§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.15 a.m.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I feel very fortunate in being able to introduce the Bill. It has had a very chequered career. From the point of view of all the interests concerned, it is very fortunate that we shall be able to debate it today. I very much appreciate the presence of the right hon. Lady the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance. She is here, presumably, to deal with the Bill in person. That is very consistent with her character. I do not for one moment imagine that we shall find ourselves in complete agreement, but I am very pleased to see her here.
The Bill is really the same as that which was put forward earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave). It is known throughout the country as the Airey Neave Bill, and my hon. Friend should be very proud of the efforts that he has made to promote discussion of this extremely important subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Mathew) gave notice at one time that if he had the opportunity to do so he would introduce the Bill, but the General Election intervened. So it has taken a very long time for us to arrange a discussion on the provisions of the Bill, which, quite apart from the controversial issues involved, should, I think, be discussed.
When an enormous new social security scheme is introduced—such as that by the Socialist Government in 1948—and there is a substantial change of policy by the Government, many problems are bound to arise. From the point of view of the people involved, it is very unfortunate that it has taken so long before we are able to have a full discussion of the Bill. I do not propose to deal with too much of the detail of the Bill. I propose to deal with what I assume to be the right hon. Lady's opposition to it. Many of my right hon. and hon. Friends will be dealing with aspects of the Bill, 2363 but I would commend to the House the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon on 23rd February this year—that happened to be my birthday—when he set out in very great detail the problems and anxieties of a large number of people who were not included under the provisions of the 1948 Act.
To put it all in perspective, the Bill deals with the people who were not included in the 1948 Act. They were the oldest, the weakest and, in many cases, the most unfortunate, from the financial point of view, of our people. As will be known by any who have taken a great interest in the small fixed income groups—I am certain that the right hon. Lady would include herself in that category—these people, partly because of their exclusion from the 1948 Act, but also because of the political controversies that have raged over so many months, feel very unhappy and isolated from the affluent society. Although we all know how much many things have improved in the social service sphere, it cannot help those people to hear so much emphasis on the affluent society when we have not been able to find a way of including them in the affluent society.
In a Question to the Minister last month, I asked on what grounds she opposed this Bill. She was good enough—I say that because I like politicians who reply in this way—to give me a straightforward Answer. She said:I opposed it"—that is, the Bill—because insurance in this country is based on regular contributions".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, 1966; Vol. 730, c. 1218.]Nobody will disagree with that. It has been the policy of all Governments. However, from time to time, in that peculiar way in which Britain governs itself, breaches are made in what has become to be regarded as constitutional practice in relation to a piece of legislation. That is why my hon. Friends and I are so keen about the Bill.
We feel that, while we do not disagree with that statement of the Minister, there have been severe breaches made in this constitutional practice, and we do not consider it right or human that provisions can be breached for all sorts of categories of people while at the same time a very 2364 vulnerable section of the community is left out. That is the basis of our case and why we are asking the Government to look at what has happened since the 1948 Act was passed. If the right hon. Lady does not like the exact detail of the Bill, we will be satisfied if she will support the principle of the Measure so that another breach may be made on behalf of an important section of the community.
Without wearying the House, I will briefly describe some of the breaches that have occurred. Since the Socialist Government won the 1964 General Election, there has occurred perhaps the greatest breach of all, looked at from the statement of the right hon. Lady to me last month. It happened when the Government decided, with the support of all parties—this is not a political issue—to make a substantial breach in the insurance principle by deciding that Members of Parliament, in becoming entitled to a pension, should immediately be allowed to count 10 years of service in this House for pension, so that hon. Members immediately have 10 years at £60 a year for which no contributions have been paid.
I hope that the Minister will not attempt to answer this by saying that the pensions of hon. Members are not carried on the National Insurance Fund. I am perfectly well aware that they will be carried by the Treasury, but that is just splitting hairs. I am discussing the question of breaching the insurance principle and, in this case, it cannot be denied that such a breach occurred—I hasten to add for good reason, which I will not go into at this stage or criticise in any way.
The people excluded from the National Insurance scheme on the basis that they had made no insurance contributions—remembering that their average age is 84—have no reason to feel that Parliament is being either just or fair in breaching the insurance principle in one respect and denying them certain rights simply because it is said that that principle cannot be breached in their case.
I was given an Answer some time ago about the number of late entrants who went into the scheme in 1948. I was told that there were about 500,000 at that time and that about 300,000 had stayed within the scheme for the 10 years. That represented for them 10 years' contributions before pensions could be drawn.
2365 I was stunned to find that there are no records of the cost of that to the National Insurance Fund.
National Insurance contributions vary from year to year, but on a payment of, say, £120 a year—it might be £125 or £115; it does not matter for this example—taken over 10 years, the late entrants were, after that elapse of time, fully absorbed into the National Insurance scheme, so that for the payment of £100-plus they receive £200 a year from the Fund. That is a substantial dividend and must represent the biggest dividend for the smallest capital payment ever known probably throughout history. In view of the figures of late entrants given to me by the right hon. Lady, they must, over the years, represent a substantial payment being imposed on the Fund.
In discussing the problem of this relatively small group of very elderly people and widows, we should remember the inroads which have been made on the Fund for one section of the community. If it can be done for one section, I see no reason, having regard to the fact that the 1948 Act was introduced as a completely new Measure, why something cannot be done for a different section of the community.
I raise another matter which was not quite a breach of the principle but was nearly one; the Government's attitude to the 10s. widow. I am not making any observations against the decision of the Government on behalf of the 10s. widow. Indeed, we were all glad that the Government increased the payments to her. However, when payments are increased to one section of the community it leaves a sense of grievance among other sections of the community when they receive nothing. I recall that in the debates we had on National Insurance matters we found that, despite the arguments adduced by my hon. Friends and I, we were not able to make any impression on the right hon. Lady on behalf of what we term the no-shilling widow. In this sphere of National Insurance, if the Government feel it necessary to do something for one section of the community, it is not consistent with the British idea of justice to leave out other equally important sections of the community.
2366 We have set out to bring in other widows who, under the mechanism of the 1948 Act, were also excluded. Rightly so, we hear a great deal about widows in this House. But it is upsetting and worrying when one section is selected for special treatment, because those left out are just as needy and just as incensed that their claim has been left out.
The right hon. Lady presides, I know, over her Department efficiently and humanely. Surely, therefore, she herself must feel rather conscience-stricken. What makes it all the more remarkable is that it has taken such a long time to discuss the problems involved in the Bill. The people affected by my Bill deserve the support of the right hon. Lady and the Cabinet and everyone else in this House, and so do the widows.
I hope that I have illustrated the three cases where I consider we have made a breach in the statement made by the Minister. It would be fairer and in the interests of justice and of the insurance scheme to find out what we can do to put matters right. The basis of the Bill is suitable for the Government to accept, but if they do not wish to accept it I should be delighted to hear of a Measure of their own forthcoming.
But I hope, if the right hon. Lady says this, she will not mean that it will come in the far distant future. I am tired of waiting for the results of the social service inquiries now going on. I know the right hon. Lady well enough to comment that there is no indication that any of these reviews are coming to an end. It is sad to note that year by year the number of those who were eliminated from the 1948 Act declines. There are now about 200,000 of them, with an average age of 84.
It is not realistic to expect these elderly people to wait until the social service reviews are completed and until the Government are in a position to find the money for the development of the new scheme or to find time for the substantial legislation which will have to be introduced. Surely this very small section of the community can be easily accommodated without breaching unduly the National Insurance Act again. We should all feel happier if we knew that they thought that the House had paid attention to their difficulties.
2367 I was very glad when the right hon. Lady introduced the new arrangement for National Assistance. Her decision to increase substantially the disregards was also very acceptable. But that does not do away with the fact that, however much we may wrap it up and try to make it easier for people to accept National Assistance, the generation of those excluded from the 1948 Act has an aversion to National Assistance. After all, history has an impact on public opinion. The Jarrow March made a great impact and will never be forgotten in my part of the country. To the people covered by this Bill, no matter what is done they would still like to feel that the House has recognised their right.
Some people object that a considerable number affected by the Bill are not in need and that we should be making them a present from the National Insurance Fund to which contributors of all kinds have had to pay. That is a relevant argument. It is difficult to find out the figures from the Ministry. I go back to what I was saying about late entrants. One of the most difficult problems in social security planning is to select those for whom the legislation is being made. In the late entrants' scheme, everyone paid in and even those with substantial means are entitled to this very high dividend on a very small capital payment.
Sometimes I am pleased about it and sometimes not so pleased, but I have lived a very long time and have been in the House of Commons a very long time. The general philosophy of my party has always been that the taxpayers' money should be used as much as is necessary to help those who are really in need of it. Until the Family Allowance Act, 1945, was introduced, I thought that that was the philosophy of the Labour Party. When that Act was going through the House, we Conservatives thought that we should put a ceiling of income qualification for the drawing of family allowances. The Minister of National Insurance was Earl Jowitt, then Sir William Jowitt, Member for Ashton-under-Lyne. He took the view, supported by his party, that the family allowance should be given right across the board. Of course, family allowances are taxed, and, indeed, a person in the category 2368 covered by this Bill would be taxed if his income were high enough to be subject to taxation.
I hope that the right hon. Lady will not use the argument that the Bill would cover people who do not need this payment from National Insurance because they already have sufficient means. I remember that, on the Family Allowance Act, my party very regretfully accepted Lord Jowitt's view. We had a Coalition Government then and Lord Jowitt was much respected. However, I remind the right hon. Lady that in this case only a very small proportion of the old people incomes comparable with those drawing family allowances. I hope that the right hon. Lady will not use that as an argument against the Bill.
I come from a very tough part of the country. In 1931 I defeated Miss Margaret Bondfield, and subsequently defeated her again in an area where the introduction of the means test by the National Government was hotly contested by the Socialists. The Socialists have continued for many years to contest the means test. I am very surprised that the position is now reversed and that the Socialists seem to be advocating a means test and, as a result, are inclined to throw out the Bill, whereas my party thinks that this section of the community should be helped regardless of individual means.
This is a generation which grew up and worked and made its contribution to the country at a time when pensions were low and when it was much more difficult to build up savings in professions like nursing, teaching and so on, and even those savings have been eroded by the inflation for which all Governments have a responsibility. We would not have won the last war without the contribution of this section of the community which never had the opportunities which are now given to contributors to the National Insurance Fund. I am profoundly glad that the situation has altered, but we should not continue to exclude this section of the community.
As I have said, the pension of the 10s. widow has been increased to 30s. as a matter of justice. The right hon. Lady was right to increase it, but she could not have done so if the National Insurance Fund had not been sound. It would not hurt the Fund if it met the claims of another section of the community.
2369 I am not a financial expert and I find figures difficult to follow. When I was at school I could never do decimals, which is why I do not want us to go on the decimal system. I am not at all good at fractions—I do not have a mathematical mind. I know that the National Insurance Fund is not funded. I will not argue whether that is right or wrong, for I do not interfere in these financial matters. But there is clearly plenty of money in the Fund. On 5th July, 1964, it stood at £1,384–5 million and for good measure the Industrial Injuries Fund had a balance of £317,668,000. Those are substantial figures.
I am well aware that all Governments use the money which goes into the Fund to help to sustain the national economy, but the amount which the Bill would involve would be very small. We are not asking for something extravagant. It has been difficult to find out what the cost of the Bill would be. I thought that it would be £20 million, but I understand that the latest estimate, which takes account of the savings in National Assistance, is that it would be about £15 million. Let us say that it would be between £15 million and £22 million. There would still be a tremendous balance left in the Fund. It is important that the Fund should make its contribution to sustaining the economy, but I remind the right hon. Lady that the contributions are paid into the Fund not to sustain the economy but to be used for the benefit of contributors.
Again looking back over my long life and the arguments which arose about the Beveridge scheme, I remember that it was based on a figure of 8 per cent. unemployment. That might have been a realistic figure for the 1930s, but even in my part of the world—not that I think that the Government pay too much attention to my part of the world—we have a low level of unemployment.
I dislike this awful business of coordination and Treasury control. I will bet that if I could get in the right hon. Lady's pocket so as to be at a Cabinet meeting she would argue as I am arguing. I am not in the least put out when Ministers in the House substantiate the policy of their Ministries, because I know that they often have to do it 2370 although they do not want to. Of course, that is true of all Governments.
It is our proud boast that unemployment is at its lowest possible level. Although no one can foresee the future, we do not expect any increase in unemployment and perhaps the saving resulting to the Fund could be used to meet the claims which my Bill would represent. I hope that that is a point of view which the right hon. Lady will share.
It would not do anyone any harm to make a little diversion of the National Insurance Fund for specific purposes. One could give the instance of the late entrants. There were some of these who had already lived out the right to enter into the Fund, and this was a sad and unforunate thing. When we boast that we have a flexible constitution and that there is nothing that we cannot do, it seems to be outside the bounds of humanity and reason to say, when it is not such a new suggestion, that a little bit of the Fund could not go towards helping people covered in the Bill.
The right hon. Lady will probably tell me that I am arguing against my own party, and I probably am. It is a very good thing for all parties to have the wind of change blowing through them occasionally, and there is a greater wind needed for the Socialist Party than for the Conservative Party. I feel that my party are slow with promises, while the Socialist Party are too forward with them, because they later find that they cannot be implemented. Much as I strive to stimulate my own party, I would rather that we went slowly and did the thing properly and fairly than make a lot of promises, because people become anxious and unhappy when they cannot be implemented.
I would like to refer briefly to prescription charges. When my party introduced this—although it was originally introduced by the right hon. Lady's party—[HON. MEMBERS: "NO."] Hon. Gentlemen have not lived long enough.
§ The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Miss Margaret Herbison)
This is a question of fact. The first charge for prescriptions was in 1952, when the hon. Lady's party was the Government.
§ Dame Irene Ward
That may be when it came in, but the legislation came from the Socialist Government.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
We did teeth and spectacles—the hon. Lady's party did prescriptions.
§ Dame Irene Ward
One had to have a prescription for spectacles. [HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."] I am going to give the right hon. Lady something in a minute, so I would not make so many "Ah's". Very old people have to have spectacles, and young and old people need teeth. It is a false argument to say that there is much difference between the charge for spectacles and other such things and prescriptions. It all goes in the same direction. When prescription charges were introduced—and we will not argue about that any more—I found that it was those people on small fixed incomes, just above National Assistance level, who were hardest hit. This is the very group embodied in this Bill. The problem was that people on National Assistance were able to get their charges refunded. That worked well, but for those just above National Assistance level, those whom I have designated the small fixed income group, the prescription charge was unfair. It is true to say that the Minister of Health, and other Ministers, did their best to devise a scheme which would cover them.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Lady, but she is now getting a little wide. We do not want to debate prescription charges.
§ Dame Irene Ward
I am taking my argument up to this point and I am not going on with it. It is now very difficult for those just above National Assistance scale level who are living on pensions, not National Insurance pensions but those that have gone with their job or normal insurance pensions. They are the people who find it hard to deal with problems of erosion through inflation. I use the prescription charge, although I know it is controversial and I try not to be controversial, to illustrate the difficulties of doing something helpful for this section of the community.
There are all sorts of provisions in the Bill, giving the Minister the right to make Regulations. If the Minister really examines this section of the com- 2372 munity she will find that the Bill gives her power to make Regulations, even to the point of adding a contribution. That might be a very helpful way of dealing with these people, and I hope that she will not oppose the Bill. If the right hon. Lady thought that some of these people have substantial incomes—and they would have to be substantial—then it might be possible, as is done on National Assistance—to put a ceiling on incomes. In the Family Allowance Bill the Labour representatives in the coalition Government did not want this. But it might be possible to do it.
§ Mr. Terence Higgins (Worthing)
Would my hon. Friend not agree that it would be quite unfair to put such a ceiling upon the income unless the Minister were also prepared to place a similar ceiling upon National Assistance benefits, because some people covered by the Bill will be contributing to the increase in National Insurance pensions previously made for people with incomes in excess of their own?
§ Dame Irene Ward
My hon. Friend is underlining the problem, but I am bent upon getting the Bill. I want the right hon. Lady to have the Bill, and then we can get down to what is fair on a non-controversial and non-political basis. I am not an expert on these matters, and I only try to do what I think is right, through the very wide experience which I have gained, particularly in my part of the world. It has not had a very happy past during some of the years that I have been a Member of Parliament. I longed to do something for this section of the community. That is why I was so thrilled when I got this very favourable place in the ballot.
Sooner or later somebody in this debate will say, "Why did you not do this when you were in Government?"
§ Dame Irene Ward
I am perfectly willing to meet that. I do not think that political life is perfect. When we have political parties of ordinary people, whether they belong to the Socialists, Liberals or Conservatives, we do not always take the right decisions. But every now and again there is a vision inside the party, and I am very pleased that my party accepted the principle of 2373 this Bill and put it in its manifesto. Up to now we do not seem to have made much progress. But I know that when something like this is put in the manifesto we shall deal with it.
I do not want to have to wait until members of this section of the community have faded away; and they are fading away very quickly. I want action now. I might just as well say that we have to wait far too long for the implementation of many pledges on social insurance. I accept the Minister's argument that these matters, which are vastly complicated, require a great deal of examination. But the Bill deals with a quite simple problem, and we should like it and the country would like it. If it were passed, something would be given to those people who battled hard for this country in a period when we needed all the help and assistance we could get.
I therefore hope that the Minister will accept the Bill, and then we can have an opportunity of getting together and finding out how it can be worked fairly from everybody's point of view.
§ 12.2 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)
I hope that the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) will forgive me if I do not refer to her speech in perhaps as great detail as her experience in this subject justifies. She said that she does not know much about this matter. She does herself a great disservice. Everyone in the country realises that the hon. Lady knows a darned sight more about social insurance than members of the Opposition Front Bench ever did, and a great deal more than many other people.
But it is a little unfortunate that this Bill should have been brought forward by the "rogue elephant" of the Tory Party in the field of social security.
§ Mr. Hamling
I shall explain why I say that.
We all know that throughout the 13 years that the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth sat on the Government back benches she constantly criticised the members of her own Front Bench. I am concerned with the attitude of her Front Bench to the Bill.
§ Miss Pike rose——
§ Mr. Hamling
No. The hon. Lady can make her own speech later. The hon. Member for Tynemouth made a long speech, and I do not propose to take long. The hon. Member for Melton (Miss Pike) can defend her own party.
§ Mr. Hamling
The Opposition Front Bench put this proposal in its election programme at the last election for political reasons. We on this side of the House are entitled to look at the Bill very carefully and ask hon. Members opposite what their attitude to the Bill is and how they justify it in view of their long record in government.
§ Mr. Hamling
It was certainly not as good as the record of my hon. Friend the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, during the short time that she has been in office.
§ Mr. Hamling
My right hon. Friend introduced 10 major reforms in the last Parliament. She can defend her own record against hon. Members, or anyone else, on the Opposition benches.
This brings me to the political reason for the Bill. It was introduced on a previous occasion, when we had a very stormy debate, for a political reason. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I am entitled to express my opinion.
§ Mr. Hamling
I am frightened of no one, and the hon. Lady knows it. I do not propose to detain the House long. If I give way, I am inclined, perhaps, to detain the House longer than I wish to do. You, Mr. Speaker, know that I do not want to take long. Many other hon. Members wish to speak. They can make their speeches in their own way, as I propose to do.
2375 The hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth said that she was tired of reviews. I wonder whether her own party was tired of reviews. I wonder whether it was tired of waiting for justice to be done to this group. Right hon. and hon. Members opposite waited 13 years and did nothing about it. The hon. Lady said that it was very worrying that only one group should be chosen for reforms. The Bill deals with one group of anomalies in the social security provision. There are many others.
If we were to deal with this anomaly in the way that the Bill proposes, we would create many more anomalies, because the principle of the Bill is that people who have made no contributions shall be entitled to payment out of the insurance fund. I ask the Members of the Opposition Front Bench whether this is their policy and at what time during the 13 years that they were in power they were prepared to accept the principle that, under our system of social insurance, people should be entitled to benefits as of right without having made any contributions. The Conservative Party never accepted this principle, and yet the Bill seeks to give effect to it.
May I remind the House of the Conservative Party's attitude to social welfare. Its argument is that if people can make provision themselves they should do so, that the State system should exist for people who cannot make private provision and that if people have not made provision, or if the provision which they have made is insufficient, they should have to prove need before obtaining help from society.
The hon. Lady the Member for Tyne-mouth mentioned prescription charges. Subject to your very careful attention, Mr. Speaker, I wish to draw a general principle from her remarks relative to the Bill. The Tory Party's attitude to prescription charges was that they were a good thing because it meant that people who could afford to pay did pay and that those who could not afford to pay could apply for National Assistance. The Tory philosophy is that people should have to prove need. This Bill drives a coach and horses through the Tory Party's attitude to social welfare. What it is saying is that this group in society need not prove need and that 2376 they should have this as of right, the only group in society to do so.
There are two faces of Toryism on social welfare. One is that those who have means should contract out of the State system. The whole record of the Tory Party in office was that the insurance payments out of the Exchequer were constantly diminished over their 13 years. If they had continued in power after 1981, the Exchequer contribution would have been down to 14 per cent. as against 27 per cent. when we left office in 1951. That is the Tory record. They put the burden of social security increasingly upon the contributors to the Insurance Fund.
Then they have the cheek—and I call it cheek—to come along today and say that the Insurance Fund should be used for another purpose. This is completely against everything that the party opposite ever did when it was in power. It is completely against its philosophy of social security as outlined in many speeches in this House when hon. Members opposite have said that people should have to prove need when they receive help from the State.
One of the things that has been said over the last 18 months when this question has been debated is that the years go on, the number of people affected by the Bill goes down, and cannot we do something quickly before it is too late? Why did not the party opposite take 13 years off to deal with the problem? Many thousands of these people were in straitened circumstances during the years when the party opposite were in power and they did nothing about it. They denied resolutely any responsibility to help these people except through National Assistance.
These people can draw National Assistance if they can prove need. My right hon. Friend the Minister has made National Assistance much more generous than it was before she took office and, as the House knows, further changes are coming along which will improve things still further. The reason why the Tory Party has made such play with the Bill is that it wants to conceal from the people my right hon. Friend's record and the record of Her Majesty's Government. The Opposition want to try to pretend that the Government are hard-hearted when they themselves did not do a 2377 damned thing about the very thing on which they are making such pious speeches today.
I use strong language because the Bill is born out of political humbug. Hon. Members opposite had the opportunity to help these people and did nothing. They are bringing the Bill forward, they have debated it and they have made great scenes in the House on this subject for political propaganda. That is all.
Hon. Members opposite say that these are worthy people whom they want to help. I agree. After all, I am a member of the teaching profession and many of these people are ex-teachers. But for goodness' sake do not make political propaganda out of their hardships, as hon. Members opposite have been doing over the last two years. [An HON. MEMBER: "What are you doing?"] The Tory Party had the responsibility for 13 years and did nothing. It ill behoves it now to come to this House in white sheets saying, "Please, cannot we help these people?" The Tories did nothing about it and they have a damned cheek to come along today and make this sort of speech.
§ 12.14 p.m.
§ Miss Mervyn Pike (Melton)
I had not intended to intervene quite so early in the debate, but we have just listened to a singularly ill-tempered and prejudiced speech from the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) which has done very much to damage the atmosphere in which the great majority of us wish to approach the Bill.
I will answer the political and party points. What I want to say, first, however, is that we are all grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) for bringing the Bill forward. I objected to my hon. Friend being called a rogue elephant. I would rather regard her as the conscience of the Conservative Party and not our rogue elephant. I remind the House that she has taken over the Bill from others of her hon. Friends on this side of the House.
I believe that most of us want to look at this matter as compassionately and as justly as we can. I recognise that the Minister may well be in difficulties. She may well have to stand on an argument 2378 of principle, she may well have to stand on an argument of cost. This I do not know until I hear her speech. I do, however, know that in her heart and in her mind the right hon. Lady has the same sort of compassion and attitude to this problem as we all have. It does a great disservice to the cause to bring into it prejudices of the sort that we have just heard.
To return to the political principle, we on this side have always believed that one has to try to do one's best to help those who are in the greatest need. For the greater part of my political life, the people who were in the greatest need were people who were suffering from the effects of unemployment and from the effects of depression, evil and misery in our society as a whole.
Over the 20 years since the war we have all worked hard to try to ensure that all the time we were bringing up the minimum level of help and the minimum standards of life, opportunity and justice. For the greater part of that time the Conservative Party were in government, and I am proud of the Conservative Party's record in this respect.
Of course, there were things that were still left to be done when we left office. We shall never finish anything. However long the right hon. Lady stays in her job, she will go away knowing that there are still things that she has left undone and problems that she still wants to solve. But we had to have our priorities right, and I believe that we got them right. For the general level of people we have a far greater level of justice, opportunity and compassion in the nation than, looking back 20 years, any of us could have thought possible.
To help the great majority of the people, what one has to do is to try as far as possible to contain inflation, to keep the value of their money, to see that the economy is all the time expanding and enabling people to go on, not only saving, but enjoying the fruits of their former savings. This we did. It is a record of which we can be proud. Of course, we had inflation. We did a great deal to contain that inflation and to protect older people. We have to keep taxation down as well, and this, again, we did.
2379 I will not go through all the Conservative record—that would be tedious, I know—but I would like to say categorically that we are proud of the things we did and we were proud of having got, at the end of 13 years, to a position in which we felt that we could be more flexible and could make certain breaches in the principles by which we had to stand in the past.
That is why, and not for political reasons to get votes at election time, we say that the time has come for all of us to look out the special categories of need and to deal with them as emergencies, and not to be fixed by the rigidity of principles which in the past were essential if we were to bring up the general level of our help and welfare.
And so we look at this category of people. I am sorry that we could not have done it before. I make no bones about that. We are looking at this category of people, all of whom are over 80 years of age, a generation which, we all recognise, has done more for the country than possibly any other generation in history. They have gone through more difficult times and they have had to stand fast in conditions of great distress and great emergency.
The great majority of them grew up in conditions when one had to look after one's own future and save as much as possible. Very often there was great sacrifice. There were not the pensions or social security schemes in those days. As we all know, people tried to make their own provision. I come from the same part of the country as my hon. Friend. In past times when there was unemployment, and low wages, there were tremendous difficulties. These people may be above the Assistance level—many of them are—but they have made great contributions to the economy and general strength of the country as a whole by their work and skill, and by the taxes they have paid.
My father would have been 100 had he been alive today. He was well into his fifties when I was born. I can very well remember, when I was a young girl about 7 or 8, his talking about a young relative, whom he probably called a girl, but who was then probably in her forties, and who was a spinster, as I am. He was anxious, as older relatives, 2380 parents particularly, were in those days about the future of their spinster relatives, and I remember so well my father's saying, "She will be all right because she has got money invested in gilt-edged securities and trustee stock and for the rest of her life she will have £1 a day to live on".
In the 1930s that seemed to be quite a reasonable amount, £1 a day; it probably seemed to be riches and great security. But that £1 a day at the present level is really very little because of all the inroads made in one way or another upon the value of money.
We are not pleading for the rich old ladies surrounded by Pekingese dogs, servants and the rest—even if they exist; and if they do, I do not think that they would bother to accept this pension and would not think it worth paying tax on. The people for whom we are pleading are those below the Assistance level or else just above the Assistance scale.
The right hon. Lady herself knows, because of a report which has been referred to in this House, about the financial circumstances of old people. There are about 700,000 pensioner households who would be entitled to National Assistance under the present arrangements and are getting it. The whole problem is not as great as the figure suggests, because the report points out that about 400,000 pensioner households have other income or savings, or the pensioners are living with married daughters or other relatives. However, it still leaves about 300,000 pensioner households of whom 85,000 or 100,000 are in hardship. None of us knows exactly how many there are of these or the degree of the hardship.
One of the main reasons why the majority of these people are not getting National Assistance is that they dislike applying for charity. They never will apply for charity, come what may. We all recognise that this is an out-dated attitude, but we would also all recognise that old people, people in their eighties, do not change their attitudes of mind very quickly. The provisions we have made, by way of supplementary benefits—all these things—do not impinge upon the prejudices of old people. They are not familiar with these arrangements. They feel it a disgrace to apply for them.
§ Miss Herbison
The hon. Lady has been giving information from a report which was published not so many days ago, and suggests that the main reason for these 700,000 is that they dislike applying, but what surprised me very greatly indeed was that that was not the main reason at all. I sometimes wonder if the reason is often hidden.
§ Miss Pike
I am sorry if I gave a wrong impression. Perhaps I did not express myself clearly, but the impression which, I think, we all get as the main reason very often for the older people—I am not taking it throughout the whole spectrum—is that they dislike it. However, I would not wish to argue on this because, after all, so many people give different reasons for this; it is something in their minds which they believe to be a respectable and relevant factor.
It is because of this that, frankly, I have grave doubts—and I believe that in her heart the right hon. Lady must have some misgivings—that the new arrangements will be taken advantage of by as many people as we would wish. This is why we on this side were so anxious to write into the Ministry of Social Security Bill that there should be an absolute obligation to seek out cases of need.
I shall not repeat what I said on that occasion, but there are two reasons behind this. First, we believe that there is a very real necessity very often for going to find out these cases, and that it is the responsibility of the nation to go to find out those people in hardship. It is not so much a responsibility on those people to apply as our responsibility to seek them out. I do not know whether for people of 80 or 85 it would make all that difference to their psychological attitude to it, but I think that seeking out real need is a real obligation to help to solve the problem.
Well, that opportunity has passed, but we now have this opportunity. It can be argued that a great many of these people would not qualify for National Assistance and supplementary benefits even in view of the generous disregards we are giving. They are on the borderline, most of them. It is one of the cruellest things, to be on the borderline, this year to qualify and next year not to 2382 qualify. As for the suggestion that they might spend a little bit of their savings more quickly so that they could qualify, that is the not the way they are made. It is a cruel thing to be on the borderline, particularly at this time.
The State has always accepted responsibility for helping people who are over the National Assistance level. The present Government last year brought in relief from rates for married couples with incomes of £10 and for others with incomes of £8. One can quote other things such as the education service., which is used by everybody.
So on the question of breaching the insurance principle, surely we need not in these circumstances worry too much about it. I believe that if we have made mistakes in the past it is because we have: been too right in our attitude to this matter. I want us to be more enlightened about it. I say categorically from this side of the House that I think we have to have the courage to breach the principle so far and no further.
I know that it is difficult. I know the Government's arguments, that if we do this in this case there will be a flood of cases, of applicants with special problems. I was arguing here last night on the Finance Bill about increasing the housekeeper allowance and the answer was that if that were done there would have to be increases all across the board. Frankly, I do not accept this.
To come back to the principles of this party, which we are determined to put into operation, we want to find out the desperate and agonising cases and try to bring in flexible measures, whereby we can meet all these cases.
My hon. Friend has gone into the details of the Bill. She has, I think demolished very effectively many of the arguments which the right hon. Lady will put up. All I want to do at this moment is to say, let us as the House of Commons look at this, not through eyes blinded by party political partisanship, hurling epithets at one another about what happened in the past, or what people may fail to do in the future. We can argue all that on other and more suitable occasions, and whether one party or the other has failed. I believe that we have all in our hearts the will at this time to do this thing. I know 2383 that the right hon. Lady will have difficulties. What we are saying to her is that the Bill can be altered. I hope that she will not just stick on the principle and say that nothing can be done for these odd cases for fear of creating a precedent.
These people are old, and it may be that they will not be alive in five or 10 years. It is a responsibility which is diminishing the whole time. We have gone so far in our social policy. Let us now try to see what we cannot in future adopt an approach which seeks out need. Let us as a House of Commons so arrange our principles, without breaching them, that we can meet that need.
In the speeches which follow, I hope that we shall have less of the prejudice and more constructive thought given to ways in which we can meet the problem.
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), I find the position of the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) and that of the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) more attractive than the position of the Conservative Front Bench. I know, just as every hon. Member knows in his heart, that if a Conservative Government were in office they would not accept the Bill.
§ Mr. Paget
Therefore, the attitude of the Opposition Front Bench becomes a little shabby.
On the other hand, I have great sympathy with the objectives of the Bill. Within our affluent society, I think that we have done our duty by the young in the way of the school building programme, the scholarship system, family allowances and the wages which parents are taking home. By comparison with anything which any previous generation has seen, the young generation today has astonishing opportunities. I think, too, that we have done our duty by the sick. Compared with any other country, our National Health Service is a remarkable achievement.
The people who seem to have been left behind are the old, and that is very sad. After all, they are the people who created 2384 the affluent society. I am what is becoming highly unfashionable, a Marxian Socialist, and I believe that the great accretion of capital to which we owe our affluence was filched from the earnings of previous generations. The survivors of those generations are suffering today more than any other section of the community from inflation, because other people can be protected from it.
This may be an eccentric belief, but in my view inflation is necessary to a fully employed society. I have never known one work without it. The weight of debt would become intolerable if we did not write off a certain amount every year. But if we are to have a fully employed society we must try to live justly with the phenomenon of inflation, and that cannot be done unless we do more for people who are retired and those who live on fixed incomes.
I feel great sympathy for the Bill, and there are two arguments against it which I reject. The first is the argument that we cannot afford it. I have been in Africa and the Middle East, and I resent deeply the prestige expenditure of the Governments of the countries there when I look at the poverty of their people. I have criticised the Middle Eastern Governments for their almost unlimited will to spend on the operation to wreck Israel, even if they failed. I now see the present British Government equally prepared to spend more than is called for in the Bill on an operation to wreck Rhodesia which has plainly failed.
Again, I have seen the prestige expenditure which Governments there have all made on jet aircraft, which seem to be the badge of importance in that part of the world. I have seen an equally futile expenditure here to maintain a nuclear capacity, at an expense far greater than it would cost to do our duty to our old people. Therefore, I am unimpressed by the argument that we cannot afford it.
I am equally unimpressed by the idea of an insurance principle. I can remember "Nye" Bevan arguing about the absolute nonsense of that form of tabbed and categorised taxation. At one time, we had it for the roads. There was the Road Fund, but, as soon as motor taxation vastly exceeded expenditure on the roads, that kind of categorised principle ceased to appeal to Governments, and the surplus of the Road Fund became 2385 available for the general fund. Equally, I regard the idea of an insurance principle as great nonsense. Contributions to the Insurance Fund are a form of taxation, like any other, and they ought never to have been regarded as anything else. On the whole, they are among the less just forms of taxation. None the less, they are a form of taxation, and we should not be inhibited from making provision for our old people by reason of that.
For the other side of that reason, I regard the Bill as an abuse of private Members' procedure. The rule that we have had, which I am sure is the correct one, is that it is not for private Members or for an Opposition to propose the expenditure of public funds. Departure from that rule results in the setting up of a kind of irresponsible Dutch auction, and a proposal to make expenditure from the Insurance Fund is a proposal to spend taxes. I do not think that it is something which ought to come from backbench Members.
On the other hand, while it accounts for the length to which the Government have gone to defeat it, I do not think that it excuses them. On the last occasion, we had a filibuster all through a Thursday night with the object of preventing the Bill being discussed. There are probably few hon. Members who have done more filibustering in their time than I have—from the benches opposite. The filibuster is an instrument of opposition to insist upon being heard.
It is an instrument for the weak against the strong. It is not an instrument to be used by the Government to silence opposition on subjects which it does not wish to hear discussed. Nor do I like the intervention of the Whips on private Members' business. On private Members' business I vote as I choose. I have given notice of this. I shall not vote for this Bill. As I said, I vote as I choose, and I am present, or not present, as I choose.
I feel that the Government's control of the House has increased, is increasing, and ought to be decreased. We have seen the way in which the will of the House has been frustrated by Government control. In the matter of Vietnam, the overwhelming desire of the House, and indeed its duty to the country, is to consider this question of major importance, but the 2386 control of the Government has been exercised.
I feel, too, that the House has steadily been losing its importance. This is something else that one should say to the Government. We have a young and most energetic Prime Minister, but he gives attendance in the House to hear his critics a lower priority than any other Prime Minister I have known. Less and less are senior Ministers troubling to come here and listen to their critics. More and more has listening to debate become a chore for the Parliamentary Secretary.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. This is most interesting, but the hon. and learned Member must now come back to the Bill.
§ Mr. Paget
With respect, Mr. Speaker, I was trying to say a word or two about how the Bill was being treated by the Government again having stepped in to control the business of the House, even that small part of it which is left to the private Member.
On principle, I think that we ought to do more for the old, but I think that expenditure of this sort must be proposed by the Government. I do not think that it is right or a good precedent that it should be attempted by private Members' legislation. I cannot support the Bill for that reason, but I think it is extremely important that we should all assert our right to deal with this as private Members' business and to vote about it as each of us thinks fit.
§ 12.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
It is clear that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) has much sympathy with the objects of the Bill. With regard to what he said about private Members' business, I thank him for the most courageous way in which he stood up on a tumultuous occasion 18 months ago and supported me in my complaint that I had not been allowed to introduce the original Bill on Friday, 26th March, 1965.
But the hon. and learned Gentleman's argument that this is not a proper subject for a private Member's Bill is rather inconsistent with his view of the Executive and its increasing powers. If the Government are tending to get control over Parliament and over private Members' time, surely this is the sort of Bill 2387 by which private Members, if they are within the rules of order, as this Bill is, should seek to persuade the Government of the day to take action on a matter which the House may feel is one of humanity, and on which urgent action should be taken?
Therefore, although I agree with much of what he said, I do not think that the hon. and learned Gentleman is quite consistent about that. He cannot, on the one side, say that the power of the Executive is increasing and ought to be diminished, and, at the same time, say that private Members should not take the opportunities given to them under the Standing Orders to introduce a Private Member's Bill based on the National Insurance Fund. This is what has happened here.
§ Mr. Paget
The point I was making was simply that, although the Government's powers are going too far, it is the Government who must bring in proposals for expenditure from taxation. As I explained, this Fund forms part of public funds, and hon. Members have no right to propose expenditure from it.
§ Mr. Neave
That may be right, but the Bill is within the rules of order, and I think that I was right to take the opportunity available to me within the rules of the House to present a Bill containing proposals about which I felt strongly, and about which many people on both sides of the House felt strongly. This was the only way of bringing the matter before the House. It could be done only by introducing a Private Member's Bill based on the National Insurance Fund. It could not be done on the Exchequer, as the hon. and learned Gentleman rightly said. It was because it was in order that I was able to do this in the first instance.
It is a curious fact that after 18 months of argument about the Bill, this is the first Second Reading that it has had, although three Bills have been presented. I think that everyone will agree that my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) made an excellent speech, and made a very good case for the Bill. She demolished many of the standard and traditional objections to it. No one is better fitted than my hon. Friend to introduce this Bill. She has done a tremendous amount of work for 2388 old people and for those who live on fixed incomes. Her long record in the House, to which she rightly referred, entitles her to introduce this Bill which is, after all, a simple act of humanity. This is really what it is, and this is what is intended.
The Bill was introduced originally to get the Government to take action in respect of an exceptional class of people who found themselves outside the National Insurance Scheme, and in general had no opportunity to contribute to it in 1948. In fact, they were barred from doing so. They are still legally barred from doing so, and this is why they should be distinguished from other sections of the community about whom we have heard.
No legislation of this kind, no social security system, can be without anomalies, but surely this anomaly, where, as my hon. Friend said the people concerned have an average age of 84, and are fading away at the rate of 50,000 a year, is a matter of humanity, and one for the House to consider and take action on? It is for the House as a whole to persuade the Government that we must do something.
We can complicate the matter by arguing about the technical aspects of the contributory principle, by each side abusing the other, by saying that the Conservative Party ought to have done it before, and by asking why the Government, as they now are, did not raise this issue during the 13 years when they were the Opposition, and so on. We could argue about why, if they were so concerned about this matter, they did not raise it during all that time. There is no record of their having done so.
The fact is that this problem has become increasingly acute during the last three or four years. These old people who were excluded in 1948 had savings, some substantial and some not. They gradually went on to National Assistance. The problem did not become a national one of the kind that it has now until the last two years, and the inquiries which I made when I presented my Bill showed this to be so. I regret that my party did not do this—I have no hesitation in saying that—but the fact is that it was not alerted to the problem to the degree that people are now.
2389 The great thing about the first presentation of the Bill in 1964 was that it aroused the country to an awareness of the existence of these old people. Few hon. Members can say that they already knew of the existence or scale of this problem. Even now we are without proper information. These people have no contribution records or pension books. I thank the right hon. Lady's Ministry for the assistance it gave my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Mathew) and me in supplying information on which to base the Bill. The Schedule is based on information supplied by the Ministry. But the Ministry does not have precise figures.
According to an Answer given to me in February last there are about 200,000 of these old people. Many must have died since then, and the figure may be well below 200,000 now. The same is true of the numbers on National Assistance, who will benefit from the Ministry of Social Security Bill. This is obviously a relevant aspect in the discussions of this Bill, but we do not know precisely how many old people of this group will benefit, and for that reason—as part of what I propose—I hope that the right hon. Lady, who should certainly accept the principle of the Bill, will make some arrangement for the registration of these old people
We have been talking about this matter for 18 months without really knowing the facts—without knowing how many of these people there are, and precisely what are their circumstances. We have had only general information as to their position. But if the right hon. Lady accepts the principle of the Bill could she not circularise the officials of her Department so that people can be sought out. If they were given a pension—which would not be a flate-rate pension—they could apply under the Bill and a complete dossier of information could thereby be compiled for these non-pensioners. The difficulty both for the Opposition and the Government has been that they do not know how many people there are in the different categories.
This problem cannot be ignored. Judging from the enormous amount of correspondence that I had 18 months ago, the country found it quite incredible that the House of Commons could find no solution to the problem 20 years 2390 after the inception of the Welfare State. People are astonished that we can find no solution to the problem of these old people, who are totally excluded from any kind of benefit under the Welfare State, in terms of the National Insurance Act, 1946.
We are here today to find an answer. With the passing of years the problem will be solved by death, but that is not what the House would wish to happen. Even more astonishing to many members of the public, of all political views, is that the House has not compelled the Government, by supporting the Bill, to provide that solution. I know that there is a group of people who like to take the technical point that this is a breach of the contributory principle and, therefore, should not be enacted, just as the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) says that nothing should be done.
§ Mr. Hamling
All I say is that I am greatly in favour of something being done to help these people, as is my right hon. Friend, but that the Bill is a bad Bill.
§ Mr. Neave
No doubt the right hon. Lady will tell us about that, but the hon. Member said nothing of the kind during his speech. I listened to him very carefully. I do not want to make the debate more controversial than it need be, because this is a matter on which the whole House should express very grave concern. The hon. Member may think that this is a bad Bill, but he never said what should be done.
I want to know what solution the Government have. They have not produced a solution in 18 months of campaigning on our part to get something done—a campaign supported in many parts of the House. The numbers concerned are going down every day, and so is the cost.
2391 The Bill does not propose a flat-rate pension, but it does not disregard the contributory principle. Clause 1 gives the Minister the opportunity to have regard to the fact that these old people have not contributed to the National Insurance Scheme. We all know that they could not do so. We know what the position was prior to 1948. But the right hon. Lady could make regulations allowing for a pension to be paid to these people. A proposal was put forward by the Conservative Party to pay a proportion of the National Insurance pension—perhaps half.
There is no proposal in the Bill which ties the Minister to any amount, but it is not fair or right to say that the Bill pays no attention to the contributory principle. I was concerned in its drafting, and that is the one thing that I had in mind. Hon. Members have only to read Clause 1 to see that that is so, and that the Minister has a very wide discretion.
I have received thousands of letters, and I can assure the House that there are some very hard cases. Many may have a professional background—teachers have been mentioned already, and many others were excluded in 1948 and were not able to contribute to the 1936 and 1937 Insurance Acts. Before 1948, we know that there were exemptions and exceptions, and also income limits, affecting these people, and that some chose not to contribute when perhaps they should have done. But on 5th July, 1948 they were legally barred from doing so. This distinguishes them from all the other categories referred to by hon. Members on both sides. This is a very important factor in deciding the merits of these proposals. It is clear that these people had no choice.
After 1948, all parties adopted the contributory principle, which has been prayed in aid against the Bill. But it is not fair or realistic to talk about these people not having contributed. When the House passed the National Insurance Act, 1946, they may have been in a situation which nobody thought would arise today. On this point the 1946 Act was passed unanimously. As far as I know, there was no opposition to these proposals.
The Chancellor has told us that the increases in taxation are necessary to meet the increasing pensions of 1965 and that only a very 2392 small proportion of the contribution today is applied to the pension. Most of it comes out of general taxation. If that is so, is not the argument about the contributory principle becoming increasingly academic in its application to these old people? Nobody is disputing that we have to base our National Insurance scheme on the contributory principle, but if the Bill gives the right hon. Lady the opportunity to make allowances for their not having paid contributions, could she not see a way to assisting them on that basis?
The situation has changed radically since 1948, but it remains a cruel anomaly, because most of their cases will not be fully met by the new Ministry of Social Security Bill——
§ Mr. Neave
They clearly will not, because many will have savings above the new limits and will be living on very small fixed incomes. There is no suggestion that any but a small proportion have substantial amounts and the main question is whether they should have the pension as of right.
That is the real issue. They have had no choice to contribute since 1948 and circumstances have changed. Is it not a matter of justice, in these circumstances, to persuade the Government to do something for them? Of course, until the position and numbers of those actually on National Assistance is clarified it is difficult for the Government to know the true position. It is difficult for them to defend their policy by saying, "Our new Bill will make great improvements", because they do not know how many of the old people are on National Assistance in proportion to the total of non-pensioners. They have no accurate records of the non-pensioners.
This makes it important for the right hon. Lady to make some sort of registration of those numbers, whatever else shes does. Hon. Members have already referred to the Report which showed that over 700,000 pensioners have not applied for National Assistance. I do not want to dwell on this point further, but, clearly, a deserving class of people who are excluded from National Insurance altogether are included in these figures.
2393 If the Minister proposed a scheme for a census of non-pensioners, as I suggest, she would then be in a position to comply with the provisions of the Bill. Up to now, these old people have been badly let down with promises of guaranteed incomes and other answers given to the Bill in the past. I do not believe that they have received justice. I believe that the time has now come when the House as a whole should say to the Government, "This is costing less and less. This is the only social security commitment which we know is going down all the time."
In answer to my hon. Friend, would the Minister tell us what the financial position is of the National Insurance Fund on which the Bill's provisions would be based? Why is it that although this is a declining net sum for paying pensions, not necessarily full pensions—the Bill does not propose a flat-rate pension in the first year—the National Insurance Fund has not sufficient money to do the job——
§ Miss Herbison
Perhaps the hon. Member might suggest, as his hon. Friend did not, what the Opposition have in mind. What rate of pension have they in mind as a ceiling, as the hon. Lady who moved the Bill suggested there might be? It would be a great help to me if the hon. Member could give this information.
§ Mr. Neave
No it is not. The Bill gives the Minister a discretion over the rate. But we proposed, at the time of the General Election, that they could be paid half a retirement pension or widow's pension. Personally, I would not have laid that down. I am not speaking for my own Front Bench, because I introduced my Bill as a Private Member's Bill. I have never laid down any proportion, but have left this to the right hon. Lady. That was my position when I presented my Bill.
Therefore, at this stage, we should not specifically lay down the amount any more precisely than to say that we did not envisage a flat-rate pension. This is my point to hon. Members opposite 2394 who opposed the Bill, who said that their constituents would oppose it because these old people have not paid contributions and that there is a more flexible way of assisting them by the provisions of the Ministry of Social Security Bill——
§ Miss Herbison
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman again, but something which he has just said is of great importance to the consideration of the Bill. He said that the Opposition do not propose a flat-rate pension for these old people——
§ Mr. Neave
I beg the right hon. Lady's pardon I should have said that we do not propose "the" flat-rate pension under the National Insurance scheme.
There are provisions in the Bill by which she can take into account non-contributions or part-contributions. Under Clause 1(a) and (b), she would have power to grant a pension at her discretion. This is the whole point which has been much misunderstood in the rather ferocious arguments over the last 18 months, not from the right hon. Lady, but in the House and during the last General Election.
Returning to the National Insurance Fund, would the right hon. Lady say what the financial position of that Fund is and why this sum cannot be paid. What would be the exact net cost of doing this? If she has not the money, would she consider raising this matter with the Chancellor as a matter of justice to these old people, and obtaining the money? It is clear that it is the duty of the House to make the Government remedy this, in view of the services which they have rendered to the community.
I hope that hon. Members will sink their political prejudices about this matter and give the Bill a Second Reading at last.
§ 1.7 p.m.
§ Mr. George H. Perry (Nottingham, South)
It was with a sigh of relief and a certain amount of trepidation that I caught your eye, Mr. Speaker, for the first time since I came here on 18th April. I say a sigh of relief, because it becomes 2395 embarrassing after all this time to catch your eye. It is like having one's arm in a sling and going through all the details with one's friends and acquaintances. I have been bogged down for four weeks on a privately sponsored Bill and could not be in the Chamber very often. At last, however, I am here.
I do not really need to make a maiden speech in the House in order to achieve national fame or, even, world fame or notoriety, because six days after I entered this House a certain blight or scourge on British journalism who writes a column under a hyphenated pseudonym in a certain national newspaper, on Sunday, 24th April, exposed me and my family and my own address to the whole readership of the civilised world. For 10 days after that I was abused in the most filthy language by all the rats from all the sewers of the nation through the post. I thank that gentleman for a grand day's work. I hope that he is proud of it.
I came into the House at the expense of Mr. William Clark, my predecessor, who, Iunderstand, did a very worth while job of Treasury matters in the last Parliament on the Opposition Front Bench. I represent Nottingham, South. One could be excused for imagining that the stable industries of my constituency are cycle production, cigarette and tobacco manufacture and pharmaceutical production by Boots Pure Drug Company, as well as telephones produced by Ericssons.
It was something of a shock when, a few days after becoming a Member of Parliament, I received an invitation to become vice-president of the British Lace Federation. Nottingham is the world centre for lace production and the centre for the export of lace products from this country. My constituency includes two first-class football grounds and one first-class cricket ground, upon which the third Test Match is being played today. I hope to gain admission tomorrow afternoon in the usual way. I do not expect special privileges because I am a Member of Parliament, but, as you will appreciate, Mr. Speaker, a nod is as good as a wink.
My hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) referred to the hon. Member for Tynemouth 2396 (Dame Irene Ward) opposite as the rogue elephant of her party. The only elephantine part of the hon. Lady's make-up is her memory, a very convenient memory which enables her to gloss over some of her own party's inadequacies in 13 years in office.
I apologise if my maiden speech becomes somewhat controversial, but I shall not be violently controversial. The Bill is probably misnamed. Instead of being the National Insurance (Further Provision) Bill it could well be named the Impoverished Gentlefolks' Bill. They were probably born in the early 1880s, and were the teen-agers of the Gay Nineties—perhaps the "mods" and "rockers" of the Gay Nineties because I understand that there were then "mods" and "rockers". On boat-race night it was necessary to board up the windows of the West End, or they would be shattered. The windows of many music-halls and gin palaces were shattered by the "boyoes" and "young blades" of the Gay Nineties.
In 1908, when Lloyd George introduced the first old-age pensions Act as I understand—I was not born at that time, as I hope hon. Members will realise by looking at me—they were about 30 and could have taken part in this attempt to ensure sustenance in old age. They did not. Why not? Was it because only a few coppers were required to contribute to the pension fund? Did they regard it as being a penny-catching scheme, not worth contributing towards as one was to receive only 5s. at the end of it? This later became 10s. and it was still 10s. at the end of the last war.
Did they not regard it as worth while? People of that kind were not concerned about what they called in those days a penny-catching scheme. When I first contributed to the National Insurance of those days, in 1934, when I was starting work, I paid 4d.—I had to pay 4d. Since then the amount has increased, and since 1954 I have been paying into the British Railways male wages grades pension scheme 2s. 11d. a week to draw 30s. on retirement at 65. That is not enough, and it will not be enough in 1984. Therefore, I wished to contribute more, and through pressure by myself and some of my colleagues on British Railways I shall soon contribute more than twice 2397 as much, to draw more than twice as much.
Down through the years, none of these people, before reaching retirement age and before becoming too old and infirm to continue to earn money, ever bothered to do anything of this kind. [An HON. MEMBER: "They could not."] The hon. Member says that they could not, but he is also saying that this is a declining trend, and that these people will gradually disappear from our society. Is this so? A trend is rearing its ugly head which could lead to there being more of these people than ever in 20 or 30 years' time.
In certain industries and contracting trades, self-employment is coming back. As a result of the Redundancy Payments Act and the Contracts of Employment Act, many employers are sacking employees and taking them back as self-employed workers and casual labour. Many of these people are not paying Income Tax, and a great many of them are not honouring their dues and obligations in society. They will continue not to honour their obligations until they are 65, and then they will want to participate in the provisions of this Bill.
On behalf of the people of 80 who contributed from 1911 until they were 65, I say that this is wrong. They were often earning only 30s. or £2 a week. When I started work, 30 years ago, labourers were earning £2 a week and were paying their contributions out of that. Many of the 200,000 people who would benefit from this Bill were drawing ten times that amount at that time and were saving money. The labourer of that day could not save. His only safeguard against poverty in his old age was a small contribution to the pensions scheme of that time.
I do not say that the Government should jettison their responsibilities to people who, through certain circumstances, do not receive an old-age pension. But the provisions of the Ministry of Social Security Bill will adequately cover those people. I commend that Bill to the House, and I shall vote against this one.
§ 1.17 p.m.
§ Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman the 2398 Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. George H. Perry) on his speech. It says a great deal for him that when the Test Match is being played in his constituency he gives up any hope of seeing it to come and address himself to this very important Bill. None of us felt that he was being over-controversial. We felt that he achieved exactly the right mixture of controversy and constituency reminiscence that is perfect in a maiden speech. We hope that next time he will be able to take his coat off and really get down to controversy as we all enjoy it in the House.
While I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his speech, I felt that it was not quite an accurate presentation of the position. As I see it—and this is where I fall out very much with the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), who made a most intemperate and inaccurate speech—this is a gap in the Beveridge Scheme.
At one odd period of the war, when I was in the Middle East, I was selected for the very political duty of being a messenger between the Headquarters in Cairo and General Montgomery in Eighth Army. One of the curious missions which I got was to try to find out what the troops regarded as their war aims. I went from formation to formation, and returned to my brigadier and told him that I had come to the conclusion that the whole of the Eighth Army was fighting for the Beveridge scheme.
A little later, when I decided that what I was doing was not really the job of a soldier, and that I had better become a true politician, I tried to return to Parliament. I landed up at a station at Fisherman's Lake, in Liberia, which was regarded at that time as a direct route between Cairo and London. One night while I was there I heard Winston Churchill on the air, making his speech on "Work, Food and Homes". In that he set out his acceptance of the Beveridge Report. I had difficulty in hearing it. It was an American station, and any hon. Member who has been to an American station will know that it is not easy to get quiet appreciation of a political speech on the wireless.
I do not think that the Beveridge conception of the universality of insurance has been recognised. I quote from the 2399 White Paper of the Coalition Government in 1944:… There are many people at present outside the scope of national insurance whose need of its benefits is at least as great as that of many of the insured population.That is what the hon. Member for Nottingham, South was forgetting. At that time no one receiving more than £420 a year in salary was allowed to contribute. Railway superannuitants, many bank employees and the whole area of the self-employed were not allowed to contribute.
The importance of the doctrine of universality was recognised by the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths)—I wish that he were here to-day—when he introduced his Bill in 1946. He then said that the transitional provisions were one of his most difficult problems, and continued:By these transitional provisions we bring into benefit under the scheme persons who hitherto have not contributed towards the scheme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT 6th February, 1946; Vol. 418, c. 1747.]That was the aim of the 1946 Act, but it did not achieve it. It had a random selection in that persons of a certain age were brought in and persons a little older were excluded.
I will give the House three examples. Let us take three married men, aged respectively 54, 64 and 65 in July, 1948. Let us imagine that they and their wives have survived. The man aged 54 will have paid in contributions under the 1946 Act £159 17s. 7d. and will have received in pension £1,857 12s. 6d. That is the normal case. The man aged 64 was the late age entrant. He will have paid in contributions £132 3s. 10d., and received to date in pension £2,065 12s. 6d.
§ The Minister without Portfolio (Mr. Douglas Houghton)
The man aged 64 could come into the scheme under the 1948 arrangements, but he had to contribute for 10 years before he became qualified for retirement pension.
§ Mr. Turton
That is exactly what I am saying. The right hon. Gentleman states it accurately. I have taken that into account. If I might correct the right hon. Gentleman on one point, the man had to pay at the employed person rate until he was 65 and after that at the non-employed rate.
2400 The man aged 65 could have paid no contributions and can receive no benefit. That is the failure of the universality principle of the Act. In my view, we are all to blame. I took exception to the remarks of the hon. Member for Woolwich, West, because the whole House is to blame. Let us remember that until the late-age entrants were actually receiving their pension—in most cases that was in 1958—it was impossible to do anything about it. All parties are to blame for the fact that after 1958 we did not tackle the problem. We could not tackle it earlier because we were asking the late-age entrants to continue contributing in order to get the pension.
There is another factor which made an important difference. The hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas) got a most telling reply to a Written Question on 9th May. It showed that in July, 1945, the pension for a man and his wife amounted to 9 per cent. of the man's earnings, whereas successive Governments have so raised the proportion of pension to earnings that the pension is now 33 per cent. of earnings. Thus, the hardship suffered by those excluded from the pensions scheme is now shown to be very much greater than it was previously.
When I was the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, I felt that the universality of Beveridge and the problem of the very old required complete rethinking by all hon. Members. I disagree with the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), who says that we should abandon the contributory principle. That would be a great mistake. There is great moral value in having a claim on a pension as of right rather than from need. However, one must remember that the pensioners whom I have been describing have of right paid contributions amounting to less than 10 per cent. of the pensions which they are receiving.
I believe that extreme old age itself is a qualification as of right. Another weakness of the Beveridge scheme is that it makes greater provision for those who have more recently retired than fop those who have been retired for a long period. I believe that the needs of old age grow as one gets older, and that the over-eighties should always have very much 2401 higher pensions than the over-seventies. That gives me added hope that the Government may look sympathetically at the Bill.
The Government must not reply that previous Governments failed to take the necessary action. We must do it now. We cannot continue with a position in which we have more than 200,000 people in this country who were cheated by the Beveridge Scheme, for that is what it amounts to. The right hon. Member for Llanelly stated that he would make his Measure in 1946 universal and bring all those people in, but he did not do so. We are all equally to blame because we did not realise that those people were not being brought into the scheme.
Hon. Members opposite have said that if these people could establish need they would get something. That is not an argument I wish to see used in social security matters. Beveridge is out of date and wants revising generally. Today, we have an opportunity of putting right a great injustice and I hope that all hon. Members, and particularly the Government, will co-operate in getting the Bill on to the Statute Book.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Booth (Barrow-in-Furness)
Many of my hon. Friends who have come to the House this morning to listen and take part in the debate are here not only because we appreciate the problems of those who are outwith the National Insurance scheme, but also because we have considerable sympathy for the aims of the Bill and for the attempt which the Measure makes to deal with these problems.
The hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) therefore did her cause a great disservice when she referred to the philosophy of the Conservative Party in support of the Bill. That philosophy, as it is understood by a great many people, is that the individual should make financial provision for his own needs. That philosophy has acted as a barrier to a solution being found to the problems which the Bill is trying to achieve, remembering that it is a comparatively recent concept of the Conservative Party that there should be a level below which nobody should fall—the view that life in this community is like a ladder which we are 2402 all trying to climb and that there should be a net to catch those who suffer setbacks and disasters.
§ Mr. Turton
If the hon. Gentleman is saying that the Conservative Party believes in the ladder of opportunity accompanied by a net into which the casualties should fall, that remark was made in a speech by Sir Winston Churchill in 1946.
§ Mr. Booth
Yes, and Sir Winston Churchill was one of those who opposed the National Insurance Act when my right hon. Friends were attempting to get that Measure on to the Statute Book.
§ Dame Irene Ward
It is nice to know that the hon. Gentleman, who once fought me, is taking part in the debate on my Bill. Is it not a fact that if people were not building up and providing for themselves there would be no Income Tax with which to pay all the benefits which the nation willingly provides in the whole range of the National Insurance scheme? Is he not aware that there must be income to tax if there is to be universality in a social insurance scheme of any kind?
§ Mr. Booth
I am delighted to have been presented with those two interventions, and I will answer both points. First, I freely acknowledge that I was referring to the speech of Sir Winston Churchill in 1946. It is, therefore, relevant and logical to point out that, in so far as this philosophy of the Conservative Party was imbued in the people for whom this Bill is designed to help, that happened long before 1946.
That being the case, Sir Winston Churchill was not able to convince his colleagues of the necessity to give the help which this Measure is designed to give. I will deal with the point raised by the hon. Member for Tynemouth—when she mentioned the necessity of there being sufficient income to tax to provide for these pensions—later in my remarks.
When considering the historical reasons why some people do not wish to apply for any form of benefit for which they must prove need, the references which have been made to the Jarrow march were most unfortunate. If I understand the position correctly, from speaking with people who took part in 2403 the Jarrow march, I gather that it was an attempt to demonstrate that people were entitled to certain rights which did not relate to their individual financial contribution to society but which related to the contribution which they had made by their work and the creation of the nation's wealth.
§ Dame Irene Ward
If the hon. Gentleman will read in tomorrow's OFFICIAL REPORT the words I used, he will see that he is misinterpreting me. He knows perfectly well what I meant when I referred to the Jarrow March and the hardships which the people of the North East Coast suffered. I ask the hon. Gentleman not to misinterpret me.
§ Mr. Booth
Today's debate has shown that we need a new concept of National Insurance in which those who are fit and able to work and who are, by the grace of God, able to contribute to the funds of the National Insurance scheme, should do so not merely to insure for themselves and their families as individuals, but should, by making such contributions, insure the whole of our community so that everyone in need—through old age, sickness, unemployment or whatever it may be—is guaranteed an income to meet the hazards of life. Because the Bill gives us an opportunity to discuss the National Insurance principle and the need for a new concept, this debate is useful.
The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) said that the Bill was not an attack on the contributions principle. I go further than that and say that any relationship between the Bill being an attack on that principle and an actual attack on it bears about the same relationship as that of a man who dips his toe in the water and a man who attempts to swim the Channel. It is clear from the provisions of the Measure 2404 that it is certainly not an attack on the contributions principle.
After all, Clause 1(a) states:… where no contributions to the fund have been paid by a person coming within any of the said classes … the pension to be paid … shall be reduced by such amount as shall be prescribed by the Minister as being equitable …The Clause then states:(b) where any person entitled to a pension under this Act has contributed to the fund, the amount of the pension payable … shall be reduced by such amount as shall be prescribed by the Minister as being equitable …I hope that any hon. Gentleman opposite who disagrees with what I am about to say will challenge me on it. These provisions clearly imply that the pensions to be paid under the Bill will be less than the pension to which a person would be entitled from the State, such a person having a full contribution record. This is a clear indication not only that the pension will be less, but that a person who has made some contribution, but not a full contribution, will get a larger pension than a person who has made no contribution at all. This demonstrates the Measure's acceptance of the contributory principle and does not attack that principle.
It is because I believe that we should be attacking the contributory principle now and be thinking in terms of a new concept, covering in particular those who can contribute to insure those in need, that I am critical of the Bill.
Having said that, I appeal to my right hon. Friend to recognise that we would like a positive assurance that the problem will be kept under review and that she has in mind some clear ways in which the new social security Measure to be introduced by the Government will meet the need that exists among those covered by this Bill. Unless we get some assurance like that, we are faced either with supporting this Bill or doing nothing and that to me would be a choice between two evils. To do nothing would not be the lesser but the worse of the two evils.
§ 1.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing)
Every hon. Member comes here with the feeling that he would like to do something to achieve greater social justice. There is no case where greater justice 2405 needs to be done nor worse anomaly rectified than that which this Bill seeks to put right. The matter is close to my heart and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), who moved the Second Reading so excellently. I also want to add a few arguments which have not been adequately covered so far and hope to reply to some of the points put by the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth), who has spoken so eloquently.
First, there is the question of the contribution principle. It is important to recognise that a certain amount of double talk takes place about this because there is confusion between the idea that a National Insurance pension should be paid in return for contributions and the idea that the pension should be paid for and covered by contributions.
We suggest in the Bill that a pension should be given to this group of people as of right but that they should not be given the full flat-rate pension—in essence, that part of the National Insurance pension which has not been covered by contributions even by the person who has contributed as much as he possibly can. As my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) pointed out, we would give the Minister discretion to pay such pensions as she would feel equitable.
I believe that the pension which should be awarded should be that part of the National Insurance pension not covered by contributions. During my maiden speech, I pointed out that the whole actuarial principle of the National Insurance scheme had long been breached. But in reply to a supplementary Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth, referring to this Bill, the Minister this week said:No, Sir. I opposed it because insurance in this country is based on regular contributions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, 1966: Vol. 730, c. 1218.]That is totally irrelevant. It is true that the system is based on regular contributions and that the return has been created as a result of those contributions, but the scheme has long since ceased to be an insurance scheme. It has no actuarial foundation.
2406 In my maiden speech I pointed out—the pension for two persons was £5 9s. at the time—that the most anybody would receive on an actuarial basis would be the odd 9s. The remaining £5 was covered either from general taxation or from contributions coming in from those still at work. We suggested at the time that the pension for those covered in this Bill should be the part not covered by contributions, and these people are every bit as entitled as of right to receive that part of the pension as those who are already receiving the full National Insurance pension.
These people are as entitled to this subsidy, which is completely irrelevant to the contributions, as those benefiting from the National Insurance scheme. It is for this reason that many of us on both sides feel that this is a grave injustice which needs to be put right, and I am delighted that the Bill has come to the Floor of the House for the third time. I hope that the right hon. Lady will be able to give us a clear assurance that something will be done about it at the earliest possible moment.
This is not a matter of partisan controversy. In my maiden speech I pointed out that I intended to be non-political because this proposition was supported then by neither Front Bench. I make no apology for the record of the Conservative Government in 13 years, but it is relevant to point out, as my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon pointed out, that no one on the benches opposite in those years raised this problem. This is a point where the logic and equity ought to persuade both sides that this is the right thing to do.
The Conservatives included at the election a clear statement in the party manifesto that we would do something specific to help these people. I was glad of this, because I have been fighting for it both when we were in Government and since we have been in Opposition. I hope that the right hon. Lady will be persuaded by the same arguments, because she must accept that we are not worried about party policy on this. If one sees people week in and week out who are in very, very straitened circumstances one realises that something should be done not on a partisan basis but simply because an injustice needs to be rectified.
2407 In the 1964 election campaign the right hon. Lady came out with clear proposals for an incomes guarantee scheme, but if that had been introduced I believe that it would not have covered the injustice we seek to rectify because, in effect, it would have imposed a means test so that those in this group who are already on National Assistance would still have suffered the means test and those above that level would have received nothing.
§ Mr. William Hamling rose——
§ Mr. Higgins
No, I shall not give way. The hon. Gentleman did not give way. Indeed, I deplore the way in which he approached this debate. I intend to answer his arguments. He stated that the matter had been debated before in the House, but in fact we were prevented from doing so because of the filibuster.
The hon. Gentleman raised the question of a means test, and the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness referred to the philosophy of the Conservative Party. We have not and never have suggested that the National Insurance pension should be subject to a means test. We have always recognised that this is a flat rate benefit which should not be subject to a means test. It is, therefore, consistent for us, whatever we may feel about other benefits, to suggest, as my right hon. Friend the Father of the House suggested, that this is really an anomaly which arose at the time of the 1948 Act and should now be rectified. Unless the right hon. Lady is to reply to the debate by saying that she is forthwith to introduce a means test for National Insurance pensioners and take away these residual rights, she is stopped from arguing that people in this group should be subject to means test for that part of their National Insurance pension not covered by contributions.
There are clearly a number of groups which one ought to differentiate. The first is the group below National Assistance level but not prepared to apply for National Assistance. I see people in this group week in and week out and I try to persuade them as hard as I can to apply for National Assistance. But, none the less, they were brought up in a previous era before Beveridge and before the Welfare State and they are reluctant to apply. It is difficult to seek out these people, but the point which should be made is that they also have a feeling of 2408 inferiority. When people ask them what they mean by saying that they do not have a pension, they somehow feel inferior because they do not have a National Insurance pension whereas their friends do. I am sure the right hon. Lady will be familiar with that problem. We need to seek them out, and if we give them a pension as of right that difficulty will be overcome.
I was sorry that the study which the right hon. Lady mentioned earlier and which was concerned with people who did not apply for National Assistance when they might otherwise be entitled to it did not include this group. In answer to a question which I posed to her, the right hon. Lady refused either to carry out a separate study or to include them within that study. We are, therefore, badly short of information about this group, but the important thing is that we should give them a pension as a right rather than subject them to a means test.
The second group includes those who are just above National Assistance level but who have suffered severely from inflation and whose standard of living has fallen. That has been true of many others, but these are virtually the only people who have not been covered against the effect of inflation. Those who receive National Insurance pensions have been covered, because time and again their pensions have been raised, which is one of the reasons why the actuarial basis of the system has broken down, and personally I am glad about it.
The point I am making is that this is about the only group whose real standard of living has steadily declined. In their earlier days, these people may have made provision for their old age and may have saved and put their money into War Loan or gilt-edged stock of one kind or another, but their real standard of living has been steadily declining and they are virtually the only people in that position and certainly the worst hit in this situation.
I will take only one example of inflation. On 27th June, the Parliamentary Secretary was asked what had happened to the value of the retirement pension in the latest period and he said that at current prices the single pension was worth about 5s. less than in March 1965 and the pension for a married couple about 8s. 2d. less. None the less, National Insurance pensioners under successive 2409 Governments have achieved pensions increases which have kept pace with the increases not only in the cost of living but in average earnings. But the people in the second group to whom I refer have had no such protection. The State has done nothing to protect them, and yet they were specifically excluded from contributing to the scheme when it was introduced. This group is entitled to that part of the pension not covered by contributions, just as much as those people who receive National Insurance benefits.
I come now to the third group, those people who may be well off and who may have an income of several thousand £s a year. I think that it would be totally wrong, as I suggested earlier, if we were to exclude this category. It is true that they would pay back a large part in tax, but even this very small group at the top ought to have pensions just as much as those who receive National Insurance pensions and are none the less wealthy. They are as entitled to a subsidy out of the general Exchequer and out of the National Insurance scheme as those who are in the same income bracket but receiving National Insurance pensions. It would be quite wrong for the right hon. Lady to argue against giving pensions to this small group at the top of the pyramid unless at the same time she is prepared to argue that she will put the whole of the National Insurance scheme on a means test basis, and I am sure that she will not.
The people whom we are trying to help and who have suffered very badly from the effects of inflation are contributing towards the increases in pensions to National Insurance pensioners many of whom are extremely wealthy. For example, the people covered by the Bill are having to pay for Mr. Macmillan's pension and for Lord Montgomery's pension and so on—perhaps I should have referred to the former right hon. Member for Bromley. The pensions increases which they got under the right hon. Lady's Bill of 1964 were totally uncovered and had nothing to do with contributions. They were covered by payments out of the general Exchequer and from the scheme, but not by any increases in contributions. There was a nominal increase in con- 2410 tributions at the time, but those who have already retired, such as the former right hon. Member for Bromley, added nothing to their contributions but still got the increase. The increase came from many people, but included all the people above the National Assistance level and covered by the Bill.
One could go on at greater length to show how badly hit this group will be by the Selective Employment Tax, because those engaged in part-time work and the elderly are still to be subject to the tax. But I do not want to go into that in greater detail.
I appeal to the right hon. Lady carefully to consider whether something cannot be done urgently to help these people. Their number is declining very rapidly and the cost of the scheme would decline steadily year by year. As a result of the right hon. Lady's own recent Measure to increase disregards and so on, the cost of giving help to those who still remain outside has been substantially reduced and it has been further reduced by the fact that a number of these people have died. I do not go along with the euphemism which is used on this side of the House—that these people are gradually fading away. They are not gradually fading away. They are dying. They are dying in circumstances in which they are in grave difficulty and their circumstances have been gravely reduced by the effect of inflation.
It is high time that the House did something about it and I hope that the right hon. Lady will give us an assurance that something will be done at the earliest possible moment. This is an extremely urgent matter and I hope that hon. Members on both sides of the House will find it in their hearts to support the Bill and remedy a grave injustice.
§ 2.0 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Lomas (Huddersfield, West)
The more I sit on the Government side of the House, the more I marvel at the hypocrisy of hon. Members on the benches opposite; the more I am astounded that they suddenly find themselves in complete disagreement with statements that they made between 1951 and 1964.
The Opposition tell us of heart-rending stories, about which they knew throughout the whole period when they 2411 were the Government. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) said that he had no apologies for the fact that his party did nothing about the people mentioned in the Bill. He should have a tremendous apology to make, because not only did they ignore the people mentioned in the Bill but they did nothing about introducing a guaranteed income scheme or improving the rates of the social services and other benefits, as we have done since we became the Government in 1964.
§ Mr. Higgins
It is possible to interpret the phrase the hon. Gentleman has quoted in many ways depending on one's intonation. Perhaps my position would be clearer if I said that I made no apology.
§ Mr. Braine rose——
§ Mr. Braine
It is the custom of this House, if one is to attack and criticise as strongly as the hon. Gentleman was doing, to give way to someone wishing to intervene, and to correct a wrong impression, because a wrong impression has most certainly been given. During the 13 years of Tory rule the National Insurance benefits were increased by at least five times, and the National Assistance scales eight times. The very review upon which the present Government are working on was being put in hand before we went out of office. It does not lie in the mouth of the hon. Gentleman to make these charges. When we went into the election in 1964——
§ Mr. Lomas
All that I will say about that intervention, which developed into a speech, is that I was given some information in a Written Answer by the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance, showing that the percentage of the National Insurance benefit to the average wage was about 25 per cent. to 28 per cent. under the Conservatives, whereas since October, 1964, with the new measures which we have introduced, it is about 33 per cent.
The hon. Lady the Member for Melton (Miss Pike), who was sitting on the Opposition Front Bench, which is now deserted, made a very early intervention, with tears in her eyes, to say that this particular generation of about whom we are talking had done more for the country than any others. Why was not this recognised when her party had the opportunity to do something about it?
We are told that the average age of the people in this group is about 77 for women and 84 for men This means that when they were 62 and 69 respectively they were ignored by the party opposite. I well recall the occasion in March of last year when the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) introduced his Bill. It was introduced for political reasons, and it is being reintroduced for the same reason today. The party opposite is seeking to make capital about a subject which I feel that the Conservative Party and its supporters have had every opportunity to put right.
§ Mr. Robert Mathew (Honiton)
Will the hon. Gentleman tell the House on how many occasions during those 13 years the then Opposition ever drew attention to this problem? The real answer, and he knows this, is that the problem had not then come to light. Will he bear in mind that this is, to all Members, on both sides of the House, a social problem and not a party political matter?
§ Mr. Lomas
I was not in the House during all of those thirteen years—[HON. MEMBERS: "Quite."]—more is the pity—but I have no doubt that my hon. Friends certainly drew the attention of the House to the sufferings of people who had been so long ignored by the Conservative Party. The Bill refers to the non-pensioner—people over pensionable age when the 2413 1948 Act began. There are three main groups of such pensioners. The first group had the right to become insured under the scheme but they chose not to do so. A person who takes a choice not to become voluntarily insured and then seeks to obtain something 20 years later is not playing the game. Group 2——
§ Mr. Paul Dean (Somerset, North) rose——
§ Mr. Lomas
No, I will not give way. Group 2 is composed of people who chose not to become special voluntary contributors under a scheme introduced in 1938-These people had the opportunity to become insured. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Yes, they did, and they chose not to become insured.
These are the people whom, we are told, should have the advantage of the Bill. There were those unable to be insured because they had not made the contributions for compulsory or voluntary insurance. Throughout, our scheme has been founded on a contributory basis. The common factor between the three groups is that none have paid any contributions to qualify them for a pension. That is a point which I should have thought would have commended itself to hon. Members on both sides of the House.
§ Mr. Lomas
Yes, it used to. What we are asking now is why should these people who, through hon. Members opposite are calling for a pension, be granted one when many hundreds of thousands of people have struggled to find the stamp money from a meagre wage, given by people represented by hon. Members opposite, in order to keep themselves in benefit?
§ Mr. Hamling
Is my hon. Friend aware that in 1963 the then Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, in a speech on the subject of insurance, said that we ought to think very carefully about the rights of previous contributors?
§ Mr. Lomas
That underlines what I was saying. I was reading a copy of the debate in the other place recently, in which a noble Lord was recalling the time of the 1926 General Strike, when he and others were in dispute, and they 2414 became in arrears with their National Insurance contributions. When they were given a bill for the arrears of contributions, they could not pay it because the wages were so low and their pension suffered as a consequence. Why should individuals who have never made any contributions have the right to this pension?
The hon. Lady the Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward) talked of the 10s. widow. It was argued that this was a weakness in our scheme. This is not so because the point about the 10s. widow is that she was not entitled to a pension under the 1948 Act, but her pension right has been safeguarded by the Insurance Acts introduced between 1912 and 1948. She was covered by these Acts and entitled, in the name of social justice apart from anything else, to the increase given her in November, 1964. She had been ignored for a very long time by the party opposite. I believe—and I am sure that I take the Liberal Party with me in this—that the contributory factor must be maintained. If it is not maintained, those who have paid into the scheme over a considerable number of years will have a very justifiable grievance. It is very important that this should be noted.
The Bill is alleged to deal with 225,000 people. But there are half a million people in similar circumstances who would be left out. Is it right merely to deal with a fragment and to forget twice as many? Once we begin to do this, goodness knows where it will end. There are people who do not have an insurance pension as of right and people who have a reduced pension. If we are to take note of the people mentioned in the Bill, we must take note of the other half a million people.
Half of the 225,000 people affected by the Bill are already receiving National Assistance. I have said that the Government have gone a long way to raising the level of National Assistance. Not only by her own actions, but by the actions of the officials of her Department throughout the country, including my constituency, my right hon. Friend the Minister has made National Assistance more humane. Her officials are searching out need and are doing their utmost to alleviate it. This is positive proof that we have a Labour Government and not a 2415 Tory Government and that they are concerned with people and feelings and with the old, aged and sick. But, instead of talking about them, the Government are doing something about them. We believe in action, not words.
Not only did we legislate in 1964 in terms of social security and increased benefits, but our recent Ministry of Social Security Bill is a tremendous landmark along the road of social justice. We seek to raise above subsistence level people who have been so long neglected. Under the new scheme, the disregard for savings will entitle people who have as much as £2,000 or £2,500 in the bank to benefit. The Government have taken positive steps in a period of 20 months. This all points to the fact that we have a Government in power who really care.
It does not stop there. We are helping in a positive way the people mentioned in the Bill, not only by the concessions which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has given in higher Income Tax relief, but by the rate rebate scheme introduced by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government, which is designed to assist people at the bottom end of the scale who find rates an onerous burden on them. All these measures, from virtually every Department of State, could have been introduced if hon. and right hon. Members opposite had thought about them.
§ Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
Would the hon. Gentleman give the total cost of all the concessions of the Chancellor of the Exchequer?
§ Mr. Lomas
We cannot measure human life, happiness and decency in terms of cost. I am not prepared to argue that the cost of an old person living decently must be measured against a particular item I am more concerned with people and that they should enjoy a decent standard of living and the full fruits of their labour rather than that they should have to eke out a miserable existence, which they would have had to do if the Conservative Party had remained in power.
There is no comparison between the policies and programmes of the Government and the Tory Party's record. We are clearly demonstrating, and we have 2416 made it abundantly obvious, that the Government care for the old, aged, sick, weak and infirm far more than hon. Members opposite. But, instead of bringing forward pious Bills and making heartrending speeches which have no substance in fact, we are getting on with the job. If it comes to a vote, I urge the House to remember the wonderful work being done by the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance to bring all its schemes to fruition. With the other Measures we have laid before the House, we shall take care of and look after the people mentioned in the Bill.
§ 2.15 p.m.
§ Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)
It is my practice, when being interested in a project or Bill, to mark very carefully the arguments for it and then to listen closely to the arguments put forward against it. I have tried to do this today, and indeed before today in respect of speeches in other places. Today, listening to speeches by hon. Members opposite has not been very helpful.
First, we had a speech from the hon. and irascible Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling)—a singularly ill-tempered speech which I felt contributed not one whit, jot or tittle to the debate. The main point which he made was that nothing was done for 13 years; therefore, nothing ought to be done now. What was done during those 13 years was to raise the prosperity of this country to a pitch where it could consider doing something of this kind. I should have thought that that was a very important contribution indeed.
On behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), may I say that I strongly resented the fact that the hon. Member for Woolwich, West read a newspaper during her speech, a practice which I had understood was not permissible in the House. Having done this, he proceeded to speak against what she had said. Perhaps he had not listened very carefully to what my hon. Friend said.
After that, we had a speech by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget). I know him well. I have fought him twice at the hustings. He advanced an argument with which I shall deal later.
2417 Then we had an interesting and forceful maiden speech by the hon. Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. George H. Perry), who produced the somewhat extraordinary argument that nothing ought to be done to help these people because, first, they were the "mods" and "rockers" of 70 years ago, and, secondly, they were gentlefolk. I strongly resent the suggestion that money should or should not be available to people who need it just because they may or may not be gentlefolk, whatever that may mean. Surely need should be the criterion, however the hon. Member may like to categorise people.
§ Miss Herbison
The hon. Lady has said something very important, but it does not apply to the Bill. She says that need ought to be the criterion. That is just what is not provided for in the Bill.
§ Mrs. Knight
Perhaps I will deal with that in a moment. It is possibly a matter of opinion.
The main contribution which the hon. Member for Barrow-in-Furness (Mr. Booth) dealt with was what Sir Winston Churchill said 20 years ago, which I do not think is very relevant in this context. He went on to put forward arguments which had been demolished pretty thoroughly earlier in the debate when he was not present to hear them.
There are, perhaps, eight main points to be made against the Bill. The first is that before a person draws a pension he should have paid in for one. That is putting it in language which people in the street understand. But the vast majority of the people dealt with by the Bill could not pay in for one. If the hon. Gentleman had taken the trouble to read the Explanatory Memorandum he would have seen that it refers to those whowere not and could not have been insured".With the best will in the world, they could not do it. Some did not fulfil the conditions of the income limit. Some were excepted from voluntary insurance under two Acts—the 1936 Act and the 1937 Act. Some were excepted because they had made contributions under Acts relating to railway companies, the police and people who were in employment under the Crown or in local and public authorities. Most 2418 of them were excluded in 1948 because they were not existing contributors under pre-war schemes.
Therefore, whichever way it turned out, they were the losers. They were refused the right to contribute on 5th July, 1948, and they were legally denied the opportunity of contributing to National Insurance schemes. Therefore, it is no use hon. Members opposite piously saying that they cannot be eligible because they did not pay when legally they were unable to pay.
§ Mr. Hamling
On a point of order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but it has been drawn to my attention that while I was out of the Chamber for a few minutes the hon. Lady stated that earlier in the debate I was reading a newspaper. To put the record right, I was reading the Conservative Party's manifesto for the last election relative to the Bill.
§ Mr. Roy Roebuck (Harrow, East)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I heard the hon. Lady the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) refer to my hon. Friend as the honourable-and-something-else Member. Is it in order for her to refer to hon. Members on this side in that manner?
§ Mrs. Knight
Having demolished the argument that before a pension can be drawn a person must first have paid in for it, the next point with which I shall deal is the suggestion that if people were unable to pay in for a pension, they should have made their own provision. The fact is that they could not do this, because at that time when these people were young wages were very low. I am surprised that the former teacher who spoke does not accept the point that wages were low. Wars eroded very much what savings these people had and cost-of-living rises throughout the years have eroded them still further. My hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Miss Pike) was quite correct in saying that what at one time would have been perfectly adequate provision is not so today.
2419 Point No. 3 is that these people should have applied for National Assistance. We are talking of very old people, very proud people, who do not understand the new jargon and phraseology. To them charity is still charity. One may feel that they are wrong and that it is unfortunate that they feel like this, but they feel it deeply and they would rather die than apply for charity.
Point No. 4, which has been made several times today, is that we do not need to worry because the Bill will cover and help these people. It does not. This is what worries so many of my hon. Friends on this side. The Bill does not by any means cover more than just a few of them. Most of them will be beyond the reach of the new scale rates. Our argument is that these very old people should have special benefit as of right. The Bill certainly does not meet this requirement.
Point No. 5 is that our proposal is all very well but that we cannot afford it. The hon. and learned Member for Northampton referred to this point——
§ Mrs. Knight
My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth said that it was perfectly possible to pay from the Insurance Fund. It is difficult to estimate how much this will cost, but a figure of £15 million has been given. My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth suggested that it would be between £15 and £22 million.
It seems to me very odd that we cannot afford that sum of money when the country, in a happy and prosperous state, can afford free aspirins for everyone from costermongers to company directors. It could afford to lose £132 million on British Railways last year. An interesting point arises here. There is no argument about it because it is a fact. Ten million pounds more was lost last year on British Railways as a direct result of Labour policies. We could almost have paid for what the Bill proposes to do if those policies had not been followed.
I suggest that there is another way in which we could get plenty of funds to do this. One reads that the Government have written off £450 million capital from the Coal Board. That means that we lose £30 million in interest payments each 2420 year. That would have paid for it, too. So we really can afford it. Furthermore, it has been pointed out that the cost of the Bill's proposals will be a reducing figure.
§ Point No. 6——
§ Mr. Lomas rose——
§ Mrs. Knight
No, I will not give way—is that the National Insurance pension is not actuarial, as has been pointed out clearly by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins). Almost invariably, unless people die quickly, far more money is paid out than is paid in. The National Insurance pension is heavily subsidised by the State. It is fully accepted by hon. Members, on all sides, that the State has a duty to public service pensioners to compensate them for erosion of their pension. This has now been accepted and there is no argument about it. It does not seem in the least fair to me for the State to demand more Income Tax to pay out extra to some needy pensioners but to pay nothing whatever to these other people.
§ Mrs. Knight
The 10s. widow has been mentioned. Like many hon. Members on this side, I was delighted when she got her 30s. instead of her 10s. Nevertheless, the 10s. widow had not contributed for all that amount of money. Neither have these people, but they need it just as much as the 10s. widow did.
Point No. 7 is that some people will not need the money. That is no argument for not making the money available to people who need it.
Point No. 8 was the one raised by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, who made an extraordinary suggestion in saying that it was not for private Members to propose increases in public expenditure. The rights of private Member appear to be getting less and less all through this Parliament, which is alarming. As a new Member, I do not yet know all the intricacies of procedure in the House, but surely a private Member by himself or herself cannot carry a Bill through without the Government at some staging having some sort of responsibility to agree or not. It does not seem to me to be correct to say that the 2421 whole thing should be placed upon the shoulders of one private Member. The Government can either throw out or accept a Bill, and that is when it becomes Government responsibility. That point, therefore, does not bear examination.
These people are very old. We have been told that their average age is 84. They have no union, no association and no pressure group to fight for them. They are too inarticulate, too proud and too frail to fight for themselves. We shall not see them outside in the Lobby sending in their green cards nineteen to the dozen. They do not have the energy to get here, and they probably do not have the money for the fare. Therefore, they cannot do anything. It is a salutary thought that we are the only people who can help them.
I am quite certain that the British people, who are neither ungenerous nor uncaring, want help for these aged members of our society. In this matter Parliament ought to be the conscience of the nation. If Parliament today turns a blind eye and a deaf ear once agains to these pitiful people, the Government will never more be able to boast, as did the hon. Member for Huddersfield, West (Mr. Lomas), that they care for the needy. The greedy, yes. Those who shout, march, hold meetings and make a noise will get their salary increases and better cars, their flashy holidays and their green-backed accolade. But the needy who have no voice and no strength and only the ability to make members of the Government laugh—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh, no."]—they will not get a halfpenny. The only thing they will get is older. Hon. Members opposite may not hear their plea and may take no notice of it, but we on this side cannot ignore their plight, and I beg to support the Bill.
§ 2.30 p.m.
§ Mr. W. O. J. Robinson (Walthamstow, East)
It is a very tempting thing, and, I think, a legitimate exercise, to enter this debate purely in a spirit of party politics. That was not the resolve which I had in mind, but my resolve was impaired by the apparently non-partisan speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight). I wish to try to enter this 2422 debate avoiding party politics and examining the situation purely on the merits of the case.
I do so, if I may say so with respect to the hon. Lady the Member for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward), against the view which she very sincerely put forward for the case she was arguing. I was very interested indeed to hear the argument which she propounded. I think that it is true to say that many of us have very great concern for problems such as she outlined. Many of us have very personal experiences of hardship which is occasioned in the aged groups, but I think that it is, as I have said, a question of the way in which that need can be met and the way in which that need ought to be met, and there are obviously two alternatives.
The hon. Lady, in her Bill, is propounding that the needs of these people should be met by means of pension from the National Insurance Fund. I must say that I have hitherto always regarded the Fund as an insurance fund, a fund into which one is expected first to contribute, if one is to receive benefits from it.
The hon. Lady the Member for Edgbaston I think attempted by reference to the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill, to reprimand one of my hon. Friends saying that many of the people the Bill is purporting to deal with could not be covered by insurance. I would remind her that the Memorandum says they are peoplewho, on account of their age … were not and could not have been insured or treated as insured under that Act".That Act is the 1946 Act. I would remind her that many of them had the opportunity under previous Acts to contract into National Health schemes.
§ Mr. Dean
Would the hon. Member not agree, having studied the Bill, that the vast majority of those were excluded by law? They were not able to join the compulsory scheme because their incomes were too high; they were not able to join voluntary schemes, either because their incomes were above the limit or they were in employment which did not allow them to do so. Would he not agree that that is the case?
§ Mr. Robinson
I would not agree with that assumption, though it may apply to 2423 a few cases. I am in the fortunate position of dealing with the two aspects the hon. Member mentions. Many years ago—it seems, looking back very nostalgically—the income limit under the national health Acts was £250 per annum. There were also other people who were excluded by the type of their employment. In each and every case, however, those people excluded had the opportunity, as I did in that category, if they wished, of contracting in as voluntary contributors. I wanted to make that very point, and I am very grateful to the hon. Member for having raised it.
We had two people working side by side and each receiving the same amount of salary, having the same opportunities, if they so wish, of contracting into the scheme. I know of people in those categories, of equal status, one of whom contracted in and the other did not. They had the choice. It was at their own volition whether or not they contributed and entitled their dependents and others to pension at a later date.
It is now being argued that not only those who did, in fact, decide to contribute should draw their pension as of right, but also those who quite deliberately, and having balanced the position in their minds, decided not to contribute, knowing they would thereby deprive themselves of the opportunity of getting back benefits, which it is now proposed they should have but for which they did not contribute. There is no question about it that there are people who did not contribute who would not be covered even by this Bill, but I put the point very strongly that this is an insurance fund and that the people who quite deliberately decided that they did not wish to contract into it should not now enjoy benefit from it.
§ Mr. Martin Maddan (Hove)
People who took that decision at that time had to take a view of the future in which none of us could have foreseen reasonably the degree of inflation which has in fact happened.
§ Mr. Robinson
That may well be so, but, after all, many of us have to take decisions in the light of events of which we do not know. After all, insurance is always, or in the majority of cases, a gamble one has to take—whether or not something is likely to happen, and one 2424 has to decide whether or not the risk ought to be carried. This is surely the element of insurance.
I now pass, then, to the question of the alternative propounded by hon. Members on this side of the House. As a new Member, I was delighted that one of the first Bills the passage of which through this House I was able to see was the Ministry of Social Security Bill, and I rejoiced that a Labour Government started that Measure, which will enable a tremendous amount of hardship, which has existed for a very long time, now to be cured. There is no question that the Ministry of Social Security Bill will enable large numbers of these cases to be met if need exists.
I take it that we are dealing—the hon. Lady the Member for Melton (Miss Pike) said we were dealing—with categories of need. We are not, I take it, dealing with those people who, under the Bill, presumably will be entitled to employment pensions but for whom it could not be said in any degree there is a need for it. I am convinced, as I am sure all hon. Members on this side are—and, I hope, hon. Members on the other side, too, from the welcome given to the Ministry of Social Security Bill—that tremendous benefits will accrue to people who would otherwise have been in need.
I said I was endeavouring to approach this question quite dispassionately end endeavouring to see the right way of dealing with the need which is known to exist, and on balance I think it would be wrong to those who have contributed to the National Insurance Scheme over the years that those who did not, but quite deliberately, in some cases, chose not to do so, should now get benefits which the decided to deny themselves.
The hon. Lady the Member for Edgbaston referred to the question of charity. It is doubtless the fact that many elderly people have hitherto regarded application to the National Assistance Board as charity. I think they were very wrong in that, but I think that the fact that they were thinking on those lines is not a matter of responsibility for which the party opposite can be entirely free.
Again, I was delighted to learn that a Minister of a Labour Government went out of her way to emphasise by public advertisement, by propaganda generally, that they were completely wrong, and 2425 invited elderly people to revise their ideas and to realise that this is not charity but something to which they are entitled by the service they have given and the contributions they have made to the well being of this country.
I am satisfied that this Bill is not needed because the need it purports to meet can and will be adequately met by the previous Measure which the Government have introduced.
§ 2.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie (Ross and Cromarty)
The hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) has made a very notable contribution to the welfare of the very needy section of the people by introducing this Bill today. It seeks to make provision for the payment of pensions to certain people who did not qualify under the existing Acts. For that reason, it should be treated in a non-partisan manner and, for my part and on behalf of my Party, that is exactly how I approach it. We should deal with the Bill on its merits and have regard to the class of people for whom we hope to make some extra provision.
From the speeches today, it is apparent that the people for whom the Bill would cater have the sympathies of both sides of the House, even if hon. Members opposite are not in agreement as to the way those categories of people should be helped. It seeks to improve the lot of a section of the people who have served their country and their fellow men faithfully and well during their lifetimes, but who missed their turn at the passing of the 1946 Act. Because they were non-contributory, they were never able to catch up with the improved benefits that came along as a result of that Act. They have been literally left out in the cold. In many cases, their only recourse is to National Assistance, and that is something for which they are reluctant to apply. It is fair to say that people in that age group are more reluctant to apply for this type of assistance than any other section of the community.
The only reason for the anomaly in their case is the fact that they were born too early to enjoy the full benefits of the Welfare State as we understand it. Many of them did not join insur- 2426 ance schemes because they were self-employed. When they were younger, not being able to foresee the future, they could not imagine their need arising. It may be that at the time they were asked if they wished to join an insurance scheme their incomes were small and, if possible, they did not want to have further commitments. I know that from experience in my own part of the country, where almost everyone who is self-employed works in a very small unit.
I do not think that that is an adequate reason for leaving them out at this stage, especially since a very large proportion of retirement pensions are paid from general taxation and not from contributions. Thus we see that anomalies are perpetuated because successive Governments have adhered so rigidly to the principle of contributions.
It seems to me that now is the time to make a change. It is estimated that there are approximately 200,000 individuals at present in this category and, since the bulk of them are in the age-group of 75–90—we were told that the average age would be 84—it is apparent that their numbers will decline rapidly in the years to come. In my opinion, that is a compelling reason for taking action now so that those people do not suffer hardship during the remainder of their lives, which we all know will not be all that long. In every other scheme which has been introduced, the costs mount year by year because of inflation, but here is a scheme where it is quite evident that the costs will decrease substantially year by year with the passing of time.
It is true that some of those people have savings, but the value of those savings has declined rapidly. The purchasing power of the £ has been practically halved over the past 20 years. It should also be remembered, as I know from experience and as I am sure right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides can confirm, that many of those in this category invested what little savings they had in 3½ per cent. War Loan. They did that in response to an appeal by the Government of the day and out of a sense of loyalty to the country, and they did it in good faith expecting to get £100 out for every £100 invested as and when they needed it. They find now, if they have to dispose of any part 2427 of their investment, that the value has been cut down by about half.
It is a crying shame that people should be treated in that way by successive Governments. We have been told from time to time that the Government have it in mind, but they are not prepared to put a date on their War Loan. I hope that the present Government will take another look at their 3½ per cent. War Loan and do something for the benefit of people who are now late in years and who need the money which they saved in their younger days.
This is a good Bill, and it should be supported. I know that the right hon. Lady is sympathetic to the needs of the people from whom the Bill would cater. It has been stated that the cost of helping them would be approximately £15 million, which is a very moderate sum, and it is quite apparent that it would decrease with the passing of the years. The right hon. Lady can rest assured that she will have the support not only of hon. Members on both sides but of the general public if she presses her right hon. Friend the Chancellor to make available the necessary sum to provide for this section of the community. They are people who deserve the country's help, and they are a rapidly declining group. I hope that the Bill will be supported.
§ 2.48 p.m.
§ Mrs. Freda Corbet (Peckham)
I rise to support the Government, whose attitude is that the Bill is not practicable, though I would inform the House that my sympathy with the objects of the Bill is no less than theirs.
Time passes so quickly now, and I never know how long ago a particular event occurred. It was perhaps two or three years ago that my attention was called to the problem at a meeting of retired teachers. It was put to me that some of the elderly ladies and gentlemen present had been retired for 20 or 25 years, and that most of them were then in their 80s. They shared the common fate of public service pensioners in that they were unable to keep pace with the rising cost of living.
The pensions that they were drawing were as small as £3 a week. There may have been some slight amelioration since, but we all know that older pen- 2428 sioners have had a raw deal, because there have only been percentage increases on their pensions. They have not kept pace with the decreased value of money and with the newer pensions being paid because of inflation.
I think that we ought to appreciate the seriousness of inflation to people as they get older. I am convinced that unless we can deal with this problem, most people will find it impossible to try to provide for their old age. This is most important. It is the source of so much of the savings which the country needs, and it is the source of the contentment of mind which people have when they know that they can make provision for themselves. I am sure that the House will agree that these people have not been able to make satisfactory and adequate provision for themselves, and that we must help them.
It was not very easy in those days to decide whether to be a voluntary contributor. I am speaking from experience, because my father was an insurance agent whose company was operating the National Health Insurance scheme. He had passed the limit of a voluntary contribution. His own wages did, at last, rise to that amount. I remember a long discussion in the family, and my father telling us that there was no better value for money than paying voluntary contributions to the scheme.
The extraordinary thing was that years later, when he drew his small pension from his company, I discovered that he and my mother had decided that it was not worth while going on with the voluntary contribution. They lived rather on the margin of life, and they thought that they had better enjoy a few luxuries of life before they became too old to enjoy them, and so it came about that my father and mother existed on this small pension from the company, when they could have enjoyed both that and the State pension. This would have made some difference to me, but it would have robbed me of the pleasure that I had for so long of being able to assist them.
It is not surprising that people weighed up their chances, and whether or not to join. I know that many of them did not, and I do not take issue with them on that, but I think that we have to bear in mind what my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow, 2429 East (Mr. W. O. J. Robinson) stressed, namely, the attitude of those who have paid their contributions. These people look askance at those who, not having paid contributions, benefit from the scheme.
I think that most of us, as Members of this House, have heard a great deal of criticism about the possibility of people who have not contributed going to the National Assistance Board and doing as well as those who have paid contributions all their lives. This is something that we cannot escape. People place a great deal of importance on the contributory principle. It is my experience that people are proud to pay their contributions, and are glad to be able to claim their pensions as of right, and the great advantage of the scheme is that the pension is payable without regard to means.
I have always understood hon. Gentlemen opposite to take the view—particularly during their rather long period of government—that it is better to mitigate need where it occurs, rather than to raise the flat-rate pension. This is less expensive, and by this means we can do more for those who are in the greatest need. I always thought that hon. Gentlemen had a good point there, perhaps more so than many of my colleagues, who were always anxious to raise the basic pension.
Now we find that the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), whose heart is full of sympathy and understanding for the old people, has brought in a Measure which will relieve many thousands of people from dire need. I think that we all agree that the rates proposed, in addition to the allowance for rent, rates, and other discretionary payments in necessitous cases, will make a great deal of difference to the very needy.
I think that the hon. Lady has come to the end of what she feels she can reasonably spend, in conjunction with the other things for which money has to be found, and I think that she has to look at the possible repercussions of a scheme of this kind.
It is calculated that about 200,000 people will benefit from this proposal, and that the net cost will be about £23 2430 million, but there are many other people who are on the borderline, people who contributed but who did not pay enough by way of contributions and get no pension at all, or only an abated pension, and it would be impossible for my right hon. Friend to bring in, or to agree to, a Measure which did not include them.
§ Mr. Turton
These people are covered. This is the point of having the provision for the abated pension under the discretion of the Minister.
§ Mrs. Corbet
I am informed that this would be an extra class, which would cost more money. This would also represent a continuing loss. People in this class would not be like those in whom we are immediately interested.
§ Mr. Braine
We are listening to the hon. Lady with great interest. On this question of continuing costs, surely she is seized of the point that the average age of the person dealt with in the Bill is 84? These people are dying at the rate of 50,000 a year. Far from this being a recurring liability, it will cease very shortly.
§ Mrs. Corbet
This will be a continuing class, because, whatever scheme is introduced, there are bound to be people who do not fulfil all the contributory requirements. This will go on. I am sure that my right hon. Friend must take account of the cost.
Paying regard to the fact that this would be a breach in the contributory principle, bearing in mind that most of the needs of these people will be covered by the new Measure which is now going through the House of Lords, and also that a great deal of money will necessarily be involved in that Measure—more so if more of these people avail themselves of assistance—I feel that I must vote against the Bill if a Division is called.
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. W. H. Loveys (Chichester)
I am sure that all hon. Members enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Peckham (Mrs. Corbet). I thought that she was more in support of the Bill than any of her hon. Friends, and I was bitterly disappointed when, at the end of her speech, she said that she would vote against the Bill.
2431 I also enjoyed the speech of the hon. Member for Ross and Cromarty (Mr. Alasdair Mackenzie). His was the one completely non-party speech. Although many hon. Members tried to keep to this standard he was the only one who managed to succeed, thereby bringing down the temperature of the House to a level suitable to this type of debate. He based his argument on the social need for the Measure rather than on the economics involved. Hon. Members will probably agree that the social need argument is stronger than the economic one, and is, perhaps, the most important argument for the Bill.
I congratulate especially my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) not only on her good luck in the Ballot, but on choosing this subject. The House knows the interest that she has in these matters, which she puts across in such a stimulating manner, and especially her interest in the social services as they relate to the more elderly pensioner. Today, however, my hon. Friend is attempting to assist the very elderly non-pensioner.
We are told that about 200,000 people were excluded from the provisions of the National Insurance Act and that their average age is 84. The Bill is almost identical to that introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), about 18 months ago, which was dealt with so harshly by the Government's using what so many people have called disgraceful Parliamentary tactics.
Of all the anomalies in the social services, the Bill deals with the one which creates perhaps the biggest injustice, caused by the complete exclusion of our most senior citizens from any form of pension. The need to help this section of the community was accepted by the Conservative and Labour Parties, which introduced definite proposals in their General Election manifestos. I shall talk not so much about the arguments in favour of the Bill as about the arguments which have been raised against it.
First, it is said that a person should not benefit from a contributory pension if he has not contributed towards it; secondly, there is the question of cost; and, thirdly, the argument that the new Ministry of Social Security Bill will re- 2432 move the need by introducing some form of minimal guarantee. The pretence that the present scheme is based on contributions has already been shattered. All hon. Members are aware that a large proportion of the ordinary retirement pension is provided by general taxation, and to deny the very elderly of their share because they have not contributed to a pension which is non-contributory is so nonsensical that it cannot stand up to examination.
The argument that the pension for those excluded should be greater than their share of the non-contributory part of the pension is not so easily supportable on the ground of economics, but no one has suffered so much from the effects of inflation as the very elderly people, and when the argument of increases in the cost of living is taken into account, together with the fact that the increases in wages and salaries throughout the community form one of the main reasons for inflation, the need to help those most seriously affected by the erosion of their incomes must surely be accepted.
Those who earn salaries and wages would surely agree that they alone should not reap the benefit of increased affluence. I understand that if all non-pensioners were to receive a full national retirement pension—and the Bill does not lay this down, but gives the Minister power to fix the amount—the net cost would be about £20 million.
A progressively diminishing number of people need the benefits of the Bill. When my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon produced his Measure, about 25,000 more people would have benefited than is the case today. As he mentioned, the present figure is that there is a mortality rate among people in this category of 50,000 a year——
§ Mr. Roebuck
I am following the hon. Member's argument with great interest. As I understand it, he is saying that there is a diminishing need for this. In that case, why has his attention only just been drawn to this matter? Would it not have been far better to have introduced such a Measure when there was a greater need for it?
§ Mr. Loveys
I do not wish to take part in the party political discussion on this. Many figures have been provided to prove that there is no doubt that this party can be proud of its achievements in social 2433 service as a whole. The only party political point which I will make in my speech is that we made specific proposals to introduce a Measure of this type if we had won the last election.
Hon. Members opposite have said that it is easy enough to say such things if one is not in power, but we were hopeful that we would win, and we would then have brought in that Measure. Nothing in any statement which I read in the form of an election manifesto by the Socialist Party intimated that they would give help to this group of people.
The figure which I mentioned is a net figure because I am deducting the amount which they receive in National Assistance. I am not comparing this figure of the cost with other national expenditure which one considers far less worthy, because such comparisons are of little worth. But I am certain that the vast majority of those working today would be happy to pay the very few pence per week which would be involved in this cost. If this were paid on the National Insurance stamp, it would be about 3d. for each side of the stamp to produce enough money for the Measure.
The question has been raised that there is no need for the Bill because of the Ministry of Social Security Bill. We may welcome in many ways the increase which it gives to National Assistance and the Bill is really an implementation of the Government's promise of some form of incomes guarantee. Of course, ever since National Assistance was introduced, we have had some form of income guarantee. I think that it was Sir Winston Churchill who said that there must be a line below which no one must be allowed to fall.
The Bill increases help to the people whom we are talking about to the amount of about £3 million. This is a very small amount compared with the total cost. It goes nowhere near the principle of giving a reasonable pension as of right to the very elderly. There is surely strength in the argument put across so well by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) and many others that these people are entitled to a pension over and above any other income in exactly the same way as an ordinary retirement pension. This would be on the same lines as an ordinary retirement pension and 2434 would, of course, be included in assessment for Income Tax.
The Bill is simple, straightforward and dreadfully overdue. Those who represent constituencies like mine with a large number of very elderly residents, realise that the injustices and hardships of some of those residents are highlighted by the Bill to an extent which makes one feel ashamed.
§ 3.9 p.m.
§ The Minister of Pensions and National Insurance (Miss Margaret Herbison)
I am pleased that the whole of a Friday's debate has been devoted to this Bill. This is a Measure which has been causing interest in some parts of the country and I think that it is important that the Government's case should be clearly made. I have listened to almost every speech today, and I hope to deal with many of the points that have been made.
First I give my warmest congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham, South (Mr. George H. Perry), who made his maiden speech. In it he showed, with his background, the great experience he had of the question of National Insurance and provision for old age. All of us, on both sides of the House, would like to hear him often in our debates on social security.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) put up the Aunt Sally of cost and took quite a time in knocking it down. One would have thought that every speaker on this side of the House had been making the case against the Bill on the question of cost. That has not been so. In asking the House to reject the Bill, I do not base my case on the question of cost but on many other grounds which are both just and constructive.
It has been very interesting to listen to the different types of speeches from hon. Members opposite. One hon. Member quite clearly and honestly said that this pension ought to go to all these non-pensioners irrespective of their income or financial resources. Other hon. Members opposite made a strong and sympathetic case based totally on those amongst these non-pensioners who are suffering hardship.
I was interested in the intervention of the hon. Member for Melton (Miss Pike) from the Front Bench. It is 2435 evident that the Opposition Front Bench supports this Measure, which surprises me considerably. The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), whose Bill this first was, and other hon. Members, have been trying to say that the plight of these people has only very recently been discovered. That is just nonsense. Their plight has been known for a considerable time.
On 16th April, 1962, the then Minister of Pensions, the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), in answer to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) on provision for non-pensioners over the age of 70, said:As regards the last two parts of the Question, Parliament has already made financial provision for all persons in need through the National Assistance scheme.That was as far back as 1962. On the same day, in answer to a supplementary question by the hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe), the Minister said:I cannot, therefore, see why one should make a distinction in the help given to them and a distinction in the help to other unfortunate people in need through the National Assistance Board."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1962; Vol. 658, c. 7 and 8.]Nothing could have been more clear than those two answers by the right hon. Gentleman in the Conservative Party who held this Ministry for longer than any other Minister.
On 16th July, 1962, the then Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher) said in answer to a Question:… I would point out that there is very little point in saying, on the one hand, that to get the pension as of right one should contribute to it and, on the other hand, ' Never mind whether you contributed or not, you will get it in any case.' That seems quite contradictory."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th July, 1962, Vol. 663, c. 5.]That was the attitude taken then. A year later, the then Minister, who is now Lord Drumalbyn, was asked whether he had any proposals to make to deal with the non-pensioners. His answer was clear; he said that he had no proposals to make.
§ Mr. Roebuck
Would it be correct to say that at the time those answers were being given there were more non-pensioners than there are now?
§ Miss Herbison
Of course. It is correct that each year the numbers become smaller. What I have been trying to say is that the problem is not new and is not something that we have just become aware of. At least some hon. Members on the back benches and some previous Ministers knew about the problem. However, the Ministers said categorically that one could not deal with the problem by giving these people pensions from the contributory National Insurance Fund.
There has been a good deal of discussion today about whether some of these people could have been in the National Insurance Scheme. We have had excellent contributions from most knowledgeable people on the Government side of the House. The persons about whom we are speaking are divided into four categories. There are those who could have been insured under the voluntary pre-1948 schemes but chose deliberately not to be insured. I do not blame them; they may at the time have thought that it was a poor bargain. But, whatever the reason was, they deliberately chose not to be insured. There were also those who chose not to become what were called at the time special voluntary contributors under a scheme introduced in 1938. There were also those who, whether they wanted to or not, could not be insured under the scheme. Many of them had incomes at that time which were above the requisite level, and it was believed, and they themselves believed, that they were in a position to make their own provision. The fourth category consisted of the widows of those people.
The vast majority of the 200,000 persons are widows, and often they are widows of men who had occupational pensions which died with the men. Yet what we are being told now is that the official policy of the Opposition on pensions for the future is that the minimum provision should be made by the State and every worker should be forced into an occupational pensions scheme. We are not told what provision, if any, will be made for the widows in those cases. Perhaps in this House fifty years from now, when all of us have gone, the same arguments will be made about the widows of those pensioners if the Conservatives have their way.
2437 The best estimate we can make—I must make clear that it is only an estimate—is that the ages of these non-pensioners are at least 82 for the men and 77 for the women. We also estimate that already about 100,000 of the non-pensioners are in receipt of National Assistance. The cost of paying them a full pension—I will give reasons later why it really would amount to a full pension in spite of what Opposition Members have said—from the contributions would be £40 million a year. There would be a saving of rather more than £16 million on National Assistance, so that the net cost would be about £23 million. Later in my remarks I will deal with others to show that this £23 million of net cost, and £40 million from the National Insurance Fund, would not be a declining amount.
My notice has been called by hon. Gentlemen opposite to Clause 1, which gives the Minister power—indeed, lays a duty on him—to make regulations reducing the amount of pension… by such amount as shall be prescribed by the Minister as being equitable in all the circumstances …It is not clear from the remarks of hon. Gentlemen opposite—and I tried to make it clear by asking questions of them—what they really have in mind. Various proposals have been put forward, but I have not really been told what are the criteria for the discretion which the Bill would put in the hands of the Minister.
A number of hon. Gentlemen opposite have stressed the actuarial value and much play has been made of the National Insurance retirement pension, but let us consider an example of someone retiring next month. We are told, in effect, by hon. Gentlemen opposite that it substantially exceeds the accumulated value, even when we add interest, of all the contributions which he and his employer have paid, if they have paid those contributions regularly and continuously since the contribution pension scheme began in 1926. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have put this forward as an argument in favour of the proposals in the Bill, but, frankly, neither I nor the Government can accept this argument.
I am sure that most people—certainly the majority of people in the country and probably a number of hon. Gentlemen opposite—believe that the very 2438 essence of the contributory principle, on which National Insurance is founded, is that contributions are paid regularly throughout the insured's life, before the event occurs. There would be great difficulties because some of those people paid voluntary contributions for some time and then withdrew. If we were to treat all of those people with equity we would have to find out the details of all the contributions they paid, but we do not have their records. To get this contributory pension it is of first-rate importance that the appropriate contributions should have been paid at the right time. The contributor is then entering into a contract with the Government and that contract gives the contributor the right to get the pension at whatever rate is applying when he retires, and at whatever rate it increases to after that time.
How right are some of my hon. Friends when they have pointed out how difficult at times some people have found it to pay their contributions. Nevertheless, although times may have been hard, they decided that their contributions had to be paid, although it often meant denying themselves.
§ Mr. Maddan
But the contract which the contributor entered into was for a pension unsupplemented from the general taxpayers' resources. Surely she would agree to that.
§ Miss Herbison
Not at all. National Insurance has always been financed from three sources in this country—the employer, the employed and the Exchequer.
§ Mr. Maddan rose——
§ Miss Herbison
I am sorry. I cannot give way any further.
I give an example which might appeal to the businessmen opposite—insurance against fire in the home or on a car. It is prudent to carry such policies even although one may never make a claim. The one thing certain is that if one has no insurance and one's house catches fire or one has a car accident one has no claim. Would hon. Members opposite suggest that private insurance companies ought to pay nevertheless? In effect, what they say is that those who have contributed to the scheme should be asked to contribute more in order to give pensions indiscriminately, 2439 whether needed or not, to these people. What happens in a contributory scheme, as in any other scheme, is that one insures before and not after the event.
§ Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke) rose——
§ Miss Herbison
I am sorry but I cannot give way. I listened carefully to the points that have been raised and if I am to sit down in time for the hon. Member opposite who wants to speak I must get on. It is important that I should deal with all the points raised.
I must tell the House that no Minister would be able to exercise a discretion such as is suggested in the Bill on any equitable basis. What it would amount to is that one would have to give the full pension to all those covered in the Bill.
The sponsors of the Bill and other right hon. and hon. Members opposite who have spoken today seems to be concerned only with one group of non-pensioners. I, as Minister, am concerned with every old person in the country who has no pension. I am worried about them and I care about them, whatever category they are in. I and my colleagues in the Government want to ensure that they are not left in need. But not a word has been said by hon. Members opposite about that. Later, I will show what we have done and what we propose to do to ensure that there is not need in any person's home. First, I must deal with the points raised.
Altogether, 250,000 further old people have reached minimum pension age since 1948 who do not receive a retirement pension or a widow's pension. Some of them are almost as old as the ones for whom concern has been shown by the Opposition today. These are people who have been excepted from liability to contribute because of small income. Let me give an example. A daughter who has been working returns home to care for a frail and ailing parent. She is not in a position to pay a contribution as an unemployed person and, if she has savings, they are spent in caring for her old mother or father. The Bill takes no account at all of such people. Many of them are people who have lived abroad for long periods.
There are then the late age entrants, people who were within ten years of re- 2440 tirement age in 1948. They were given the chance to qualify for a pension if they paid ten years' contributions and when they reached retirement age they were able to continue until they had paid for the whole ten years, or withdraw the contributions paid in respect of pension when they retired. Eighty thousand decided to withdraw their contributions.
§ Mr. Neave rose——
§ Miss Herbison
I have dealt with that. As I have said, 80,000 decided to withdraw. I take it that some of them found it almost impossible to pay the contributions. Others decided that it was a bad bargain and not worth it, but that is perhaps the same kind of reasoning.
There are another 300,000 people who had a deficiency in contributions and, therefore, have reduced pensions. Many of these are people who tried, sometimes with great hardship, to make up the deficiency but could not do so. In all conscience and in all equity, if something is to be done for the 200,000, the deficiency pensions would have to be raised to the same amount. There could be no argument in logic, merit or equity which would enable us to refuse to pay the full pension to these more than 500,000 not covered by the Bill, and to cover all three groups—because if one was covered, the others would have to be covered—the cost to the National Insurance Fund would be about £100 million with a total saving of about £40 million to National Assistance.
If we covered the second two groups, a substantial and continuing additional cost would be involved, since new people in these categories are coming to retirement age or retiring each year, so that this would be not a dwindling but a continuing liability on the Fund.
The Government's main opposition to the Bill is that it would be a breach, indeed an abandonment, of the vital contributory principle of national insurance. It would mean that many people, none of whom had paid contributions, would be given pensions indiscriminately and without any regard to their resources. We 2441 have heard a little about prescription charges. The Opposition seem to think that it is all right to have a means test for prescription charges for old people when they are ill, when they are at their lowest ebb, but that there must not be a means test for people who may have no need of a pension. I cannot understand the reasoning. It is a strange philosophy to me. Are the Opposition concerned only with the 200,000 and not with the other 500,000?
If we were to give it to those three-quarters of a million people, it could amount to 10d. a side increase on contributions. We had long discussions on the very serious needs and problems of the low wage-earner, with a family, when we discussed our Bill. Would we have any right, would it be just for us to say to those people who are finding it difficult to pay their contribution now, that we are going to put an extra burden of 10d. a week upon them in order to give indiscriminately, without any test of need, to those people covered in the Bill? We would be getting our priorities wrong.
The Opposition seem to think that we should have a continuance of two nations. I do not believe that we should and I want to help all of our old people in need. There are many retirement pensioners with a lifetime of contributions behind them who are in receipt of National Assistance. They are men and women who have contributed all of their lives, but who find that the pension is not adequate to meet their needs. For these 200,000 people National Assistance is available. Time and again the Opposition have said that we should give help according to need. That has been a philosophy that they have thrown at us, in the House in opposition and in government, and in the country. However, it is not the philosophy that they use today.
About half of the people about whom we are talking in this Bill are in receipt of National Assistance and would not benefit by the Bill. The other half would benefit, but a great many of them ought not to, because there is a substantial number of these old people who are very comfortably off. They are the former professional men, well-off business men and the landowners. I met a Member of the other place in the corridor when 2442 this Bill was last being discussed. He said to me, "I understand that you are not going to give me a pension." I can assure the House that he is a very well-off landowner.
We have done a great deal in a short time for old people. Like everyone else, the non-pensioner is entitled to all other social services such as home help, meals on wheels and chiropody. All of these services existed when we came into power, but we have taken steps to improve them and have done much more. Last year National Insurance was raised by the biggest increase ever. We also raised the income limit for exemption from Income Tax. This was a help to the kind of people we are discussing, whose incomes are just above the National Assistance level. We have taken action to enable local authorities to grant cheap fares to the elderly. We are reviewing the arrangements to see if this can be extended.
Another important thing which we did shortly after coming to power was to introduce the Rent Act, 1965. It gave security of tenure, which is very important to old people, and made it possible to regulate rents. It is proving of great assistance to retired people.
Lastly, the Rating Act, 1966. is giving substantial relief from rates to all those on small fixed incomes. These are steps which the Government have already taken. I say without fear of contradiction that decent people in the country believe that this is a proud and impressive record for only eighteen months in office.
But we have not been sitting back since then. The Ministry of Social Security Bill had its Third Reading not long ago. It will provide a form of guaranteed income at a new and higher level for old people in need. Under that Bill, 100,000 non-pensioners who are on National Assistance will benefit. There are some old people who do not apply for National Assistance, not only among the 200,000 non-pensioners, but among the old people generally. I ask hon Members on both sides of the House to do everything they can to help them to benefit under the Ministry of Social Security Bill.
Many administrative changes have: been made in the provision of money for our old people. The most important is 2443 the more generous disregard of capital. Any old person with £600 in the bank, whether or not he has any other source of income, cannot get help from National Assistance. This will not be so under the Ministry of Social Security Bill. For the single old person living in his home, there will be a guaranteed minimum income of £4 10s. and, for the couple, £7 2s. In addition, rent and rates will be paid.
It might help hon. Members in deciding how they will vote today if I were to give some examples. Take "Mr. Brown", a non-pensioner with £800 in the bank and a small pension of £1 a week from his former employer and paying rent of £1 10s. At present, he cannot get a penny from the National Assistance Board. But under the Ministry of Social Security Bill he will get a supplementary pension of £5 a week.
Let us take "Mrs. Smith", a non-pensioner with no other income but savings and a weekly rent of £1 10s. Under the new scheme, she can receive a pension of at least £4 a week with capital of up to £1,200. Take a couple, "Mr. and Mrs. Black", with very substantial capital and no other resources. Say that their rent is £2 a week. They will be entitled to a supplementary pension with capital of up to £2,500.
Those three examples show once again that the Government care for the old people. Whether they be non-pensioners, wherever they worked, and whatever their life previously, our desire has been to help. That is the way to deal with the matter constructively. It is a good way, and will ensure that old people are not in need.
I want to leave some time for the Opposition spokesman, but I should like to show the great change which has come over the Opposition. In their manifesto for the 1964 election they said:Help will be concentrated first and foremost on those whose needs are greatest.That was their statement. The Leader of the Opposition said in the debate only on 23rd February this year:What we must have is a more flexible use of our resources to help those people who are in difficulty and hardship, and want help."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 23rd February, 1966; Vol. 725, c. 443.]2444Their manifesto for 1966 said this: "… an entirely new social security strategy designed to concentrate better care and the biggest benefits on those most in need.Those are the paper statements of the Opposition. What I have shown today is not what we propose to do, but what we already have done for all the old people and the kind of payments that will be made—and here I announce the date—from 28th November this year.
In the light of what I have been able to tell the House, I ask hon. Members to oppose the Bill knowing our real concern for all old people and the desire of the Government to help.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan (Farnham)
First, I should congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) on her persistency in the work she has done leading up to the introduction of the Bill. I am sure that my hon. Friend will not mind if I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), the first progenitor, as it were, of the Bill.
I should like, without impertinence, to congratulate the right hon. Lady the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, if only on the decision of the Government to vote openly against the Bill today instead of talking it out by filibustering, as happened last time. I only wish that the right hon. Lady's decision to vote against the Bill had led her to talk against the Bill instead of making a speech which was so reminiscent of the wonderful election broadcast to which I remember listening that it led me, perhaps a little optimistically, to believe that there might be hidden dissensions in the Labour Party and the Government leading to a rapid Dissolution.
It is no argument against a Bill to say that those who are supporting it are trying to do a great number of things or holding attitudes which are not implicit either in their speeches or in the Bill and then to argue against the Aunt Sally which one has oneself erected.
The right hon. Lady said that she was not clear what criteria we were putting forward for the exercise of the Minister's discretion. That was deliberate. We hoped that if we left it to her, she might have viewed it with a little greater sympathy than if we tried to make suggestions in detail to her from these benches.
2445 It was a great pity that the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) did not speak after, rather than before, the right hon. Lady, because his frank and, to me, accurate comments on the lack of genuineness of the National Insurance Fund would have done something to disperse some of the fog which has arisen in the talk about contributions and the unfairness of the measures proposed in the Bill to those who contribute to the pension.
The right hon. Lady referred to the existence of a contract. I did not think that this made a great deal of sense in the context of the Bill, since part of our case is that the people whom we are seeking to help were prevented, not by their own negligence or any other similar reason, but by the state of the law as it then was, from entering into a contract. That is precisely the injustice which we are seeking to remedy. I think any of those hon. and right hon. Gentlemen who were present when my right hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) were speaking would realise that the right hon. Lady's argument was destroyed in anticipation beyond all resurrection.
It really is nonsense to talk about cheating the contributor by paying a pension of this sort. It is just as much nonsense as it is to talk about cheating the contributor by increasing the pension paid at the age of 70, because it is just as arguable and far more truthful that this increase of the pension under our proposal would be, as my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing pointed out, from the taxpayers' contribution rather than from the element contributed in the weekly contribution.
It is monstrous for the right hon. Lady to hint that we are concerned only with these people and that we are not concerned with the needs and troubles of other pensioners and others in our society who are in difficulties. It is monstrous especially in view of the efforts which have been made by my right hon. Friend and others in debate on the Ministry of Social Security Bill to bring in the problem of the low income group families, the disabled, and so on.
The reason we are dealing in this Bill with one narrow section of the people is, of course, that it would not be possible 2446 within the rules of the House to do otherwise. As the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton pointed out, it is more or less a technicality that a Private Member's Bill is enabled by referring specifically to the National Insurance Fund to suggest disbursements of public money, and it would have been totally impossible to extend this device to include a wider field.
Therefore, it is clearly not reasonable to argue that because it is too narrow the principle behind it should be rejected, although I must admit I would be prepared to accept it if the right hon. Lady were to say, "We do not like your way of doing it, but we will accept the principle, and seek to do the same thing in some other way." She really must not wring, or try to wring, our hearts with harrowing descriptions of other hard cases and blame us for putting forward the Bill and not dealing with them——
§ Mr. Macmillan
—and she had better get ready to follow us into the Lobby for Amendments we shall be putting to the Selective Employment Bill.
The debate has revealed a fair amount of hidden support—and, indeed, open support—from the benches opposite for the ideas which underlie this Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton put forward a very strong argument in favour of dealing with this particular section of the community because, on his analysis, the other groups within our society had been dealt with more or less adequately over the years by the work which previous and the present Governments have done and are doing.
In passing, if my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth is the rogue elephant of the Tory Party, perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman will forgive me for saying he is the bull in the Labour china shop. My hon. Friend and he certainly have one quality in common, apart from that of annoying their respective Front Benches, and it is their integrity, and the care for people they show in their contributions which they make in this House.
I thought that the tone of the debate was, on the whole, fairly good, but marred slightly by the polemical attitude 2447 taken by some hon. Members opposite, and especially the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), who appeared to regard loud assertions backed by threats as a substitute for serious argument. Perhaps he was merely annoyed that Tory back benchers had brought this Measure forward, and not Labour back benchers.
§ Mr. Roebuck rose——
§ Mr. Macmillan
No, I am not giving way.
The main argument put forward by the right hon. Lady and others of her hon. Friends is that we did nothing during our period in office. I have said before, and I will go on saying it so long as such foolish arguments are advanced from the other side, that accusations of past failures have nothing to do with the merits of present cases, particularly in a Bill of this kind, which has been put forward by an hon. Lady who has always been a private Member and has always been consistent in the work that she has done for those on small fixed incomes.
When the right hon. Lady quotes past attitudes of Conservative Ministers and the Conservative Front Bench, she advances an irrelevant argument. They are past. That was the attitude of the Conservative Front Bench. It appears still to be the attitude of the Labour Front Bench: I can detect no change in the right hon. Lady's attitude from that of those whom my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon tried his best to convince, without success.
It was the agitation of my hon. Friend which led to the acceptance of the ideas
§ behind the Bill by the leaders of the Conservative Party. Had it not been for the 1965 General Election, it would have led to the Bill being brought forward. Whatever the failures of a Tory Government in this matter, they have not sought to destroy the Bill as the Labour Government have. I would like the right hon. Lady to deny that the reluctance betrayed by my right hon. and hon. Friends when in office to produce a Measure of this sort was not for the same reason that she has just been putting forward from the Government Front Bench.
§ My hon. Friends the Member for Abingdon and the Member for Tyne-mouth succeeded in convincing the Shadow Cabinet a long time ago that they were right, but it did not seem that the right hon. Lady made even an attempt to look at the problem dispassionately.
§ It happens on this side of the House, with a frequency which must make some hon. Members opposite a little envious, that back-benchers succeed in convincing the Front Bench. I thought that the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the House showed a remarkable tenacity of purpose in the opposite direction earlier in the day.
§ All I can do is commend the Bill to the House, hoping that my right hon. and hon. Friends will support it in the Lobby and that right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite will have the courage either to sit on their benches or come into the lobby with us.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 77, Noes 149.2449
|Division No. 87.]||AYES||[3.59 p.m.|
|Batsford, Brian||Goodhew, Victor||Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross & Crom'ty)|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Grant, Anthony||Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)|
|Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Maddan, Martin|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Gurden, Harold||Marten, Neil|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Braine, Bernard||Hawkins, Paul||Maydon, Lt. Cmdr. S. L. C.|
|Burden, F. A.||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Higgins, Terence L.||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Hobson, Rt. Hn. Sir John||Murton, Oscar|
|Cunningham, Sir Knox||Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin||Neave, Alrey|
|Dance, James||Hunt, John||Nott, John|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Onslow, Cranley|
|Doughty, Charles||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Page, John (Harrow, W.)|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead)||Percival, Ian|
|Fisher, Nigel||Kershaw, Anthony||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Fletcher-Cooke, Charles||Knight, Mrs. Jill||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Foster, Sir John||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||Loveys, W. H.||Pym, Francis|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Lubbock, Eric||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Glyn, Sir Richard||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David|
|Ridsdale, Julian||Smith, John||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Roots, William||Tapsell, Peter||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)||Worsley, Marcus|
|St. John-Stevas, Norman||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Scott, Nicholas||Thorpe, Jeremy||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Sharples, Richard||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H,||Mr. Robert Mathew and|
|Sinclair, Sir George||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John||Mr. Paul Dean.|
|Albu, Austen||Galpern, Sir Myer||Murray, Albert|
|Allen, Scholefield||Gardner, A. J.||Newens, Stan|
|Archer, Peter||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||Ogden, Eric|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)||O'Malley, Brian|
|Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)||Gregory, Arnold||Oram, Albert E.|
|Barnes, Michael||Grey, Charles (Durham)||Orbach, Maurice|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Griffiths, Will (Exchange)||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Hamling, William||Paget, R. T.|
|Binns, John||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Palmer, Arthur|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Hazell, Bert||Park, Trevor|
|Booth, Albert||Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)|
|Boston, Terence||Henig, Stanley||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Pentland, Norman|
|Bowden, Rt. Hn. Herbert||Hooley, Frank||Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)|
|Boyden, James||Horner, John||Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Howarth, Robert (Bolton, E.)||Price, William (Rugby)|
|Cant, R. B.||Howie, W.||Rees, Merlyn|
|Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara||Hoy, James||Richard, Ivor|
|Chapman, Donald||Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Coe, Denis||Janner, Sir Banett||Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth (St.P'c'as)|
|Concannon, J. D.||Jay, Rt. Hn. Dougla||Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n & St. P'cras, S.)||Rodgers, William (Stockton)|
|Cousins, Rt. Hn. Frank||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Roebuck, Roy|
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Rogers, George|
|Darling, Rt. Hn. George||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Rowland, Christopher (Meriden)|
|Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)||Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Ryan, John|
|Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Judd, Frank||Shinwell, Rt. Hn. E.|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Kerr, Mrs. Anne (R'ter & Chatham)||Shore, Peter (Stepney)|
|Delargy, Hugh||Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)||Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tc-u-Tyne)|
|Dell, Edmund||Lee, John (Reading)||Silkin, John (Deptford)|
|Dewar, Donald||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Silkin, S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Diamond, Rt. Hn. John||Lipton, Marcus||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Dickens, James||Lomas, Kenneth||Symonds, J. B.|
|Driberg, Tom||Luard, Evan||Tuck, Raphael|
|Dunnett, Jack||MacColl, James||Wallace, George|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||MacDermot, Niall||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)||Macdonald, A. H.||Weitzman, James|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||McKay, Mrs. Margaret||Wellbeloved, James|
|Ellis, John||Mackie, John||Whitaker, Ben|
|English, Michael||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick|
|Ennals, David||Marquand, David||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)|
|Ensor, David||Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)||Mellish, Robert||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|Faulds, Andrew||Mendelson, J. J.||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Mikardo, Ian||Winnick, David|
|Floud, Bernard||Molloy, William||Zilliacus, K.|
|Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich)||Moonman, Eric|
|Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale)||Morris, John (Aberavon)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Fraser, John (Norwood)||Moyle, Roland||Mr. Alan Fitch and|
|Freeson, Reginald||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Mr. R. W. Brown.|