic necessities of life. It is very unfair that a price index suitable to estimate the standard of living of those earning £20 a week and over should be used to calculate the standard of living of people on retirement pensions and those in receipt of National Assistance.
I received a note from an hon. Member opposite referring to the conglomeration of pension schemes in the country today. Though many of our pensioners were unable to save during their working life in order to assist themselves in their old age, in these days many workers sub- 1656 scribe to private superannuation schemes. In the I.C.I. scheme employees pay 1s. in the £ from their earnings. That is a considerable contribution when one realises that in at least one department the average wage is £15 a week, but people belonging to this scheme can look forward to far better circumstances in retirement than are at present enjoyed by old-age pensioners.
I have received letters from all parts of the country praising me for raising this matter today and providing me with many examples from which I could quote to the House. A number refer to cases from the famous County Borough of St. Helens, and others are from Manchester and the far North, and there are some from the south of England. All tell the same sad story and give evidence of people who have to seek medical advice every week and pay for the prescriptions. In some instances there are two or three items on a prescription but the recipients are still too proud to claim back the money which they have to pay for their prescription. In quoting from this evidence I will not give names, because I do not think it fair to publish names when dealing with intimate matters such as these. However, I shall be happy to furnish names privately to the Minister if he would like to know them.
Here is a case of two old age pensioners, the man aged 78 and his wife 76. The husband receives 13s. 4d. a week superannuation. Because of this they are ineligible for assistance although their rent is 14s. 2d. The man is suffering from a fairly serious sickness and needs frequent prescriptions. The wife has to wear surgical shoes and she had to replace her spectacles. On application to the National Assistance Board they were granted £3 for surgical shoes and assisted with the cost of the spectacles. During a period of two years, this couple had been unable to save even £3 and had to apply for an exceptional needs grant. I have here quite a list of other cases. I know that hon. Members have done me a great honour by coming here on a Private Members' Motion day to give me their support.
The Minister has said that there will be a change in policy and that something will be done in the future for these people. I would say to the right hon. Gentleman that the money is needed now. These people are suffering 1657 now. Many old people whom I have visited are suffering from malnutrition. A number of them are wearing clothes which are almost falling from their backs, threadbare. Their furniture is long out of date. They do not know what it is to be able to have the things which the average wage earner can have today.
Let us look at the history of attempts made in this House by my right hon. and hon. Friends over the last few years. When I refer to my right hon. Friends, I think that the House and the whole of the nation, particularly those people who are not strongly politically biassed, will join with me in paying a compliment to and congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) for the work he has done for pensioners. It is men like my right hon. Friend, working tirelessly year in and year out, with a faith and belief in the people, who have made it possible for young people to enter this House, determined to follow in their footsteps to help those in need. When I say to my right hon. Friend, "Thank you for a job well done," I know that he will carry on right to the end. I thank him for his statesmanship. No diploma or medal could reward him for the good work he has done, but I am sure that the thanks of the nation and of this House will more than compensate him for his untiring efforts.
Our proposal is to guarantee the pension against inflation and to guarantee to every employed worker all the advantages of a good superannuation scheme. But we find, on examining the history of this subject, that on 1st August, 1957, the Government defeated a Labour Motion calling for an immediate increase of pensions for retirement pensioners and those on National Assistance. In December, 1957, the Minister of Pensions announced an increase which raised the retirement pension to 50s. a week for a single person and 80s. a week for a married couple. This increase took effect from 7th January, 1958.
It is important that we find out whether there has been an increase in the cost of living since that date. Those Members of Parliament who never do any shopping would do well in the service of this House and of those for whom we are speaking today if they were to 1658 ask their wives, "Has the cost of living gone up? Has the cost of meat gone up? Has the cost of bread and other commodities gone up?"
Whenever we read the financial columns we find that there has been an increase somewhere. [An HON. MEMBER: "Rents."] Yes, rents and milk. It is quite true that the 1957 Rent Act struck a very severe blow against the poorest section of the community. Since 1957 many certificates of disrepair have been issued through the local authorities after examination of complaints made by tenants of private houses. A number of landlords have been able to claim the full statutory rent because some repairs have been done since 1957.
Because of the increases in the cost of living, I should like the right hon. Gentleman to study these points very carefully and look at the basic needs of life—to forget the fur coats and motor cars and other things which the old-age pensioners in the main can never think of buying. I say to him, please, on behalf of these people, consider the basic necessities of life.
Following the last increase, when the old-age pension was increased to 50s, we have made further attempts to get the Government to increase the old-age pension. The Minister has rejected every attempt. I will read one pledge taken from a publication in which speeches of right hon. Gentlemen on the Government side are recorded. This is what was said:Well, we give an undertaking to the old-age pensioners that not only will we maintain their rate of pension in relation to the cost of living which we have done up to date, and more, going by the figures. But we also say that you will take your share of the rising prosperity of the country …This is the most important part of what I have to say today.
This is a proposal asking the Government to agree to make a flat-rate increase in all pensions and then tie the pension to wage increases throughout industry. Only in this way will the retired workers enjoy the prosperity of which right hon. Gentleman opposite have spoken so often. It must have made some hon. Members on the Government back benches feel very hot under the collar when they read the huge hoardings, "You have never had it so good". The old-age pensioners 1659 have not had it so good. They know well what they have had to suffer over the years. If we could persuade the Minister and his right hon. Friend to agree to tie a new basic pension to the average weekly earnings in industry it would mean on his own admission, as shown in the index of average wages throughout Britain, that the pension would be increased by 7.5 per cent. on the latest figures which have been given in the OFFICIAL REPORT.
I can tell the Minister that many of the back benchers behind him support this point of view. Some of them are not present this morning, I regret to say —I had hoped to see them in their places —but one of the right hon. Gentleman's hon. Friends rang up his agent yesterday to see if he should be here to vote against my Motion. The agent said, "No, you must not vote against Spriggs's Motion." He is not here.
Who controls the economy? Is it a democratic control? Is it controlled by a handful of men who decide whether the people in the greatest need shall have a fair deal and a share in the country's prosperity? I am afraid that is so. The Minister smiles. I can tell him that he would not smile if he had to live on 50s. a week. There is nothing funny about that. During the earlier part of this week—
§ The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
As the hon. Gentleman refers to me, perhaps in courtesy I should say that I was smiling at his right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), who was courteous enough to reciprocate.
§ Mr. Spriggs
Surely in a debate of this kind there is no room for merriment. We are speaking of people who are suffering poverty and loneliness at the present time. It is my intention to try to overcome their difficulties, with the assistance of all hon. Members, particularly the Minister. The right hon. Gentleman is a man of great ability and one to whom, I am sure, his right hon. Friends would listen if he went to them with a proposal for an immediate increase of 10s. a week in the pension. I think that if he suggested to the Cabinet a system of tying the retirement pension to the average weekly earnings in industry his colleagues would be prepared to 1660 listen. But I also believe that that will never be done until there is the will to do it.
My greatest regret is that in the last General Election, when we on this side of the House told the old-age pensioners, and, indeed, the whole nation, what we intended to do, they decided to return a Tory Government. I sincerely believe that we meant every word of what we said at that time. It was not party political propaganda; it was a determination to play the game by our old people. However, we were not given the opportunity.
When hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite say, "We got a mandate in 1959 on the question of the old-age or retirement pension," I would point out to them that whenever I met a Tory candidate in the field, my experience was that he kept wide of the old-age pension issue and wide of the whole economic issue because he had good reason to. Unfortunately, as I say, the people of this country chose not to return us. They gave the Conservative Party the right to rule.
Having been given that right, surely those hon. Members who sit on the Government side of the House have a responsibility to the nation as have the Opposition. These very important people who have served the nation well deserve our fullest consideration when we are considering their standard of life.
I want to refer to the varying values of money over the last few years because I think that that is very important. In 1945 there was what was known as the 10s. a week old-age pension. In 1946, when my right hon. Friend to whom I referred earlier increased the pension to 26s. a week, the value of that pension was 26s. a week. In 1947 that same 26s. was worth only 25s. 8d. by 1949 the value of the 26s. had been reduced to 23s. 2d. and in October, 1951, the value of the 30s. pension was only 23s. 3d. From 1952, when the 32s. 6d. a week pension was worth 23s. 7d., we come right forward to 1959 when, as is shown by the official documents from which these figures have been taken, the 50s. pension was worth only 29s. 7d.
The source of this information is in Written Answers on 23rd April, 1959. I do not want right hon. or hon. Gentlemen opposite to take my word for it. 1661 Let them check the facts for themselves; let them look at the Minister's Answers to some of the Questions.
We have the admission that the present pension is worth only 3s. 8d. more than was the rate of pension payable fourteen years ago. If we take into consideration the tobacco token that was taken away from the old-age pensioner and which was valued at 2s. 4d. in real terms, the pensioner is now only 1s. 4d. better off than he was in 1946—and this at a time when we are told that we have never had it so good.
Let us consider the Beveridge Report and the principle behind it relative to National Assistance, and the speech which my right hon. Friend made with reference to National Assistance in relation to the statutory pension. It was never the intention of my right hon. Friend nor of Lord Beveridge when examining pension requirements that National Assistance should increase. Today over 1 million people draw National Assistance, and goodness knows how many more are entitled to do so but do not apply for it.
It is a crime and a disgrace to allow our old people, our old-age pensioners, to suffer in the way that they are suffering today. I know that the Minister will probably refer to the many who are retired and who are drawing private pensions or other forms of private superannuation. There are many, I know, but my Motion does not deal with such people. It talks of the many who are only a section of those drawing pensions.
I have grown rather tired of listening to proposals to do this and that for the most needy section of the community while at the same time we attach a means test to them. There is something wrong here. Even Members of Parliament have a means test attached to their pensions scheme. I should like to see all means tests abolished. I should like to see a statutory basic retirement pension paid to every man and woman entitled to it, on which they could live without having to go cap-in-hand begging for what they call charity.
They remember Poor Law relief. Many of these people have had to go for Poor Law relief. Many of them had friends living on either side of them who had to suffer the indignity of applying for Poor Law relief. It is these things 1662 which weigh on their minds. They never forget. They cannot believe us when we tell them that this is not Poor Law relief and not charity.
I must wind up my speech because I promised that I would not go on for too long. I have looked up Questions and Answers in relation to the money which this country has paid out to private groups in industry. When we find the Minister or any of his right hon. Friends refusing to concede a modest increase now in retirement pensions, some of us are compelled to inquire where the money is going. When we were told that the cotton industry had failed as a private enterprise venture this House voted £30 million for scrapping old machinery and modernising of the industry.
Some of my hon. and right hon. Friends who represent many of these poor people assisted that Bill through the House because we believe that where it is in the interests of the community to bolster up and strengthen the economy we should do so. Knowing full well that we cannot have increased pensions or increased prosperity unless we develop the economy, we do not want to see massive unemployment.
In 1952 the agricultural industry was given £320 million by this House. It is not paying interest on that.
§ Mr. Spriggs
No, there is no means test either. In 1953 we gave £266 million to that same group, in 1954 we gave £316 million, in 1955 a further £240 million, in 1956 £252 million, in 1957 £297 million, in 1958 £275 million, and the provisional figure for 1959 was £260 million. There are other groups, such as steel, to which many millions of pounds have been given. I know that this goes down very badly among hon. Members opposite. The truth hurts, particularly when we are dealing with finance and asking for fair shares.
That is all we are doing. We ask the Government to share the prosperity of the country fairly. These people wait on the doorstep of the Chancellor of the Exchequer cap-in-hand for millions of pounds without a blush on their faces. They think they are entitled to it, and they get it. This House as a whole has 1663 voted for it. When we ask the Government to assist the retirement pensioners hon. Members opposite are urged to be present to vote against the Motion. One back-bencher opposite stated yesterday that he would not vote against the Motion. This modest Motion asks for assistance for those in greatest need.
§ Mr. Arthur Tiley (Bradford, West) rose—
§ Mr. Tiley
I have been listening most intently to the speech of the hon. Member, because it has been packed with very interesting information, but it is not fair to assume that we are here to obey the Whip. Many of us on these benches are here because of our great interest in this subject. I think the hon. Gentleman should withdraw the nasty allegation he has made.
§ Mr. Spriggs
I am very pleased that the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Tiley) says that it is not true that all the hon. Members present on the benches opposite are here to vote against my Motion. What I am most concerned about is that there is an Amendment on the Order Paper which would take out everything from my Motion.
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
The hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Tiley) is a supporter of the Amendment.
§ Mr. J. L. M. Prior (Lowestoft) rose—
§ Mr. Spriggs
I am most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) for that information.
§ Mr. Prior rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. If the hon. Member who is speaking does not give way, the other hon. Member must resume his seat.
§ Mr. Spriggs
Having given a few details of the problems of retirement pensioners in relation to the cost of living and the wages structure, I make a final 1664 appeal to the Minister to help them to overcome the terrible plight of poverty and loneliness under which they suffer. It is within his power to do so, with the consent of his colleagues in the Government. If the will is there, there is nothing to stop him doing so. It is no use saying that the country cannot afford it. This country has proved time and time again that if it wants to find money to do something it can find it. I appeal to the House to support the Motion.
§ Mr. Speaker
Mr. Freeth. I am calling on the hon. Member to move the Amendment which stands in the name of the hon. and gallant Member for Ripon (Sir M. Stoddart-Scott) and others, including himself.
§ The Rev. Llywelyn Williams (Abertillery)
On a point of order. I understood that I was to second the Motion, Mr. Speaker. Do I speak after the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth)?
§ Mr. Speaker
The difficulty is that under our new rules, Motions do not require a seconder, and for that reason I go from side to side across the House in selecting hon. Members to speak.
§ 12.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Denzil Freeth (Basingstoke)
I beg to move, to leave out from "That" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof:this House notes the improvements effected since 1951 in the provision for our older fellow citizens, is confident that continued sound management of the national economy will enable pensioners to continue to share in the country's increasing prosperity, and supports the furtherance of policies to this end.I congratulate the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) upon having had the good fortune to win the Ballot for the right to choose Motions for this day. May I also humbly congratulate him not only on a speech packed with interesting information, but also on the way in which he began it under what can only be described as very difficult circumstances for any back bencher to begin any speech on any day.
We on this side of the House certainly have no quarrel with the choice of Motion. It is the fourth time since Parliament assembled in October that hon. Members opposite have decided to 1665 debate this subject in the House, as well as the debate which we had on the Motion to move an humble Address in reply to the Gracious Speech at the beginning of the Parliament and the debate last Wednesday in Committee on the Finance Bill.
It is noticeable that on each of these occasions hon. Members opposite have been defeated both in the Lobbies and in argument. The fact that they have raised the subject today seems to me to show that they are, indeed, gluttons for punishment. The first time they raised the subject, apart from the general debates on the Address and the Budget, was on 15th December, when the hon. Member for Islington, North (Mr. Reynolds) sought the leave of the House to bring in a Bill to increase National Insurance Benefits and to finance the increase by raiding the National Insurance Fund. Leave was refused by a majority of 81 votes.
The second time was on 16th March, on a Motion by the right hon. Member for Blyth (Mr. Robens). He wanted to increase retirement and other pensions to £3 a week for single persons, but to give nothing extra to wives, and his Motion was defeated by a majority of 74. On 13th April, we had a Motion moved by the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), who moved to reduce certain token Votes connected with the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance. His Motion, too, was defeated by a substantial majority. I have no doubt that the House will reject the Motion at the end of today's debate and I commend in its place the Amendment.
The Amendment recalls our performance against the promises of the Opposition when out of power, and their failures when they were in power, and I suggest that our past record in pensions for the older folk is the pensioners' guarantee for the future, while the past record of hon. Members opposite, which the hon. Member for St. Helens mentioned specifically, caused voters, very wisely, to disregard their words and their promises on this subject. I believe that that was proved at the General Election, when they widely outbid us in attractive promises to the old folk. I believe that it was proved again in the local government elections last week, which were preceded by a television programme, a 1666 party political broadcast, which, I believe, featured, if that is the right word, the hon. Member for Islington, North. I did not have the pleasure of seeing the broadcast but I hear that a big effort was made to attract the votes of the retirement pensioners.
Mention was made, in the broadcast, of the Motion moved in the House on 13th April by the right hon. Member for Llanelly, and I am informed that I was honoured by a mention. I have here what I am assured by a friend of mine is a typescript of the programme. It was taken down on a tape recorder and typed from that. It may be that one or two words are not exactly as originally spoken, in which case I hope that the hon. Member for Islington, North, whom I rejoice to see here, will correct me. I will quote from the typescript:Our case was put by Jim Griffiths. The Tories, of course, opposed it, and Mr. Denzil Freeth said—and then a voice, I understand, came on, imitating my voice, rather ineffectively, inaccurately and inadequately. This is what I have been told by friends. I did not hear it myself. The voice quoted from my speech in the House in that debate of 13th April. This is what it quoted:I do not believe that it is yet possible to treat our prosperity as being firmly-enough based to enable us to give something further to pensioners in the next few months. If there were a great many …—and then, I understand, a swelling sound of what purported to be music drowned my voice.
§ Mr. Freeth
When these wind instruments had recovered from their flatulence, my voice was heard again, as follows:It would be a gross waste of our national resources to put up the pensions of 5½ million people possibly to …—and according to the typescript, at that moment viewers and listeners once again saw and heard the hon. Member for Islington, North.
I looked at HANSARD to see exactly what that sentence was. If one goes as far as to read it to its conclusion one sees that it is:It would be a gross waste of our national resources to put up the pensions of 5½ million. 1667 people possibly to help some undefined number who are not willing to apply for a supplementary pension.I was taken up on that sentence by the hon. Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Grossman), who appeared to have misunderstood it, and I therefore did my best to put the matter right. I said:I was so determined to make myself clear that I wrote down the words before saying them. I said that it would be a gross waste of our national resources to put up the pensions of 5½ million people possibly to help some undefined number who do not apply for supplementary pensions. It is quite a different matter to put up the pensions of 5½ million people so as to give them an increasing share in our prosperity. I hope that the hon. Member will not misquote me in the future."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th April, 1960; Vol. 621, c. 1319.]The hon. Member for Coventry, East, to the best of my knowledge, has not misquoted me but, frankly, the compiler of that programme did misquote me. It is exactly the same, when somebody says, "I did not marry my wife for her money", if one cuts out the last three words and quotes him as saying, "I did not marry my wife."
§ Mr. G. W. Reynolds (Islington, North)
The hon. Member has been good enough to refer to the telecast which I introduced on behalf of the Labour Party. We showed a passable photograph of the hon. Member, and that appeared on the screen at the same time as the voice was speaking. It was not an attempt at an imitation of the hon. Member's voice, although I am glad that one of his friends regarded it as quite a good imitation. The tape recorder is unable to take down the picture on the screen, and the picture on the screen showed the full quotation which the hon. Member has just read to us.
§ Mr. Freeth
I am very glad indeed to hear that, so long as we have it firmly on the record, including, I hope, both sentences.
There are two reasons why pensions should be raised from time to time. The first case is when the cost of living has risen and the flat-rate benefit, or the lowest rate in a graduated scheme, gives the pensioner too low a purchasing power. The second case when pensions should undoubtedly be raised is when the country has become richer and the time is ripe to give a greater share of the increasing prosperity to the 1668 pensioner. I should like to deal with those two reasons.
First, the present pension of 50s. a week for a single person and 80s. for a married couple was introduced in January, 1958. It is always difficult to talk about what the cost of living is. The hon. Member for St. Helens suggested that the Interim Index of Retail Prices was all right for those earning £20 a week or more. In fact, it was not taken from people earning £20 a week or more when it was compiled. Looking at the weighting given for food, I doubt whether the index is very far out, particularly over the last few years when articles such as motor cars, and so on, which the pensioner does not buy, are the articles which have tended to go down. Food, which is the big weighting, is the one which has tended to rise.
§ Mr. Spriggs
The Ministry of Labour's own researches into this problem have shown that old-age pensioners spend a far higher proportion of their pensions on food than wage earners in the higher income group.
§ Mr. Freeth
I accept that. The Interim Index of Retail Prices still gives a very sizeable weighting to food prices. I doubt whether it is very much out. In January, 1958, it stood at 108.1. The average for 1958 was 109. The average for 1959 was 109.6. The figure for 15th April, according to today's Press, was 110.3. April's figure is always slightly higher than the months before and after.
Therefore, it does not seem to me that we have increased the cost of living to such a degree as by itself to warrant an increase in retirement pensions. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer said in the House on Wednesday, since 1951 prices have risen by 32 per cent. Yet under this Government—I hope that the hon. Member for St. Helens will not object to me stating our achievements—the single person's pension since October, 1951, is up by 66⅔ per cent. over the 30s. In October, 1951, not every pensioner was getting 30s. Only certain pensioners had had the increase from 26s. to 30s. Indeed, the single person's pension today is no less than 92 per cent. higher than the 26s. some pensioners were still getting in October, 1951. The equivalent figures for a married couple are 60 per cent. and 90 per cent.
1669 I do not believe that those increases in pension are a bad achievement compared with the general rise in the cost of living since October, 1951, bearing in mind at one and the same time that there has been an ever-increasing number of pensioners to whom to pay pensions. As in 1951 the cost of pensions was only £270 million, whereas in 1959 it was £660 million, I do not believe that this Government have done badly in providing quite a substantially higher purchasing power for such a substantially higher number of pensions.
The present pension has a purchasing power at today's prices of 10s. l0d. over the October, 1951, level. October, 1951, is quite a fair month to take, because it was not just after the war. It was after six years of Socialist heaven, which somebody once described as, "Pie in the sky, but it is rationed on earth." The present pension is very much better for the pensioner than a pension tied to a cost-of-living index on the sliding scale to which the hon. Member for St. Helens referred.
The hon. Member also spoke of the possibility of tying the pension to an increase in earnings. There are difficulties connected with that. He will remember that his right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly, to whom he paid a great tribute, said in 1946, when the National Insurance Bill was before the House, that it was impossible to tie the retirement pension to a cost-of-living increase because of the experience after the First World War. Everything goes very well when prices are rising, but everything goes very badly when prices fall and the Government find themselves unable to decrease the money being paid out to the pensioners.
One must remember, when dealing with earnings, that there have been occasions, there are occasions, and may even again be occasions, when average earnings tend to fall for a period. If the pension were tied to earnings, in such a period it would have to be reduced. I do not believe that that is a political possibility at present.
§ Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)
Is not the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth) aware that there are a number of industrial agreements where just that situation exists? When there have been decreases in the cost 1670 of living, the men have accepted a decrease in the standard rate as a result, and there have been no difficulties whatsoever.
§ Mr. Freeth
Dealing with old people is very different from dealing with people who are working and earning. That was the view of the right hon. Member for Llanelly, and I am not sure that on this occasion he was wrong. The purchasing power, at today's prices, of the 1946 level of pension, which was the highest under the Socialists, would be about 6s. a week. The hon. Member for St. Helens quoted 1946 prices. He was less than fair in his statistics because, when comparing the purchasing power of the present pension with that of the 1946 pension, he took into consideration not only the rises which have taken place in cigarettes and tobacco, as reflected in the index from which he was working, but added in also the tobacco vouchers, thereby adding the same thing in twice.
In fact, this Government have maintained in terms of purchasing power—
§ Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham) rose—
§ Mr. Freeth
I think that I had better get on, otherwise nobody else will get into the debate. This Government have not only increased the pension, but have more than maintained its buying power.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
This is absolutely false, taking the Minister's own figures given to me on 4th April. I asked him to give me, in terms of 1946 prices, the value of the pension at October 1952, October 1953, October 1954, October 1955, October 1956, and October 1957. In only one case, namely October, 1955, was there an excess over the 1946 pension and that was 5d.
§ Mr. Freeth
The hon. Member was not listening to what I was saying. I was not comparing the 1946 pension with what life was like in 1957 or 1955. I was comparing it with what life is today. The pension today has 6s. more buying power than the pension of 26s. had in 1946.
It is worth remembering that on 6th February, 1946, in col. 1742, the right hon. Member for Llanelly described the 26s. as "a broad subsistence basis." Not only do we not regard that as a broad subsistence basis, because we have 1671 raised the pension level 6s. above it at today's prices, but we have also raised National Assistance to help the poorest of the poor.
The hon. Member's Motion is a little inaccurate. He asks us to support an increase in the retirement pensionin view of the large number of people now in retirement who are suffering severe hardship".If the retirement pension is increased, the poorest of the poor will be no better off, unless, at the same time, National Assistance is increased. The two must go together. It is a pity that the hon. Member did not include that in his motion.
It is because we wanted last year, when the economy was recovering from the 1958 recession, to give something more to the poorest of the poor, because we wanted to raise, and felt we could afford to raise, the level of the poorest of the poor, that we increased the National Assistance benefit from 45s. to 50s. for a single person and from 76s. to 85s. for a married couple, and, of course, the rent is extra in each extra case. So that the benefits of National Assistance, compared with the rise in the cost of living of 32 per cent. as quoted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the House on Wednesday, are now 66⅔ per cent. for a single person and 70 per cent. for a married couple above the levels ruling in October, 1951.
Quite frankly, I think that this is the only way in which we can really help those who are suffering from the severest hardship, because we now have few retired pensioners who have no other aid in old age. We have 5½ million pensioners today who cover every single income group in the nation. Today, everybody who retires is a National Insurance retirement pensioner. Some are rich; many have sources of income such as pensions from other sources; many of them have increments on the National Insurance retirement pay.
It is only a certain number of them who, in fact, are in severe hardship, and that is what I really meant when I said on 13th April that it would be a gross waste of our national resources to increase the retirement pension for 5½ million people, a very large number of whom do not need it from the point of 1672 view of hardship, to help those few who do need more and are at the very bottom of the income scale. I believe, further, that this is one way to do as we promised at the last election, to increase the payments to give the pensioner an increasing share in the increasing national prosperity.
The hon. Member for St. Helens said people do not like going to the National Assistance Board, and we all know that that is true. I should like my right hon. Friend, when he intervenes in the debate, to tell us what success he thinks his scheme of calling the assistance given to pensioners "supplementary pensions" has had, and whether he believes that that has helped to break down this psychological barrier. I would join with the hon. Member for St. Helens in the tribute he paid to the National Assistance Board and its officers. I believe that they do a magnificent job of work.
On the question of prescriptions, to which the hon. Member referred, I feel that chemists are now rather tending to hide the notice saying that refunds can be obtained, and this means of helping to bring National Assistance to those who are on the borderline is kept rather out of sight. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend could talk to the Minister of Health to see whether the notice could possibly be made more prominent, whether or not there could be notice on the prescription, or on the envelope in which the prescription is given.
Of course, the hon. Member for St. Helens could not resist a dig at the Rent Acts. They simply were a blow to the poorest—
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
Before the hon. Member leaves the prescription charges, would he give us his view on this problem? My hon. Friend referred to the difficulty of many old-age pensioners, some of whom are living on such a low margin of pension that they can get money from the National Assistance Board and are even prepared to go to the Board, but cannot wait long enough to get the help. Would the hon. Member give us his view on that?
§ Mr. Freeth
I have always been trying to see if it is not possible to get a speedier repayment. Indeed, I shall always be grateful to anybody who can 1673 come forward with ideas to help to get over the problem to which the hon. Member has rightly drawn attention.
I was coming to the question of the Rent Acts, which, according to the hon. Member for St. Helens, hit the poorest of the poor. Here I think that we ought to take a stand on a point of principle. To my mind, it was totally unjust, and would be unjust, to expect a landlord, who may not be very well off, to subsidise a family living, by chance perhaps, in a house for which they are unable to pay a reasonably economic rent. If we happen to have a position where the person living in the house cannot pay a reasonable rent, then it seems to me far more just that the whole community, as represented by the National Assistance Board, should pay the extra to the landlord, than that we should expect the landlord to subsidise one or more of his tenants.
Finally, is this now the time, as there is not a case on the cost of living aspect, when we can safely make an increase in pensions, to give people a greater share in our prosperity, without starting prices rising again, or running into balance of payments difficulties? I happen to believe that this is the most important part of the debate and the most important problem which faces the Government today.
Frankly, I do not believe that now is the time when we can safely and confidently take this step. I said so on 15th December, and I repeated myself, not sufficiently to get out of order, on 13th April, when I quoted the import-export figures for March. We now have them for April, and if we adjust them on a seasonal basis they do not make any happier reading. I spoke before the Chancellor felt it necessary to institute special deposits with the banks and when he had to reimpose hire-purchase restrictions. I cannot help thinking that in those circumstances we must be very careful what we do with our resources. I spoke before bank advances rose from £81 million in February-March to £98 million in March-April. I spoke before the rise in the hire-purchase debt had risen from an extra £16 million in February to an extra £31 million in March.
These seem to be danger signs in the economy. I think, therefore, that we should proceed cautiously. I be- 1674 lieve that it would be wiser to try to get through the summer without imperilling our increase in production, without imperilling our balance of payments position, without imperilling our price stability, because otherwise there would probably be no larger national cake from which to give a share to the pensioners.
I do not think that it would be right at present to finance such an increase of pensions by taxation. I do not think that it would be right to finance it by increased contributions, because an increase in contributions would be very likely, I believe, at present to lead to demands for higher wages. I certainly would be strongly against financing it by a further increase in Treasury bills, which would only mean higher prices once again. I would strongly vote against anything, as I did on Wednesday, which, in my opinion, might imperil our hard-won price stability, which we have at last got.
We have had stable prices now for two years, and no other Government have achieved that in this country for a quarter of a century.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West) rose—
§ Mr. Freeth
If the hon. Member has an answer to that he can perhaps catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and correct me.
§ Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
There will not be much chance if the hon. Member speaks much longer.
§ Mr. Freeth
We have stable prices for the first time in five years. I would be against anything which would start prices rising again. Our problem then would be not how to give a greater share of our prosperity to the pensioners. The problem would be how to keep the pensioners' purchasing power up to the rising cost of living. I suggest to the House that it will be much wiser to consolidate our present prosperity. Then, with some confidence, we can give something more to the pensioners which will not only buy more, but which will, in the months ahead, continue to buy as much as when it is given. That is the only possible 1675 way to help them, and the only honest way to keep our General Election pledge.
§ 12.50 p.m.
§ Sir Myer Galpern (Glasgow, Shettleston)
I have been the subject of some mild but irritating criticism by virtue of the fact that I am regarded in some quarters as one of the last of the recently elected hon. Members to make a maiden speech. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, and hon. and right hon. Members, that my tardiness in addressing the House for the first time is in no way due to the fact that I can be regarded as inarticulate. On the contrary, the electors in my constituency of Shettleston, who are among the most intelligent and enlightened in the country, have traditionally elected Members who have been outspoken in their advocacy of a way and standard of life based on humanistic principles.
I recall the long and valuable services rendered in the House and to the country by the late John Wheatley, who became an outstanding Minister of Health, and the contribution made by my immediate predecessor, John McGovern. Both were turbulent and articulate and, while I may have passed the age for turbulence, I sincerely hope that I shall be able to discharge the trust placed in me by my constituents by serving them as faithfully and with the same forcefulness and wisdom as did my distinguished predecessors.
I assure the House that the only reason for my delay in intervening in debate has been occasioned by my desire to do so on a subject of which I have some knowledge and experience. I served for twenty-eight years as a member of Glasgow Corporation representing part of my present constituency, and two weeks ago I resigned after two years of office from the high and honoured position of Lord Provost of Glasgow. I might remind hon. Members who represent English constituencies that the nearest approach to a lord provost of a Scottish city is a lord mayor.
As lord provost I had at my disposal a fund from which I could disburse financial help to applicants within the city. In the course of my two years of office I received hundreds and hundreds of such applications, the majority of them from old-age pensioners. Before 1676 I made a decision, each case was examined by an experienced member of our health and welfare department by means of a personal call. The human tragedies of malnutrition and misery revealed in the case histories saddened me as they would have saddened every hon. Member. They disclosed the gross inadequacy of the pittance doled out under the euphemistic term "retirement pension".
What purpose is the retirement or old-age pension supposed to serve? Basically, it should be a provision for old age, providing the recipient with a reasonable standard of living free from anxiety and degradation. But does it achieve this purpose? In the majority of cases it certainly does not. I crave the indulgence of the House to quote only one household budget, and not by any means the worst, which came under my notice during the period to which I have referred. A couple, both over 70, have a 'budget as follows: rent and rates, 7s. 6d., two bags of coal, 16s. 4d., gas, 7s., electricity, 1s., papers, 3s. 6d., church contribution, 1s., death insurance, 3s., sugar, 2s. 6d., tea, 3s., eggs, 3s. 6d., meat, 8s., fish, 4s., bacon, 2s. 6d., potatoes, 2s. 6d., vegetables, 2s., fruit— they were on a special diet—5s. 6d., cheese, 2s., milk, 6s. 6½d., butter, 2s. 10d., bread, scones and biscuits, 6s., shoe repairs and replacements, 2s. 6d., laundry, 2s., sundries, 2s. 6d., transport, 5s., cleaning windows and stairs, 3s.
This is a total of £5 4s. 8½d. There is no allowance for amusement or for membership of an old-age pensioners' club, and nothing to provide for an outting. Yet with that total expenditure no one would say that they were living on the standards of the Ritz. It would be true to say that daily thousands upon thousands of people spend more on one meal than this family spent in a whole week on their budget, and that is usually done on an expense account.
Their total income, including a supplementation of 14s., is £4 14s. How do they manage? It is by making an application to a charitable organisation or to funds such as were at my disposal. They do not pay the rent. They find that it is essential that they should eat. At the end of the week they say they have nothing left for the rent and they 1677 apply for help from the funds I have mentioned.
When things get too bad and they get no relief from funds of that character, they do a bit of starving and dieting for weeks until they are able to resume what one can only describe as the bare minimum of subsistence. Health visitors have often reported to me that they have witnessed case after case of old-age pensioners in the wintertime sitting with their overcoats on in front of the fireplace with the fire not lit because they were waiting for the evening when it would be colder before lighting it. I know that I shall be told that with supplementation they could get an extra 3s. 6d. a week if the house is damp, but that would be cut off from March to October. This extra 3s. 6d. to buy an extra half bag of coal is supposed to keep body and soul together.
Welfare visitors have also reported that the diet was wholly unsuited to these old-age pensioners, but they were unable to recommend a diet that would be suitable for their physical needs because they knew that these old people could not afford to buy those foods. I know that they can apply for a supplementary allowance, but the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth) must remember that people do not live on or eat percentages. They eat food. "Supplementation" is a word which the hon. Member admits has not reached everybody's ear and I will tell him why. I am sorry if I am being controversial but I must remind the hon. Member that he said that even if he had the wherewithal he would not be able to improve on the diet which I mentioned; he would only strive to maintain it.
My experience is that this method of supplementation is not the answer to the plight of these people. It is estimated that there are 100,000 cases in Glasgow and its environs. I concede that it is impossible to obtain an exact figure, because the figures are not prepared on a regional but on a national basis. Out of that number—and this is an accurate figure—23,000 are in receipt of varying sums of supplementation. It is confidentially estimated that three out of five old-age pensioners could apply for and receive supplementation, but they do not. In nine months I was able to obtain in 125 cases some little amelioration of their 1678 plight by referring the cases to the National Assistance Board.
There are two reasons why these honest, decent people do not apply. One is ignorance of their right to do so and the other is their independence of spirit. Let me deal with the first point. It is not the practice of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, when granting a retirement pension to indicate that if recipients find the pension inadequate for their meagre needs, they may apply for supplementation. It is true that the National Assistance Board has issued leaflets, but—and here I come to the second of the two reasons—people still refuse to have the stigma of public assistance attaching to them.
As the hon. Member for Basingstoke said, we now use the term "supplementation". The whole set-up, however, is still that of the poor law. People have to apply to the area officer of the National Assistance Board. They are told that the Board's officer will call upon them and ask for particulars of their circumstances. It is not that they have anything to hide, but they have some pride left and they do not like investigators.
The hon. Member for Basingstoke said that if we increased old-age pensions, we would also have to meet the needs of those who are not in receipt of old-age pensions: namely, people receiving benefit from the National Assistance Board. Why is it that a respected citizen who has worked all his life and contributed for a retirement pension ends up, if he is a married man, with £4 a week, as against the National Assistance Board allowance in similar circumstances to a possible ne'er-do-well who has never worked in his life of £4 5s. a week? We already have this difference between the two sets of people.
Why must so many old-age pensioners be dependent on public subscription for their Christmas dinner and an annual outing? I wish here to pay tribute to those who give so open-handedly and unstintingly to bring a little pleasure and and happiness into the lives of people who are ashamed to be beggars. This generosity renews one's pride and faith in the great and essential goodness of humanity. Again I ask, however, is this the only way? The care of our fellow human beings in distress is everybody's business.
1679 In the current issue of Barclays Bank Review, under the heading "Britain the Good Neighbour," there is an article, from which I quote:In the Western industrialised countries, and certainly in Britain, we have solved the problem of the ' submerged tenth ', the unfortunates who lived beneath reasonable standards of well-being.My experience has shown me that this claim is false for the majority of our old-age pensioners. Their case histories are not the hall-mark of a humane civilisation.
This morning, every Member of the House shared the regret of the Prime Minister at the failure of the Summit talks to get started, their purpose being to maintain peace and happiness for people throughout the world. To bring a little more happiness into the lives of our old-age pensioners and the poorer sections of the community does not require a Summit Conference. It can be dealt with here and now, in the House of Commons, by the Government. The Government have a duty to pay heed to, and to act upon, the old-age pensioner's cry from the heart, "Forget me not in my old age."
§ 1.4 p.m.
§ Sir Henry Studholme (Tavistock)
It is always very pleasant to have the duty of congratulating an hon. Member on his maiden speech, and with great sincerity I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern) on the speech he has just made. It is clear to us all that he speaks with great sincerity and with great knowledge of local affairs. The hon. Member has succeeded a former Member, John McGovern, whom all of us in this House regarded with great respect and affection. I am sure that we shall have the pleasure of hearing the hon. Member speaking often in our debates. He said something about Scotsmen not being inarticulate. I would never presume to suggest that any Scotsman was inarticulate. The hon. Member has certainly proved that he is a worthy Scot in this respect.
I am glad to have a chance of saying a few words in support of the Amendment, which was moved so effectively by my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth). All of 1680 us, on whatever side of the House we may sit, want to do the best we can for the pensioners, but when we consider pensions we must take a great many factors into consideration. We must not let our hearts run away with our heads.
The retirement pension is part of a contributory insurance scheme and it must be paid for by contributions, from employers, from the employed and from the Exchequer, which means the general taxpayer. It is easy to talk airily about increased pensions and not to say anything about the cost. That is what the party opposite did at the last General Election. Hon. Members opposite said that they would immediately increase pensions to £3 a week, but I have never heard or read of any members of the party opposite at the time of the election saying anything about the cost. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, yes, we did."] The cost, as has been estimated, would be about £200 million a year, which would mean an extra 2s. on the contributions of both employers and employees. I never heard that stated at the election.
The Conservative Party refused to put up the pensioner to auction. We did not seek to buy his vote. What we said— and everybody knows it—was that we pledged ourselves to ensure that pensioners continued to share in the good things which a steadily expanding economy would bring. That is a pledge which, I am certain, the Conservative Government will honour, but they will do it in their own way and in their own time and not whenever the party opposite chooses to put down a Motion in this House.
The electors showed that they preferred a pledge of that sort from a party whose good record in pensions they knew, a party which has three times raised the pension in ten years so that it is now worth about 11s. more in purchasing power than it was when the Conservatives came into office, whereas the Labour Party, when it went out in 1951, left the pension worth less than it was when it started.
§ Sir H. Studholme
At any rate, the pension was worth considerably less than it was in 1946. Every pensioner should remember that when the Labour Party was in power prices constantly rose and 1681 pensioners had the terrible worry of seeing the value of their pensions constantly eaten away by inflation.
Over the last two years—as a Devon Member, I should like to pay tribute to an old friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer—the cost of living has remained steady. That has been of the greatest benefit to all pensioners and to all in the country.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
Does not the hon. Gentleman realise that the biggest contribution to the stability of the cost of living has been the fall in import prices?
§ Sir H. Studholme
It may be that we have been fortunate in that, but if our finances had not been properly handled by the party in power we should never have had the stable conditions that we have today.
I have often heard speeches by hon. Members opposite from which one would imagine that every pensioner is destitute and on the verge of starvation. We know that is not so. There are about 5½ million pensioners and about four-fifths of them have other resources. Pensioners comprise people with all grades of income—there are rich people and poor people and all sorts of intermediate grades. As I have said, we have to take a great many factors into consideration and must not let our hearts run away with our heads.
Since 1951 the percentage rise in the standard rate of pensions has been more than the percentage rise in the gross national product. It has been more than the percentage rise in the average earnings in industry. It has risen more than twice as much as the percentage increase in prices. Also, we should not forget that in 1951 the cost of retirement pensions came to about £270 million a year, whereas in 1959 the cost was £660 million. Taking those two points into consideration, under the Conservative Government pensioners have more than shared in the rising standard.
It is estimated that by 1966–67 the cost of retirement pensions, including the new pensions scheme which will come into force next year, will be about £770 million, and it is also estimated that by 1980 the cost will be more than £1,000 million a year. These are very 1682 relevant figures, and we have to take into account the burden which even the present rate of pension will lay on both sides of industry and upon the taxpayers of the future, who are our children and grandchildren.
People must also remember that last autumn the National Assistance rates were increased, and more people are now eligible for National Assistance because the amount of a person's income which can be disregarded has been increased. Therefore, those who are in the greatest need have the benefit not only of the increase in the standard rate of pension but the increase in National Assistance.
For many years I have been interested in the question of pensions and how best to help the poorest and most needy people. At the time of Mr. Chamberlain's Local Government Act, 1929, with its reform of the Poor Law, I became a member of a public assistance committee, on which I served for more than ten years, and of pensions appeals tribunals and other similar bodies. I mention that merely to show that I have had some modest first-hand experience of these matters.
As a result of my experience, I am absolutely convinced that it is the Government's duty to maintain as generous a standard of pension as the contributors—the employers, the employed and the general taxpayer—can reasonably be asked to pay for in order to provide a reasonable platform of existence for the pensioner. I am certain that it would be quite unrealistic to fix the basic pension high enough to provide a comfortable existence for everybody. For one thing, it would be unnecessary, and, for another thing, the cost would be prohibitive.
I am certain, too, that there must always be a section of pensioners who will have to have their pensions supplemented, and for this there must be a test of need. It is nonsense for anybody to deny this or to suggest that there is anything shameful in a test of need. It is, in fact, only commonsense. Whatever name we care to give it, there must always be some form of National Assistance subject to a need test.
The pensioner who is really in need has a perfect right to have his pension supplemented. That is what National 1683 Assistance exists for. I am sure that any hon. Member who has experience of those who administer the National Assistance service will agree that they are kindly, helpful and tactful. There is no stigma whatever attaching to obtaining National Assistance if one needs it. National Assistance is not charity. If hon. Members will do everything they can to make this fact perfectly plain to all pensioners they will be doing pensioners one of the best turns that they possibly could.
I am certain that the Government will continue to help pensioners, as Conservative Governments have consistently done, in a variety of ways. It does not necessarily mean continually putting up the basic pension. There are plenty of other means, through social services, help in relation to taxation, and so on. I am certain that the Government will continue to do this, and that in doing so they will show not only humanity but commonsense, and I am certain that they will have regard to the interests of not only the pensioners but the contributors and taxpayers and to the general needs of the country.
§ 1.16 p.m.
§ The Rev. Llywelyn Williams (Abertillery)
The debate so far, from the point of view of the contributions from this side of the House, has been characterised by a speech of transparent sincerity by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) and a most remarkable and most moving maiden speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern). I am certain that my hon. Friend for St. Helens did not feel—he certainly did not express it in words, anyway—that there was any need for an apology for bringing before the House once again the question of retirement pension rates.
I am certain that future historians will refer to the pre-war period as one of social tragedy and national disgrace because of the plight of the unemployed, and that they will also refer to the postwar period as one which has revealed social tragedy and national disgrace in respect of our treatment of retirement pensioners.
One of the features of post-war social development has been the levelling-up 1684 of the various ranks of society. Before the war, ordinary people could never expect to achieve luxuries such as motor cars, refrigerators, television sets, washing machines, holidays abroad, as well as holidays at home, all of which were regarded as the prerequisites of the wealthy classes. Today, these privileges and benefits are claimed by millions of people. There has been a very definite levelling-up of the strata of our society and millions have benefited, though I am prepared to concede that thousands have experienced another type of trend.
Those who have not benefited from this healthy social process are the old-age pensioners. The Economic Secretary to the Treasury made a very strange statement in the debate on the Budget proposals on 6th April. He said:If the result, last October proved one thing, it proved that the old-age pensioner knows which party is likely to treat him best." —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th April, 1960; Vol. 621, c. 417.]That assertion cannot be proved, and, by the same token, cannot be disproved, but I am certain that the Economic Secretary must be wrong in that statement. I am certain that if the last election had been limited to the retirement pensioners alone—if they alone had been entitled to vote—commonsense, apart from any other considerations, would have prompted them to vote for the party which promised an immediate 10s. increase in pensions rather than the Tory Party, which had so much delayed implementing its promises to help them. I am sure that the Economic Secretary— whom I am glad to see here—fell below his usual standard of sagacity and wisdom in making that remark. It is an arguable proposition, but the other case should be put as well as the one which he stated.
We have a welfare society of which we are all justly proud. I am one of those who like to see Great Britain occupying the position of No. 1 amongst the nations in its social provisions. I believe that we do so with the National Health Service. We have the finest Health Service in the world. No other country, to my knowledge, compares with us in that.
It is all the more sad, therefore, that in the provision of old-age pensions we lag behind other nations. We lag behind New Zealand, Canada, the United States, 1685 the U.S.S.R., East Germany, West Germany, and some of the Scandinavian countries. My researches lead me to make that assertion in the House. I do not like this position. I would like to think that we would take a place second to none in our old-age pension provisions.
Unless one is a member of a good, private pension or superannuation scheme—and almost two-thirds of our people are still not in that happy position—then the onset of old age is something to be dreaded. I cannot feel happy about any society in which that type of attitude is inevitable in the minds of people approaching their retirement period. My idea of a just society is one in which all fears and cares and anxieties are removed from people's minds at that time, when they are not as capable as they were in previous years to face up to these challenges.
By and large, our old people—there are 5 million or more of them—suffer a drop of 40 per cent. in income immediately they leave their employment for what we call their retirement period. That drop inevitably means a drop in their standard of living. They must, in the very nature of things, start abandoning certain interests, hobbies and luxuries—if one likes to call them so— which, previously, they had enjoyed. I know that it is always dangerous to bring our arguments to the focus of the personal, as it is equally dangerous to allow our arguments to remain in the abstract realm of statistics, but I want to share my experiences with Members on both sides.
I live in a small mining township which is typical of hundreds of similar places throughout Britain. I do not believe that it is my imagination that is playing tricks upon me, but when I look around the immediate neighbourhood in which I live, where there are many retired pensioners, I have the idea that they seem still to be wearing the same clothes I saw them wearing six, seven, eight, or nine years ago. I do not like that sort of thing. I would not like to generalise too much in this, but that is my impression—that these good friends and neighbours of mine never seem to be purchasing new clothes.
Many of these people may be receiving the supplementation of the National 1686 Assistance Board, but I put this point to the hon. Lady the Joint Parliamentary Secretary—who, being a lady, may appreciate the emphasis of my point, because it is a psychological one. We have tried on this side, as Members opposite have tried, in our public speeches and in our private encounters with these people, to impress upon them that National Assistance benefit is not charity. We are adjured by the Minister to do it, and I have tried to get my people to understand that this supplementation is theirs as of right in terms of cash payment.
Somehow or other, there is a psychological point involved in approaching the Board for assistance for a new overcoat or a new suit. There seems to be a different idea—when one needs a new suit, or costume, or hat, or overcoat, and has to go to the National Assistance Board to prove one's case—that goes even deeper than the psychological resistance which, I believe, we are slowly but surely overcoming with regard to ordinary cash supplementation benefit. I should like the hon. Lady to bear that point in mind, because I think that it is a valid one.
The chief point in my speech—and I believe that it is a very cogent one— is that poverty is always relative. One is only poor in comparison with other people with whom one lives and who are members of the same community as oneself. We must have some criterion. The social tragedy of so many—not all— retirement pensioners is that they are living in a community where all the time, proceeding apace and not stopping, there exists a continuing gulf between salary and wage earners and people on retirement pensions who have, perhaps, a little assistance from another source. That is what challenges me all the time. As a Socialist, I feel that it is wrong. This inequality must be related to a community. It is not something abstract. I see it in the industrial valley which I represent.
I had a very great distinction conferred upon me at the beginning of this year; it was to follow in the steps of my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown)—who, unfortunately, is not able to be with us today. I succeeded him as president of the National Association of Old Age Pensioners in 1687 Great Britain. I was given the opportunity to lead a deputation to the Ministry, where we met the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance and his two Parliamentary Secretaries, one of whom, of course, we are glad to see here now. I have led many deputations in my time, but I testify here and now that I have never been on a deputation which was more courteously received.
The Minister is a very strange person. I wish that he were here, because I do not like referring to people personally when they are not present. Sometimes, the right hon. Gentleman creates an unfortunate effect in the House. He is an agile debater and so quick to seize upon debating points that he gives us on this side the impression that he is rather aggressive and unsympathetic. I can testify that that is not true of him as a person. There was no patronage or condescension, but the most desirable attitude possible on his part when he met that deputation.
I asked the Minister about this problem, which worries me so much. He gave me certain figures. He said that since October, 1951, the percentage increase in wages has been 63 per cent. for men and 56 per cent. for women, but for pensions it has been higher, namely, 67 per cent. I told him then, and I repeat now, that percentages in this context are meaningless symbols. Fifty per cent. of £20 is £10, and 50 per cent. of £4 is £2. Although there is the same percentage increase in those two figures, the monetary difference is £8. To say that old-age pension rates have increased more than wage rates in percentage is quite meaningless, since the percentage ought to be brought down to terms of hard cash. Hard cash is the only symbol recognised in the shops.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens when he says that a strong case can be made for gearing pensions not only to fluctuations in the cost of living, but to what we can call, perhaps, national productivity. I will give some instances, referring to the average earnings of manual wage earners in manufacturing and some of the principal non-manufacturing industries. I have not chosen these statistics to suit any case which I wish to put before the House. The selection of the figures and the years is really almost arbitrary. I 1688 have referred to the date when there was an increase in retirement pensions and I have then found in the Ministry of Labour Gazette and in the Digest of Statistics the average earnings of the workers to whom I have referred, that is to say, men over 21, at the relevant time.
In October, 1951, the retirement pension was put up to 26s. At that date, the average weekly earnings of the workers concerned was 166s. In October, 1952, the pension rate—always for a single person, of course—was increased to 32s. When the pension was put up to 32s., the earnings were 178s. 6d. In April, 1955, the pension was put up to £2. The average earnings were 217s. 5d. In January, 1958, when the pension was put up to £2 10s., the average earnings were 251s. 7d. To bring my statistics up to date, in October, 1959, when the pension still remained £2 10s., the average earnings of those workers in manufacturing and non-manufacturing industries were 270s. 9d.
Let us see what has happened. In October, 1951, the difference between the two was 140s. In October, 1952, the difference was 146s. 6d. In April, 1955, the difference between the two was 177s. 5d. In 1958, the difference between the two was 201s. 7d. In October, 1959, the difference between the two was 220s. 9d. Since October, 1951, the gulf between pension and average earnings rates has widened to the extent of 80s. 9d., to the disadvantage, of course, of the single old-age pensioner.
That comparison disposes of the claim made in the Amendment, which asks the House to beconfident that continued sound management of the national economy will enable pensioners to continue to share in the country's increasing prosperity.They are sharing in a decreasing manner, not an increasing one. While wages and salaries are going up and, of course, as people in commercial enterprises know, profits are going up, the gulf is widening between them and the old-age pension.
I always try to be fair-minded in all matters. I am aware of the arguments which are adduced, and which have been adduced today by hon. Members apposite, and I admit at once that they are considerable arguments. I appreciate the Minister's difficulties in these matters. We have an ageing population. The 1689 ratio between pensioners and wage earners has alarming possibilities for the future development of our population structure. I accept that, even in a Welfare State, there is, or there should be, such a thing as filial obligation.
That is my philosophy in life, and I do not apologise, whatever the political repercussions of such a statement might be, for saying that the day when we, in practice and in theory, repudiated the importance of filial obligations would be a very sad one for Britain. I honestly and sincerely mean that. Unfortunately, in thousands of cases, grown-up sons and daughters today either will not, or cannot—probably both operate—help their aged parents. That is another difficulty which the Minister has to bear in mind.
I know, also, that in thousands of cases an increase of 10s. in the basic retirement pension is not needed. One has only to think of retired field marshals, grammar school headmasters, chief constables and people like that. But surely the Chancellor of the Exchequer would recoup a considerable proportion of the 10s. increase were it given to the wealthier classes as well as to the people I am most concerned about this morning.
I recognise, further, that for the last eighteen months there has been commendable stability in price levels, and that if one is serious about social insurance one must realise that there is a danger of insolvency in the National Insurance Fund in the years to come unless we meet the situation before it occurs.
We are often reminded that the National Assistance Board can deal with the worst cases, and that 54.2 per cent. of those receiving National Assistance are on retirement pensions, or, to put it another way, roughly 20 per cent. of the old-age pensioners receive supplementation from the Board.
Those are considerable arguments and I would not wish to minimise their importance, but, having thought about these issues as seriously and as deeply as I could, I am still convinced that neither singly nor collectively do they out-match the case for an immediate increase of 10s. on the basic pension. A sum of 10s. would not make a lot of difference to a wage or salary earner in the £15 to £20 a week bracket, but it would make a tremendous difference to a married couple existing on £4 a week, 1690 or just a little over £4 a week, if they receive supplementation from some other source, or a single person receiving £2 10s.
It is in that perspective that I see this problem. I know that the figure of £200 million minus income tax recoupings is an alarmingly large figure, but, if what the politicians and economists say about the prosperity of Great Britain is true, we can afford to find even that large sum.
Almost two-and-a-half years have elapsed since the last increase. There was a hiatus of one year between the increase in October, 1951, and that of October, 1952. Two-and-a-half years elapsed between the increase of October, 1952 and the increase of April, 1955. Surely the time is now ripe for a further increase. Further procrastination in this urgent matter cannot be justified.
When I was a boy at school I was often given lines to write for my misbehaviour, and the line I seem to remember most now is, " Procrastination is the thief of time". I wrote that out hundreds of times. It is no wonder that I hate the word "procrastination". Procrastination cannot be justified any longer. The other day I read a piquant quotation. It was by the famous Max Beerbohm, who said of his brother Herbert:He was always late. Oh, he had a watch and he often looked at it, but he never seemed to draw any deductions from it.I know that "Herbert" was in the Chamber for some time, but he has now left us.
I do not say this of the Minister in any vindictive spirit, but I cannot count the number of times on which he has told us that old-age pensions are under review. If he still cannot read the time, I can tell him: it is now time to give that increase.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)
In following the hon. Member for Abertillery (The Rev. L1. Williams) I should very much like to endorse what he said about filial responsibility, and also what he said about National Assistance. I hope that he will forgive me if I do not comment on his remarks in sequence.
We are all grateful to the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) for 1691 giving us the opportunity to discuss this subject on a Friday, although, strictly speaking, it is possibly not a subject which would normally be chosen. Many of us on the back benches who do not normally have an opportunity to voice opinions on this subject, which is most important not only to the House but to the country, are grateful for this occasion.
Nothing would please me more—and I am sure that the same could be said of all hon. Members—if I could go back to my constituency and say that old-age pensions were to be increased, but there are many considerations to be borne in mind and I assure hon. Members opposite that they have not a monopoly of thought in their desire to ensure that the old people of this country, who have done so much during their lives to develop the prosperity that we are now enjoying, receive their share of our increased prosperity.
I make no apology today for removing, or attempting to remove, the political atmosphere which so often surrounds this subject. As I see it, we ought not to worry about whether, in the last ten years, we have improved the pension or whether the Opposition did better. We have to look at the position of the pensioner now and forget the past entirely. As I see it, we have a class of pensioner now which is ever increasing, and which will continue to do so, until such time as the superannuation scheme comes into operation. However one looks at it, the cost will steadily rise and the money must be produced either by the Treasury, or by contributions, and here I find myself very much in agreement with the hon. Member for Abertillery.
Perhaps we have forgotten, or the youth of this country has forgotten, the obligation which we owe to our parents and to the older generation. That is a natural result of the Welfare State, but surely it is not beyond the realms of possibility to expect that members of the younger generation, who are now relieved of paying direct for their parents' pension, should be expected to pay perhaps a little more through their contributions. It would make them realise that they were contributing to some extent, or to some appreciable extent, to the 1692 pension which their parents were enjoying.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth) made the point that there were two reasons for raising pensions. Either the cost of living had risen, or—which I think is more important—we wished to see that pensioners enjoyed the increasingly higher standard of living which younger people enjoyed.
I do not think that there can be much dispute that the cost of living has risen to some extent in the last ten years, but I do not consider that that absolves us, as a party, or as a country, from doing everything possible to raise pensions so that old people can enjoy their share of the prosperity which we all agree they deserve.
The hon. Member for St. Helens mentioned prescription charges. That is one small way in which we could bring immediate help to the pensioner. It was pointed out that in many cases it caused hardship to the pensioner to have to reclaim the money. To a large extent that is possibly the fault of my profession. If an old-age pensioner comes to me for treatment I point out that he can claim a refund of the money. It is possibly more the duty of the doctor than the chemist to point out to his patient that this can be done. One has that obligation towards one's patient, but in the case of a patient who needs continued treatment, and a number of drugs, say, two or three times a week, surely it would not be beyond the bounds of possibility to give him a card or a ticket which would enable him to go to the chemist and get his prescription without paying the 1s. The money could be recouped from the Treasury. I hope that my right hon. Friend will consider that suggestion.
It is extremely difficult to balance a state in which we wish to encourage people to save and, at the same time, have a means test whereby they qualify for supplementary pension, but I think that it would be quite wrong at the moment to raise the basic pension. Hon. Members do not need to wait for letters, they know very well that in their own divisions there are many pensioners who do not need an increase at all. I do not wish to cite the example of generals and high officers of State who enjoy pensions, but many people have quite enough to live on without their pension. 1693 It is, therefore, entirely wrong as a matter of principle to raise the basic rate.
We want to ensure that the really poor person who finds it difficult to manage has an adequate amount on which to live, and the only way to ensure that is through National Assistance in the form of supplementary pension. Here I support the hon. Member for Abertillery in saying that it is absolutely essential that not only hon. Members but everybody appreciates that the taking of that extra pension is not charity.
It comes from the same fund, it is part and parcel of our social services, and it is the job of hon. Members, and others, to explain that to those who need it. The National Assistance officials have done and are doing a wonderful job, but, as time goes on, I should like to see a little more latitude shown, so that the amount of capital that a person in receipt of a supplementary pension is allowed to hold might be increased. That would be an incentive to saving, and would not cost the economy very much.
Our task in this House is, first, to make sure that a time has come when we can economically afford to implement these proposals. It is absolutely useless to do so if we cannot hold the cost of living steady, and one of the greatest services the Government have done has been to hold it steady. The second duty is to turn to the immediate needs of those who have to subsist on a very low income, and the best way of helping them is to increase the supplementary pension. Then, when we have done that, we should look at the whole question of whether or not to increase the basic pension. Before anything else, however, we should turn our attention to the immediate needs of the really poor people, and I would ask my right hon. Friend to look at the problem in that light.
Third, last, and possibly most important of all, our duty is to make sure that everybody realises that the taking of a supplementary pension is not charity. It is theirs of right. It is the duty of the State to ensure that they have sufficient to live on, and it is up to us, both here and in the country, to make that perfectly plain to all, without exception, who are drawing or who need that pension.
§ 1.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)
I support the Motion because I am completely and absolutely convinced that there is hardly any section of our society that more deserves the consideration inherent in the terms of the Motion than those of whom we are speaking. I am in very good company in saying so because, prior to the last General Election, the Prime Minister thought similarly. On behalf of the Conservative Party, he stated that he would see that the old-age pensioners had their share of our increased wealth.
I want to deal at some length with the country's increased prosperity. First, since January, 1958, the official index of industrial production shows that average monthly production in all industries has risen by 15 per cent. Figures of profits published in the Financial Times of 16th May, 1960, reveal that the level of ordinary dividends of 855 public companies has increased by 29 per cent. on the previous year. The trading profits of companies reporting in 1960 show the following increases: wool textiles, 71 per cent.; household goods, 36 per cent.; finance and land property, 35 per cent.; miscellaneous textiles, 39 per cent.; chemicals, 30 per cent; and catering, 21 per cent.
Share prices are another powerful indication of our rising prosperity, and the Financial Times index of share prices shows that from just prior to the last General Election to mid-March—just before the Budget—the prices of industrial shares rose as follows: building materials, by 30 per cent.; chemicals, 32 per cent.; engineering, 23 per cent.; motors, 30 per cent.; plastics, 54 per cent.; radio and television, 25 per cent.; textiles, 27 per cent.; and steel by as much as 87 per cent.
Although it might be true to say that since the latest tightening-up measures of the Chancellor there has been a slight fall in share prices, it has only been slight, and there is now an upward movement once more. The gross domestic product since the last pensions increase in January, 1958, has increased by 14 per cent., or, in terms of money, £671 million. Taken together, those figures leave little doubt about the increase in the nation's prosperity.
1695 Since the promise I have mentioned was made by the present Prime Minister in October, 1959, 3,869,000 workers have received wage increases which total £1,112 million. In the engineering industry 3¾ million workers have received, without loss of earnings, cuts of about 6,730,000 in their working hours. We know that the doctors are to receive an increase of £5 a week, with retrospective payment amounting to about £40 million. Bearing all that in mind, it is absolutely true to say that the increase in the national prosperity referred to by the Prime Minister has taken place.
On the other hand, the number of old-age and retirement pensioners on National Assistance has increased from 1,027,000 in March, 1958, to 1,131,000 in March, 1960, an increase of over 10 per cent., which seems to indicate that their standards are going down. Hon. Member opposite are constantly taking refuge in the fact that these people can seek their proper subsistence by going to the National Assistance Board.
I join with all hon. Members who have expressed their admiration of the way in which the officers of the National Assistance Board work. Many hon. Members have quoted experiences of other people. I have no need to quote second-hand experiences, because I have first-hand experience of being visited by these people and having my income, my home and my whole circumstances examined in this thoroughly humiliating fashion.
I believe that I have told the House before that I was unemployed in the 1930s. When I had exhausted what is termed the "statutory benefit" I was visited by the National Assistance Board officers. I suggest most strongly that if any hon. Members opposite had had the experiences which I had during that time, and which are precisely the experiences of old-age pensioners today, they would not be nearly so ready to recommend that procedure as a means of their securing proper subsistence.
§ Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)
I do not think that all of us recommend National Assistance as it stands today. A great many hon. Members have asked whether the Minister could not find some other way of combining National Assistance with the retirement pension. I 1696 think that that has been mentioned two or three times from these benches. I mentioned it twice myself.
§ Mr. Jones
That is a personal opinion. I believe that I am speaking truly when I say that hon. Member after hon. Member opposite has stated that it would not be wise to give all-round increases because some of the pensioners, apparently for other reasons, are reasonably well off, and that when pensioners are in trouble they should go to the National Assistance Board. From my own experience I repeat that it is a thoroughly humiliating experience. I am sure that hon. Members opposite who recommend that procedure would very definitely not do so if these experiences were their own.
§ Mr. Prior
The hon. Gentleman is talking of twenty or thirty years ago. There is no doubt that National Assistance Board officers now adopt a very humane approach to the whole problem. One meets with it every day in one's constituency when one puts an Assistance Board officer in touch with someone who needs assistance. Very often one receives letters straight away saying how grateful the people in question are for the kind and pleasant manner in which these officers have tried to deal with their problems.
§ Mr. Jones
I do not object to that observation. It is probably quite true, but one must keep in mind the fact that the people employed by the National Assistance Board are circumscribed. They cannot go beyond a certain point and they must determine the need of the people concerned, a process which I referred to as a humiliating experience. The hon. Gentleman would only realise that if he himself had had personal experience of it.
Hon. Members opposite are prone to make the observation that what the Tory Government have done is apparently so much better than what the Labour Government did when they were in office. Better minds than mine have said that comparisons are odious. This comparison, I think, is more odious than any other. It is true to say, in the words of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill), who was present earlier today, that in the period 1945–51 we were a bankrupt nation. But I suggest with all earnestness that to com- 1697 pare what can be done by a bankrupt nation with what can be done by a so-called affluent society is an odious comparison.
The Minister of Transport made the self-same observation this week. It seems that every time a Minister is embarrassed by the weakness of his own case he takes refuge in that palpably asinine observation. I go back to what the present Prime Minister said just before the General Election. None can dispute that that observation was made, and, similarly, none can dispute the figures which I have given showing the increased prosperity of the country.
As a consequence, I feel that one of two things should happen—either the Government should give these very decent people a proper standard of living in terms of the prosperity of the nation, or the Prime Minister should have the honesty to withdraw his statement as being political sophistry.
§ 2.6 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Tiley (Bradford, West)
I am glad to follow the hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. D. Jones) on this important subject. I wish, first, to clear up two points which the hon. Gentleman made, because until he began his speech this was a notable occasion. The House was settling down to discuss pensions without passion. I do not intend, I hope, to arouse passions on this subject, because it is so very rare that we discuss pensions in this manner.
§ Mr. D. Jones
The reason why I introduced passion into my speech was that I spoke from personal experience, and nothing is quite so salutary as that.
§ Mr. Tiley
I would say to the hon. Gentleman that I have never been on safari, I have never fished, except for tiddlers, and I have never been shooting or hunting. I should never be regarded as a member of the Establishment, if there be one. Indeed, if there be one it was wrong when it advised Canute and it has been wrong ever since.
If the hon. Gentleman is asserting—I hope that he is not—that on the benches opposite there are hon. Members better able to discuss this problem than there are on this side of the House, then he is quite wrong. All those who come from the industrial communities 1698 of the country have experience of living through those very years which the hon. Gentleman was enumerating.
The hon. Gentleman gave many instances of profits being made in increasing proportion during the last few years. He mentioned textiles. I would point out to him that when the factories of Bradford were not making profits— and there was a time when for many years they did not—the fathers of my friends and my father were all on the dole. If we want pension schemes and the Welfare State we must not jeer at profits.
§ Mr. Tiley
I accept that.
I now come to the next point made by the hon. Gentleman. We must discuss it patiently. He said that during the last few months there has been a huge increase—I think he put it at 10 per cent.— in the number of retirement pensioners receiving National Assistance benefit. That is true, and it is obviously due to the Government's legislation last year when, for the first time in the field of pensions, my right hon. Friend introduced an increase, a solid increase, without reference to the cost of living.
Because that increase was given—it is an unfortunate phrase—we are not giving the National Assistance pensioners anything. They are seeking their reward. I apologise for using the word. We give them nothing. In increasing the National Assistance grants my right hon. Friend removed some of the disregards and also, at the same time, increased the personal capital which a person could have before he could claim assistance. So we must of necessity see an increase in the figures.
Another point which I want to make in all seriousness to the House is this. No matter what Government may be in power there will be a need for the National Assistance Board to deal with pensions for almost the rest of this century. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not necessarily."] I hope to give one solid illustration of that later in my speech. I should have thought that both sides of the House recognised, from the long 1699 discussions which have taken place here on national superannuation and on the Government's White Paper and the Bill for a graduated pensions scheme, that we were all aware, and we have impressed this upon the country, that we only get adequate pensions after we have worked and saved for the whole of our lives. That being so, whatever the Government in power, they have a leeway of thirty to forty years to make up. At long last the country is coming round to accept that.
Pensions schemes are on the increase privately and through the medium of the graduated pension scheme, which will come into operation next year. Therefore, we must of necessity accept the fact that the National Assistance Board is with us and will be with us for some services for ever. Apart from pension rights and pensions needs, I cannot visualise that there will be a period when there will not be the necessity for the Board, to deal not with political or economic problems, but with social problems. For the remainder of this century it will be necessary to deal with pensions. There is no way out of that difficulty. The sooner, therefore, all of us give up criticising in any way—and I am glad to say that has not been done today—the people who receive their pensions through that Board, the better. It is imperative that that thought should be in our minds.
At the beginning of my speech I should have declared my interest in the matter of pensions. I have done it often before because, as the House is aware, I engage in insurance work. I ought to say that normally on Fridays, at 2.15, when I am discussing pensions schemes, I do so for private profit. I will be quite frank about that. I am glad to be here today, on a "busman's holiday", to give the benefit of my researches to the House.
§ Mr. George Lawson (Motherwell)
The hon. Member must in consequence be very pleased that the Government's own graduated superannuation scheme offers no competition whatsoever with his private insurance schemes.
§ Mr. Tiley
The hon. Gentleman will be glad to know that I wish that I had nothing else to do for the rest of my life but compete in the open market with 1700 the Socialists' national superannuation. I will later give an example of that, because it is incidental to the point which I wish to make.
We are grateful on this side of the House to the hon. Gentleman the Member for St. Helens for introducing this important topic. I am not surprised to hear that my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth) was a little annoyed at appearing on television in person without getting a fat fee.
There are 5½ million retirement pensioners, 10 per cent. of our population, and if we give up one day in ten to discussing pensions we are doing no more than is right. We spent hours last week learning how the old Etonians, instead of winning the battles of the country on the playing fields, are now winning them in card schools. If we can afford the time to discuss that, we have the right to thank the hon. Member for St. Helens for introducing this topic today.
Of course, it is important to the Government—it has been important to the Government for the last two years— that this subject should have been discussed so much. I am not going into the past, because all this has all been done before, but it has given the country the opportunity of considering the records of the political parties. I do not think that the Opposition, last October, as a bribe, were promising the pensioners 10s. more than we would give. I will not accept that. I honestly believe that hon. Members opposite, just as we on this side of the House, wish to see the pensioners getting the maximum which the country can afford consistent with the stability of our economy and full employment. The fact that this subject has been discussed so often has established in the minds of those who cast their votes the difference between its treatment by the parties in the past and their ability to pay pensions. That in no small way was reflected in the General Election results and, indeed, in the council election results last week.
The Government have been able, through the debates that have taken place, to establish that they have not only a duty to the retired, but to the young, to our infant population, to all those who are being educated, and also to that vast army of workers who are 1701 bearing the brunt of the aged on their shoulders and of those who are being educated. That position has been accepted in the country.
Another reason that the debates have been successful is that the knowledge— and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) knows it— which has been engendered in these discussions has made popular the idea of pensions, and more and more schemes are being introduced. Last Wednesday, hon. Members on both sides of the House gathered in the Chamber to welcome a Bill which brought in a scheme of pensions for 70,000 dockers and we on this side were just as happy to welcome that scheme as hon. Members opposite. I cannot understand why, three or four days later, it should be thought that those of us on these benches are turning aside from pensions. Our interest in this matter is the equal of that of hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Tiley
I will tell the hon. Gentleman why I shall not support the Motion.
In the first place, I do not agree that a large number of the people now in retirement are suffering severe hardship. I agree that there is hardship, but there is not severe hardship for a large number. The number of old-age pensioners is growing because they are living longer and leading healthier lives in their last years. More than that, they are leading fuller lives. We all see our older people, month after month, taking a fuller share in the running of the community. More and more they are being brought into things because of the work and propaganda which is going on. They are to be found helping to run churches, Sunday schools and Socialist and Conservative clubs—and they would run Liberal clubs, too, if there were any. They may be seen organising cricket leagues and football leagues and the veterans' clubs; they are valiant, vigorous and vociferous.
They are not living in squalor and misery, and if they were it would be a dreadful condemnation, criticism and indictment of those of my generation, the fifty-year-olds. I know that I do not look as old as that; it is because of the lovely Yorkshire air which I breathe. 1702 The hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) will be able to confirm that next week, because I believe that he is to pay a visit to my city. I hope that he will enjoy his stay.
§ Mr. Tiley
If it were true that our old people live neglected, miserable, lonely lives, and if they were living in squalor, my generation would be to blame. Our parents brought us up in days of difficulty during two wars, and during the dole period in the 1930s, without children's allowances, and if we did not do something for them we should be usurping all that they have prepared for us without looking after their interests at all. I do not believe that the children of my generation are neglecting their parents. If it were so, we should deserve all the criticism which some old folks are so apt to make.
The fact that our homes are nicer and our lives are fuller is some return for the blessings we enjoy because of the effort of our parents. It is important that they should receive help from our generation because they have suffered so much. I remember receiving a letter from a constituent who said that she did not wish to be assisted by her own children. I suggested to her that it was better that she should be helped by her own children rather than by the children of Tom, Dick and Harry. There are many old folk who do not wish to be a burden on their own children, but it is better that the responsibility for them should be borne by their own children and it is my experience that the children accept that responsibility.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke was right to mention inflation. I have seen examples of the result of inflation in connection with my own work. In the world of insurance there is nothing worse than inflation for people who have been saving for twenty-five, thirty or even forty years to achieve a certain objective. They may have made sacrifices to do so, perhaps they have put off buying a car or saved in other ways throughout the whole of their lives. Then, when their endowment matures, they receive a miserable effigy of the £s which they set out to save. It is right that my hon. Friend 1703 should have made the point about inflation and its evil effect on the home and upon those who save.
§ Mr. D. Jones
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that share prices are a better indication of the inflation he fears than the pittance for which we are asking in connection with pensions?
§ Mr. Lawson
Can the hon. Member tell us which industrial countries in the world have suffered from inflation during the past year? Does he suggest that the policy of his right hon. Friend the Chancellor has obliterated inflation in this country?
§ Mr. Tiley
The hon. Member and many of his hon. Friends who represent Scottish constituencies rightly assail Ministers on the question of unemployment figures in Scotland. But during the last two years, with a steady economy and correct balance of payments, with purchasing power remaining steady, and with the solidity of the £. assured at home and abroad, we have suffered less from unemployment than any other part of the industrialised world.
§ Mr. Tiley
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not continue to attempt to interrupt me. It is nearly half-past-two and I am anxious to make other important points before I sit down. The hon. Member knows that normally I do not mind interventions. We have known each other for five years and it will probably be another thirty years before we see the end of each other. As a matter of fact, I cannot become a member of a pension scheme so, therefore, I shall never get to retirement.
There is one word in the Motion which troubles me. Reference is made to a "substantial" increase in old-age pensions. What is meant by the word "substantial"? Does it mean an increase of 5s., 10s., £1 or £2? I know that if I say to my youngster. "Take a sub- 1704 stantial bash at the garden" his idea of what is substantial will prove different from mine—
§ Mr. Tiley
It is important that the amount of the pension we wish to see should be considered. During the last General Election the first question which I was asked at the first meeting which I held in my constituency was put by a pensioner. He asked me to say, "Yes" or "No"—with no messing about— whether I was in favour of a pension of £4 a week each for a husband and wife, a total of £8. I should say that would be a substantial increase, and I was able to say that I was not in favour of it because I knew that it would cost £1,000 million and 6s. 3d. extra a week in contributions from both employer and employed.
I wish to quote an example of a substantial pension which I have taken from "National Superannuation", the Socialist handbook on national pensions. I am not proposing to be rude about the scheme outlined in "National Superannuation", because it has done so much to educate the people of our country in the matter of pensions. On page 77, there is an illustration of what would be a substantial pension. It states:D starts employment at 15 in 1960. For the next fifty years his earnings average £12 a week.That is a point which might be noted by the hon. Member for Burnley; there is to be fifty years of saving. What is to happen during that fifty years? That is why the National Assistance Board is required.At age 65 he would be eligible for a pension of £7. i.e. 58 per cent. of average earnings.I should say that a £7 pension on £12 a week would be a substantial pension, and would come within the scope of the Motion.
Let us examine the cost of that pension. I do not do this to be unfair, but because this is a point which we must consider. The contribution towards the pension is 10 per cent. of £12 and is made throughout the whole of the man's working life, from age 15 to 65— a period of fifty years. At £1 4s. per week—10 per cent. of £12—it would amount to £62 8s. a year. I take the 1705 same portion of payments made, 10 per cent. for a lifetime, from age 20 for forty-five years. I assume that there will not be many youngsters of 15 getting £12 a week. The total paid in on behalf of the worker over those forty-five years is £2,808, but what about all the interest in those forty-five years?
If he had put £62 a year for forty-five years into a building society, at 3¾ per cent. free of tax, it would mean that at age 65 the contributor would have in his own name, not a pension of £7 a week until he dies—which may be next week, next month or next year— but £7,254. The whole of the man's savings channelled into national superannuation for forty-five years at £1 4s. a week throughout that time by a Socialist Government method would produce £7 a week until he dies, but, if he did it privately, as many thousands are able to do, it would accumulate a family inheritance of £7,254.
I ask hon. Members on both sides of the House to ponder this. Is it right to deduct such huge amounts compulsorily from our working population, with the effect that has on prices and on our economy as a whole, for the purpose of dealing with a few pensioners who are not able, and have never had the chance, to save for their old age? I believe that it would be wrong for that to take place, because of the miserable result achieved at 65.
The Prime Minister's pledge has been referred to during the debate. Strangely enough, it is not often that a politician makes a statement on television and is believed, but the whole country accepted my right hon. Friend's promise and his pledge to the pensioners, not just a few of them.
§ Mr. Tiley
I hope that at that time we shall make it clear that in future Government policy will place emphasis where it is most needed. I have shown that the National Assistance Board will be required for the next thirty or forty years. At the end of that time, personal 1706 savings, graduated pensions and private schemes will remove the need for the Board in the matter of pensions, but it would be a monstrous policy to provide substantial increases to those who do not need pensions at all. That would bring great harm to our economy.
I have the utmost faith in this Government to fulfil their pledge and I have the utmost faith in the present Minister of Pensions and National Insurance to see that we do the right thing by those whom we honour in this debate today.
§ 2.33 p.m.
§ Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)
I propose to try to practise what I preach. On the occasion of Private Members' Motions taken on Fridays, I believe that the House would get far greater profit from short speeches, which would give more opportunities for other hon. Members to express views on behalf of their constituents, than from long-winded speeches such as those to which we have listened today. Some lasted for 44, 43 and 37 minutes each. I think that is unfair to many hon. Members who want to make their contributions.
Mr. Speaker, I thank you for sparing me the duty of having to follow after the speech of the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth), because if I have ever heard a positively nauseating repetition of so-called economics in this regard it was the speech we heard from that hon. Member today. It seemed that human beings counted for very little. Old-age pensioners were merely ciphers related to £ s. d. in the terms of a banker, a financier or accountant. I was very glad that I did not have to follow the hon. Member, because I fear I should have said something which I would have regretted when I cooled off, as I subsequently did, when I went to the Dining Room for a short time.
We have one purpose in view today in bringing this matter before the House. When I go round the country to speak to people, I am often told that there is now very little difference between us as political parties or Members of Parliament. Of course, it has to be admitted that the wide gulf of violent political disagreement which used to be found between parties has certainly narrowed 1707 in the last ten or fifteen years. There are two very good reasons why that gulf has narrowed in that period. The first reason is that the new generation of younger Tories in the Conservative Party are there only because it happens to be the most promising bandwagon on which to be riding at present. Many of the younger elements of the Tory Party whom we see here today are really Liberals, or Right-wing Socialists at heart. That is why we do not disagree with them to as great an extent as we used to disagree with members of the Conservative Party.
We members of the Labour Party in Opposition in this House ought to feel rather proud of our politics and our propaganda because we have penetrated so deeply into the hearts of some of those stony-hearted people we have been facing across the Floor of the House.
§ Mr. Prior rose—
§ Mr. Wilkins
I shall not give way because, as I said, I intend to speak for only a few minutes. Hon. Members opposite as a party have accepted Acts of nationalisation. They have accepted nationalisation of the mines and not attempted to denationalise them, perhaps because they know that none of their pals would buy the mines. They have done the same over the nationalisation of the railways and have accepted nationalisation of gas and electricity undertakings.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member's short speech, I think, had better be confined to something more relevant to the debate.
§ Mr. Wilkins
I am sure you will be glad to know, Mr. Speaker, that I have only another four lines of my speech to make to show the relevance between what I had said and the proposal I am trying to make to the House. I was saying that hon. and right hon. Members opposite had swallowed such large doses of Socialism during the last ten years that it would not hurt them very much to swallow just one more dose, and also, perhaps, to swallow some of their own political pride in the process.
All we are asking hon. and right hon. Members opposite to do this afternoon is to accept the proposal which has 1708 appeared in our policy documents and our party policy programme since 1951, nine years ago. It is true that it was within the last five years that we suggested an increase in the basic pension of 10s. My opinion is that, in the light of present-day needs, and the alleged prosperity of which we are constantly reminded by hon. Members opposite, that figure is now an unreal one. I said at the General Election that I was glad the party did not at that stage say that we thought the pension ought to be doubled. Then hon. Members opposite could have accused us of trying to bribe the electorate, but they accused us of that anyway.
Now, Mr. Speaker, I have to look at the clock. What I am concerned about is that there is an absolutely cast-iron case for relating the pension we pay to old people to an index which takes into account as its measure the cost of living and the cost of essentials for old people. We should tie the pension to that index. I refuse to accept that this is impossible. There are numerous industries in the country in which, in the terms of various agreements made, there are arrangements to take into account any increases in the cost of living. "Cost of living bonus" is the phrase used. In my own industry this operates every six months at the rate of 1s. for each point. The hon. Member for Basingstoke showed that there had been a two-point increase in the cost of living since 1957. In my industry that would have meant an increase, calculated each six months, of 2s.
§ Mr. Denzil Freeth rose—
§ Mr. Wilkins
I do not intend to give way. Had I been making a full-length speech, I would have given way.
Surely it ought to be possible to make an arrangement for our old-age pensioners whereby they have an automatic increase in their pensions whenever the cost of living rises by one point. I will tell the Minister how he can do it and then sit down.
I know that the difficulty today is that an amount is stamped on the pension voucher. When the pension book reaches a pensioner it states, "This voucher is worth so many shillings." If, in future, we omit the figure of the sum of money from the pension book, it will be possible for the Ministry, on 1709 1st January and 1st July each year, to make an announcement that the voucher, for example, from 1st July to 31st December will be worth a certain sum. The Post Office would know what it was required to pay. There would be no difficulty in varying the value of the pension in accordance with the cost of living.
I should like to say much more, but I am grateful for having caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, and with those few remarks I sit down.
§ 2.42 p.m.
§ The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
Unlike many of the previous debates which we have had on this subject in recent months, this debate arises on a private Members' day and a Private Member's Motion. I am, therefore, exempted from the duty which has fallen upon me on those previous occasions of trying to wind up the debate, and I will seek to model my speech on the example which, at the beginning of his speech, the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) set himself —despite severe temptations—and to take as little time as I can.
In intervening for a few moments to express a view from the Front Bench on the choice before the House between the Motion and the Amendment, I want to take this opportunity to join in the congratulations which have been so rightly conferred on the hon. Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern) on his very impressive maiden speech. As one who had the privilege of seeing him in his capacity as the head of his great city, performing his multifarious duties with dignity and impressiveness, I was particularly glad to be in the House to hear his speech. As one of my hon. Friends remarked, he did not even need to rebut the charge that he was inarticulate. I much admired, as I am sure did the House, the skill with which he, accepting the principle that maiden speeches are non-controversial, applied to that principle the doctrine which another civic head once applied to the doctrine of impartiality—steering between partiality on the one hand and impartiality on the other. If I may, I will come back to the hon. Member for Shettleston, because there is a point in his speech with which I should like to deal when I deal with one or two 1710 other points which have been raised in the debate.
The first question to which I should address myself, however, is the choice between the Motion and the Amendment. The hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) no longer appears to be in his place in the Chamber. I beg his pardon. He is in the Chamber, but I see that he has moved his place significantly to his left. I do not know what deduction to draw from that. He was rather indignant with my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) when, at the beginning of his speech, he was challenged by my hon. Friend about the terminology of the Motion. I thought that my hon. Friend was on a fair point. The term "old-age pension" is used in the Motion, although the hon. Member's speech and those of hon. Members who support the Motion have made it clear that they are thinking about the retirement pension; and in point of fact, these are quite different things. Under the residuary provisions of the 1946 Act there still exists the non-contributory old-age pensioner, who is the true old-age pensioner. There are also the supplementary pensions paid by the National Assistance Board.
Without wanting to put too much weight on this point, the House is entitled, when asked to register its opinion on a matter of major importance, to be able to register it on the basis of an accurate description of the people whom it is intended to benefit.
There is, perhaps, a little more in this point than mere phraseology. Various organistions which exist to further, as they think, the interests of retirement pensioners use the phrase "old-age pensions". That is a somewhat evocative phrase, and perhaps that is why it is used. It goes back to the day when the old-age pensioner, because of the income limits of eligibility for contribution, in fact represented, and represented only, the poorer sections of the community; but, as one of my hon. Friends so very well said, today we are concerned in the debate with the retirement pensioner, who is indeed a major element in our social service problem, and he comes from every section of the community, rich and poor alike. Retirement pensioners are—like any other age group—a complete cross-section of our 1711 complex and variegated society. I am therefore bound to say that in the controversy between the hon. Member for St. Helens and my toon. Friend the Member for Ilford, North, I found myself on my hon. Friend's side. [HON. MEMBERS: "Loyalty."] Apparently, in other matters, that loyalty and conformity does not exist on the Labour Party benches.
§ Mr. Charles Loughlin (Gloucestershire, West)
The right hon. Gentleman should ask his hon. Friend the Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro).
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The Motion relates the argument to hardship and suggests that the way of dealing with hardship is to adopt the Motion. In truth and in fact, as my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth) pointed out, if we were to accept what is advocated here, reading "retirement pension" for "old-age pension", the poorest sections of our elderly population, those receiving substantial supplements from the National Assistance Board, would not be a penny better off. Those who would be better off undoubtedly would be the section of the pensioners above National Assistance standards. Although there are many social arguments of great importance and respectability for compulsorily transferring a certain amount of purchasing power from the working generation to those who have retired from work— these are arguments to which I shall not refer at length and which lie behind the thoughts and policies of the Conservative Party—the fact remains, and the point which I want to stress to the House is, that the reason given in the Motion, the alleviation of "severe hardship", is misconceived on this Motion, though it would perhaps be a perfectly respectable argument if the proposal were, as it is not, that the National Assistance scales should be increased.
This is illustrated—and I think this may well help the House—by the fact that when, last September, my right hon. Friends and I brought forward proposals to increase the National Assistance scales, by that method we secured an improvement in the standards of life of the poorest sections of the population. I therefore hope that when we debate the Motion, which I have no doubt 1712 reflects the considered view at any rate of hon. Members associated with it, we will appreciate that the argument of severe hardship is neither appropriate nor effective for this Motion, and yet it is the argument which is embodied in it.
Therefore, the point of view and the attitude embodied in my hon. Friend's Amendment is not only more consistent with the facts, but is the more sensible approach to what both sides of the House accept is the major social problem of our time.
I should like now to say a few words about the pledge to which the hon. Member for St. Helens referred. There is a word in it which I think has been under-emphasised. The pledge is that we shall ensure thatpensioners continue to share in the good things which a steadily expanding economy will bring".The words "continue to share" are important, because that is what under Conservative Governments the pensioner has already done.
I am glad to see the right hon. Member for Middlesbrough, East (Mr. Marquand) in his place. I have found from previous debates that any reference in this context to the years 1946 to 1951 produces a certain nervous hypertension on the Front Bench opposite. I will, therefore, take care of the nervous system of the right hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends and start for this purpose, when dealing with our care of the pensioner and our record, as the Amendment refers to it, with October, 1951.
From October, 1951, to the latest figures we have, the earnings of men in industry have risen 63 per cent. and of women 56 per cent. The single rate of pension is up 67 per cent.—somewhat more. Taking the other possible comparison, namely, the gross national product, over the same period it is up 62 per cent. in comparison with the pension increase of 67 per cent. Taking, as I must because of the emphasis in the debate on severe hardship, the provision made for the poorest section of our older fellow citizens, namely, those on National Assistance, the increase is again 67 per cent. That is again more than the increase in the gross national product. Therefore, we can say that it is a question of continuing to share in the increasing national prosperity.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The measure of the share of the poorer section of the community has been under-stated.
When I mentioned the 67 per cent. increase in National Assistance, I was referring to the scale rates, but the House knows that, because of the wise and humane policy adopted by the National Assistance Board, discretionary additions over and above the assistance scale rates have been made in a steadily increasing proportion of cases in which retirement pensions to elderly people are supplemented by the Board. The latest figure shows that, over and above the scale rates, 63 per cent. of the supplements to retirement pension have a discretionary addition on top of them. That is why I said that, if anything, a mere comparison of scale rates understates the case.
I think that I am entitled on the Motion to point out that this is not only a question of pension scales and rates, though that is important. It is a question also of the whole provisions of our social services. There are, indeed, the reductions in taxation which have been made in respect of elderly people with modest incomes. In this respect, I must remind the House of one figure. I refer to a married couple. They are not the poorest. They are not the ones I have been referring to who have been helped by the improvements in National Assistance rates, but they are not people of vast wealth. A couple with £8 10s. a week between them in 1951 under right hon. Gentlemen opposite paid about £38 a year in Income Tax. Today they do not pay a penny. There is also the provision of housing, and the increased emphasis, in public authority housing, on accommodation for elderly people.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
We all know from our own constituency experience that sometimes one of the most difficult problems with which we are faced is trying to find suitable accommodation for an elderly person. In that connection I am glad to be able to remind the House that, whereas some 11,000 dwellings for elderly people were provided in 1951, nearly 22,000 were provided last year.
1714 The House knows also of the great developments in welfare, meals on wheels, and the increased number of geriatric departments in public authority hospitals, of which there are now 70. These are all part and parcel of the situation. They, as well as pension scales, are important in the general doctrine with which the House is concerned as to whether or not public policy has produced severe hardship upon pensioners.
Hon. Members who have studied the Report of the Phillips Committee know that changes in rates of National Insurance benefits—pensions and others —are a serious and major matter. They involve in a contributory scheme increases also in contributions. I note that the Motion as it stands does not mention contributions. It takes the no doubt politically easy and attractive line of referring to benefits without referring to the fact that in a serious insurance scheme increases in benefits have to be matched by increases in contributions.
The House knows that any Government—the same principle applies whichever party is in power—in considering when and to what extent to make changes, must look at the picture as a whole. They must decide what the level of contributions should be and the right time to change them. The Phillips Committee sets this out with great force. They have to look at the whole body of circumstances, economic and social, which must determine one's judgment in decisions of this sort.
The Motion does not seem to appreciate those things. It does not seem to appreciate the problems which must affect any Government in general, and any Minister of National Insurance in particular, in deciding the right time for these changes to be made, and what is the right amount.
I want to make it quite clear that what I have said is a perfectly firm indication that we stand in full by the pledge which my right hon. Friends and I gave. We claim, as indeed the Amendment claims, that a pledge of that sort, given by a Government with a record of this sort in these matters, is something which the House will want to take seriously.
1715 I will now say a few words about one of two of the speeches. The hon. Member for Bristol, South advocated what his right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) rejected when in office, namely a pension rate moving in accordance with either prices or earnings. The hon. Gentleman overlooked the fact that a pension rate attached to the cost of living was a feature of certain pensions before the war. It worked so badly that it had to be abandoned. That was the example which the right hon. Member for Llanelly quoted at this Box in 1946 when he rejected that proposal.
The hon. Gentleman for Bristol, South overlooked another difficulty. I am sorry to have to return to it, but it is fundamental to an insurance scheme that, if the benefits are to be altered, the contributions must be altered. Would it be acceptable to alter the contributions perhaps every four weeks if the Index of Retail Prices became unstable? I do not believe that it would.
The hon. Member for St. Helens did a very neat bit of work with figures. I was impressed by it. He first took the figure for the increased value of the pension over 1946 in terms of 1946 prices, and not in terms of 1960 prices. He will know that in terms of 1960 prices the figure is about 6s. He then proceeded to subtract from that figure the 1957 value of the tobacco voucher. He obtained a result which, while highly attractive to himself, he will appreciate when he reflects upon what he said, if he studies the OFFICIAL REPORT, will not stand up to analysis.
Then the hon. Gentleman referred to the expanded expenditure in other directions, particularly help to the cotton industry. I am bound to say that when my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade took that step I thought the criticisms from the benches opposite were that he ought to have done more rather than less. Be that as it may, the hon. Gentleman did not appreciate the very great expansion in the amount of expenditure on pensions, rising from about £250 million in 1950–51 to £617 million in 1958–59. If the hon. Gentleman is going to put forward figures— [HON. MEMBERS: "What about contributions?"]—in respect of other expenditure and the suggestion that the pen- 1716 sioner is not getting a share of the national product, it is fair to note the very great expansion which the pensioner is getting.
Then the hon. Gentleman raised a question which, I thought, was answered by my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn), as to the position of those who require assistance from the Board to pay for a prescription charge, without having the ready money to pay for it. My hon. Friend is quite right. In such cases—there are not many of them—the Board can and does provide the necessary money in advance for payment of the prescription.
Now I come to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Shettleston whose admirable maiden speech I ventured to refer to a few moments ago when I began my own speech. The hon. Gentleman, in spite of the fact that it was a maiden speech, asked for no quarter and gave none. He said something which, I thought, rather reflected on my Department, and to which I should perhaps reply. As I understood the hon. Gentleman, he said that the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance did not draw the attention of pensioners to the fact that they might be eligible for assistance. That, if it were true, would be a very severe charge; but it is not true. The leaflet which goes to everybody on retirement has in very clear letters on the back a statement to this effect; and if that is missed, the pension book itself, the book which is in the possession of the pensioner the whole time, includes words which hon. Members who were in the last Parliament may remember my quoting at this Box as being more human and generally of a more civilised tone than the rather bleak formula which was in the book in previous years. I need not read them. The words are already in HANSARD. They are absolutely explicit in telling the pensioner that it is possible for him to apply for supplementation, and they indicate what the procedure is. As the hon. Gentleman, inadvertently, I am sure, said what he did, if it were not contradicted, then, in the judgment of all other hon. Members, quite impartially, it might reflect on the administration of my Department, and I thought I ought to make it clear.
§ Sir ML Galpern
May I just say to the right hon. Member that the information was supplied to me as recently as only yesterday by a leading official of the City of Glasgow? I am prepared to accept what the right hon. Member has said and to withdraw my statement in the House today.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman. I am only sorry that the hon. Gentleman was not in his place during the earlier part of my speech when I referred to his admirable maiden speech—
§ Hon. Members: He was here.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am very glad, for I referred to the hon. Gentleman's admirable speech, and we can resolve the matter by saying that the information is in the pension book, and the House may be amused to see that my ever cautious Department, in providing me with a copy, has heavily marked it "Sample".
§ Mr. Lawson
Would the right hon. Gentleman give a little information upon a related point? Is the same information given to the person who becomes unemployed and to the person who becomes sick?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Pamphlets are available for information, but, of course, there is not a regular book in the case of short-term benefits, and, therefore, the information cannot be conveyed in the shape of a book. There is, however, information in the form of leaflets in the offices of my Department in respect of sickness benefit, and the Minister of Labour, of course, gives information about unemployment benefit.
§ Mr. Lawson
Does the right hon. Gentleman know that there is an established practice not to pay National Assistance supplementation to workers who are unemployed till they have been out of work for at least three or four weeks?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
You took out of my mouth, Mr. Speaker, the response which I also in humility was about to 1718 make to the hon. Gentleman. It is an important point, but as Mr. Speaker has ruled it out as not arising upon this Motion about the retirement pension, I will leave it.
I must apologise to the hon. Member for Abertillery (The Rev. L1. Williams) for not having been on the bench when he made his very courteous reference to myself, for which I thank him.
The hon. Gentleman the Member for Burnley (Mr. D. Jones) was, I thought, really a little out of date in his reference to humiliation being involved in applying for National Assistance. He told the House, very movingly, that he was speaking from personal experience, but in the nature of things that personal experience was a good many years ago and under another form of assistance, public instead of National Assistance.
I would put it to the hon. Member and others who may express this view that none of us should do anything whatsoever which might possibly discourage people eligible for National Assistance from applying for it. Equally, I do not think it is fair to argue the case of hardship, as it is argued on this Motion, while excluding from consideration National Assistance, which is specifically designed for the relief of hardship.
My hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke referred to the efforts that we were making to break down the remaining psychological resistances to applying for National Assistance and he asked how they were going. My impression is that they have been considerably successful. They are to some extent reflected in the increased number of supplements being paid, to which reference has been made. The main cause of that, of course, was the increase in the assistance scales and in the disregards, to which my hon. Friend referred. But I am sure that the effect of the change of nomenclature on the book, and the whole attitude of the Board and, if I may say so, the attitude in general of hon. Members, has been to bring on to assistance a certain number of people who have always been eligible for it, but have been deterred by the feelings to which my hon. Friend referred. I beg the House not to do anything to halt that process.
The only remaining point is the question of the pensioners' diets to which reference has also been made. When my 1719 hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was answering Questions on 7th April he said that figures for the pensioner group in the food survey were not representative. That has been misunderstood, because what he had in mind was the fact that those figures are based on the diet and the consumption of that section of pensioners who are mainly dependent on pension or National Assistance. In other words, they are the poorer section. I am sure that it will be agreed that that is an indication of the value of the figures, because it is mainly on the poorer section that a careful watch requires to be kept.
The figures, as far as they go, are somewhat reassuring. The easiest way of judging how this works is to compare 1957, before the more recent change in pensions, with 1959. In 1957 the pensioners' weekly figure was 25s. 7d. and it went up to 28s. 2d., a rise of 2s. 7d. or 10 per cent., against a rise in food prices of 3 per cent. The all-households figure went up by 1s. 2d., from 28s. 1d. to 29s. 3d. Therefore, the pensioner figure, reflecting the increase in benefits, showed a greater proportionate increase than the all-household figure. It also showed a bigger increase in expenditure than could be matched by increases in the price of food, and this is an important point.
What is equally important is that when one analyses these things—and I have given a good deal of attention and care to the subject—one finds a change in the content of diet away from what the old Ministry of Food used to call "filler" articles to higher-grade articles of diet. Compared with 1952 the pensioners' consumption of meat is 26 per cent. higher, eggs 67 per cent. higher and fresh fruit 28 per cent. higher, whilst the consumption of potatoes—and this is significant—is down 20 per cent. and bread down by 24 per cent. This shows the shift in the nature of the diet.
There are interesting figures for butter and margarine. Margarine is now of so high a quality that the old psycho-logical feeling as between butter and margarine has diminished. But taking as the starting point 1954, when rationing ended, the pensioner's consumption of 1720 butter was then 4.43 ounces and of margarine 4.51 ounces. The latest figures for 1959 are butter 6.62 ounces and margarine 3.37 ounces.
I am not quoting these figures in any attempt to suggest that there are not great problems still ahead nor grave difficulties to be met with among a section of the pensioners. The House is, however, entitled to have the officially ascertained facts, which seem to support the view that, however much remains to be done, there has been a substantial improvement over the years.
I want to add only one thing more. The hon. Member for Bristol, South and his hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens tried to put together a picture of a hard-hearted Government grinding millions of their fellow citizens into deepest poverty and severest hardship. It was rather like one of those modernist pictures which try to express a bad idea in an incomprehensible idiom.
I suggest to hon. Members, all of whom are in this House because they have undergone election and have some experience of life, that if that were true in a humane and civilised society such as ours, not only would such a Government not be here, but it would have been rejected again and again. As the House knows, our fellow countrymen care a great deal about this matter and would not care for a Government that behaved as hon. Members opposite have tried to suggest this Government behaves. The people have, in fact, returned the Government with increasing majorities at three succeeding general elections. We have won a by-election as a Government in the last few months, and the English countryside and the English boroughs are littered with the remains of ex-Labour councillors.
I introduce this political note only to bring a little realism into the debate. If a fraction of what is alleged were true, our sensible electorate would not have expressed the definite preference that it has, and which it looks like continuing, for my right hon. and hon. Friends.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
The first thing I should like to do is to join in the congratulations which 1721 have been given to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern) on his powerful maiden speech. He had no need to apologise to the House for the delay in making his maiden speech when he came forward with such a tour de force as we heard from him this morning. My hon. Friend said that the nearest to a lord provost is a lord mayor in England, but he did not tell us which lord mayor in England comes nearest to the Lord Provost of Glasgow—
§ Mr. Houghton
—which shows, as the Minister says, that my hon. Friend has tact, as well as great force and sincerity when he speaks.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) on his success in the Ballot and in choosing this important subject for his Motion. [HON. MEMBERS: "Where is the hon. Member?"] Many of my hon. Friends envy him the opportunity that he has had, and which he has so ably taken this morning, in moving the Motion. His was the authentic voice of the great mass of the British people on this vast social problem. [HON. MEMBERS: " Where is he? "] His was a speech full of understanding of the problem, of deep sincerity and of affection and of sympathy with those on whose behalf he spoke.
After all the statistics and feelings have been expresed, all we need now is resolve, but the Minister has faltered yet again in giving that lead to the House. We read from the newspapers that he was summoned to the Cabinet a few days ago and we wondered what for. Certainly, he has not come to the House with any fresh message from the Government on this question. The right hon. Gentleman's presence throughout the debate is welcome—he is a zealous Minister and he has sat through it all— but he would make a better Minister of Pensions and National Insurance if he would reveal his heart more and display less his dialectical skill on matters affecting the hearts and lives of the old people.
The speech of the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth), moving the Amendment, was concocted by an actuary and an accountant, tidied up in 1722 Throgmorton Street, and blended and made insipid by his friends in Mincing Lane.
§ Mr. Denzil Freeth
I am not an accountant, I am not an actuary, and I cannot remember the other thing, but I am not it; and I do not work in Throgmorton Street. If one is talking about giving more to the pensioner, is it not a good thing to have not only resolve but some money with which to do it?
§ Mr. Houghton
What is more surprising still about the hon. Member for Basingstoke is that his name appears on an Amendment to the Motion by my hon. Friend referring to the continued sound management of the national economy, and yet earlier this week, in a debate on the Finance Bill, he had the courage to get up and criticise his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer for his "mismanagement of the economy". So the hon. Member has two voices, one when he is dealing with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the economists and another when he is dealing with old-age pensioners.
§ Mr. J. Eden rose—
§ Mr. Houghton
This is a private Members' day and we are all supposed to be on our best behaviour, and I think that it will conduce to the dignity of the House if I am allowed to continue without undue interruption.
As to the tedium of the statistics and the arid barrenness of the debates which take place about the minutiae of the budgets and mode of life of old-age pensioners, why do we have to go on repeating all this statistical evidence when it is plain that the retirement pension is inadequate and no one in his senses would say that it is?
The real issue before the House and the country is how much we should give in retirement pension as of right and how much according to need. I believe that some hon. Members opposite are further away from our point of view on this choice than the Minister is. Time after time references have been made to National Assistance. Every word of encouragement of people to go for National Assistance received the vocal approbation of a number of hon. Members opposite. I think that they must realise now that if a means test is to 1723 be acceptable it must be universal. That is the fundamental issue. At the moment, we have a mixture of pension as of right which is inadequate, fortified by National Assistance to make good the gap between the retirement pension and the barest human needs.
Despite all that we say about National Assistance, it is no good thinking that people will find it acceptable so long as those who have to have recourse to it are a minority and the poorest in the land, for they feel their position more keenly on that account. I do not by a single word deride the spendid work which the National Assistance Board is doing—I have the greatest admiration for the Board, its chairman and its staff— but this is a choice of social policy and we must face it frankly.
On these benches we are in favour of more as of right, without prejudice in any way to more for those in need, but I believe that the Government are shuffling on this question. They are not coming out plain and straight as to where they stand on more provision as of right. There is evidence to suggest that the Government are deliberately undermining the case for a higher retirement pension as of right by devices which they have adopted in recent times.
I believe that the Government want to put off the honouring of their pledge by relaxing the strain on a number of retirement pensioners through an easement of the earnings rule, by improved increments for staying on at work, by improving the disregards under National Assistance, and by extending the area of National Assistance. I believe that these are devices which are intended to lessen the strength of demand for an improvement in the basic pension. But the main issue remains, and the country will soon have to make up its mind on this matter. The national superannuation scheme does not in any way relieve the Government of their obligation to the present generation of retirement pensioners. There is nothing in the scheme which comes to the rescue in the immediate future.
§ Sir H. Studholme
By how much does the hon. Gentleman suggest that the basic pension should be increased, and how will it be financed? It would be interesting to hear that.
§ Mr. Houghton
The Minister has already poured scorn on the Motion because, he said, it does not define in amount what the word "substantial" means. He went on to say that it was loose in its phraseology because it did not refer to the retirement pensioners in technical terms of strict accuracy. But the Minister and the House know what the Motion asks for. There is no dubiety about that. If the hon. Member for Tavistock (Sir H. Studholme) says that he and his right hon and hon. Friends are prepared to back an increase in the basic retirement pension, then we will talk money with him.
§ Mr. Houghton
I am not dodging anything. We have had three debates on retirement pensions in recent times, and one Motion which we put down asked for an increase in the basic pension of 10s. a week. That was criticised because it would not have applied to everybody, or would not have given a married couple double the amount of a single person.
It does not matter what we do, the Minister's dialectical skill it brought to bear on any weakness in the terms of the Motion so that he can evade the main issue of giving a plain answer to a plain question, which is: are the Government in favour of raising the basic retirement pension? Is the answer "yes" or "no"? [HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] Or is the Minister's answer, " yes but not yet." If so, then how soon? What is his reply to that? When do the Government intend to honour their pledge? We have never been able to get out of the Minister any indication of when that time will come.
Whatever the criterion mentioned— wages, the cost of living, productivity or anything else—always the Minister has replied, not yet. Take all these criteria together and the answer is still, not yet. It is not decided on statistical evidence at all. He says that this must be a matter of judgment for the Government in the light of all the circumstances at the time. That is all that we can get out of the Minister.
Before I was interrupted, I was saying that there is nothing that the graduated scheme will do to help the 1725 present generation of retirement pensioners. It will be twenty years before the graduated pension scheme increases anybody's pension by as much as 20s. a week. This is a problem apart, and it must be dealt with as such.
We on these benches find the Minister's reply very disappointing. I cannot say that it was unexpected. We had a curtain-raiser for this debate when we discussed earlier this week the additional Tobacco Duty and its effect on old-age pensioners and we sought from the Chanceller of the Exchequer some mitigation of the additional burden upon them. We have drawn a complete blank this week on this great human problem.
The Minister cannot ride away with the comforting belief that the electorate necessarily endorses the Government's social policy. It is the duty of the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance to arouse and to keep alive the nation's conscience on matters of social policy. There is no doubt that this is a big moral issue which cannot be cast aside in the light terms which the right hon. Gentleman used this afternoon.
Has nothing happened since 1958 to justify giving the retirement pensioners a little bigger share in the higher national income? Has there been nothing since then to justify an improvement, however small? Have not wages gone up? Have not profits gone up? Have not dividends gone up? Have there not been unprecedented capital gains, untaxed, during the last twelve months or so? What about the Budget last year, when his right hon. Friend was able to grant remissions of tax amounting to little short of £400 million a year, yet was unable to do anything for the old-age pensioners at that time? Had he done it for the old-age pensioners instead of doing what he did for many others, perhaps the pressure on the economy would have been less today than it is.
No one will suggest that a little more for old-age pensioners is inflationary. No one will suggest that a little more for old-age pensioners will press on the national resources in the way that a boosted investment programme may do. No one will say that their increased purchasing power will send up prices. 1726 No one need fear, as the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Tiley) suggested, that a step forward now would mean two steps backwards or, indeed, would have any effect whatever on the stability of the cost of living.
This is our indictment against the Government. The Minister says that we accuse the Government of heartless-ness and cruelty towards old-age pensioners. There is no need for him to repeat in sepulchral tones an accusation that we have never made. The worst we accuse the right hon. Gentleman of is indifference, a lack of understanding of the magnitude of this problem. We do not say that he and other Ministers are evil and wicked men, although indifferent men, if they are indifferent too long, can be evil and wicked men.
My hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (The Rev. L1. Williams) made an amusing reference to the man who looked constantly at his watch, but never drew any deductions from it. I say to the Minister that for many old-age pensioners it is later than he thinks. There will not be much time for them to enjoy the remaining years of their lives if the Minister delays much longer in bringing about this reform.
We shall have to register our indignation at the Minister's continued lack of response to our pleas on behalf of old-age pensioners by dividing the House when the Question is put. We are disappointed, but I am sure that the country will take note of the fact that the Minister continually says to the old-age pensioners, "Jam tomorrow, or some time, but never today".
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Mr. T. L. Iremonger (Ilford, North)
The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) taxed and taunted my right hon. Friend for his dialetical skill, but, having listened to the hon. Member this afternoon I say to him that he should not be too modest about his own contribution to the debate.
I am reminded of the axiom which I have had occasion, significantly enough, to quote once before in this House, and I must do it again.
§ Mr. Iremonger
It will be well-known to my right hon. and learned Friend that an axiom at the Bar is:When you have the law on your side, hammer it into the judge. When you have the facts on your side, hammer them into the jury. When you have neither the law nor the facts on your side, hammer hell into the table.It seems to me that the hon. Member made a very good fist of a rather poor brief, and we sympathise with him in that.
I welcome the initiative of the hon. Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs) in putting down this Motion, because it gives us the opportunity to consider once again a matter which is the continuing responsibility of us all. It is common ground in British political tradition, and common ground on both sides, that we have a responsibility for the weak and the defenceless, and that concerns us on this side of the House no less than it concerns hon. Members opposite. We also have a responsibility and a duty, first, to identify those who should be the object of our policy in that respect, and, secondly, to see that our policy is well conceived to achieve its ends.
Circumstances change, and now the weak and the defenceless are not to be identified in the same way as they were before. It is not primarily children as in the days of Lord Shaftesbury, and no longer women as in the days of the Married Women's Property Act. It is no longer what hon. Gentleman opposite call the working class in the sense that it was when the housing subsidies were approved at the end of the First World War. Today, the prime candidates for the consideration of this House, when looking after the weak and the defenceless, are, in fact, those who are identified in the Motion as being those living in retirement.
As my right hon. Friend is aware, we want to be careful that we rightly identify who we mean. We mean those in retirement who, largely because their working lives were overshadowed by two world wars and depressions, did not succeed in making private provision for their old age, and spend a great part of their retirement haunted by difficulties of inflation.
In so far as it identifies the subject of our concern, the hon. Gentleman's Motion is well conceived, but, if he will forgive my saying so, I thought that it was a little 1728 disappointing, because the hon. Gentleman missed the opportunity of contributing to what is the real problem of caring for those of old age. One might ask whether he is not taking a slightly narrow view of our difficulties and responsibilities, and whether we are right in thinking solely in terms of what he is pleased to call the old-age pensioner. I will not, however, go further into the question of terminology, although I am glad that my right hon. Friend felt that it was as well that in this House we should at least give the effect of knowing what we were talking about even if we did not know much about it.
The House must reasonably assume that the hon. Gentleman's Motion refers to those on retirement pensions who also qualify for supplementary pensions and grants from the National Assistance Board in respect of fuel, winter clothing, rent, and so on, for which they become eligible. I think I am right in saying that those are the people to whom the hon. Gentleman intended to refer. Much as hon. Members may disapprove of the system, we want to know of whom we are actually talking.
Those are the people who now have the foremost claim on our help, and it is my present purpose to examine the ways in which we might best help them. We should, I think, examine three courses that are open to us—the retirement pension itself, the supplementary pension and other allowances, and other services. I now gather that the Motion calls for substantial increases in the retirement pension, and I think that that case obviously should be examined rather more carefully than the hon. Member for Sowerby was disposed to do.
We should quite frankly recognise what are the professed criteria by which Her Majesty's Government should be judged, and recall that my right hon. Friend is now sitting on the Treasury Bench instead of the Front Bench opposite on the strength of the Conservative election manifesto, which says that he will ensure that… pensioners continue to share in the good things which a steadily expanding economy will bring.Secondly, it is only right and fair to compare, as my right hon. Friend did, the increases in the standard rate of retirement pension between 1951 and 1729 1960 with the national wealth taken as a whole, and with the average earnings of working people, and to point out that if the suggestion of the hon. Member for St. Helens that pensions should be tied to average industrial earnings were adopted the pensioners would be 4 per cent. less well off than they actually are under the present dispensation.
It is also right that we should compare the standard rate of pensions with the increase in prices, and to point out that if that rate had been tied to movements in the cost of living, the purchasing power of the single pension would now be 11s. a week less. In that context, too, we should emphasise—and we can claim to take credit here, because it is our intention as well as our achievement —that the cost of living has remained steady for the last two years, something that is very germane to this present issue.
On the basis of those two comparisons, I must ask whether this is the time to say to contributors, "Increase your contributions! Shell out of your pay packet! We must"—to put it in the words of the Motion—… introduce forthwith a substantial increase in old-age pensions".We are entitled to ask the hon. Member for Sowerby—who had ample opportunity to reply—exactly how much contribution he would demand of those who are to meet the cost of implementing the Motion. We ourselves shall not fail, I am sure, in the fullness of time— and at the right time, as we judge it —to say to contributors, quite frankly, "We think that the time has now come when you can afford to pay, and should pay an extra contribution for the increase in the standard rate of pensions "—
§ Mr. Walter Monslow (Barrow-in-Furness):
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that if we spent less on nonproductive and destructive services we could spend more on productive and social services?
§ Mr. Iremonger
I well know the hon. Gentleman's views, and I sympathise with him for introducing them, but the question whether or not the admittedly inflationary and wholly wasteful expenditure on defence is the fault of the Government or the fault of those whose way of life we are not prepared to accept 1730 is a wider question that should not be introduced into a discussion of the amount of contribution for which we should ask to meet increased pensions—
§ Mr. Manuel rose—
§ Mr. Iremonger
Perhaps the hon. Member will allow me to continue—he is never slow to make his interruptions from a sitting posture—as there may be an hon. Member opposite who would like to get into the debate if I do not detain the House too long.
If, however, the hon. Members were thinking of an increase in supplementary pensions, I think that a better case can be made for that than that for an increase in the standard rate. A standard-rate increase would benefit all alike, instead of concentrating on those who have nothing but their retirement and supplementary pensions. Let us devote what we can spend to their benefit. There is much to commend that approach, but if we are to emphasise that approach it is only fair to point out that the supplementary pension was, in fact, increased by the present Government as recently as September of last year.
All in all, I think that concentrating exclusively on pensions, whether supplementary or otherwise, is not well timed at the moment and that one might ask the House, in the light of the Motion, to consider whether the breathing space, which I believe that we have now, is not a good opportunity for considering the problem of the elderly retired people in a rather wider aspect.
I want, therefore, to turn to the third of the three courses open to us, namely, other services for the elderly, and I am thinking particularly of the needy elderly. May, I first, make a generalisation about those services on which I want to concentrate and suggest that they have the following three characteristics of special importance in national policy. First, those who need these services need them desperately. Secondly, they are quite beyond the powers of those served to organise, let alone to pay for, for themselves. Thirdly, if we took the cost to the taxpayer or the ratepayer, or both, and divided it up among those served and made it a cash grant to each, the grant 1731 would not, in fact, be anything like enough in the hands of those who need the service to pay for it. Therefore, by providing such services I think that the public is making the best possible use of the very limited amount of money available to those in the greatest need.
May I make a suggestion about these so-called old-age pensioners. It is this: they cannot properly be generalised about. They are individuals, and the social security system must be adapted to the very wide variety of needs and circumstances of individuals. Throughout the span of twenty years, from 65 to 85 years of age, each one of these persons goes through many different states, from steady and sturdy financial independence, through times of frailty and illness, into hospital and out again, searching for somewhere to live, possibly falling into the hands of rapacious and ill-disposed persons—the House might well consider in this connection two articles which appeared in The Times this week about private homes for old people—becoming impoverished, and going through a multitude of different states and conditions, of which loneliness and the sense of not being wanted any more is not the least horrifying, and, finally, going into a chronic ward of a geriatric or mental hospital.
The point I want to make is that in this bleak and awful odyssey the worst and most baffling part is often the transition from one of these states to the other. I feel that often, still, the right service is not available at the right place and at the right time for the person who needs it most when the transition is to be made.
In these few remarks, as I am trying to put emphasis on services for the elderly, I think it only fair in doing so to emphasise how much has been done, how much is afoot and how vigorous and imaginative are the voluntary bodies responsible for these services and just to jot down in one's mental balance sheet what can be put on the asset side.
We should acknowledge, in the field of housing, the Exchequer subsidy of £10 for special one-bedroom houses for old people. We are encouraged to see that the proportion of these houses has recently increased.
We should pay tribute to those responsible for maintaining Part III residential 1732 homes for old people. During the last two years I have seen three magnificent homes, costing about £72,000 each, which have been provided by the Essex County Council in my constituency. I pay tribute to the quality of the people who run them, particularly the wardens, because they are the people on whom the work devolve in the end.
We now have 70 geriatric units in our hospitals.
Our new approach to mental illness, as embodied in the new Mental Health Act, may ensure fewer elderly people ending their lives in mental hospitals.
§ Mr. S. O. Davies (Merthyr Tydvil)
Some months ago a Motion covering precisely the important points which the hon. Gentleman is now making was debated in the House for five hours. But by arrangement with hon. Members opposite the matter was talked out after, as I have said, five hours of discussing the very subjects about which the hon. Gentleman is now speaking.
§ Mr. Iremonger
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to intervene once more and to say that I have taken note of what he has said.
I shall continue to say that we welcome, among other things, the initiative that has been taken to help people in their own homes by home nurses and home helps and chiropody schemes and the many voluntary services that are undertaken in our social system. We should, therefore, be quite wrong if we acquiesced in the idea that there was neglect or complacency in respect of the special services. Although much more is required, do not let us underrate the steady progress that has been made.
For all that, I cannot yet feel that, broadly, over the nation as a whole, and over the whole field of old age and the need of old people in their vicissitudes of life from 65 to 85, we have achieved a coherent social policy. My right hon. Friend on the Front Bench today plays his part. My right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health plays his part. The National Assistance Board is, I think, admirable in the way in which it performs its duties, and as my predecessor, who represented my constituency in this House for many years, is the Chairman of the Board, the House will know very well that it could 1733 not possibly have more humane and inspired leadership.
The welfare authorities, the county boroughs, the county councils and the voluntary organisations all play their part individually in an admirable way, but I cannot help feeling that our left hand does not know what our right hand is doing and that the old and the failing individualist stumbles from one crisis in his life to the next rather alone and in the dark.
It was in that context that I was trying to explain just now what I meant by the period of transition being so important and that the worst part of growing old was moving from one stage to the next, because the old person is not just an old person for ever; he is, first, an old person sick, then an old person in need with nowhere to live. During each stage, he has individual needs and very often it is not possible for him to get just the guidance he needs over a critical period. What I suppose it really comes to is that when a family is lacking or failing in its duty there is no continuing thread of watchful care to guide the old and the lonely from one stage to another.
Therefore, I make this suggestion to my right hon. Friend. He should say to the Cabinet that what we want is a Minister with overriding responsibility for the problems of the old and the care of the elderly, just as the Minister of Defence is responsible for the whole field of defence and the various services that are involved. The problem of caring for the elderly is a little bit of everybody's business, but it is the whole of nobody's business except when one is old and alone and then it is all one's own. It might well be helpful if we could take a broader view of the problems of old age as a whole and of the provision of services for each individual in the changing circumstances of his or her life.
I commend to my future Minister who may have the care of the elderly what I am sure would be the first of his priorities. Let us have more combined schemes for residential homes with small specially designed and local authority built flats and houses for old people. Then they could be independent, live their own lives and have their own possessions about them, but, at the same time be, within reach of assistance from attendants or wardens. They could be part of the social life of the residents of the adjoin- 1734 ing home if they wished to be, although they might not yet want to be subject to the régime of the community; and above all in such a combined scheme the old people would be part of the life of a natural community with young people about them and with their own families in the neighbourhood so that they would not feel isolated from the rest of the world.
§ Mr. H. Hynd
May I ask the hon. Member to recall what he said some time ago, about leaving time for an hon. Member on this side of the House to speak?
§ Mr. Iremonger
I hope that when I sit down I shall leave ten minutes in which someone else may be able to speak. I have a careful note of exactly how long other hon. Members who have spoken took to make their speeches and I can assure the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. H. Hynd) that I have not been unfair. I was about to do what I said I would do and I am sorry that the intervention of the hon. Member has caused me to take a little longer than I intended.
I suggest to my right hon. Friend that this priority will cost taxpayers' and ratepayers' money, but it would provide more in return than if that money were paid out by way of a dole to individual recipients. Therefore, it is characteristic of the services to which I tried to draw attention as contributing to the welfare of the elderly. I encourage the House to think constructively and, above all, coherently on these lines while keeping the standard rates of pensions and corresponding contributions in line with the expansion of our economy. I ask hon. Members not to be beguiled by such Motions as that which has been moved today into a morbid obsession about—[HON. MEMBERS: "What?"]—a morbid obsession with a single aspect of what is, in fact, the greatest and most abiding social problem of our generation.
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
I wish to ask the Minister to clarify one point which he touched upon in his speech concerning the payment by the National Assistance Board of moneys to old people for prescriptions. The point was covered by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Helens (Mr. Spriggs), to whom we all wish to pay tribute for having 1735 moved the Motion and for his admirable speech. The matter was also referred to by hon. Members opposite.
There are here two points to consider. It is difficult to persuade an old person, who is obliged sometimes to go every week and obtain a large number of prescriptions and to pay a number of shillings, to go to the National Assistance Board for assistance at all. That is the difficulty about which a number of hon. Members have spoken and it is difficult to know how to tackle the matter.
There is a second category of persons who are not eligible for National Assistance, but who are living up to the limit of their resources. When they have to go to a chemist's shop with prescriptions they find great difficulty in producing the necessary shillings. I can assure the Minister that this is the case. I have been so informed by old people's welfare committees in my own constituency and by similar bodies. These people find difficulty in producing the money, even though they know that it can be refunded if they observe the right procedure.
I have been pursuing this matter for some time. I raised it in the House last November with the Minister of Health, when there was an exchange of Questions, and the hon. and gallant Member for Portsmouth, West (Brigadier Clarke) has also pursued the matter. The Minister of Health said that the system for refunding the money was adequate, the procedure was simple and was not costly to administer. When pressed on the point about pensioners finding difficulty in producing the money at the time, and that they could not afford to wait for it to be refunded, the Minister said that he had nothing to add to his reply and could only consider the position at the end of the two-year trial period for the voluntary limitation of drugs recommended by the Hinchliffe Committee. I gave notice that I would endeavour to raise the matter on the Adjournment, but then I went to Canada and did not have the opportunity to do so.
I understood that the Minister said that provision was now being made for
§ this money to be provided in advance to these people. If that is so, it appears that the Minister of Health was not aware of the fact. I should like to follow the point made by the hon. Member for Ilford, North (Mr. Iremonger) and ask if this is a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. Is the announcement the Minister made today a new one? When did the system begin to operate? Is the Minister of Health aware of it, and are old people's welfare committees throughout the country aware of it?
§ Does it mean that a pensioner drawing National Assistance is entitled to get the amount of money he has to put down for prescriptions in advance and not wait for a refund? If the Minister would clarify that, which is a point of interest to many people, we should be grateful.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
If, by leave of the House, I may respond to that, what I said is not new. It is always possible for someone in receipt of National Assistance who has to meet a prescription charge and is unable, as the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. P. Noel-Baker) says, to find the cash, to approach the area office of the Board direct and obtain the sum in cash. The National Assistance Board tells me that this is not a problem which very frequently arises, but there is a procedure, and there has been for some time, for dealing with it. I am not aware of what my right hon. and learned Friend the Minister of Health said in another debate.
§ Mr. Noel-Baker rose—
§ Mr. Spriggs rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.
§ Question put accordingly, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question.
§ The House divided: Ayes 99, Noes 192.1739
|Division No. 88.]||AYES||[3.58 p.m.|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Brock way, A. Fenner||Cliffe, Michael|
|Benn, Hn. A.Wedgwood(Brist'l, S. E.)||Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)|
|Boardman, H.||Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Davies, Harold (Leck)|
|Bowden, Herbert W. (Lelcs, S. W.)||Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Daviea, S. O. (Merthyr)|
|Deer, George||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Panned, Charles (Leeds, W.)|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Hynd, John (Attercliffe)||Parkin, B. T. (Paddington, N.)|
|Dempsey, James||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Dotlds, Norman||Janner, Barnett||Peart, Frederick|
|Driberg, Tom||Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas||Plummer, Sir Leslie|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John||Jeger, George||Prentice, R. E.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. Chuter||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Probert, Arthur|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Kelley, Richard||Reid, William|
|Edwards, Walter (Stepney)||Lawson, George||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Evans, Albert||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Ross, William|
|Fletcher, Eric||Lewis, Arthur (West Ham, N.)||Small, William|
|Foot, Dingle||Lipton, Marcus||Stewart, Michael (Fulham)|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Loughlin, Charles||Stonehouse, John|
|Gaipern, Sir Myer||MacColl, James||Straohey, Rt. Hon. John|
|Ginsburg, David||Mclnnes, James||Summerskill, Dr. Rt. Hon. Edith|
|Gordon walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Mackie, John||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Greenwood, Anthony||McLeavy, Frank||Tomney, Frank|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||Manuel, A. C.||Waimwright, Edwin|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Warbey, William|
|Grimond, J.||Marsh, Richard||Weitzman, David|
|Gunter, Ray||Mason, Boy||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Hale, Leslie (Oldham, W.)||Mayhew, Christopher||Whitlock, William|
|Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvi (Colne Valley)||Mellish, R. J.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Mendelson, J. J.||Willey, Frederick|
|Hannan, William||Mlllan, Bruce||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Herbison, Miss Margaret||Monslow, Walter||Winterbottom, R. E.|
|Holman, Percy||Moyle, Arthur||Zilliacus, K.|
|Houghton, Douglas||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Owen, Will||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hunter, A. E.||Padley. W. E.||Mr. Spriggs and Rev. LI. Williams.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Finlay, Graeme||Linstead, Sir Hugh|
|Aitken, W. T.||Fisher, Nigel||Lloyd,Rt.Hn.Geofrey(Sut'nC'dfield)|
|Allan, Robert (Paddington, S.)||Fletchen-Cooke, Charles||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)|
|Allason, James||Forrest, George||Longden, Gilbert|
|Amory,Rt.Hn.D.Heathcoat(Tlv'tn)||Fraser, Hn. Hugh (Stafford & Stone)||Loveys, Walter H.|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Gardner, Edward||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Barber, Anthony||George, J. C. (Pollok)||Macmillan,Rt.Hn.Harold(Bromley)|
|Batsford, Brian||Gibson-Watt, David||Macpherson, Nlall (Dumfries)|
|Bell, Philip (Bolton, E.)||Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)||Maddan, Martin|
|Bevins, HI. Hon. Reginald (Toxteth)||Glyn, Sir Richard (Dorset, N.)||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hon. Sir R.|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Godber, J. B.||Marples, Rt. Hon. Ernest|
|Bingham, R. M.||Goodhart, Philip||Marten, Neil|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Gough, Frederick||Mathew, Robert (Honiton)|
|Bossom, Clive||Green, Alan||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)|
|Bourne-Arton, A.||Grimston, Sir Robert||Mills, Stratton|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Moore, Sir Thomas|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Nabarro, Gerald|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||Neave, Airey|
|Brooman-White, R.||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Noble, Michael|
|Bullus, Wing Commander Eric||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Oakshott, Sir Hendrie|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Hay, John||Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. D.|
|Butler,Rt.Hn.R.A.(Saffron Walden)||Heath, Rt. Hon. Edward||Orr-Ewing, C. Ian|
|Campbell, sir David (Belfast, S.)||Hicks Beach, Maj. W.||Page, A. J. (Harrow, West)|
|Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Narm)||Hiley, Joseph||Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)|
|Carr, Compton (Barons Court)||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Partridge, E.|
|Carr, Robert (Mitcham)||Hinchinbrooke, Viscount||Pearson, Prank (Clitheroe)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Hobson, John||Peel, John|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Holland, Philip||Percival, Ian|
|Chataway, Christopher||Hope, Rt. Hon. Lord John||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hopkins, Alan||Pitman, I. J.|
|Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Hornby, R. P.||Pitt, Miss Edith|
|Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Patricia||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence(Portsmth, W.)||Howard, Cerald (Cambridgeshire)||Price, H. A. (Lewisham, W.)|
|Cleaver, Leonard||Hughes-Young, Michael||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Collard, Richard||Iremonger, T. L.||Profumo, Rt. Hon. John|
|Cooper, A. E.||Jackson, John||Rawlinson, Peter|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Redmayne. Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Rees-Davles, W. R.|
|Cordle, John||Johnson Smith, Geoffrey||Renton, David|
|Corfield, F. V.||Joseph, Sir Keith||Rldsdale, Julian|
|Costain, A. P.||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.||Rippon, Geoffrey|
|Coulson, J. M.||Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Kershaw, Anthony||Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)|
|Cunningham, Knox||Kilson, Timothy||Royle, Anthony (Richmond, Surrey)|
|Deedes, W. F.||Langford-Holt, J.||Russell, Ronald|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Leburn, Gilmour||Sandys Rt. Hon. Duncan|
|Drayson, G. B.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. H.||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|du Cann, Edward||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)||Sharpies, Richard|
|Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Shaw, M.|
|Eden, John||Lilley, F. J. P.||Shepherd, William|
|Farr, John||Lindsay, Martin||Simon, Sir Jocelyn|
|Skeet, T. H. H.||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret||Webster, David|
|Smith, Dudley (Br'ntf'rd & Chiswick)||Thomas, Peter (Conway)||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Smithers, Peter||Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)||Whitelaw, William|
|Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)||Turner, Colin||Wise, A. R.|
|Soames, Rt. Hon. Christopher||Vane, W. M. F.||Wood, Rt. Hon. Richard|
|Stevens, Geoffrey||Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis||Woodhouse, C. M.|
|Storey, Sir Samuel||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Studholme, Sir Henry||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)||Worsley, Marcus|
|Sumner, Donald (Orpington)||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Derek||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Talbot, John e.||Wall, Patrick|
|Tapsell, Peter||Ward, Rt. Hon. George (Worcester)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)||Watklnson, Rt. Hon. Harold||Mr. Denzil Freeth aod Mr. Tiley.|
|Taylor, W. J. (Bradford, N.)||Watts, James|
§ Proposed words there added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
That this House notes the improvements effected since 1951 in the provision for our older fellow citizens, is confident that continued sound management of the national economy will enable pensioners to continue to share in the country's increasing prosperity, and supports the furtherance of policies to this end.