§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have not selected the Amendment in the names of the hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. Roebuck) and his hon. Friends—That this House, welcoming the provision made by the Ministry of Social Security Act 1966 for improved supplementary pensions to be paid as of right to elderly people wherever they are needed and noting the success which the new scheme has had in attracting claims from old people eligible for such pensions, declines to give a Second Reading to the Bill which, seeking to add to the charges on the National Insurance Fund by providing entitlement to retirement pensions under the National Insurance Acts for persons who have not duly contributed to that Fund, is incompatible with the basis of our whole social insurance system and is unnecessary since a guaranteed minimum income for all old people is already secured.The points made in the Amendment and any other reasons for opposing the Bill may be made in the general debate by those who are fortunate enough to catch my eye.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is now three years and three months since I first had the privilege of rising in this place and catching Mr. Speaker's eye and making my maiden speech. I did so on the occasion of the Second Reading of the 1964 National Insurance Bill. That Bill was rightly concerned with raising the level of pensions of those who were fortunate enough to qualify. But. I thought that it was right and proper on that occasion, in making my maiden speech, to put forward the case of those who had for many years been neglected 1734 and who have become known as the old-age non-pensioners. Therefore, it is with very great pleasure that, as a result of being fortunate in the ballot, I am able to bring forward the Bill, because it seeks to put right the injustice which this group of people have suffered.
If in making my opening speech today I am unable to convey fully to the House the passion which I feel on this subject, it is due to two reasons: first, my lack of oratory, and, secondly, that I have always believed that irrefutable logic is a worthy handmaiden to a social conscience. I believe that the arguments in favour of the Bill are irrefutable, and it is on that basis that I move its Second Reading today.
However, it is right and proper that I should recount briefly the events which have ensued since 1964. I was delighted when, early in 1965, my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave), whom I am glad to see in his place today, was also fortunate in the ballot and introduced a Measure essentially the same as that which we are considering today. He did the House a great service in bringing forward that Bill. As hon. Members on both sides of the House will be aware, that Bill was prevented from coming to a Second Reading debate because of a filibuster which ensured that the business of the day fell. I do not think that there will be any division about that on either side of the House today. But that occasion was not one of which the House of Commons could reasonably feel proud. I think that there will be feeling on both sides that it was an unfortunate Parliamentary occasion. I was very sorry that my hon. Friend's Bill did not progress further.
At this point I should pay tribute to the very considerable amount of work, time and expense to which my hon. Friend went in the actual drafting of the Bill, and perhaps apologise to the House that there is some semblance of this not only in the form of the Bill, but in the Explanatory Memorandum, because the description attributed to the right hon. Lady the Minister of Social Security, whom I am glad to see in her place this morning, is not accurate, she being described as the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance. This is a point in the Explanatory Memorandum which remains, rather like the grin on 1735 the face of the Cheshire Cat after the Cheshire Cat has vanished. However, she will fully appreciate that this in no way invalidates the body of the Bill. The Minister referred to in the body of the Bill is the right hon. Lady in her present office as described by statute. I considered amending this, but the cost would have been very high and it seemed right that the cost should go towards meeting the objects of the Bill rather than the drafting of the Explanatory Memorandum.
I also pay tribute to the late hon. Member for Honiton, Mr. Robert Mathew, who attempted to bring in a similar Bill, but was prevented from going further with it because of the advent of the last General Election.
Finally, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), whom I am glad to see in her place. She is famous throughout the land as an advocate for those who are living on small fixed incomes. She was fortunate in having a Second Reading of her Bill, but alas was not fortunate in carrying it on that occasion.
I hope that today we shall manage to find that this is an occasion when hon. Members in all parts of the House can reasonably support the Bill. I said in my maiden speech that it was not a party matter. I still believe that it is a proper subject for a Private Member's Bill, and I hope that the House will express its view in that spirit when we come to a Division, as I hope we shall, later in the day.
At this point I should like to deal with a very important aspect of the question. When my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon brought forward his Bill, there were very few people who were aware of the problem. People simply did not believe that there were men and women whose average age was 84, now 85, who did not receive a pension as a right without being subject to a means test. That is certainly not the case today.
We have been fortunate to receive a great deal of publicity for the Bill, not only on television and not only on radio, but in the national Press. Papers as wide apart in their views asThe Timeson the one hand and theGuardianon 1736 the other, theTelegraphon the one hand and theSunon the other, have all come out unanimously in support of the Bill, and that is equally true of the regional and local Press. As far as I know, not a single paper has come out in any way against the Bill. This brings out the fact that this is something which the House of Commons itself should put right today, and it can do so by letting the Bill go to its later stages. The three major weeklies, theNew Statesman,theSpectatorand theEconomist,have all come out in favour of the Bill, as has all the weekly Press, and it is, therefore, right and proper that we should consider it today.
I have had overwhelming support for the Bill. I have received hundreds and hundreds of letters, and—perhaps I might here say a word of thanks to my secretary who is up-to-date with these letters —we have answered all of them. I am sure that hon. Members throughout the House have had similar letters bringing out the distress of those people covered by the Bill, feeling and emphasising the injustice which they have suffered.
The basic case for the Bill is very simple. Those who were excluded from the National Insurance Scheme in 1948 are as entitled to that part of the National Insurance pension not covered by contributions as are those who receive the National Insurance pension. The important point to bring out—because it would be unfair to give a full pension w these people—is that the Bill gives the Minister power to pay that part of the pension which she feels to be equitable, and this is the basic point of principle which provides the whole basis on which we need to operate.
The National Insurance pension as such has ceased to have anything to do with insurance. In answer to a Question on 25th January, the Minister was kind enough to provide me with some basic figures. It appears that the maximum amount which could have been contributed by somebody who joined at the beginning of the Scheme and contributed throughout, would have provided a maximum pension on an actuarial basis, on some reasonable assumptions which the Minister made in her reply, of about £1 16s. for a single man, in contrast with the figure of £4 10s. which is the present pension for a single man. The 1737 amount which would be justified for a married couple when the woman had not contributed would be less, just £1 7s. 6d. for the two as against the much higher figure for the double pension now awarded to those who qualify, on the basis used by the Minister.
There is a big disparity between the amount covered by contributions at the maximum and the amount which is actually paid out in pension. The remainder comes either from general taxation. or from the contributions of those who have not yet retired, which effectively is general taxation. It is the contention of the Bill that those covered by it should get that part of the pension which is not covered by contributions.
I want now to deal with the various arguments put forward against the Bill. To do so will inevitably create a slightly negative impression, and so I stress at the outset that I do not believe that there is any argument against the Bill which cannot be answered. However, I ought to seek to answer them at the outset of the debate so that following speeches may proceed on a reasonable basis.
The first and the most straightforward argument is that it would be unfair because the National Insurance Scheme is based on insurance. It is perfectly clear from what I have already said that there is no actuarial basis for the present Scheme. Therefore, there is a case for giving a partial pension to the old-age non-pensioner.
The second argument is more sophisticated. It has been advanced on previous occasions by the right hon. Lady. It is that there is in some sense a contributory principle, that the basis of the Scheme is that pensions are paid in return for contributions. I put it to the House that to call it a contributory principle is a misuse of language. It could be called a contributory rule, which, in a sense, it is, but it is a purely arbitrary rule imposed by the Government about what pensions shall be received for any given number of contributions. It would be better to call it a contributory myth, because in logic it has no foundation whatever.
There is an interesting argument in a leader inThe Timestoday which suggests that as it stands, because it covers only those who were prevented by law from contributing to the Scheme, 1738 even if they wished to do so, the Bill does not strike at the contributory principle. It is an interesting argument and the Minister may care to consider whether it does not reasonably enable her to accept the terms of the Bill. At all events, the idea of a contributory principle on the lines discussed in previous debates is completely invalid and the whole argument is utter and complete nonsense.
The third argument, at a still deeper level of sophistication, is that somehow the Scheme is similar to a firm's pension scheme. The idea is that the risks are spread around. But it is quite clear that the Scheme is not an insurance scheme in that sense, because in an insurance scheme run by a firm the contributions are paid in and the money is invested and there is a return on the various assets in which the money is invested. The National Insurance Scheme is not a scheme of that sort. It is simply a fund, or an account like any other Government account, into which tax and contributions are paid by those who are not yet retired and where the money rests awhile before being distributed on an arbitrary basis determined by the Government.
A different argument has been put forward by Ministers on other occasions, but I do not think that it will be put forward today. It is that the Government intend to do something about the matter anyway. When my hon. Friend's Bill came forward, it was argued that the Government's minimum income guarantee scheme was to come into operation in the near future, was ready to go into action and so on. This argument has fallen by the wayside. I shall deal in a moment with supplementary benefits. However, I stress that between the presentation of my hon. Friend's Bill and this, about 75,000 of these people have died without receiving a pension. About 150,000 now remain and their average age is now 85. In the circumstances, it is not reasonable to say that we must await some long-term review or some long-term appraisal of the position, or that we must stick to the contributory principle. As I understand it, the incomes guarantee scheme would not have based payments on previous contributions anyway, but would have been on a quite different basis.
1739 The next argument is that these people are already covered by social security supplementary benefits. This is a serious point and I want to make my own position and that of all hon. Members clear. We are very glad that the supplementary benefits scheme exists. If it is possible to get any of the people who are covered by the Bill and who are entitled to supplementary benefit to go to the appropriate authority, or for the appropriate authority to call on them, so that they can then receive that benefit, all of us will be very happy.
That is not a point of division between the two sides of the House. When one sees people in this group, when they come along on interview night—and I am sure that all hon. Members will have had this experience—the great problem is to get them to apply. It is not sufficient to say that the money is there. These people were brought up in a period before the Welfare State. They were brought up in a more independent era and it is perhaps misleading to say that they will not apply because of pride. This is the wrong approach. They will not apply because they still feel independent.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Is the hon. Member not aware that ordinary, working-class poor people have to go to ask for the extra money? Why should not, say, the poor elderly honest. duchess do the same?
§ Mr. Higgins
It is not a question of the honest duchess. While we would all like them to apply, as they are entitled, the fact is that we are not enabling them to go, we are not managing to reach them, because in practice they do not go, and there is no other way of giving them benefit except by covering them in this Bill. I agree that they ought to go along. I have almost taken them by the hand, if I have been able to persuade them. This is a group of people below the national supplementary benefits standard.
There is another group in this category which deserves mention, and that is the group who are supported by their families or their unmarried daughters or so on. Many of these people have been kept by their families for many years and some of the members of these families are now over pensionable age. The trouble is to ensure that the people over 1740 85 or thereabouts do contribute something. If they had this pension under this Bill as a right, they could reasonably put it into the kitty and it would reasonably help those who were entitled to it. The difficulty is that if great-grandmother announces to her family that she is suddenly going along to get the supplementary benefit it would be misunderstanding the psychology of the whole business if we did not believe that we would cause considerable trouble in the family relationships, and if we did not believe that considerable pressure would be brought on the old lady, even though people themselves could not have persuaded her to do this.
There is another important point to be made. I will just quote briefly from one letter which I received, which says:My husband is 87 and I am 84. If it were not for financial help from our family we could not manage.These people are as entitled to that part of the National Insurance Pension not covered by contributions as is the State pensioner.
I want to turn to the group above the national supplementary benefit level. Many of these people are just above the supplementary benefit level, and their real standard of living has, perhaps uniquely in this country in the last 20 years, steadily declined at an appreciable rate, so that they now find themselves gradually approaching supplementary benefit level. I think that this would be common ground on both sides of the House. People come along and say that they are down to the figure just above supplementary benefit level, and if they go along now they say that they will have nothing left and be without the security which they had known all their lives. This is an important group of people needing help.
There is a sub-group within that category, those who are retired Post Office employees or civil servants, or who occupied some other similar position before the war and have a small pension. Their wives are still alive. They come along and say that they have had this pension and are just above supplementary benefit level but point out that if they die, so too does their pension, which would mean that their widow would have to go along for supplementary benefit. "I have kept her all my life, but when I go there is 1741 nothing left," they say. Again this creates a very considerable problem, real as well as psychological, and this group deserves help under the Bill.
There is another group of people, who are very well off, and under normal circumstances do not require help from the State. Even so, quite a lot of that paid out will come back in taxation anyway. Not only that, but they are still as entitled to that part of the National Insurance pension not covered by contributions as are eixsting pensioners who get help from the State as of right, above the amount covered by contributions, without being subject to a means test.
It may be that hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House will feel that in our social security arrangements we are moving more towards a principle of selectivity. In many areas this is something which is a good and proper thing, and I would certainly go along with it. I would stress that as far as this group is concerned one can only consistently advocate the point about selectivity if one is also prepared to say at the same time, and in relation to existing pensioners, that either we propose to subject the flat rate pensions to a means test, or alternatively we propose to reduce them to the level covered by contributions.
It may be that the Minister will today say that this is what she proposes to do. If so, I am sure that the House will listen with interest, but unless she says that, and unless hon. Gentlemen on either side of the House are prepared to advocate it, there is not reasonably a question here arising on the question of selectivity. What we are seeking to do is to remove an anomaly in the existing system. It is not to prejudge what happens in the future. This is something that may be adjusted on the basis that all those who were already retired have a position which needs to be taken into account.
The cost of the Bill, as will be seen from the, Explanatory Memorandum, has been estimated on figures kindly provided by the right hon. Lady's Ministry and I thank her for it. It is an estimated total of £35 million. Because these people will receive pensions, the supplementary benefits paid out to some will be reduced to the extent of £15 million, so that the net cost, if the full pension were paid, would be £20 million. The Bill does not propose to pay the full pension, and 1742 so the net cost, leaving on one side the question of taxation drawback, is probably in the region of £15 million to £16 million.
The calculation is difficult and the Minister may be able to provide us with more accurate figures. The essence of the question becomes: can this be justified in the context of our present economic situation? This is a Private Member's Bill, and I want to stress only this. All the newspapers which have dealt with this subject feel that this is a reasonable expenditure to incur, even in our present economic circumstances. if one really does re-appraise priorities fundamentally, as we were told by the Prime Minister we were to do before Christmas, then whether one looks at this in the narrow setting of the social security services, or in the broader context of the whole of the national income and expenditure, this is something to which priority ought rightly to be given.
It ought to be given priority, particularly because this is clearly a matter in which, unless action is taken soon, it will be too late to take it in the future, when the economic situation has improved, as we all hope it will. This Bill does not cover a number of people who have become over pensionable age since the passing of the Act of 1948. This particular group is excluded for various reasons, that they were late entrants or wives and widows of people over minimum age and so on. I do not want to go into the details.The Timeshas a point in its article this morning. It does not necessarily follow that because this group exists, one automatically has to say that the two should be taken together. This is not a valid argument. If we did that, the cost would be about £40 million net if the full pension were paid, but appreciably less if a partial pension were paid.
It is right and proper that we should distinguish these two groups and make it clear that the people covered by the Bill should be given priority, first, because they are generally older than those in any other group and, secondly, because they did not have the option and were not allowed to contribute to the scheme. We must therefore reasonably advocate that they should be helped. Finally, I hope that the Minister will not say that the Government must not do 1743 one good thing for fear of the fact that they may be forced in future to do another.
I come to my peroration. I have had a vast number of letters on this subject. Probably almost every hon. Member has had a number of letters. It is difficult to read them without being deeply touched. It is invidious also to be selective, inevitably because examples can be dealt with as examples. However, may I read one letter:My husband … was a G.P. who …was much loved. When the National Health Service came in, he joined it, and worked hard in it for over 20 years … At 80 years of age, his health failed, but he was afraid to retire as he didn't know what he was going to live on or how he could provide for me. (I didn't know this, and wondered why he wouldn't stop.) Actually his memory gave out when he was about 83.… Finally, when he gave up four years ago, he crocked up completely and (believe this please) 10 to 15 times a day he would say, ' What are we going to live on?'—What are we going to live on? ' ".That letter is like hundreds of others which I have received. There is a recurrent theme in these letters which says, "We have lived too long. We do not know what will happen now. The Government are just waiting for us to die so that they do not have to solve this problem".
I believe that, whatever the Government's view on this subject, the case is unanswerable. It is very urgent. The House of Commons as a whole may reasonably support the Bill, convince these people that the State is concerned about their problems and right an injustice which I think all of us would agree should be righted by joining me in the Division Lobby in support of the Bill, which I have great pleasure in proposing should be given a Second Reading.
§ 11.33 a.m.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
The hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) has put his case persuasively and fairly. I will deal with it in the same spirit.
We are all deeply concerned about the number of old people in this country who are living in poverty and on incomes below the supplementary benefit rates. Those who were in the House before 1964 will remember that on one occasion I raised this question with the Minister. There had been an investigation by a number of people, including the 1744 Economic Department of the University of Cambridge. They estimated that there were three quarters of a million aged people in this country living below the income provided at that time by the National Assistance Board and now provided by the much better scheme of supplementary benefits. It was as a result of that, I am glad to say, that the Ministry decided to conduct its own inquiry. The findings of that inquiry are available to use in a White Paper or Blue Book, or whatever it is, entitled "The Financial Circumstances of Aged Persons".
What we are discussing is not whether there is a problem of poverty but how we can best deal with that problem. I think that I am entitled to say something about the history of this matter; I know something about it. Sometimes the idea is put forward—and there were echoes of this in the hon. Gentleman's speech—that a great injustice was perpetrated in 1948 and that the people we are discussing were deliberately excluded by the Government and the Minister. I was the Minister, and I was proud to serve in that Government.
Let me give something of the history of this matter because it is very important. The National Insurance Act, 1946, was based very largely on the recommendations in the Beveridge Report which, by and large, were accepted by hon. Members—Labour, Conservative and Liberal. Indeed, the author of the Report was one of the most distinguished Liberals of all, Sir William Beveridge. He recommended that we should establish a comprehensive, all-inclusive National Insurance Scheme. Before that, there was a large number of insurance schemes. One can find them in the Appendix to the National Insurance Act, 1946.
The first Act was that of 1908, which some called the "Asquith Act," but which my compatriots persist in calling "the Lloyd George Pension". This was a pension of 1s. to 5s. a week, depending on income, given at 70 years of age. Then it was raised from 1s. to 10s., again depending on income. I discovered that there was a figure approaching half a million old people of 70 years of age and over in receipt of that old pension.
In 1937, the Minister who had ministerial responsibility for pensions, Sir Kingsley Wood—and I was a Member of 1745 the House at the time—introduced the voluntary pension scheme which was open to all those under 50 years of age—there is an exclusion!—with a contribution of 6d. a week which would guarantee them a pension of 10s. after 10 years' contributions.
Those were the two schemes—a State scheme and a voluntary scheme. In addition, there was the Pensions Act, 1936–I use the term "pensions" to cover widows and others—which was the first pension contributory scheme introduced in this country. It was still in existence in 1946 when I had to draft the new Bill. It excluded large sections of the population. To begin with, no one could become a contributor unless he was employed under a contract of service. Secondly, if he was employed under a contract of service, he could not be a contributor if his income was £250 a year, thereafter £400 a year.
That was the situation—the old Lloyd George pension. the Kingsley Wood scheme and the National Insurance Scheme. I had to bring all of them into one Act. There is now no national pensions fund. There is a National Insurance Fund which covers all aspects. I raised the rates paid under the old Lloyd George pension scheme to the new rate. May I be allowed to say that I was the only Minister who has done it. It was not done afterwards. Under the Kingsley Wood pension scheme of 1937, people started contributing at 6d. a week. They were entitled by their contribution to a pension of 10s. In 1948, I decided that they should get the full new pension. They got the best insurance bargain of the lot. In the main, they belong to that group of people excluded from insurance. We accepted the Beveridge recommendation. I did not hear anybody on the other side of the House, or on any side of the House —or, almost, in the country—dissenting at that time from the view that people wanted their benefits, and particularly their pension, paid as of right. The House accepted that principle. If it was to be a pension or a benefit paid as of right, what was to be the test of right? Hon. Members must face this problem. If they say that there should be no test, very well; other methods are used in other countries. There is, for example, the New Zealand way of providing social 1746 security. We decided, however, that people wanted their benefits. At that time, the sore controversy was not pension, but unemployment benefit.
In passing, may I say that there is a lot of argument for an income test, and there can be a Socialist argument for it. We have never been able since then to think about this subject without emotion. We had to find a test, however, and we decided on the test of contributions. The whole scheme is based on that, as are unemployment benefit, sickness benefit and widows' pensions. All the benefits are based on the contributory principle.
Are we now to change that principle? If we do, we ought not to change it for only one section of the community. It should be done for the whole community, and there is a case for doing that.
The 1946 scheme was, as far as I know, the first pension scheme on that kind of contributory basis anywhere in the world, certainly in Europe. An attempt was made to bring all the people into an insurance scheme as contributors. Section I of the 1946 Act therefore said that unless exemption was provided in the Act, every person from the age of 16 to 65 would be brought within the scheme. Everyone who was working under a contract of service, whatever his or her income, was brought in. There was no income test. It was the first Act to do anything like that.
Secondly, the self-employed—shopkeepers and farmers, for example—came in. It was the first time in any insurance scheme anywhere that they were brought in. I found that in legal terms I could describe Members of Parliament as self-employed for the purposes of the Act. Thirdly, those who were non-gainfully employed were brought in. Therefore, no one was excluded. Everybody between the ages of 16 and 65 was brought in.
We decided that the retirement age would be 65 at the minimum, with provisions to encourage people to go on beyond 65. We decided, therefore, that contributors would begin contributing at 16 and go on to 65 and that the Act would cover that age group. As far as I recall, no one suggested that we should make the age 70 or 75. We had decided to have a retirement age and we decided, therefore, since it was not only pensions, 1747 but other benefits, for which we were providing, that that age would be 65.
I was concerned about this. I could see the problem arising which the hon. Member has dealt with. One thing which I did was to provide that at the outset of the scheme, persons under the age of 65 could begin to contribute and, having begun to contribute before the age of 65, could continue after 65 for 10 years and then get their pension. Speaking from memory, I believe that in 1958 nearly 500.000 persons became entitled to pension who were well beyond the age of 65 because it so happened that they were under 65 at the outset of the scheme and they contributed for 10 years.
I give this history because it has been implicit in speeches that in 1946 and 1948 I deliberately set out to exclude somebody from the scheme. In fact, my efforts were to bring people in. It was the first Act by any Government which brought the whole population within the ambit of such a scheme.
I realised at the same time that there would be people who would not be able to contribute to the scheme. That was one reason why I made the provision about the old Lloyd George Act because most of the people getting the old Lloyd George pension were excluded altogether from the Pensions Act by their income. That Act also had an income test of its own. So I decided that where 10s. was paid before, the Lloyd George pension would in 1948 be raised to 26s.; and where it had been 20s. for a man and wife, it became 42s.
I have given the history so that the House can see that there was no attempt to exclude anyone. The 1946 Act was accepted unanimously by the House. Therefore, it was based on the principle —if the hon. Member for Worthing prefers to call it a rule, very well—of a contributory scheme.
I also realised—and in this I worked with my colleague the Minister of Health, the late Nye Bevan—that unless we made some other change for those who would not be able to contribute and qualify for pensions under the 1946 Act, there was only one thing left for them: the Board of Guardians and the workhouse. That was the situation, not in 1848, but in 1948.
1748 We therefore decided that we would set up a National Assistance service. There are two kinds of service. The first is the cash service. We set up a board to administer the cash service, but we knew that there were other services. There was, therefore, Part III of the National Assistance Act, 1948, by which local authorities can provide homes—not workhouses—for old people. I am very proud too of the work which has been done by local authorities all over the country in providing homes for old people.
We thought that in that way we would deal with the problem which the hon. Member for Worthing is dealing with. Now, the hon. Member proposes something else. He proposes that that part of the pension which actuarially, I gather, can be estimated or calculated, which comes from the contribution by the State or by other workers, shall be paid as of right. I take it, therefore, that the hon. Member is now committing his party that pensions should always be paid as of right. That is the end of selectivity, is it?
§ Mr. Griffiths
I agree. The hon. Member has put his case persuasively and I am putting my argument. We are all concerned about this. There are difficulties.
Let me say how much I share the hon. Member's view. I still believe that the mass of our people want to contribute and receive their benefits as of right. I have been firmly convinced of that all my life. I recognise, however, that if I accept the view that these benefits must be paid as of right, I must have a rule by which I decide. The rule is to have a contribution. The contribution is one contribution. The workers contribute, whether they be in Class I, II or III, whether they are under contracts of service or are self-employed; the employers contribute; and the State contributes. All our pensions schemes have been contributed to in that way ever since the 1936 Act introduced by Neville Chamberlain. He was the first one to introduce contributory pensions, in 1936, and that principle has been accepted by 1749 all of us. There may be a strong argument for departing from that principle, but we should not depart from it only for the sake of these deserving people—and they are indeed a deserving section of the community—or unless we find a better scheme. The alternative is—
§ Lord Balniel (Hertford)
I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman in what is obviously an extremely interesting and important speech, but may I make two points'? First of all, the group of people we are talking about, and he is talking about the contributory principle, is a small group of people who were forbidden to make any contribution to the Scheme and were therefore excluded from making any contribution to the National Insurance Scheme. Is it not also right to say that every pensions scheme since, I think, 1925 has included a tax provision in it—included contributions from the Exchequer? These people, the over-80s, have throughout their lives contributed in taxation to this pensions scheme, and all that my hon. Friend is asking is that they should be included because of their taxation contribution to the existing pensions. I hope I make myself clear.
§ Mr. Griffiths
I understand that indeed, but in the discussion of what is now the Act we never thought of this contribution as a divided contribution. It is one single contribution, which workers, employers and the State make. It is not only the State which contributes; it is everybody, week by week and month by month. If now it is desired to break this up, then I think this needs a good deal of thinking out, if now we are to divide this contribution into its various elements, if I may put it that way, and separate one part from another. That is a very big thing.
If this were the only way to deal with this problem I would support the hon. Member's Bill, but I believe that my right hon. Friends have got the right answer, and that it will come about in the end, and I hope that the economy will permit us to get to it. I am convinced that the right answer to this problem is an income guarantee. Let everyone make a return of his income and let this House lay down what is the minimum income which everybody should get. That is the way to do it. The party opposite had 13 years in which to do something like this. I do not 1750 want to make party political points about it, but there has been all the time in the speeches of hon. Members opposite an implicit criticism that it is we on this side of the House who are at fault about this and that hon. Members opposite are not. The former Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) was right to establish the Supplementary Commission.
We all want to find the best way. I have listened to the hon. Gentleman the Member for Worthing, and I have listened to all these arguments before. If new we are to depart from the criterion of right laid down in the Act, then I say frankly that we ought to do it with our eyes open and we must depart from it for everybody and find a new way.
Meantime, we must find a way by which these elderly people of 80 and over can be helped. People of 80—a time of life at which I almost have to declare my interest. I would like to see the Supplementary Commission thinking about a special rate for people over a certain age, 70, 75, 80, whatever it may be. I know what happens when people reach 70, 75, 80. Their savings become exhausted. I would like to see special attention paid to them. I believe that developing the Supplementary Commission and the guaranteed income is the way to deal with this problem.
The hon. Gentleman has raised a very important and difficult problem, with which all of us, on both sides of the House, are very concerned. This concern is not just the preserve of any one party or the preserve of any individual Member. It is the concern of us all.
My last word is this. The people we are thinking of are of the generation I belong to. It is a generation whose youth was clouded by the First World War, whose middle age was spent in the depression, in unemployment and in poverty, in whose later years there was war again, in 1939. They deserve the best the nation can do for them. I think there are other and better ways than what the hon. Gentleman proposes, and I urge my right hon. Friends to go on and develop their policy and introduce an income guarantee as soon as possible. I am convinced that that is the way to deal with the problem.
§ 11.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Brierley Hill)
I shall not detain the House for 1751 very long, but I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) upon a very valuable contribution this morning to the consideration of these problems. His Bill is a humanitarian Measure, and it is a non-political Measure which should be judged on the merits of the case, and I hope we shall not have a lot of political speeches in this debate as there were when my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) introduced her Bill in 1966, before I returned to the House. This is a problem out of which we should not try to make political points. It is a problem which is of concern to every single hon. Member of the House.
My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing said that he reckoned that there are about 150,000 in this category who are affected and that their average age is about 85. A lot of people can rightly ask, why is it we have a section of the community who have been put in this position? I am afraid I was not altogether convinced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths). These people were denied the advantages of the Beveridge scheme, and the great point is that in 1948 they were considered to be too old and therefore were given no chance at all, and that, I believe, is one bad point. I believe that if these people had been given the option of contributing they would have taken the option. Consequently, they have had no pension since that time. These people have been living on their savings, whose value has been reduced by the effects of inflation, and many of these people today are suffering very great hardship.
One of the arguments put forward why these people should not be given a pension is, we are told, that they should apply for supplementary pension, but I agree with my hon. Friend that these people have a tremendous pride and independence. They have far more pride and independence than the people of my generation. I am sorry that the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) has left the Chamber. I thought he made one of the most stupid interventions I have ever heard in the House when he talked about duchesses and went on to say that working class people have 1752 to apply for supplementary pension. I represented a working class constituency from 1959 to 1964, and large areas of my present constituency could be classified as working class. The attitude of those people is, "I have never had charity in my life" and one of the problems throughout has been that they do not apply for supplementary pension. These are the people who have no money—
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting, and does not suggest to those concerned, that what they would be applying for is charity. I hope that he makes clear that that is not the case.
§ Mr. Montgomery
Of course, it is not, but this is their attitude, and it presents a problem that successive Ministers have faced, and they have been quite honest about it.
I am sure that the hon. Member must know of cases in what are often called working-class areas—although I hate the expression—where this attitude of mind prevails, and it must be broken down. My own solution now is to report such a case to the Supplementary Benefit Commission. The Commission usually sends round a sympathetic visitor who is supposed to be doing just a spot check, and the result is that someone is helped who ought to be helped. The difficulty is to get at these people. There must be many of whom we are unaware, but who should be getting some sort of assistance.
As I say, I very much resent the remark of the hon. Member for South Ayrshire, about duchesses. The Measure does not concern duchesses at all, but many people who have worked, or whose husbands worked all their working lives, and who now live perilously close to the bone. I am sure that if the House decided this morning that these people should be given a pension the decision would be acclaimed throughout the country. I believe that were it possible to have a poll, opinion would be overwhelmingly in favour of pensions being provided for these very elderly people.
The argument is always advanced that, because of the basis of our pensions scheme, those who have not contributed are not entitled, but I thought that my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing very successfully demolished that argument. The pensions of people now in 1753 retirement bears no relationship at all to the amount they contributed during their working lives. The bulk of the funds comes from general taxation, or from the contributions still being paid by those of us who are still working. Is it right that we should subsidise all the people on retirement pensions by giving them an addition to what they have paid in contributions while ignoring this tiny minority?
My hon. Friend has told us that the net cost of this step would be about £15 million a year. This would be a decreasing sum because the numbers of these people grow smaller each year as they die off. Last year, the House legislated to increase family allowances by an additional £120 million a year. I then pointed out that we were giving as much to the needy as we were to those who did not really need the money. When we can hand out family allowances to a lot of people who are not in need and are quite capable of finding the money to support their own children, surely we can find £15 million a year for what is perhaps the hardest hit section in the community.
In some cases these people have too much in savings to qualify for a supplementary benefit, and they are then told to use up enough of their savings to become eligible. One of the tragedies here, however, is that none of us knows how long he will live. It would be marvellous if I could know how long I would go on, because I could then plan accordingly. A person aged 80 may live to 100 and is terrified to spend his savings because he has no idea what the future may hold in store and what he may need the money for. People do not like to see their savings dwindling, as must be the case when they have no money coming in. Among such people, therefore, we have some of the worst cases of hardship.
The problem was recently brought home to me very forcibly by two cases in my constituency. One was the case of an old lady who was left a widow many years ago and who kept on working because she had to have some means of living. She retired some time just after the war, and was not eligible for a pension. From just after the war until last year that lady was living entirely on her savings, and she just saw her money steadily dwindling away. Then I 1754 brought her case to the attention of the Supplementary Benefits Commission which quite rightly, immediately gave her assistance, and the old lady was delighted to have it. For someone who at one time has had a substantial amount of savings it must be quite terrifying to see that bit of capital disappearing.
The other case was that of an old man, a small shopkeeper, who worked on until he was over 80 years of age. He had to work on, because he knew that he had no pension coming to him. He went on working until he was in his eighties, from sheer necessity. He went on working when he should have been enjoying the benefits of retirement.
People on retirement pension get fringe benefits. They can get into the cinema more cheaply on production of their pension books. The fringe benefit angle was brought home to me when I was previously in this House as Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, East. Pensioners in Newcastle were given the concession of being able during off-peak hours to travel from anywhere in the city boundaries to the centre for a fare of ld. I had the case of one old lady who did not have a pension book—and so was one of those for whom we are fighting today—and because of that was told that she could not have the fare concession. As a result, she always had to pay the full fare whenever she travelled from her home to the centre of the city, whilst better-off neighbours could travel for 1d. Can anyone defend that kind of situation.
I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading, and that it will become law as soon as possible. As my hon. Friend made clear, we are not asking for the full retirement pension to be paid to these people. There would be difficulties about that. We know there are those who get reduced pensions because they did not pay sufficient contributions during their working lives. It would be unfair to give people who had not paid any contributions at all more than those who are living on reduced pensions.
This Measure is vitally urgent, because these people are dying off. Their numbers are dwindling. I know that it is wrong to generalise, but my greatest sympathy is for the very oldest section of the community. People now going on to their retirement pension had years 1755 when they were earning decent wages and could, perhaps, make some provision for their retirement and old age. The oldest section did not have those opportunities. During their working lives, wages were not high, and when, perhaps they should have been trying to save, we had the depression. Many of them were not able to put anything aside. It took them all the time to manage to get along.
These are the people who are vitally concerned with the Bill. I hope the House will give it a Second Reading and that hon. Members on both sides will vote according to their consciences on the merits of the case and try to give simple justice to people who have done great service to the country during their lifetime but who, during the twilight of their years, are living in abject poverty.
§ 12.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Montgomery) in that I find it a matter of deep regret that the debates on this series of Bills should have to take place in an atmosphere of cheering and counter-cheering from both sides of the House. If it helps to alleviate that atmosphere, I will say at once that, to me, there is no doubt as to the sincerity and good faith of the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) or of the good faith of other hon. Members associated with him, including the hon. Members for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) and Brierley Hill (Mr. Montgomery).
I am sure that if right hon. Members opposite now formed the Government the hon. Member for Worthing would have moved the Second Reading of this Bill with the same force and sincerity, but no one outside cloud-cuckoo-land would believe that his suggestions would meet with any readier welcome from a Conservative Government than they are meeting from the present Government.
§ Mr. Montgomery
In 1966, the Conservative Party pledged itself to provide pensions for these people, and if we had won the election that year, which unfortunately we did not—and many people now regret that fact—that pledge would have been honoured.
§ Mr. Archer
In 1966, the Conservative Party would have pledged itself to bring the moon into the high street knowing perfectly well that it would not be called upon to fulfill its promises. If we are now to have precisely that kind of Party polemics I was trying to avoid, then I must point out to the hon. Gentleman that the Conservative Party had 13 years of office in which to do what it finally said in 1966, when it was out of office, that it would do.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Social Security will accept it in the spirit in which it is meant when I say, however, that I would not accept as a complete answer to the Bill that right hon. Members opposite, when they were in Government, did no better. I would not be satisfied with a standard of compassion which fell no lower than the standard of compassion which the country knew from its Government for 13 years before 1964. There are a number of activities in which the righteousness of the present Government has exceeded the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees. But even now we are a long way from the Kingdom. This Bill should be debated on its merits. I am certain that there is not a single hon. Member who would not love at this moment to seize £20 million in cash and personally distribute it among the people of whom we are talking. There can be no doubt about that. There are social questions which transcend party differences. The hon. Member for Brierley Hill and I are associated in an important one concerned with children and there is really no reason why we should perpetually draw a picture of one party anxious to help old people and the other party deliberately turning its face against it. Such a picture simply is not true.
The difficulty is, as the hon. Member for Worthing himself said, that this is going to cost £20 million. One rather got the impression that he was talking about a "mere" £20 million. Of course, as he said, as a proportion of the gross national product it is a fairly small proportion. But viewed as an instrument, after all the bills have paid for alleviating hardship, this is an enormous sum of money. With £20 million we could pay a weekly pension of £8 to 50,000 permanently disabled people. 1757 With £25 million, we could have avoided the reimposition of prescription charges. With £100,000—one two hundredth of the sum we are talking about—we could build the geriatric unit for which my constituency is pleading on behalf of the very people he wants to benefit. If we could conjure £20 million from the vasty deep, we could spare ourselves many heartaches.
But, of course, the hon. Gentleman has to answer the question of where the money is to come from. His answer is that it should come from the National Insurance Fund and his difficulty is that the fund does not belong to him. It does not belong to this House. It does not even belong to the Government. It belongs, in any meaningful sense of the word, to the people who have contributed to it, and, of course, I understand that the rate of benefit is not calculated on the actuarial value of contributions. But that is not the question. The point is that people who have contributed to the fund over a long period have done so on the understanding that they are contributing to a fund which is theirs and theirs by right.
§ Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)
The hon. Gentleman has got it wrong. The present contributions do not pay for our pensions but for our parents' pensions.
§ Mr. Archer
I have not overlooked that. I am making the point that people are induced to make their contributions on the understanding that these will be paid into a fund which is set aside for the purpose of providing benefits. No one pretends that there is an actuarial relationship between the two.
§ Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
The hon. Gentleman has frequently referred to the "fund". Could he explain what he means by the use of the word?
§ Mr. Archer
If the hon. Gentleman wants to know the meaning of the word "fund" he should refer to the Statute. I cannot see his problem. We all know that there is a fund. It says so in the Bill as well.
§ Sir J. Eden
I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not trying to perpetuate the myth that there is some separate fund of money, made up of various elements of contributions, which is invested for 1758 the benefit of pensions of those now contributing which they will get when they retire, because that is nonsense, as I am certain the hon. Gentleman knows.
§ Mr. Archer
I am trying hard to understand the purport of the hon. Gentleman's intervention. I appreciate that many other hon. Members want to speak so I would only point out to him that the the word "fund" is referred to in the Bill. Everyone knows that there is a fund in any meaningful sense of the word.
§ Mr. Archer
I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) can confirm that the understanding from the beginning was that contributions should be paid in such a way that they would be immune from inroads being made upon them for other purposes, and that any Chancellor of the Exchequer who found himself pressed to make cuts could not use them for other purposes because morally there was a contract which meant that he could not cut at the expense of these contributions. That was the purport of the contributory principle, not an actuarial relationship between contributions and benefits.
The fund—and I repeat that there is a fund—contractually and as of right belongs to those people who have paid their contributions because it was on that understanding that they paid for them. Of course, if the hon. Gentleman says. "Let us buy out their rights and dispense entirely with the contributory principle", I might have a good deal of sympathy with him. There are many good reasons why we might think again about the contributory basis. The whole business of levying contributions falls on everyone alike, irrespective of ability to pay. The very necessity for qualification based upon contributions means all too often that those most in need find themselves disqualified—for example, some people repeatedly have long periods of disability from sickness.
Of course, the administrative cost of sticking stamps on cards, counting them and tearing them up is really higher than we can afford in the present state of what is available for social security purposes. I accept all this, but if there is one essential reason underlying the principle of contributions it is that those who 1759 pay them know that they are paying contributions which will be set aside for the purpose of providing benefits, and no tax system can demonstrate to them the relationship between benefits and contributions in the way that that principle does. It does not help for the hon. Gentleman to say that he is in the position of a Robin Hood plundering the fund in a good cause, because when the first inroad is made into the principle that contributions are set aside in this way, when it is first plundered for a good cause, the principle that it cannot be plundered for a bad cause is placed in jeopardy.
If any further confirmation of what was originally intended is required, I think that it comes from the contribution to the Second Reading debate, which I am sure my right hon. Friend will recollect, by the then right hon. Member for Saffron Walden, now Lord Butler, who, speaking on behalf of the Opposition, said:The expression ' we are giving' is absolutely wrong in connection with an insurance scheme of this sort. There is no question of the party opposite giving things to the public. That is the sort of phrase which brings this scheme into disrepute and does it the greatest possible harm. The right hon. Gentleman is not giving things at all. People are going to pay for them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th February, 1946; Vol. 418, c. 1761.]The next question which worries some of us is where this is going to stop. It is easy to speak of a net cost of £20 million, but if we are to be fair, or logical, if provision is to be made for the people referred to in the Bill, provision will have to be made for those who are denied a pension because they have not a sufficient record of contributions—another 250,000—and those whose pensions are diminished because there are substantial gaps in their contribution records—another 300,000—and the cost of these additional groups would be about £75 million. With the offset cost of the saving on supplementary benefits of £33 million, there would be a net cost of £42 million, so the total cost would be well over £60 million a year.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
Surely there is a clear distinction between people who were not allowed to contribute because they were above pension age on 5th July, 1948, and those who have de 1760 ficient contributions but who had the choice of contributing?
§ Mr. Archer
That is a distinction which I suspect might easily become clouded if the Bill were passed, and the first group were included, because those with deficient contribution records have them, not because they were necessarily reckless and failed to pay contributions, or because they walked out of their jobs because they were too lazy to work. Many people with deficient contribution records are in this position through no fault of their own. There is no moral distinction between those who were not permitted to contribute, and those who did not find themselves in a position to do so.
§ Mr. Archer
Most of them did not have a choice. The reason why their contributions are defective—and I see that some of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues are in agreement at least with this—is that they did not have a choice because they had prolonged periods of ill health. Morally there is no distinction, and it would be unfair to those with defective contribution records to suggest that there is.
We would find ourselves with a bill for about £60 million a year. I think that we should compare this with the heart-searching which has resulted in recent cuts of £39 million a year on education, £27 million a year in the housing programme, and £80 million a year in investment grants. One is dealing with substantial figures, and the obvious question is, how great is this need? If the Bill is so essential, if it is a matter of life and death, we might find ourselves persuaded, but the position is that we are talking about a group of people who are entitled—and I use the word "entitled" advisedly—to supplementary benefits which are very much higher than they have ever been—£4 15s. for a single person, and £7 10s. for married persons. Incidentally, as against £3 7s. 6d. and £5 9s. per week when hon. Gentlemen opposite left office.
§ Mr. Archer
I could not resist that, but I shall not pursue it further. The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that I was not going to introduce party politics.
There are substantial limits on what are technically known as disregards. Savings of up to £325 are disregarded for this purpose. Recipients are taxed at the rate of only 1s. for every £25 between £325 and £800, and on more than £800 they are taxed at the rate of only 2s. 6d. for every £25. They will not be deprived of their life savings before they become entitled to supplementary benefit. They will still have the substantial advantage of their savings.
The figure of £20 million is the difference between what it would cost to implement the Bill, and the money which is already spent on those who need it, for the purpose of supplementary pensions, so, by definition, by virtue of what the hon. Gentleman said, this sum is spent on people who do not need it. I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument that no one likes to have to apply for supplementary benefit, but I am sure that he is as anxious as I am that nothing should be said in this House which gives the impression that people are not entitled to their supplementary benefits. I understand the feelings of the constituents of the hon. Member for Brierley Hill. I know them as well as he does, because I was a candidate there for a long time. They are proud people, and many of them, because of their recollections of past history, will find it difficult to apply for supplementary benefit.
My right hon. Friend has perhaps done more than many other Ministers to grapple with this problem of non-take up, to persuade them that this is something to which they are entitled. I hope the message will go out that people have nothing of which to be ashamed when they apply for supplementary benefit. I hope they will realise that they are entitled to enter the Ministry's offices with head held high and ask for what is theirs by right, what is as much their entitlement as if it were a pension. This sum of £20 million would go to people who do not need it.
Effective compassion, compassion which cuts ice, sometimes entails taking a decision to say "No", when, if our hearts ran away with us, we would perhaps say "Yes". Every hon. Member 1762 would like to assent to the Bill, but we have to establish a system of priorities. We have to think about these very people in my constituency whose urgent need is for a geriatric unit. We have to think about the perpetually sick people who find themselves faced with a bill for prescription charges. Some of us are convinced that we should stand by my right hon. Friend if she finds it impossible to say "Yes" in this case, but I hope she will understand that this is on the basis that it will enable her to say "Yes" in other cases where the need is more immediate and more real.
§ 12.29 p.m.
§ Sir John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) for having used his good fortune in the Ballot to reintroduce, or to attempt to reintroduce, this Measure. I say that not just on my own behalf, but on behalf of a large number of my constituents, many of whom have written to me and told me of their anxiety that the Bill should be given a Second Reading. I know how strongly they feel about it and how grateful they are to the hon. Member. I also thank him very much for having enabled me to be included in the list of supporters of the Measure.
The two speeches that we have heard from the benches opposite have missed what I regard as the main point. We are concerned with a carefully and narrowly-selected category of people—that group of people who were excluded from any part of the 1946 Act because, when it came into force, they were over pensionable age. Therefore, we are concerned with those whose average age must be about 85. Every hon. Member recognises that if we are trying to be selective in assisting people in picking out special categories, one of the categories to which almost all of us would straight away turn, in addition to the chronic sick, would be the very old.
I know, as others do, that by picking a category even as narrowly defined as that, there are bound to be included some who do not require the small measure of additional income that would come their way in this form, but I equally know that because we are singling out those who have long since passed active earning age that we are dealing, by definition, with people whose savings and 1763 capital must have eroded over their years of retirement and who therefore require special attention from the House.
The right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) gave us a most impressivetour de force,and I listened attentively to what he had to say. He told the House how comprehensive he had tried to make the original Scheme. It is just because it was as wide-ranging as he could possibly make it that those few people who are now excluded from its provisions feel particularly aggrieved. He made it quite clear that it was not his intention that anybody should be excluded, yet it was the decision of the House at the time that those who were over the selected pensionable age at the introduction of that Act would be excluded, and that they would not even have the opportunity—as those slightly younger than them were given—of contributing over the 10-year period.
The second major point that has come out of the debate is the question of right. The expression "as of right" is one that we have heard and will be hearing again throughout the debate. If we are to be analytical about this we must agree that the only rights in a contributory scheme are those which have been earned by the level of contributions paid in by or on behalf of the beneficiary. The hon. Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Archer) shakes his head. He spoke about the National Insurance Fund and sought thereby to perpetuate what I regard as a myth, namely, that there is, in insurance or actuarial terms, a separate fund the moneys in which are invested for the benefit of those people who are now contributing so that they will have a pension when they retire.
This is not so. The hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) made clear what other hon. Members know to be true, namely, that those who have been contributing to the fund, and are now contributing to it, are helping to pay the cost of the pensions which are now being distributed. The actuarial evaluation of the contributions amount only to that small element which my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing made clear is much less than the total pension.
§ Mr. Archer
I hope that the hon. Member appreciates that I never denied 1764 that point. What I said was important was that when people pay their contributions they should know that they are set aside—whatever may be set aside with them—for the purpose of paying benefit.
§ Sir J. Eden
The hon. Member's point is that they are not set aside for their own pension benefits.
§ The Minister of Social Security (Mrs. Judith Hart)
The hon. Member is talking about the difference between a funded scheme and a pay-as-you-go scheme. The fact that we have a pay-as-you-go scheme throws no doubt on the fact that we still have a separate National Insurance Fund.
§ Sir J. Eden
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for so simply making the position clear. That is exactly what I was trying to say. It is important that when talking about a right, in this discussion, we should recognise that the right is that part which has been earned by contributions. There is another substantial part, which is greater than the contributory part—the tax-financed part —and it is that part to which we are referring throughout our consideration of the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman's comprehensive Scheme, which excluded these few people, has been added to and improved by successive Governments over the years. Every time a Government in-crease the basic rate of pension they increase thereby the tax-financed element, and are going further away from the day when contributions will wholly earn the amount of pension benefit paid.
I believe in the theme, advanced by Sir Winston Churchill, of the safety net. Anybody who advocates selectivity in the social services, as I do, must also recognise that there has to be a basic minimum below which no one should be allowed to fall. Hon. Members opposite go on to interpret that as a minimum income scheme. I do not agree with that approach, but I will not argue it now. Basically, however, we all agree that there should be a minimum below which people should not fall.
This was the point of the combination of the old National Assistance Scheme and the National Insurance Scheme. Like other hon. Members, I have tried desperately to get people who 1765 are clearly eligible for supplementary benefits to apply for them and, like other hon. Members, I have failed to persuade them to do this. I have therefore come to the conclusion, along with many others, that for this special category of person, incorporation in some measure in the basic National Insurance Scheme is the least that we can provide. In that way we can at least be certain that there will be a small additional income benefit for the total category excluded from the original Act.
In my constituency, as hon. Members will know, there is probably a higher than average number of people who would benefit from the Bill were it to become law. There is an organisation called the Bournemouth Association for the Care of the Elderly. That association recognises that there are something like 40,000 old people in the town. It has tried desperately to identify them and get in touch with them, but not more than 10 per cent. have come forward to be associated with any sort of welfare work or visiting provisions.
It is clear to me that the old generation are extremely independent-minded. It is obviously a symptom of old age that people become increasingly determined to be independent and to endeavour to stand on their own feet. It is because of this human aspect of the problem that I am certain that we must find a way of bringing help to those who most need it in a form such as is devised by the Bill.
I hope, therefore, that the House will decide to give it a Second Reading. It is not a matter of one Government or the other, or of one party or the other. It is primarily the will of all individual hon. Members, primarily the will of the back bencher, that the Government of the day should take steps to implement a Measure of this kind. Time is rapidly running out and I hope that the right hon. Lady will be the Minister who sees the Bill come on to the Statute Book.
§ 12.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Southall)
What has been said in the debate so far has fortified my belief that the attitude which, I think, will be taken by my right hon. Friend the Minister and by the Government is the correct one. When first looking at the problem, and having regard 1766 to the entreaty put upon us as backbench Members on this side to be here today to vote against—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I take it that the word "entreaty" is the correct one to use. It is not compulsion.
Many of my hon. Friends have mixed feelings—
§ Mr. Bidwell
I will leave it at the word "entreaty". The hon. Member cannot be completely unaware of the way in which things work, on both sides of the House. There is, however, no element of compulsion.
There is a large element of persuasion, and it is incumbent upon the proposers of the Bill to exercise that large element of persuasion to change the mind of a Member, such as myself, who has not always marched behind the Government in the Division Lobby and who would not necessarily do so on this occasion if I thought that there had been any fundamental difference of presentation of the ideas contained in the Bill compared with previous occasions when attempts have been made in the House of Commons to, one might say, befriend the limited number of people whom it is sought to bring within the compass of the Bill.
I have started on a highly controversial note, but I do not want to lose sight of the fact that I intended to congratulate the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), who has presented the Bill for our consideration, on his balanced presentation of his case. For my part, there are not too many occasions when the House is called upon to discuss the whole problem of the aged as well as the numbers of people with whom the hon. Member is concerned in his Bill.
My right hon. Friend the Minister will not find this an easy kind of debate to which to reply, because it is not an easy matter for a Minister of Social Security with the Socialist background and fervour which I know my right hon. Friend has, to turn down an application of this nature. Nevertheless, I feel that she will eventually do it most persuasively. I would not like to be in her shoes today, for several reasons.
1767 I am reminded, too, of the occasion when I was a railway workers' representative negotiating with employers. They entertained me to tea for a couple of hours and I argued my case for an improvement in wages or, in that case, bonus. I came away empty-handed, but it was a very pleasant encounter.
I have sympathy with my right hon. Friend because whatever is said in this debate today, the people concerned will be looking to see whether anything substantive in the form of aid or money is forthcoming.
Therefore, even if in the end the House rejects this Private Member's Bill, the hon. Member for Worthing will have served a purpose in initiating a debate which highlights the problems, not of the duchesses who were referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) before he left the Chamber, but of some very hard-pressed people—for example, retired school teachers of about the age of 85—who have seen their original pension eroded by the natural processes of inflation which have come about under successive Governments. We have a natural sympathy for those people.
The argument as highlighted by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths), however, is not about compassion as between hon. Members on the other side and those on this side of the House. That would be ludicrous having regard to the whole history of the rise and development of the British Labour movement. The two supreme social questions of our time which spurred on the Labour movement were, on the one hand, the question of unemployment and, on the other hand, decent treatment in old age. In this debate, therefore, we are not taking second place to anyone in our feeling and compassion for decent treatment of the aged.
Therefore, the argument today is not about whether deserving people in the category mentioned by the hon. Member for Worthing in his Bill need help, but about the method of meeting that need. It will not suffice for my right hon. Friend the Minister today simply to say that she and the Government are looking at this or that, or simply to argue that principles which were regarded as 1768 good enough for the 1946 Act are necessarily good enough to prevail in 1968. It is a question of whether we should not let it enter our minds that we should make this substantive change.
We owe a debt to my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly, for whom we all have a great warmth of regard—indeed, love—and high esteem for the part he played in the history and development of social benefits, for having set off the debate on the right historical note and describing how this subject was worked out in those days with the general agreement of the House. I have considered the debates on the 1946 Act, as well as the 1908 position and the debates in another place on Thursday, 13th May, 1965. Athough I accept that the hon. Member for Worthing is 100 per cent. sincere in wanting to give practical help to these people, in view of the last 68 years of the Labour Party's political activity, there is a great deal of humbug in the support which he is getting.
Therefore, the argument is about method, and it is a fallacy to think that one can avoid political controversy here. This is not possible, since it is connected with what created the two sides of the House. I am leaving out the third party, because it was the advent of the Labour Party which took from the Liberals much of their former Radical support. One can get bogged down in history, but one should not forget it and we cannot consider these problems without it.
There has been some inconsistency today in the argument about whether social security benefits should be universal or selective. The heavy advocacy of selectivity has come from hon. Members opposite. Nowadays, the essential difference is that they want a heavyweight selective system and we want general universality with a selective element. This proposal goes back on that whole process of thought, and asks for pensions "as of right". I do not know what that phrase means, either, but if we talk of the right to a decent life, we may generally agree.
These people have such a right, but, because of the history of this matter, so patiently and plainly set out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly and what has happened afterwards, the strongest argument is for assistance where it is needed and not for universality.
1769 I do not want to argue about the differences between the people who just got into the national pensions scheme and those who were excluded simply because of age. I have said that I do not regard this as an effort to befriend the duchesses. I have great sympathy with the points of the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Montgomery) about the feelings of those marginal cases who, perhaps, qualify for supplemental pension but do not know and do not claim it. This is a right and not a charity.
My attitude is justified by the fact that no Chancellor would countenance this expenditure now, although he might later. If we could set aside the question of principle and method, I would say that, if the hon. Gentleman's party were now in power, the Chancellor still would not be prepared to release £20 million net of resources for this kind of universality—
§ Mr. Higgins
On a pure point of fact, because an earlier speaker did not understand, I would point out that the cost would be £20 million if the full pension were paid, but that the Bill does not propose that, and that the figure would, therefore, be much less.
§ Mr. Bidwell
It would still be considerable. As one of my hon. Friends said, in view of the arguments for prescription charges and social security and other cuts, the hon. Gentleman would gain little support from the Treasury, because the proposal would take public resources and put them into private pockets, some of which are not in desperate need—although I accept that a considerable number are. I would not for all time, as I said in a previous debate, accept that the Minister should continually say that the matter is in the melting pot of a general social security review.
One aspect which has not been touched on is not the history of the problem or the present problem but the future. An important point is the attitude of the Tories and that of the Labour Movement to the expansion of the State pension system. Over 10 years ago, the present Leader of the House put to the Labour Party conference the idea of a national superannuation State plan. I am sure that it would not be in order to deal 1770 with that in detail, but we should consider the principle.
The T.U.C. is not the master of hon. Members or even of the Labour Party, because only, I think, half the unions affiliated to the T.U.C. are affiliated to the Labour Party, and, therefore, its attitude is not axiomatic. Certainly, the present Government have not taken too much notice of what the T.U.C. is saying about our economic problems. Changes in the State contributory pension scheme and the development of National Health Service, to which it is allied, should not go forward without the consent of the trade union movement as a whole.
One of the points made by my right hon. Friend at that time was that whilst the trade unions wished to cling to the principle of insurance concerning pensions, they were now prepared to turn their backs on the flat rate element of pensions because there is a limit to what we can get out of the pay of the poorly paid workers. However, the principle was carried forward in the idea of extending a form of graduated pensions, which the Tory Government took up later in an underrated kind of way—what we called the Tory Government graduated pension swindle. This shows that the thinking of the Labour Movement must have had its effect on the Labour Government over the last few years, because the higher paid workers who are shut out of good pension schemes in their occupations will be able to enter for this growing graduated State pension scheme.
This is important and pertinent to the discussion. I have studied previous debates and I have listened intently to the discussion that has so far taken place today. I suggest that the House should give most serious consideration to these problems, but that it should reject the Bill because this is the wrong method of tackling them, having regard to future development which is likely to take place enshrining the principle of contributions and insurance which the overwhelming majority of people desire.
It has been suggested that if we had a national ballot about whether we should allow the Bill to go through, there would be overwhelming support for it. If the argument is broadened out, I suggest that the vast majority of people—working 1771 people—if consulted about it, will want to sustain the insurance principle and uphold the methods of the Government in developing the minimum standard incomes system and the other methods by which the people, whom the hon. Gentleman seeks to befriend, can get adequate assistance on the basis of need.
§ 1.3 p.m.
§ Sir Lionel Heald (Chertsey)
Briefly, I support my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) who introduced this Bill in such an admirable speech.
I do not wish to enter into arguments on the subject, but I might be able to give a little factual support to what he and the hon. Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) said about the supplemental benefits scheme in view of what has been said about it by hon. Members opposite. I gather the basis upon which the statement on the Order Paper opposing the Bill rests is that here is no need for this because it can all be done under the supplemental benefits system.
The supplemental benefits system does not and cannot operate to bring in many of the people who ought to be in. I refer particularly to the retired nurses. I know something about them, particularly the Queen's nurses and the district nurses. I have discussed the matter recently with those concerned with such organisations. They have done great work in providing funds for these retired nurses who are among the most serious cases. These people are very old. They have done great service in the past and they now have very difficult lives. It is very difficult to get these old ladies to apply for supplemental benefits. The reason they give for not applying is one which has not been appreciated by the Government.
I am glad that one or two hon. Members have expressed their disagreement with the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), who is an old friend of ours. Certainly he is an old friend of mine. I was sorry that he ridiculed it on the basis of elderly duchesses. I have knowledge of these ladies. They do not think they ought to draw this supplementary benefit because they have not been allowed to contribute. They have a great feeling that they ought not to do it. Being nurses, they have spent their lives looking after the sick and suffering, so one often 1772 hears them say, "There are a lot worse off than I am. I do not think I ought to draw on public money because I have not contributed." That kind of thing has not been appreciated, and I feel that it should be—
§ Sir L. Heald
Not in the middle of a sentence. The House should realise that I am not speaking from any kind of controversial point of view. I disagree entirely with the point of view represented by the hon. Gentleman who said that £20 million would go to people who do not need it. That is not true.
§ Mr. Ledger
I have tried to follow the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument. He has said that these old ladies would not go for their supplementary benefit because they felt they had not the right as they had not contributed. Why does he think they will go for a pension to which they have not contributed?
§ Mr. Ledger: So am I.
§ Sir L. Heald
Some hon. Members who are very partisan in the matter will not want to hear this sort of thing, but they must. I am not approaching it from a party point of view, but that is not so in all parts of the House. This I much regret.
These old ladies are not logical. They are not skilled in argument. They are honest and honourable and it is the most difficult thing in the world to get them to claim supplementary benefits. I quarrel with those who say that it is easy.
§ Mr. John Hall (Wycombe)
Would not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the experience of all is that there is a difference between having to make application for something which many people of the older generation still regard subconsciously as charity, and having something given as of right?
§ Sir L. Heald
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. I will not generate any more controversy. These matters should be faced with a sense of reality, not with technical arguments of the kind deployed today.
§ 1.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Edwin Wainwright (Dearne Valley)
I do not want to follow the right hon. and learned Member for Chertsey (Sir L. Heald) too far in his short but interesting speech. Hon. Members opposite and some of my hon. Friends have spoken about the independence of elderly people. While there are two sections of the community to which any Government ought to give priority, the elderly and children, there are many in between who must be considered.
The more we talk about independent spirit, the more we shall convince people that they are entitled to be independent and to suffer for that attitude. We all admire independence. I remember that about six years ago I knew a miner who refused to take the 12s. 6d. supplementary benefit to which he was entitled, but eventually I said some rather strong things to him, because his daughter, who was a teacher, contributed to his income, which was how he managed without his supplementary benefit.
One has to have great sympathy for these people, and I sympathise with the argument of the hon. Member for Worthing (Hr. Higgins), but I wish that hon. Members would cease this jockeying. Remembering the kind of support rendered by hon. Members opposite to this kind of proposal when they were in power, I have to say that the standard of morality in the House today has not been high for an occasion of this kind. Hon. Members who have been in office for 13 years are not entitled to change their minds on an issue of this kind when they get into opposition. I know that one or two made this stand even in office, but they did not get the support of their Government.
§ Mr. Pardoe
From my somewhat independent position, can I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he accepts that the corollary is true and that one is not entitled to spend 13 years in opposition saying one thing, then saying a different thing when in power?
§ Mr. Wainwright
That is what I am saying. I shall have some criticisms to make of my right hon. Friends about what I confess I have had to do because of loyalty to my party, but that does not alter the fact that hon. Members have spoken with double tongues, or have 1774 changed their opinions in such a way as to have made their arguments much less convincing. However, I have been diverted from discussing the independent attitudes of some people.
I am not certain that all the 150,000 covered by the Bill deserve help and are in need. Certainly there are many others who do. Every time we try to improve benefits or to remove anomalies, we create others, but there are many sections of the community deserving consideration.
For instance, there are those who, through no fault of their own, have a gap in their contributions. I know of a spinster—my hon. Friend knows of this case and I hope that he will do something about it—who served in the Forces during the war and who afterwards took up nursing. She became ill and perhaps that illness could have been attributed to her war experiences, but she was so independent that she did not claim a pension. For a short time she lived with her mother, but then her mother became ill and the daughter stayed to look after her. Eventually she started work again, now approaching 60, only to find that her pension would be greatly reduced because of the gap in her contributions. That is an example which could be repeated thousands of times. Another example is that of younger people who are handicapped and who have to be looked after, who are a great responsibility to their families on whom they impose a heavy financial burden.
Bringing in a Bill of this kind at this time is not wise and is not sound judgment. We should wait until we can consider the global picture and obtain all the necessary information, as is being done. We may find that we cannot do what we want to do even with the best intentions, even for those whom the Bill would cover.
I am not sure that the hon. Member for Worthing and his supporters are not approaching a problem with a little partisanship. I agree that many of the people who would be covered would qualify for supplementary benefits which they are not now claiming and that some would be on the borderline, but happiness and contentment are comparative. When people have been used to a high standard of living which has 1775 to fall in their old age, so that their comforts and standards are diminished, they may feel it more harshly than others who have not been used to those standards.
§ Mr. Ledger
This is a dangerous argument. Many of my constituents are working-class people earning about £14 a week. When they become old-age pensioners, they find a big drop in their standards. It is not only those covered by the Bill, but most pensioners, who find this drop in standards. The Labour Government's record of trying to help them is so much better than that of the Tories that hon. Members opposite have a nerve raising the matter.
§ Mr. Wainwright
My hon. Friend should have waited until I had gone a little further, because I was about to say something about the lower income groups. There is no doubt that the majority of those covered by the Bill are reasonably well off and able to cater for their own needs, but I have some sympathy for those on the borderline. However, we should try to convince them that they are entitled to and ought to claim supplementary benefits which would put them on the level of many other people.
People in the lower incomes groups have not had the ability to save during their working lives. When they retire, they have no capital and have to live on the ordinary pension. Many anomalies have been created as we have tried to improve benefits generally. For instance, there is a wide range of social security benefits. There are many people who suffered a serious industrial accident before 1948 and whose working capacity was tremendously reduced, who lost an eye or an arm, or suffered some other physical disability.
There are quite a few thousand of them who have never received a penny, in spite of the fact that injury has lost them thousands of pounds in earnings. I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear this in mind when the overall examination is completed and we discuss what we ought to do for those who have suffered. There are so many factors involved here, and as a Government we still have a lot to do.
1776 I feel that this is an attempt to embarrass the Government and play politics. It is not good for the standards of this House. [Interruption.] I do not mind playing at politics, but when one gives the impression to elderly people that some hon. Members are not interested in their future welfare, then it is going a little bit too far. I am certain that this Bill will not be accepted, but I hope that the House will realise that when we are dealing with people we should make certain that we do so sympathetically and ensure that they will be well looked after.
§ 1.22 p.m.
§ Mr. John Pardoe (Cornwall, North)
From where I sit there has been no pressure or entreaty, I think that was the word used by an hon. Gentleman opposite, as to the way in which I shall vote. I shall certainly vote for the Bill, because I do not believe that there are any arguments against it that are intellectually respectable. There may be Treasury arguments, and we have heard some hon. Members try to make them, but there are no others. I congratulate the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) for introducing the Bill, which I wholeheartedly support.
I suppose that Friday is not the only day of the week on which the House stands on its head, but it has certainly done so today. We have had from some hon. Members on this side of the House a plea for yet another flat-rate universal benefit right across the board. The hon. Member for Worthing produced some ingenious, I though somewhat tortuous, arguments as to how he managed to square this with the Conservative Party's demands for selectivity. He almost convinced me, but I am not quite sure that he did completely. We have had the Labour Party advocating a means test. We had that extraordinary intervention from the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). I do not blame the hon. Member for Worthing for the neglect of previous Conservative Governments, it is not entirely his responsibility.
I must take him up when he says that the Government of the day are waiting for these people to die, or that some of them think this. Governments have been waiting for these people to die on this basis for the last 20 years, and some of those 1777 years have been under a Conservative Government. Although this is a Private Member's Bill, it is Governments who take action and have to be responsible for inaction. They must take their share of the responsibility.
I want to answer a point made by the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths), whom I am glad to see here and who gave us an extremely broad history of the Beveridge proposals, which I was very pleased to hear. The Beveridge scheme is an essentially noble part of the history of my party, and I was glad that he accepted that. One of the troubles with being a Liberal is that one spends years trying to drive sensible ideas into the heads of the other parties, and that we have to spend even longer trying to get them out of their heads, long after they have become irrelevant, and this is the case with the Beveridge Plan. This is why we are having this debate. Beveridge was dealing with the problem in the 'thirties, the problem of primary poverty. We are dealing with the problem of secondary poverty, poverty which exists for part of the life-span of an individual, not throughout his life-span.
We should not attempt to apply Beveridge principles as though they were the gospel for 1968. We need a new Beveridge Report, and I am sorry that the Government have obscured this by setting up what they call a review of the social service. I do not think that we shall get anything like a Beveridge Report, and I would be quite happy to put up the names of several eminent Liberals today to produce such a report. [Interruption.] I have had to point out this difference on frequent occasions. I am one-twelfth of my party, and I doubt if there is one-twelfth of either of the other parties here.
One of the major changes that has taken place in the Beveridge principles was mentioned by the right hon. Lady when she interrupted an earlier speech from the other side of the House.
The Beveridge scheme was a funded scheme, but it is no longer, because, as Beveridge recognised before he died, inflation had overtaken his principles. So it is now a "pay-as-you-go" scheme, and we have to accept it on that basis. Labour Members cannot have it both ways. They cannot say at one and the same time that they want people who now get supplementary benefits, or should have them, to 1778 to expect that these are theirs as of right, and at the same time to say that these people about whom we are arguing in this Bill have no right because they have not made their contributions.
The right hon. Gentleman tried to define what he meant by "right". I accept that at the time of the Act the words "as of right" meant that they had paid their contributions. I want to change that definition. I believe that "as of right" should mean the right at the age of retirement, for those above the retirement age, whether in work or not. That is another principle which we are not discussing in the Bill, but I will throw it in for good measure. It is the age of retirement that should establish their right to a basic State pension. I would go further. He compared unemployment benefit and our right to that benefit with our right to pension. There really is not any comparison because my contribution to the unemployment benefit fund would go—
§ Mr. James Griffiths
This is where the hon. Gentleman makes a mistake. Since 1946 there has not been any unemployment benefit fund. It is one National Insurance Fund covering all the benefits.
§ Mr. Pardoe
I am sorry to confuse the issue. We are getting a little confused about the word "fund". [Interruption.] I will accept that it is part of the National Insurance Fund, we will not compartmentalise. The contributions that I pay towards whatever part of the fund goes to unemployment benefits go to my contemporaries' unemployment benefit. My contributions to whatever part of the fund pays the pension do not go towards the paying of my contemporaries' pensions, but towards the paying of the pensions for my parents and grandparents' contemporaries. There is a need for a pension as of right, to everyone over retirement age.
There is a danger in some hon. Members on this side of the House saying that they want an income-related pension, or a selective pension. That will widen the rôle of the State in the provision of social benefits, and I do not want that, because I believe that the principle should be that the State should pay the basic flat-rate pension and encourage, force, occupational schemes to provide income-related supplements in addition.
§ Lord Balniel: Compulsorily?
§ Mr. Pardoe
Indeed, I would accept the compulsory element in this, up to at least half of the previous earnings. For the State to provide income-related pensions or selective pensions would be rather like asking Marks and Spencer to undertake bespoke tailoring. It is far too complicated a business to get involved in. The Government should stick to the flat-rate pension, and it should be paid as of right at retirement age. The financing of this—and the Bill, admittedly, does not deal with it; it is one of the flaws in the argument perhaps—should come from a social security tax and not from flat-rate contributions paid as a percentage of the pay roll, two-thirds from the employer and one-third from the employee.
If the Minister will not accept the Bill —and one gathers from some of the remarks made that this was a fixed, put-up job before we even started the debate—will she give some indication of how she might be prepared to help this small and reducing section of the population? This is one of the few occasions when we ask the Government to give some money and the total expenditure will lessen instead of increase over the years. Will she give some indication that she might be prepared to set up an annuity scheme for the purchase of houses? Many of these people would be helped considerably if they were able to get some cash for their old age from the house in which they lived. There are private schemes which provide annuities for houses over £5,000. Unfortunately, there are no private schemes to provide annuities for houses of below £5,000. This is a proper area for the State to play its part in.
I wholeheartedly support the Bill, because I believe that it would right a glaring injustice.
§ 1.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Ednyfed Hudson Davies (Conway)
I follow my hon. Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Archer) in saying that this should be made as little a party political issue as possible. Like my hon. Friend, I have the utmost respect for the sincerity of the sponsors of the Bill. I am a litle more sceptical about the sincerity of some hon. Members opposite who will undoubtedly 1780 support it in the Division Lobby. There is, however, no criticism of the direct sponsors of the Bill.
The question of finance has been raised. Although the figure is in dispute, it is said that the cost would be £20 million net and rather less when exclusions, about which I should not be entirely happy, were made. Although rather disparaging references have been made to "merely £20 million", this is a sum which can be found for sufficiently important matters. In recent weeks, the Government have made cuts of many hundreds of millions of pounds in fields in which it had been clearly indicated that no cuts were possible. Therefore, it is evident that it is possible to make adjustments if the need is sufficient. This point is not an insurmountable objection to the Bill, for which I must confess I have a great deal of sympathy.
The principle of contribution has been talked about a great deal. Clearly, this is the established operating principle. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths), I am not entitrely happy about it and I should like to see it amended. This is the principle now, but there is no correlation between pensions received and the contributions made, either in duration or in amount. The one point of qualification for entry is that contributions have been made for the statutory period.
This is exceptional in our concept of welfare. It is confined to this one field, and I am not sure that it should be retained. The contributory factor does not operate in the same way in the provision of education services and health services. I am unhappy about the significance which is attached to this principle.
It has been argued that the people of whom we are speaking, this one limited group of ineligibles in our society, in which there are many groups of ineligibles, are entitled to supplementary payments under the social security arrangements. However, although many of us have grown up in an atmosphere in which we understand the motives behind social security payments, so that we should have no difficulty in accepting them if we were in a situation in which we were eligible for them, we are talking about people who were born in the 1781 late 1870s and early 1880s. It must be understood that their way of thinking about their relationship to the State and welfare services is very different from ours.
I was very disappointed by the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes). This is a very difficult situation for many of these elderly people. One can criticise them. One can talk of false pride and a completely unnecessary sense of independence. But this is the way in which many of these people think, and it does not belong only to the wealthier people in this group. It is a characteristic of an old way of thinking which, happily, is dying out, but it still exists among this group of people. When people are reluctant to apply for social security benefits, I approach the local manager of the social security office and ask him to make direct approaches to them. I urge hon. Members to do the same. The reluctance to apply for social security benefits can occasionally be broken down, but there are times when it cannot.
The position of many of these people is much better now that the £600 savings limit has been removed. But it is a very unhappy thought for people to know that they have to draw considerably on their savings before they can get any substantial social security payment. A person in his 80s may have a reasonable expectation of life, and it is proper that he should think that he has a reasonable expectation of life. His savings are very important to him. Often they become sacrosanct savings on which they are unwilling to draw because they are waiting for a rainy day which possibly, sadly, may never come because they will not live that long. But they are trying to cater for the needs of the future and one can understand their desire to retain such savings as they have, which disqualifies them from any substantial social security payment.
The test of the humanity, rather than the efficiency, of the Welfare State is what we do about groups, not of eligible people, but of ineligible people who have problems with which they cannot cope—our alcoholics and drug addicts. We could have talked today about the 30s. widows. They form another most deserving group. We could have talked of the spinster who has spent most of her life 1782 looking after her parents, who is not qualified as a contributor under the scheme but whose need is just as great. These elderly persons referred to in the Bill are people who have an attitude of mind towards social security payments which we may think tedious, but nonetheless it exists, and must be taken into account.
We tried to get over the difficulty by changing the name from "National Assistance" to "supplementary benefit" and "social security". This carried conviction with many people, but others who were less appreciative of the motives behind the change realise that the officials they meet are the same officials.
This demand is not an open-ended demand. This is not a commitment which we are establishing in perpetuity. This is a figure which, by the very nature of life, will become less and, within a relatively short time, disappear. In that sense, this group of ineligibles is in a separate category, first, because of their prejudices to social security payments and, secondly, because this is not something which can wait for attention in the distant future.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly talked about things that can be done in the long run, and he is so right. He talked about a possible special social security approach to the elderly. That is splendid and I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will have something to say about it. I agree entirely when my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly talks about the introduction of a principle of "income guarantee". That would in time meet many of the problems of the other groups of ineligibles. For the category in question, however, time is against us. There is no long waiting period for adjustment.
I very much hope that at the end of this debate my right hon. Friend the Minister will not only talk about the way in which the problem can be resolved along with a lot of other problems in the overall review of the social service, but will give an indication of a special approach to the problem.
I cannot, perhaps, go the whole length of voting for the Bill today. It picks out one section in isolation from a number of other deserving causes. One has to take the whole range of deserving causes. 1783 I hope very much, however, that the Minister will say that the problem here is rather different and much more urgent, and that she will indicate what she proposes to do about it. I cannot today support the Government in opposition to the Bill, although, perhaps, I cannot go the full length of supporting the Bill itself.
§ 1.42 p.m.
§ Lord Balniel (Hertford)
I feel that everybody, on both sides of the House who listened to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) admired the way in which he introduced the Bill and admired also the persistence with which, from the date of his maiden speech, he has pursued the question of some kind of pension for those who are ineligible for any State pension.
This is a subject on which there is strong feeling and on which there has been a good deal of political acrimony. Like everyone else in the House, I share the strength of feeling which was expressed by my hon. Friend but I do not in any way want to make a partisan speech. I do not want to elaborate on the filibuster which stopped the Bill being discussed in 1965, or the way in which the 1966 Bill was voted down. Equally, I do not want to elaborate on the fact that the Conservative Party did not deal with the problem when they were in office for 13 years or, for that matter, the fact that it was never raised during those years except, I think, by two Questions asked by back benchers.
It seems to me that the party which was in office in 1948 can reproach itself for not foreseeing the problem which would ultimately be created. The party which later was in office can reproach itself that it did nothing to mitigate the hardship which was surely and gradually arising.
But although I have always taken an interest in social security matters, I—and, I suspect, the vast majority of hon. Members—had absolutely no idea that there were a number of elderly people who were forbidden a pension on the ground that they were too old. Indeed, I suspect that until the maiden speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing and—during the same week, I think—the introduction of the Bill introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for 1784 Abingdon (Mr. Neave), there was a virtual ignorance of the subject in the House of Commons as a whole.
The partisan arguments of the past are utterly irrelevant to these elderly people. I simply wish to show the House that logic, equity and humanity should persuade us that it is right to support the Bill.
The average age of the people affected by the Bill is about 85. They were over pensionable age when, in 1948, the scheme was introduced and they were not brought into it. They had no opportunity of contributing to the National Insurance Scheme. Indeed, they were banned from doing so. As a result, they get no National Insurance pension. I agree profoundly with my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Sir J. Eden) when he says that it is almost because the National Insurance Scheme is so inclusive that those who are excluded feel so bitterly about it.
When this matter was debated in the past, Government objections have fallen into three parts. Rather than reiterate the positive arguments for the Bill which have been put forward so admirably by one hon. Member after another, I would like to look at each of the objections to the Bill in turn. There is, first, the objection that no contributions have been paid. Secondly, the Government claim that supplementary benefit is available. The third objection is that of cost and the argument that it cannot be met at the present time.
As the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) has said, the contribution is an integral part of the existing structure of the National Insurance Scheme. We all know, however, that it is only part of the scheme. In no way is the National Insurance Scheme a real insurance scheme. I remember describing it many years ago as a parody of insurance. In no way does it bear any relation to a commercial insurance scheme.
In introducing the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing gave the figures of the insurance element. A single man aged 65 receives a pension of £4 10s., but the maximum contribution which he could have paid to that pension is £1 16s. Rather more dramatic figures are available for married couples.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
The hon. Member has repeated the figure which was used 1785 earlier this morning. How does he calculate the £1 16s? He must remember that the vast majority of people who came into the National Insurance Scheme in 1948 came into it from an old scheme to which they had contributed for many years before.
§ Lord Balniel
The figure was given by the Minister, who will probably be able to explain it in more detail to the right hon. Gentleman. That is the maximum contribution which a single person could have paid for his pension.
§ Mr. Higgins
The right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) is perfectly right in querying the point. Perhaps I may draw his attention to the point which I made in my maiden speech about the contributions which could have been made by people who were in the scheme from the beginning. The maximum at that time was 9s. for the £5 double pension which was then being paid. If the right hon. Gentleman works out the arithmetic, he will understand why this is so.
§ Lord Balniel
I think that the House, including the Minister, will accept that the point which I am making is a valid one.
The pensions are only partially paid for by the contributions of employers and employees. The Exchequer—the taxpayer —makes its contribution, and today the taxpayer's contribution is running at a level of over £300 million a year. About two-thirds of today's pension is financed not from the contributions which pensioners have paid but out of taxation.
Our argument is that these very elderly people are as entitled to help out of the taxes as any other pensioner in the country. This Exchequer contribution is made out of taxation, and we have all got to pay these taxes in one way or another, either directly or indirectly. These taxes are paid, and have been paid in the past, by these people who are over 80. Indeed, this tripartite system of financing State pensions has existed since about 1925, and these people aged over 80 today have, during their working lives, made a very substantial contribution by way of taxation towards the pensions which are being paid today.
The second argument which is always advanced by the Government against the Bill is that if these people are in need 1786 —"Well", they say, "they can get supplementary benefit". This is perfectly true, and I certainly hope, like every other hon. Member in the House, that every hon. Member will do everything he possibly can to encourage them to apply for help. Indeed, about half of these elderly people have, in fact, accepted the means test and are on supplementary benefit today.
In discussing this Bill, however, we are considering people whose average age is 85, and they were brought up to regard any form of State aid as smacking of the Poor Law. They were brought up in their childhood, in their youth, in their adolescence and almost in their middle age to believe it to be disgraceful to accept State aid. I am talking about a time long before I was born. All I can say is that whenever I talk to people in this age group, this is the kind of argument I hear over and over again, and however well-meaning might be the Minister, however well-meaning might be the officers of the Supplementary Benefits Commission, however good might be the publicity machine, I do not think we can expect these people to change the attitudes of a lifetime. I do not deny that in time some more of them will go on supplementary benefit, but I think they will only do that when they are absolutely desperate. Indeed, I am pretty certain that there are some living below supplementary benefit standards today, and that nothing on earth is going to persuade them to accept supplementary benefit.
Here I think there is a rather added bitterness, because the Labour Party promised that this would not be necessary. I am not being in any sense partisan about this. [HON. MEMBERS: "No?"] I could be, my goodness. I am just stating the facts. Page 18 of the Labour Party policy document, "New Frontiers for Social Security", told them that there would be an income guarantee scheme and that the great virtue of this scheme —which has many attractions—would be thatWe shall be able to channel resources to those most in need automatically"—I underline the word "automatically"—and without the recipient having to make a special application to receive it.This was reiterated in the election manifesto, and the Prime Minister himself 1787 said that the scheme would be introduced without delay.
The whole argument which lay behind that undertaking was that this was the only way to get rid of the stigma of National Assistance. The fact that, for one reason or another, the Government have been unable to fulfil this pledge surely puts them under a very special obligation to do something for the over-80s, because these are people who, whatever we may hope or think, who really believe that there is a stigma in receiving National Assistance.
I missed the speech of the hon. Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Archer). I understand that it was a most valuable contribution to the debate. In that speech he said that no Government would support this Bill. I am bound to call to his attention the promise which was in our election manifesto—
§ Mr. Archerrose—
§ Lord Balniel
Let me finish this—a specific promise to provide a pension for those too old to be covered by National Insurance, and that is the purpose of my hon. Friend's Bill.
§ Mr. Archer
I am obliged to the noble Lord. May I correct him on a point of fact? I never used any words remotely like that. What I did say was that, driven by party polemics in certain interventions which had been made, it was only right that I should point out that the party opposite did not introduce that promise until after it left office and it was quite clear that it would not have to implement it.
§ Lord Balniel
Well, we can look at the record. I said that I was not present when the hon. Gentleman made his speech. I am glad that now he tells the House that I am mistaken, and that he did not say that.
The third argument which is advanced against the Bill is the argument on cost. The gross cost of paying these people at the present standard rate of pension would be £35 million. Against this there would be an immediate saving on supplementary benefits of £15 million, leaving a total gross cost of £20 million, but, of course, the intention of my hon. Friend's Bill is that only the part of the National 1788 Insurance pension not covered by contributions would be paid, and this would substantially reduce that figure of cost of £20 million. It is impossible for us to assess exactly what would be the cost, but I think that probably it would be something like £15 million.
I quite accept that this is additional expenditure, but every newspaper in the country, every weekly publication, and every sociologist whose articles I have read, has said that this would be money which would be really well spent, and it seems to me that this sum of £15 million is very small when compared with the fact that only a few weeks ago the Minister introduced a Bill with a gross cost of £123 million and a net cost of £83 million, giving family allowances to rich and poor alike. If I had the selection of priorities I must confess that a pension for these very elderly people would be high on my list.
§ Lord Balniel
Yes. I am perfectly aware that the right hon. Lady a few weeks ago introduced a Bill of which the net cost would be £83 million. I am equally aware that a week or two later the Chancellor came back and knocked her Bill flying. I am equally aware that in fact the gross cost of that Bill has been reduced by the Chancellor from £83 million to £20 million. The right hon. Lady can be assured that I have studied her Family Allowances Bill and I am awaiting the return of that Bill—which was rushed through the House of Commons several weeks ago and still has not had a Second Reading in the House of Lords. We are awaiting an opportunity to debate it again in the House of Commons.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
Ought not the value of supplementary pensions which are not, for various reasons, being claimed to be subtracted from the £15 million which the noble Lord says is the cost?
§ Lord Balniel
I think that the answer is "Yes".
I conclude on a different aspect of the Bill. I know that this Measure presents the right hon. Lady with a very real difficulty which I suspect has little to do 1789 with contributions or costs. Her real difficulty, which was pointed out by the hon. Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton, is that we have another group of people who could claim to be in somewhat the same position and the Minister is afraid that if she gave way on this Bill, it could be the thin end of the wedge. I can well imagine the Civil Service brief warning her of the dangers of such a concession. The group of people of whom I talk consist of those whose contributory record is deficient and who are entitled only to what is called a "modified" pension.
I think that in her heart the right hon. Lady would like to accept the Bill, and perhaps it would help her if I gave an undertaking that neither I, while I hold this particular responsibilty, nor my party, would use this concession in any way as a lever or a precedent in order to secure further consequential concessions in the same field. That assurance might assist her.
The group of people with whom the Bill is concerned is very special and limited. It consists of people who are exceedingly elderly and who are rapidly diminishing in numbers. The group is also unique because those in it have never even had an option to contribute to the National Insurance Scheme. It is also a group in which there is a very high concentration of poverty. I do not agree with the hon. Member who said that the greater part of the estimated £20 million would go to those who do not need it. In my belief, there is no section of the community amongst whom there is a greater concentration of poverty than in the section we are now discussing. If the right hon. Lady can cut through the red tape and reject all the consequential claims, I myself will certainly support her.
I hope that the logic of my hon. Friend's argument, the persuasiveness of the various views advanced in the debate, and the humanity of the case, combined with the undertaking which I give on behalf of the Opposition, may persuade the Minister to allow the Bill to go forward. But if the Government do not accept that logic, then, just as a simple act of mercy, and nothing else, they should accept the Bill.
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Ron Ledger (Romford)
Having listened to the whole of the debate, I 1790 begin to get a little suspicious of what is going on, particularly when from the opposite benches one hon. Member after another says that this is a completely non-political Measure. The noble Lord the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) found it very difficult to be non-political when he referred specifically to undertakings given by the Labour Party, he says, during a General Election.
What to me is more significant is that during 13 years of government the Conservatives did not give any undertakings whatever, and to them there was no problem at that time. Hon. Members opposite who have pleaded that this is a nonpolitical issue have a very good reason for doing so. There is nothing for them to be proud of in their political record in regard to these people and many others who have been in need of social service. If I were a Tory, I would be pleading that we should not introduce politics into the issue.
Politics certainly are involved. The only reason we have any social services at all stems from those political people who have intervened, have won people to their cause, and got consideration for those who are in need. One has only to look at the record of right hon. and hon. Members opposite to realise that had there not been politics, not only the 150,000 people affected by this Bill but millions of others would have been in terrible need today if the party opposite had continued in power.
The hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) put a very plausible case. My only judgment of it is that it was plausible. He referred to one of his hon. Friends who introduced the Bill in 1964, and said that at that time very little was being said about these people but that the situation now is quite different. It is worth considering why very few people knew of this group in 1964. The reason is that the Tories had kept quiet about it for 13 years—
§ Mr. Ledger
Of course, Tories when in opposition always say that it is the Government's job to introduce legislation, and now the hon. Gentleman again advances that argument. It does not 1791 excuse the Tory Government for doing nothing for 13 years.
Very little was said or known about this problem in 1964, because the Tories had done so little for these people, and many others. Today, there is much talk about it, not because nothing has been done yet but because the Government gave undertakings as a result of which half the people in this group are receiving a benefit which they were not receiving when the Tories were in power. That is the difference about which we are arguing, and that is why I do not have for this Bill the sympathy I might otherwise feel. If I thought that there was an old person, a non-pensioner, who was in need and not entitled to any help, I would say that some sort of Bill needed to be introduced. That is not now the case.
One problem is that many of the old people who could get benefits do not apply for it, for one reason or another. The Tories have a bit of a nerve to talk about the pride of the people concerned, and say that they do not like State aid. Who has been going round the country year after year telling people that it is wrong to rely on State aid and running down the Welfare State? Hon. Gentlemen opposite might well look downwards —their programme for years was to tell people that they should not rely on State aid. What a nerve they have when they are now in opposition to argue that the Government should worry about people who do not apply for State aid. These are the very people who are suffering from the campaigning of the party opposite; who have accepted what the Tories have said, and who really believe that it is wrong to seek State aid. Now we are asked: Will you put this matter to rights?".
I was not impressed by the arguments of the hon. Member for Worthing for another reason. As I say, his was a plausible speech, but he dangled in front of us some idea that he would be prepared for selectivity in pensions and other matters. He thought that this was a good thing but, if we had selectivity, many of the people to whom he wants to give a pension as of right would not get it.
It is all very well for hon. Members opposite to think of a pet scheme and talk 1792 of being non-political about it when they are, in fact, completely political in speeches and articles and at thousands of political meetings day in and day out. This is in many ways the thin end of the wedge. The hon. Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) talked about giving his word that the Tories would not press any further legislation as a result of this, but what would happen if an hon. Member opposite got an opportunity to introduce a Bill to extend the benefits under this Measure? Would the hon. Gentleman advise that the rest of his hon. Friends oppose that Bill? Of course, he would not. He would support it, and would be only too pleased to do so. It means nothing to give that sort of pledge. Everyone knows that he has really said nothing.
I want to be honest about this. I am completely political when it comes to helping old people or any other people in need. Many of these old people who were entitled to help now have it only because the present Government persisted in bringing the help they could get to their attention and showing them that they had a right to receive it.
The Government have received very little assistance in that from the Opposition. It is strange that the hon. Member for Worthing should refer to all the letters he has received and which he says we have all received. He gets them partly because his interest in the Bill has been well-publicised during the last few weeks and also because, in his constituency, he has the rather luckier old persons who have not got a pension, those who are able to afford to go to Worthing for their retirement. The ones still in my constituency were not so lucky. Probably they were those who were unemployed and did not have a chance to save in order to prepare for retirement.
I have received no letters from my constituency during this period on the issue. During my first five or 10 years in Parliament, I received letters from these very old persons but I do not receive them now. There are two main reasons for this. The first—and I do not make too much of this—is that the number of these old people is considerably reduced. The other is that, in my constituency, where I have a busy constituency clinic, I have consistently over the years advised at every 1793 opportunity not only old people but others entitled to social benefits how to get them. Perhaps the message has got through because I have believed in it and have consistently argued for it. Perhaps that is why I have received no letters about the Bill, and if the hon. Gentleman had spent a little more time in his constituency arguing that case rather than bringing it here perhaps he, too, would have had fewer letters coming to him.
Of course, I do not suggest that he has not done a lot to help those individuals coming to him, but I say that we in this House have had a duty over the years not just to wait for people to come to us for help but to try and explain to them before that stage is reached what help is available. Perhaps there would not have been the pressure on the hon. Gentleman to introduce this Bill if a little more had been done by the Opposition to help explain what is available.
I do not regard this debate as completely non-political and I do not apologise for being political in my attitude. The Government have a right to be proud of what they have done not only for these old people but for people generally. It is extraordinary to hear hon. Members opposite speak as though this problem has just arisen. But it is not only the old people who are involved. How many young people with families do we get coming to us who are unaware of the benefits they are entitled to? We have to explain it to them as well.
What is required is not so much a Bill of this kind but a different and more enlightened outlook from right hon. and hon. Members opposite in dealing with their constituents' problems, and if they help to tell their constituents exactly what help is available to them they will find that the need for the Bill will be rather less than they think at the moment.
§ 2.15 p.m.
§ Mr. W. H. Loveys (Chichester)
I think that we have just listened to what was in some ways a pretty disgraceful speech. But I enjoyed it to some extent as a good, tub-thumping party political oration and it has not done any harm. It has been an exception to the rule and proves that this is really a matter where one should look at the logic of the argument so ably adduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) 1794 rather than making party tub-thumping points.
But, on the party political side of the argument, the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Ledger) talks about 13 years of Tory rule when we never introduced anything for this section of the elderly. But he also knows that this was the time when the then Opposition could have drawn attention to the fact. This is the fourth Private Member's Bill on this subject since 1964 and all have emanated from this side of the House.
It is also a fact that, in our manifesto, we have promised to introduce a Measure to help these elderly people. The Liberal Party has done the same. The Labour Party did not make any such policy. If the hon. Member wishes to introduce party politics, we can say that we have a far better record than the party opposite could possibly produce.
§ Mr. Ledger
I agree that the record of right hon. and hon. Members opposite after losing power is rather better than their record when they were in power and could have implemented these things.
§ Mr. Loveys
It is not a question of the record out of power, but we have this election manifesto promise and we treat our manifesto promises very much more seriously than hon. Members opposite treat theirs. We would not put that specific promise in our manifesto unless it were the firm intention to introduce it as soon as we return to power. I have confidence in my Front Bench that this will be so and I will give my right hon. Friends my full support when the time comes in the not too distant future.
I join in the congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing on being fortunate enough to win the Ballot and on choosing this subject. We have had quite a long debate so I shall not go again over the arguments in support of those too old to qualify for a retirement pension under the present National Insurance Scheme being accorded this special pension.
Leaving aside sentiment and even forgetting for a moment that they are very old people who deserve special support, we have the best possible ground for saying categorically that those whom the Bill seeks to help have an absolute right to a pension. We all know that the 1795 contributory basis of the National Insurance pension was breached some years ago and that a large proportion of the ordinary retirement pension comes from funds supplied by the Exchequer. Therefore, there can be no excuse for the Government not allowing a pension to these old people for at least that amount not based on the contributory scheme.
Private Members' Bills have special interest for individuals and those we have had this Session are no exception. But I have had more correspondence from constituents supporting this Measure than any other, and this is particularly interesting considering that others before the House include Bills on divorce reform, Sunday entertainment and other matters of a highly controversial nature.
I think that the reason for this—although I admit my constituency has a large number of these people— is that this is an act of simple justice which is understood by everyone. It is a measure which both the Conservative and Liberal parties have promised to introduce if they are returned to power, and therefore the injustice meted out to elderly people can be laid only at the feet of the party opposite.
We hear a great deal from hon. Gentlemen opposite about social security measures for the elderly. It is true that the supplementary allowances have been increased by successive Governments, but these are all based on a means test. Although I am in favour of a means test, or some system of selectivity as it seems to be called now, for most social benefits, I feel strongly that this should not apply to a basic retirement pension because it does not apply to the ordinary retirement scheme. It should not apply to the pension which the Bill seeks to introduce as a right.
It is also a fact that many elderly people are too proud to apply for a supplementary pension. Nearly every hon. Member has mentioned this. I, too, stress that a supplementary pension is every bit as much their right as an ordinary basic retirement pension, but one can understand the reason behind the reluctance of some people to claim a supplementary pension, because it is in this elderly group that this feeling of pride, if that is the right word, is so strong.
1796 Only a few weeks ago we discussed a Private Member's Bill relating to the need to set up a review body to deal with public service pensions. That Measure was turned down by the Government. Today we are discussing an even more deserving cause, because to my mind it is unjust that the oldest members of the community have no pension rights. Today we have an opportunity to put the matter right, and I cannot believe that the House will turn down our request.
§ 2.22 p.m.
§ The Minister of Social Security (Mrs. Judith Hart)
I think that it might be useful if I were to comment on the Bill at this stage. As a number of hon. Members have said, and indeed as the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) said when he introduced the Bill, we are concerned with a group of very old people, for whom we all feel a tremendous amount of sympathy and compassion. I think that we can take that as our starting point. I know that the hon. Member for Worthing has always had a genuine interest in this group of people. I know that he made his maiden speech on this subject, and now he is seeking to introduce this Bill.
We are dealing with old people who—and again this has been said by a number of hon. Members—tend to have pride, and at the same time there is the bewilderment of the very old, faced with the complexities of our social security legislation—not an easy thing for very elderly people to understand.
I do not want to speak at great length, but there are certain things that I must say. I propose, first, to set out some of the relevant facts, though not very fully, because they have been given in previous debates on the subject, and because some were given in the admirable speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) this morning. I then want to go on to argue that in the context of our present social security provisions, and particularly in the context of the new supplementary pension scheme, the Bill is not necessary, because we can, and we do, make the provision that is needed to guarantee that old people need not be in hardship. Then I want to consider the implications of the Pill, and, finally—and this is most 1797 important of all—I want to explain way the House would be right to see in this Bill a grave threat, not just to the detail of the contributory principle, but to the whole basis on which we have been running our social insurance scheme since Beveridge.
I propose, now, to deal with the facts. My right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly explained what happened in 1945–46, leading up to the introduction of the National Insurance Scheme in 1948. Quite clearly, a bold new scheme such as Beveridge proposed had to have a starting point. It was equally clear that arrangements had to be made to bring into the new scheme those who had been insured under the old one. The position of the uninsured was a separate problem. Those who were still under pensionable age did not present a serious problem, because special arrangements could be made for them to come into the new scheme but late in life.
It was not felt right to provide for people who were already past pension age, and there were good reasons for this. Insurance is, after all, for a future event, and indeed there was no demand at that time for people over pension age to come into the new scheme. It would have meant that they would have been asked to pay quite considerable contributions for a further 10 years out of their resources in retirement, and this to insure themselves against a contingency which would automatically have to take place after the 10 years were over. In the calculation of risks which individuals of that kind made at the time, it was clear that there was not a demand for this.
I appreciate that the crux of the matter for people who were over pension age in 1948 was whether they had insurance before 1948—in short, whether they had been in the earlier scheme, because if they had been, provision was made to carry them over into the new one. It is fair to point out that a good many of those who were not so compulsorily insured under the old scheme had opportunities at various points in their working lives, to be insured voluntarily, and that many of them took advantage of the opportunities and chose to be voluntary contributors to the old scheme, even though they did not have to be. The result was that their rights could be carried forward into the new scheme.
1798 It is true that at the same time there were some who could not be insured, who could not voluntarily go into the old scheme, and therefore be carried into the new one. These were people whose salary was too high—and this meant quite a high salary as salaries went in those days—or people in public occupational schemes which provided for an occupational pension at least as good as the State scheme. These two groups of people were not insured. All these are included in the 150,000 figure to which we are geared today. But I must add that in that figure of 150,000 there are those who had the opportunity of voluntary insurance under the old scheme, but chose not to take advantage of it.
The Beveridge scheme rested on the principle that there should be pensions for all citizens without means test, by virtue of contributions, but what the hon. Gentleman recognised, and what the scheme recognised, was that a brand new scheme, with wider benefits and with higher rates, could not be applied universally at the outset. It could come to be universal, and there could be a small number who would be without contributory pensions who would have to be helped by what was then the safety net of National Assistance.
I am sure that hon. Members on both sides of the House will accept that it is very easy for an old lady of 80, or 85, either not to remember, or not to have understood, whether 30 years ago her husband made a decision about whether he wanted voluntarily to insure under the old scheme. Of course she cannot remember now, if she ever knew, just what happened so long ago, although this governs her situation within the insurance system today.
Last night the hon. Gentleman and I took part in a television programme. When I arrived home, I found that my mother-in-law, who is 80, was furious with the hon. Gentleman. She said, "Does not he realise that some of us had husbands who chose to contribute?" My father-in-law chose voluntarily to contribute under that scheme and was therefore carried over into the new scheme. He died in 1949, and my mother-in-law has her retirement pension. She was furious because the hon. Member for Worthing did not understand that such people form 1799 part of the group with which he was dealing and that this was one of the opportunities available to them. I explained to my mother-in-law that she should not be furious and indignant with the hon. Member, and that he was really a very nice man, if only she knew him.
The first very reasonable question to put to the House is this: is this Bill necessary to give security to the very old people about whom the House is concerned today? The answer—and my view of the Bill would be different were my answer different—is that it is not necessary. I will not elaborate upon the new scheme for supplementary pensions, introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) in November 1966—which is since our last debate on this subject—because everybody is familiar with it. That scheme provides entitlement as of right to a guaranteed level of income, and it provides for a more generous treatment of capital than was provided for before the new scheme came in in 1966.
Our estimate is that about half of the non-pensioners—that is, about 70,000—now have supplementary pensions, and that many of them have quite a bit more than the standard rate of retirement pension. Some of these may have capital that qualifies them for some supplementary pension, right up to £2,000. I could give many examples—I will not go through them, because it would take a long time to go through even half a dozen—of people over 80 years of age who were not eligible for assistance until the new supplementary pension scheme was brought in but who now have supplementary pensions, some of them providing a standard of living higher than that which can be supported by the straight retirement pension.
Some are people who are living with relatives. Some hon. Members opposite have said that the real difficulty is that an elderly woman or man who is living with a family may be held back, because the the family would feel ashamed if they were to ask for a supplementary pension. That is not true; we have many examples of individuals in respect of whom that consideration does not operate. We have examples of people who have supplementary pensions, of varying rates, which allow them to have quite as secure a 1800 standard of living as anyone with a retirement pension.
That being so, we are bound to be concerned with the remaining 70,000 who are not getting a supplementary pension. Who are they? Why are they not getting the pension? What can we do about it? Of this other half of the 150,000 we are bound to recognise—as I am sure the hon. Member will recognise—that some, at least, are people whom the average man in the street would regard as being comparatively well off. There are some well-off very elderly people, if not many. But some of this other half are not people who would expect us to regard them as needing further assistance from the State.
There are others who do not apply, although they are eligible. This is the group with whom we are bound to be concerned. They raise the general problem of entitlement and take-up in respect of means-tested benefits and pensions. This question is rightly being given more and more attention in the professional journals, by social workers and by the Government. We are deeply concerned about the problem of entitlement and take-up wherever there is a means-tested method of offering help to people.
It does not seem to have been appreciated that a similar problem of take-up would arise if the Bill were accepted. We have no records of these non-pensioners, and would have to say—with the kind of advertising campaign that we had for the supplementary pensions scheme—"Please apply." These people would be applying for something which as the hon. Member says would then be a pension as of right. We all claim that the supplementary pension is as of right, and the right that the hon. Gentleman is trying to establish to a different kind of pension—a normal retirement pension—is one that cannot be supported by the evidence, so that there would be no intrinsic difference in the kind of help being made available to them.
The problem of entitlement, take-up and unwillingness to accept help from the State would still arise, at least in part—not to the same extent, because the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends would, no doubt, give us even more help than in respect of the supplementary pensions scheme in making sure that this attitude did not arise—
§ Mr. Higgins
The right hon. Lady will surely accept that there is a vast difference between someone demonstrating the facts of the case in terms of his age and someone's being subjected to a means test. The right hon. Lady must recognise—I will ignore the last part of her remarks—that while we all wish to encourage our constituents to apply for supplementary benefit, we are all agreed that it is none the less a fact that many of these people do not. This is something that we must recognise. I have no doubt that it would be much easier to discover who these people are under this Bill than under the present arrangements.
§ Mrs. Hart
The point which has been stressed by hon. Members opposite today is that the reluctance to apply for a supplementary pension arises from a reluctance to accept any State help. There is the additional difficulty, which lies in the total misapprehension of many people about the way in which supplementary pensions are granted and about the kind of inquiry that is made into circumstances. We have not been assisted in our attempts to get the true facts over to the people by some performances on the B.B.C.—I am not talking about last night's programme—which have totally misrepresented the work and attitude of the Supplementary Benefits Commission.
The hon. Member and I both heard last night of the gentleman who believed that if he asked an official from the Ministry of Social Security to see whether he was entitled to a supplementary pension that official would look round the house and see what he had on his shelves. A similar case arose in a "Cause for Concern" programme on the B.B.C. It is absolute nonsense.
§ Lord Balniel
The whole argument of hon. Members opposite for a minimum guaranteed incomes scheme is that there is a stigma attached to National Assistance. I do not say that I share this view, but that is the basis of hon. Members' arguments for introducing a guaranteed minimum incomes scheme.
§ Mrs. Hart
In the last family allowances debate the noble Lord is clearly on record—as is the Leader of his party—in saying this. There are innumerable examples, week by week, of specific demands of the Opposition for concentrating social security provisions on those who are in need. They have put forward specific arguments for means testing in a number of different ways.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
In view of what the right hon. Lady has said, will she now give an assurance that this new policy will be introduced in sufficient time to provide what is necessary and just for the people with whom the Bill is concerned?
§ Mrs. Hart
We are already providing for them. Let me make this quite clear —[Interruption.]—I was tempted there into looking into the fundamental difference of approach between the Opposition and ourselves about the direction of policy here. Of course, when we introduce the new earnings-related scheme, it will have as one of its major functions—gradually, as it matures—that of reducing the reliance on supplementary benefit and eventually ending it, but this will take a long time as the scheme matures. Whilst we do that, we still have to rely, with reluctance on our side, on providing a "safely net" of supplementary pensions and benefit and administering these so that it is clear that there is an entitlement as of right to all those who need them.
As I have said, we are talking here, in regard to this other half who do not already get supplementary pensions, about entitlement and applying. I propose to make special efforts in the spring and early summer, which I hope will be urgent and imaginative, to ensure that any one of these remaining 70,000 who is entitled to supplementary pension knows so; and knows too that the only thing he has to do is drop something into the pillar box and that then someone from the Ministry will come, if he does not want to call at the Ministry's local office himself. I hope that they will be 1803 encouraged to make their claims. If they do not do so—
§ Miss Harvie Anderson (Renfrew, East)
I do not want to misrepresent what the right hon. Lady has said, but I have seen a letter from her own Ministry this morning, which I think is relevant to what she has just said. She said—
§ Miss Anderson
A visiting officer did visit in this case and the Ministry wrote to me saying that the lady in question was emphatic in her refusal to claim.
§ Mrs. Hart
I do not disagree that this can happen from time to time, although I think that the number of those who are emphatic that, even if they needed help, they would not claim is an ever-reducing and now tiny minority.
I turn now to a point raised by one hon. Member opposite, the treatment of capital and of the owner-occupied house in which an applicant might be living. Of course, owner-occupation of a house has no bearing at all on the entitlement to supplementary pension. Someone can own a house, and this is not taken into consideration in assessing his eligibility for a supplementary pension. There are, of course, possibilities of annuities, and of treating capital in various ways. It would not be right, the House will agree, for a Minister to seek to advise elderly people on what they should do with their own money, but the National Old Peoples' Welfare Council publishes an extremely good leaflet on annuities for the retired and we will try to tell anyone who might be interested that this is available and that it contains a lot of information.
I now turn to the Bill's intentions and implications. I want to try to correct some of the misapprehensions on the other side of the House about the way in which the Bill could be financed. I will not touch on the technical deficiencies since, although there is a number, they could obviously be put right and are not relevant. I will touch only briefly on costs because I do not propose to base my argument on that, although some of my hon. Friends have made some valid points on this theme.
1804 The Bill says, in effect, that there are very few of these very old people still alive, that they should be paid a pension and that it will cost only £20 million. This, of course, is a net figure. The cost to the fund would be around £35 million. The hon. Member for Worthing and the noble Lord and others of his hon. Friends have said that it might cost even less if someone could calculate an equitable rate of pension less than the full rate, and if one could take the Exchequer element in the pension and pay only this.
I do not believe that there is any basis on which this could be done. In fact, there would be no alternative to paying the full pension. If the Bill were accepted, therefore, the National Insurance Fund would have to meet a total additional expenditure of about £110 million. This would mean putting up the weekly stamp by nearly 2s.—a shilling a side.
Let me explain the element of the Exchequer provision in this, which I am afraid that the noble Lord and the hon. Member for Worthing by no means got right. The Exchequer contribution amounts to roughly 16 per cent. of the income and expenditure from the National Insurance Fund. I know that the noble Lord accepts that the fund is not to be treated, and cannot be understood, in terms of a normal commercial insurance system, that is to say, a funding system: this is what I was trying to explain to the hon. Member for Bournemounth, West (Sir J. Eden) but I made confusion worse confounded for him. The fund must be seen as a holding account, into which contributions are paid and from which benefits are paid out.
As such, it is totally separate from all other forms of Government expenditure or taxation. It is a fund, to which the Exchequer contribution is roughly 16 per cent. Therefore, if the hon. Gentleman were really saying that all that he would wish the very old people in this category to have is the Exchequer element, he is not asking that they be given anything which compares with the supplementary pension to which they are at present entitled—
§ Mr. Higgins
That is a gross distortion of my argument and the right hon. Lady knows it. My argument was that they should receive a pension which the 1805 Minister could determine, which is that part not covered by contributions, and that is a perfectly reasonable basis for evaluation. It is not a question of just the Exchequer contribution but of the contributions of those people who are not yet retired—and the right hon. Lady is well aware of this.
§ Mrs. Hart
But the part covered by the other contributions is the part not covered by the Exchequer contribution. The Exchequer contribution is 16 per cent.; the part covered by non-Exchequer contributions is 84 per cent. This is the essence of the matter, which the hon. Gentleman does not seem to understand. Let me explain—
§ Mr. Higginsrose—
§ Lord Balniel
I hope that the right hon. Lady will forgive me for repeating the figures which I gave in the debate, but am I right in saying that, at present, the maximum amount which could have been paid for by a man and his employer in retirement pension is £1 16s. weekly pension, and that the rest is paid for by the taxpayer? Surely that is absolutely—[HON. MEMBERS: "No."] If the right hon. Lady will contradict me, that is quite fair, but my understanding is that that is the position.
§ Mrs. Hart
No—this is what I am saying. The noble Lord does not begin to understand the way in which our social insurance system works. All of us of working age pay our contributions into the fund. The fund can then pay out benefits for those who are widowed, unemployed, sick or retired, and, when we come to be sick or retired, the contributions being paid in pay for our benefits. The Exchequer element in all this is only 16 per cent. The financing 1806 of the benefits comes from the contributions which are being paid in. I am afraid that I cannot put it any more clearly than that, but if I am still not understood, I really think that the fault is not mine.
May I explain, since I have not explained, why I said that £110 million would be the cost to the National Insurance Fund, with the consequent need to raise the contribution, the weekly stamp, by 2s.? It is this. I come here to one of the points of the noble Lord and of the hon. Member for Worthing. Both said that I need pay no regard to the consequences in other fields of accepting the Bill's implications. One of my hon. Friends effectively demolished that part of the argument. Hon. Members opposite said that they would not press for an extension to other groups. But it would not be a case of their having to press me; not because of any civil service brief but on any concept of morality, and principle, I should be bound, as Minister responsible, to extend the same concession to certain other groups with whom it is equally difficult to cope under the 1948 scheme.
When I detail these groups, hon. Members will realise that they are equally difficult groups. One of them is that of wives and widows of men who were over pension age in July 1948 and who did not themselves join the scheme. Another is the group of those who have not paid enough contributions since 1948 to qualify for a pension, remembering that these are very often people who have been desperately poor all their lives and therefore were not eligible to pay contributions. They are the poorest in the community. How could I ignore them? Clearly I could not ignore them. They would have to be covered in the same way as those mentioned by the hon. Member. Indeed, perhaps one could argue that there would be more justification for covering them than for meeting the case advanced today.
I should have to cover those who entered the 1948 scheme late in life and who chose, when they reached retirement age, to have a refund of contributions. It may be said that they chose not to have a pension, but if we were departing from the contributory principle, from the insurance principle, I should have to 1807 cover them. I should also have to include people with deficient contribution records. Some of them, perhaps, worked abroad for a considerable part of their lives and came home comparatively late in life. It is not their fault that they have defective contribution records. I am bound to point out that this would inevitably be a consequence of the Bill—not because of pressure, but because it would be the right thing to do, and because it would be totally wrong not to do it.
Whether we are talking about a cost of £110 million to the National Insurance Fund or about a net cost calculated in others ways, I must point out—although I will go no further into it, because my hon. Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Archer) made an effective argument about it—the other priorities that exist and the judgment which would have to be exercised: for this proposal would pre-empt what in any sense of the word must be regarded as a sizeable amount of public expenditure at a time when so many extremely painful decisions have had to be made about reducing Government expenditure.
May I turn to the basic defects not of the Bill but of the approach which lies behind the Bill? In what I say about the speeches of hon. Members opposite I shall also be referring to some of the extremely confused leading articles which have been written in the national newspapers. EvenThe Times,I fear, has got a little muddled today. The essence of our pay-as-you-go scheme is that the contributor, in return for paying contributions which are used to pay for the pensions of those who have retired, is guaranteed that, in his turn, when he retires, he will get a pension at whatever is then the ruling rate. The Bill, therefore, runs counter to that principle and would undermine it.
It has been argued that the Bill is not an attack on the main social insurance scheme. I am bound to point out that it is. It is expected by hon. Members opposite, just as much as by my hon. Friends, that, as I occupy this post, it is one of my main tasks to protect the social insurance system of which this country is so proud. I assure hon. Members that I am not taking a narrow actuarial view of the 1808 insurance principle or the contributory principle. I am taking the broadest and most generous view of the principle of social insurance. We are right to be -proud of the system. Everyone contributes, everyone is covered against risk of unemployment, sickness, industrial injury and widowhood.
We can consider how far the concept, implicit in the scheme, of the pooling of risks should be stretched. These are all relevant subjects for debate on our social insurance system. We can consider whether there are new, identifiable risks against which cover can he extended. But the basic principle is that paying into the scheme provides benefit as of right in return for contributions—and that basic principle is vital. Without it—this I emphasise—one would be opening the way to transform a system based on that principle into a system of State allowances, susceptible to the ebb and flow of political and economic happenings, and making social security a pawn in politics and policy. That is one of the basic points which we are considering.
I want to consider what theDaily Telegraphsaid today, because in all the comments which have been made by the Press over the last week or two, it is theDaily Telegraphwhich today puts its finger on the issue of principle involved—and theDaily Telegraph,as I would imagine, takes exactly the opposite point of view to my own. It analyses the issue and it says:There is much to be said for getting away from the fiction that retirement pensions are based on insurance and for accepting the idea of a guaranteed minim am income achieved where necessary by supplementary State-provided benefits. If a flat rate benefit is to be automatically given, however, it or something approaching it should be given to everyone.TheDaily Telegraphis saying that it likes the Bill because it leads to the direction of replacing our present social insurance system by a system on a totally means-tested basis, so abolishing altogether the flat-rate system. But we must then consider which way we want the social insurance scheme to go. I appreciate that this is not what the hon. Member for Worthing wants and that this is not what the hon. Members, who support the Bill, have in their minds, but if we are to make this kind of inroad into the social security principle, we have 1809 to be aware—and I certainly have to be aware—of where this will lead. I have to protect the social insurance principle not on any narrow ground but on the vitally important ground that we are asking the question, which way do we want social security to go in the next 10 or 20 years?
I will tell hon. Members which way I want it to go. I want a wage-related scheme which means that the need for the supplementation of retirement pensions is steadily removed. I want a basic rate to which anyone is able to add if he wishes by the result of his own efforts but a wage-related benefit as of right which is enough for one to say that there is no longer any need for supplementary benefits.
This is a long-term process. One is bound to spend a number of years watching the scheme mature to achieve the final objective. There are two ways before us: the way that the Bill could lead us and the way that the Government wish us to go. They are opposite directions. The direction opened by the Bill is very dangerous. It is my responsibility to protect the principles which I regard as fundamental. The House would later very much regret it if I did not point out these considerations today.
§ Mr. Higgins
Surely the right hon. Lady realises that the Bill is meant to bring the people in this group into line with those who get a pension. It is a problem which almost eliminates itself in a few years. It is very different from the forward-looking problem. She has not answered the argument that her socalled principle is based on the idea of contributions, but has no actuarial basis. The people covered by the Bill are as entitled to the part not covered by contributions as are pensioners. The right hon. Lady must answer that, because it is as much a—
§ Mrs. Hart
With the greatest good will to the hon. Gentleman, I do not want to quarrel with him about these important issues. but when he reads later what I have said, he will see that his concept and mine of the nature of the social insurance principle are different. I think that mine is right and I am trying to tell the 1810 House that mine is so much more right that it would be dangerous if we were to allow ourselves to depart from it. I am also saying that the Bill is not necessary, because we can give a secure standard of living to every one of these people.
§ Mrs. Hart
Yes. But I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend knows that one of our objectives is to replace the poll tax by something a good deal fairer. When a Bill is both unnecessary and endangers a crucial principle, I must say so. I note the philosophical implications of our discussion today. We have had an extremely good debate. If I may add a tailpiece, I have refrained from mentioning the political things which I always intended not to mention, although the noble Lord did.
This has been an extremely interesting debate and I am sure that no one on either side of the House believes that there is any difference between us in our compassion, and desire to be as kind as we can to a group of people who are bound to arouse a great deal of our concern. We go about it in different ways. I respect the intentions in the Bill and of those hon. Members who have genuinely and sincerely supported it. However, I am bound to regard the fundamental implications of the Bill as ones which do not fit in with the concepts of an insurance system in which the whole country takes great pride.
§ 3.2 p.m.
§ Mr. David Mitchell (Basingstoke)
As one of the sponsors of the Bill, may I say that had my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) not been fortunate I would have introduced a similar Bill today. I congratulate my hon. Friend on doing so.
The way we look after the elderly in our community is one of the signs of a civilised society. When one hears of the cases which come to Members of Parliament of the severe hardship and poverty of some elderly people, despite what has been said by the Minister, I believe that the Bill will go a long way towards satisfying what many regard as a crying 1811 necessity. I have letters from constituents of examples—a teacher's widow trying to live on £2 a week and "often cold and frequently hungry." This is Britain today. This is something which we cannot accept.
The Government have given the impression that they wash their hands of this problem on the ground that it is a case for supplementary benefits. But we must recognise that these people belong to a bygone age—an age of people with a national and personal pride who regard charity, or anything approaching charity, as something they will refuse to take.
The Minister has said that she has many examples of people who have applied for and got supplemental benefits. I can assure the Minister that for every one she can find where this is true, my hon. Friends and I can show two or three in whose case it is not true, and to the extent that it is true that these people have applied for and obtained supplemental benefits, the cost of this Bill is correspondingly reduced.
The Minister went on to recite the case of her father-in-law who contributed towards a pension. She says that his widow feels strongly about those who did not contribute benefiting from the Bill. We are entitled to look a little more closely at how much people have contributed and a little askance at some of the figures which the Minister has given.
Existing old-age pensioners have paid for some 36s. of the pension which they are now getting, 31s. in the case of a married couple, and half of this contribution was made by the employer. They receive £4 10s. for a single person and £7 6s. on a double pension. They receive £2 14s. for which they have not contributed. What my hon. Friend is suggesting is that that same £2 14s. for a single person and £5 15s. for a married couple should go to those who also have not contributed but who are also a group of elderly people who are entitled to help.
The argument frequently advanced by hon. Members opposite today—that we should not give to people who have not contributed—is entirely spurious, because everyone who is an old-age pensioner is drawing a pension for part of which he 1812 has not contributed, and it is this part to which other elderly people are equally entitled.
The Minister made great play with the 16 per cent. of the contribution which comes from the Exchequer, but that is a seriously inadequate answer, because the National Insurance Scheme is not based on so much being contributed by individuals and 16 per cent. being paid by the Exchequer. The 16 per cent. is the residual answer, not the basis from which we start. It is purely fortuitous. The Government makes the political decision to increase the level of old-age pensions and it then follows that the amount from the Exchequer is altered as a result. The Minister made a spurious, weak argument when she said that the 16 per cent. was the part to which these elderly people were entitled.
I hope that the House will take this matter seriously to its heart. These people are asking for simple justice. Others are getting sums of money as a pension to which they have not contributed and so, too, should these people. We give an additional pension to which ordinary pensioners have not contributed simply because we recognise those elderly people would suffer hardship, but that is also true of the people covered by this Bill. There were 225,000 when my lion. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) introduced a similar Private Member's Bill in 1965. The number has now fallen by 75,000.
I bee the House not to delay, not to create a situation in which year after year we returned to this debate again and again, each time knowing that the number of people still left to benefit has been reduced by the mortality rate and that those whom we can help will be dead within a year, or two, or three, or five years, as the House uses one procedural excuse after another not to take a decision. I beg the House to do something before it is too late.
§ 3.8 p.m.
§ Mr. John Lee (Reading)
I apologise to the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) for not being in the Chamber at the beginning of his speech, although I heard the latter part. Many of us, whatever view of the Bill we take, will feel a certain debt of gratitude to him for raising the matter. This is an important 1813 subject and I have more sympathy with him than some of my hon. Friend's may have.
The polemics in the debate have been only just below the surface, and it is not difficult to see why. Whenever we talk about 13 wasted years, there are groans and grumbles from hon. Members opposite, but they cannot complain when these matters are discussed. It was the longest single period in modern history of one political party being continuously in Government, and they cannot be surprised and should not complain when we mention it.
If I remember rightly it was a good many years after the Attlee Government fell that we heard the last of groundnuts or of Lady Summerskill's—
§ Mr. Lee
I was going to do that. There ware other matters which we were not allowed to forget quickly. The time has come to think afresh on the whole principle of insurance. I take the view that the sooner we move away from the idea of insurance in favour of social security taxation, the better.
My objections to insurance or firstly that it is actuarially bogus or actuarially unascertainable, and some of the confusion occurring in today's debate, and in some of the exchanges at the Dispatch Box, stem from a genuine lack of understanding as to what is the real truth of the matter. I do not think that the system of funding provides any safeguard. I seem to remember that the late Mr. Gaitskell, in that very sorry Budget of 1951, which split my Party, succeeded in raiding the National Insurance Fund for other purposes. That is an example showing that there is no real constitutional protection afforded. Merely by putting a thing in a funded system one does not protect it from the claws of the Treasury.
Another objection is simply that if our system of contributions was finely graded, if it is to be equitable it would be very difficult to administer, and if it is to be simple and the flat-rate principle comes into effect, then there are bound to be hard cases. There is bound to be injustice. I feel a great deal of sympathy for this Bill, because any category of per 1814 sons, whoever they are, who are in need deserve our attention. It is not a question of "either/or."
I entirely agree with my right hon. Friend that there are other groups of people in the community whose needs are greater. Indeed there are other elderly people, and my right hon. Friend gave examples, who deserve even more from the community than the poorest of the groups who would be entitled under this Bill. One ought not to talk in terms of mutual exclusion. I said that I wished that we would get away from the idea of insurance, and if we were to do so we would be less inhibited in raising money from taxation.
I cannot accept the argument, which I was surprised to hear advanced, even by one or two of my hon. Friends, that this is too expensive. We spend £2,000 million a year on what is comically called defence, and we have just fired a Polaris missile an exercise which cost a million quid. I would not have thought that £20 million was something that would beggar the community. Even if one takes the higher figure of £60 million; as part of the percentage of the total Government expenditure this is not excessive.
I take the view that so far from being a grossly over-taxed community we are in some ways an under-taxed community. Certainly there may be room for redistribution of taxation—
§ Hon. Members: Tell that to the Marines.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Gentleman will have to look to the next Budget when it comes on Budget Day.
§ Mr. Lee
I accept your reproof. I would pass on by saying that I do not think that the provision of funds for this exercise is by any means a difficult problem, and I would be quite prepared to see money come from other sources than those now used. Though these may not commend themselves to the mind of the hon. Member for Worthing. Possibly the greatest criticism which could be made 1815 of the Bill is that the hon. Gentleman is still working within the ambit of an insurance system, which I believe to be fundamentally wrong.
There has been a great deal of argument about the question of people being either too proud or too ignorant to apply for assistance. This is a genuine difficulty which can hardly be overstated—we come across it in many contexts such as with people who fail to apply for rate rebates—because they are inarticulate, ignorant or unaware of the benefits available. I do not know that I share the view that there is no distinction between going to the National Insurance offices, however humanely administered, and giving details of one's private means and circumstances, on the one hand, and filling in a form or application simply to identify oneself as coming within a certain category. We are dealing here, as in so many problems of poverty, with the diffident, the deferential, and the inarticulate. These are the people for whom it is most difficult to make provision, because often—and one says this in the spirit of charity in the best sense of the word—they are difficult to get at and to explain matters to, and they lack initiative in availing themselves of their entitlement.
This has been an interesting debate. I find myself in considerable difficulty as to what I should do if there is a division. The hon. Member for Worthing has done a considerable service in raising this matter. I have said that before, but it deserves to be said again. I am glad that this debate has taken place and that we have not had a repetition of the extraordinary exercise of two and a half years ago when the House sat all night and into the next morning, which did not do Parliament any credit and I am grateful for having had an opportunity of taking part in it.
§ 3.17 p.m.
§ Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)
I am interested in this Bill for three reasons.
First, when I was the spokesman of the Labour Party from the Dispatch Box opposite, I had the duty to promise Service pensioners, whose pensions are deferred pay, that they would be paid the rate for the job whenever that job was performed instead of being paid back 1816 money. That was a promise which has not been fulfilled. I am interested, secondly, because of the occasion when the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, organised a filibuster—the first filibuster in history to be organised by a Minister of sorts for a Government—to silence the Opposition by cutting out a day. I protested at the time against this proceeding. However, I opposed the Bill at that time and voted against it because assurances had been given that these people would be provided for by other means. I do not feel quite so happy about those assurances now.
My third point concerns the "whipping" on this Bill. I am on record concerning this matter. I utterly deny the right of Whips to interfere with Private Members' business in this way. Heaven knows Private Members have few enough rights in this place. It is within the Government's power to prevent a Bill from eventually reaching the Statute Book, but to deny a Private Member's Bill a Second Reading by "whipping" is something which, as I have often said, is quite wrong and contrary to the traditions of this House.
I come to the principle of social insurance. Here I find myself entirely in agreement with the late Nye Bevan, whose words I quoted to my right hon. Friend the Minister while she was speaking, that the principle of social insurance was simply an excuse for levying a poll tax to pay for a social obligation. I remember Nye Bevan's words. He described it as a poll tax wearing a jejune mask. Here again I am in complete agreement.
Next, the question of cost. If the cost be something like £l5 million, that figure should be reduced by the amount which is represented by supplementary benefits due but unclaimed. Nobody is morally right in claiming as an economy debts which he should pay but has not paid.
One thing on which I very much want to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister is that she did not make the excuse that we could not perform this obligation because we had to make devaluation work. I have heard that excuse far too often with regard to cuts in the social services. A cut of this sort certainly releases no resources for export, even if any release were necessary. In fact, I 1817 see an economy so slack that it is practically somnambulistic. It seems to me absurd to say that we must create an artificial slack in order to provide ex-ports.
The real reason for this is to propitiate our bank managers by persuading them that we are not really Socialists. I could find that more convincing if we were not in a position to pay the bank managers, which, of course, we are. I find it more irritating than I can say to find this rich country behaving as—
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Sydney Irving)
Order. The hon. and learned Member is a long way from the Second Reading of the Bill. I must ask him to come back to it.
§ Mr. Paget
I entirely agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I will come straight back to it.
I wish that voting were a simple enough matter to be merely a question of expressing whether or not one favoured a Bill. Of course, it is not a simple matter. Voting involves a whole lot of subtle and difficult questions. I do not say that. I have entirely made up my mind even at this point; the way I vote will depend, perhaps, on how some of my hon. Friends vote.
I am, perhaps, in a rather special position. I am somebody in the House who has abandoned any form of political ambition or any hope of political fame. That, however, is a very limited class. The House could not stand many people in my kind of position. Nevertheless, one must behave responsibly, and responsibly to one's friends. It is not right to put oneself in a position of being quoted to them for not doing what they wanted done. I certainly shall not vote against the Bill. I probably shall not vote for it, either.
§ 3.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
The House always admires the independence and integrity of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) in these matters, and I should like once more to thank him for the courageous protest he made in very turbulent circumstances on the morning of 26th March, 1965, ending a filibuster by the noble lord, Lord Wigg, whose departure we all so sadly regret. How 1818 ever, the noble lord, Lord Wigg, as the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree, did a great service to the cause which I represented at that time—by giving it such nationwide publicity that, as a result, hon. Members and members of the public who were not very well aware of this social problem had it brought to their attention. So at any rate Lord Wigg did a roundabout service in that respect.
Next, I should like to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) upon the admirable way in which he introduced this Bill, upon his able speech, and the work which he has done in this cause.
His Bill would alter the decision which Parliament made in 1946, to which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) referred, to exclude this group of people, solely on the grounds of age, from the National Insurance Scheme. That is the purpose of this Bill. I am afraid that the many arguments about the underlying principles of the contributory system of the National Insurance Scheme as a whole will soon be academic for the large majority of these old people.
I intended the Bill originally as a simple act of justice, as a rescue action to deal with this particular problem. From 1965, when I attempted to introduce the Bill, I have at all times regarded these people as an isolated group. Quite honestly, I find it grotesque that 20 years after the institution of the Welfare State the House of Commons should be debating whether people are too old to have pensions, and that hon. Members opposite should be talking about voting against a Bill to give it to them. I think it is almost repellent to the ordinary person to hear that this is going on. After all, although we have arguments about whether people should have had this opportunity, the fact is that these people in 1948 did not have that opportunity. If a man was 55 or under in 1948 he qualified, as also did those who were anywhere within 10 years of retirement.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
The hon. Gentleman must get the record straight. The fact is that when the Act came into operation anyone under 65 could contribute and could go on contributing after 65 1819 to get a pension. The age of 55 did not apply.
§ Mr. Neave
The age of 55 had some relation to the matter. If a man was 55 or under, and, of course, if a man was within 10 years of retirement, he contributed for the 10 years following and then received full pension. I think the right hon. Gentleman will agree that these facts are correct. In any case, if a man was 65 on 1st July, 1948, his widow today is not getting a pension. That is a gross injustice.
I do not believe that this can be solved by the right hon. Lady's saying this Bill is unnecessary. I think that that is an extraordinary statement—to say that this Bill is unnecessary—and then to provide no solution. Supplementary benefits do not provide at this present time a solution, on the admission of the right hon. Lady herself and of her own Ministry—and I have been to see her to discuss this. Of the people covered by the Bill 50 per cent. are not covered by supplementary benefits. Therefore, the right hon. Lady is not providing a solution at all and I do not accept that statement of hers. It is not correct to say that a supplementary benefit is a substitute for a pension as of right. A pension as of right is granted on an entirely different basis. No incomes test is involved in a retirement pension—a millionaire can get it. In those circumstances, to exalt the existence of supplementary benefit as a solution of a problem like this is wholly unfair and illogical.
I remind the House that this is human rights year. The Non-Pensioners Association, which was formed on the South Coast by Mr. O'Hanlon—himself a non-pensioner, and a man of over 80—has referred the matter to the United Kingdom Committee for Human Rights Year. It draws attention to the fact that under the Articles of the Declaration on Human Rights in relation to social security they are denied the right to security in their old age. It is a very fair point.
I am sure that the Minister realises the plight of those concerned. If she had adopted a sympathetic attitude, and had told the House not just that the Bill was unnecessary but that "I propose to include these groups in my review and, if 1820 possible, find some money in the very near future," no one could have complained. But she did not say that. She is prepared to leave those who are not on pension or on supplementary benefit out of it for ever. She is prepared to allow them to stay right outside the National Insurance Scheme until either they die or their capital dwindles and they can go on supplementary benefit. That is what the old people think is harsh and unfair, and I agree with them In that respect, the Bill is perfectly reasonable.
The people affected were, so to speak, cut off on 5th July, 1948, and are still being left in outer darkness. I agree that it has been the policy of successive Governments that has left them there, but it is deplorable for the House of Commons to say that it has no solution except a means tested supplementary benefit system which may or may not apply to particular people in the future. That is why I say that a lot of the argument on the contributory principle will be academic for this class unless the argument is resolved very shortly.
As recently as 11th September, 1967, the Joint Parliamentary Secretary, referring to the different groups of people who do not receive a full pension wrote to me:This would be a breach of the contributory principle which forms the fundamental basis of the National Insurance Scheme.He was referring to paying those covered by the Bill a pension as of right:It would mean that a large number of people, many of whom had paid no contributions, would be given pensions indiscriminately without regard to their resources.The fact is that everyone else who qualifies for a retirement pension is paid without regard to his resources—
§ Mr. Neave
Yes, who qualifies. That is why it is unfair to make this point when in 1946 the Government of the day could not have foreseen the position. Evidently, the House of Commons did not then foresee that of the rest of the 600,000 people who were excluded from the Scheme by the 1946 Act would be in this present plight. That is why we ask the House to put things right.
1821 I do not believe that a lot of the argument is relevant to the issue. It all boils down to: is the House prepared to see justice done now? Justice can only be done by paying a pension as of right, because at least half of the people concerned are not on supplementary benefit and are not likely to survive much longer. They are the oldest, and they are the people who should have the priority.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)
I compliment the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) on his presentation of the Bill and on the campaign which has taken place in the country, because although I have received only one letter from a constituent on this issue, I have received letters from organisations. I was rather surprised to receive one yesterday which said:As a member of the Manchester Geographical Society meeting last evening we were all asked to write to our local Member of Parliament requesting him to support the Bill coming before the Committee, I believe, on Friday next and also impressing on every defaulter the necessity of casting his vote. Knowing you as I do, I have faith that you will cast your vote in the right direction.I shall cast my vote in the right direction, and that is not because of the Whips. It is because to do otherwise would be unfair to a great many people in my constituency.
The criterion we should use here is not contributions, devaluation and so forth, but need. A great many old people in my constituency are living on levels of income lower than those of many of the People would would benefit from the Bill. The majority of the old-age pensioners in my constituency are receiving supplementary benefits. I tell them that they should not be ashamed of doing so, for it is their right.
I am sure that, if one-half of the effort which has gone into the campaign for this Bill had been put into convincing these old people that there is nothing to be ashamed of in obtaining State aid through supplementary benefits rather than through such a Measure as this, the Bill would have been quite unnecessary. It has been suggested that, for every person the Minister could find receiving social security supplementary benefits, hon. Members could find two or three who do not receive them. This is manifestly untrue. On the admission of hon. Mem 1822 bers opposite, half the old people concerned here are receiving supplementary benefits now and a considerable number of the others do not qualify because their incomes are higher than those of old people in my constituency.
These elderly people should receive, as people in my constituency do, these supplementary benefits with pride. The question of living with one's relatives has been mentioned, and I know a number of people who accept the supplementary benefits precisely because they have pride and independence and do not want their children to contribute to their upkeep as they were forced to contribute to their parents' upkeep in the period 1932 and 1933.
We have heard about the selection of priorities. The hon. Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) said that this was his priority. I am new to the ways of this House but, since November, I have listened to many debates and have heard three different points of view from the Opposition about priorities. In the debate on 17th and 18th January, a group among them put defence as the main priority. They were quite clear about it, as was the Opposition Amendment in that debate. This week we have heard others whose main priority is education. Today the priority is a certain section of our old people. No doubt roads will be next. I believe that, using the basis of need as our criterion, we could put the £15 million or so involved here to better use than this Bill proposes.
§ 3.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
I have today had the pleasure of hearing from the Ditpatch Box the best defence of a principle that I have heard during the last 16½ years. I recognise in the brief many replies given to the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) during the time when she was pressing for something to be done for these people. I remember one occasion when, the hon. Lady having received the same sort of reply that we have had today, she sat on the Treasury Bench in defiance of the then Prime Minister.
§ Dame Irene Ward (Tynemouth)
The hon. Gentleman ought to know a little more about history. I would be delighted to have a cup of tea with him afterwards 1823 to tell him why I sat on a Front Bench. He has made an inaccurate assessment of the situation. It was not about this issue.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
Order. I hope that both hon. Members will stick to the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ Mr. Bence
It is sickening to hear some of the speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite, and to see some of the names on this Bill, to cure something for which the hon. Lady has been fighting for the last 14 years, and about which Conservative Governments did nothing. Unfortunately the defence of the principle as stated by the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd Carpenter) and the right hon. Member for Hatfield—
§ Lord Balniel
Hatfield is in my constituency. This matter was never raised during that time, because it was not known.
§ Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)
Would not my hon. Friend agree that on many occasions when hon. Gentlemen opposite were in power they stated that they would not accept a breach of the contributory principle?
§ Mr. Bence
This principle was defended by at least two Conservative Ministers of Pensions, but it was never done so ably as my right hon. Friend did it today. I understood it better today than ever before, especially what was said about the Exchequer contribution. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames never convinced me, but I have been convinced today.
Hon. Gentlemen opposite talk about paying people a pension as of right. Perhaps hon. Members will recall the programme about the doctor's widow who was well aware of the fact that this choice was open to her, but she was not upset because she was not getting a pension. My father will be 90 next month. He has never contributed, and he does not expect a pension. Why should he?
1824 The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) asked why we should pay a fixed pension to a millionaire. What does he mean? Does he mean that if a person's income is examined and he is discovered to be a millionaire, his pension should be stopped? Do we stop at millionaires? Should we examine everybody's income to see whether they are millionaires? This is the means test.
Anyone who wants a pension has to claim it. He has a right to do so. I asked a retired businessman who lives not far from me whether he had a right to a pension. He said, "No. Why should I? If I claim it, they will ask me all sorts of questions. They will have to. Surely Mr. Bence, you are not saying that if I claim a pension they will not ask me questions?". I did not tell him that they would not ask questions, because, if no questions are to be asked, we might as well all start claiming pensions. He lives in a big house, and has a beautiful garden. He said that the Ministry would want to investigate all the tittle tattle, and of course he is right.
In 1964 the Conservatives went to the country with a policy of social insurance based on the principle of paying contributions on the basis of need.
Their argument was that the flat-rate paying of benefit across the board was wrong. They said that we should concentrate the State payment of pensions where it was most needed. But we cannot concentrate the State payment of pensions in this way unless we take measures to find out if there is need. That is what the gentleman objected to. He did not want anyone visiting him and finding out whether he was in need. That is what the party opposite stands for.
I could not support such a Measure as this. It would open the door to a system of State payments to individuals not on the basis of contributions or of being part of a social insurance system but merely on the basis that persons could prove their need. It would be a case of means testing right through society.
§ Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
Is the hon. Member suggesting that the House of Commons pension scheme, to which he is contributing, should be subject to a means test? Does he recognise, when he is talking about the non-contributory 1825 element, that even if he contributes the maximum amount he will be paying for only one-quarter of the pension that he will receive?
§ Mr. Bence
No, Mr. Speaker. I have always been in favour of superannuation schemes, wage-related benefits and wage-related contributions. I would never support a scheme based on other principles. That would be dangerous and I would not accept it. If that is what this Measure would lead to, I would advise anyone to make private arrangements. It would he dangerous. I would rather stick to the contributory system, and I hope that we shall be able to move completely to such a system and that the 16 per cent. that the Treasury contributes to the fund could all be gradually eliminated.
I do riot suppose that that is possible because, unlike private insurance companies, we cannot reject bad cases. We have to accept the whole lot, and if we accept the whole lot the actuarial principle cannot be sustained. The nearer we get to making this a contributory system the better. This Bill would weaken that possibility. My right hon. Friend has made out the best case that I have heard for resisting the Bill, and I have no hesitation in going into the Lobby to vote against it.
§ 3.48 p.m.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) has given my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) most of his case. The whole basis for the Bill is that in 1946 the National Insurance Bill, brought in by the then Labour Government, was intended to provide a wholly contributory pension. Therefore, when the Conservative Party came in in 1951 it was still largely a contributory pension. On a contributory basis, the contributions towards pension in 1947 would have reached viability in 1826 1967. This was the thinking behind Beveridge and behind the Labour Party policy when it brought in that Bill.
Since then an enormous change of view has taken place, and because successive Governments have increased the pension and, in the process, have increased the amount paid by the National Exchequer from direct or indirect taxation, every contributor drawing retirement pension, rather than being able to say, "I am drawing this pension as of right because I have contributed to it", has to face the fact that he is drawing a pension for which he has contributed only sufficient to pay between a quarter and a third. There is no objection to the State having increased that pension from what it would have been on a contributory basis —£1 16s. a week—to £4 10s., but if that means a difference of about £2 12s. 6d. paid by national taxation, the argument about why the people were deprived of the opportunity of joining on a contributory basis in 1947 must now fall. It was never intended then that the State would supplement the pension from taxation.
I support the Bill with enthusiasm because if we, collectively on a non-contributory basis, pay every retirement pensioner over £2 10s. a week, it seems ordinary logic that that sum at least should be paid to all people beyond retirement age. I do not understand the arguments of hon. Members opposite. It seems plain common sense and simple justice. All the waffle about the contributory element is taken care of in the Bill. My hon. Friend is not suggesting that people should draw a pension of £4 10s. a week towards which they have not contributed, but that that part of the pension drawn by all retired people which comes from direct taxation, in a contribution from all the people to the individual pensioner, should also be paid as of right to other old people, not because it is a contribution but because the State feels that it is desirable that their income should be augmented by that amount.
The argument about the contributory basis is a smoke screen and waffle. I am certain that, although my hon. Friend may not be successful in getting the Bill through today, probably even for the party opposite, its principle will become the law before many years, and this House 1827 will be a very much better place if it accepts the justice of that position.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)
I hope that the hon. Member for Ormskirk (Sir D. Glover) will recognise that, in his speech and some of the others this afternoon, the party opposite is giving many hostages to fortune. They are saying that they no longer believe in the basis on which our social insurance scheme has operated for the last 20 years, or in the basis of the insurance scheme which they operated for 13 years. He is now saying that when people pay £1 a week to the social insurance scheme they are not paying for a pension but paying a social insurance tax. If that is so, the party opposite must recognise that people who earn only £10 a week are paying £ 1 a week and that others—like me, when I was a school master—earning £1,800 a year, are also paying £1 a week.
I ask the hon. Gentleman and his party to tell the country how they square the equity of that situation with their speeches this afternoon. They are saying now that the people are paying that social insurance as a social security tax and that the contribution which they pay is only a contribution to the National Insurance Fund.
Furthermore, the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. David Mitchell) was wrong in maintaining that the contribution from the Exchequer fund is always increasing. If one looks into the history of the scheme over the last 20 years, one sees that, from time to time, pensions have been raised. How were these increases financed? In the 13 years of the Tory Government they were financed increasingly by increased contributions, with a reduction in the Exchequer contribution. Year by year, when the Conservatives were in power, the Exchequer contribution was reduced.
Therefore, the fundamental basis of the case advanced by the hon. Member for Worthing is negatived by the history of his own party in office. They did not increase the Exchequer contribution. They reduced it steadily. The whole philosophy of the Phillips Report and Tory Party policy as enunciated after it was that the State contribution should be reduced more and more and that people 1828 should finance their own pensions. The basis of Tory Party policy on social insurance was that people should finance their own pensions and that the State should intervene only in those cases where there was real hardship.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
My hon. Friend has given the Tory Party too much credit. I remember that when the first old-age pension of 5s. at the age of 70 was introduced, the Tory Party objected on the ground that it would discourage thrift.
§ Mr. Hughes: I was.
§ Mr. Hamling
I will not say that my hon. Friend looks as though he was!
I turn to one other argument mentioned by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) who said that it is wrong for the Government to interfere in Private Members' Bills. Looking at the attendance on the Conservative Party benches I wonder how it corresponds with the usual attendance on Private Members' Bills. [HON. MEMBERS: "What about the Whips?"] Everybody knows that Governments have interfered in Private Members' Bills before today. The Conservative Party did it when they were in power. [HON. MEMBERS: "When?"] Many times.
§ Mr. Hamling
I will not give way to the hon. Member. I do not want to talk out the Bill. Looking at the history of the discussions of the Bill over the last three years—and I have been present on each occasion—it is clear that behind these discussions—
§ Mr. Higginsrose in his place and claimed to move,That the Question be now put; butMr. SPEAKERwithheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.
§ Mr. Hamling
I am looking at the clock. The whole history of the discussion of the Bill by the Conservative Party is one of pure politics. It was pure politics in 1965, it was pure politics last year, and as I see it, it is pure politics today.
§ Question put, That the read a Second time:—
|Division No. 54.]||AYES||[3.59 p.m.|
|Alison, Michael (Barkston Ash)||Goodhew, Victor||Orr-Ewing, Sir Ian|
|Astor, John||Grant, Anthony||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Balniel, Lord||Gresham Cooke, R.||Page, John (Harrow, W.)|
|Batsford, Brian||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||percival, Ian|
|Beamish, Col. Sir Tufton||Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Bell, Ronald||Gurden, Harold||Pink, R. Bonner|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Cos. & Fhm)||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury)||Prior, J. M. L.|
|Biffen, John||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N.W.)||Pym, Francis|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Harrison, Brian (Maldon)||Quennell, Miss J. M.|
|Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel||Harvie Anderson, Miss||Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Hastings, Stephen||Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David|
|Boardman, Tom||Hay, John||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas|
|Body, Richard||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Ridsdale, Julian|
|Braine, Bernard||Heseltine, Michael||Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey|
|Brinton, Sir Tatton||Higgins, Terence L.||Robson Brown, Sir William|
|Brown, Sir Edward (Bath)||Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin||Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)|
|Buck, Antony (Colchester)||Holland, Philip||Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Hordern, Peter||Russell, Sir Ronald|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Hornby, Richard||Scott, Nicholas|
|Clark, Henry||Hunt, John||Scott-Hopkins, James|
|Clegg, Walter||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Sharpies, Richard|
|Cooper-Key, Sir Neill||Iremonger, T. L.||Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)|
|Costain, A P.||Irvine, Bryant Codman (Rye)||Silvester, Frederick|
|Craddock, Sir Beresford (Spelthorne)||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Sinclair, Sir George|
|Crouch, David||Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)||Smith, John|
|Cunningham, Sir Knox||Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith||Stodart, Anthony|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Kerby, Capt. Henry||Tapsell, Peter|
|Dalkeith, Earl of||Kershaw, Anthony||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|d' Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Kimball, Marcus||Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)|
|Dean, Paul (Somerset, N.)||Knight, Mrs. Jill||Teeling, Sir William|
|Dodds-Parker, Douglas||Lane, David||Thatcher, Mrs. Margaret|
|Doughty, Charles||Langford-Holt, Sir John||Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy|
|Drayson, G. B.||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry||Tilney, John|
|Eden, Sir John||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)||van Straubenzee, W, R.|
|Elliot, Capt. Walter (Carshalton)||Longden, Gilbert||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John|
|Elliott, R.W.(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.)||Loveys, W. H.||Wainwright, Richard (Colne Valley)|
|Errington, Sir Eric||Lubbock, Eric||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek|
|Evans, Gwynfor (C'marthen)||McAdden, Sir Stephen||Wall, Patrick|
|Farr, John||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Lain||Walters, Dennis|
|Fisher, Nigel||Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)||Ward, Dame Irene|
|Ftetcher-Cooke, Charles||Maddan, Martin||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Fortescue, Tim||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Foster, Sir John||Montgomery, Fergus||Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)|
|Galbraith, Hn. T. G.||More, Jasper||wood, Rt. Hn. Richard|
|Gibson-Watt, David||Morrison, Charles (Devizes)||Woodnutt, Mark|
|Giles, Rear-Adm. Morgan||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles||Worsley, Marcus|
|Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||Murton, Oscar||Wright. Esmond|
|Glover, Sir Douglas||Neave, Airey|
|Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B.||Nott, John||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Goodhart, Philip||Onslow, Cranley||Mr. Gordon Campbell and|
|Mr. David Mitchell.|
|Alldritt, Walter||Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Edelman, Maurice|
|Archer, Peter||Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Edwards, William (Merioneth)|
|Armstrong. Ernest||Carmichael, Neil||Ellis, John|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Carter-Jones, Lewis||English, Michael|
|Bacon, Rt. Hn. Alice||Chapman, Donald||Ennals, David|
|Beaney, Alan||Coe, Denis||Ensor, David|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hn. F. J.||Concannon, J. D.||Evans, Albert (Islington, S.W.)|
|Bence, Cyril||Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Faulds, Andrew|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Cronin, John||Fernyhough, E.|
|Bennett, James (G'gow, Bridgeton)||Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Fitch, Alan (Wigan)|
|Bidweil, Sydney||Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Foley, Maurice|
|Bishop, E. S.||Dalyell, Tam||Foot, Sir Dingle (Ipswich)|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)||Ford, Ben|
|Booth, Albert||Davies, Dr. Ernest (Stretford)||Fowler, Gerry|
|Boston, Terence||Delargy, Hugh||Fraser, John (Norwood)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur||Dell, Edmund||Freeson, Reginald|
|Boyden, James||Dewar, Donald||Gardner, Tony|
|Bradley, Tom||Diamond, Rt. Hn. John||Ginsburg, David|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Dickens, James||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.|
|Brooks, Edwin||Dobson, Ray||Gourlay, Harry|
|Brown, Bob(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,W.)||Dunn, James A.||Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth)|
|Brown, R. W. (Shoreditch & F'hury)||Dunnett, Jack||Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony|
|Buchan, Norman||Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||Gregory, Arnold|
§ The House dicided: Ayes 150, Nose 208.1831
|Grey, Charles (Durham)||Maclennan, Robert||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Griffiths, David (Rother Valley)||McNamara, J. Kevin||Richard, Ivor|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly)||MacPherson, Malcolm||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Gunter, Rt. Hn. R. J.||Mahon, Simon (Bootle)||Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)|
|Hamling, William||Mallalieu, E. L. (Brigg)||Robinson, W. O. J. (Walth'stow, E.)|
|Harper, Joseph||Mallalieu, J. P.W.(Huddersfield,E.)||Roebuck, Roy|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Marks, Kenneth||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
|Hart, Mrs. Judith||Marquand, David||Rowlands, E. (Cardiff, N.)|
|Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis||Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard||Ryan, John|
|Henig, Stanley||Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford, S.)|
|Hilton, W. S.||Maxwell, Robert||Sheldon, Robert|
|Howarth, Harry (Wellingborough)||Mayhew, Christopher||Shore, Peter (Stepney)|
|Howie, W.||Mellish, Robert||Short, Rt. Hn. Edward(N'c'tie-u-Tyne)|
|Hoy, James||Mendelson, J. J.||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Huckfield, Leslie||Mikardo, Ian||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Hughes, Emrys (Ayrshire, S.)||Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)||Slater, Joseph|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Molloy, William||Small, William|
|Hynd, John||Moonman, Eric||Snow, Julian|
|Irvine, Sir Arthur||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Stewart, Rt. Hn. Michael|
|Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh)||Morris, John (Aberavon)||Stonehouse, John|
|Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak)||Moyle, Roland||Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.|
|Janner, Sir Barnett||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick||Swingler, Stephen|
|Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Murray, Albert||Taverne, Dick|
|Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.)||Newens, Stan||Thomas, George (Cardiff, W.)|
|Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)||Thomson, Rt. Hn. George|
|Jones, Rt.Hn.Sir Elwyn (W.Ham,S.)||Noel-Baker, Rt.Hn.Philip (Derby.S.)||Tinn, James|
|Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)||Norwood, Christopher||Tuck, Raphael|
|Judd, Frank||Ogden, Eric||Urwin, T. W.|
|Kelley, Richard||O'Malley, Brian||Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley)|
|Kenyon, Clifford Oram, Albert E.||Oram, Albert E.||Walden, Brian (All Saints)|
|Kerr, Dr. David (W'worth, Central)||Orbach, Maur[...]ce||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Kerr, Russell (Feltham)||Oswald, Thomas||Wallace, George|
|Ledger, Ron||Owen, Will (Morpeth)||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)||Padley, Walter||Weitzman, David|
|Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock)||Page, Derek (King's Lynn)||Wellbeloved, James|
|Lestor, Miss Joan||Palmer, Arthur||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Lipton, Marcus||Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles||Whitlock, William|
|Loughlin, Charles||Parker, John (Dagenham)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)|
|Luard, Evan||Parkin, Ben (Paddington, N.)||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|McBride, Neil||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)||Williams, W. T. (Warrington)|
|McCann, John||Pavitt, Laurence||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|MacColl, James||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred||Winnick, David|
|MacDermot, Niall||Pentland, Norman||Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.|
|Macdonald, A. H.||Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)|
|McGuire, Michael||Perry, George H. (Nottingham, S.)||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|McKay, Mrs. Margaret||Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.||Mr. Eric G. Varley and|
|Mackie, John||Price, Christopher (Perry Barr)||Mr. loan L. Evans|
|Mackintosh, John P,||Rankin, John|