§ 4.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
I beg to move, in page 13, line 27, to leave out:
and to insert:
"57 6 17 6 9 6"
"68 6 20 0 10 6".
§ The Chairman
It might be for the convenience of the Committee to consider with this Amendment the seven other Amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), which deal with the same point. Three are on page 57 of the Notice Paper, one is at the top of page 58 and the remaining three are on page 59.
§ Mr. Houghton
I am obliged to you, Sir Gordon, for suggesting that we should consider this group of Amendments together. I am sure that it will meet the convenience of the Committee and save time.
We are starting a little later in our business today than we had hoped, and I am sure that it will be for the convenience of both sides if we are able to complete the Committee stage in the course of the day and go on to Report and Third Reading, finishing the Bill at a reasonable hour. We on this side will do our best to co-operate in that programme. There will follow this group of Amendments another group dealing with widows' allowances and widowed mothers, and these will be the two principal matters which will engage the attention of the Committee this afternoon.
I said yesterday that by the curious order of our affairs we usually discuss things the wrong way round, and I wish to make clear at the outset that, although, 1334 for procedural reasons, the Amendment which I am moving relates to unemployment and sickness benefit only, the group of Amendments covers nearly all the main benefits in the National Insurance Scheme with the exception, as I said, of widows' allowances and widowed mother's benefit.
I admit at once that we have not covered every single benefit. For example, we have not proposed any increased allowance for dependants or dependent wives, nor in maternity allowances nor in guardian allowances. These are technical omissions. I explained to the Committee yesterday that it is a laborious process, sometimes beyond our resources, to include all the appropriate Amendments when trying to alter the major benefits. I shall make it plain that what I am now moving is an Amendment associated with a group of Amendments which are designed to raise the general level of National Insurance benefits over and above the proposed increases in the Schedule.
There is another technical point which I might mention, in passing. By passing the Second Schedule last night we have approved the contributions. That, again, is not the order in which we would wish to deal with the matter, but I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not tease me and my right hon. and hon. Friends with the fact that we have already approved the contributions—so what? We must now concentrate on benefits and, for the moment, leave contributions aside. Having cleared the decks, perhaps I may now proceed to the Amendment.
When the Government first announced these proposed increases I told the House, on behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, that my first reaction was that they were not enough. When we came to Second Reading we were even more certain of this. The question that we have had to consider is whether we, as an Opposition, should say what amounts the benefits should be or whether we should do no more than complain and ask the Government to reconsider their proposals.
This is a dilemma which the Opposition are frequently in. We have given this matter anxious consideration and have come to the conclusion that it is our duty, in a responsible manner, to 1335 put before the Committee our conclusions for improved benefits in money terms. That is why we say, in our Amendments, what we think the retirement pension and other benefits should be.
In doing this, we have been very much helped by a decision of the Trade Union Congress which was conveyed to the Minister during the summer by a deputation of the General Council of the T.U.C., of which I happened to be a member. If hon. Members on either side of the Committee wish to study this further, it is on page 49 of the Report of the General Council of the T.U.C., 1960.
The approach of the General Council to this matter was, and always has been, that the standard benefits under the National Insurance Scheme should provide an adequate basis of subsistence. It has continuously pressed the Minister to look at the level of benefits in that light. The deputation went to the Minister with a proposal for new benefits under the National Insurance Scheme. It represented to him that these should be, for a single person, £3 8s. 6d. and, for a married couple, £5 3s. 6d. The T.U.C. said that these benefits should be introduced pending a comprehensive inquiry into the needs of the elderly especially—their mode of life, their cost of living and other factors relating to their welfare—which might enable the Minister the better to come to conclusions about the levels of the retirement pensions.
It was pending such an inquiry that the General Council put forward the proposals which I have mentioned. These are the figures which we have included in our Amendments to this Schedule. We on this side feel that if the General Council of the T.U.C., a responsible body acting under the authority of the Congress, can go to the Minister with proposals for new benefits at this level, we should not shrink from putting forward the same level of benefits for the consideration of the Committee today.
We are not unmindful of the fact that when it makes such proposals the T.U.C., of all people, has in its mind the financial consequences of those proposals, and, presumably, is prepared to face those consequences on a fair and equitable basis. That reinforces our 1336 own conclusion that we can put before the Committee today the same figures as the T.U.C. proposed to the Minister.
There are, however, one or two further observations that I should make in this connection. These proposals are not our last word on the subject, nor should they be taken in detail as a standing commitment to the Labour Party. Fresh thought is being given by the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party to the whole subject of social provision, and particularly to retirement pensions and National Insurance benefits.
As the Committee well knows, the Labour Party was the pioneer in this country of the graduated pension scheme. The Conservative Party, as is its custom, has copied from our programme a scheme that it saw was a growing attraction to the community, and the graduated pension scheme—or, at any rate, the Conservative Party's version of it—is now on the Statute Book, and will come into operation at the beginning of April.
We know, too, that although a graduated pensions scheme may eventually assist in solving the problem of provision for old age, there is at present, and even under the Labour Party scheme, no graduated benefit for sickness and unemployment. In that respect, our scheme is in contrast to many others throughout the world and, in particular, to a very interesting pattern of social security that one finds in such countries as Czechoslovakia, where I have recently been to study their social security system. One finds that other countries have not hesitated to write into provision for unemployment and sickness the wage-related principle that we have applied only to retirement pensions.
I therefore want to make it plain that everything I say today is without prejudice to the outcome of the further consideration being given by the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party to the whole subject. What we say today is that if we had the responsibility for these matters now we should be doing more than the Government propose to do. We should certainly aim at doing no less than the T.U.C. has asked for, and we would consult it on how the improvements should be paid for.
1337 Even that is not the whole picture. We should probably need to recast the whole scheme—especially its financial structure—in order to achieve our main purposes. The figures that we put forward in the Amendment, therefore, are put there as an indication of what we think the minimum rates of benefit should be at the present time. They are, for a single person, 68s. 6d. which is 10s. 6d. more than the Government propose; and £5 3s. 8d. for the married couple, which is 11s. 4d. more than the Government proposed.
I acknowledge that in our proposals the relationship between the benefit for a single person and that for a married couple is not in accord with the symmetry of existing benefits, but that is explained by the manner in which the Trades Union Congress arrived at its own proposals. Since it was concerned with a minimum basis of subsistence, it constructed its proposals on the then, and present, National Assistance Scales, plus an addition for rent. The Minister will, no doubt, have already discovered that the 68s. 6d. for a single person is based on the National Assistance scale of 50s., plus 18s. 6d. for rent, and that the amount for the married couple is based on the National Assistance scale of 85s., plus 18s. 6d. for rent, making the new figures 68s. 6d. and 103s. 6d. respectively.
That was the T.U.C. approach; it would not necessarily be my own, nor would it necessarily be that of my right hon. and hon. Friends. There are several approaches to the question of the adequacy of minimum benefits. I myself would suggest that the wage level is perhaps the most practical, pragmatic approach to the adequacy of benefits. There are many difficulties about comprehensive inquiries into a mode of life, and one of them is the length of time that it would take to hold an inquiry. I need not dwell on that. The figures are here to speak for themselves, and it is possible now to say that, in our opinion, they are not too high. Further, we will assert that they are not too high if we are still to follow the Beveridge principle.
At this point, I must apologise to the Committee for coming back to the question asked in 1954 by the present Colonial Secretary, because it is a key question, and until it is answered I do not think that we know where we are going. I have quoted it already, but I 1338 hope that the Committee will bear with me again. Winding up the Second Reading debate on the 1954 Bill, on 9th December, 1954, the then Minister of Health, and present Colonial Secretary, posed the same question that had, in fact, been posed by the present Lord Ingleby, then Minister of Pensions and National Insurance. He said:This is the first question to which I draw the attention of the House. I quote from the beginning of paragraph 239 of the Beveridge Report;'Any plan of social security worthy of its name must ensure that every citizen, fulfilling during his working life the obligation of service according to his powers, can claim as of right when he is past work an income adequate to maintain him.'Is that still our text, implying, as it does, contributions not only from the employer and the State, but from the employee as well? If that be not our text, exactly what are we prepared to put in its place?"—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 9th December, 1954; Vol. 535, c. 1231.]Hon. Members will notice that he asked: what exactly are we prepared to put in its place? Not only did he not answer that question; it has not been answered since. On these benches, our policy aims at the fulfilment of the Beveridge principle, and our answer to that question is that it is still our text, and that our aim would be to fulfil it as nearly and as quickly as possible. Only by that means can we reduce the part that National Assistance is having to play in our social services. If we aim at reducing the number of people on National Assistance, we simply must pursue this policy of the adequate minimum.
In that same debate in 1954, the then Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, now Lord Ingleby, expressed his grave concern at the steady increase in the number of people compelled to seek help on a means test basis. He was anxious to reduce the number, yet we see that, six years later, the part which National Assistance is playing in this social provision is disproportionately high. There are well over 1 million National Insurance beneficiaries who are having to go to the Assistance Board. I repeat that while I deplore any suggestion that assistance from the National Assistance Board is a stigma on those who apply, it is our hope that that feature of the scheme will be reduced in importance. That surely is an understandable aim for a scheme of social security.
1339 I acknowledge, too, that there are differences of opinion, not perhaps all on one side of the Committee, but certainly more markedly on the other side, about the relationships between a pension as of right and the help which should be given according to need. But I said on Second Reading, and I repeat, that there is no doubt whatever as to the policy of my right hon. and hon. Friends on that matter.
I think that I have just about discharged my task in dealing with this group of Amendments. I say, in conclusion, that one can sweep away all such statistical factors as the retail price index, the level of average earnings, and the wages index. The increase in real terms of the benefits today, compared with what it was in years gone by is not half so great as is sometimes believed. All those factors can be set aside in the light of the simple test which every man and woman in the country can apply. Can a person live on 50s. a week? No, and the Government say "No". Can a person live on 57s. 6d. a week? We say, "No". Can a married couple live on 92s. 6d.? Can a widow live on 57s. 6d.? We know the answer. The fact that those who receive only the basic benefits have to go to the National Assistance Board for supplementation is surely proof of that assertion.
The question remains: what is the Committee to do about it? Is the Committee satisfied with the improvements proposed by the Government? Does it think that the alternative figures which we have put forward are excessive? The Committee cannot possibly think any such thing. What then is holding back the Committee? Is it, perhaps, a consideration of the cost, or a consideration of the present level of contributions? May I say this, in parenthesis, without implying any reflection on, or rebuke to, my right hon. and hon. Friends. I have never heard the contributions to the National Insurance Scheme described as a poll tax by people in the trade union movement.
Do not let us burke this. It shows that the great mass of workers are prepared to play their part financially in supporting an adequate scheme of social security. That does not mean that they are prepared to be fleeced. It does not 1340 mean that they are prepared to pay a disproportionate share of the cost. But it does mean that they are prepared to "stand their corner", and the Trades Union Congress made that clear to the right hon. Gentleman when it met him early in July.
I make these statements emphatically to convince the Committee that this is not just an operation in urging higher benefits and shirking the financial consequences. There is dissatisfaction, quite legitimately in my view, with the present financial structure of the scheme and the way in which the Minister has so skilfully transferred to the shoulders of the contributors burdens which the Exchequer fully contemplated having to bear under the Scheme as it was before the Act of 1959.
I do not wish to dwell further on that, but to deal with benefits, which is what the Committee is considering. We feel that the Government should have gone further. They should have gone further in fulfilling their pledge. They should have gone further towards the fulfilment of the Beveridge principle. They should have gone further in trying to reduce the numbers who will have to go to the National Assistance Board. They should have gone further for the honour of Britain, to show the world that we wish to keep in the vanguard of the development of our social services and not fall behind countries who, in the past, we regarded as laggards in this respect.
We have a proud place in the world in the history of social security, and I think that the Committee will be anxious that Her Majesty's Government should uphold it, and, indeed, further it as time goes on. The Government have an opportunity this afternoon to strike a fresh blow for the prestige of Britain in this sphere of social security.
§ Mr. Tom Brown (Ince)
I support the Amendment which has been moved so ably by my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). I was particularly interested in his argument, which has been strongly advanced throughout the two-day debate, about pensions and trying to take away from the National Assistance Board the number of people who are now receiving assistance. It is not my intention to discuss the number of people who have 1341 been forced to go to the National Assistance Board because of the inadequacy of the basic pension paid to them, except to say that at the moment over 1 million are forced, by economic circumstances brought about by old age, misfortune, or sickness, to seek recourse to the National Assistance Board.
I never have—and never will so long as I am able to voice my opinion—wholeheartedly condemned the administration of the National Assistance Board. I maintain that, with few exceptions, it performs a useful job. Having said that, I want to stress the importance of relieving the National Assistance Board of a large amount of work. It can be done if we have the will to do it. It is not that our economic status does not permit it; it is that there is a rather ungenerous approach to what should be done for the old people.
I have been looking at some cases, and here I stress the importance of the right hon. Gentleman and his Ministry taking a little more interest in this. I know that they have a big task in administering the departments for which they are responsible, but more care ought to be exercised over the National Assistance Board. It is no use the Ministry of Pensions trying to shelter under the National Assistance Board umbrella, because it is not quite watertight. During the whole of the debate yesterday and the day before, whenever hon. Members on this side of the Committee have put forward cogent and unchallengeable arguments, they have been met with two objections—first, that if our Amendments were accepted they would upset the financial structure of the National Insurance Scheme; and, secondly, that the people on whose behalf we are speaking can have recourse to National Assistance.
The Minister cannot challenge that. Yesterday, when we were talking about bringing forward the effective date of the Bill from 3rd April to 3rd February, the argument was advanced that those people who could not maintain themselves on their old-age pensions could go to the National Assistance Board. Perhaps my mind travels in a totally different direction from the minds of other people, but I never like telling an old-age pensioner in straitened circumstances to apply for National 1342 Assistance. But that is the only remaining source of help.
I have particulars of a case in which an old lady who applied for assistance was told, "You must go carefully, madam." Go carefully—on £2 10s. a week! That ought not to take place. In a country which boasts of its increased prosperity; which says that its people have never had it so good and that the standard of living of our people has been improved in the last few years—and I am not challenging that—it must be remembered that the improvement has been mainly due to increased productivity by the mass of the workers, and we should now be able to say that those who have given of their best to industry in the past should have a fair share of the increased prosperity and improved economic conditions.
People who find themselves up against a very tough problem are not getting the generous treatment they ought to receive. I have always said that the acid test of an old-age pension is whether it is sufficient to enable the pensioner to maintain a decent standard of living. In the case of the old lady to whom I have already referred, and others, the test of the adequacy of the pension lies in how much it will put into the shopping basket, and whether it will provide sufficient to enable the pensioner to live properly.
The old lady I have mentioned was told by the Ministry of Pensions to go to the National Assistance Board, and also that she would have to go more carefully with her expenditure. She suffers from arthritis, and her doctor has told her to keep warm in the cold weather. That aspect of the matter was raised in our debate yesterday. In this case it means that the old lady must keep a fire in day and night, and she is burning nearly 2 cwt. of coal a week in a wasteful, broken-down grate. Seventeen shillings is a lot of money when one's total income is 40s., apart from rent allowance. I admit that this old lady is in receipt of rent allowance. She lives alone at the top of the building because the top floor is cheaper to rent than the second and ground floors. She is over 70 years of age. She did not receive any coal allowance from the, National Assistance Board. In my opinion, it should have been provided.
1343 She buys 2 cwt. of coal, which costs 17s.; she has to pay a small sum to the coalman for carrying the coal up four flights of stairs, and she gives him 3d. Her milk costs 2s. 4d.; her cheese costs 9d.; she has a cut off the outside of a boiled ham, which costs her 6d.; she has ½ lb. of onions, at 5d.; her bread costs her 1s. 11½d.; a quarter of a lb. of tea costs her 1s. 8d.; she has ¼ lb. of stewing beef, at 1s.; ½ lb. of margarine at 8d., and three eggs at 1s. 1½d. In cleaning materials, she spends on soap and soda a total of 6d. The fixed rate for her gas cooker is 4s. 6d., and her electric light bill is 1s. 4d. She buys 2 lb. potatoes, at 8d.; four Oxos at 6d.; ½ lb. of sugar at 3½d.; ¼ lb. of cooked meat, at 10d., and she pays her window cleaner 1s. 2d. every fortnight. In addition, she spends 1s. on medicine. What has she to live on after she has paid for the bare essentials? Hers is only one of many cases I could quote from all over the country. This old lady told me that she spent her pension by Tuesday, and had to wait until Thursday before she received the following week's pension. That sort of thing ought not to happen in these days, when we boast of our increased prosperity and improved standard of living.
I will not mention other cases, particulars of which I have in my possession. I will merely suggest that the right hon. Gentleman and his Department should ask the officers of the National Assistance Board and of the local Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance offices not to tell people who are living below the poverty line, on an inadequate pension of £2 10s., to go more carefully. God knows that they go carefully enough; they have to, or they will starve.
I have been reading a report issued by a very well-known society. The report is called "The Care of the Aged," and the second paragraph says:The overwhelming majority of those receiving National Assistance receive rent allowances in addition to the scale rates which are set for requirements other than rent, and when the full impact of the rent increases provided for under the 1957 Rent Act begins to develop the number of applications for National Assistance is bound to grow very considerably.There we have an independent body, not concerned about £ s. d. but about the care of the aged. What it says in its 1344 report has proved to be true since the coming into force of the 1957 Rent Act. Most people have been compelled to go again to the National Assistance Board in order to eke out a livelihood.
I know the Minister will advance the argument that, with their suggested scales and increases in benefits, etc., the Government are giving the old people, the sick, the infirm and the unemployed their share of the national cake. But are they? We spend about £170 million from the Exchequer on financing assistance for these people. So far as I have been able to obtain the figures, in 1959 the national financial cake amounted to £20,882 million. What is the Department's share of that? How much would it take to provide an adequate pension, or something more than the Government are recommending. If we take a 5 per cent. slice, it would amount to £1,000 million. A 6 per cent. slice would amount to £1,250 million and a 7 per cent. slice would be, roughly, £1,466 million. Therefore, I say that the Minister cannot advance the argument that what we ask for in this Amendment would upset the financial structure of the insurance scheme.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby referred to the industrial workers. As I said in a previous debate, if it comes to what we in Lancashire call "heigh-lads-heigh" if the Minister finds himself in a financial difficulty and if he cannot pay an increased pension for which we ask, the industrial workers are prepared to pay an increased contribution. The Minister has the power to increase the contribution, and there would be no quibbling by the industrial workers if their share of the payment were increased, provided that the State paid its fair share and the employers paid their fair share. But the workers must be assured that the money they pay is distributed so far as possible evenly to the old people.
Owing to the shortage of time, it is not my intention to develop other points which I have in mind. There is a strong feeling, however, and it has been manifested more every day, that the old people are not getting the fair share that they should in the economic circumstances of the country. It is about time we faced that problem. I should like 1345 the Minister to tell us how many White Papers have been issued on the problem of the aged and their care during the last few years. There have been quite a number since 1951, and now we have reached 1960. The Government say, "We are not going to increase the pension until 1961." I know that I shall be out of order if I continue on that theme, but it is a regrettable thing. Not only is the pension inadequate to meet the needs of these people, but it is a shocking thing that they should have to wait until 3rd April before they get the increase.
This afternoon we are pleading once again that the Minister should consider and accept our Amendment. There is only a difference of 11s. between hon. Members on this side of the Committee and hon. Members opposite. I know that the Minister will argue that if he increased the basic pension for the aged he would have to increase the other benefits. It is a logical argument. But let us give this a trial, let us see how far and to what extent the Government, assisted by hon. Members on this side of the Committee, can bring some comfort, joy and happiness into the lives of the 5,750,000 old people, the veterans of industry and commerce, who have given of their best and who are entitled to receive in return the best that the country can give them, an adequate pension on which to live in a degree of comfort.
§ Mr. Richard Marsh (Greenwich)
When this debate started, it was suggested by one hon. Member that it is possible to judge the standard of civilisation in a country by the treatment of people incapable of looking after themselves. I think that is very true. I believe that when aged Eskimos are incapable of keeping themselves they are left out in the snow to freeze to death. In some parts of the world old people who have a job to support themselves are eaten. In this country we appear to continue to pretend that such people do not exist. That is the big argument behind this Amendment, whether these people should be treated as human beings or not.
One of the things which worries me is that in this country it is possible to whip up an enormous amount of enthusiasm and public feeling about the treatment of horses shipped from Ireland 1346 to the Continent but nobody gives a hang about what happens to the old people. One large national newspaper, the Daily Mirror, fought a campaign regarding the treatment of horses and another regarding the treatment of the old people, and it got far more reaction from the public about the treatment of the horses than the treatment of old people who had worked to make this country what it is.
There is an immeasurable gulf between the two sides of the Committee on the fundamental problem touched on in this Amendment. As was said my by hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), the basic argument is whether the old people should be entitled to have a decent standard of living or just be kept on the subsistence level. Hon. Members opposite and the Minister, although their sincerity may be great, have a poor law mentality; that is part of their makeup. When Oliver Twist held out his bowl and asked for an extra helping of porridge he was refused by a workhouse master who was a political ancestor of the right hon. Gentleman. It is the genuine approach of hon. Members opposite to give the very minimum that public opinion will allow them to get away with. The intention behind this Amendment is to try to persuade them to give a little more.
The big difference between the two sides of the Committee arises out of our attitudes to the Beveridge Report. The whole purpose of that Report was to change the attitude towards the welfare of the sick and those who are incapable of looking after themselves; to abolish the previous poor law mentality and the idea that it is the job of the State only to stop them from starving. In place of that mentality, the Beveridge Report time and again says that it is a new responsibility of the State to give these people a decent standard of living. All the way through the Report there are such references. In paragraph 444 it states:The aim of the Plan for Social Security is to abolish want by ensuring that every citizen willing to serve according to his powers has at all times an income sufficient to meet his responsibilities.I do not think that even the right hon. Gentleman would suggest that 57s. 6d. a week is sufficient to enable anybody to meet responsibilities of any type at 1347 all. In paragraph 450 of the same Report it states:Want could have been abolished in Britain just before the present war. It can be abolished after the war, unless the British people are and remain very much poorer than they were before, that is to say unless they remain less productive than they and their fathers were.Of course, it is perfectly true that since this Government have been in office production figures have not been encouraging, but it is also true that the people of this country enjoy a very high material standard of living. What is behind the opposition of the Minister to this Amendment is a refusal to accept the basic requirement and the basic principle of the Beveridge Report, that we should move away from the idea of merely preventing people from starving and give them a decent standard of living. There are many views about what the standard should be. Even if the Amendment were carried—I prophesy that it will not be—no one would suggest that this was a reasonable income. From time to time hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the Committee spend more on one meal than they are prepared to offer old people to keep themselves with for a week. Hon. Members on both sides spend more on one evening out than they are prepared to give old people who have worked for the entire country.
There is something basically wrong in this approach. When I was in the Army I came across a military expression. I will translate it very freely, Mr. Arbuthnot, otherwise you would not accept it. It is something to the effect, "Blow you. Jack. I am doing very nicely, thank you." There is a variation of that. This has become increasingly the attitude of people in this country to others less fortunate than themselves It is the attitude behind the 57s. 6d. a week which we are prepared to give other people, an income which not one hon. Member could live on. Hon. Gentleman opposite certainly could not live on it. The right hon. Gentleman certainly could not live on it.
The immediate cry which one hears from hon. Gentlemen opposite is, "Where is the money coming from?" If the economy were a little more efficiently managed, we could pay for it 1348 out of the increased efficiency. Until such time as we have a Government capable of running the affairs of the country effectively, we must look at the situation as it is at present.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
The hon. Gentleman's party should first make itself capable of running its own affairs.
§ Mr. Burden
I want to put the hon. Gentleman right on one point. I am probably as actively engaged as he is in the welfare of old people. In fact, I have dedicated much of my time during the last ten years to it. I am actively engaged with an association which probably does more for old people than any other body in this country. It is called Cottage Homes, which provides free homes for old people. I can probably tell the hon. Gentleman much more that could be done by everybody without calling upon the Government to do it.
§ Miss Margaret Herbison (Lanarkshire, North)
The offence came in the first instance from the opposite benches.
§ Mr. Marsh
I am trying to make an appeal to hon. Gentlemen opposite. The moment one begins to try to prod their rather hard consciences, they growl like a lot of angry rabbits. What we are trying to do is to show quite clearly that there is a simple issue between us: do we believe that old people are entitled to a reasonable standard of living or do we not? If we believe that they are entitled to a decent standard of living, we do not make fine speeches; we go through the Division Lobby and vote for it. It is a simple issue.
The other night one hon. Gentleman said that benefits could not be increased 1349 without contributions being increased. This is a complete fallacy. I was always opposed to a scheme based upon contributions, but as we have such a scheme we must accept it.
I do not share the cynicism of hon. Gentlemen opposite about my fellow citizens. If we went to the people and said, "We guarantee that increased contributions will be used to enhance the welfare of the aged. We want a greater contribution from you", I am convinced that most people I know would be only too happy to pay it. That is the general attitude of people towards those less fortunate than themselves.
It is also suggested that people should provide for their own old age and hardship. It is often said that it is not the job of society to look after people. I was intrigued when the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) suggested that a distinction could be drawn between voluntary bodies supporting old people and the State supporting old people. Any money which comes from the State obviously comes from us. We are fully aware that any money which the Government pay out has been paid to them by the taxpayers, but money paid from Exchequer sources has normally been garnered from the population according to ability to pay. It has been garnered by Income Tax. That is the test of making the correct contribution.
It is impossible for many ordinary people to provide for their future out of their own means with any degree of security. The average industrial wage today is between £13 and £14 a week. Since the Government's economic policy has pushed prices to such a height, the minimum deposit required by someone purchasing a house is between £400 and £500. That represents a lifetime's saving for many people. They cannot move into a house and still have money left over for their old age.
There are tens of thousands of people on short time. No one on short time is in a position to provide for his old age. In a few weeks of short-time working and under-employment a worker can get through literally months and months of savings.
There is no alternative to the financing of social security except through the 1350 State. The only body which can support those less fortunate than ourselves is the State. The State can, and should, undertake that responsibility. The Government should at any rate go some way towards it by accepting the Amendment.
The final point which is always made is the most appalling of all. It is the glib comment that they can go to National Assistance. It is always pointed out that many of them do go there. That is true. Leaving aside the question of people having to go cap in hand to ask for extra money in their old age, I believe that they are entitled as of right to a decent standard, including even such wild luxuries as a packet of cigarettes, a pint of beer on a Saturday night and an occasional visit to the cinema. In present circumstances they have to go to the National Assistance Board, where they are dealt with, I admit, by staff who do the best they can and who are as courteous and helpful as they can be. Is it sensible to maintain an organisation to pay out pensions when about one-fifth of those who draw them find it necessary to draw additional benefits from another body?
Paragraph 307 of the Beveridge Report, which deals with the adequacy of benefit, says:The fourth fundamental principle is adequacy of benefit in amount and in time. The flat rate of benefit proposed is intended in itself to be sufficient without further resources to provide the minimum income needed for subsistence in all normal cases.Paragraph 308, which deals with the comprehensiveness of the basic scheme, reads:The fifth fundamental principle is that social insurance should be comprehensive, in respect bath of the persons covered and of their needs. It should not leave either to national assistance or to voluntary insurance any risk so general or so uniform that social insurance can be justified.At present over 1 million people depend upon a National Assistance as the only method by which they can have a decent living.
What we ask in the Amendment is that the conscience of the House of Commons should be moved to such an extent that we shall begin to move back to the principles enunciated in the Beveridge Report. Even if old-age pensioners received the amount mentioned in the Amendment, they still would not have a very large income.
1351 If hon. Members sincerely desire to do something for old people let them vote for the Amendment. The cry of old people at present is not for sympathy or declarations of understanding. What they want is an increase in their benefits as soon as they can possibly get them.
§ Miss Herbison
I want, first, to take up the point made by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden). It seemed to me shocking that when we were trying to discuss as reasonably as possible this very serious matter of the welfare of old people, of long-term unemployment and of the chronic sick, an hon. Member opposite should feel that the only interjection he could make was a jeering one about the dissensions in the Labour Party. He went on to inform us that during the past ten years he had done a great deal of work for old people. I accept that statement, but what I should like to find when we go into the Division Lobby on this Amendment is that the hon. Member is with us. I will tell him why.
I know that in every village and town in the country a great deal of the most wonderful voluntary service is being done for our old people. I hope that it will always continue to be done because one cannot replace that personal affection and help by State intervention. I start from there and I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on whatever work he is doing in this field. But where we have to leave to voluntary organisations the welfare and well-being of such a big proportion of our population it becomes charity of the worst possible kind, and charity of which I would have no part. I think that is what divides many of us on this side of the Committee from hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Burden
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for giving way, but she must not be surprised if I am rather cynical about the attitude of some hon. Members opposite, particularly of herself, for she was a member of the Socialist Government which in 1951 increased old-age pensions by only 2s. 6d. a week, and then only for people over 70 years of age. I would ask people who are cynical about our attitude to read the Budget speech in 1951 of the right hon. Gentleman who is now the Leader of the Opposition.
§ Miss Herbison
I do not need to read that Budget speech. I know it thoroughly. At that time, just when it looked as if we were going to overcome our serious economic difficulties of those post-war years, we were faced with the war in Korea. That war hit this country—which is most vulnerable in these matters—more than any other country in the world. The hon. Gentleman is intelligent enough to know that. One of his hon. Friends in another place made it perfectly clear recently that that was the case. He was not trying to make any political kudos out of it.
However, when I discuss this matter, I do not discuss it from the standpoint of 1951 when as a nation we were faced with a very serious situation. I discuss it in the light of the election of last October when all over the country the Tory posters were telling people that they had never had it so good—an election in which every piece of Tory propaganda was appealing to the very basest in the souls of the people. In other words, the Tories were saying, "If you are all right, never mind what is happening to anybody else." I am very sorry that that appeal was successful. Many of the people who accepted it and who are now the unemployed in the motor car industry and elsewhere are very sorry indeed that they voted for this Government.
I base the case that we are making today on what the Tories told us in October, 1959, on all the promises which they made and on their statements that we were living in an affluent society and had never had it so good. If we start from that premise, then we have to see what the old people, the chronic sick and the long-term unemployed get from this affluent society. What have they got from a Government that tell us that we have never had it so good?
I know the answer which the Minister will give us. It will be a long diatribe of statistics. My concern is the well-being of the old people at the present moment. All hon. Members have them in their constituencies. In a constituency like mine and in any constituency in Lanarkshire—the figures given this week by the Ministry of Labour show that we have over 7,000 unemployed—the old people are suffering even greater hardship.
Most working-class people are warmhearted. I am not saying that people 1353 from other classes are not, because I find kindness and generosity all over my constituency from whichever class of people it comes. We find that, in the main, working-class people try to care for their old people. At the end of the week, the son or daughter, probably married and living away from home, tries to help the old people, even if it is only with half-a-crown or five shillings.
As I have said, we have 7,000 unemployed in Lanarkshire, and these people are quite unable to provide that little bit of extra help to their aged parents. That is why in this Amendment we are so anxious to help old people more than they will be helped by the increases proposed by the Government. We are asking that a single person should receive 11s. more than the Government are proposing to give them.
I was interested in the statement made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) when moving this Amendment. He speaks with great knowledge of this House and of the Trades Union Congress. He made it perfectly clear that, as far as the Trades Union Congress was concerned, it believed in the contributory system. He also made it clear that it would be willing to pay its fair share of an adequate pension for our old people. But, at the same time, my hon. Friend stated that if the Trades Union Congress was willing to do that it wanted the Government to pay their fair share, something which they are not doing today. It seems to me that with the workers willing to pay, the Government ought to be willing to find the rest of the money with which to give the reasonable increase for which we are asking.
I come now to what the Government are proposing as against what we are proposing. On 3rd April next the new scales will come into operation. I am very sorry indeed that our Amendment which proposed to bring the new scale into operation earlier than 3rd April was not accepted by the Government. As I listened to the debate on that Amendment, I felt that had it been a matter of producing something in a national emergency we would have produced it, not in April or in February but in a month's time. It seemed to me that it was not the means that were lacking but the desire on the part of the Government to provide them.
1354 On 3rd April next a single old person will receive £2 17s. 6d. The person who does not receive a pension as of right will then receive by way of National Assistance under the scales then in operation — not today's scales—£2 13s. 6d. I take it that £2 13s. 6d. is considered to be the mere subsistence level on which a single person can live, because, over and above that £2 13s. 6d., there is the question of rent. So we are going to give by way of contributory old-age pensions 4s. more than the basic minimum for our old people. That minimum is heartless and we are to give 4s. more than that.
For the couple on National Assistance, £4 10s. is to be the basic minimum. The National Insurance couple are now to have £4 12s. 6d., only 2s. 6d. more. Since the Government feel that for a couple on £4 10s. they have to find the rent, it means that any couple without another source of income than the retirement pension—to which they have contributed and which is theirs as a matter of right—will have to appeal to the National Assistance Board at least for payment of their rent.
That is the way we ought to measure what these scales mean. It seems wrong that so many of our people should have to do that. What I am asking for is not a great deal. It would not give a couple or an old single person the kind of life I should like to have for my own mother, but at least it would make things a little better for them. If the Government have the desire, they would find that the way is clear for them to accept this very modest Amendment.
I want to deal with the long-term unemployed. Under Section 62, after a certain time they lose their benefit anyway and have to go on National Assistance on this lower scale. In areas in Wales and England, and particularly in Scotland, there are long-term unemployed. It is not the case of being unemployed for a month and then going to another job, or being unemployed for three months and going to another job. Our people have been hanging about the street corners month after month. This increase will be a pitiful increase for them.
Then we have the case of the chronic sick. Their lot is every bit as serious as 1355 that of the old people. Some of them may never be able to work again, and many have children. One came to me only last week from a good family in my village. The family desires to educate its children, as many Scots families do, but it is finding the greatest difficulty in keeping the eldest girl at school because the father has been chronically sick for a long time. People in that position are to get a little help under the proposals of the Government. They would get a little further help under our proposals. If we relate these proposals to people we actually know and live among, we realise that the proposals are not nearly good enough.
I hope that what we have proposed, which was so ably put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby and backed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown), will be accepted by the Government and that there will be a promise from this affluent society, this never-had-it-so-good Government, that these people shall benefit a little from the supposed Tory prosperity in our country.
Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)
I must start by expressing my regret and apologies to the Committee for not being present at the beginning of the debate, but, unfortunately, the Public Accounts Committee was holding its opening meeting of the Session at that time and I had to attend.
I very much regret not being present, because I had wanted to take part in this debate, on these actual figures, and to mention a particular figure among the Amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). I am referring to the proposal to increase the basic pension for a single person from 57s. 6d. to 68s. 6d. I think that I am right in saying that that is the key figure in the whole group of Amendments we are now considering. It would be fair to say that all the others, in a way, stem from that.
I very much regret that I was not able to hear from his own lips how the hon. Member arrived at the figure of 68s. 6d. I understand—I hope that he will correct me if I am wrong—that it was arrived at by adding the average rent payment on National Assistance to the 1356 basic National Assistance scale, if we can call it that, or some such formula. I do not deny for a moment that that is one way in which one can arrive at a suitable figure for a basic pension at any given moment of time. Of course it is, but it is fair for us on this side of the Committee to point out that this is quite a new concept coming from the Labour Party.
§ Mr. Houghton
It is a great pity that the hon. and gallant Member did not hear my speech, because I put these proposals in a very wide context indeed. What will be of importance to him at the moment is that in the Amendments we have put down to the Schedule the proposals for increases in benefit are those which were put by a deputation of the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, which waited on the Minister in July. I explained how the T.U.C. had arrived at its figures. The description given by the hon. and gallant Member is correct. I did say that these proposals were put forward from this side of the Committee as the best indication for the time being of the sort of level of benefits which would be universally acceptable as an interim measure by this side of the Committee and the Trades Union Congress.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I am much obliged to the hon. Member, but the fact that this has the blessing of the Trades Union Congress does not alter the fact that it represents a new concept and quite a new approach to the problem from that on which the Labour Party fought the General Election, and incidentally from that which would arise had we accepted an Amendment proposed on the day before yesterday for writing in a system whereby future levels of pensions could be calculated.
We are dealing with detailed figures and it is fair to consider for a moment the extent of the difference. Last October, the figure put forward by the Opposition as that at which to aim for the single person's pension was 60s. a week. I do not think that anyone can deny that that was one of the big planks in the party's election platform.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I am coming to that point, but we should take 1357 what has happened in the intervening year.
We know what the Opposition's view is on that, or what it was on the day before yesterday. They proposed to write into Clause 2 three factors which should be considered as grounds for changing the pension. One was cost of living. I suppose that the cost of living has gone up by about 1 per cent. since October last year. The increase proposed now, compared with the 60s., is an increase of 14 per cent., so it cannot be justified on cost of living. An alternative ground was the earnings level. According to the best information that I have been able to get, earnings appear to have risen since the last election by something between 5 per cent. and 7 per cent. That is a little less than half the increase proposed here.
The third method is the gross national product. I am sure that the Labour Party would not suggest that the economy is expanding so rapidly that it will expand by 14 per cent. in one year. Indeed, we have just been told that there is stagnation. In fact, in this instance stagnation means an increase of probably 3 per cent. this year. If we take the most favourable calculations, it might be possible to justify an increase of 5 to 6 per cent. on the 1960 pension, but not more.
As I have said, this represents a completely new policy. It may, of course, be a good policy, but it is quite new, and it inspires me with some lack of trust, to put it mildly, in a party which draws out of the bag such different approaches to this very important problem in such a short time.
I shall be surprised if my right hon. Friend accepts the Amendment.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
But supposing that he accepts it. Will this result in the majority of the people at present on National Assistance coming off National Assistance? The answer is, "Yes"; the majority would come off on one condition—provided there were no suggestion that there should be an increase in the National Assistance rates.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I do not know what is in the Opposition's mind, but if they intend to freeze National Assistance at its present level I agree that there would be a substantial reduction in the number on National Assistance, but not otherwise; the two things would go up together. Even then, I think, a large number of people who are householders would remain on National Assistance. The single pensioner who is a householder would still have to go to the National Assistance Board. The benefits in the Bill are not unreasonable for the pensioner who is lodging with friends or with relations, but they are not sufficient, without further assistance—and this has never been denied on our side of the House—for the old person who is maintaining his own house.
The truth is that an Opposition always put forward a higher bid when these Bills are introduced. As I said the day before yesterday, I do not quarrel with this in the least. But I suspect—and I hope that my remarks will not be taken amiss—that political considerations have arisen in arriving at the figures for these bids—there are certainly political considerations behind them.
Between now and the next General Election, if the economy continues to expand at the rate at which it has been expanding in the past, it is not improbable, in fulfilment of the pledge to let the old people profit from the general rise in the prosperity of the country, that there will be another Bill to increase pensions. Let us suppose that in three years' time we are considering a further increase. It is unlikely to be as great as 19 per cent., which is what 68s. 6d. is over 57s. 6d. I do not suppose for a moment that in three years we shall be in a position to make a 19 per cent. increase. The Opposition will again be in the strong position of being able to say that even the second move by the Government was behind the figures put forward by them in the second half of 1960.
The difference between the two sides of the Committee, if I may say so with great respect to the last two speakers from the Opposition, is that we are more 1359 concerned than they are about the financing of these big increases. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] I am not in the least ashamed of it. There is no cause for shame in taking some note of the cost of these projects.
If I may digress for a minute, I remember that in 1944, when I was a captain of a ship in the Home Fleet, we embarked on the discussion groups which were held at that time. A charming young man came to show us how to conduct the discussion groups. He disclosed to me at once that he was a keen Socialist and that he wanted a discussion on the Beveridge proposals, to which reference has just been made in the debate. He told me the lines along which he would conduct the discussion and the arguments which he would use, and he asked me whether I had any objections.
I said that I had one objection. I said. "You are proposing to tell them of all the advantages of higher benefits, but not a single objection to them." That has happened in this debate, too. He looked at me in astonishment and said, "All political parties are agreed on the Beveridge Report and its recommendations". I felt that even if they were, it did not necessarily mean that they were absolutely right. He asked me. "What are the objections?" I said. "We have to consider finance". His face brightened and he replied, "You need not worry about that, sir. The lads are not interested in finance." The lads on the other side are not interested in it either, and they have not changed in the last sixteen years.
§ Mr. Marsh
The hon. Member is putting up horses which no one has ridden and then proceeding to shoot them. Every speaker from this side of the Committee who mentioned this topic also emphasised in the course of his speech the willingness of the people to stand a higher burden by one method or another if such a higher burden were necessary.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
If we accept the Amendment, the whole of the 1360 extra cost will fall on taxation. I waited here last night deliberately to see whether we reached the Second Schedule, because I wanted to learn whether the hon. Member for Sowerby would say anything about contributions. I thought that he might say that he was not quite sure whether the Amendments to the Third Schedule would be accepted, but, if they were accepted, then he would seek leave, on Report, to make some amendment to the Second Schedule to increase the contributions.
Nothing of the kind was said, and, therefore, every penny of the extra cost, which, I imagine, would be between £100 million and £150 million, or possibly more—my right hon. Friend will know the figures—would have to come from taxation. I simply say that if that were done at this time it would intensify the financial strain which, undoubtedly, will confront this country in the coming months.
I am a back bencher and can say what I please about these matters, and I am uneasy about the general state of the national economy. I believe that we are approaching a difficult time. That is not necessarily due to sins of omission or commission by anybody in this country; it is due to the greater competition which we are facing overseas.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
Will the hon. Member tell me how he voted on the National Insurance (No. 2) Act, 1957? Did he vote for it or against it?
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I will not answer that question. I have not the slightest recollection, without having my mind much more refreshed about the Act in question.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
If the hon. Member wants to draw me on the deficit figures in the Government Actuary's tables, I would say that I do not attach the slightest importance to them one way or the other, because all these sums are fictitious and just so much paper.
1361 Perhaps I can return to the main point which I want to make. If the Amendment were accepted it would involve an immediate increase of between £100 million and £150 million, perhaps more, and that would have to be borne by taxation. If hon. Members opposite want that, they had better come to the House tomorrow morning and vote against the continuation of the Army, because that would be one method of saving such a sum of money.
§ Mr. W. Griffiths (Manchester, Exchange)
I agree with the hon. and gallant Member that the financing of these things must be carefully examined. I know his interest in Service matters. He has been talking about the difference between the two sides of the Committee and the way we look at things. Has he exercised his inquisitive mind about the expenditure of £15,000 million on defence during the last ten years, without this country being able to mount a brigade operation at Suez or transport Commonwealth troops on United Nations service?
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. F. Blackburn)
I am sure that it would be very interesting and that we would all like to hear the answer, but it would be out of order.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
Thank you for your Ruling, Mr. Blackburn. I think that I must confine my answer to that question to one word—yes.
There are two different approaches to all these social service problems. One is the emotional approach, which we have heard so much from hon. Members opposite. It is possible to make moving speeches asking for increased benefits, increased education services, increased health services, and so on. The sky is the limit if one makes that kind of approach. That is the road to bankruptcy and it is the road which, I remind hon. Members opposite, they followed in 1931 and again in 1951.
The alternative approach is that which we have adopted—enlightened and, I hope, kindly benevolence based on reason. The result of nine years of that approach has been that benefits have been improved beyond what many hon. 1362 Members opposite would have believed possible in 1951.
§ Mr. Dempsey
We are here dealing with categories of people who do not seem to be fully appreciated by hon. Members opposite. We are dealing with those who are unemployed and who have been unemployed for some time, with people who have been sick for a long time and with those who are old and will never work again. We are trying to decide what is a reasonable allowance for such individuals.
I was surprised to hear the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) outlining his interpretation of economics and finance as applied to a society in which more than 5 million people are in daily need. I do not think that his approach to financial problems has altered since 1944. In the process of carrying out his duties, he has become rather anchored, because it is obvious that these people are entitled to a share in the nation's wealth as it increases.
The person who promised that they should have their share was none other than the Prime Minister himself. It was the Prime Minister who, in a television election broadcast, promised the old people especially that they would receive their share of the nation's rising prosperity. What is the share which they are to receive? According to the Government's proposals, it is 7s. 6d. a week, or about 1s. a day.
Many hon. Members have taken great pains to explain the difficulty of paying one's way at the present time, a difficulty which arises because of the high cost of goods and services. I do not propose to weary the Committee with a similar recital, but I say sincerely and frankly that to offer retirement pensioners 1s. a day and to expect that to be adequate for their day-to-day needs is to insult their intelligence.
Having been the captain of a ship, the hon. and gallant Member must understand men and must have some sympathy with those who are aged and unable to work and earn a livelihood. They would not be asking for bigger pensions if they could work. It is because they are no longer able to toil and earn weekly wages that they are wholly dependent on the State, and, I am sorry to say, on many charitable organisations. The fact that 1363 local welfare committees and local voluntary bodies—for whom I have the highest regard—ask industrialists and social organisations for help, and the fact that we have flag days and people providing "meals-on-wheels" so that old people can get at least one hot meal a day, is an indication of the Government's failure to fulfil the nation's responsibilities.
The people with whom we are now concerned are those who have made their contribution to the country's wealth. They are the generations who provided the forces for the battlefields of the last two world wars and who helped to produce the products of industries which are now striving to make this a mighty nation. Yet this is how we treat those who have honoured that responsibility to this country—we offer them a meagre 1s. a day.
When we make our protests to the Minister, he always quotes what the Labour Government did, what happened in 1946, and what we said in 1947. When this great comprehensive social insurance scheme was introduced, it was a great experiment. It was a first effort, and we practically led the world with it. It is obvious that anomalies are bound to crop up in experiments of that magnitude and that improvements are bound to be necessary in the light of experience. I hope that the Minister will not weary us by again referring to what happened between 1945 and 1949, especially as so many hon. Members now taking part in the debate were not Members of the House of Commons at that time.
We have to be realistic and face the fact that the aged and the unemployed—and they are long-term unemployed in my locality—and the chronic sick are sections of the community which need an adequate allowance if they are to have the necessities of life. If the Minister would approach the matter in that positive way, he would realise that the Amendment is not only reasonable but logical and convincing.
He may use his second battle cry and refer us to the National Assistance Board. He may say that there is no need for poverty because there is the National Assistance Board, and, of course, 1 ¼ million pensioners have to have their meagre pensions augmented by the Board. Not so long ago I asked the right hon. Gentleman what it would cost 1364 to raise pensions above National Assistance scales, and I think that his reply was about £3 million or £4 million.
We should aim at lifting pensions to a point which would enable people to live reasonably in their days of economic adversity, without their having to have others prying into their affairs and subjecting them to a means test. Surely, that is the object of all responsible, thinking people in our modern society. I appreciate the work done by the National Assistance Board and its officers. Indeed, the officers have a very difficult and at times an irritable task. Generally speaking, they do their work very well, but, unfortunately, in the course of doing that work they are compelled to ask questions which many people find insulting.
There is a comedian in my part of the country who sings a little verse about the National Assistance Board. In this verse the National Assistance officer asks an applicant whether he is married, widowed, separated or divorced and ends up by asking, "Is your granny's jumper red, white and blue?" That is a parody on the type of investigations which are carried out from time to time to ascertain whether a person is entitled to have his basic pension supplemented.
Why does not the Minister plan ahead and look to the future? Why does he not envisage a system which would provide pensions that would eliminate the embarrassment that is caused to many persons who are in dire need? It is not true to argue that the National Assistance Board is the answer. If some poor soul happens to be getting 10s. 6d. in the form of a non-contributory pension there is no question of that person's pension being augmented in order to provide extra bedding and any of the other necessities of life. The Minister is placing too much emphasis on the National Assistance Board, and it is being used to obscure, the vital issue, namely, the introduction of a living pension. I am a trade unionist and I have argued all my life in support of a living pension. All trade unionists, especially those in this Committee, should do the same.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) has explained why we suggest that the Government's 1365 proposal should be increased by 11s. 6d. I certainly do not want to reiterate the arguments, but I say sincerely to the right hon. Gentleman that we are not asking for anything extraordinary in our Amendment. It is not an excessive demand. Indeed, it is a more realistic approach to the problem than the Government's approach. When we see that some European countries are now leading us in the provision of retirement pensions it is very discouraging to many of us to find that we are lagging behind. I am thinking in particular of one country that is supposed to have lost the last war; yet more effective retirement pension provisions are made in that country than in this.
The Government should have one approach to this subject, and it should be based on a fair assessment of the responsibilities of the employed person, the employer and the Exchequer. That should be the attitude in order to obtain an insurance fund adequate to provide a living retirement pension, which could give the long-term unemployed reasonable security during those periods of economic adversity and which could afford to the chronic sick a fair standard of living.
I cannot understand why the Government should continue to push more of the burden on to the shoulders not only of the contributors but, in some cases, of the employers, and seek to relieve the Exchequer of its responsibility. I am surprised that hon. Members opposite have not mentioned that point. According to the last Measure dealing with this matter, the Government decided on a minimum National Insurance contribution for each employed contributor. We know that the Exchequer, subject to a sum of £170 million, is going to abide by that arrangement. Generally speaking, the Exchequer is going to pay a quarter of what the contributor pays. But as the contributions rise every five years, obviously the increase will be borne more and more by the contributor, whether employee or employer. In other words, the line that the Government are taking is that the Exchequer should be relieved as much as possible of the cost of providing decent pensions, etc.; and the additional cost borne by others.
That is, of course, a convenient method, when assessing the results of 1366 national production for the year, of ensuring that less tax is paid by those who need the relief least. Those who can least of all afford an increase in the cost, like the employed contributor, will have additional burdens imposed in order to relieve the well to do of taxation. I believe that is a most unrealistic attitude for even a Tory Government to pursue.
There are categories of persons who are very much in need in this country, and it is our duty to assist them as soon as possible. That is what we are trying to do by means of this Amendment. No matter what the right hon. Gentleman may say, the fact is that the Government are not offering anything like a reasonable allowance to the chronic sick, to those who have been unemployed for a long time, or to the pensioners.
As we learned earlier today, there are over 7,000 unemployed in four constituencies, one of which I represent. During a recent analysis of the length of time for which people have been unemployed, it was found that no fewer than 14 per cent. had been unemployed for periods ranging from six months to two years. To offer people in categories of that nature 1s. a day is an absolute insult to the House of Commons and to the general public, especially at a time when we hand out millions to other interests, on private enterprise, and when we ensure that people engaged in those activities get not 1s. a day but, at the end of the calendar year, a share out from an outcrop of millions of pounds.
I honestly believe that the Government have a sin to answer for, the sin that they have failed at this time to face up to their responsibilities. They have failed as a result of their miserable approach to pensions, sickness benefits and unemployment benefits. I earnestly hope that when they go into the Lobbies tonight hon. Members will fully realize what it is they are voting on. Many hon. Members opposite have been conspicuous by their absence during the past two days and again today, but when the bells ring, of course, they are all available. They are sure to be there, and we know that the Tory troops will be marshalled.
I say quite frankly to the Minister and to the Government that no matter how 1367 much they may marshall the physical strength of their troops, they will not marshall any morality for their cause. So long as the Government treat the most needy section of our community in this miserable fashion they will, one day, have to face the reckoning. I am convinced that that day is coming soon. I hope that hon. Members who go into the Lobby against us will realise that, apart from the statistics which have been quoted, the past precedents which will be mentioned and all the other obscure elements which will be introduced by their Minister, they will be voting against a decent allowance for the chronic sick, for the long-term unemployed and for probably the most needy of all, the retirement pensioners.
§ Mr. A. V. Hilton (Norfolk, South-West)
I say this with all respect, and in no unkind or unfriendly spirit, but I think that the big difference between the two sides of the Committee is that very few hon. Members opposite understand this problem. It is said that comparisons are odious, but it is the fact that the majority of Members on this side have had practical experience as workpeople. Our parents and relatives draw the benefits which we are discussing tonight. We cannot altogether blame hon. Members opposite for their good fortune.
There is one exception to what I have said. I refer to the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes-Hallett), who spoke a short time ago. I gather that the hon. and gallant Gentleman is an expert in these matters. We all appreciate that he did very distinguished service. I understand that he is now a pensioner. I was amazed, however, to hear the hon. and gallant Member say that he supports the proposals of the Government and that he is not ashamed to do so. I should hate to think of him being expected to live on either of the amounts we are discussing, either the 57s. 6d. which the Government propose or the 68s. 6d. which is the subject of the Amendment.
I do not know how any hon. Member could reconcile with his proper feelings such a statement as that, that he is proud to support his Government in their miserable proposal for 57s. 6d. I do not know, and I do not want to know, 1368 what the hon. and gallant Member's pension is, but I guarantee that it is very considerably more than either of these amounts—
§ Mr. Hilton
—and, of course, there are other things to be taken into consideration. I just cannot understand how any hon. Member can advance such a point of view.
Some hon. Members have spoken of workers being able to prepare for retirement during their working lives, and there has been a reference to an average wage of £13 or £14 a week. I suppose it is true to say that people in that category could be expected to make some provision for the day when they retire. I represent a truly rural constituency where the main industry—really, the only industry—is agriculture. I remind the Committee that today the basic wage of the farm worker is £8 a week. One needs little imagination to realise that the farm worker today cannot put very much away for his retirement. Moreover, it was only this year that the farm worker was awarded a wage of £8.
Let us remember that the people who are retired now and trying to exist on pensions were the workers of twenty years ago. Twenty years ago, the average wage of the farm worker was 33s. 6d. a week, and there has been a gradual improvement in the wage since that time until its present level of £8. How could anyone expect farm workers, on a wage like that, to save very much against the time of their retirement? It might be a bit easier for those on the higher wage of £13 which has been mentioned, but I say in all seriousness that for the farm worker it is well nigh impossible for him to have done so.
Although the principal industry in my constituency is agriculture, most of the other workers are in employment akin to agriculture, with fairly low wages. Generally speaking, in my constituency and in similar places the workers have very little opportunity of saving for a rainy day, or for when they retire, and, of course, in past years they had no opportunity of doing so at all.
In putting forward these Amendments, we hope that hon. Members opposite 1369 will support us. Again and again, it is said that we are now enjoying great national prosperity. Our prosperity today, whether great or not so great, has to a large extent been brought about by the efforts of those who are now retired. Surely it is not asking too much that these people who have served well in their day and generation, and who are now reaching retirement, should enjoy their share of our national prosperity.
I have spoken so far about people in my constituency. Most of us have to live in this city during the week, and we meet Londoners from time to time. A few days ago, I spoke to an elderly old-age pensioner who told me that her rent is 37s. 6d. a week. She draws the old-age pension of 50s., so she has 12s. 6d. to spare. I asked her about National Assistance, and she said, "I absolutely refuse to apply for it." I know that it is there if she wants it, but many of these old people have their pride and they refuse to apply for supplementary assistance. She said, "We are now told that in April next year we are to get an increase in pension". I said, "Yes, that is right". She said, "In February, my rent is going up again, so what I am to get will be taken away from me even before I get it." Many examples of this kind could be given.
Reference has been made by the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) of the good work that he is doing in a voluntary organisation. We all honour the work that is being done by voluntary organisations on behalf of old-age and other pensioners. It has become part of welfare of this country and many people give much of their time and money to this very good cause. I am sure that if we cannot agree with the amount proposed by the Minister and the amount stated in the Amendments, we can all agree in thanking the good-hearted people who spend so much time assisting in the welfare work for the aged.
Many of the old-age pensioners' committees and old people's committees, although they do good work, are hampered by lack of finance. I often think that they are being asked to do too much in the way of welfare for old-age pensioners, because of the plight of pensioners. If the Minister would agree to our Amendment, I am sure that it would help both the old-age pensioners whom 1370 we are seeking to aid and those who are doing such good work in a voluntary capacity to help pensioners. I hope that the Minister and hon. Members opposite will support the Amendment.
§ Mr. Hamilton
I rise only to make one or two comments on the speech made by the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett). The hon. and gallant Gentleman is a very capable debater. He has served his country well in the past, but he has spent his life at sea and he is still more or less at sea. He has had his reward from the State and is no doubt still reaping it. I am not complaining about that.
My hon Friend the Member for Norfolk, South-West (Mr. Hilton) referred to the hon. and gallant Gentleman's pension. I do not want to be too personal, but it would be very interesting to know what that pension is. I will give way now if he will tell me what is his pension.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I do not think that the Committee would be particularly interested in my pension. If the hon. Member wants to know what it is, he can look it up in the Navy List; there is no secret about it. When he calls me a good debater, is he thinking of Durham?
§ Mr. Hamilton
Of course I am always thinking of Durham, being a native thereof. I think that the point that I make is relevant. We are discussing retirement pensions and the hon. and gallant Member made the point that the 57s. 6d. now proposed is an adequate pension and that the Government are being very generous about it.
§ Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett
I did not say anything of the kind. I said that it was about sufficient for people who were able to stay and live with friends or relatives. We all recognise that the person who is a householder has to go to National Assistance if he has nothing else at all.
§ Mr. Hamilton
The hon. and gallant Gentleman cannot have it both ways. He cannot say that about the people who have served their country just as well as he has, although in a different capacity—that they must have recourse to National Assistance, when he and his 1371 friends have not to do so. That is what we complain about. Hon. Members opposite are dividing this into two sections. The hon. Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Chataway) has said outside, and in this House, that he does not want to see flat-rate increases given indiscriminately to all pensioners and that the basic test should be National Assistance.
§ Mr. Christopher Chataway (Lewisham, North)
I did not say that I wanted to see National Assistance as the test. I proposed a scheme which, I think, would be more effective, whereby it would be possible to do more for those most in need by raising the pension to a greater level for those who need it most.
§ Mr. Hamilton
There can be no doubt that the ultimate aim is that insurance benefits shall not be given as a right, but that need well have to be established and, therefore, there must be a means test. The very people who are proposing that are proposing the abolition of the means test for middle-class parents who send their children to universities. The pressure is coming from those same people.
I want to refer again to what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East. He talked about the way in which we got our figures. I asked the Minister how he got his figure. How did he arrive at 7s. 6d.? There is no scientific method of arriving at it. All that he has done is to think of a figure which, for the moment, will pacify the country. The figures we propose, rightly or wrongly, were arrived at by the people who understand the problem—the trade union movement. If the trade union movement does not understand the problem no one in the country understands it. We are prepared to accept its figures. If they are wrong, then, of course we are prepared to alter them.
The hon. and gallant Member seemed to be highly critical because he said that this was new thinking on the part of the Labour Party—a new concept. There is a new scheme coming in in April. What is that but a new concept, and a shocking concept too? That scheme was inspired by the new thinking that went on initially on this side of the Committee in our national superannuation 1372 scheme. There is nothing wrong in thinking anew about these matters; nor can we be certain that at any point the figures we arrived at are scientifically accurate for this problem. We clearly recognise that they will change from time to time according to circumstances so there is nothing in the argument.
The hon. and gallant Gentlemen went on to what was a rather more serious argument, the question of finance. He said that we on this side of the Committee are not bothered about finance. When we introduced our national superannuation scheme my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, East (Mr. Crossman) went out of his way to say that this was an ambitious scheme and would have to be paid for by very greatly increased contributions. He also said that if the workers sought to get back their contributions in the form of increased wages it would destroy the sound basis of the scheme. He said that openly and frankly, and many of us said the same. Let no one assert that we are not concerned with finance.
I answer the hon. and gallant Member with the retort that if he and the Government were as concerned with financial control and financial economy in other fields as they are in this, the country would be a healthier and happier place to live in than it is today. When I recall that £100 million was spent on Blue Streak and £70 million on Seaslug, I say that the money spent on those two missiles would have given us the money that we are talking about tonight. The £150 million that the hon. and gallant Gentleman was so concerned about—
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Hamilton
Of course, for one year. Who is to say that when we get the Report of the Comptroller and Auditor General next year we will not have precisely the same scandal?
Let not hon. Members opposite pretend that they are the guardians of the public purse at all times. I do not mind pleading guilty to erring on the generous side when it comes to social service provision. If I am guilty, then I gladly plead guilty. It ill becomes hon. Members opposite, however, to hurl it at us 1373 that we do not care about the financial soundness of the Scheme in view of their record in defence and other matters. The Minister will reply and will make his usual "Smart Alec" speech. Some time ago we heard in another context about dessicated calculating machines. That is what the right hon. Gentleman is. He will probably have his arithmetic right when he replies. His arithmetic may be right, but his heart is all wrong. That is all that is the matter with the right hon. Gentleman.
We shall go on fighting for these causes—for the unemployed and for the old-age pensioners. I declare a vested interest in this matter. My own father is living on this pension. He has served the country as well as the hon. and gallant Gentleman. He worked in a pit for thirty years. His service to the country was as valuable as that of the hon. and gallant Gentleman, but he will get £2 17s. 6d. after this generous Government have done their bit. I very much doubt whether it will induce him to vote Tory at the next election, and I very much doubt whether the old people will thank the Government for what they are doing. To the old people, talk about the affluent society sticks in their gullets. The hon. and gallant Gentleman and his hon. Friend should be advocating that the old people and the unemployed should get a fair share of the nation's wealth. They will not get it under this Bill.
§ The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter)
I do not know enough of the views of the hon. Member for Fife, West (Mr. W. Hamilton) on other matters to appreciate whether his use in relation to me of an expression more generally applied to the leader of his own party was intended as a compliment or an insult. I am bound to admit that the appearance of desiccation is not one of the insults to which I am most sensitive.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett) said that this was the ordinary type of Amendment which the Opposition always produce in the course of these debates. Hon. Members know perfectly well as a matter of common sense that whatever figures the Government had put in the Schedule 1374 there would have been Amendments of this sort to increase them. All of us as Members of this Committee know that perfectly well. There is very clear evidence of it in the immediate past. As recently as last month the chairman of the Labour Party was talking about a 10s. increase. We introduced this Bill on 2nd November. Now hon. Members opposite come forward with figures, very handily provided by the T.U.C., as the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) explained, of 18s. 6d. and 23s. 6d., showing an admirable flexibility of approach.
Let me deal first with one or two points which have been raised in the debate. I thought that the hon. Member for Sowerby, with his great knowledge of these matters, talked very surprisingly about the Beveridge principle. The hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Marsh) also referred to it. As hon. Members who have studied the Beveridge Report know, what it recommended was a pension on a pretty austere level, even with prices as they were at that time, to be reached only twenty years after the commencement of the scheme. Therefore, if we invoke the Beveridge principle, we are talking about such a pension in the year 1968.
§ Mr. Houghton
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon for interrupting him so early in his speech. I invoked the speech of his right hon. Friend the Colonial Secretary, which was made as recently as 1954. I invoked his quotation and his question.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Gentleman—I am in the recollection of the Committee—invoked the Beveridge principle. So did his hon. Friend the Member for Greenwich. I think that in fairness to Lord Beveridge, who is a very great figure in these matters, it should not be suggested, as it appears to be suggested, that he recommended a pension on this sort of scale at this sort of time, because it just is not true.
I also thought that the hon. Gentleman was a little disingenuous in what he said about the part which National Assistance was playing and the percentage of pensions which were supplemented. He knows perfectly well that the percentage of retirement pensioners eligible for supplementation depends 1375 entirely on the relationship between the scales of retirement pension and National Assistance. He knows perfectly well that the recent increase in that proportion was the direct result of the decision taken by the Government and by the House last year to raise the standard of National Assistance benefits by the Regulations which came into force in September, 1959. That advance in the standards of National Assistance which, as I said in another context in another debate yesterday, has preceded the increase in standards in National Insurance benefit proposed by the Bill inevitably—as we all recognised at the time—increased the proportion of retirement pensioners eligible for National Assistance. That is a matter of mathematics. At the time no one criticised us for making that provision to improve the situation of the poorest of the poor.
This leads me to the question of the hon. Member for Greenwich and one or two other hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mr. Dempsey) in his very agreeable speech: How can anyone live on 50s. a week? Hon. Members on both sides, from experience in their own constituencies and in social work, know that, in fact, no one is called upon so to do. There are good arguments for increasing the level of retirement pensions. That is why I am at the moment advocating a Bill which does that. But, for the reason I have given, the argument whether one can live on that sum does not help us very much.
Hon. Members know that those pensioners who have no resources other than the basic National Insurance pension—it is a great mistake to underrate the number who have such resources—must in the overwhelming majority of cases—in all cases if they happen to be householders—be eligible for supplementation. It is a great mistake, as I have said, to assume that there are vast numbers of people with only the basic pension. Do hon. Members realise how many pensioners are, thanks to the incremental system whose efficacy the 1959 Act increased, now drawing pensions above the basic level? There are about 1 million pensioners with incremented pensions averaging about 7s. 6d. above the basic level. That number is increasing. That leaves out of account those pensioners 1376 with occupational pensions, of which 1¼ million are in payment now, and those who in our universal system have means of their own.
I thought that the hon. Member for Greenwich was less than fair to himself and to what, regardless of party, we are doing in this country when he said that nobody cares about the treatment of old people and proceeded to say that we were much more interested in the care of animals. That is wholly untrue. I can and will argue with him on the level of State provision and on the steady and successive advances which the State has made in recent years in the standard of that provision. But altogether apart from that there is the work done—this was very eloquently referred to by the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison)—by the voluntary bodies, by the old people's welfare committees, by local authorities and by innumerable public-spirited citizens, including my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) who intervened earlier in the debate. It is something which a great many people do. To take the line, as the hon. Member for Greenwich did, that nobody cared about the old people is such a gross travesty of the attitude of the people as to make Members, on both sides, not prepared to waste time or attention on his arguments.
I come back to the Amendments themselves. The hon. Member for Sowerby, as he always does, explained how he arrived at the figure. It is certainly an odd one. It is the 1959 Assistance scale level for a single person, and the married level for a married couple, plus the 1958 level of average supplementation in respect of rent. I agree very much with the hon. Member for Fife, West that there is no precise scientific method of assessing these matters, and I have never pretended that there is. It is a matter of judgment, taking into account quite a number of factors. It is, nevertheless, a curious figure. As I said—and having said it, I pass on—it is a considerable change from what the Chairman of the Labour Party said a month ago.
The point I wish to put to the hon. Member for Sowerby is this. It is a point about which in his speech he was a little sensitive to criticism. I welcome what the hon. Member said as to the attitude 1377 of people generally, and of the Trades Union Congress in particular, to the question of the contributions and the paying of a fair share of the contribution by the contributor. But what the hon. Member, in his responsibility as a Member of the House of Commons, and his hon. Friends have not done is to put on the Order Paper any suggestion or proposal about how this increase should be financed.
The sum of money involved would be very large. I calculate it as being £169¼ million a year on top of the £141 million which the proposals in the Bill will cost. The hon. Member knows perfectly well that he could have put an Amendment on the Order Paper proposing a suitable increase in the contributions to pay for it. He has not done so. Therefore, we are left with a demand for the expenditure of an additional £169¼ million without any specific proposals tabled during the discussion of the Bill as to how it is to be met. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not regard it as very wounding if say that in this respect he has fallen down to the level of the Liberal Party at the General Election, when the Liberals produced a beautiful leaflet advocating most agreeable increases in pensions and then said that the method by which they would be paid for was being remitted for study to another committee and could not be dealt with in that same publication.
§ Mr. Houghton
The right hon. Gentleman knows well that the cost of the proposals in file Bill is approximately £140 million, of which all but £17 million is being passed straight on to the contributor. The £17 million is the additional contribution that will be made under the proportionate Exchequer contribution. I said in my Second Reading speech that I believed that an obligation rested upon the Exchequer to carry much more than £17 million of the increased cost of these benefits of £140 million. [HON. MEMBERS: "How much?"] I said on Second Reading that the Exchequer contribution could be doubled without exceeding the obligations of the Exchequer on earlier legislation, and I stand by that.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
It would have to be doubled and doubled again before it reached £169¼ million. It is all very well for the hon. Gentleman to produce 1378 these splendid principles about upholding the contributory principle and then to table a series of Amendments whose sole effect is to put the whole additional expenditure upon the taxpayer.
When the hon. Member suggests, as he does, that the Exchequer is not paying its share, he is being less than fair. He must know that the effect of Section 1 (3) of the 1959 Act, on which the Bill will operate, restores the one-in-four contribution in respect of the flat rate with which the Scheme began and which was abrogated by his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in 1951. The hon. Gentleman must know, too, that the total amount expended by the Exchequer was, in the financial year in which the Scheme began, £92 million and that next year, if the House passes this Bill, it will be £187 million. Be that as it may—we can argue about the precise figures—the point which I hope the Committee and the country will realise is that, whatever their views, hon. Members opposite take the easy line of tabling Amendments to improve benefits and let the question of contributions and paying for the benefits one way or the other pass sub silentio.
Now let me turn to the actual figures in the Schedule which it is proposed to amend. First, I maintain that they fully implement the undertaking given by my right hon. Friends at the time of the General Election to give to the pensioner a share in the rising prosperity of the country. Here I must take up something that the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) said on Second Reading. In the course of that speech, the hon. Member quoted a leading article in the Guardian and said:It is worth while recalling what the Guardian said about this"—that is, about the pension—it said thatit will remain a smaller rise comparatively than that enjoyed by the more prosperous four-fifths of the community which lives off earnings on the 1960 scale. To have held the pension in the same relation to earnings as it had in 1957, the standard benefit of a single person would have to be raised by £1 and for a married couple by 30s. We need not preen ourselves too much on our generosity."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 15th November, 1960; Vol. 630, c. 322.]That speech was made on 15th November on Second Reading. I have no doubt that when he made it, the hon. 1379 Member for Kilmarnock was quite unaware that on 5th November, three days after the article appeared, the Guardian, on the leader page, printed this:In a leading article on Thursday commenting on the new pension increases we stated that, in order to remain in the same relation to earnings, the standard benefits would have needed to be raised by £1 for a single person and by 30s. for a married couple above their 1957 level. These figures were incorrect, and the new rates will in fact give pensioners a substantially higher standard in relation to industrial earnings than they enjoyed in 1957.The Guardian, as one would expect of a paper of its high standard, having made—we all can very easily—a mistake, has withdrawn what it said. I hope that when the hon. Member for Kilmarnock speaks, he will also abandon the conclusion which he based on that article and will now accept that these increases do, as the Guardian in its withdrawal said,give … a substantially higher standard in relation to industrial earningsthan pensioners enjoyed in 1957.
I do not want to take the Committee for more than a moment through what seem to me to be the relevant figures for comparison. Over the 1958 level, our proposals in the Schedule raise the single rate by 15 per cent. and the married rate by, to all intents and purposes, 16 per cent. Since January, 1958, wage rates have risen 6 per cent. as against our 15 or 16 per cent. Taking the test of the level of earnings—though I rather agree with what was said on Second Reading by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), who is not now in his place—these have risen 11½ per cent. Net disposable income has risen 9½ per cent. Our 15 and 16 per cent. figures stand comparison effectively with those figures from the viewpoint of what we promised to do—to give a share in the rising prosperity.
It seems to me that an improvement of this sort, based on the 1958 foundation, itself the highest ever, with a movement of no more than 3 points in the cost of living in nearly three years that have elapsed since then, constitutes a fine and steady advance.
Of course, it is easy to advocate and wish for more. Of course, it is easy, as the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) did, to quote individual cases, though I would say to the hon. Member 1380 for Ince that at least one of the cases he quoted seemed to be one which he might very profitably draw to the attention either of myself or of the chairman of the National Assistance Board, as he wishes, to see what can be done to help as a practical matter. But judging this matter, as we must, on the basis of continuing the steady advance, the steady and unchecked advance, which under this Government the pensioners have enjoyed, I commend our proposals to the Committee as being sound and as being properly based, based on the security, as they will be after April, of a solvent National Insurance Scheme.
I would say to the Committee that the Opposition's proposals, however attractive they may be if dangled in front of people, are put forward without any suggestion as to how they should be financed, are unsound, and, perhaps, are no more than a conventional Parliamentary gesture which the Opposition think it desirable to make.
§ Mr. Ross
On 4th April, in a Question, my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) asked the Ministerby how much in terms of 1946 prices the present value of the single retirement pension"—this is the pension of the old folk till April next year—exceeds the value of the same pension in May, 1955, taking into account the withdrawal of the cheap tobacco concession.Let us see the steady progression of the advance since May, 1955.
The Minister replied:In terms of 1946 prices, the single retirement pension in payment today exceeds the value of that in payment in May, 1955, by 2s. 4d. Allowing for the value of tobacco tokens in the case of those Pensioners who smoked, the excess is 9d."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 4th April, 1960; Vol. 621, c. 19–20.]
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
The hon. Gentle-many knows perfectly well that that question is framed with a statistical trick, the use of 1946 prices. He knows that today, in terms of today's prices, which is what concerns us, the real value of the pension is 5s. 6d. more than it was in 1946, and precious close to 10s. above the 1951 level—in terms, again, of today's prices—al which his right hon. Friends left it.
§ Mr. Ross
The right hon. Gentleman can pick his index of prices as much as he likes. [HON. MEMBERS: "Certainly he can."] We have been told consistently about this steady advance of the pension. There the figure is in terms of where the pension was in 1946, and after fourteen years the steady advance has amounted to 9d., taking in these last five years. In other words, the continuing share we have known up to now which the old folk have had in the national prosperity has been about 1½d. added each week—
§ Mr. Ross
—three halfpence a week during the time that the right hon. Gentleman has been in charge of the finances of the old folk. And, indeed, when one bears in mind the new burdens which have been placed on the old people in respect of the 1s. per item per prescription, that advance has been wiped out. [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman should have been listening with more care to the speeches delivered from these benches by hon. Members who do not just know old-age pensioners, but have them in their families.
§ Mr. Ross
Exactly, so I hope that the hon. Member will know what should be the basis for judging the Amendment.
I think that we have not properly appreciated what the whole debate should have been about. I do not think that anyone considering the whole question of National Insurance security at the moment is considering it in terms of subsistence. I should hope that in 1960, when we are legislating for 1961 and thereafter, we should be well away from the question of subsistence.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite must appreciate two simple facts. They were the people who accepted the pledge that the old people would share in the rising prosperity of the country. That is the first thing. They must equally face the fact of their own speeches and proclamations, that the country is prosperous. That has been the whole theme of their industrial and economic song for these past two or three years. We heard it from the hustings at the by-elections which took place last week that the country never was as prosperous. Right, then: the adequacy of the Government's proposals in relation to the pledge has got to be taken into account.
Let us face the next fact, and that is what the actual proposals of the Government are. The Government say that they will increase the pension by 7s. 6d. a week for a single pensioner, a single person on unemployment benefit, sickness benefit. In terms of this unprecedented prosperity, does the right hon. Gentleman really think that, added to this steady advance of 9d. in terms of 1946 prices that has taken place in the last five years, 7s. 6d. is adequate?
The right hon. Gentleman seemed to think that I had something to apologise for in relation to a quotation of a paragraph in the Guardian. I readily apologise if, like probably everyone else who had read that, I thought that it was relevant to the debate, but the point I have made on Second Reading and throughout our consideration of the Bill in Committee is that we want new standards of adequacy. And for pensions paid in 1961 the relevant standard is not a table relating to wages in 1957. 1383 The man who is retiring in 1961 is drawing 1961 wages before he retires. His standard of living is a 1961 standard, and now he is brought down to 7s. 6d. above what is recognised even by the Government as a subsistence pension of £2 10s.
Can any hon. Member opposite rise and justify in terms of the pledges made by the party opposite and of hon. Members' speeches the £2 17s. 6d. pension that is proposed? Have hon. Members opposite any right to say that when we put down as an alternative £3 8s. 6. we are crying for the moon? I was amazed at the obtuseness of the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East (Vice-Admiral Hughes Hallett). He seemed to think that there was something wrong in an education officer telling him that, in his opinion, sailors did not care about finance. He did not seem to relate that to his attitude to it. When I challenged him on the 1957 Act he said, "Ah, you will be referring to actuarial calculations. I do not bother about them." Evidently, therefore, he does not care about finance either, unless, of course, it is the finance that touches his own pocket.
Here is the test, and let every hon. Member opposite face it. On Second Reading, the Minister said, rightly, that if we want to give a better standard of living to the old people there is only one way to do it and that is by sacrificing a portion of the standard of living of the rest of the nation and giving it to the old ones. That is what financing it means. It is the only way of financing it without inflation.
I hope that the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East will appreciate what his burden is under the Government's proposals. What is his share of the burden of this increased pension? It is 1s. 6d. a week. I do not think that even he will confess that there is any element of sacrifice in that, either for him or any other hon. Member. The Minister chided us because we had given the impression that the additional money in respect of our Amendment—and only the additional money above his own proposal, and he did not make that clear—would come from the Treasury.
The right hon. Gentleman should have explained to his hon. Friends that, of 1384 the £141 million that his proposal costs, £135 million come from the contributors. In other words, practically all the money is coming from contributions, and the share of the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East of that sacrifice in contributions is an increase of 1s. 6d. in the self-employed person's rate.
If we are to deal justly with the question of meeting the cost of financing these benefits, I believe in equality of sacrifice and in the equality of sharing this burden according to our ability to carry it. I am perfectly sure that the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East, who has distinguished rank as well as service, would not say that in sharing a financial burden equally with those who served under him he should put into the pool exactly the same as the lowest-paid ordinary seaman on his ship. This is the weakness of the Government's case.
I asked the hon. and gallant Member whether he voted for the 1957 Act if he was so concerned about this burden of £169 million which we say should be borne fairly on the basis of the means test of Income Tax. The Minister made a great deal of this £169 million, but he stood at the same Dispatch Box on 13th November, 1957, and spoke about the burden that he was accepting on behalf of the nation and the Treasury in the deficits arising from the increases that he was making then. He said that the burden by 1964… will be £357 million … we think that it is right that the country should assume the burden …."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th November, 1957; Vol. 577, c. 976.]
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
Would the hon. Member also include in that quotation the words "on the present basis"?
§ Mr. Ross
Exactly, on the present basis, because since 1957 what the right hon. Gentleman has done is to push that burden and future burdens that were arising and had been accepted by Governments on to the shoulders of contributors, with an especially heavy effect on those who after the month of April next year—and far too many of them do not know that it is coming—will become the victims of the Tory swindle called the "graduated pension."
I have lost hope of appealing to the right hon. Gentleman to meet the real needs of the old folk, but I am perfectly 1385 sure that they will judge for themselves from the kind of speech that we have had from the right hon. Gentleman and the hon. and gallant Member for Croydon, North-East. I think that the hon. and gallant Member himself will regret it.
We tend to emphasise the pension element too much. There are the unemployment and sickness benefits as well. The standards of adequacy must be judged by the number of people who have to go to the National Assistance Board, though we should say, "Thank God there is a National Assistance Board for them to go to." There they are treated with kindness and humanity. I would be the last person to try to turn people away from that assistance, or to try to put into them a false sense of pride about it. It is very difficult to get them to appreciate that the National Assistance Board is something different. The Board's local office, in many cases, is in the same building as was the old parish office which became the Public Assistance office.
These old-age pensioners should feel that they are having as a right a pension that is adequate. Hon. Members opposite should reflect on exactly how old folk live. They like, for example, to help their families. I remember how my own mother, who died a short time ago, and who had just received her old-age pension, loved to be able to buy things for her grandchildren. Old folk like to have something which is their own and which they can spend instead of having to struggle all the time for existence.
It is because we feel that the Government's improvement is not adequate that we have put forward this further step which, I am sure, nobody would suggest is extravagant. I hope that no one will say that the country cannot afford it. It can shoulder the burden if that burden is distributed fairly and not in the way it is being done at present, by the Government's proposal to ask 1s. 6d. or 1s. 5d. more from people who just will not even miss the money. If the burden were distributed fairly we would be able to have better pensions.
The Minister said that we must give up part of our own standard of living for the sake of the old folk. I challenge hon. Members opposite. Are they satisfied that by paying only an extra 1s. 6d. 1386 a week they are adequately sharing the burden of the increased pensions, or do they feel, as I and my right hon. and hon. Friends do, that they would gladly bear a more equitable share? If the latter is the case, I hope that they will support our Amendment in the Lobby.
§ Mr. John McKay (Wallsend)
I do not want to waste time, but because of the interest which I have in this problem I feel that I am entitled to intervene.
I agree with the point which has been made. It is very easy to put upon the Notice Paper Amendments asking for an increase here and an increase there, but there is an obligation to show exactly how it may be done. In Parliamentary life, one of the easiest things to do when one wants something is to say, "The Exchequer will do the job". That is not a businesslike attitude towards the problem. The existing situation definitely needs altering, but there is something to be borne in mind when it is proposed to raise the contributions to the extent required today. Like everybody else, I want the benefits to be improved, and I will try to show how we can do it upon a better basis than the present one.
In my opinion, our Amendments would raise the individual contribution not by 1s. 6d., but by about 3s. 8d. This means that we shall be reaching a deadlock in National Insurance. We shall be raising the contribution to such an extent that it will be regarded as deplorable—even if the donkey is willing to subscribe. It is all very nice to say that the donkey at the back is doing all the labour and is suffering all the indignities of producing dirty commodities under dirty conditions. [Laughter.] Perhaps it helps to make life in Parliament a little more humorous. I am amused by the hilarity that we get over little things in this House. It shows how "dumb" we must be if we enjoy little titters over nothing.
Is there any practical means of obtaining the required money other than by depending entirely upon a supplementary Exchequer grant so that some of our hard-working people whose economic condition is not very good will not have to pay increased contributions? There are financial conditions of the National Insurance Scheme which cannot be justified on a fair examination. I am speaking 1387 at the moment about the contributions, and I wish to emphasise the position of one section—the employers. They pay largely—
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Gentleman is getting rather far away from the Amendment, which deals with benefits.
§ The Chairman
It is an important matter, of course, but any discussion about the money must be connected with the benefits. We cannot have a separate discussion entirely on the amount of the contributions.
§ increase the benefits is very applicable, and I support it. However, I would emphasise that in relation to the benefits we are reaching a stage when it would be convenient to discuss the whole subject in one. We want to ascertain what we can do about the benefits and how we can arrange the contributions, and to discuss whether there ought to be a change in the Department dealing with National Insurance.
§ The Chairman
The hon. Member's observations are going far beyond the Amendment. We are dealing with a much narrower issue here.
§ Question put, That
|"57 6||17 6||9 6"|
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 175, Noes 112.1389
|Division No. 13.]||AYES||[7.17 p.m.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Doughty, Charles||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.|
|Allason, James||du Cann, Edward||Kimball, Marcus|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Duncan, Sir James||Kitson, Timothy|
|Barber, Anthony||Duthie, Sir William||Leavey, J. A.|
|Batsford, Brian||Eden, John||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate)||Elliot, Capt. W. (Carshalton)||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)|
|Beamish, Col. Tufton||Elliott, R. W.||Lilley, F. J. P.|
|Bell, Ronald (S. Bucks.)||Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Lindsay, Martin|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Errington, Sir Eric||Linstead, Sir Hugh|
|Berkeley, Humphry||Farr, John||Loveys, Walter H.|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Finlay, Graeme||Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby|
|Bingham, R. M.||Fisher, Nigel||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh|
|Bishop, F. P.||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||McAdden, Stephen|
|Box, Donald||Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||MacArthur, Ian|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Freeth, Denzil||McMaster, Stanley R.|
|Braine, Bernard||Gibson-Watt, David||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)|
|Bryan, Paul||Goodhart, Philip||Maddan, Martin|
|Bullus, Wing Commander Eric||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)||Markham, Major Sir Frank|
|Burden, F. A.||Green, Alan||Marlowe, Anthony|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Marples, Rt. Hon. Ernest|
|Campbell, Sir David (Belfast, S.)||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)||Marshall, Douglas|
|Carr, Compton (Barons Court)||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||Marten, Neil|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)|
|Chataway, Christopher||Harvie Anderson, Miss||Maudling, Rt. Hon. Reginald|
|Clark, Henry (Antrim, N.)||Hastings, S.||Mawby, Ray|
|Cole, Norman||Hay, John||Maxwell-Hyslop, R.|
|Collard, Richard||Hendry, Forbes||Mills, Stratton|
|Cooke, Robert||Hicks Beach, Maj. W.||Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh|
|Cooper, A. E.||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Hobson, John||More, J.|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Holland, Philip||Morgan, William|
|Corfield, F. V.||Hopkins, Alan||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles|
|Costain, A. P.||Hornby, R. P.||Neave, Airey|
|Coulson, J. M.||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Patricia||Noble, Michael|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Nugent, Sir Richard|
|Critchley, Julian||Howard, John (Southampton, Test)||Orr-Ewing, C. Ian|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Hughes-Young, Michael||Osborn, John (Hallam)|
|Crowder, F. P.||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Jackson, John||Partridge, E.|
|Dance, James||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Pilkington, Capt. Richard||Sharples, Richard||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Pott, Percivall||Shaw, M.||Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis|
|Price, David (Eastleigh)||Shepherd, William||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Prior, J. M. L.||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Proudfoot, Wilfred||Speir, Rupert||Watts, James|
|Quennell, Miss J.||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)||Webster, David|
|Ramsden, James||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Rawlinson, Peter||Studholme, Sir Henry||Whitelaw, William|
|Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin||Sumner, Donald (Orpington)||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Rees-Davies, W. R.||Tapsell, Peter||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Renton, David||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)||Woodhouse, C. M.|
|Ridley, Hon. Nicholas||Taylor, E. (Bolton, E.)||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Ridsdale, Julian||Taylor, W. J. (Bradford, N.)||Woollam, John|
|Rippon, Geoffrey||Temple, John M.||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Roots, William||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Russell, Ronald||Turner, Colin||Colonel J. H. Harrison and|
|Scott-Hopkins, James||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.||Mr. Chichester-Clark.|
|Seymour, Leslie||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Baird, John||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Oram, A. E.|
|Beaney, Alan||Griffiths, W. (Exchange)||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Grimond, J.||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Benson, Sir George||Gunter, Ray||Parker, John (Dagenham)|
|Bowles, Frank||Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Hannan, William||Peart, Frederick|
|Brockway, A. Fenner||Hart, Mrs. Judith||Proctor, W. T.|
|Brown, Alan (Tottenham)||Hayman, F. H.||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Healey, Denis||Randall, Harry|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Herbison, Miss Margaret||Reid, William|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Hilton, A. V.||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Holman, Percy||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Callaghan, James||Holt, Arthur||Ross, William|
|Castle, Mrs. Barbara||Houghton, Douglas||Royle, Charles (Salford, West)|
|Chapman, Donald||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Chetwynd, George||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Collick, Percy||Hunter, A. E.||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Small, William|
|Crosland, Anthony||Janner, Barnett||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Davies, Rt. Hn. Clement (Montgomery)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Summerskill, Dr. Rt. Hon. Edith|
|Deer, George||Kelley, Richard||Swingler, Stephen|
|Dempsey, James||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Diamond, John||King, Dr. Horace||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hon. John||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Thompson, Dr. Alan (Dunfermline)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. Chuter||Lipton, Marcus||Ungoed-Thomas, Sir Lynn|
|Edelman, Maurice||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Wade, Donald|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||McInnes, James||Warbey, William|
|Edwards, Walter (Stepney)||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Weitzman, David|
|Evans, Albert||McLeavy, Frank||Wells, Percy (Faversham)|
|Finch, Harold||Manuel, A. C.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Fitch, Alan||Mayhew, Christopher||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Foot, Dingle||Mellish, R. J.||Whitlock, William|
|Foot, Michael||Millan, Bruce||Willey, Frederick|
|Forman, J. C.||Mitchison, G. R.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Moody, A. S.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Moyle, Arthur|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Oliver, G. H.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Mr. Lawson and Mr. Cronin.|
§ Dr. Horace King (Southampton, Itchen)
I beg to move, in page 14, line 34, column 2, to leave out "80 0" and to insert "90 0".
§ The Chairman
It might be convenient also to discuss the Amendments in page 14, line 34, column 3, leave out "25 0" and insert "30 0"; column 4, leave out "17 0" and insert "22 0"; line 37, column 2, leave out "82 6" and insert "90 0"; column 4, leave out "17 0" and insert "22 0"; line 50, column 2, leave out "25 0" and insert "30 0"; column 4, leave out "17 0" and insert "22 0".
§ Dr. King
We are grateful for your suggestion, Sir Gordon, because these Amendments give the Committee the opportunity, if not of examining the problem of widowhood, at any rate of looking for a time at the position of the widowed mother.
I will explain to the Committee the effect of our Amendments. First, there is the widow's allowance. We have always, since 1946, decided that for the first thirteen weeks after bereavement a widow shall be regarded as being in a special category while she adjusts herself to her new circumstances. Thus, 1391 the benefits under that part of the provisions for widows are different from the others. For those thirteen weeks, the Government propose to raise the widow's allowance to 80s., and we propose to raise it to 90s. For her first child, the Government propose 25s. and we propose 30s. For the second child, they propose 17s. and we propose 22s. That is the effect of the first Amendment.
After those thirteen tragic weeks of bereavement, the widow moves into another scale, and the Government propose for the widowed mother with one child 82s. 6d., whereas we propose 90s., and for the second child 17s. while we propose 22s.
Then there is the case of the widowed mother who, although she has a child under 18, does not qualify for a child allowance, or the case where a child is expected at the time of the husband's death. The Government propose to raise that widow's allowance to 57s. 6d. We propose to raise it to 68s. 6d. I make no reference to our proposals for widows' pensions, as that subject has already been covered in our discussions, but in this symmetrical fashion we propose to raise the pension from 57s. 6d. to 68s. 6d.
Finally, the last two Amendments in this group deal with the child special allowance when the widow's child is under the care of somebody else. The Government propose to raise this allowance to 25s. for the first child, and we suggest 30s.; for the second and other children they propose 17s., while we propose 22s.
I mention all this not only to indicate to the Committee the nature of our proposals, but to illustrate the wide-ranging care that the Government are now extending over the widowed mother. There is little of principle left to argue about so far as the widowed mother and her children are concerned.
I would be the first to be fair to the Minister for what he has done in this aspect of pensions. He has done much for many widows—I wish that I could say for all of them, but there are groups which are not included. He has done much for all the widowed mothers and for all bereaved children, both in stepping up the scale of benefits and in adding certain humane details to the 1392 broadening of the pattern of our care for the widowed mother.
It was he, for instance, who recognised that children's allowances should remain if a child of over 15, over school age, was still at school or was an apprentice. It was he who led the Chancellor of the Exchequer to accept a proposal, which we made a long time ago, that a widowed mother's mentally defective or physically disabled child who was not able to go to school after the age of 15 should be included in the allowance. He also considerably raised the earnings limit for widows.
I commend to the Committee what the Minister has done so far in those things, but there are still some gaps. One gap, which we cannot debate tonight, is that of the widow who was widowed before July, 1948, the 10s. widow, whom we may have an opportunity to talk about later. There is the widow under 50 whose husband died after February, 1957, and there is the widow under 40 whose husband died before February, 1957. There is the very important problem of the widow too old to find work, sometimes too old at 49, after she has worn herself out bringing up a family. Those we cannot debate now, but although this is a debate on the widowed mother and her children, I urge the Minister to keep those problems in mind, because we have not yet done justice in those cases.
What we are seeking to do in these Amendments is to step up the increases all round in that broad, humane range of widowed motherhood and bereaved childhood. We failed just now to step up the rest of the benefits, but I still think that there is an opportunity for the Minister to be prepared, if not to concede on the main battlefield what we fought for in the last two hours' debate, to make some concessions along the lines of some of the Amendments we are now discussing.
I do not want to repeat the broad arguments of the earlier debate. We feel that not only should this group of citizens share more in the increasing prosperity of the country, but that we should steadily lift the conception of what we mean by welfare and what we mean by the basic standard of living below which no one should fall—and the Minister himself has been doing that. 1393 If there is argument about the speed at which and the amount by which it should be raised, there can be no argument about the increase.
When my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), in the National Insurance Act, 1946, introduced the pattern, which has developed further under the present Minister, for the care of widowed mothers, he established two principles for the treatment of mothers and children. One was that there should be payments at a relatively high rate for a limited period of adjustment to widowhood. If our Amendments were carried tonight, we should be saying that when a widow is going through the indescribable agony of bereavement and the indescribable agony of adjusting her life to an absolutely new set of economic values, if she has two children, she should have £7 2s. a week to cope with all the problems which she has to face at that time.
It is worth paying tribute to the widowed mothers for the way in which they bring up their children and for the simple fact that very few of them break under the strain. Many of them make sacrifices, and have done so through history, and this generation is not shoddier than any previous generation. If the widowed mother does her duty by her bereaved children, this is the kind of relief which is given, but if she should break and her child should come under the care of the children's committee of a local authority, the amount that the State has to spend on looking after that child is three or four times what we provide. The average cost of looking after children to my own county children's committee must be between £5 and £6 a week. If the child goes astray and goes to borstal or an approved school, the cost is about £10 a week.
I am not suggesting that we should give the widowed mother the actual mathematical equivalent of what it costs us to look after our deprived children, but I plead with the Minister to reach out a little more towards the widowed mothers and especially in the first 13 weeks of their widowhood. I know that the Parliamentary Secretary will not hesitate to run through the pattern of what the Minister has done in this respect. He has taken a number of steps 1394 in each of the sub-sections, as it were, along the lines that I want him to follow, but I do not believe that we have ever coped adequately with the social problem of widowhood or that of the widowed mother.
I speak from my own experience. I know many families in my town—and I can think of families as I speak—one day affluent and ticking over nicely with a steady wage coming in and the next day with the man stricken down, the family no longer affluent, no longer in the condition of the ordinary working class, but near poverty.
I do not like using figures, but it has been said that the average wage is now about £14 a week. The widowed mother with two children gets 99s. 6d. It is true that there are children's allowances for the second and subsequent child, just as everybody else received them, but a drop from £14 a week to a third of that must be catastrophic and the 122s. which we give for the first 13 weeks—and the time ought to be extended and the amount increased for that period—is to allow her to adjust herself to that new situation.
When the husband dies, the widow still has the same rent to pay. She cannot go into a smaller house, half the size if she has no children, three-quarters of the size if she has two children, or four-fifths of the size if she has three children. She has to pay the same rent. Her light and fuel cost as much as before. The main burdens of the household expenditure do not change if the husband dies. It is true that she has three mouths to feed instead of four. I have never been domesticated, but I understand from my wife that it does not cost a quarter or one-third more to feed the extra mouth. The cut in the family budget if one takes one meal-eater out of the family is not even one-quarter.
It is true that she has to buy clothes for one less person, but one does not need to be domesticated to know that the people who use up most of the clothes in the family are the children. The cost of rent, fuel and light remain the same. Food and clothing are down by one-quarter at most, and possibly not that.
In addition, the widow is unable to do many of the jobs that the man of the house used to do, and she has to pay 1395 someone to do them for her. It is with that consideration in mind that I say that it is not right to cut back the standard of living or to cut back the income going into the bereaved home to the extent that we do.
All this comes about through no fault of the widow, through no fault of her children, and certainly through no fault of her late husband. Blind chance strikes down the breadwinner, and what we, as a nation, are saying is, "It might but for the grace of God be me" and putting the protective arm of the State round the bereaved family.
Many widowed mothers go out to work when they ought to be at home looking after their children. I believe they ought not to have to go out to work. I remember the debate in 1946 when my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly was talking about this. He established the qualifying age for the widow at 40 rather than the present 50. One of the points he made was that he did not want the widowed mother to have to go out to work.
We feel that being a mother is a full-time job. I believe that a mother who looks after two or three children is doing a grand job, and some day she will have a trade union to fight her battles for her, because she is in the most sweated labour trade in the country. The widowed mother ought to be encouraged and persuaded to stay at home. If her children are young, obviously she cannot go out to work.
As the Committee knows, I work in another capacity. For a long time I have concerned myself with educational problems among children who leave grammar schools at 15 instead of staying on to become sixth-formers, university graduates and scientists. One has only to look at the working party committee report to see the number of widows' children who leave school early. One finds the case of the young boy of 15 or so who is not prepared to allow his mother to continue to make a sacrifice to enable him to continue his education. I admire the sturdy independence of these youngsters, but we are losing people who should stay on at school to receive further education because they are intellectually capable of profiting from it.
1396 Every National Assistance Act since 1946 has been a step forward in support of the general principle which I have been advocating. I do not believe that this goes far enough. I say that most sincerely. So far the Minister has not made a single concession, and I ask him now to make one somewhere along the line of the array of Amendments which we are considering. These Amendments have been tabled on behalf of the widows and the fatherless. I urge the Minister to accept at least some of them.
§ Mr. W. Griffiths
My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) has, by his very clear explanation of the details of the Amendments we are discussing, released me from the need to say much of what I had intended to say. There is one comment I wish to make on my hon. Friend's excellent speech in relation to widowed mothers going out to work
As I understand it, from the time of the Beveridge Report, the attitude of most of us has been that it would be wholly desirable if these benefits paid to widowed mothers, to widows and to retirement pensioners were big enough to enable the recipients to stay at home and not have to supplement the benefits either by recourse to the National Assistance Board or by having to go out to work.
Unfortunately, that happy state of affairs has never been reached. Benefits have been outstripped by inflation, and we will not, under the conditions envisaged in the Bill, reach the position where any of the categories who will benefit by the Minister's proposals will, on the basis of the benefits alone and without outside assistance of some form, be freed from the need to go either to the National Assistance Board or to go out to work.
I agree that it is desirable that a mother should be at home with her children, especially if they are young, but it is no good saying that unless the Government are prepared to make it possible for her to stay at home with her children. The proposals in the Bill will make it extremely difficult for the widow to stay at home. Adequate maintenance should be provided for her, and, clearly, that is not being done.
There is another point of view which ought to be taken into account. It seems 1397 to me that a woman has a perfect right, if she so wishes, to pursue her chosen jab or profession. It is a fact that many women get "fed up" with being kept constantly at home. They would rather pursue their chosen jobs or professions It is all very well for hon. Members to say what women should do, but, judging by the views expressed by the women of my family, and by the women one meets in one's constituency or elsewhere, there are many women who would prefer, fully appreciating the responsibilities of their families, to have the opportunity of pursuing the job for which they have been trained.
We must not disregard the immense loss to the nation when highly trained women are obliged to leave their professions. One has only to think of the consequences to the nursing profession, to the teaching profession, and to the hospital services, when women who have been trained for those jobs leave them. Very often they have received the most expensive and valuable training but they are obliged to give up their jobs. If the widowed mother wishes to continue with her job, I think that it is the duty of the Government, and the duty of us all, to see that unreasonable barriers are not placed in her way.
I have been listening to the proceedings on the Bill for most of the past two days, but I have spoken on only one previous occasion. I say now what I would have said if I had spoken previously. I agree that there has been a real increase in this range of benefits and, like the rest of the Committee, I welcome them as increases in real terms. But they are no more than what they should be in an affluent and prosperous society such as that of which we boast. If others are doing better, so should those whom we seek to benefit under the National Insurance Acts. We must not be complacent about this. In recent years there has been an increasing tendency among far too many people to assume that in the Welfare State the end of all possible social requirements has been reached. This is not so.
If the debate were wider we could give many examples of people suffering hardship and disability in respect of whom there is still room for State intervention. I should be out of order if I pursued that aspect too far, but I beg 1398 the Committee not to believe—as far too many people outside the House and perhaps some hon. Members believe—that we have achieved all that is possible in the way of social requirements. The National Health Service is taking a lower proportion of our gross national product than it took eleven years ago. As the country becomes more prosperous, and our production increases, we are entitled to argue as to the directions in which Government expenditure should be increased. We would all look forward to seeing the State find more money for pensions, education and the rest of our social services.
I want to say a few words about the case of the widowed mother. I know that the Ministers recognise her special responsibilities. I do not think that they would quarrel with the definition put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Itchen. But I hope that it will not be felt that the improvements which have been made make possible for the widowed mother who chooses to go to work to do so, and that her life is a bed of roses, because the earnings rule prevents that. As the Committee knows, last Session I promoted a Private Member's Bill which, unhappily, did not get a Second Reading. It drew a low place in the Ballot, and there was no good will among hon. Members opposite to get it forward. In that Bill, I proposed to remove the earnings rule as it applied to widowed mothers.
In consequence of that Bill and various newspaper articles I received a considerable correspondence. I am aware that other hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have also received correspondence on the matter. I do not wish to weary the Committee by reading more than one or two extracts, but I want to get on record some of the facts illustrating what widowed mothers are having to put up with. The first extract is from a letter from a woman in the Home Counties—not a constituent of mine—who says:I am one of the widowed mothers losing part of my pension because I earn more than £5 a week—and I must earn more than £5 to keep three big girls (all at secondary school—only mothers of 12- or 13-year-old children will believe how they eat!).With my full pension, plus what I earn, I could afford to look for a flat or house of our own—we are living in two rooms plus a tiny box room for kitchen with no sink, no 1399 water except carried from bathroom, where there is no hot water system anyway, so a proper bath is only a lovely memory … The next three or four years are going to be hard indeed unless I can count on that full pension. The two bigger girls take size 5½ in shoes (bigger than my own!) and need grown-up pullovers, blouses, and so on—even a man's wage would hardly be sufficient to keep up with the needs of three growing children—how can a woman manage it alone?What is the relevance of my correspondent's observation that she could manage if she could keep her full pension plus what she earned? She is voicing a grievance about what I think is a socially indefensible state of affairs as between one widow and another.
I have always been surprised at the number of people who are unaware that widows whose husbands died a natural death are subject to the earnings rule, which, at present, is £5 a week—
§ The Deputy-Chairman (Major Sir William Anstruther-Gray)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but I should be grateful if he could explain how he brings his argument into the present Amendment, which deals purely with the amount of allowances and not with the conditions under which the allowances are granted.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I am trying to show how our proposals for an increase in the rate of benefit would cause the effect of the earnings rule to weigh less heavily upon the widowed mother. Unless I can show how it has this affect it is difficult for me to deploy my argument with the effectiveness that I wish to achieve. However, I shall be as short as possible.
I will just repeat that in the case of a widow whose husband was killed at work there is no means test whatsoever; she can earn as much as she can command on the labour market and retain her full pension. If, on the other hand, her husband dies what is called a natural death she is allowed to earn only £5 a week. I have yet to hear from any Minister anything that can possibly defend that obvious social injustice.
I can illustrate it quite simply, as I have done before, by saying that if a married man is driving a bus which crashes, and he is killed, his wife is widowed under the provisions of the Industrial Injuries Act and she draws the full pension and has no deductions from 1400 her earnings. If, on the other hand, her husband had finished his work, was travelling home in the same bus as a passenger, and the bus crashed and he was killed, his widow would become subject to the earnings rule. This is socially indefensible, and the Minister should put it right. With the passage of the years people who have had good reasons for opposing the abolition of the earnings rule have come to see that in 1960 it is completely inappropriate.
There are still many widowed mothers who have recourse to National Assistance. I do not know whether the Joint Parliamentary Secretary can give the Committee more up-to-date figures than those which are already on the record as given by the Minister for a year or two ago. It is sometimes said that if we abolished the earnings rule only a small and privileged section of professional women would benefit, but that is not true. In my constituency I know of women who would have been working in engineering, textiles, or the making-up trade. All too often in the past they have found the widowed mothers' allowance, when linked with the earnings limit, insufficient to make it worth while for them to pay for their children to be looked after while they go out to work. The result is that they have applied for National Assistance.
I wish to ask the Joint Parliamentary Secretary whether she knows how many widowed mothers have had to go to the National Assistance Board since the Minister raised the earnings limit in January. I know that the right hon. Gentleman was very disturbed a year or two ago about the number. I remember that he told the House of Commons that of all the recipients of National Insurance benefits widows with children were the section in which the greatest number had to resort to National Assistance. He said that about 75 per cent. of the widows with four children or more went to the National Assistance Board and that about one-third of all the widows had to go to the Board. To be fair to the Minister, he said that a year or two ago. He was deploying the argument when recommending to the House improvements in the position of the widowed mother. But I should like to know what is the present position.
1401 If women are obliged to go to the Board it is because they find they cannot live at the level recommended by Beveridge and stay at home with their children—which, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Itchen—is desirable, and because, by the operation of the earnings limit, they are discouraged from going out to work. Although we all appreciate that the Minister has recognised the special responsibilities of the widowed mother, we ask him to go a little further tonight. I ask him again, as I asked him the other day, to try to find a way to remove this socially indefensible distinction regarding the earnings rule which exists between one category of widowed mother and another.
I believe that the right hon. Gentleman may find a way to do that. I have always found him extremely sympathetic and persuasive, but never, since he has been a Minister, have I heard him less convincing than in explaining the need for trying to retain this differentiation.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance (Miss Patricia Hornsby-Smith)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) for the way in which he moved the Amendment and I express, on behalf of my right hon. Friend, his gratitude for the generous tributes which the hon. Member paid to the substantial efforts that my right hon. Friend has made to ease the financial position of these widows. As the hon. Gentleman fairly said, we have deliberately weighted the differential between other rates and those for the widowed mother and children. We have modified the earnings rule in favour of the widowed mother.
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths) for the extreme subtlety with which he worked in the best of his arguments on another Clause under the heading of these rates, and I hope, Sir William, that I may be allowed a little latitude, even though I may be slightly out of order, so that I may comment in a few sentences on one or two of the points which the hon. Gentleman made. As he rightly said, we have increased the earnings limit to £5 before there is any reduction of the allowance. Under the new rates the widowed mother will be able to earn eight guineas before the 1402 whole of the personal part of her allowance is eliminated.
It should, I think, be more widely known that the reduction is made on the basis of net earnings so that the widow can claim fares, P.A.Y.E. payments and the cost of hiring help to look after her children as deductions in arriving at the net amount of pay which is taken into account for the purposes of the earnings rule. If I go further with this argument in answering the hon. Member for Manchester, Exchange—he heard most of the reply when he attended with a deputation to my right hon. Friend yesterday—I shall rightly be ruled out of order. I thank you, Sir William, for allowing me the same latitude as the hon. Member—
§ Mr. W. Griffiths
Sir William also allowed me to point out the different treatment accorded to different kinds of widows and I would therefore tempt the right hon. Lady to go a little further.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
I do not think I should go into the differences in the treatment of these beneficiaries and those receiving pensions as war widows or for industrial injury, about which there are strong feelings among hon. Members. I am sure that I should be rightly ruled out of order if I did.
To deal more directly with the items which we have been discussing, the subject of the first Amendment is the widow's allowance. It is a resettlement allowance paid for 13 weeks immediately after widowhood to all widows, except those who husbands are retired or over 65. It is paid irrespective of their age, their earnings or their family circumstances, providing only that the contribution conditions are satisfied. It was an entirely new benefit which I am sure was generally welcomed, and it has been deliberately raised in favour of the widow in the various increases which have been made in pensions and benefits over the years. Originally the figure was 36s. which in real terms would now be worth 57s. The current rate is 70s., and we propose to make it 80s. Hon. Members opposite have suggested that this amount should be raised still further, to 90s.
The rates we propose roughly maintain the 40 per cent. differential between the standard sickness and unemployment 1403 benefits and the widow's allowance. It is always difficult to maintain a fair balance between the various benefits. Inevitably, if one is dealt with more generously, there is a feeling that the differential has been destroyed. But we have kept it at 40 per cent., and we believe that to be a not ungenerous increase.
Widows receive help not only here but also in the increased allowances for their children. Again we have weighted that in favour of the children of widows. The subsequent Amendments which we are discussing concern allowances for children of widowed mothers. There is great sympathy for the widow and admiration for the courage with which she faces new problems and far greater responsibilities. Therefore, the Government have quite deliberately and consistently weighted the allowances for widows with young children. There is now a very substantial differential between the payments they receive and those to others who are dependent on benefits but where the mother and father are still alive.
If we take family allowances into account, over the years of this Government the allowances for children have risen from 10s. for the first child and 7s. 6d. for the second child. What we now propose is 25s. for the first child and for the second child and 27s. for the third and subsequent children. The further increase proposed by these Amendments could not, I think, be justified either by increases in prices, or even on the balance which we try to keep between the allowances for the children of widows and those for children in other circumstances. There are two anomalies arising out of what is proposed in the Amendments. The difference between the rates proposed by hon. Members opposite for widows' children, of 30s. and 22s., and for other dependent children, of 20s. and 10s 6d. is 10s. for the first child and 11s. 6d. for the other children. This compares with the 7s. 6d. differential which we propose in our Bill between 25s. and 17s. 6d. for the first child.
We agree it is right to show a preference for the children of a widowed mother, but the difference which the Opposition have proposed widens the differential very considerably, particularly when one has, quite legitimately, to compare the allowances with, for 1404 example, those for the children of families in which there is a chronically sick man or where there is a man who has been unemployed for a long period. The scheme must reasonably maintain a relativity between the provision we make for the children of widows, which we accept should be weighted and which we have deliberately weighted even more ourselves during our term of office, and for other types of children who may have sick parents and may have almost comparable difficulties in their homes.
The proposed increase in children's benefits would destroy the traditional relativity which has existed ever since 1948 between the allowance for the first or only child payable to a woman receiving widow's allowance, and the corresponding child's element within the widowed mother's allowance. This was 7s. 6d. in 1948. In 1951 it was increased to 10s. It is 20s. at present. We propose to make it 25s.
Since nearly all widows who receive widowed mother's allowances receive widow's allowance first, the Committee will agree that it would be entirely illogical if they received two different rates of child's allowance in respect of the same child within three months. It would be extremely difficult to explain this to them.
The effect of the Amendments would be that the widow would receive 30s. a week for her first child while she was getting widow's allowance, but this would drop to 21s. 6d. a week—the difference between the suggested rate of widowed mother's allowance, namely, 90s., and the suggested rate of widowed mother's personal allowance, namely, 68s. 6d., when, after thirteen weeks, she went on to long-term benefit. I do not think that we could defend that situation.
The rates proposed in the Amendments would also reduce the first child's element in the widowed mother's allowance to 21s. 6d., instead of the 25s. element which is in our proposals, whilst increasing the rate for second and subsequent children to 22s. Thus the widowed mother under these proposals would get less for her first child than for her second.
We must realise that these benefit rates cannot be considered in isolation. They must take into account not only the deliberate weighting we want and have 1405 given to the widow but also the postion of children of other families who, though not deprived of their bread-winning father, nevertheless may be in a household where there are diffifficulties of sickness or unemployment. We must try to maintain a reasonable balance between all these rates.
Taking the Government's proposals in the Bill, the increase in terms of real purchasing power for these children and for widowed mothers is substantial. A widow with three children, who received £2 15s. in 1951, will under the new proposals receive £6 14s. 6d. That, under the most recent index published only last week, is an increase in real terms of £3 1s. 6d. Thus the proposals in the Bill are far in excess of what could be justified by reference to any movements in the Interim Index of Retail Prices, and they reflect the Government's sincere recognition of the fact that widows with young children are particularly deserving of help and sympathy because of their special responsibilities to maintain a home for them. As a matter of interest, the cost of that batch of Amendments would be £3.7 million.
Sir William, you will correct me if I am wrong, but I understood you to say that we are also taking the Amendments in page 14, line 50.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
Thank you, Sir William. These two Amendments make provision for increasing the Child's Special Allowance. The effect of the first of them would be to increase the maximum amount of Child's Special Allowance payable in respect of the only, elder or eldest child by 10s. instead of by 5s., which would make again the rate of 30s. instead of the rate of 25s. provided in the Bill.
This special allowance was a new one introduced in 1957. It is paid in respect of the child or children of a divorced woman on the death of her former husband if he was contributing to their maintenance before his death. The maximum amount of the allowance cannot exceed the amount of maintenance which the former husband was providing. The benefit is not payable where the mother has remarried. Therefore, 1406 there are comparatively few cases of this nature. It has been a principle of this allowance that the maximum rate should be the same as the amount payable in respect of the children of widows. It is therefore already at a higher rate than the general rate of dependency benefit for children of other families.
Over the years the benefits for widows children have been substantially increased and the rates we have suggested are in parallel with that. With Family Allowances, the standard rates for the first, second and third child of two living parents total 47s. Under the Bill they will be increased to 54s. 6d., compared with 25s. in 1951. A widow with three children will draw under the Bill 77s. in respect of three children compared with 25s. in 1951.
I thank hon. Members for the very fair and generous speeches which they have made. Overall, the Government feel that we have kept—which I think is important—the various rates in balance. We have deliberately weighted the conditions in favour of the widow and her children and we think, that the increases which have been made in respect of widows, widowed mothers and children, are such that we are entitled to ask the Committee to resist the Amendment.
§ Mr. Houghton
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) on his very able speech in moving the Amendment. No one in the Committee displays more human feeling on these matters than my hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Exchange (Mr. W. Griffiths), who sailed for so long and so skilfully near the wind of order, seemed to be continuing the discussion which he and other people had with the Minister yesterday. He mentioned a very real problem indeed, which has a significant bearing on this matter. Most hon. Members who are interested in this problem will have read Mr. Peter Townsend's book. He is a brilliant young social worker and researcher who has brought vividly to the notice of many readers things that they probably had not encountered and could not understand in connection with the lives of widows and widowed mothers.
1407 We still have not decided what we want widows and widowed mothers to do. I think that I have learned a lesson from the proceedings of this Committee. In future, I shall give the right hon. Lady's civil servants much less to go on. They have had all the details of these Amendments and chewed over them and enabled the right hon. Lady to spend far too long telling us the technical defects in our Amendments, uttering a few words of self-satisfaction about the proposals of the Government, but not answering the vital question: are these benefits enough? After all, that is what we are talking about.
Of course, widows' benefits and widowed mothers' benefits today are much better than they used to be. What a crying shame it would be if they were not. If we go back to the situation of the 10s. widow of the pre-1946 days to see how we treated the widowed mother then, we are almost ashamed to look back on those days. We have to look at what the Government propose to do in a new and more enlightened age on these social questions. I do not think that we ought to force widowed mothers out to work. I do not think that we ought necessarily to want them to stay at home. There should be a large measure of individual choice. We should provide benefits which enable them to make that choice much more freely than they are able to make it at present.
The adjustment of a woman to widowhood is something which only she, in the end, can solve for herself. We know of widowed mothers who say that the emptiness of the home in the evening is so appalling that they feel they must get some balance in their lives to the emptiness which they feel at certain hours of the day. Other widowed mothers have said that they feel the lack of grown-up conversation. However much they adore their children, they are just "fed up" with baby talk and must hear something else to satisfy their standard of adult intelligence and interest. Those are perfectly understandable things. One can well appreciate that some widowed mothers feel that they must provide that balance to their lives by going out to work, mixing with other people and trying to re- 1408 establish themselves in a life which otherwise would be broken.
I do not think that we need concern ourselves overmuch with the thought of over-providing for the widowed mother who may have other resources. Taxation will take care of that. She is taxed as a single person. A widowed mother, although she gets child relief for tax purposes, has the same personal reliefs as a girl of 18 setting out in life for the first time and giving her mother a nominal sum for board and lodging, but spending the rest on herself. On many occasions I have sought to get an increase in personal reliefs for widows and single persons who are householders.
The question which the right hon. Lady did not answer is whether these benefits are enough. If she had said, Let us leave aside the detailed difficulties in the Amendments and look at what we are trying to do; we admit that we have not got there yet, but I assure the Committee that we shall get there much more rapidly by our method", that, at least, would be an encouraging message. These debates are occasions rather for a broader consideration of what we are trying to do than for critical and detailed examination of the particular amounts in these circumstances. I know that the amounts are very important and that the financial position for them is equally important. What I am so anxious that we should do, and what I think is one of the things lacking from this Committee stage, is to set our targets and see what we are aiming at.
We on these benches have done our best, but, collectively as a Committee, we have not done that. We have not had half enough from the right hon. Gentleman or the right hon. Lady about their new targets and signposts in this part of social security. We are not going to say that £7 14s. 6d. a week, even with family allowances, for a widow with two children is really social security. We say it is a buttress against undue hardship perhaps and something upon which she can build by going to work, but we have not really solved the problem of widowhood by benefits at this level.
There is no more that I wish to add at this late hour. We have a little more business to do before we can come conveniently to the final stage of the Bill. I must ask my hon. and right hon. 1409 Friends to register their disappointment with the response given to these Amendments by dividing the Committee on the matter.
§ Question put, That "80 0" stand part of the Schedule:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 156, Noes 99.1411
|Division No. 14.]||AYES||[8.26 p.m.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)|
|Allason, James||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Alport, Rt. Hon. C. J. M.||Harvie Anderson, Miss||Pilkington, Capt. Richard|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Hastings, S.||Pott, Percivall|
|Batsford, Brian||Hay, John||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate)||Hendry, Forbes||Proudfoot, Wilfred|
|Beamish, Col. Tufton||Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Quennell, Miss J.|
|Bell, Ranald (S. Bucks.)||Hobson, John||Ramsden, James|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Holland, Philip||Rawlinson, Peter|
|Berkeley, Humphry||Hopkins, Alan||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin|
|Bingham, R. M.||Hornby, R. P.||Ridley, Hon. Nicholas|
|Bishop, F. P.||Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Patricia||Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)|
|Box, Donald||Howard, John (Southampton, Test)||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Hughes-Young, Michael||Roots, William|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Russell, Ronald|
|Braine, Bernard||Jackson, John||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Bryan, Paul||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Sharples, Richard|
|Bullus, Wing Commander Eric||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Shaw, M.|
|Carr, Compton (Barons Court)||Kerans, Cdr. J. S.||Shepherd, William|
|Channon, H. P. G.||Kimball, Marcus||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)|
|Chataway, Christopher||Kitson, Timothy||Speir, Rupert|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Leavey, J. A.||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Cole, Norman||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm|
|Collard, Richard||Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Cooke, Robert||Lilley, F. J. P.||Sumner, Donald (Orpington)|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Lindsay, Martin||Tapsell, Peter|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Linstead, Sir Hugh||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Corfield, F. V.||Loveys, Walter H.||Taylor, E. (Bolton, E.)|
|Costain, A. P.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Taylor, W. J. (Bradford, N.)|
|Couison, J. M.||McAdden, Stephen||Temple, John M.|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford||MacArthur, Ian||Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Critchley, Julian||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col-O. E.||Maddan, Martin||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Curran, Charles||Markham, Major Sir Frank||Turner, Colin|
|Dance, James||Marshall, Douglas||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Doughty, Charles||Marten, Neil||van, Straubenzee, W. R.|
|du Cann, Edward||Mathew, Robert (Honiton)||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Duncan, Sir James||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)||Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis|
|Eden, John||Mawby, Ray||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Elliot, Capt. W. (Carshalton)||Maxwell-Hyslop, R.||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Elliott, R. W.||Mills, Stratton||Watts, James|
|Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Webster, David|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Montgomery, Fergus||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Farr, John||More, J.||Whitelaw, William|
|Fisher, Nigel||Morgan, William||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)||Neave, Airey||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Freeth, Denzil||Noble, Michael||Woollam, John|
|Gammans, Lady||Nugent, Sir Richard||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Goodhart, Philip||Osborn, John (Hallam)|
|Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)||Osborne, Cyril (Louth)||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Green, Alan||Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)||Colonel J. H. Harrison and|
|Hall, John (Wycombe)||Partridge, E.||Mr. Gibson-Watt.|
|Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)|
|Baird, John||Diamond, John||Hayman, F. H.|
|Beaney, Alan||Ede, Rt. Hon. Chuter||Healey, Denis|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Edelman, Maurice||Herbison, Miss Margaret|
|Benson, Sir George||Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Hilton, A. V.|
|Bowden, Herbert W. (Leics, S. W.)||Evans, Albert||Holt, Arthur|
|Bowies, Frank||Finch, Harold||Houghton, Douglas|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Fitch, Alan||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)|
|Brown, Alan (Tottenham)||Foot, Dingle||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Foot, Michael||Hunter, A. E.|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Forman, J. C.||Janner, Barnett|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)|
|Callaghan, James||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)|
|Castle, Mrs. Barbara||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Kelley, Richard|
|Chapman, Donald||Griffiths, W. (Exchange)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.|
|Collick, Percy||Grimond, J.||King, Dr. Horace|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Gunter, Ray||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Lipton, Marcus|
|Deer, George||Hannan, William||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson|
|Dempsey, James||Hart, Mrs. Judith||McInnes, James|
|McKay, John (Wallsend)||Peart, Frederick||Swingler, Stephen|
|McLeavy, Frank||Proctor, W. T.||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Manuel, A. C.||Pursey, Cmdr. Harry||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Mayhew, Christopher||Randall, Harry||Thompson, Dr. Alan (Dunfermline)|
|Mellish, R. J.||Reynolds, G. W.||Wade, Donald|
|Millan, Bruce||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)||Warbey, William|
|Mitchison, G. R.||Ross, William||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Moody, A. S.||Royle, Charles (Salford, West)||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Moyle, Arthur||Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Whitlock, William|
|Oliver, G. H.||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)||Willey, Frederick|
|Oram, A. E.||Skeffington, Arthur||Williams, W. R. (Openahaw)|
|Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Small, William||Zilliacus, K.|
|Pargiter, G. A.||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Parker, John (Dagenham)||Spriggs, Leslie||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Pavitt, Laurence||Summerskill, Dr. Rt. Hon. Edith||Mr. Cronin and Mr. Lawson.|
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Dr. King
I beg to move, in page 14, line 39, at the end to insert:
As the Committee will know, this Amendment deals with the problems of the so-called 10s. widow. If the Amendment is carried, she will have not 10s. but 20s. Some hon. Members who have followed these debates for years must now know this problem by heart. Indeed, the small groups of widows that there are throughout the country have done their best, within the very limited opportunities that they have, to bring the matter to the notice of hon. Members.
6. Widow's basic pension payable by virtue of the National Insurance (Pensions, Existing Beneficiaries and Other Persons) (Transitional) Regulations, 1948 20 0 — — —
Simply stated, widows who lost their husbands before July, 1948, do not come within the benefits of the National Insurance Act, but some of them had husbands who were qualified under the old pensions insurance legislation for a flat rate widows' benefit of 10s. These are the so-called 10s. widows. Other ladies, for a variety of reasons, were not even qualified under the old Acts, and received no flat rate pension. They are the "no-shilling" widows. I have to mention them because one of the arguments the Minister constantly uses brings in this second group.
Over the years, the Minister has not done what I should like him to do, namely, bring in all these widows under the shelter of the National Insurance Acts and give them the benefits received by widows whose husbands qualified under the National Insurance Act. We have asked him, if he cannot do that, to do at least the bare minimum in social justice, which is to give the 10s. widow 1412 the equivalent of the 10s. that she was drawing in 1946 when the National Insurance Act came in. Year by year, if she is working, not only does the value of her 10s. shrink because she has to pay increased contributions—and may have to pay an increased contribution now—but as the cost of living rises the value of the 10s. becomes smaller and smaller.
This is a very modest Amendment, and I do not feel that I have to persuade tonight. I feel that the Committee should tell the Minister to make this increase—not as an Amendment—by simply saying, "Make the 10s. 20s.". I believe that that would be little enough in all conscience. It may be that the Minister will tell us tonight, as he has said over and over again, that if we raise the pension of the 10s. widow to £1, she will be in a more favoured position than the "no-shilling" widow, and therefore we shall widen the gap between these two hardship groups. I must confess that this argument—one of the favourite arguments of the Treasury—always annoys me intensely.
If two things are wrong, the Treasury says: do not put one right because it is not fair to the one that is left. The Treasury believes in all or nothing provided the answer is nothing. I believe that the 10s. widow has a right to her 10s. because her husband paid for it, and a right to its modern value. Let us examine this question of right. The pension which she received was introduced into the House back in 1925, and when Mr. Neville Chamberlain introduced the Second Reading of the Widows', Orphans', and Old Age Contributory Pensions Bill dealing with the pension of 10s., he said, after much more sentimental talk than has been uttered from this side of the Committee in these debates:But what the ordinary man does fear is the prospect of leaving behind him a widow, 1413 and, possibly, little children unprovided for, save for what they may receive from charity or the poor rate."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 18th May, 1925; Vol. 184, c. 75.]That was said during the opening of the debate on the Bill.
The then Attorney-General, Sir Douglas Hogg, in closing the debate and in commending the 10s. pension to the House, said that it was a Measurewhich in my humble judgment, will, in truth, bring great benefits to the widows and orphans whom it is designed to help, and which will give to our working classes that sense of security, that sense of not leaving their widows and children unprovided for, which is one of the surest incentives to happiness, to contentment and to well-being."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th May, 1925; Vol. 184, c. 386.]This 10s. is not a mere charitable hangover which the Minister is graciously conceding to widows. It is something which, when it was first given as part of an Act of Parliament, was regarded by people as part of a great insurance shield to protect widows from poverty
I believe that both groups of widows, the 10s. widows and the "no-shilling" widows, are treated unjustly. The real answer is to bring them into full benefit, but, pending that, I think that it is certainly a little nearer justice to give the 10s. widow something approximating to the value of the 10s. which she was getting before we brought in an Act which deals generously with her sisters but not with her.
This is a small Amendment. It is not expensive. The last Amendment was singularly inexpensive, and I regret that the Minister could not accept it. If he conceded this Amendment, he would at least bring some satisfaction to a group of widows who are conscious not only of hardship but of a sense of real injustice.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
First, may I take the opportunity of thanking the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) for what I am told were the very kind words which he said in my absence while the previous Amendment was being discussed. I apologise for not having been here to hear what he had to say. He will appreciate that in the course of three days' debate it is occasionally necessary, in the language of the Royal Air Force, to land in order to refuel and rearm.
1414 I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has had the opportunity of moving this Amendment, because in all the complex National Insurance system there is no subject on which there is more real confusion and misunderstanding than this. The very figure of 10s. looks, in terms of modern prices, somewhat derisory. There has been a genuine misunderstanding about this which I think springs from a failure to appreciate the complete change in the treatment of widowhood in the 1946 Act. The hon. Gentleman quoted the debates of 1925 when the late Mr. Neville Chamberlain introduced a system of universal pensions on a modest level, even by the prices of those days, for all widows.
At that time widowhood as such was treated as a pensionable condition. The Beveridge Committee, the coalition Government during the war, and the Government of hon. Members opposite which came to power in 1945, all accepted, as I think this Committee has in general accepted, the new concept of the treatment of widowhood. It is, indeed, part of the greater selectivity of National Insurance generally, of which the change from an old-age pension to a retirement pension was another example.
The new treatment of widowhood was that it should not, as such, be pensionable; that all widows should receive for the first thirteen weeks an allowance at a reasonably high rate—a kind of resettlement or rehabilitation allowance; but that after those thirteen weeks had elapsed, widows should be permanently pensionable only if they were widows who could not reasonably be expected to re-establish themselves in employment—widows with young children, for example, and the widow who was widowed when over the age of 50. Widows not in this category should, on the other hand, be left to manage their own lives as independent citizens after the thirteen weeks' widows' allowance.
That was the new provision. It involved paying a much higher pension while excluding those who could reasonably be expected to re-establish themselves. It thus introduced a considerable degree of selectivity, or, to put it another way, concentrated the funds available 1415 where, generally speaking, they were most needed.
My predecessor at that time, the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths), was faced with the problem of what to do about those widows whose circumstances were not such as to bring them into the new concept of widowhood but who, by reason of marriage before 5th July, 1948, to a man insured under the old schemes, had an existing right. What the right hon. Member for Llanelly decided was to leave them their existing 10s. pension but not to raise it to the new National Insurance level. At the same time—this is important, and I am not sure that the hon. Member for Itchen presented it quite rightly—any of the widows with the 10s. pension whose family circumstances were such—for example, if she had young children—as to entitle her to benefit under the new Scheme, was brought under the new rates. We were, therefore, left with the position, as we are today, that the 10s. widow is a widow who, because of her reserved rights under the old Scheme, because she married a man before 5th July, 1948, who was insured under that Scheme, gets 10s. in circumstances in which a widow whose only rights are under the new Scheme gets nothing. That is the position. I am sure that the hon. Member for Itchen—I know him too well—did not wish to mislead the House, but his reference, for example, to the 1925 debates and to little children is irrelevant to this discussion, because any widow with little children is, of course, on the National Insurance rates of the new Scheme which we are now increasing.
Therefore, the problem that faced the right hon. Member for Llanelly, and has faced successive Governments, is this category of widows—whose rights the right hon. Gentleman was right to preserve, although some people have taken a contrary view—whose personal circumstances otherwise would give them no pension at all. The hon. Member for Itchen was perfectly frank. He said that he thought it wrong that there should be any widows who got no pension. I respect his views—
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I understood the hon. Member to be arguing that widowhood as such should be pensionable. That is a view which I understand. It is a view which was rejected by the Coalition Government, by Lord Beveridge and by the Labour Government, and is contrary, I think, to the general line of thought; but it is a free country and everybody is entitled to his view.
It is interesting and significant that the hon. Member for Itchen, who puts forward this apparently limited proposal, avows that he is really disputing the general view of widowhood and would wish to revert to the pre-Beveridge and pre-1946 position. I think the hon. Gentleman is in a logically consistent position. The difficulty is that for people like myself, and, I suspect, the majority of the Committee on both sides, who accept the Beveridge and post-Beveridge position, and who accept the position of the 1946 Act, it is very much more dfficult to justify making an improvement for the 10s. widow. The hon. Gentleman is logical: he would put up the lot. For those who would not, who would leave the younger childless widow without pension, it becomes much more difficult to justify increasing this particular provision.
The reason, it seems to me, why successive Governments, the Labour Government in 1951 and successive Conservative Governments since, have not touched the value of this provision, is that they have not—we have not, they have not—treated it as a part of the general social provision of this country, but have treated it simply as a reserved right. It is not, of course, unique in that respect.
We did in fact have lateish last night a discussion on another similar provision which has not been changed for the same reason, namely the 20s. paid to the young industrial injuries widow, in essence a commutation of the old lump sum under workmen's compensation. That again has been treated as an acquired or inherited right, not a part of the conscious social provisions of the country. Therefore, successive Governments have not raised it any more than, for the very same reason, successive Government have not raised the 10s. 1417 widow's pension, because the case undoubtedly for raising the value of the provisions both to take account of changes in the value of money and indeed to improve them, is, of course, that they are socially necessary. If they are simply in the position not of what we would regard as a socially necessary or desirable part of our social services but of being simply regarded as a reserved right, then I think we are not only justified in treating them but bound to treat them differently. That is why I think successive Governments have treated this particular provision differently.
The hon. Gentleman made the point that, with the passage of the years, the 10s. has, of course, fallen in value. His Amendment—I do not take the point against him as debating point, but it is important—goes far beyond what would be necessary even to restore that. I work it out that in fact to restore its original 1948 value, it would have to be 15s. 10d. He makes it £1. The cost of this, direct and indirect, would be £4 million a year, a very substantial sum indeed, and one which, obviously, no Government could accept unless it were really justified.
"But," the hon. Gentleman will say, and I will face his point, "you ought at least to restore its value or you are not reserving the right." That sounds an attractive argument until we analyse it. But is it sound? Can we in fact distinguish this, not as what we now regard as a necessary and proper social provision, but as a reserved right, as really any different in substance from other forms of property or of savings which have lost their value owing to the change in the value of money over the years?
We do not, for example, restore the value of money invested some years ago in savings certificates, or indeed, in fixed interest securities of one kind or another; or personal savings. One often hears of, and hon. Members on both sides are touched by, cases of people whose small savings have been eroded over the years, but no Government has thought it right to say that those savings must be put up in value to compensate them. No Government has thought it right or desirable to do that, and indeed to attempt it would be a very substantial task.
§ Dr. King
But surely we are doing that almost every year with our whole pensions programme. Men and women who paid in other amounts of money for other amounts of benefit are today receiving benefits of a much greater value. The Minister himself has been doing this throughout his long period of office. The husbands of these 10s. widows paid for this at the legal insurance contribution at that time.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
No doubt it is my fault, but I think the hon. Member cannot have followed my argument. Where things are part of what is now regarded as proper social provision, we do increase them. This very Bill does that. But I was trying to make the distinction that where a thing is not part of the modern idea of social provision at all, and where indeed the majority of widows in this condition are getting nothing at all, it is not in the same category as the pensions that we are increasing. This is a form of right or property, as it were. The point which has irritated the hon. Member, and therefore I must tread delicately, is the comparison if we were to increase this with the provision for a widow similarly circumstanced but without these reserved rights.
Dialectically, the hon. Member said that two wrongs do not make a right, but he was taking for granted that there were two wrongs. From the angle that he does not believe that any widow should not have a pension, that was logical; but the hon. Member has against that the whole weight of the modern treatment of widowhood, and I maintain that the general social provision, concentrating money where it is most needed in the case of widows as in other social fields, is right. The hon. Member must face the fact that the younger childless widow now gets nothing and, though I make no point of this, we have had no Amendment in the course of this debate to give her anything.
It seems unfair when there are two women living alongside each other, both widowed and childless at the age of 30 or 35, that one should have to pay to improve the position of a lady who is already receiving 10s. more than she is. As Minister of Pensions and National Insurance I should find it very difficult 1419 to impose National Insurance contributions for that purpose. I would not have the feeling that I was doing the fair thing.
Therefore, taking the point of view that it is not a case of two wrongs but of a proper concentration of benefit where it is most needed, I am led inevitably to the conclusion that to do what the hon. Member wants and more than restore—indeed with a considerable margin—the original value of this pension, at the cost of widows, among others, who receive no pension at all, would be plainly wrong and inequitable.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)
Will the right hon. Gentleman address himself again to the particular point that the husband of this 10s. widow had done his best to try to provide for his widow? He was, therefore, making a provision which could be related to the time in which he was living and he was not to know that the circumstances might change afterwards. This is the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) has brought to the Committee's notice and it has not been answered.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
That man seems to me to have been in exactly the same position as the man who contributed to buy an annuity or a pension for his widow through an insurance company. The amount that he contributed would produce a pension of a particular amount expressed in money, and we all know that the value of that money has been eroded with the passage of years. The hon. Member has really helped me with my argument, because that is a closer analogy than the one I gave of Savings Certificates or Defence Bonds. That is a provision which was made in terms of money, and the value of the money has lessened during the years, although the husband subscribed to an insurance company, to a trades union, a friendly society or whatever it might be, in order to make some provision for his widow.
Consequently, I come to this conclusion. I should in any event have found considerable difficulty in agreeing to a proposal costing about £4 million—a very substantial sum. But I do not rest my argument solely on that, though in the 1420 face of the much smaller demands which it has been necessary to resist the Committee will appreciate that that in itself must weigh with me. But I have also taken objection to it—here I am strengthened by the fact that it is an objection which all my predecessors of both parties seem to have felt—on principle. I really do not think it would be right, as the Amendment proposes, to use the contributions of contributors to the present National Insurance scheme to write up, in real terms some 30–40 per cent., the value of what is not an integral part of our system of social services.
I listened, as I always do, to the hon. Member for Itchen, who put his case persuasively. It is one that over the years has been put from time to time to my predecessors. I am bound to say that I really cannot see how one can get over the difficulty of the different treatment for this purpose of two widows similarly circumstanced. As the trustee, as I suppose I am, for the time being, of the National Insurance Fund, I should feel that I was failing in my duty if I accepted the charge.
§ Mr. Houghton
The right hon. Gentleman has tried to blind the Committee with science. Had he been addressing a meeting of 10s. widows, they would have been very enraged by now. The right hon. Gentleman said when he began that there was no topic in all the complicated matters of National Insurance upon which there was more confusion than this. He has added his quota to it. The minds of the Opposition are very clear indeed on the matter. This happens to be one of the questions upon which a pledge was made by the Labour Party at the General Election, and we shall be able to register our vote in support of it in a few moments.
In comparing the 10s. widow with the widow with no pension, the Minister loses sight of the fact that one cannot maintain the value of nothing but one can maintain the value of 10s. It might have been right or wrong that one widow had a reserved right and that the other had no right at all. But the fact is that the one with the reserved right was given the 10s. according to the values of the time when the concession was granted, and the least the State can do is to maintain some semblance of the value of that 10s under present conditions.
1421 When the right hon. Gentleman compares this kind of reserved right with investments and the fall in the value of gilt-edged securities and anything else with which he likes to compare it, it takes me back to the remark of my hon. Friend the Member for Itchen, who said that the Minister is in favour of all or nothing provided the answer is nothing. Apparently, the Minister cannot remedy this grievance without reshaping the world and reconstructing the whole structure of our investment and dealing with the fall in the value of money and so on. The right hon. Gentleman really has erected the most formidable obstruction against a piece of elementary justice.
If the reserved right was justified at the time, I think we are justified in maintaining
§ its value under present conditions. There was also the ordinary contributor who sacrificed his right to the 10s. pension in return for the new benefits under the 1948 scheme, and there is, consequently, no reserved right about which one has to be troubled for him. But this reserved right was specially preserved, and it seems wrong that we should allow its value to be whittled away by the fall in its purchasing power. That is the simple issue. We do not want any more confusion. I ask my hon. Friends to divide the Committee on the Amendment.
§ Question put, That those words be there inserted:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 94, Noes 149.1423
|Division No. 15.]||AYES||[9.5 p.m.|
|Beaney, Alan||Hamilton, William (West Fife)||Oram, A. E.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Hannan, William||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W)|
|Benson, Sir George||Hart, Mrs. Judith||Pargiter, G. A.|
|Bowden, Herbert W. (Leics, S. W.)||Hayman, F. H.||Parker, John (Dagenham)|
|Bowles, Frank||Healey, Denis||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Braddock, Mrs. E. M.||Herbison, Miss Margaret||Proctor, W. T.|
|Brown, Alan (Tottenham)||Hilton, A. V.||Purney, Cmdr. Harry|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Holt, Arthur||Randall, Harry|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Houghton, Douglas||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Callaghan, James||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Ross, William|
|Castle, Mrs. Barbara||Hunter, A. E.||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Collick, Percy||Janner, Barnett||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Davies, Ifor (Gower)||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrerham)||Small, William|
|Deer, George||Kelley, Richard||Soskice, Rt. Hon. Sir Frank|
|Dempsey, James||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Diamond, John||King, Dr. Horace||Summerskill, Dr. Rt. Hon. Edith|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. Chuter||Lever, L. M. (Ardwick)||Swingler, Stephen|
|Edelman, Maurice||Lipton, Marcus||Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)|
|Evans, Albert||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Finch, Harold||McInnes, James||Thompson, Dr. Alan (Dunfermline)|
|Fitch, Alan||McKay, John (Wallsend)||Thornton, Ernest|
|Foot, Dingle||McLeavy, Frank||Wade, Donald|
|Foot, Michael||Manuel, A. C.||Warbey, William|
|Forman, J. C.||Mayhew, Christopher||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Mellish, R. J.||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Millan, Bruce||Willey, Frederick|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Mitchison, G. R.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Griffiths, W. (Exchange)||Moody, A. S.||Zilliacus, K.|
|Grimond, J.||Moyle, Arthur|
|Gunter, Ray||Oliver, G. H.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Mr. Cronin and Mr. Lawson.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Bullus, Wing Commander Eric||Duncan, Sir James|
|Allason, James||Carr, Compton (Barons Court)||Eden, John|
|Alport, Rt. Hon. C. J. M.||Channon, H. P. G.||Elliot, Capt. W. (Carshalton)|
|Ashton, Sir Hubert||Chataway, Christopher||Elliott, R. W.|
|Batsford, Brian||Cole, Norman||Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley (Southgate)||Collard, Richard||Errington, Sir Eric|
|Bell, Ronald (S. Bucks.)||Cooke, Robert||Farr, John|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Fisher, Nigel|
|Berkeley, Humphry||Corfield, F. V.||Fletcher-Cooke, Charles|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Costain, A. P.||Fraser, Ian (Plymouth, Sutton)|
|Bingham, R. M.||Coulson, J, M.||Freeth, Denzil|
|Bishop, F. P.||Craddock, Sir Beresford||Gammans, Lady|
|Box, Donald||Critchley, Julian||Gibson-Watt, David|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. John||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Green, Alan|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Dance, James||Hall, John (Wyoombe)|
|Braine, Bernard||Doughty, Charles||Hamilton, Michael (Wellingborough)|
|Bryan, Paul||du Cann, Edward||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)|
|Harris, Reader (Heston)||Mathew, Robert (Honiton)||Speir, Rupert|
|Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Matthews, Gordon (Meriden)||Steward, Harold (Stockport, S.)|
|Harvie Anderson, Miss||Mawby, Ray||Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir Malcolm|
|Hastings, S.||Maxwell-Hyslop, R.||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Mills, Stratton||Sumner, Donald (Orpington)|
|Hendry, Forbes||Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh||Tapsell, Peter|
|Hill, J. E. B. (S. Norfolk)||Montgomery, Fergus||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Hobson, John||More, J.||Taylor, E. (Bolton, E.)|
|Holland, Philip||Morgan, William||Taylor, W. J. (Bradford, N.)|
|Hopkins, Alan||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Temple, John M.|
|Hornby, R. P.||Neave, Airey||Thompson, Richard (Croydon, S.)|
|Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Patricia||Nugent, Sir Richard||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin|
|Howard, John (Southampton, Test)||Osborn, John (Hallam)||Tilney, John (Wavertree)|
|Hughes-Young, Michael||Osborne, Cyril (Louth)||Turner, Colin|
|Hutchison, Michael Clark||Pannell, Norman (Kirkdale)||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Jackson, John||Partridge, E.||van, Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Pearson, Frank (Clitheroe)||Vane, W. M. F.|
|Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Vosper, Rt. Hon. Dennis|
|Kerans, Cdr. J. S.||Pilkington, Capt. Richard||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Kimball, Marcus||Pott, Percivall||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Kitson, Timothy||Prior, J. M. L.||Watts, James|
|Leavey, J. A.||Proudfoot, Wilfred||Webster, David|
|Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Quennell, Miss J.||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)||Ramsden, James||Whitelaw, William|
|Lilley, F. J. P.||Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, S.)|
|Lindsay, Martin||Ridley, Hon. Nicholas||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Linstead, Sir Hugh||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick|
|Loveys, Walter H.||Roots, William||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Russell, Ronald||Woollam, John|
|MacArthur, Ian||Scott-Hopkins, James||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Sharples, Richard|
|Maddan, Martin||Shaw, M.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Marshall, Douglas||Shepherd, William||Mr. Chichester-Clark and Mr. Noble.|
|Marten, Neil||Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)|
§ Schedule agreed to.
§ Schedules 4 to 6 agreed to.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment.
§ 9.14 p.m.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I think that it will be for the convenience of the House if I make a brief Third Reading speech.
We have had a long and very good debate, and I would like to take this opportunity of thanking the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) and the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) for their co-operation in getting the business through within the timetable that was arranged between us.
Before I say a brief word on the Third Reading of the Bill, may I make a correction? I misread part of my notes yesterday evening when we were debating the constant attendance allowance. The result was that in two places I quoted incorrect figures, each time, I confess, to my disadvantage. I said:… he"—that is the man who is seriously disabled—is now receiving in respect of the three allowances £8 10s., and he will receive £9 15s ….That is correct, as is also the statement that that rate is more than double the 1424 1951 rate, and in real terms £3 14s. 3d. higher. The error is in the intermediate phrase where I said:… if he is exceptionally seriously disabled £10 5s."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Wednesday, 23rd November. 1960; Vol. 630, c. 1243.]The figure should read "£11 15s.".
In the following paragraph, referring to a married man with two children, I gave the 1951 rate as £6 7s. 6d. when in fact, it was £6 4s. 6d., which represented an increase in real terms between the proposed new rates and the 1951 rates of £4 19s. 10d.
I apologise to the House for my unwitting errors which I must say were unduly modest in that I under-estimated exactly what the Government were doing. I hope that the House will accept my apology.
We have had a full measure of cut and thrust in the debate. I do not complain about that because that is what the House is for, but in relation to this afternoon, although rightly the Opposition put forward strenuous arguments why the Government should do more than they are doing at present, I cannot believe that hon. Gentlemen think, as has been implied, that hon. Members on these benches are not interested in the old, in the sick and in the unemployed, or that they are not in touch with their constituents.
1425 I feel that hon. Members on both sides welcome the increases that are being made. Overall they provide pensions and benefits considerably higher in real terms than ever before, and of the 7s. 6d. and the 12s. 6d. increases which are to take place in the standard rates, only 1s. 6d. of the single rate and 2s. 5d. of the married rate is accounted for by increased prices.
This is an advance in real terms, and is a Measure to honour the pledge we made at the election that we would give the pensioners and other beneficiaries a share in the increasing wealth of the country. By the Bill we are securing those higher benefits and also securing the continuance and solvency of the Fund for both present and future beneficiaries.
§ 9.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Houghton
I am sure that the right hon. Lady had no need to apologise for the mistakes she made last night with some of the figures. I wonder that she got any of them right. I think the House will sympathise with the right hon. Lady, and perhaps more especially with the hon. Gentleman, for being confronted with this bewildering array of figures, benefits, conditions and qualifications which they have had to master to enable them to play their part during the Committee stage of the Bill. I am sure that the House would wish to congratulate them co their performances on many intricate matters. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] The hon. Gentleman the Joint Parliamentary Secretary will now realise that there are even more difficult subjects than colonial questions; indeed, it has been said that this House is full of Foreign Secretaries, but there are not many experts on pensions, and fewer still on Income Tax.
We would also wish to express our appreciation of the zeal of the Minister. He is a most zealous Minister on these occasions, and he is beginning to look a little tired. No wonder, because I am sure that all his meals have been upset during our proceedings, and he has borne a very heavy load of care and anxiety. I wish to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) most warmly for ensuring that the Minister has never gone unscathed. That is a great thing in the cut-and-thrust of our debates. Three days in Committee have been very 1426 heavy going, but we are now through with it, and the Bill is on its way to another place.
At this stage we admit freely that we welcome these improvements. They are material, and they will be a great boon to many millions of people enjoying benefits under the Scheme. Our complaint has been, first, that they were too-long delayed, and, secondly, that they were not enough. But we have gone over all that ground very carefully and in great detail. I suppose that the issue before the House and the country still remains the big question of how much social provision the community is willing to make by way of sacrifice, extra endeavour or greater efficiency. None of us wants the community to be coerced into making this provision unwillingly and, by its own later action, causing further inflation. That would be disastrous. This has to be provision freely made by the community, within the resources of the country, and not followed by a depreciation in the value of money, arising from its efforts to cover itself against the sacrifice it has been called upon to make. When this or any other Government have greater confidence that they can move forward without undesirable consequences, we shall be able to make further progress in social provision.
Since there are more hon. Members present on the benches opposite than there have been for some time during the last three days, I would ask what has become of the unofficial Conservative opposition. As I estimate, only nine hon. Members opposite have spoken on the Bill. What about this impudent legend that the official Opposition has fallen down and that it is the job of the opposition on the Government side to keep the Government up to scratch? Can anybody say that when they have seen my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock perform? Where has the hon. Member for Kidderminster (Mr. Nabarro) been? Where has the hon. Member for Halifax (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) been? Where has the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) been?
§ Mr. Houghton
Has she taken a vow of silence, for which she was rehearsing 1427 only yesterday? We have missed the contributions of many hon. Members and hon. Ladies who, no doubt, would have added valuable thought to our debate.
However, the reactionary opposition has been silenced and the progressive Opposition has been vocal. That is how it should be. We give a farewell to the Bill, knowing that it will bring great benefit, and although we have many qualifications and reservations about it, none will wish to deny its beneficiaries the benefit of the Bill for a moment longer than is necessary.
§ 9.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Cole
I should like to add my congratulations to my right hon. Friend and other of my hon. Friends on the Government Front Bench for the introduction of this Bill. It has a special characteristic in that it represents the first Pensions Bill since the war which advances the real value of pensions beyond the figure that the cost of living would require. In that sense it is the sort of Measure which I hope that on future occasions we shall again be discussing in this House.
I am loth to interpose a serious note after the rather happy speech of the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). I do not know whether I belong to the "progressive" or to the "reactionary" opposition, but in any case I propose to speak my mind. I still regret that it has not been possible to do something for the non-contributory pensioners or for those who are generally termed 10s. widows. I think that my right hon. Friend knows—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member would, I think, be in difficulty if he talks about things which are not in the Bill during the Third Reading debate.
§ Mr. Cole
With respect, Mr. Speaker, on my first point about the non-contributory pensioners I thought that Clause 2 (5) would apply, and I should have thought that the Third Schedule had reference to the proposals regarding the needs of the 10s. widows, and that therefore I was in order. But I bow to your Ruling, Sir.
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not wish to stop the hon. Gentleman wrongly. I thought he was referring to things which are 1428 not in the Bill, to omissions from it. That was the point.
§ Mr. Cole
I apologise. I think that is true and that I was doing so, and therefore I will leave that point.
I was saying—I think the Minister will know this better than I—that it is true that we can always add a supplement, up to the balance of the Determination of Need Regulations, to a person's basic income, in order that he can live at least on a subsistence level. He can receive the same amount of money from the National Assistance Board that he receives from a pension by right. But we all know—the older we get the more we know it—that what one receives by right is always better than what is given, even by a sympathetic and understanding State. That is what I was attempting to plead.
I do not believe that there is any kind of criticism which we can make, but rather the opposite, regarding the activities of the National Assistance Board in supplementing the various incomes of people, but it is nice to know that one can receive something by right and something to which one is entitled by law.
I welcome Clause 3 and the abolition of the twelve-hour limit on work for those in receipt of retirement pensions. There is one point I wish to put to my right hon. Friend. At the moment it is not a substantial point but it may loom larger in future when, as I hope, pensions are increased still further. I hope that my right hon. Friend will keep continually in mind the relation between that amount which a retirement pensioner can earn without embarrassing his pension and the increases in pension granted from time to time by various Acts. In the last eighteen months my right hon. Friend has increased the amount which can be earned without affecting the pension. We are now increasing the basic rate of pension by 7s. 6d. If there are further increases I hope that the proportion, the amount under the earnings rule figure, can be made higher. I think it would be only just that it should be done.
We have been criticised by hon. Members opposite for a lack of consideration and understanding of the needs of old people. In all friendliness, I would say 1429 to the hon. Member for Sowerby, and other hon. Members, that they have not a unique responsibility for or appreciation of the old people of this country and their needs. We are just as much in touch with them and understand the things they need and their general way of life. We do not talk so much about it, but we are just as much in touch with them and just as sympathetic.
There is one salient difference between the Opposition and the Government. It is the responsibility of the Government not only to pay the pensions but to find the money with which to pay them. Perhaps I may be forgiven for making a political point at this stage, but we should not let the Bill go without realising that it is the state of prosperity to which the country has been brought over the last eight on nine years that makes such Bills as this possible.
My right hon. and hon. Friends and I believe that, within the limits of our capabilities at any moment, nothing is too good for pensioners and those who are not in full possession of their earning capabilities. What we have done in the Bill is the first step in consonance with what we can do at the moment. We hope to make other improvements in future according to the ability of the nation.
I cannot quite see how it can be done, but I wonder if there is any possibility of expediting the implementation of the Bill. I express the hope on behalf of the millions of pensioners who will benefit from the Bill that my right hon. Friend will keep his mind open on that point. I wish the Bill well and, once again, congratulate all concerned with bringing it before the House.
§ 9.32 p.m.
§ Mr. T. Brown
In a few words I want to express my opinion, as I tried to do throughout the Committee stage. A great philosopher once wrote that life was made up of expectations and disappointments, more of the latter than the former. I have experienced disappointments during the three days that we have had the Bill under discussion.
I was expecting that old-age pensoiners would have a much higher basic rate than the Government are prepared to give them. The Government have had many warnings through the medium of 1430 the organisations which represent the old folks. I expected that we should go very much over the £3 mark. Unfortunately, fate has determined otherwise and we must be satisfied with what is contained within the Bill.
I was confidently expecting that the point we were trying to make about partially and totally incapacitated workers in receipt of hardship allowance would be conceded. The arguments advanced from this side in Committee were to a large degree understood by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. Unfortunately, that has not happened and I am disappointed on those two aspects of the Bill.
Having expressed my expectations and disappointments, I want to express my thanks to the Minister and the two Parliamentary Secretaries, who have been very attentive during the whole of the Committee stage. Rarely were they absent from the Treasury Bench. They have been very assiduous. That was one thing which appealed to me as a very ordinary Labour back bencher. I am grateful to them for having listened to the arguments so carefully.
The right hon. Lady was a little aggressive on one occasion. She reminded me of what in Lancashire we term aggressiveness—she was a little "catty and cocky". I think someone has spoken to her and she has mellowed down a little and been very nice ever since. On that occasion I thought that, as we say, she had got out of bed on the wrong side that morning. Joking apart, whether we agree with them or not, we must pay tribute to the Minister and the two Parliamentary Secretaries for the attention they have paid to points of view that we have expressed from time to time.
I repeat what I have said before. I hope that the day is not very far distant when we shall have a greater, loftier and nobler conception of what social security really means. We have been playing about with it now for fifty years and have not yet reached the stage we should like to see. I suppose that in time, as the months and the years pass, someone with courage and determination and a high degree of generosity will come along who will give to the old people, the injured, the sick and the infirm the social security which the situation warrants.
1431 Meanwhile, we have to accept this Bill. It has gone through its various stages and now reached the final stage. We are like Lazarus, thankful for the crumbs which fall from the rich man's table. There is another phase that we shall have to consider, the National Assistance regulations. I cannot dwell on that, but I hope that the Department will lend a sympathetic ear to the proposals which we shall make to improve those scales.
§ 9.37 p.m.
§ Mr. Denzil Freeth (Basingstoke)
I cannot help thinking that the hon. Member for Ince (Mr. T. Brown) should take metaphorical glasses to look at this question of the size of the benefits in the Bill. I suggest that they are a little more than crumbs from someone else's table. In fact, they are fairly substantial slices of an improvement in life. Therefore, I begin by congratulating my right hon. Friend on having produced a Bill which—prices and the national product being what they are—completely fulfils our election pledge and does so without placing a very substantial burden upon the shoulders of those contributors who earn relatively low wages and would find it difficult to bear a much larger contribution.
The Opposition have fought hard, as all Oppositions should, to increase these benefits, but they have borne with extraordinary fortitude the spectacle of having each suggestion they have made rejected by the Minister. The hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr Houghton) could not have been more courteous or more imbued with the end-of-term spirit than he was in his last speech. I am still rather wondering whether to be called by him part of the progressive wing of the Tory Party is a compliment or not. Be that as it may, the Opposition have conducted themselves throughout the Bill exactly as an Opposition should.
My right hon. Friend and his team on the Front Bench have done extraordinarily well in managing to say "No" all the time without appearing to be hard-hearted or harsh. With a Pensions Bill or a National Insurance Bill, before we start the Second Reading debate, the Government have worked out the total plan, how much extra in contributions, 1432 how much extra from the Exchequer, and how much extra it can mean in benefits. Therefore, although the Opposition may well do their best to increase here or there, we all know that it is very hard indeed for a Minister to accept any Amendments which will upset the total plan. My right hon. and hon. Friends have managed to say "No" in different ways and in different words but in a way which has upset no one.
The hon. Member for Sowerby said something very important indeed when he referred to the portion of the national product which the nation is willing to set aside for the use of those who are retired or those who have a disability of one kind or another. Of course, the testing time will come in the spring, when the Bill comes into effect, because, at the same time as the alterations in contributions under this Bill come into effect, involving increases for a number of people, we shall have the increased contributions particularly on the graduated pension scheme under the Act of last year.
For some workers, this will mean a noticeable increase in contributions. If those increases in contributions by both employer and employee lead to increased prices on the side of the employer or demands for increased wages on the side of the employee, that will be a sad thing for this country. I therefore heartily endorse what the hon. Member for Sowerby said. I feel that we should remember that, when spring comes, there must not be an autumn of discontent.
§ 9.42 p.m.
§ Dr. King
If I may be personal before I am political, I would say, first, that the Minister has now been for a very long time in his office, and that no Minister in the present Government can have such a mastery of his Department as has the right hon. Gentleman. I believe that it is a sign of the low esteem which Her Majesty's Government have of the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance that they keep the right hon. Gentleman out of the Cabinet. It certainly is not because of any shortcomings that the right hon. Gentleman has shown in governing this great and humane Department. I pay tribute to him for always doing his homework, for always doing his housework, for the very forthcoming way in which he meets 1433 everything we put up in Committee, and for his utter consistency in refusing to give us any concessions whatever.
I pay an even warmer tribute to my two hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench. It is a pleasure to take part in Committee deliberations under the guidance of my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), who wields a rapier and occasionally a bludgeon, and under our newest acquisition on the Front Bench, my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), who wields with equal skill a claymore and, I think I might say, a skean dhu—if I am not using the wrong Scottish word and advertising some Scottish liquor.
Passing from the personal compliments, I wish now to say a political word. I believe that the Bill brings us a little nearer to the true Welfare State in its treatment of the aged, the sick, the bereaved and the unemployed, but only a little nearer. Hon. Members who have congratulated the Minister and themselves ought to be congratulating the workers, who are footing most of the bill for the increased benefits. It is certainly true, as the timing of the Bill shows, that those who need help most in the country are at the end of a long queue. The landlords, the landowners and the speculators have been served much more swiftly by this Government and with greater helpings from the national income than we are giving to the old, the sick and the unemployed tonight. In spite of the increased benefits under the Bill, this country still lags behind many other nations in its provisions as a Welfare State for the categories we have in mind.
This may sound to some hon. Members opposite a grudging welcome to the Bill. I have noticed that hon. Members opposite—the few who have been here—have always seemed to want us to make the kind of speech in Committee that their hon. Friends would have made if they had attended the Committee stage of the Bill. I thought that I might tonight treat this Measure in exactly the same way as the Conservative Party treated the most revolutionary social Measure ever introduced into this House, in 1946—our National Insurance Bill, when we made improvements which out-Beveridged Beveridge, if I may refer the Minister 1434 back to the use of the word "Beveridge" in the earlier debate today.
The present Leader of the House, at the time when we were raising the pension increases not by 15 per cent. as the Minister has raised them in this Bill, but from 10s. to 26s., said thatThe Government have been yielding to political clamour on behalf of old age.… The real truth is that the Government have a morbid but understandable preference for the end of life and the end of things.This, from the genial Leader of the House, is somewhat macabre. Yet this was the way in which Her Majesty's Government, in opposition, welcomed the tremendous increase that we made in old-age pensions.
The right hon. Gentleman also said—and I pass it straight to the Minister as he said it and apply it to him:There is no question of the party opposite giving things to the public …. The right hon. Gentleman is not giving things at all. People are going to pay for them. He may have come down here this afternoon to allocate public moneys in a certain way, but public moneys remain public, and not the property of one party or one Minister."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th February, 1946; Vol. 418, c. 1772 and 1761.]The present Leader of the House, when we introduced much more revolutionary changes than these, certainly dissembled his love, if he did not kick us downstairs.
When the Bill becomes law, lots of worthy citizens will still be much poorer than we think they ought to be. Lots of not more worthy citizens, and, indeed, if one looks at some of the financial rackets in this country, some of them less worthy citizens, will be much richer than they deserve to be.
We welcome this latest concession. But it is not the end, and there is still much to be done before we have achieved social justice not only throughout British social life, but even in the field which the Minister throughout his career has so steadily improved. The old-age pensioner is not yet satisfied. He will not be satisfied by the provisions of the Bill even when they get to him next April, I believe, too, that the widow's case has yet to be met. I congratulate the Minister on his skilful and masterful handling of the Bill and my hon. Friends on the brilliant way in which they fought to improve it in Committee.
§ 9.49 p.m.
§ Sir Henry Studholme (Tavistock)
I do not want to delay the Third Reading of the Bill by keeping the House for more than a minute. I congratulate the Government on the Bill and my right hon. Friend the Minister and his hon. Friends on the Front Bench who have dealt with it so efficiently. The Bill is typical of the legislation which we can expect from a Conservative Government.
There is one point of principle which I should like to make, and in which I believe very strongly. We must all realise that an insurance scheme must be actuarially sound. If people need more than they can get under an insurance scheme, or if they are outside the scheme and really need help, they must not be denied it, but there must be a test of need. I think that everyone, if he searches his heart, must know that there is nothing wrong with that.
If people need more they must justify their need. That is a principle which should always be maintained when dealing with public money.
§ 9.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Ross
In a very few and, I hope, gentle words I should like to take my leave of the Bill, with my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) for the way he has guided me through it. I cannot but feel a certain measure of sympathy for the new Joint Parliamentary Secretary. I can remember—I think that it was in 1945—dropping into a transit camp somewhere in the Far East and discovering a young officer called Major Braine who was to give us a lecture. The subject of his lecture has "How to lose an election". As I had just lost an election, I felt then, as I feel now, a certain measure of fellow feeling.
I should have liked to be wholehearted in my congratulations on the Bill, but I must confess that I am terribly disappointed in the Minister. He has guided us through these very important matters for quite a few years. With this Bill, which joins up and is coincident with the Measure passed before the election, we are entering into a new and, to my mind, misconceived period in social security. The Government have been far too hasty in their graduated scheme. They should have stopped and pondered, and let the nation ponder, on where they wanted 1436 to go and how they were prepared to deal with this tremendous problem of security in old age as well as other short-term benefits.
I recognise that an advance has been made, but it is not as much as I or my hon. Friends would have liked, and it has not come as quickly as we should have liked. I cannot see the pensioners and the unemployed waiting in patient gratitude until April. I thought that we might have been able to persuade the Minister on that point, but we did not. I had hoped that subsection (5) of Clause 2 would not at this stage be in the Bill and that we could have given something to the non-contributory pensioner. I am sorry about these things, but we must face the fact that an advance is being made—an increase of 7s. 6d. for single people, of which the Joint Parliamentary Secretary says 6s. is a real increase, and an increase of 12s. 6d. for married couples.
Let us appreciate what the Schedules in the Bill mean. When it comes into force in the first week of April, the contracted-out man who at present pays 9s. 11d. will pay 11s. 4d. That will be his contribution to the basic pension. The contracted-out woman will pay 8s. 10d. Those who are in the graduated scheme will contiune to pay for the basic stamp at a reduced rate, but that reduced rate is not the reduction of 1s. 7d. which we expected as a result of the Bill. The rate will be 9s. 9d., a reduction of 2d., and for women it will be exactly the same as they are now paying, 8s. But their total contribution, plus the graduated contribution, will amount to anything between 9s. 9d. and 14s. 10d. I do not think the public realise this.
There will be surprises coming, and I have more than a feeling that, although we seem to have knitted together by last year's Act and this Measure a new scheme, it is one which in the long run will not bring satisfaction to the people, and we shall have to think again.
§ 9.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Boyd-Carpenter
I should like first, to thank the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) and the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) for their agreeable personal references. I was particularly grateful to the hon. Member for Sowerby also for his references to my right hon. and 1437 hon. Friends the Joint Parliamentary Secretaries. As the hon. Gentleman said, for my hon. Friend it was not an inconsiderable ordeal. Indeed, I must tell the House that when I pushed him forward on Tuesday to deal with that first batch of Amendments under the Industrial Injuries Scheme I said, "I am pushing you into the bath at the deep end." My hon. Friend, however, has the build of a Channel swimmer, and certainly the performance of one, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Sowerby for acknowledging the particularly fine performance which my hon. Friend put up.
I thank the hon. Member for Sowerby, too, for his helpfulness and co-operation in the conduct of business. I do not mean by that, nor would I have thanked him for it, that he or his hon. Friends sought to give us an easy time. I have been sufficiently long in this House to prefer the House when it is controversial and determined to when it is, as it sometimes can be, flabby and indecisive. It has seemed to me that our three days of debate have shown this House very much at its best, discussing things which hon. Members on both sides feel seriously and sincerely about, things which matter to our fellow-countrymen, and discussing them at the same time sometimes not without heat and passion but without unnecessary prolexity and repetition. I therefore thank the hon. Member for Sowerby and hon. Members on both sides for the way in which our proceedings in Committee went.
The Bill will, I hope, in a moment or two, go to another place at the other end of the corridor. If another place deals with it as expeditiously as I hope it will, we shall hope to secure Her Majesty's Assent before Christmas. Then a great deal of work has to be done. We shall have to conduct an elaborate administrative task and a considerable information task. It is our intention in an appropriate week after the Bill is law to hand a leaflet to every retirement and widowed pensioner, to put up posters and to give guidance through the Press and the broadcasting agencies, to whom we look once again, I am sure with confidence, for help and co-operation in seeing this immense operation goes through smoothly.
For five weeks in the early part of next year pensioners will be asked, in 1438 accordance with their position in the alphabet, to go to our offices to have their books up-rated, a very considerable operation for the many millions of them. I do not conceal that, although this is an operation which my Department has successfully conducted before, it is a major one and one on which we shall welcome the help and co-operation not least of hon. Members themselves.
We have been reminded, quite rightly, by the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) that we are, at the same time, engaged in preparing for the operation of the graduated scheme. I should incur your displeasure, Mr. Speaker, if I were to talk about the graduated scheme. I would only say, in reply to the hon. Member for Kilmarnock, who criticised us for the speed in which we operated it, that, quite obviously, the effect of that Measure in restoring solvency to National Insurance makes it a great deal easier to go forward now with this improvement in the benefits which the present Bill carries.
I should like to add with regard to Clause 3, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Cole) referred, that if we are able to adhere to the timetable which I have suggested and obtain Her Majesty's gracious assent before Christmas, it is my intention to make an Order under the Bill to bring Clause 3 into operation on 30th December. It deals, as the House will remember, with one of the conditions of retirement, and as people are retiring, or seeking to retire, throughout the year, I have made preliminary administrative arrangements which, if the Bill proceeds according to programme, will make that possible and prevent any misunderstanding or difficulty over this part of the retirement condition at that date.
This is the second time that I have had the privilege of taking a Measure of this nature through the House. It is a satisfactory thing to do. I am not under any illusion that I can meet everybody's wishes, but, all the same, one has the satisfaction of knowing that this is a Measure which will contribute in some degree to human happiness. I feel, personally, a sense of privilege in being allowed to be associated with it.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.