HC Deb 16 November 1962 vol 667 cc750-65
Mr. Redhead

I beg to move, in page 2, line 6, after "years", to insert: or has retired on account of physical or mental infirmity from the office or employment in respect of which, or on retirement from which, the pension is payable, and has attained the age of sixty years". The purpose of this Amendment is to extend the provisions of this Clause which grants additional supplements to pensioners at the age of 70 and over to another category of pensioners whom we feel to be equally deserving of the extra consideration.

One of the reasons advanced for this provision as it stands is that folk of 70 are those who, by reason of age, are less able to supplement their pensions from other sources. One recognises the force of that contention, and indeed we have welcomed this additional scheme embraced for the first time in legislation of this kind, but that factor is also true of those who have been retired on health grounds, and upon whom has fallen the burden of having not only the disabilities of their illness but all the disabilities associated with premature retirement on health grounds.

Many of them, by reason of the nature of their retirements or misfortunes, have had to endure the much abated pensions that resulted from having rendered only short service, and many of them still suffer in addition the burden that sickness brings. For this reason we feel that there is a strong human case for extending these additional benefits to those in this category.

Ideally we would have preferred to have done this on the basis of the period of time in which such pensioners had been drawing pensions. That is not possible to us, and we must therefore rely on the age basis. I have no means of estimating the cost of this slight extension of the provisions of the Clause, but I am certain that it is one which will have a natural appeal to the sense of humanity of members of the Committee.

I have been given a number of examples of the extreme difficulties of people who are not only having to subsist on low rates of pension, but on pensions which have been rendered even less because of their misfortune at having to retire on grounds of ill health. Perhaps I might quote one example, that of the woman who retired in 1943 at the age of 42, suffering from that crippling trouble rheumatoid arthritis which rendered her completely unable to work. She has had to endure the small pension which had accrued to her at the time of her premature retirement, and for a long time has found herself under the necessity of eating very severely into her savings which were very small and which she was not able to enhance from her modest pension.

It is true that before very long this lady will perhaps qualify for the benefit of this Clause under the age 70 provision, but we feel that in cases of this kind there is a strong case for anticipating the provisions of the Clause. For this reason, we ask that this benefit should be extended to those who have been compelled to retire on grounds of physical or mental breakdown.

Dr. King

I want briefly to support the Amendment which would extend the cash benefit that we are to give under Clause 2, the non-percentage benefit, to those over 70, to mentally or physically sick people between the ages of 60 and 70. These are what one might call those who have drawn breakdown pensions, and are the saddest group of people. Their case has been clearly and adequately put by my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Redhead). I do not want to put the general case, but the specific one, of the police, and I do it in an unusual way in this debate.

I want to read the case given to me by an old policeman because he has put it better than I or any other hon. Member could put it. It is put with dignity and clarity and, incidentally, is an example of the way in which this group of citizens, a group of a generation that is passing from us, has approached every Member of the House. I think that most hon. Members must have been struck by the moderation, dignity, and poise, of a generation which had values which I sometimes think we are losing in the present society.

He writes: The innovation of a further supplementary increase to those of 70 years of age and over is to be commended but it can only be said that many of those under 70 years of age, who by reason of sickness or by injury, may never be fit for work, are just as equally ill off. By the nature of their calling, the incidence of disease and injury in the police service must be greater than say civil servants or teachers. In this connection disablement awards are made under Police Pensions Regulations for any injury or disease received in the execution of duty. These awards are of little value when the officer is advanced in years of service. Also, many officers are unable to take advantage of the very much more generous payments under the Industrial Injury Benefit Scheme, this being due to the almost certainty that any disease resulting from the execution of duty would not be a "Prescribed Disease" under that Act. In consequence therefore, Officers advanced in years of service, who may be disabled up to 80 per cent. are only receiving a supplementary award of a few shillings weekly. Many are unfit for work and together with an ordinary and disablement pension along with former increases under the Pensions Increase Acts, they will be receiving a little more than half the amount of an officer of the same rank retiring today who may be capable of full employment. Again thank you. I appreciate very much your action in this matter. This is the simple case of a group of our policemen being technically debarred from getting compensation under the Industrial Injuries Act, men who have been to some extent broken in public service, men who cannot do what many older policemen can do, take on other work, and if we could somehow include this group in the category of those whom we are singling out, those over 70, I think that we would do something worth while.

We talked about anomalies in the earlier debates, and this might produce anomalies, but I urge the Minister to look at the kind of things that I have put, and the general things put by my hon. Friend, to see whether it is possible to include among the readily old people who suffered the heat and burden of the day those who have been broken in their professions.

2.30 p.m.

Mr. W. R. Williams

With due respect to the informant of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King), concerning the peculiar circumstances of the class to which he has referred, I want to draw the attention of the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee to similar cases of necessarily premature retirement in the Post Office. There is no need for me to tell hon. Members that in certain areas linesmen in Post Office engineering units, and postmen, especially those who work in the mountainous areas of Scotland and Wales, have to face occupational risks which necessitate many of them having to retire prematurely, simply because they have been beaten by the elements and the conditions under which they worked.

Many of these people retired at a time when it was impossible for them to be covered by any health scheme, or anything else. I happen to be aware of the case of the lady to whom my hon. Friend referred—the girl who had arthritis and was unable to carry on her functions in the Civil Service. She had to retire when she was about 43 years of age, before the National Health Service came into being, and she had to spend all of her small savings to try to carry on.

The general case has been made, and there are particular cases, but I would not like the debate to end without some reference to the fact that in my experience, and in the experience of the Post Office in general, many people have had to retire simply because the conditions of their employment and work have forced them to do so.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

The Amendment vividly illustrates the dangers which lie in the path of anybody who tries to adjust a broad system—in this case the system of occupational pensions—to particular social concepts and needs. The Clause to which the Amendment relates faces that risk. During the Second Reading debate I explained at some length the sort of considerations—which were then welcomed by hon. Members on both sides of the House—which caused us to treat the age of 70 and above as entitling public service pensioners to extra and special consideration.

Every hon. Member knows that when we seek to use an instrument of this kind it is inescapably a somewhat blunt one. I make no complaint of the fact that a Minister is always, quite naturally, pressed to extend the provisions further, to cover some other category, no doubt on very arguable social grounds. But the way in which the Amendment is framed underlines the unsuitability of public service pensions, when attempting to deal with social considerations, for any further degree of refinement than the broad category of age.

The hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) referred movingly to a certain case, in respect of a certain occupation—one which may well be a matter for consideration by my right hon. Friend in connection with police pension regulations. With respect to him, however, I do not think that it can really be a sound argument for extending this provision over the whole field of public service pensions covered by the Bill.

I want to underline what I was trying to say about the difficulties into which one gets. It is evident that the movers of the Amendment are, however well-meaningly, trying to produce a position that it will be very difficult to define. This is not a proposal—as the hon. Member for Itchen suggested—which deals generally with sick people between the ages of 60 and 70; it deals, and the Amendment deals, only with those sick people who retire on grounds of mental and physical infirmity. It must exclude the category, equally commanding of our sympathy, of people who, having struggled on against increasing ill-health to the age of retirement, become very ill subsequently to it.

On the other hand, it includes those who, having retired on grounds of infirmity, subsequently recover and become quite fit. I do not see how we could justify extending the special provision which the Bill proposes in respect of people of 70 to those who have retired on grounds of infirmity but have recovered, while denying it to those who have not retired on grounds of infirmity but have subsequently become sick.

This point goes a little further. For the first time, the Bill brings in overseas pensioners. In our discussion of an earlier Amendment reference was made to the difficulties of life in the tropics, even in these days. Hon. Members on both sides of the Committee will no doubt have friends or acquaintances who have been compelled to retire, on grounds of health and the inability to continue in a tropical climate, from their overseas employment, but who, in the ordinary sense, are quite fit for, and, indeed, take up, useful work on return to the temperate climate—if I may somewhat paradoxically use that expression today—of this country. Many people who would comply fully with the terms of the Amendment, because they would no longer be able to carry on work in a tropical country, are no more unfit for work here than are the great majority of people in their age group.

We also have the people who, also on grounds of infirmity, have to give up their employment because of some physical defect which is material to that employment but which may not inhibit them from other work. A classical example is that of the teacher. I am not quite sure why, but it is said that deafness is a serious handicap to a teacher. I can imagine occasions when it might be an asset. But, quite seriously, it is thought by education authorities that the control and handling of young people is made more difficult by a degree of deafness which would not inhibit a teacher from taking up other normal occupations.

I appreciate the intentions of the Amendment, and I have some sympathy with them, but the difficulties in the proposal bring out the truth of the proposition with which I began, that although age, with its special problems, and being a thing which one can judge objectively as a pure question of fact, can justify special treatment in respect of public service pensions, we should be getting ourselves into great difficulty, and would create not merely anomalies but patent unfairnesses as between one citizen and another, if we extended that proposal in the way suggested by the Amendment.

We must remember too that in this country sickness, in all its varied forms, is the subject matter of a widespread and increasingly effective system of help under our general social services, which are adapted—as public service pensions are not—specially to the peculiarity of the individual circumstances of sick people. Therefore, although I fully understand the thoughts and feelings which have led to the putting forward of the Amendment, I cannot recommend the Committee to accept it.

Mr. Houghton

We believe that the cost of implementing the proposal in this Amendment would be relatively small, probably less than £500,000. I mention that because we are not really talking of very large sums in this connection.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I apologise. I did intend to reply to that question. I cannot give a precise figure, but it would not be very substantial. In my speech I indicated that I did not advise the rejection of the Amendment on financial grounds.

Mr. Houghton

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman.

The Minister says that those of us who moved the Amendment are well-meaning people. Of course we are. That is what we are here for. I was not sure whether that was meant as a compliment, or whether it was a rather patronising comment about people meaning well but being rather stupid, or not being able to see through the problem with the skill and penetration of the right hon. Gentleman.

We see all the difficulties. I am beginning to wonder whether the Committee is not getting to the point where it cannot do something for some people who are deserving people because of the anomalies and injustices which it is feared might be created thereby. Sometimes I think that we have to ride a little roughshod over the technicalities if our object is to bring deserving help to those afflicted.

I do not know whether the Treasury would be better placed if the Chief Secretary were not so well versed in the complications of pensions and that sort of thing. Quite honestly, I think that a well-meaning fool would not make a bad Chief Secretary. Then at least some of those humane features might loom a little more largely than they appear to do in the mind of the Chief Secretary.

We should not be moving this Amendment at all had we not been encouraged to do so by what appears in Section 1 (2) of the 1959 Act. There it is provided that where a person has retired on account of physical or mental infirmity and is under the age of 60, he or she can get the benefit of the pension increase normally applicable to persons over 60. We therefore treat prematurely retired people—I stress "prematurely retired," not those who become ill after the retirement date—people who are prematurely retired because ill-health below the normal retiring age, as though they were over 60. That provision in the 1959 Act is the foundation for our proposals today.

I concede to the Minister that one thing leads to another. We said that if those under 60 who have been prematurely retired on health grounds were to be given benefits normally applicable to those people over 60, was not it right that those who retired on health grounds prematurely and had now survived and reached the age of 60 should be given the benefit normally given to those over 70? That seems to me a fairly close parallel in terms of a philosophical approach to this matter.

What the right hon. Gentleman said about those who retire on grounds of infirmity and get well and do something else, applies to people under 60 perhaps rather more than to those who are over 60. In other words, the sort of argument the Chief Secretary has put up against the Amendment could have been used to shoot down the proposal contained in Section 1 (2) of the 1959 Act. That is the logic of the matter.

On the whole, people who retire from the public service on health grounds do not get well again. I know that there is the classical case of an inspector of taxes who retired in his early twenties on health grounds and lived to be 90. But he lived to be 90 only by doing no more work. His pension was very small. Perhaps frugality and leisure increased his prospects of a long life. Probably he would have died at 35 had he continued to work as an inspector of taxes.

2.45 p.m.

On the whole, people who retire do so on serious grounds of infirmity and we wish to give them the benefits applicable to those over the age of 70. But this appears to be one of those Bills which has been cut and dried before it reaches Parliament. We have this Committee stage, and we spend all Friday and perhaps the period after 3 o'clock next Wednesday, or whenever it is that we shall continue the Committee stage discussions, but we get nothing out of those discussions. I wonder that we are able to keep up our spirits under those discouraging conditions.

I wonder whether the Chief Secretary understands the philosophy of Parliament as well as he understands the philosophy of immutability, or whatever else it is to which he applies his mind in this connection. It would concede greatly to the prestige of Parliament if occasionally we could get an Amendment accepted by the Committee which might cost the Minister fourpence ha'penny. Last time and at the last moment we secured a very small change, which was indeed a benefit, by moving the qualifying dates from 31st March in any given year to 1st April of that year. That was a tremendous victory for which we had to fight very hard. I have no doubt that the Chief Secretary thought it was imperilling the sanctity of Treasury Bills that the Measure should be mauled about by Parliament.

But to get back to where we were—[Laughter.] Seriously, I am very disappointed that the Chief Secretary cannot accept this Amendment. It would bring relief to a number of hard cases. I promised the Minister earlier that we would not defeat the Government today and, therefore, I shall not ask my right hon. and hon. Friends to divide on the Amendment; but I am very disappointed that the right hon. Gentleman cannot accept it.

Dr. King

This is a classical example of Treasury tactics. The Minister has told us that if we help the postmen for whom my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams) has been pleading and the policemen for whom I have been pleading, we shall be neglecting some other categories of people who are far more worthy of help than those we wish to help, and, therefore, the Government are not going to do anything at all.

The Minister's performance has been brilliant. We have a Minister representing the Treasury who certainly knows more about pensions and disability and hardship than any other hon. Member, and perhaps more than almost anybody in the country. I hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would transform the Treasury and take all his great humane experience to that Department. But his behaviour over this Amendment suggests that already the Treasury has "nobbled" him and that his heart is beginning to harden. We are very disappointed. We did not want this Amendment in the exact words in which it has been proposed, but we should have liked something which would meet the point we were trying to raise.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Before the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) "nobbles" me, I should like briefly to reply to the point which he has made and to one point put by the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton).

With his experience of these matters, I think that the hon. Member for Itchen must appreciate that public service pensions, as I tried to say in my original speech, are a very blunt and awkward instrument to be used for purely social purposes. I ask the hon. Gentleman seriously to reflect whether the kind of unfairness and disparity of treatment between people which I outlined earlier, and which would plainly be the effect of the acceptance of the Amendment, would be a right and proper thing for this Committee to create. I really cannot see that it would.

I think that, for once, the hon. Member for Sowerby has confused two quite separate things. The provision of the 1959 Act related to entitlement to pension increase. This Amendment relates to a quite different thing, to the higher and special provision which this Bill proposes, not for those entitled to pension increase generally—they are dealt with under Clause 1—but additionally for those who have reached that time of life which commands special sympathy and to which hon. Members on both sides of the Committee had for a considerable time urged us to give special attention.

To compare the 1959 Act provisions with this provision rather reminds me of the schoolboy who, when asked to give the vital statistics of a mermaid, said 36, 24 and 10s. 6d. per 1b.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Houghton

I beg to move, in page 2, line 22, to leave out subsection (2).

This subsection says that A pension shall not be increased under this section by an amount exceeding twenty-five per cent. of the adjusted rate of that pension. and I seek to delete that provision from Clause 2 in the hope of getting the Financial Secretary to explain why it has been necessary to impose this limit. On the face of it, it would appear to be taking away the maximum benefit of the age addition in the case of the very smallest pensions.

We shall probably hear something more about anomalies. We shall never escape them it seems, but is there an overriding reason for limiting the effect of the age addition in any of these cases? Is it really so serious that we have to do it? It may be said that this age addition on the very smallest pensions might give a disproportionate increase and go to those on the shorter service. As I pointed out a little while ago, in many cases shorter service does not mean shorter total service. It means shorter pensionable service, which is a very different thing.

Presumably this restriction could apply in the case of widows' pensions where the amount may be small because the widow's pension is usually one-third only of the pension applicable to her husband at the time of his death. So one can understand some very small widows' pensions are payable under the Act. I think that the Financial Secretary will be fully seized of the point and I have no doubt that he has received some representations on it and given consideration to it, but has been impelled by some serious reasons to put a restriction in the Clause which is presented as though the exceptional bounty of the Bill was that of the age additions. Perhaps we could hear his explanation in due course.

Dr. King

Before the Minister replies, I wish to say that I share the uneasiness of my hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) about this subsection. That uneasiness is shared by the Public Service Pensioners' Council, which certainly would like to see it deleted.

I know that on Second Reading the Minister said that it was designed to keep out the short-service pensioner who would have a very small pension. It was not felt right that he should have all the benefits under the Bill, but after all, the short-service pensioner has earned the right to what he has. It seems singularly unfortunate that we should put into the Bill something which seems to run absolutely counter to the main idea of the Clause. If this subsection is not taken out, the poorest of poor pensioners whom the Clause is designed to help will be the very people to suffer.

I reinforce what my hon. Friend said about widows. It seems that, apart from short-service pensioners, those who will be excluded from the full benefit of the Clause will be widows. It is the widow's pension which is the fraction of the small man's pension. The cost of accepting this Amendment must be infinitesimal and acceptance of it could only benefit the poorest of the poor public service pensioners which the Clause seeks to protect.

Mr. Barber

I think that the hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King) must have misunderstood the way in which the Clause works. Even taking into account subsection (2), which the Amendment seeks to delete, it must be the case that in any system of flat rate increase, even where there is a limitation on the increase which may be given to any individual, because of the small size of the pension, the smaller the pension the more—under any system of flat rate increase, even with a qualification like this—will the small pensioner benefit.

I say that by way of introduction, because, obviously, it is tremendously important, whether one agrees with this Amendment or not, to recognise that this is the consequence of Clause 2 as at present drafted. I listened with care to what the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) said. I should tell him that when I first saw the Amendment I wondered whether, in drafting the Bill, we had overlooked a point and made an error. Having heard what has been said by the hon. Member and his hon. Friend, I think that our purpose in including the words in the subsection is sound. The object we have in mind is a simple one. I think that it was understood by the hon. Member for Sowerby. It is to prevent a disproportionate increase in certain pensions.

I add this for the benefit of the Committee. There is nothing new in the principle included in subsection (2) For example, under the Pensions (Increase) Act, 1952, hon. Members may remember, the sole benefit consisted of flat rate increases ranging up to a maximum of £26 a year. The House and the Committee agreed on that occasion—which so far as I know was the only other occasion on which flat rate increases have been provided in any pensions increase Acts—that, for reasons similar to those which apply in this Clause, there should be an upper limit.

I ask the Committee to consider what the consequences would be of deleting this subsection. I can perhaps best answer the hon. Member by once again giving a concrete example, that of an individual who has been referred to many times in our debate today, the postman. If one takes the case of a postman who retired in 1953, after ten years' service—a very short service—one sees that he will have a pension, including previous increases, of £53 a year.

Take another case, the minimum widows' pension in the public service, including the Civil Service, which, I am told, is £26 a year. The reason why these pensions are so small—and they are small—is that they represent a reward for short service in one of the less-well-paid capacities. It goes without saying that they were correctly assessed under the general law when they were first granted.

But it would be quite inappropriate to give total increases under Clauses 1 and 2 together in this sort of case ranging from 50 per cent. to 90 per cent. Increases up to 90 per cent. would seem very odd to those with longer service Who will receive smaller percentage increases. Despite what was said by the hon. Members on the previous Amendment, I do not think that we can ignore the disparities which would arise in cases like this.

Perhaps I can give one more example which will show what I have in mind. There are about 10,000 former teachers with very short service who have what are called deferred annuities. The average of these, including previous increases, is under £20 a year, but these are teachers who served for only a very short time. As matters stand in the Bill, these very small pensions will already receive—assuming that they were awarded up to 1st April, 1956—increases of no less than 37 per cent. I am sure that the Committee will agree that there would be no justification for increasing these pensions by an average of 112 per cent., and in some cases even more, which would be the effect of accepting the Amendment.

In moving the Amendment, the hon. Member said that he was seeking to find out from the Government what their intention was in incorporating this subsection into the Clause. I hope that the explanation which I have given satisfies him. I am sure that he appreciates the seriousness of trying to proceed without some sort of qualification of this kind, bearing in mind that this is the third time that this matter has been considered and that the principle has been accepted by the House in the past. I hope that he feels reasonably satisfied with my explanation.

Mr. Houghton

I thank the hon. Member for his explanation. I see that there are serious difficulties, and I think that the gracious thing is for me to withdraw the Amendment. There are reasonable Members in the Committee, although they are all on this side.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.0 p.m.

Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

Very briefly, before we leave the Clause, may I underline a point which came out fully on Second Reading—that there are a great many hon. Members on both sides of the House who warmly welcome the introduction of the principle Which, primarily, is contained in it. Since we were here at this time last week on Second Reading, I, in common with many other hon. Members, have been able to take soundings in my constituency, particularly among those affected. There is no question but that this topping-up provision at the age of 70 has been very widely welcomed.

All I venture to point out, in conclusion—while obviously I must stay strictly within the rules of order—is that there are a number of other Ministers, and the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance in particular, who have seen what the Chief Secretary has done in this Bill, and who I hope will have the principle very much in mind in future legislation.

Mr. Houghton

I will not detain the Committee. The Clause will undoubtedly bring great happiness to many older people. It has been universally welcomed.

I have been surprised to receive letters from pensioners wondering whether the age addition will be payable to them when they reach 70 or whether they have to be 70 on the appointed day. The Clause seems clear enough, for line 5 reads has attained the age of 70 (whether before or after the appointed day)". I think that the Minister can confirm clearly that the age addition will go to those concerned whenever they reach the age of 70. That will dispose of a little misunderstanding which may have occurred because the terms of the Bill were not available to some of those who were interested.

We welcome the Clause and are willing to pass it.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

I can give the hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) the assurance which I think he indicated is given already by the terms of the Bill. The intention is that the age addition shall be payable, in the first place, to all those who are 70 at the time the Bill comes into effect, and that when public service pensioners reach the age of 70 subsequent to that, they will become entitled to this addition.

I much appreciated what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) about the merits of this Clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.