§ 3.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
I beg to move, in page 4, line 31, after "day", to insert:(not being later than the third day of February, nineteen hundred and sixty-one)".This Amendment seeks to remedy the really heartless feature of this Bill, which is the postponement of its benefits until the first week of April. I am sure that the Minister and the Committee as a while will be aware that there has been widespread criticism of the delay in bringing this relief to millions of those receiving social payments. The delay concerns the aged, the disabled and the sick.
There has been criticism in the Press. There is criticism from organisations of old-age pensioners, and I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will have received individual letters from constituents and others protesting against the delay in bringing these benefits into operation. I myself have received many letters—appealing, pitiful letters—from people who believe that this overdue relief of their conditions should be brought into operation more promptly. When these people hear such slogans as "You've never had it so good", and of the problems and the excesses of the so-called affluent society, I am sure they feel that they are being mocked in their distress.
On this occasion, the Minister cannot say that during the period of waiting those who may be suffering hardship can go to the National Assistance Board, because the improvements in National Assistance payments are being delayed as long as all the rest.
Why are these benefits being withheld until April? It has nothing to do with the difficulty of administration. We shall listen to no excuses on that score, for 1138 two reasons. First, the beginning of April has been the date in the mind of the Government all along. I believe that this operation has been carefully planned and that the date of the introduction of the Bill has been governed by the operative date. The date fixed for the introduction of the Bill has been planned as part of the main operation, the introduction of the benefits, to coincide with the increase in contributions.
The second reason is that when, in 1957–58, the Government wanted to move more quickly they were able to do so, and they boasted about it. In 1957, during the Second Reading of the National Insurance Bill, the Minister referred to the timetable. I ask the House to bear in mind that the date of Second Reading of that Bill was 13th November and the date for the operation of the new benefits was 27th January of the following year. The Minister said:To do this by 27th January will, of course, involve very rapid moving indeed. One or two newspapers have made the comment on my statement of last week that we were being slow in getting these benefits into payment. That is the very converse of the truth. Normally, the time taken—and I have been into this in some detail—between an announcement in this House and the operation of the announced changes has rarely been less than between five and six months. From 6th November to 27th January is under three months. That is an indication that we are seeking to carry through this very large operation just as speedily as possible to give help as quickly as possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1957; Vol. 577, c. 988.]The Minister was proud of the achievement which he was asking the Ministry to carry out. He referred to the much longer time which had been taken between the announcement and the operative date on previous occasions. This time, however, the Minister has slipped back to a period very approximate to the period of previous changes
The truth is that this Bill could have been introduced at any time earlier than this if the Government had wished to bring the changes into operation any earlier than the first week in April next. I believe that the Government have willed it this way and that there are no accidental considerations about the timetable of the Bill. We can find the explanation for this delay in one word—"finance". This is a sordid exercise in accountancy. Since over 90 per cent. of the cost of the improved benefits is 1139 to be passed on to the contributors, the Government are not prepared to pay out the improved benefits until they can begin collecting the extra money from the contributors. That is the sum and substance of the matter.
The National Insurance Act, 1959, fixed April as the beginning of the collection of graduated contributions. It is these contributions which are to be used to pay in substantial part for the new benefits. The Minister felt unable to bring that date forward, so that the pensioners and other beneficiaries have to wait for it. I agree that it would have been a great inconvenience on all sides to have changed the contributions earlier than the beginning of April, having regard to all the arrangements which are being made for the introduction of the new scheme. We recognise that it would be asking too much for contributions to be adjusted to the new benefits earlier than the first week in April, which had already been fixed.
I want to ask whether the date of the introduction of the new contributions really stands in the way of an earlier operative date for these benefits. My conviction is that the money to bridge the gap is available to the Minister if only he would use it. As I pointed out in my Second Reading speech, there are huge reserves in the National Insurance Reserve Fund—well over £1,000 million. The present generation of retirement pensioners probably has contributed more to the building up of this reserve than any other section of National Insurance contributors. They were paying higher contributions than were necessary to pay for the benefits because the contributions were heavily loaded for a level of unemployment which, happily, we did not suffer. Because of that, only in recent years £300 million was transferred to the reserve fund from the accumulated balances in the National Insurance Fund.
There are other resources available to the Minister. I sometimes wonder for what purpose this National Insurance Reserve Fund is to be used. I wonder whether it has been salted away and whether it is a phantom fund. One might even wonder whether it is a fraud. It seems to be a 1140 book entry which can never be translated into a tangible asset. This is the folly of the Government in investing in themselves. They can never pay out from their own investments without fresh borrowing or increased taxation. That is why I believe that this National Insurance Reserve Fund is a hidden reserve to the Government but a much more hidden reserve to the National Insurance beneficiaries.
However, let us leave that aside. We do not need £1,000 million. I suggest that all we need to cover the few weeks between the date mentioned in the Amendment and the first week in April is about £20 or £25 million. That is the best estimate that I can make. From where can this money be drawn? I suggest that it can be drawn from the balance of £325 million which was made available in the National Insurance Act, 1954, and renewed in the 1959 Act. I explained on Second Reading that under the 1954 Act provision was made for payments to be made from the Exchequer in addition to the ordinary Exchequer supplement, and for a period of five years beginning April, 1955, sums not exceeding £325 million could be paid.in such manner and at such times as the Treasury may determineand, for later years, such sums as Parliament might determine. In the 1959 Act renewal of those provisions in modified form, was made. In the four years to 1959–60, only £39 million of the £325 million had been drawn. I estimate that at the end of the period of the 1954 Act about £286 million remain.
Under the 1959 Act, provision was made for the Minister to draw upon the unexpended balance of the £325 million during the financial years ending in 1961 and 1962. That, I suggest, is where the Minister might go for the money to bridge the gap between the first week in February, which we suggest in our Amendment, and the first week in April, which otherwise will be the operative date for the new benefits.
We have fixed the first week in February because we believe that that would be administratively possible even at this date. If 27th January is possible when the Second Reading of the Bill is on 13th November, I should hope that 1141 the first week in February would be possible with the Committee stage of the Bill taking place now and the final stage being reached tomorrow. I am sure that that is not too much to ask the Ministry to do, although I fully appreciate—none more so, I hope, in this Committee—the problems of administration in the public service. It would mean very hard work and very quick moving in the Ministry to do it, but I am sure that if the Minister gave the word for full steam ahead to have these benefits in payment by the first week of February it could be done. But he does not wish it that way.
The Committee will realise, of course, that not only are the National Insurance benefits deferred for operation to the first week in April, but that nearly everything else hangs upon the same date. What is the saying?For want of a nail the shoe is lost;For want of a shoe the horse is lost;For want of a horse the rider is lost;For want of a rider the battle is lost".Here, because National Insurance benefits are delayed until the first week in April, the Minister is deferring also the improvement in National Assistance benefits. Because the National Insurance benefits are to be deferred until the first week in April, industrial injuries benefits must be so deferred.
Yet they have nothing basically to do with National Insurance benefits; they are not dependent upon the collection of increased contributions. In fact, the Minister is to reduce contributions to the Industrial Injuries Scheme. Also, we find that the war disability benefits hang upon the industrial injuries benefits. The whole thing is one operation, and the operative date is delayed until the same week in April.
We take the strongest exception to the delay. We regard this Amendment as fundamental to the Bill and we shall certainly press it to the utmost of our power in Committee, because we believe that it is what the country would wish. We believe that it is what the various beneficiaries under the schemes badly need. We believe that this relief is overdue. I am sure that it would not be the wish of the Minister to send out, as a cynical message to all the retirement pensioners,If winter comes, can spring be far behind?1142 We believe that these benefits should be paid as near as maybe at the coming of winter. We know that the opportunity to bring this relief by Christmas has now gone. The end of January and the beginning of February is the very earliest date at which it could be done, but better then than wait until the first week of April. I hope that the Committee will give serious attention to the Amendment and, from both sides, press the Minister to accept it.
§ Mr. Denzil Freeth (Basingstoke)
Despite the eloquence of the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), I hope that my right hon. Friend will not see fit to accept the Amendment. The hon. Member very wisely agreed that it was an impossibility in administration to put up the contributions at the time that the benefits were put up, should the benefits be put up at the beginning of February, and then be altered again at the beginning of April. I think that that would be common ground between both sides of the Committee.
The hon. Member said that if we were to increase the benefits earlier than the date proposed by my right hon. Friend this would mean very hard work and very quick moving in the Department. It would require extraordinarily hard work and extraordinarily quick moving, because we are not dealing here with just an increase in contributions and benefits as was the case in the 1957–58 operation. Then my right hon. Friend was able to halve the time that had been taken on previous occasions because he was dealing solely with an operation of increases in contributions and benefits.
At this time, he is dealing also with the immense amount of work which has to be undertaken so that the graduated pension scheme under last year's National Insurance Act can be brought into operation. He has to see to the large numbers of schemes which are being submitted to him and to the Registrar by the various independent pension schemes. His Department, I know, is being overwhelmed by questions and requests for advice. I should have thought that it was virtually impossible for the graduated scheme to come in in April and for these benefits to come in earlier.
It was a great tribute which my right hon. Friend paid to his Department—and 1143 to himself also, I think—when, in the Second Reading debate, he said that he did not base his argument about the timing of these new benefits upon the mere fact of the amount of work involved. I suggest that that is something we should not forget.
The hon. Member for Sowerby agreed that we could not alter both benefits and contributions twice in the new year, and we should, if we followed the proposals of the Amendment, have a period when benefits had risen and contributions had not. Because he realised that benefits have to be paid for—although I sometimes wonder whether his views have very wide circulation on the benches behind him—he devoted part of his speech to considering whence the money should come. It is important to realise that the pensioner today is having a very good bargain indeed out of National Insurance.
I think that it was my right hon. Friend, on Second Reading, who said that a pensioner today who had paid contributions for as long as was possible was drawing a pension with an actuarial capital value of £3,000, but that he himself and his employer together could not have paid in more than £300. So let us not start with the idea that people have, over the past ten, fifteen or twenty years, been paying to the Government more than they are likely to draw out in National Insurance benefits and retirement pensions in particular. We are dealing with a fund which has managed, with the aid of substantial Government additions or contributions, to provide a very good bargain indeed.
The hon. Member suggests that either securities should be sold out of one of the National Insurance Funds or, alternatively, that the overall budget deficit should be increased. It is worth remembering that, whichever of the two processes were adopted, the ultimate result for the Chancellor would probably be the same. If the Government were to increase their overall Budget deficit, they would have to fund to a greater extent if that was not to be inflationary. One assumes that the Government would, for the extra money involved, have to sell gilt-edged securities held by the Department or raise money by the sale of further gilt-edged securities to meet the amount of the deficit accruing.
1144 4.0 p.m.
Therefore, there is a very distinct aspect of this which reflects upon the aim of the Government not to create money and upon their desire thereby to do their best to hold the value of the £ steady. Over the few years I have been in the House of Commons, I have always done my best to oppose any proposals that have been made in regard to the National Insurance Scheme that I felt might have a contributory effect to putting up the cost of living.
Let us take the National Insurance Fund by itself. This year, the Government are doing quite a lot towards financing deficits on the fund. If we look at the Government Actuary's Second Quinquennial Review, we see, in Table 14, page 20, that in the current year, ending April next, there is a deficit on the National Insurance Fund of £47 million. Turning back a few pages, to Table 10, we see that that deficit of £47 million is incurred after the Government's contribution of £123 million and also after an additional Exchequer payment of no less than £47 million. It is on top of that extra deficit of £47 million that the hon. Member for Sowerby proposes a further deficit, to be shouldered either by the Exchequer or by sales from the National Insurance Fund.
§ Mr. Houghton
Was it not just for this that the 1959 Act authorised the Treasury to draw on the unexpended balances during the financial years 1961 and 1962?
§ Mr. Freeth
Indeed it was. It is a question here, as in so many cases, of whether circumstances are such as to warrant one running further into debt than one receives from one's bank manager permission to do or further into debt than one had hoped to do a little while before.
If the pension increases were being made because of increases in the cost of living—because, in fact, of hardship—I should be tempted to support the hon. Member in his Amendment. I agree with him that the National Insurance Funds, totalling £1,500 million, must exist for some purpose. We all agree that they exist to meet unforeseen contingencies and expenditure or to meet a grave crisis which might affect the nation. Therefore, I should only like to run them 1145 down if we met a grave situation of that kind.
I would regard a substantial rise in the cost of living, necessitating an increase in benefits before contributions could be raised, as constituting such an occasion when the fund might be run down. That, however, is not what we are considering, because, according to the retail price index, the cost of living has risen by only 3 per cent. since January, 1958. If one takes some of the constituents of that price index—I have not yet seen the October figures—one finds that the prices of fuel and light are actually slightly less than in January, 1958, and that clothing and footwear is very slightly—1¼ per cent.—above the 1958 level.
Therefore, what we are considering is, not a rescue operation, because the real purchasing power of the pension, as I hope my right hon. Friend, when he replies to the debate, will confirm, is higher today than when it was instituted at 26s. at the beginning of the scheme. I suggest, therefore, that as we are not here indulging in a rescue operation to relieve acute hardships, but are actively indulging in a campaign to raise the standard of living of the pensioner, these considerations, which alone would justify increasing the Exchequer deficit or a raid upon the National Insurance Fund, do not apply.
Where these considerations of hardship or the need for a rescue operation do not apply, it is vital, if we are to continue to finance the National Insurance Scheme in a way which neither permits inflation nor endangers the future of the pension, that we should have firmly linked in the minds of people outside, and in our own minds, the close relationship between contributions and benefits and the close relationship that must exist between an increase in benefits and an increase in contributions. People should not be led to expect that an increase in benefits can be obtained without an increase in contributions also having to be put upon the shoulders of those still at work. It is because I do not here see a sufficient ground to depart from this important principle of National Insurance that I hope that my right hon. Friend will not accede to the request of the hon. Member for Sowerby.
§ Mr. Harry Gourlay (Kirkcaldy Burghs)
The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth) has the 1146 one virtue, if such it can be called—consistency. He has opposed increases in pensions on a number of previous occasions. On 15th December last year, he is reported as saying in the House:I do not believe that our industrial recovery has yet taken place to a sufficient extent to have created the necessary wealth to enable an increase in pensions to be made."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th December, 1959; Vol. 615. c. 1258.]That was immediately after an election, in which, I understand, the hon. Member also told his constituents that we in this country had never had it so good.
After a further year of Conservative administration, when, one would have thought, we were having it still better because, according to Conservative Members, we have such a good Government, surely the pensions could be increased sooner than is proposed in the Bill. The hon. Member referred also to deficits on previous occasions, but he has not so far told us how the deficit arising from Blue Streak is to be met.
While one must welcome crumbs as they fall from the master's table, in the same way as somebody who had been stranded without water in the Sahara for some time would welcome a drink, we must face the fact that even though some crumbs are to be given, they are long overdue. For this reason, I take pleasure in supporting the Amendment to advance the date on which the increases in pension become payable.
Judging by the speeches of the Minister and of hon. Members opposite last week, they are completely removed from the reality of life as it is lived by the old-age pensioner. Last week, on Second Reading, the Minister said:I would stress—I hope that hon. Members will give due weight, whatever their views on it may be, to this matter"—that is, the matter of the date—that this is a change made in wholly different circumstances from those of the other changes. It is not in any sense a rescue operation designed to compensate pensioners for pensions whose value had already been eroded."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1960; Vol. 630, c. 233.]I should like the Minister to recall that at about this time last year, in company with my hon. Friend the Member for Abertillery (Mr. Ll. Williams), I went with a deputation to his room in the Ministry. That deputation comprised representatives of old-age pensioners 1147 from all over the country, not from any one section, but including people from as far apart as Aberdeen, in the north, and Wales and the south of England. A year ago, those people were pleading with the Minister to be rescued from their plight. Now, a year later, he comes forward with the claim that this is not a rescue operation.
The hon. Member for Basingstoke said that the cost of fuel is less today than it was two years ago. I should like to know where I could purchase a bag of coal or a unit of gas or electricity at less cost today than I could buy it two or three years ago.
§ Mr. Denzil Freeth
I was quoting from the index the retail price of fuel and light, which is shown as a separate constituent of the Interim Index of Retail Prices, and which gave the figures, taking January, 1956, as 100, as being 115.6 in January, 1958, and 113.5 in September, 1960.
§ Mr. Gourlay
Naturally, the hon. Gentleman and I can compute the figures. Nevertheless, I still say that I do not know where a bag of coal can be purchased at that price. Nor, I am quite sure, does the hon. Gentleman.
The cost of fuel is only one of the costs. There is the question of the prices of all the consumer goods which an old-age pensioner requires to purchase, and those prices are considerably higher despite the percentage to which the Minister referred.
In my own constituency, unfortunately, we have what is known as spoliation of the foreshore because of the bings, or heaps, near the port. It is a very distressing sight to see the beaches being spoiled, but, on the other hand, at present it is a godsend to the pensioners in my constituency, because day after day one can see them go down to the beach to gather coal for their fires, and they do it because they are not able to purchase coal. It is a very distressing and pathetic sight indeed to see those old-age pensioners carrying small bags of seacoal to their own homes, and to know that they are returning to places where they will lead lives of loneliness and poverty.
In my opinion, the treatment of the pensioners by the Government in this so-called affluent society amounts, to say 1148 the least, to an attitude of complete, callous indifference. In supporting the Amendment to ensure not too long a delay in the operation of the Bill, I would again refer hon. Members to what the Minister said last week:We come back to the question that what is in issue between us is only a very few weeks—say, for the purpose of argument, six weeks…. It clearly would not be a good idea to raise contributions, say, five or six weeks before they were to be altered again at the beginning of April."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1960; Vol. 630; c. 234.]I agree with the Minister in his second statement, that it would be completely wrong to raise contributions as he proposes, for, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) said this afternoon, there is a fund from which the Minister could finance the payment of these benefits earlier, which is of tremendous importance to the pensioners who are living on subsistence level. From the arguments which are being adduced by hon. Members on the other side of the Committee one would assume that the pensioners had been living in a state of affluence since the Conservative Government took office.
They are, I repeat, living on a purely subsistence level, the majority of pensioners, particularly those in receipt of National Assistance. The fact, which statistics reasonably bear out, that the period from September to March is the period of the highest mortality rate amongst the old people, adds to the force of the argument that more money should be given to the pensioners at this time so that they may sustain themselves from poverty, and to enable them to purchase sufficient fuel. It appears that it is completely proper to give back-pay to poverty-stricken judges but completely wrong to give any back-payment to the wealthy pensioners.
This callousness, in my opinion, is matched only by the dishonesty of the Government in what they have done about increases in National Assistance payments. I shall try to keep within the rules of order as much as possible, but I would refer to this because it is tied up with the payments of pensions at an ealier date. It seems completely wrong that a reduction of National Assistance is bound to follow an increase in pensions. Along with the alteration in the National Assistance rate there is 1149 bound to be a reduction in the cost of National Assistance, and this cost is surely being transferred to the shoulders of the contributors to the National Insurance Fund, and, in the main, to the lower-paid wage earners who are bound to contribute to the Fund, and, instead of having a reduction of 1s. 7d., as promised in the 1959 Act, are to have to pay an increase of 1s. 5d.
Those people, as has been said earlier, are actually being used to relieve the taxpayers of paying a fair share of the burden of looking after the aged. The Minister recognised last week that they have not been in a position, in the economic circumstances pertaining in this country in the years when his party has been in power, to save for their old age, and, therefore, are in greater need of relief and help. The burden of providing that relief and help is being transferred from the taxpayers and thrown upon the shoulders of those least able to bear it.
The Minister seemed completely complacent last week in saying that this increase in National Assistance is the third one as against two increases in National Insurance, and those persons in receipt of assistance were reasonably well off, but the point is that the same pensioner in receipt of assistance with three increases is to be only 13s. 6d. per week better off than he was in 1957, whereas the pensioner as such is going to be 17s. 6d. better off. Since I think it is generally agreed that a person in receipt of National Assistance is the person in greatest need, it seems that he is in effect to have a reduction imposed by a very kind Government who say, "You have never had it so good."
Therefore, I would again draw the Minister's attention to the plight of these old people and plead with him to have a change of heart even at this late stage because of the desperate position of pensioners in this country at present.
A local authority not far removed from my constituency, a fortnight ago, advertised a part-time job, the duties of that part-time job being spread over the period from 7 o'clock in the morning to 11 o'clock at night, a period of 16 hours. The handsome sum of £3 a week was offered for this post. Despite the long spreadover of hours of duty and the 1150 miserable wage offered, eleven old-age pensioners in the district saw fit to apply for the job. That is an indication of the desperate plight many of them are in at present.
§ Mr. Gourlay
The Minister said that this was not a rescue operation. I would remind him of his own figures, that in the period between 1952 to 1957 only once——
§ Mr. Arthur Tiley (Bradford, West)
Would the hon. Member please tell us which local authority that was and what the duties were, because it is a rather frightful story that he has told the Committee?
§ Mr. Gourlay
The name of the authority is Cowdenbeath Town Council. I did not say that the duties were 16 hours a day. I said that it was a part-time job spread over 16 hours—
§ Mr. Gourlay
—and that is shocking in itself.
There has been a fair amount of publicity given to this and I think that the local authority is prepared to reconsider the hours of duty. But, the advertisement was as I said, and eleven old-age pensioners, even on that basis, applied for the job.
§ Mr. Gourlay
The point I was about to make was that the Minister said on a previous occasion that only once in the period 1952 to 1957 had the value of the pension paid by the Government been in excess, considering 1946 prices, of the 26s. pension introduced by the Labour Government at that time. In my submission, that is a tremendous admission to make, when we are supposed to be living in a very affluent society.
I would conclude by again appealing to the Minister to have a change of mind today, to accept our Amendment, to show the old-age pensioners that he really does understand the difficulties with which they are faced, and to allow them to grow old gracefully in conditions 1151 far removed from the horrors of poverty and want.
§ Mr. Raymond Gower (Barry)
In response to one statement made by the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy Burghs (Mr. Gourlay), I must say that I have always found it impossible to understand why the plight of retirement pensioners is always deplorable and their condition so desperate under a Conservative Government whereas, apparently, that was never the case under a Labour Government, who paid infinitely poorer benefits.
§ Mr. Gourlay
Surely the circumstances which the Labour Government faced were completely different. Even the hon. Member's own statements admit it, because he is always telling us that we have never had it so good.
§ Mr. Gower
Nevertheless, I find it extremely difficult to understand their view of affairs.
I am sure that most of my hon. and right hon. Friends would share the anxiety of the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) that benefits of this kind should be paid as soon as possible. Indeed, it is true, as has been pointed out already, that on a former occasion my right hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance was able to arrange for benefits of this kind to be brought in much more quickly than may be the case at present.
But, as my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth) reminded us so clearly, the operation on that occasion was solely the increase of benefits and contributions. It was not linked, as is now the case, with the even more ambitious launching of a graduated system of benefits. For that reason alone, anyone with experience of the work that the Ministry is doing and who makes a sober assessment must feel that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the whole operation, with its combination of these two things, to be performed earlier than at the date now fixed.
It has been suggested, therefore, and very persuasively, that we should try to avoid the problem merely by increasing the benefits and not providing the means of paying for them, and that in a way which, I think, would be quite wrong and unjustifiable in all the circumstances. 1152 The fact is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke again reminded us, that on previous occasions there was a substantial need in most cases for an increase in the benefits solely by reason of the erosion that had occurred as a result of increases in the cost of living. Some hon. Members opposite have implied that this is also the case on this occasion. If I understood him correctly, that was the inference to be drawn from the remarks made by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) yesterday.
The implication of one of his speeches last night was that we inherited from the party opposite a pension of 26s. per week in terms of 1946 prices. That implication is untrue. What we inherited was a 26s. a week pension in terms of 1951 for many and a 30s. pension in terms of 1951 for the rest. It is on that basis that we have had to try to improve these benefits. I think that when he comes to reply my right hon. Friend will be able to show quite easily that, in practice, every year since the Conservative Party took office the real value of benefits has been considerably better than it was during all the time that the Labour Government were in office.
While it is true that on some previous occasions when we have introduced Bills of this kind the value of pensions has been largely eroded by changes in the cost of living, I think that it can be shown clearly that on this occasion that is not the case, and that the benefits now introduced—although many of us would like to see them bigger if that were practicable—constitute a substantial and real increase in the purchasing value of the pensions. This is a circumstance different from that which has prevailed before. Then the hon. Member for Sowerby suggests that it is unfortunate that this payment must be postponed, because it would also have the effect of postponing improvements in National Assistance and industrial injuries benefits.
I would agree, perhaps, that the hon. Member's remarks would be somewhat more valid if they were related solely to industrial injuries benefits. I should not agree with him about National Assistance because, although perhaps there would be a case for increasing National Assistance before increasing the pension, 1153 I find that there is a great deal of misunderstanding on the part of recipients of National Assistance if, on a certain date, other people receive an increase and they receive none at all.
I should not like to see an increase in National Assistance preceding an increase in the standard rates by a month or two. I should prefer to see them introduced together so that, in addition to some people receiving the full benefits of the Bill, those in receipt of National Assistance would receive an increase to add to that Which was given a year or so ago.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
Will the hon. Member tell us on what date prior to the announcement made in the White Paper have National Assistance and basic pensions been increased at one and the same time?
§ Mr. Gower
That would be the subject of another debate and it would be improper to enlarge upon it now.
I would say, in passing, that as far as possible I should prefer the benefits to be introduced on the same date, otherwise there would be considerable misunderstanding on the part of those who received a small increase before but found on the material date that they were receiving nothing at all. We hope that the party opposite will reflect that these benefits constitute a substantial addition to our national liability under this heading. The size of that addition cannot be disregarded. It represents about £140 million or more. This is a great deal of money, even today.
§ Mr. Manuel
Could the hon. Member turn his mind to the pledge which the party opposite made at the election, that these old people would receive their share of increasing prosperity? Does he think that these benefits reflect that pledge completely?
§ Mr. Manuel
On a point of order. I was perfectly well aware of the Amendment, Sir Gordon, but if the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) introduces these matters irrespective of the question of date without any comment from the Chair, I thought that I might have the 1154 same liberty to put a submission to the hon. Member upon them.
§ The Chairman
Hon. Members sometimes go a little wide of the Question and I fail to discourage them, but I hope that hon. Members will try to keep in order as far as possible.
§ Mr. Gower
I hope that hon. Members opposite will reflect that 1961 will be a significant year in the provision of benefits, because not only do the provisions in the Bill represent a real improvement in the value of the benefits in the basic scheme, but, at the same time, we are launching another scheme which, in due course, will provide even more for other people who have yet to arrive at retirement age.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Mr. A. E. Hunter (Feltham)
I wish to support the pleas made by my hon. Friends for the Amendment to ensure that retirement pensions and other benefits shall be payable not later than 3rd February. I believe that all hon. Members welcome the increase in retirement pensions and in sickness and other benefits though many hon. Members must wish that they were higher. I urge the Minister to agree that the date for the payment of these benefits can be advanced. We have heard arguments about the great administrative difficulties for the Civil Service. We have very efficient civil servants and I am quite sure that they could get these payments out by 3rd February if the will were there.
If the will were there, why could not the Minister back-date the increase? There is nothing to stop him from making 3rd February the effective date for the increase. It would at least be a good bonus for the retirement pensioners and the sick to get six or seven weeks' back-dated increase if they must wait until April. There is nothing to prevent him doing that.
I hope that we shall not have arguments about the difficulties of administration in the Civil Service. Most hon. Members, especially those like my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), who know the Civil Service, also know that it can rise to great occasions in emergencies. Football pool promoters such as Littlewoods deal with millions of coupons in a matter of days. 1155 If these promoters can get so many coupons out so quickly I am sure that the Civil Service could get these benefits out by 3rd February.
My plea to the Minister rests on the fact that the hard winter months for the retired and the sick lie ahead. January, February and March are generally the severe, cold and wet months of the year. The old and the sick need more coal, more gas, more electricity, or other forms of heating. Old people especially cannot go out so much in cold weather and are indoors a great deal. Thus, their heating bills are higher than for the average household of a similar size. We have a very strong case in asking the Minister to pay these benefits before the spring.
I know that the right hon. Gentleman is not hard-hearted. We have often disagreed with him and have sometimes supported him in some of the things which he has brought forward. I am certain that if the Whips were off, and a free vote were allowed on this issue, the Committee would vote for the old and the sick having these benefits on 3rd February. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will make a concession along these lines.
I remarked earlier that there is nothing to prevent the payments being back-dated. In industry and in commerce, when there are arbitration awards, the increases are often back-dated not for weeks, as we seek in this case, but for eight or nine months. Surely we could make a big effort to see that this payment is made before the spring to the poorest section of the community—5½ million old-age pensioners, including more than 1 million on National Assistance. Winter is a hard period of the year for them. Not only do they need more heating, but they need warm clothing, shoes and boots and warm, nourishing food.
The right hon. Gentleman has given this increase. Many of us wish it was more, but now that he has given it let him give it quickly. I make this final plea. We are getting near the end of the year and are entering soon the new year of 1961. Let him give the old-age pensioners a New Year's message—that Parliament will pay these benefits in 1156 February and that they need not wait until April. I ask him to accept this Amendment.
§ Mr. Frank Allaun (Salford, East)
Twenty-two weeks will elapse between the announcement of the increase and the obtaining of the increase. It is heartless to keep the old people dangling on a string for so long. I am sure that we on this side of the Committee are voicing the feelings of millions of old-age pensioners in saying that.
The particular question I wish to ask is: why wait until after the winter? For many old people this will be their last winter. They will never enjoy this increase. I have been to some pains to find out how many will die this winter, and I have to inform the Committee that within these 22 weeks approximately 130,000 pensioners will die. But more will die in these 22 weeks, because this is winter and deaths are above the average during that period. So for 130,000 old people this will be their last winter; they will never enjoy the benefits that they should. It is reasonable to say that some of these deaths might be prevented if they get the increase in time and have a little more to sustain themselves daring the winter months.
Anybody who is in close contact with old people will know what a high proportion of their £2 10s. a week goes on coal. Ordinary coal is 9s. a bag, and if they live in smokeless zones the cost is probably 11s. The National Federation of Old-Age Pensions Associations states that many old people need two bags a week. I agree that that is above the average, but the cost is nearly £1 a week. It may be said that this is a purely seasonal matter—expenditure needed only in winter. Precisely! That is the point we are making. We are arguing about the date of the increase.
This emphasises the point that the increase should be given before and not after the winter. The Minister may argue that in summer the expenditure on coal is less, which is true, but I do not think that he will argue that even in summer the old-age pensioner living on £2 10s. a week can save anything from his pension to put aside for extra expenditure in winter. He cannot save on the pension, even in summer.
1157 It means that in winter the pensioner goes short. I have been investigating budgets of old-age pensioners in Salford and I know what they go short of. They go short of food. In many houses the old-age pensioner is spending about 3s. 6d. a day on food. If he is buying in small quantities, food costs more than when he is buying it in large quantities. Though it may sound melodramatic, this winter thousands of old people, particularly those living on their own and who cannot share a family fire, will go to bed at six in the evening because they cannot afford money for coal.
It is utterly wrong that people should spend the last years of their lives living like that. The price of coal has gone up since October by 1s. 8d. a cwt. That means 3s. 4d. a week extra if 2 cwt. a week are bought. That extra will make a fair-sized hole in the pension increase of 7s. 6d. a week, and will make an even bigger hole in the National Assistance increase of 3s. 6d.—indeed, it will leave only 2d.
In a Written Answer to me on Monday, the right hon. Gentleman said that all but 6d. a cwt. of the recent change in coal prices was the normal winter increase. That is the point we are making. Does not this again emphasise the need to pay the increase to pensioners in February rather than waiting until April? The Minister told us on Second Reading that there were other reasons, possibly more important reasons, than the administrative one for delaying the increase, but I think that that was an admission that part of the delay was due to administrative causes. As my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham (Mr. Hunter) said, if Littlewoods can deal with millions of clients in a few days, surely it is not beyond the wit of the Ministry of Pensions to solve this problem.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
I think that the hon. Member will admit that the administrative costs of Littlewoods are something over 25 per cent. If we had the same costs in the case of pensions, the poor pensioners would not get much.
§ Mr. Allaun
The reply to that is that Littlewoods is dealing with a varying investment and a varying return each week, but the Ministry of Pensions deals week by week with hardly any change 1158 either in the contributions or the pensions received. Therefore, the Ministry has a far simpler problem than Littlewoods.
February is the very worst month for old people, particularly in northern cities such as Salford, where deaths from bronchitis are among the highest in the country. That is due not only to the temperature, but the shocking air conditions of industrial cities. It would be an act of mercy, apart from anything else, if this increase were granted from 3rd February, as we are pleading for, rather than from April as the Minister proposes.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
I was rather interested to hear from the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain) that the cost of running private enterprise was so high. We often contest the relative costs of public and private enterprises. The hon. Member has given us a very strong argument for spreading public enterprise more and more widely.
§ Mr. Costain
The hon. Member has misunderstood me. The point I was making was that the cost of getting things done quickly—
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. W. R. Williams)
I think that I might misunderstand things, too. So we do not want to go further along that line.
§ Mr. Rankin
I accept your Ruling, Mr. Williams, but I am sure that the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe will realise, on reflection, that he made two points and I seized on one of them.
I regret that the dialectical fodder on the other side of the Committee is so scarce. It seems strange that there is such a lack of support for the Minister in his decision about the appointed day. If we get so little to bite upon there is the tendency to repeat arguments which have been already advanced or perhaps to be driven back on the remarks of others who have previously spoken. I am certain that I am giving credit to the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth) when I say that perhaps he did not mean his arguments to be so harsh as they sounded to us on this side of the Committee. We pay respects to actuarial values, but he seems prepared to subordinate human values to actuarial ones. That is one conclusion I drew front his speech.
1159 4.45 p.m.
I quite agree that we should not spend outside our income, but there are occasions, as the Government of the hon. Member have demonstrated during their period of power, when it is essential to do so. Nobody will suggest that if we accepted this Amendment to substitute 3rd February for the date nominated by the Minister the economy of the country would be prejudiced. I am certain that no one among hon. Members opposite would seriously entertain such an argument.
The hon. Member for Basingstoke wondered how the deficit would be financed. He did not want it to be a further charge on Government expenditure, but the issue which presents itself is whether or not we are to increase, if necessary, the Budget deficit or to increase the death rate, the death rate particularly among the old people and those who are sick or unemployed. That is the choice we have to make on the argument as presented by the hon. Member for Basingstoke.
§ Mr. Denzil Freeth
The hon. Member's phrases are very striking, but if we come down to the question whether or not 7s. 6d., because of the rise in the cost of coal in the last month, and so on, would provide the difference between people being alive and dead, let us not forget the National Assistance Board, with its many discretionary allowances. Is not the whole of this argument about Budget deficits versus death sheer nonsense? Are we not arguing whether we should have a fund administered honestly, or saying that pounds, shillings and pence are meaningless symbols which can mean anything, because one can always make an argument for spending?
§ Mr. Rankin
I am not suggesting that pounds, shillings and pence are meaningless symbols but that they are more than actuarial symbols. They are also human symbols. In my view, they can represent the choice between life and death for a great many people.
The increase in the cost of living has been used as a pointer. My hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) quoted 11s. as the price for a bag of smokeless fuel. This morning my landlady, as I thought, put some coal on the fire. I casually asked her, "What is 1160 the price of coal in London now?". I thought that it was around 9s. or 10s., as has been suggested in the debate, but she said, "That is not coal. That is Coalite, and it costs 13s. a cwt." This is within a stone's throw of this Committee.
Old people will have to burn that Coalite or something like it, because the Government, through the local authorities, are creating smokeless zones all over the country. Those old people will require to burn that kind of fuel and to pay 13s. or thereabouts for each bagful they burn. My landlady said, "The trouble is not merely the cost of Coalite, but the speed with which it burns." I asked how many bags a week she used and she replied, "When I use it every day, and do not use the electric fire, I burn three and sometimes four bagfuls a week." That would amount to at least 39s. a week. It is evident that if the old people are to keep themselves warm they will be faced with far too heavy a charge for fuel on the meagre pension they are getting now.
The position will not be greatly improved by the increase which is coming to them and it will be made even worse by the fact that the increase will not come in time. The time factor is essential because when one gets on in years warmth becomes very important. Any doctor will say that respiratory diseases amongst old people are very prevalent from January right on till the end of the spring period. Because of these diseases, the death rate amongst old people is high. This is not something new. Those of us who are familiar with the works of Burns know that on the 25th JanuaryA blast o' Janwar win' blew hansel in on Robin".That is the one that kills. [Interruption.] Earlier, the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) went still further from this country and this Committee to say what he wanted to say. He ought to know as much about the Scots language as he knows about the French.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I cannot see any reference in the Amendment to the Scots or the French. This is dealing with a date, and I should be glad if the debate were confined to that.
§ Mr. Rankin
That date is important. I say that if it is delayed until the period that the Minister wants, and the date that we propose is not accepted, there is no doubt that the death rate amongst old people will increase more than it does now. If the hon. Member disagrees with my statement that that period of the year, which is a bitter period as to temperature, does increase the death, rate amongst the old, who find it more difficult than we do to resist the coldness, then he should consult any doctor, particularly some of the doctors who work outside the comparative mildness of the London climate, and he will get verification of what I am saying.
I am using no language that is exaggerated when I say to the hon. Member for Basingstoke that here we have a choice between actuarial values and human values. The hon. Member for Barry himself said that this increased payment should be made as soon as practical. Therefore, why should he contradict what I am saying when at least he himself seems partly to be on our side and, as he indicated earlier in the day, might have been thought to have a foot in both camps, once again?
I press this point upon the Minister. I am sure that he has been seized with the importance of this argument. If he says that it is quite impracticable because of one reason that has already been advanced, that it will cause very hard work in the Department—I am not against hard work for myself and I do not ban it for others—I suggest that it is not a very cogent argument to say that we cannot do this because it will cause work for someone. We do not want to impose unnecessary jobs on the Minister, or anyone in the Department—but that is not a reason. I am certain that the Department will be willing to do its best to carry out the Minister's wishes if he believes, as we believe, that, in the circumstances of this day and hour, it is essential that we should promote to an earlier period the day when this increase will take effect.
I trust that the right hon. Gentleman, in the short time that still lies before him. 1162 will reconsider his attitude and agree with our view that 3rd February should be the date on which this increase will be paid.
§ Mr. T. Brown
I have listened to many arguments in my Parliamentary experience, but I have never listened to one that leaves me more disturbed than the argument of the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth). He applied his mind to the question before us from a Stock Exchange point of view. With all respect to him, I shall not follow that line of argument. I am not concerned with what Littlewoods can or cannot do. I would say, in passing, Mr. Williams, provided that you will allow me to, that if Littlewoods did a lot less this country would be better off. I leave it at that.
I am concerned about the people on whose behalf we are pleading for bringing forward the date. If those people were living above the subsistence level, it would be a vastly different proposition. But let us occupy our mind with this fact: the people on whose behalf we are pleading are either on the subsistence level or below it. The evidence of that is to be found in the number of old-age pensioners who are forced by sheer economic circumstances to seek assistance from the National Assistance Board. Over 1 million people—one in every five pensioners—are now going to the National Assistance Board for supplementary allowances. Therefore, this plea applies in the main to the poorest section of our community.
A great deal has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) whose city has one of the most wonderful welfare organisations in this country. When we read the reports of the welfare work at Salford, with its characteristic human approach, we discover that the winter months, particularly January, February and March, are the worst months. A short time ago, I had an opportunity of discussing this matter with a well-known medical man, who has two sons all possessing medical qualifications, and I put to him the question, "What are the busiest months in the year for your profession?" He replied, "Our worst months are January, February and March." Those are the busiest months, which is proved by the fact that February 1163 shows the highest death rate among old people of any month in the year.
If by bringing forward the date from 3rd April to 3rd February we can help save these old people from experiencing grave hardship, let us do so. That is what we are pleading for. Let us not be hesitant in helping these old people who are either on the subsistence level or below it. We agree that the evidence shows that January, February and March are the three worst months. I do not know how the Department decided that the date should be 3rd April. It has been stated in many newspapers that this date would be administratively convenient, but we ought not to accept that. If the Minister has not the staff to do the job, he can call on the staffs of other Departments. We should remember that there was a time during the war when Departments which had little to do were called upon to help those Departments which had a lot to do. That was to help the war effort.
Here we have another war, not between nation and nation, but between the old-age pensioners and the Government. It is a war against poverty which has been raging for a number of years. We wish to put a stop to it if we can and to benefit our old people. Ever since the Bill was published, together with the White Paper which accompanied it, nothing has roused the anger of old-age pensioners more than the announcement regarding the date of operation. In the last few weeks my postbag has contained more letters on that subject than ever I have received during my long experience as a Member of this House.
The old-age pensioners are much concerned about the decision of the Government to pay this increase on 3rd April. I do not wish to weary the Committee, but it is as well that the Minister and his Department should know the feeling which exists in the minds of old folk. I can speak with great authenticity about what is in the minds of these people, because in my constituency there are 6,875 old-age pensioners and I have here a letter from the secretary of their organisation. It is dated 17th November. It states:Sir, At a meeting of the above branch held on Wednesday, 16th, we viewed with grave 1164 concern the new Pensions Bill which proposes an increase in the basic rate which comes into operation on April 3rd, 1960 and the appalling, horrible delay in payment. The basic rate increases, but if in receipt of National Assistance many pensioners would have their amount reduced as much as 4s. for single and 5s. for a married couple. We…register our vigorous protest and ask you to help us to get the payment of the increased pension at a much earlier date.Similar letters have been received by other right hon. and hon. Members, and in view of the disturbed minds of the old people, I hope that the Minister will respond by accepting this Amendment.
A great deal has been said about the conditions of the old people. We ought to remember, as was indicated by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East, that one of the greatest burdens the old people have to meet is the cost of coal, gas and electricity which they have to burn during the winter months. These costs have increased to an extent higher than ever before in the history of this country. I will not argue that old people buy the best coal, because they cannot afford to do so. They buy cheaper qualities, but the prices are 8s. 4d. to 9s. 10d. a cwt. These old people do not live in new houses. Often the houses in which they live were built eighty, ninety, and sometimes 100 years ago. Therefore, they must spend more on coal, gas and electricity than do those who are fortunate enough to live in new houses. On that score alone, I think, the Minister should accept this Amendment.
I repeat that if these people lived at the subsistence level, or above it, the picture would be entirely different; but they are the poorest of the poor. On Tuesday week I told hon. Members that I visited some of these old people—I know that there are hon. and right hon. Members opposite who may smile and think this funny—and I found that the days of riddling ashes from the fire are not over for them. I do not know whether hon. Members opposite know what is meant by "riddling". I do not suppose that any hon. Member opposite could tell me what it means. I am referring to riddling the ashes from the fire in order to use them the following day and in that way to obtain the utmost from the coal which is burnt. The right hon. Lady the Joint Parliamentary Secretary may glance at the Minister, but I 1165 am trying to put before the Department a picture of what these old folk have to do in order to get some warmth in their homes day after day.
The Minister has the "brass"—they call it money in the South, but in the North we call it "brass"—and he has the necessary civil servants which we have boasted many times are second to none. Of course, there are exceptions, and the Minister knows it. They may turn a bit awkward if they are called on to do something out of their usual routine. The administrative machine is available to perform this work on behalf of a section of the community which is entitled to benefit from a little extra effort on the part of the Government Department concerned so that they may enjoy a little extra sustenance and warmth before extreme winter conditions descend upon them.
There are, I know, some right hon. and hon. Members who regard what I am saying as sentimentalism. That is not so. It is prompted by a burning desire which dwells in the hearts of us all that the Government shall at least concede what is expressed in our Amendment. Today the cry comes not from Macedonia, as it did in the old days, but from the old-age pensioners. I hope the Minister will accept this Amendment and bring a crumb of comfort and consolation to these old people as they travel towards the western shore of life.
§ Mr. James Dempsey (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
I want to say a few words in support of the Amendment, which brings forward the operative date of the proposed increases from April to February. I have always understood that, quite apart from the contributors, the Government had some responsibility for pensioners, but we seem to be learning this afternoon from the right hon. Gentleman, from the Parliamentary Secretary and from hon. Gentlemen that pensions must be dependent on the contributions paid. That is not good enough. After all, old-age pensioners and other persons who are entitled to National Insurance benefits today are the people who have made their contributions to society. Indeed, they have probably made a greater contribution to society than any other section of the community.
1166 Having listened to some of the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite, one would think that merely because people pay contributions it means that no increased benefits can be introduced until they commence paying increased contributions. That argument cannot be accepted. It is not accepted by the Opposition. It is not accepted by public representatives or by anybody who has a sense of responsibility towards pensioners and other recipients.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) gave the answer. He explained that there is an emergency fund, and anyone who has any experience of bookkeeping or accounting knows that such a fund is created for emergency purposes. Here is an opportunity to use that fund. It was created for exigencies such as this, and the operative date could conveniently be brought forward to the first Monday in February instead of April by using a part of this fund.
Many of my hon. Friends referred to the conditions in which old people find themselves in the early months of the year. Before I came to the House I was a member of a welfare authority. Without fear of contradiction, I can confirm what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun). We conducted research and discovered that the percentage of old people who died during the early months of the year was higher than at any other period. Surely that should be accepted by all responsible hon. Members. I am therefore surprised at the callous attitude adopted by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen in refusing to face this fact.
I do not accept that it cannot be done at this time of the year. It has been done before. Benefits have been increased at this time of the year on previous occasions. If it could be done in the past, it can be done now. I do not believe that the argument put forward by hon. Gentlemen is fair or reasonable.
It has been said, and it is a valid point, that nearly six months will elapse before people receive the increased allowances. Do the Minister and his hon. Friends know of any other section of the community which has had to wait six months before receiving increases which have been awarded? I do not. I know of certain sections of the community which 1167 may have had to wait but which received retrospective payments when salaries were increased. Sometimes those payments have been backdated several months. I know of no section of our community which has had to wait six months from the date of the announced increases before receiving something which is certainly not adequate, but which will be an improvement on the present lot of these people.
It must be clear to everyone that the winter months are an important period of the year. It is the period during which these people have to overcome the hazards of our climate. Surely it is the period of the year when additional benefits are an urgent necessity.
I urge the Minister to realise that it is his responsibility to face this problem. I believe that many right hon. and hon. Members have received representations from their constituents about this matter. I forwarded one representation to the Minister and received a charming reply from the right hon. Lady which was in the negative. The letter contained a long dissertation about the effective date and the nature of the increases, but I was rather interested in one sentence which read:There are now nearly 5½ million pensioners and it is not, of course, the position that they are all poor.Also, it is not, of course, the position that they are all rich. Indeed, it is well known that the majority of these people are living in poverty. It is for that reason that the Amendment has been tabled. It is because of their economic conditions that we feel that the operative date for this increase should be brought forward.
We have learned that thousands of pensioners are not likely to enjoy these increases because they will not live long enough. It reminds me of the old adage, very often used in my part of the country—I do not know whether it is used extensively in the South—"Live on old horse and you'll get corn." That seems to be the attitude of the Government; if these elderly people live long enough they may receive the benefit of this increase.
I thought it rather ironic that it should be argued that all increases must be tied 1168 to contributions and that the Exchequer liability must be strictly limited while the workers' contribution is unlimited. It was said that we must be careful with our subsidies. I cannot help thinking about the subsidies paid to the agricultural industry, especially when I remember that part of the subsidies have been used to provide central heating for cattle. We want money for coal for fires for human beings.
I live in a town where different forms of entertainment are organised to raise money in order to give old-age pensioners two bags of coal for the Christmas and New Year holidays. That is the state into which the old-age pensioners have been driven because of their meagre pensions. Surely the Government ought to reconsider their attitude towards the operative date. Unless it is altered, it will mean that the winter months will have gone and the old folks among others will not have enjoyed these increases at the time when they needed them most. It will also mean, according to the normal death rate among pensioners, that several thousands will have passed beyond the veil and will never have had the opportunity of receiving the increases.
If the Government are convinced that there is a valid case for making these increases, there is no excuse for delaying six months. If they are necessary, as the Minister believes that they are, in April 1961, they must be equally necessary in February 1961. The logic is clear.
It will be some time before allowances are reviewed, according to past precedent. During the interval the standard of living of these deserving persons will deteriorate. If we are to honour our responsibility to those entitled to these benefits, we should do so at once. There is no need to wait six months before granting these modest increases.
I ask the Government to reconsider this and not to be intoxicated by the size of their majority. The eyes of the people, especially those who have the interests of the needy at heart, are on the Government. The Government may stand or fall by an attitude such as they are adopting at present.
The Government have a responsibility to the nation, apart from their responsibility to those entitled to these benefits. The Amendment is clear, logical and 1169 reasonable, being based on the fact that if the increases are necessary in April 1961, they are even more necessary in February 1961. I hope that the Government will accept it, and let the pensioners and others have their increases long before April 1961.
§ Mr. Ifor Davies (Gower)
I intervene in this debate in order to discharge my solemn promise to do everything I can for the many Old Age Pensions Associations which I have had the privilege to visit. I shall now attempt to do this in a few words.
I have heard it said that the spoken word is the most effective instrument of conviction. I have listened to most of the debate, and I have heard some sincere attempts to persuade the Minister. I am reminded of some words spoken soon after my recent arrival at the House by the late Member for Ebbw Vale, Mr. Bevan. I am delighted to see his successor here. Mr. Bevan looked at the benches opposite and said, "The problem is not how much of a majority the Government have, but what they intend to do with it".
Shall we see the Government's large majority used tonight to defeat this simple Amendment, which seeks in simple terms to bring forward benefits for old people by a few months? Are we to see hon. Members opposite using their majority for that purpose? If they do, the country should take note of it.
I have visited many Old Age Pensions Associations. How many hon. Gentlemen opposite have done so? How many of them have heard the clear and sincere appeal being made on behalf of old-age pensioners? If they have not been, they should go. If they had been, they would vote differently on the Amendment.
I need not repeat many of the arguments which have been advanced. Some hon. Members have argued that this is an actuarial problem. Others have argued that it is an administrative problem. The truth is that it is neither. It is a human problem. Because it is a human problem, we on this side are continually rising to appeal to the Minister. I hope that he will heed our appeal and not shut his mind to the plight of old age pensioners. If he feels that there is sincerity in our appeal, he should heed it in the interests of democracy. He 1170 should do this, not merely for the sake of satisfying our appeal, but in the interests of the people for whom we speak.
Many of us receive correspondence on this subject. There is one phrase which appeals to me in a letter I have received from the National Association of Old Age Pensioners:How well-fed men and women can bear to think of such injustice is beyond comprehension…I repeat it. It will be beyond comprehension if the Government with all their power tonight vote down this simple Amendment, which merely asks for the benefit to be paid a few months earlier. I therefore beg the Minister to heed our appeal.
§ Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)
I hope the Minister is now convinced that the silence or indifference of his own side will not expedite the proceedings. It becomes rather farcical when the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) gets down on his knees, as he inevitably does, and accepts every word that the Minister says and then disappears from the Chamber until the next Amendment is called, when he will, no doubt, reappear, make another speech, and disappear. It makes a farce of our proceedings when no convincing arguments, based on humanitarian grounds, are advanced by hon. Gentlemen opposite why the Amendment should not be accepted.
The Minister adduces two arguments. The first is the administrative convenience of introducing the increase in April. The second is the actuarial desirability of introducing it at the same time as the new scheme is introduced. There is another argument which the right hon. Gentleman probably dare not adduce, namely, that for every week he delays he saves £2 million. In the eight weeks the difference between our proposal and his is £16 million. That consideration is in his mind. He gives the impression in the country that this is a consideration in the minds of the Government.
Eight weeks do not matter one way or the other to me or to the ordinary worker receiving a wage increase, but it is a substantial proportion of the remaining life of the average old-age pensioner. They coincide with the period when, as has been pointed out very forcibly by my hon. Friends, expenses are at their heaviest.
1171 I want to mention one or two points which have not been mentioned so far. Many old people receive help from their families because of the inadequacy of the pension. Many of those from whom they receive help are unemployed in the winter motnhs, because unemployment figures inevitably rise then. Help which would normally be received from the family is not easily come by in winter months.
Another point which has not been mentioned is that there is more ill health in winter months and, consequently, more prescriptions are needed by old people. Each time they go for a prescription they have to pay the 1s. which this Government put on. From all these points of view, their expenses in the winter months are increased.
Industrialists are saying that the period of stability in the cost of living is coming to an end. There is every indication that prices will rise in the next few months. The price of coal has already risen. Gas, electricity, transport and haulage will cost more. That must have repercussions in other parts of the economy. By next April the increases being given in the Bill will have been filched away by the rising cost of living.
I do not believe that it would be administratively impossible, as the Minister alleges. If the Minister had a real desire to do this he would order his civil servants accordingly. That is what civil servants are for. He would compel them to accede to the desires of the House of Commons. Apart from the hon. Member for Barry and the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth), no arguments have been adduced from the benches opposite against our proposal.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Denzil Freeth
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He has twice referred to the absence of my hon. Friend the Member for Barry (Mr. Gower). Would he not agree that there are hon. Members on his side of the Committee who, having made a contribution to the debate, have temporarily left the Chamber, all no doubt, like my hon. Friend, for excellent reasons?
§ Mr. Hamilton
I am not complaining about the hon. Member's absence. I am complaining about his consistent subservience 1172 to his own Front Bench. He accepts every word that is spoken from the Government Front Bench. When we get that situation, it really makes a farce of our debates, and, of course, he makes matters worse by his disappearance. I am not sure that in five or ten minutes' time, according to the length of time that the debate goes on, the hon. Gentleman will not be back again to make his contribution on the next Amendment and will then disappear again, for good or bad reasons.
§ Mr. Hamilton
Yes, he will certainly be back for the Division, as he was reported to have done yesterday.
The House is coming into disrepute precisely because of the kind of debate that we are having today. The best answer that the Minister could give would be to say, "All right, we will give the old-age pensioners the increase in, say, a month's time." We should be prepared to accept March rather than April as the date for the commencement of the increase—or even February—which would be a compromise between the two. Let the Minister make an effort to introduce a little humanitarianism into his attitude towards the matter instead of arguing on the grounds of administrative convenience and actuarial necessity.
§ The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
We have had yet another of these debates in which a considerable number of speeches have been made attacking Her Majesty's Government on the ground that they have not, in the particular aspect involved, done conspicuously better than did right hon. Gentlemen opposite when they were responsible. This becomes extremely material when the attack is made—and it has been made on this Amendment—not on the basis that there is a disagreement on the merits and details of the proposal, but on the basis, to quote the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), that it is a really heartless feature, or that we have mocked the pensioners in their distress, or when it is made on the lines of the hon. Member for Glasgow, Govan (Mr. Rankin) or the 1173 hon. Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun), when they said that it will cause the death of a number of pensioners.
When hon. Members speak in those terms, they really put in question the sincerity of their charge, and, indeed, invite the comment that when they were themselves responsible they managed these things in much the same way. The other day the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) objected to what he called a "stale statistical labyrinth". Unfortunately for him, HANSARD printed "State statistical labyrinth". But we have all suffered from that. He indicated the hypersensitivity that hon. Members opposite reveal when reference is made to what they themselves did.
Hon. Members opposite must appreciate that if they base their attack on the Government on the grounds of heartlessness, callousness and the driving of people to their deaths, they are in the dilemma that either they did the same themselves or that they are making an attack in which they do not believe.
Let me remind the Committee of what, in fact, right hon. Gentlemen opposite did in respect of the only increase in pensions which they made after the original Act came into force. They took, from the announcement to the operative date, twenty weeks in respect of some pensioners and twenty-four weeks in respect of others. This operation which we are conducting is to take twenty-two weeks from the date of the announcement to the date of operation. Let us analyse, therefore, the suggestion that this is callous and heartless, and all the rest of it, and compare the problem.
The 1951 change was made at a time when the pensions of 4 million retirement pensioners had to be uprated. Now there are 5½ million. It was at a time when no other fundamental changes were made. This change, as my hon. Friends have reminded the Committee, is being made in the context of the fundamental change that was introduced by the 1959 Act into National Insurance, with all the inescapable complexities that a change of that sort involves.
I am bound to say to the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton) that I do not regard it as so surprising, as he appears to do, that hon. Members on this side of the Committee agree with 1174 each other. That is perhaps one of the distinctions between the two sides of the Committee. However, I will not carry that interesting theme further in the presence of the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot).
Let us again take the contrast between the two operations, that between 1951 and 1961, from the point of view of the pensioners and from the point of view of the degree of urgency. At that time, as the Committee knows, the value of the pension—at the time when the announcement was made in 1951—was very much below its original value in real terms. Today it stands at about 5s. 6d. above that original value. Not only was that the case, but at the time of that change right hon. Gentlemen opposite were proposing a change which would not have restored the original value of the pension even when it came into operation at the end of the twenty and the twenty-four weeks.
At the time of this change we are starting on the basis of an existing pension whose real value is higher than at any time previous to January, 1958, and which, broadly, has retained its 1958 value—in contrast to the state of affairs which I have described at the time of the 1951 change. If it is really a true and genuine charge of callousness and so on, what is the language that it would have been appropriate to use when right hon. Gentlemen opposite took the same time in those very different and far more compelling circumstances of 1951?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I am going back to the time when right hon. Gentlemen opposite were responsible in order to test the sincerity of the charges which they have made for two hours this afternoon.
What happened after the orginal 26s. rate started? In 1947 the cost of living rose 3.7 per cent., more than it has risen since January, 1958. In 1948, it rose 4.6 per cent., in 1949, 3.6 per cent., and in 1950, 3.9 per cent. No proposals of any sort or kind were brought forward to improve the rate of pension, and it was only in 1951, a year in which the cost of living index rose 13 per cent., that a proposal was brought forward. It is 1175 material to this discussion on alleged delay that in that period of 22 to 24 weeks between the announcement and operation in 1951, the index rose 7 per cent. How it lies in the mouth of the hon. Member for Sowerby and his hon. Friends to introduce, as he sought to do, these emotional considerations into this debate is a matter for their own consciences. In the words of the late Lord Birkenhead, I can only congratulate them on their courageous consciences.
Let me say a word or two upon the task which we have in operating this change. I dealt with this on Second Reading, and I then drew to the attention of the House what I thought were the reasons why we were right, a long time in advance, as we had to be in planning an operation of this sort, in fixing the beginning of April for the commencing date. At this stage, our preparations are well under way. If they were not, we could not pay the benefits in April.
I must say to the Committee that at this stage, at any rate, if would not now be possible to advance the date to 3rd February or anything like it. The Committee will realise what a very considerable operation this is, involving as it does the alteration of retirement pension order books, 100,000 of them in each week and 5½ million of them in all, and involving, as it will on this occasion, five successive weeks in which, after due notice, pensioners will be asked to bring their books to our offices for the higher values to be included in them. This is a very elaborate operation in which we should have failed our duty if we had not planned it well ahead and for a particular date. Therefore, I must say to the Committee before I proceed to justify, as I shall, this decision, that—as the hon. Member for Sowerby understands very well—if would be impossible without risking dislocation and further delay to alter the procedure now planned and indeed in operation.
§ Mr. Hunter
If the right hon. Gentleman cannot say 3rd February, could he not date back the increase to 3rd February and let the pensioners have the increased amount in April?
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I do not think that that is the right way to treat an insurance scheme, nor, as the hon. 1176 Gentleman will appreciate at once, would it meet the main argument which has been made that there would be suffering between February and April. Payment made in arrear in April, whether good or bad, would not meet what I certainly understood to be the major point on this Amendment.
I should like to make this quite clear. At this stage, the date in the Amendment is not practicable. I will, of course, as it is my duty to do, justify the decision taken, and will deal with the suggestion that has not been made very forcefully this afternoon but which was made at Question Time the other day, that we should drop the procedure for the calling in of pensioners to the offices for the proper up-rating of books. That was dealt with very well by the right hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) when this suggestion was made on the occasion, of which I have reminded the Committee, in 1951. She then said:All these orders must be replaced either by orders for the new rates, or by amended orders, properly authenticated, before the Post Office officials can pay the new pensions. I would ask hon. Members to remember that. Some of them have suggested that this money might be paid out without our taking the usual precautions. I think it would be agreed by hon. Members on both sides of the House that that would be an entirely irresponsible approach to this matter."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th April, 1951; Vol. 487, c. 592–3.]I fully agree with what the right hon. Lady said.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Most certainly. There has been so much that the right hon. Lady has said with which I have disagreed that I am happy to recall one measure of agreement.
Now I come to the justification of the decision. First, on the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth) made, which has a very real bearing on the allegation of great urgency, this is overwhelmingly an operation not to catch up with a diminished value of the pension but to raise its standard. Quite obviously, therefore, there must be a lesser element of urgency than if the situation were as it was in 1951, when an attempt was made to catch up with a diminished value. It is accepted, and even the hon. 1177 Member for Sowerby accepts that it is not practicable or reasonable to raise contributions between now and April. In the light of that, I feel that there is very great force in what was said by my hon. Friend to the effect that, unless a very extreme situation arises, it is very wrong from the point of view of the long-term future of this Scheme to separate increases in contributions from increases in benefit.
This is an insurance scheme, and it involves, as I said on Second Reading, a quite considerable sacrifice from those who are at work. If we are to preserve the contributory nature of the Scheme, and therefore its feature that payment of benefit is made as of right, we must not undermine this contributory basis—as we should do by separating the payment of contributions and pensions.
Thus, we come to what the hon. Member for Sowerby called—I do not know why—the sordid question of finance. When one is dealing with a National Insurance Scheme which next year will pay out some £1,200 million of public money, it is necessary to look at questions of finance with very considerable care. I make no apology for the fact that we do attach importance to the financial side of this. I must remind the Committee that already in this year, in order just to maintain the current rate of benefits, we are facing a deficit on the Scheme of no less than £94 million——
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
—£47 million of which will come from the Exchequer and £47 million by running down the Fund. I should like to say a word or two about both those matters. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Sowerby is not here, though perhaps it is for perfectly good reasons, but I must deal with his argument, and I should be discourteous if I did not. He said that because the Act of 1954 gave authority for the expenditure in respect of deficiency payments of £325 million for a number of years, that £325 million was available for this purpose. The hon. Member and the Committee know perfectly well that there is a very real distinction between obtaining Parliamentary authority for expenditure 1178 and the wisdom or unwisdom of incurring it in any one year. Expenditure under that Section of the 1954 Act, which has now been amended by the 1959 Act, as the hon. Member for Sowerby reminded us, an expenditure of £47 million, is already being used this year for the purpose of maintaining the benefits even at their present level.
As to the running down of the Fund, the Fund is held in gilt-edged securities, and what is involved there in running down the Fund is a sale of the Government's own securities. That, of course, is equivalent to Government borrowing. It is not a painless method of paying for benefits, and if the Committee would like a most admirable exposition of the economic effects of this proposal, I would refer them to the only Budget speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, made in 1951.
We come therefore to this position, that in order to meet the date suggested in the Amendment, there would have to be an additional expenditure of £24 million directly or indirectly falling upon the Exchequer. When the Committee appreciates the very large financial load involved in meeting the current year's deficit, I should have thought that that was a proposition which would at least disturb hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. We are here dealing with substantial sums of public money, and I do not regard it as sordid that we should exercise the care which any Government would have to apply when dealing with substantial expenditure.
We then come to the argument as to whether we should, none the less, advance the time of payment because of the onset of winter. I accept, as everyone does, that winter is naturally the most difficult time for all of us, and for old people in particular. But what really determines the standards of the poorest section of our people is not the National Insurance benefit rate but the National Assistance scales and the supplementary payments which may be made with them. They are the determining factor, and for that reason some of the arguments about hardship in the context of National Insurance benefits were off the mark. The point was made that the new National Assistance scales 1179 would operate only from April. The very good reason for that, as those who have experience of this matter will recall, is that the greatest disappointment and confusion are caused if the increases are separated in time.
What the Committee has not realised, apparently, is that whereas the Bill will provide as from April an improvement in real standards for recipients of National Insurance, recipients of National Assistance are already enjoying, as the result of the improvements made in September, 1959, a large part, or instalment, of the rising standards. I would be out of order if I reminded the Committee of the debates which we had in the summer of 1959 on the Regulations by which those improvements were brought about. The Committee will recollect, however, that I put the argument, and was not challenged on it, that those improvements represented the first real, substantial increase in National Assistance scales, as opposed to adjustments to meet cost-of-living changes, which had been made since the Board was set up in 1948. In this winter, during the time to which hon. Members have devoted so much of their speeches, that improvement in standards for the poorest section of the people, already in force, will be available. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] It is no use hon. Members saying, "No". It is a fact, and a fact of the greatest importance for the poorest section of all.
On top of that, there are the discretionary additions paid by the National Assistance Board in two-thirds of the supplements to retirement pension. There are payments in respect of rent and rates; in assessing the requirements of householders, full rent and rates are provided for in 99 per cent. of the cases. And, quite apart from the cost of fuel being taken into account in assessing other provisions, there are allowances for exceptional fuel requirements which, at the height of last winter, were being paid by the Board in 293,000 cases.
We, therefore, come to the point that the argument as to the winter, and as to the problems imposed on old people by the winter, is not an argument which bears very directly or very strongly on the question now before us, namely, whether the National Insurance rates should operate from February or April.
1180 For that reason, after very careful thought—and I hope that the Committee will do us the credit of accepting that these are matters which no Government, whether one agrees with them or not, would decide without a great deal of thought—we came to the conclusion, and set the machinery of Government to work on that basis, that the right time to make these improvements was at the beginning of April.
We took account of the various factors which I have mentioned and in particular that a large instalment—the larger part—of the improvement in real standards for the poorest of the poor—the recipients of National Assistance—would be in operation throughout that period. The conclusion we reached, for the reasons I have given, cannot be sincerely criticised by hon. Members opposite when one recalls that what we are doing is to raise the highest level of pension value ever to a still higher level in the same time as hon. Members opposite took not even to restore the original pension to its original value.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I cannot speak for every hon. Member, but I am sure that I am expressing the opinion of my hon. and right hon. Friends when I say that the Minister's reply, or defence, was singularly unsatisfactory. Very nicely, he based everything upon the question of hardship, linking that up with something which had been done ten years ago. Instead of justifying his proposals, he spent most of his time attacking the Labour Government for something that happened ten years ago. He missed out one of the series of increases of benefit, that which he himself introduced in 1957–58, when he took great pride and preened himself—as did his hon. Friends—on quickly introducing an increase of pensions and National Assistance scales. All his arguments today about the winter not really mattering were the very reverse of what his hon. Friends said on that occasion when they praised him for making the improvements simply because of the coming winter.
However reluctantly it has been prised out of them, and however gradually they have honoured it, hon. Members opposite gave a pledge to the old people—before the election—that the old people would share in the good things that the great prosperity of Britain would bring. 1181 Hon. Members have used that pledge in by-elections since the election. Did any of them think that the Government would take anything from a year to eighteen months to honour that pledge? When that pledge was made, did hon. Members opposite think that the increases—however inadequate as we think they are—would be dangled before the old people and the unemployed and the sick for five months?
I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton) made his comment about the unemployed, which the right hon. Gentleman did not answer. During the corresponding period covered by this lapse, last winter there were more than 100,000 unemployed in Scotland and, in view of the Government's present performance, there will not be many fewer this winter.
The Government are asking the retirement pensioner, the sick and the widows to accept £2 10s. as their social security benefit and make do with that until April. That is what was behind the eloquence of the right hon. Gentleman—nothing more and nothing less. If he thinks that there is no hardship among the millions of people who will be affected by the Bill, he is quite wrong—and he knows that he is quite wrong. I sometimes think that before Ministers come to listen to debates like this the Treasury issues them with special earplugs. It may be that after a time they do not need them, although I would not say that about the right hon. Gentleman.
The right hon. Gentleman based much of his case tonight on administrative inconvenience—it came to the impossibility—of making the increases earlier than proposed in the Bill. On Second Reading, he made it plain that he did not rest his case on the administrative bottlenecks which would arise because of the simultaneous introduction of the graduated scheme. The graduated scheme has not exactly come as a surprise to the right hon. Gentleman. It was dealt with in Committee two years ago, and so two years ago the right hon. Gentleman knew that it would start in April.
The right hon. Gentleman also said that this was a calculated plan. That is what we object to. It was calculated 1182 to be introduced at the same time as the graduated scheme. This is the real reason which the Minister did not explain to the Committee. The Government proclaimed before the workers that they were introducing a great new scheme, but they explained very little about it. The story that went about was that the lower-paid workers in the scheme are to have a reduction of 1s. 7d. in the contribution. What are the Government doing now? We heard from the hon. Member for Barry (Mr. Gower) yesterday how wonderful it was that all this would be done, that there would be an increase of 7s. 6d. for a single person and 12s. 6d. for a married couple, and that the contribution would be reduced. What has happened is the reduction of 1s. 7d. has now become a reduction of 2d.
By introducing these changes at the same time as the graduated scheme the Minister has sunk an increase which is costing the contributors more than £130 million—1s. 5d. per week for each individual. The real reason for this is Treasury convenience. The Minister talks about the solvency of the scheme. Does he suggest for one minute that the National Insurance Reserve Fund would be ruined and that the great economy which the Conservatives say they are building up, thus enabling us to afford an extra 7s. 6d. a week in pension to the single person, would be destroyed if we gave the increase for an extra few weeks? It would cost just over £24 million, and the Reserve Fund amounts to more than £1,000 million.
Does the Minister expect the House of Commons to accept that? Where are the hon. Members who support him? They are elsewhere hiding their faces in shame, for this is more than they can listen to. We heard about it from the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Denzil Freeth). The hon. Member did not talk about his aunt today. He reserves for debates on the Finance Bill what happens in relation to the investments of the aunt from Basingstoke. It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman did not consult a few pensioners from Basingstoke, for he would then have realised that what my hon. Friends have been saying about hardship is right.
The hon. Member said that we must not do this. He said that there might be 1183 a time—the Minister said the same thing—when we could use the Reserve Fund, but this was not the time. Would there ever be a time when the Tories would be prepared expeditiously to use such a fund in order to benefit the people rather than putting the burden upon the taxpayer? The burden goes on the taxpayer every time. The hon. Member also talked about inflation. He visualises, if the Amendment is accepted, rampant inflation because the old-age pensioners would get an extra 7s. 6d. What will they spend it on?
§ Mr. Ross
The hon. Member has found places where he can buy coal cheaper than anyone else in the country—provided one buys it according to some index or other in a Government Blue Book. About the only thing which has not gone up in this country is the cost-of-living index, and the sooner something is done about that the better. Rent costs are rampant all over the country. The first things that the old-age pensioners have to pay are rent and rates, and what they can buy after that is dependent upon the amount which is left to them. A first charge upon that is the cost of their fuel. A retirement pensioner gets, with sickness benefit, £2 10s., and that is all.
I have not been satisfied with anything that the right hon. Gentleman has said, and I am sure that my hon. Friends have not. In his own interests the Minister ought to accept our proposal to bring forward the date as much as possible. We have given figures to show the real increase in values which it would mean. Since we have been told of the figures, 6d. has been knocked off the 7s. 6d. because the cost of living has gone up a point. Already a pension of £2 17s. 6d. is worth only £2 17s. Would the right hon. Gentleman venture a guess as to what the cost-of-living index will be in
§ April? All the indications are that it will go up even further than it is now. Therefore, even before the retirement pensioners get the benefit of this, as it is proclaimed, great advance, part of it will have been eroded by inflation.
§ I am not one of those who are prepared to accept the wonderful stories about what the Conservatives have done for the old-age pensioners. I am very glad that I got under some people's skins last night by what I said. Today the figure of 5s. 8d. has been quoted, which is at today's prices. The value of the tobacco coupon is now 2s. 6d., and that leaves 3s. 2d. At today's prices, that is the increase since 1946. This is the proclaimed Tory advance.
§ There is one other thing which the right hon. Gentleman has forgotten. We had two revolutions in the early days of the Labour Government, one in social security and one in the National Health Service. The National Health Service meant more even than increased pensions to retired people. What have the Government done about that? For most of the retirement pensioners the 5s. increase has gone because of the charges for prescriptions which were imposed.
§ The Government have nothing to be proud of. If hon. Members opposite are prepared to accept in silence what the Minister has said and walk sheepishly through the Lobby in support of him, refusing to recognise that the Minister could have done what we suggest if he had wanted to, then I shall be deeply disappointed. Hon. Members opposite have the opportunity of bringing their pledge into practical effect two months earlier if they support us. For the sake of their own reputations and Britain's reputation for being generous to her old people, I sincerely hope hon. Members opposite will support our Amendment.
§ Question put, That those words be there inserted:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 174, Noes 225.1187
|Division No. 7.]||AYES||[6.10 p.m.|
|Ainsley, William||Bence, Cyril (Dunbartonshire, E.)||Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)|
|Albu, Austen||Benson, Sir George||Brown, Thomas (Ince)|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Blackburn, F.||Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)|
|Allen, Soholefield (Crewe)||Boardman, H.||Callaghan, James|
|Awbery, Stan||Bowden, Herbert W. (Leics, S.W.)||Castle, Mrs. Barbara|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Bowles, Frank||Chapman, Donald|
|Baxter, William (Stirlingshire, W.)||Boyden, James||Chetwynd, George|
|Beaney, Alan||Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Cliffe, Michael|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Brockway, A. Fenner||Corbet, Mrs. Freda|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Jay, Rt. Hon. Doug'as||Rankin, John|
|Crosland, Anthony||Jones, Rt. Hn. A. Creech (Wakefield)||Reid, William|
|Cullen, Mrs. Alice||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Ross, William|
|Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.)||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Royle, Charles (Salford, West)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Kelley, Richard||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Dempsey, James||Kenyon, Clifford||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Diamond, John||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Dodds, Norman||King, Dr. Horace||Slater, Mrs. Harriet (Stoke, N.)|
|Donnelly, Desmond||Lawson, George||Slater, Joseph (Sedgefield)|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Small, William|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. Chuter||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Smith, Ellis (Stoke S.)|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||Lipton, Marous||Sorensen, R. W.|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Loughlin, Charles||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Edwards, Walter (Stepney)||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Evans, Albert||MacColl, James||Stones, William|
|Fernyhough, E.||Mclnnes, James||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. (Vauxhall)|
|Fitch, Alan||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Fletcher, Eric||Mackie, John||Summerskill, Dr. Rt. Hon. Edith|
|Foot, Dingle||McLeavy, Frank||Swingler, Stephen|
|Foot, Michael||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Sylvester, George|
|Forman, J. C.||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)||Symonds, J. B.|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Manuel, A. C.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Mapp, Charles||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Galpern, Sir Myer||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Ginsburg, David||Mason, Roy||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Mayhew, Christopher||Thompson, Dr. Alan (Dunfermline)|
|Gourlay, Harry||Mellish, R. J.||Thomson, G. M. (Dundee, E.)|
|Grey, Charles||Millan, Bruce||Thornton, Ernest|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Mitchison, G. R.||Timmons, John|
|Griffiths, W. (Exchange)||Monslow, Walter||Tomney, Frank|
|Grimond, J.||Moody, A. S.||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Gunter, Ray||Morris, John||Warbey, William|
|Hall, Rt. Hon. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Mort, D. L.||Watkins, Tudor|
|Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Moyle, Arthur||Weitzman, David|
|Hart, Mrs. Judith||Mulley, Frederick||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Hayman, F. H.||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Healey, Denis||Oliver, G. H.||Whitlock, William|
|Herbison, Miss Margaret||Oram, A. E.||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Hill, J. (Midlothian)||Padley, W. E.||Williams, D. J. (Neath)|
|Hilton, A. V.||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Holman, Percy||Pargiter, G. A.||Woodburn, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Houghton, Douglas||Pavitt, Laurence||Wyatt, Woodrow|
|Howell, Charles A.||Pearson, Arthur (Pontypridd)||Yates, Victor (Ladywood)|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Peart, Frederick||Zilliacus, K.|
|Hunter, A. E.||Pentland, Norman|
|Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Popplewell, Ernest||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Probert, Arthur||Mr. Redhead and Dr. Broughton.|
|Janner, Barnett||Proctor, W. T.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Channon, H. P. G.||Fell, Anthony|
|Aitken, W. T.||Chichester-Clark, R.||Finlay, Graeme|
|Allason, James||Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Fisher, Nigel|
|Arbuthnot, John||Clark, William (Nottingham, S.)||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Cleaver, Leonard||Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)|
|Atkins, Humphrey||Cole, Norman||Freeth, Denzil|
|Balniel, Lord||Collard, Richard||Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.|
|Barber, Anthony||Cooke, Robert||Gammans, Lady|
|Barlow, Sir John||Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham)|
|Barter, John||Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Godber, J. B.|
|Batsford, Brian||Cordle, John||Goodhart, Philip|
|Beamish, Col. Tufton||Corfield, F. V.||Gower, Raymond|
|Bell, Ronald (S. Bucks.)||Costain, A. P.||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gos & Fhm)||Coulson, J. M.||Green, Alan|
|Bevins, Rt. Hon. Reginald (Toxteth)||Craddock, Sir Beresford||Grimston, Sir Robert|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Critchley, Julian||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.|
|Bingham, R. M.||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Gurden, Harold|
|Bishop, F. P.||Cunningham, Knox||Hall, John (Wycombe)|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Dalkeith, Earl of||Hamilton, Miohael (Wellingborough)|
|Box, Donald||d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Deedes, W. F.||Harris, Reader (Heston)|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||de Ferrantl, Basil||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)|
|Braine, Bernard||Digby, Simon Wingfield||Harvey, John (Walthamstow, E.)|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Doughty, Charles||Harvie Anderson, Miss|
|Bullard, Denys||du Cann, Edward||Hastings, S.|
|Burden, F. A.||Duncan, Sir James||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Eden, John||Henderson, John (Cathcart)|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Elliot, Capt. W. (Carshalton)||Hendry, Forbes|
|Campbell, Sir David (Belfast, S.)||Elliott, R. W.||Hicks Beach, Maj. W.|
|Campbell, Gordon (Moray & Nairn)||Emery, Peter||Hiley, Joseph|
|Carr, Compton (Barons Court)||Errington, Sir Eric||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)|
|Carr, Robert (Mitcham)||Erroll, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Hirst, Geoffrey|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Farr, John||Hobson, John|
|Hocking, Philip N.||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)||Shaw, M.|
|Holland, Philip||Maudling, Rt. Hon. Reginald||Skeet, T. H. H.|
|Hollingworth, John||Mawby, Ray||Stevens, Geoffrey|
|Hopkins, Alan||Maxwell-Hyslop, R.||Stodart, J. A.|
|Hornby, R. P.||Mills, Stratton||Storey, Sir Samuel|
|Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Patricia||Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Howard, John (Southampton, Test)||Montgomery, Fergus||Summers, Sir Spencer (Aylesbury)|
|Hughes-Young, Michael||Moore, Sir Thomas||Talbot, John E.|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark||More, J.||Tapsell, Peter|
|Iremonger, T. L.||Morrison, John||Taylor, E. (Bolton, E.)|
|Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Nabarro, Gerald||Teeling, William|
|Jackson, John||Nicholls, Sir Harmar||Temple, John M.|
|Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Nicholson, Sir Godfrey||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Noble, Michael||Thomas, Leslie (Canterbury)|
|Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Nugent, Sir Richard||Thomas, Peter (Conway)|
|Johnson Smith, Geoffrey||Oakshott, Sir Hendrie||Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Kerans, Cdr. J. S.||Osborne, Cyril (Louth)||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Partridge, E.||Tiley, Arthur (Bradford, W.)|
|Kimball, Marcus||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Kirk, Peter||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Turner, Colin|
|Lancaster, Col. C. G.||Pilkington, Capt. Richard||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Langford-Holt, J.||Pitman, I. J.||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Leather, E. H. C.||Powell, Rt. Hon. J. Enoch||Vaughan-Morgan, Sir John|
|Leavey, J. A.||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Leburn, Gilmour||Profumo, Rt. Hon. John||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Proudfoot, Wilfred||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)|
|Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Quennell, Miss J.||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Derek|
|Lilley, F. J. P.||Ramsden, James||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Linstead, Sir Hugh||Rawlinson, Peter||Watts, James|
|Longbottom, Charles||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin||Webster, David|
|Loveys, Walter H.|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Rees, Hugh||Whitelaw, William|
|McLaren, Martin||Ridley, Hon. Nicholas||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Maclay, Rt. Hon. John||Ridsdale, Julian||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty)||Rippon, Geoffrey||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)||Wood, Rt. Hon. Richard|
|Maddan, Martin||Robertson, Sir David||Woodhouse, C. M.|
|Maginnis, John E.||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Maitland, Sir John||Roots, William||Woollam, John|
|Markham, Major Sir Frank||Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Marlowe, Anthony||Royle, Anthony (Richmond, Surrey)|
|Marshall, Douglas||Russell, Ronald||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Marten, Neil||Scott-Hopkins, James||Mr. Bryan and Mr. Sharples.|
|Mathew, Robert (Honiton)||Seymour, Leslie|
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.