§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.4 a.m.
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan (Farnham)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
It is with great pleasure that I see my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) present, who I think first raised this issue in 1964 in a debate on the then National Insurance Bill. He, of course, brought in this Bill almost a year ago today, on 16th February, 1968. I know that, later on, I shall have the support of my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) on whom all the work involved in drafting and setting out the terms of the Bill devolved when he first brought it in in 1965. I know also that my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) will be here; she brought in a Bill in 1967 and is not unknown to the Treasury Bench and Ministers of Pensions for her campaigns on behalf of those living on small fixed incomes.
These names are enough, I think, to counter the charge that this Bill, because it has been brought in in every possible year since 1964 is a political manoeuvre, since it was never brought in when the Tory Government were in office. This is partly, as I have implied, because it arose originally out of the anomaly which came closely to the attention of the House as a result of the debate in 1964. All those who have supported this Bill in the past have been notable in campaigning against the anomalies in our social services, the gaps in the provision which we make and the harshness which these impose on individuals, and have castigated Ministers of different Governments who stick too closely to the "office" answer.
740 These things take time. I have found, in a small way, the same sort of thing with regard to provision for savings, and I have some sympathy with the Financial Secretary, in his present position, knowing something of campaigning behind the scenes as well as on the Floor of the House. It takes time to get things through and to persuade successive Governments that one's cause is just, but in this case we have no time, or very little. That is one of the reasons why I am glad to see the Secretary of State on the Front Bench. He has just introduced his White Paper on pensions, but it does not start to operate until 1992. I do not blame him for that, since it is inevitable, but this Bill and any liability on the Pension Fund which it created will be extinguished, liquidated, virtually by the end of 1973.
In our equivalent debate last year, the present Paymaster-General said:… I wish to frame future policies in a way that will rely less and less on supplementary benefit schemes…".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th February, 1968; Vol. 758, c. 1801.]So do I, and so do we all, but not only for the future. Jam tomorrow has a very small chance of appealing to those who are going to die tonight.
This is a relatively small and limited Measure which has been criticised in the past because it alters the direction of social security, but it does not, really. This has always been rather a smokescreen which successive Government spokesmen have put up. Up to 1966, the issue was obscured with references to the Government's minimum income guarantee scheme. In the Labour Party's 1964 Manifesto and onwards, we were promised that the Labour Party would be able to channel our resources to those most in need without the recipient having to make any special application for it.
That has changed. Last year, for example, we were asked to wait for the wage-related scheme and all that goes with it. The hon. Member for Dearne Valley (Mr. Edwin Wainwright) said:We should wait until we can consider the global picture and obtain all the necessary information, as is being done". —[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th February, 1968; Vol. 758, c. 1774.]In this argument about the direction and pattern of our social security, those of us who have supported the Bill have 741 been put off with glimpses and tantalising references to future reforms, but, as the right hon. Lady the Paymaster-General said, these are long-term and meanwhile the Government, admittedly with reluctance, have had to rely on supplementary benefits and rather vague assurances.
I hope that hon. Members opposite and, indeed, my hon. Friends, will pay some attention to the development of these arguments over the years. Last year the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget), referring to assurances that this problem would be dealt with in another way, said:I do not feel quite so happy about these assurances now."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th February, 1968; Vol. 758, c. 1816.]I do not think that any of us feels quite so happy about the Government assurances now. We know that the guaranteed minimum income scheme would not mature until long after the death of the 125,000 people about whom we are talking. May I quote from a letter which I have received from one of them:Might I stress that there are very few pensionless old folk left now and that when we are all dead there will be no more to pay out.That is one reason why the "grave threat" which this Bill is alleged to present to our whole national security system is absurd.
The insurance principle is quoted against us, and we have had arguments in the past, which I do not propose to develop, as to the reality of a fund on a pay-as-you-earn basis. We have had arguments about the contributory principle which are related to the source of the finance involved rather than to this problem. In fact, these arguments have shown a juridical confusion with the principle of humanitarianism.
May I digress—although it is relevant, because the new White Papers show it, too—to point out that we are becoming confused in our debates about pensions between two quite separate principles. The first is the principle of what we might call occupational insurance schemes in which the pension is closely related to the contribution. The second is the principle of social insurance schemes, in which the pension is paid as of right and not as a result of a special claim by the 742 individual but is yet related primarily to need. It is possible to achieve this by classification of need in general terms, by reference to categories of people who have been proved and seen and demonstrated to have greater need than have others, as well as by the system of individual applications.
It is no good to claim, as did the right hon. Lady last year, that the supplementary benefit is now paid as of right. I sympathise with her argument and I wholly support the attempt to encourage people who are entitled to supplementary benefit in fact to claim it. But it is no more paid as of right than was the old National Assistance. It is a change in title to emphasise a change in thinking rather than to point to any significant alteration in the process through which the individual has to go. It is no good taunting my hon. and right hon. Friends with wanting a means test. Indeed, it is quite contradictory to say that supplementary benefits are paid as of right and simultaneously to taunt the Conservative Party by saying that "as of right" implies no means test.
§ Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)
If the whole philosophy of the Tory Party on social security is that it should be paid to those in need, how does the hon. Member claim that this Bill, or any other Tory Bill which might be introduced, will indicate how people prove need?
§ Mr. Macmillan
I should be out of order if I followed the hon. Member's question too far, but it is not at all difficult for any Government scheme to divide the two principles which I have mentioned. There can be a contributory system which is designed to provide adequate pensions based on past contributions, which the Minister for Social Security is trying to introduce but which has the disadvantage that by definition it cannot operate immediately. Therefore, as the right hon. Lady the Paymaster-General said, meanwhile any Government are forced to depend on supplementary benefits. I merely say that there are those whose needs can be indicated by their categories as well as by an individual test. This Bill is an attempt so to categorise a group of people who have been harshly treated by our social security system and to say that their pension should be paid not on an individual 743 test of need but because, collectively, they are in a position in which their need has been demonstrated and in which their right to a pension is unchallengeable.
Last year, as reported in column 1750 of the OFFICIAL REPORT, the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) began to point the difficulty which the Government Front Bench face when he claimed the need for special rate of pension for people over a certain age—70 or 75 or 80. In other words, he was trying to add a principle of old-age pensions to that of retirement pensions. One of the reasons which he gave was that the savings of these people had become exhausted. As one of my correspondents in this position states,Fortunately we had saved, but what was sufficient in 1937 does not go very far now.We are talking of people whose savings can have been made, by definition, only a very long time ago and whose savings, therefore, have been more than normally eroded by inflation.
It is possible to identify what might be called a group need and to cope with the other problem, which I admit faces the right hon. Gentleman, that other categories might need to be levelled up. All those categories which might need to be levelled up are in the position pointed out by the right hon. Member for Llanelly, that of being in greater need by reason of their age and the erosion of their savings than are others who are in need but who are younger. That would deal with the whole question of people who are getting reduced pensions because of deficient contributions and the late entrants who took lump sums in lieu of pensions. These people should be helped anyway. I agree with those, such as the right hon. Member for Llanelly and the hon. and learned Member for Northampton, who said that we must find a way of helping them. These must be provided for by other means if they cannot be provided for within the terms of reference of the Bill.
As far as I can calculate, the addition of these other categories—that is to say, wives and widows of men who were over pension age in July 1948 and who did not themselves join the scheme, those who had not paid enough contributions since 1948 to qualify for a pension, the late 744 entrants to the 1948 scheme and people with defective contribution records.
It is difficult to get figures for these categories, but the Paymaster-General seemed to estimate that the total additional cost would be about £60 million, assuming that full pension is paid to all concerned. The right hon. Lady's figures, therefore, roughly double the cost of paying the full pension to all concerned. If, however, the alternative which the Bill leaves open to the Minister were adopted—that of paying half or reduced pension—it would only approximately treble a much lower cost, raising the total cost, as I shall show, to something like £22 million to clear this liability in all.
I want to say a word about the whole question of the contributory or insurance principle and the grave threat which the so-called abandonment of it places on the whole of our pensions and social security system. It has been said that it alters the whole basis on which we have been running our social insurance scheme since Beveridge. That is clearly nonsense. Apart from anything else, if it were a breach of principle it would expire long before any new measures for which it might create a precedent even came into operation.
What is that principle anyway? Pensions are paid out of current contributions. The principle, therefore, is a sort of poll tax, so that by paying partly for the pension of one's parents, one qualifies for a pension oneself. It is not a contributory principle in the sense that the pension depends on the contribution itself. Every time the pension is increased, it goes up regardless of the contributions of pensioners, and rightly so. It is, therefore, a rather arbitrary qualification. Those who have in the past paid according to the rules qualify now in the present. This, however, really does not create the difficulties which, it is alleged, would be involved by paying a pension under the Bill.
The people whom we are trying to help were not able to contribute. Some of them were even excluded from the 1939 scheme by reason of being above the then income limit of £400 a year. Over the years, therefore, they have been prevented from contributing to any State scheme, and over the years the contribution which they have saved for themselves has been eroded by inflation.
745 The whole rules of the pension schemes, although I accept that they attempt to be as just as possible, are arbitrary. For example, it is possible to lose one's pension if one does not claim it within a period originally of six months but which has recently been extended to a year, whether the failure to claim is due to illness or any other reason. This is not a contractual relationship the principle of which would be breached by paying a small pension to people who have not contributed any more than it is breached by increasing the pension beyond the level of any personal contribution by the pensioner.
If we are talking about a breach of the contributory or insurance principle, what about the Secretary of State's scheme in the White Paper? Someone who joins at the age of 45 gets 42 per cent. after 20 years. Someone who joins at the age of 20, after 45 years' contributions still gets 42 per cent. I am not quarrelling with that. I am not saying that it is no more or no less in breach of this imaginary principle than the proposals set out in the Bill.
One of the things which I do not understand in the Government's attitude to these matters is their sense of priorities. They say that it costs too much at the present time and that there are other and better ways of spending the taxpayer's and contributor's money from the National Insurance Fund.
Let us look at the figures. It cannot be said to be as expensive as all that, remembering that there are now only 125,000 people affected by the Bill. Their average age is 86. The expectation of life given in the British life tables gives an indication that statistically they will all be dead by the end of 1973. Therefore, we have five years to consider.
The Government's figures, given in reply to a Question, give the cost of the full pension this year as £30 million. Supplementary benefits, however, account for £12.5 million, leaving a net cost of a full pension of £17.5 million. Therefore, the total cost of the scheme at full pension would be £52.5 million on the assumption that the people die at the rate indicated by the British life tables, that they are 39 per cent. men, that the proportion of single to married pensioners remains the same and that the recipients of supplementary benefit die at the same 746 rate as everybody else. What it really means, therefore, is that the absolute maximum that the scheme could cost, taking account of paying the full pension and also all the other pensions which might have to go up to match it, could not be more—and this is a wildly extravagant estimate—than about £100 million in all—that is, £20 million a year.
To pay half-pension would reduce the amount sharply. The net cost of half-pension in the current year would be something like £2.5 million. The net cost, therefore, of the total scheme at half pension to complete the end of the 1973 cycle would be £7.5 million. Allowing for the extra which would have to be paid on the same basis to rectify the other anomalies would bring the total up to between £20 million and £25 million, or £4 million to £5 million a year.
Last night, we were discussing among other things the Land Commission, for which the Government cheerfully set aside £45 million last year. A figure of £150 million has been allocated to the Industrial Reorganisation Corporation while the Transport Act entails another £174 million. These are costing the taxpayer more in a week than pensions under this Bill would cost in a year.
If, when the Government decided to breach their own principles over prescription charges, they had breached them a little earlier and had not delayed the introduction of prescription charges, this would have saved £75 million, which would very nearly have saved the whole cost of my scheme at its maximum level.
To seek to economise at the expense of this group of people is almost typical of a profligate and incompetent Administration. The Government rather remind me of a character in one of Nancy Mitford's books. Every time he thought that he was getting poorer, the writing paper became thinner, the paper in the loo got thicker and the racehorses stayed in the stable. The Government imagine that they can economise in small things and continue to maintain extravagant expenditure.
We have heard a great deal about the future. Under the right hon. Gentleman's plans, for the pensioners, tomorrow is another day, but there will be no tomorrow for those affected by 747 this Bill. Half of these people have already died since the Bill was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon. Most of the rest will be dead by the end of 1973. There is nothing in the White Paper, not even a statutory guarantee, for other existing pensioners. Why cannot the Secretary of State relent a little? I have no doubt that today we shall hear arguments which range from administrative responsibilities to the integrity of the system, arguments about plans, ideas and things, but not about people and compassion.
The Secretary of State sometimes shows an almost Teutonic incapacity to distinguish between the right and the correct. To distinguish that is very largely what Ministers are for. The Civil Service must be correct, that is its function, but it is the function of Ministers to soften the impact of that correctness on people with warmth and mercy and to try to do the right thing. This Government, as I suspect we shall hear today, remains obdurate. It is not quite like the words of the old song:It's the rich what gets the pleasure,It's the poor what gets the blame.It begins to look like a paraphrase which would read:It's the votes what get more pensionIt's the old that stays the same—Isn't it a blooming shame?It is a shame we in this House should do something to rectify. It is a shame which this Bill seeks to abolish. I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading.
§ 11.32 a.m.
§ Mr. Douglas Houghton (Sowerby)
I am sure that the whole House will congratulate the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) on the good fortune he had in the Ballot and the opportunity he has taken of bringing this matter before the House again. He argued his case closely and well, although I thought that the note of reproach which ran through his speech was inappropriate to the occasion. A little penitence would have been more becoming because this is an inheritance upon the whole House and the responsibility rests there. It is in that spirit that I want to approach this difficult and complex subject.
748 I say straight away that I am in sympathy with the purposes of the Bill, although for reasons I shall give I do not think that this is the way to go about it. We want to be clear first about the scope of the proposal. The hon. Member did not make it absolutely clear beyond any doubt, but I assume that provisions of the Bill to be that we are dealing with those who were excluded from the provisions of the 1946 National Insurance Act solely on grounds of age. We are not dealing with those who entered the scheme briefly before reaching pension age and who may have taken a refund of their contributions. They knew when they did so that they were forgoing their right to pension. Nor are we dealing with those with modified pensions on account of a deficiency in their record. They have their grievances, but at least they are getting a pension and they are not within the provisions of this Bill.
We are not including in this proposal as I see it anyone who actually entered into insurance, or could have done so, in 1948. So in looking only at those who were excluded on grounds of age on 5th July, 1948, we are dealing with the survivors of a then considerable group of people but who are now, in the case of women over 80, and in the case of men over 86. What the House has to ask itself is, have they a grievance, have they a case, is there something here we should put right? This is the third time—probably the last—on which this matter has been before the House.
We are familiar with the arguments for and against doing something for this group. Speaking for myself, I have long had serious doubts as to whether we were right in rejecting their claim for some consideration. But when I went into it—and I did so on several occasions—I found that there is a tendency to extend the repercussions of doing something for this group into a much wider group with a larger addition to the ultimate cost. It looked rather frightening when I saw the figures. That is why I am anxious that we should look at this in its narrow context and regard it as a step that we desire to take for these people, and these alone.
I hope that I am not revealing anything I should not reveal, but for some time now I have been making approaches to the official Opposition in the hope that 749 I could get them to agree to approach the Government for a non-party agreed solution to this problem, to remove it from the field of controversy and save us the embarrassment and pain of having ultimately this afternoon may be—but I hope not—to go into the Division Lobbies on this matter. I am sorry to say that I did not get the responses I had hoped for. I approached first the hon. Lady the Member for Melton (Miss Pike), who was then the official spokesman for the Opposition on this matter. I approached the noble Lord, the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel), who is now the official spokesman for the Opposition, and I mentioned it to the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins), who introduced the last Bill on this subject. I hope that before the day is out we can get from the Opposition an official statement of where they stand in this matter.
§ Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing)
I cannot of course speak for the official Opposition in this context. No doubt the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) gave my hon. Friends notice that he intended to mention this. I made it abundantly clear to the right hon. Member that for anything he could do to get the Government to help this group I would be immensely grateful, but the question of acceptance or rejection is one for the Government. It is not a matter of our being able to do something unless they agree. It is for them to do it and I hope that they will exercise their power for that purpose.
§ Mr. Houghton
Each of us can have our point of view about that, but, having regard to the fact that the Conservative Party was in office for a long period while this problem was with us and the Labour Government have been in office several years and we still have this problem, I thought it would be appropriate for an attempt to be made—which I undertook entirely on my own responsibility—to see whether there were any hope of arriving at some kind of pact or compromise to solve this problem.
§ Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he has given notice to the hon. Members he has named that he was to reveal that he has had communications with them?
§ Mr. Houghton
I am afraid not, and I apologise if I have failed to observe the courtesies of the House, but I have not revealed anything that they said to me. What I have said is that I approached them with a view to getting an official Opposition point of view on this problem. I do not think there is anything terribly wrong in that.
§ Sir John Vaughan-Morgan (Reigate) rose—
§ Mr. Houghton
I have not mentioned the hon. Member's name. I am sorry, but I cannot give way to him now.
I want to get on to the merits of this matter, and to look at what I conceive to be the grievance which this group has. If one goes back to the beginning of the 1946 scheme, one sees how vaguely the various publications dealt with the position of those who would be over pension age at the introduction of the scheme. I have looked at the White Paper of 1944, at Government publications in 1944 and 1946, and at the Second Reading debate on the National Insurance Bill of 1946, in the hope of finding whether it was ever made clear how those who were over age would stand in the future when the new scheme came into operation.
During the Second Reading debate on the 1946 Bill the then Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, my right hon. Friend the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) said:It will also apply to non-contributory pensioners over 70 who are drawing these pensions. The mean scale, under the Old Age Pensions Act, will be suitably adapted to the increased rates of pension. We do not propose, at this stage, otherwise to modify the non-contributory scheme. Therefore, what we can do now say is this. Those who are now getting 10s. under the Lloyd George scheme will get the full rate before next winter. Others will get appropriately adjusted rates. Thereafter persons who are insured under the existing scheme will qualify for retirement pensions subject to the new conditions as to retirement, but to modified contributory conditions on the lines of the existing scheme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 6th February. 1946; Vol. 418, c. 1753.]I looked, too, at all the Reports of the Committee stage of the 1946 Bill, but I saw no mention throughout of the position of these people.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that on reading the 1946 debates it becomes clear 751 that Parliament did not foresee the kind of plight in which these people now find themselves?
§ Mr. Houghton
I shall develop that in a moment.
I do not regard myself as having at any stage made an authoritative statement on this matter, but I have discovered that I wrote a booklet called, "The Family Circle", to which the then Prime Minister, Mr. Attlee, wrote an introduction. I said then:The non-contributory (' over-70') pension will remain in being for people who are too old to begin paying into the new scheme, those on small incomes who contract out, and those late entrants into the new scheme who do not qualify for retirement pension before they reach 70.The same rather liberal test of needs will continue.That is what I said, and it received the approval of the Government at the time.
In the result, the Old Age Pensions Act of 1936 was amended to bring the pension rate—the over-70 pension—up to the new level of the contributory pension, and the means test was liberalised to provide better opportunities for the non-contributory pensioner to get a pension. But thereafter, after the first adjustment, nothing was ever done with the non-contributory pension, and it remains to this day, 23 years afterwards, at the same level as in 1946, except that an addition of 2s. 4d. was made in 1957 to compensate for the withdrawal of the tobacco tokens.
When I was an Opposition spokesman on social security—and this will be within the recollection of older Members—I repeatedly complained, when we had Bills before us, that no change was being made in the conditions of the non-contributory pensioner. It was always argued from the Government benches of the day that these people could get National Assistance, and many of them did, and a larger number of them receive it now, but it seems to me that the importance of the failure to do something about the non-contributory pension lies in the more favourable treatment of savings under that scheme than under either the National Assistance or the Supplementary Benefits Scheme. I believe that had the 1936 Old Age Pensions Act conditions, as adjusted in 1946, been brought up to date from time to time, 752 many more people would have qualified for a non-contributory pension than has been the case under the National Assistance and Supplementary Benefits Schemes.
My first argument is that those over pension age in 1948, but under 70 at that time, fell between two stools. One has, I think, to contrast their position today with that of other groups who are covered by the 1946 Act, and particularly with that of the late age entrants to which the hon. Member for Farnham referred. In 1948 half a million people were excluded from the earlier contributory scheme, in many cases because they were in excepted employment, and had, therefore, an occupational scheme of their own, or their remuneration as non-manual workers exceeded £420 a year, and therefore they were not allowed to be contributors under the pre-1948 scheme.
These late age entrants were admitted to the scheme under privileged conditions. They had to pay contributions up to pension age, whereupon they could choose between going on to complete 10 years contributions, or withdrawing their contributions with interest. I have personal knowledge of individuals who benefited under the conditions of late age entrance. A relative of mine, aged 62 when the scheme started in 1948, paid contributions for three years only. He was then 65, and he remained in employment. His employer paid contributions thereafter, but he did not. He then drew the full pension, and has been drawing it with increases for the last 11 years. When we talk about the contributory principle, we see what breaches have been made to provide for the claims of particular groups of people, and I think that the late age entrant is a striking example of how people were accommodated within the new scheme on very favourable terms.
It can be argued that one has to draw the line somewhere, that it was drawn at pension age, and that it would have been of little value to have offered an option to people over pension age to satisfy some contributory conditions before being qualified for pension, but nobody ever tested that. They were given the opportunity, and we do not know what the response would have been.
753 It could also be argued that it would be wrong to allow people to buy themselves in, but people bought themselves into the existing scheme, in many cases distinguished only because they bought themselves in on a series of weekly or monthly payments instead of a modest lump sum. Little did anyone know in 1946 what price would be paid by those who were excluded at that time. I believe that those concerned were left in serious doubt about how they would be provided for in the future. I can find no trace of that having been made plain.
I think that all Governments, and the House, have overlooked the widening disparity between the treatment of those who qualified by virtue—Oh what a virtue it has been!—of contributions, however small or few in number they may have been, and those who were kept out altogether.
We saw the financial discipline of the actuarial contribution discarded after a few years. The idea that people should join the scheme on the basis of a contribution, which over 44 years would be an actuarial contribution to a life annuity, which the pension really is—all that went. In the early part of the scheme we saw how all the expectations and forecasts—of Beveridge, of the White Paper, of the Government actuary—were all falsified. In fact, in the early part of the scheme the National Insurance Fund made a huge profit out of an estimated level of unemployment of 8 per cent. which the Government actuary was instructed by the Government to write into his calculations, and was therefore in the unemployment contribution, and within 21 months of the introduction of the scheme the Government had salted away £225 million surplus because of the excess contribution for unemployment which went into the National Insurance Fund.
The Government had not the heart to go on making a profit out of a bogus level of unemployment, so they halved the assumed level of unemployment for the purpose of calculating the unemployment element in the contribution. They reduced the Exchequer contribution and they gave pension increases without a corresponding increase in contributions. But successive Governments—and here I place the responsibility on both, and quite heavily on Conservative Governments 754 because they were there longest—did nothing to remedy what was becoming a glaring anomaly between those excluded and those let in. They stuck to the contributory principle, however capricious and unfair, and it has now become a form of worship in our scheme of social security. The National Insurance Scheme, so called, has become a vast exercise in the redistribution of spending power in favour of the old, with a stamped card as a ticket of admission. I hope that we shall not make the mistake of excessive rigidity and regulation again.
By 1960 the regular Exchequer contribution had been increased by 2 per cent. and the money came out of taxation contributed in appropriate share by those who were left out of the original scheme. Between 1948 and the current year no less than £3,500 million has been put into the National Insurance kitty by the State out of taxation for distribution to contributors only. The amount of the Exchequer contribution has trebled in the last 10 years. This, I think, shows that those who got into the kitchen got the pancakes, and they got even more under the Conservative graduated scheme because that was a new move towards redistribution of income between those who were at work and those who had gone into contributory pensionable retirement. For the others, National Assistance was still on tap.
The main part of my case rests on the arbitrary and unforeseeable consequences of exclusion in 1946. No one in 1946 spoke of a steady and substantial increase in the real value of the retirement pension. Adjustments which had been made to compensate for the rise in the cost of living—yes, perhaps, but the subsistence level was what we talked about in those days. If we are going to look at this suggestion of the breach in the contributory principle we have to consider, even in retrospect—that is what we are doing today—the test of contributions and whether it can fairly be applied to those who were arbitrarily and, in my submission, unjustly kept out of the scheme 20 years ago. That is why I think that injustice should be remedied for those who survive.
The question then is, what should be done? At this late date there is no justification for half measures or for a 755 niggardly approach to this matter. The Bill is seriously defective in not defining what it proposes to do. It appears to leave it to the discretion of the Secretary of State to decide what pension these people should get. If this is to be dealt with properly we should give the full pension to the survivors without any qualification at all. Give it to them 20 years after, and by any reckoning in my opinion it is 10 years too late.
§ Mr. Hamling
Would my right hon. Friend agree that it should also be given to those people who are receiving Service pensions?
§ Mr. Houghton
I am not dealing at the moment with the qualification for pension, any more than we are dealing with similar considerations for the contributory pensioner. I want to put these people on the same footing as the contributory pensioner for the remainder of their lives.
The next question is, where should the money come from? Here, the Bill makes another mistake, although I realise that there is probably no option. I do not think it would be proper to charge this money to the National Insurance Fund, although I think a pretty strong case could be made out for doing so. There are instances of a breach of the contributory principle even in the lifetime of this Government, and I cite for example the old cases where men were receiving workmen's compensation but who had not made contributions to the Industrial Injuries Fund. They were given benefits from that Fund. This was charged to the Industrial Injuries Fund. This was called the Industrial Injuries and Diseases (Old Cases) Act, 1967.
The Labour Party has surely been against arbitrary line-drawing in its social security scheme. We were against the arbitrary line drawing for the 10s. widow. We remedied it and we charged it to the National Insurance Fund. We have long been against the arbitrary cut-off of the widow's pension at 50 years of age, and the new White Paper has proposals for dealing with that. In our tax laws there has always been a principle of marginal relief to avoid the arbitrary distinction between those on one side and those on the other. We all see now that what should have been done for the elderly people in 1946 was to give them the same 756 opportunity as was given to the late-age entrants. Had they chosen not to take it, that would have been their responsibility, but it would have been extremely good value for money had they taken the opportunity, and I think a great many would have done so.
Social security is really all about the redistribution of income between one generation and another, between those who are at work and those who have given it up. The contributions are the financial agency for collecting the taxation which is necessary to finance the scheme. That is why it is desirable to avoid too many arbitrary distinctions, rules and regulations and the fantastic network of contribution qualifications as a condition of benefit.
When we make the contributory principle our gaoler, putting on irons and handcuffs, the time has come to break out. Much as I think one could justify charging this to the National Insurance Fund, I consider that we should not do so. It is not desirable to have a battle over that. It should be paid out of the Exchequer. We should regard it as compensation, as restitution, as a belated act of justice to people who, through no fault of their own, were unable to come in and make a contribution on the same footing as a great many others to the new scheme.
I hope, therefore, that the Government will give sympathetic consideration to this proposal and see whether there is a possibility of ending the controversy. I hope that the sponsors of the Bill will not make it a party issue. I sincerely trust that it will be possible to avoid a Division at the end of the day. I shall not reproach hon. Members opposite as the hon. Member for Farnham reproached the present Government. In this matter, we have a joint responsibility, and it would be a great pity if we had to divide the House in order to discharge it. I hope that we can be spared further chapters of this painful and embarrassing subject which causes us all a great deal of concern and on which we reach our judgments only after careful consideration.
That is what the country would wish us to do. The House would redeem itself. The Government would be doing what I believe their own supporters in their 757 heart of hearts would wish them to do. I earnestly hope, therefore, that the Secretary of State can offer sympathetic encouragement to all of us who are anxious to see a solution to the problem.
§ 12.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Airey Neave (Abingdon)
I very much hope that the Secretary of State will take the advice of his right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). This is the fifth Bill of its kind, and this the third or fourth debate on Second Reading. It has become an embarrassing and painful episode year after year to come here and be confronted, on the one hand, by the Government proposing to vote down a Bill to pay pensions to people with an average age of 85, while, on the other hand, we on this side have to make the same or very similar arguments in defence of those people, arguments with which the majority of the House, and certainly the majority of the country, agree.
I entirely agree with the right hon. Gentleman when he says that this is an inheritance. For me, the first person to introduce a Bill of this kind, it arose from a dispute with the Conservative Government in regard to two of my constituents who live in Berkshire, in the Vale of White Horse, and who are now getting very old. As the House knows, I introduced my first Bill in 1964.
The fact that it is an inheritance from 1946 means that this is the responsibility of both parties, of the House as a whole. During the right hon. Gentleman's interesting and constructive speech, I intervened to ask whether he agreed that, from a reading of the debates on the 1946 National Insurance Act, it was obvious that the House in those days did not foresee the consequences of excluding these people from that Act. It is clear from the debates in Committee and in the House at that time to which the right hon. Gentleman drew attention that the consequences were not foreseen, and, no doubt these have a good deal to do with the growth of inflation and the eating away of people's savings since.
I have one or two arguments to add in favour of what my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) proposed in his able exposition 758 of the case and the grievance of these old people. The nature of the case changes to some extent from year to year because of the sad decline in their numbers. The very fact that a social security need of this kind is declining in terms of financial commitment should compel the Government to adopt a less complacent attitude to it than in the past. I look forward to something better from the Secretary of State than an extolling of benefits of new schemes which will for these people be implemented in the far distant future. I want to know what he intends to do about these old people now. I have no doubt that there is much to be said for some of the schemes which he has in mind for the future, but what will he do in the present?
What will the Secretary of State do about those who, because of their age, will have died by 1973? That is the question which the House puts to him. As my hon. Friend, who has always taken a great interest in this matter, pointed out, when I started there were 250,000 of these old people who were excluded in 1948. There are now 125,000. Four hundred of them are dying each week. They do not have the benefit of the death grant. This is a terrible thing to have to talk about at any time in the House or anywhere else. I saw in the Evening Standard of 24th January a letter from a lady of 61—many of the people covered by the Bill are the widows of men excluded in 1948—who only discovered that she was a pensionless old person when she was refused the death grant at the time of her husband's death. It is a shocking state of affairs that this House is debating in 1969 a situation in the Welfare State in which people of this age have no entitlement to that form of benefit even when they die. They are too old for pensions. They are too old to die, in the eyes of the State. It has become essential for the Government to take action.
It is an unfortunate fact that in all the debates since the famous filibuster by the noble Lord, Lord Wigg, in 1965 the discussion has coincided with a new increase or promise of increase in pensions to others, and these old people always feel that they are left out. It is this simple fact which makes the whole affair so glaringly unjust, when they hear of 759 Government schemes which do not include them.
There is a pathetic note in a letter I had this week from an old lady—There is no place in the world for us.These old people are living in a community in which there are other pensioners with pension books but in which they have no rights in respect of social security benefits even on death. Unlike those who have pension books, they cannot claim concessions on local transport—though some local authorities are moving in that direction, I am glad to say—they have no cheap seats at the cinema, and none of the common concessions of that kind. It is a shocking state of affairs in our much-vaunted Welfare State. No one in the House can be proud of it. It is to be widely condemned, and is so condemned by the community as a whole.
Over the years, Ministers have advanced the various objections to which my hon. Friend referred. As the right hon. Member for Sowerby rightly said, especially in the light of our imprisonment in a rigid contributory principle in the past and the breaches which have been made in favour of other groups, those objections do not answer the real argument. The fundamental point is that my hon. Friend's Bill would alter the decision of Parliament in 1946. As I say, it is clear that in 1946 no one foresaw that this sad anomaly would come about in this way. It is the function of the House to remedy hardship. We often pass amendments when we find that legislation has created hardship. It is no new thing to do. The 1946 Act excluded certain people. Now, more than 20 years later, we find that hardship is caused. It certainly is being caused, especially to those non-pensioners who are not covered by supplementary benefits. I shall come to that point in a moment.
In our debate last year, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) gave a good account of how the situation arose. It is worth reading his speech. There was no dispute that the original scheme was based on contributions, but this small group of people were forbidden to contribute, through no fault of their own. The right hon. Member for Sowerby emphasised that very effectively and eloquently, and 760 his plea should not fall on deaf ears this time.
Those concerned can be brought into the scheme only by amending legislation. The supplementary benefits argument has been used more than once, but it is not the answer. Much of the discussion appears to be academic in view of their age.
The greatest blow these old people suffered was in 1965, after the filibuster against my first Bill, and that was the promise of an income guarantee. I had a very sharp and acrimonious correspondence with the Prime Minister on the subject and reproached him very strongly about it. There is no question that these old people were led to believe that the income guarantee would be a solution after the defeat of my Bill here and in another place, where peers supporting the Government defeated it on a three-line Whip in May, 1965. Even after that, there was constant reference to the income guarantee. Many of them now feel despair.
Nothing materialised for them. Now we have had the Minister's White Paper, which does not suggest that anything will be done for the subjects of the Bill. It is quite indefensible for the Government to carry on whipping in their supporters against a Bill to pay pensions to people who, through no fault of their own, are executed from the National Insurance scheme. This must seem one of the most extraordinary episodes in Parliament in the past five years.
It is said that the situation is inherited from the Conservative Government, but it is also an inheritance from the first Labour Government after the war. If there were any record in the OFFICIAL REPORT of hon. Members on either side of the House having raised the matter, except very rarely, during the 13 years of Conservative Government, I should see some force in the inheritance argument, but there is not. I did not become aware of the importance of the matter or the numbers involved until the summer of 1964. I do not believe that the majority of hon. Members knew about it. It is true that representations were made to the Conservative Government from about the early 1960s, and that the Conservative Government adhered to the contributory principle, but I do not think that 761 the House as a whole became aware of the matter until I presented my Bill.
How could these be arguments for saying that we should do nothing now? It cannot be an excuse for the Government to say, "You did not do anything, so we need not do anything about it. Those whose savings decline with inflation will receive supplementary benefits, and the rest will not get a pension." The majority of those concerned are widows of people who were excluded solely on account of their age. The right hon. Gentleman was right to say that the Bill deals with those who were excluded solely because of their age in 1948. It is indefensible that a fairly young woman who before 1948 married a man over pension age should now be the subject of the Bill. I have already referred to the woman who discovered that she was in that position when she applied for a death grant in respect of her husband, who happened to be a non-pensioner. Who will defend that situation from the Dispatch Box today? It is totally indefensible in any modern social security system.
The Government extol the supplementary benefits system which they introduced. But in the case of people of this age it is not an answer to the arguments, especially that put forward by the right hon. Gentleman. He made the case as strongly and as well as I have heard it made. Although I do not know anything of his negotiations with the Opposition, I look forward to his negotiations with the Government, which I hope will be even more successful, because they will be able to do something. I hope that he will pursue his negotiations to get a solution acceptable to the House. No hon. Member wishes to continue with this controversy, which is fast becoming tragic.
I hope that the Minister will not say that he cannot do anything because of the cost. That would be indefensible, in view of other forms of expenditure, such as his projected scheme and other increases which he is holding out to retirement pensioners who have been able to contribute. The phrase, "have been able to contribute", is the whole crux of the case. If one is not permitted by law to contribute, one is in a different position to people whose contributions are deficient or who have at least had the chance to contribute. I hope that the 762 right hon. Gentleman will answer this point, because no Minister in these debates has been able to deal with it to the satisfaction of most hon. Members. The old people concerned never had the choice of contributing, and therefore the contributory principle, which has been breached in other respects, is academic. It is no argument to say that nothing can be done because that was the principle accepted in 1946.
I ask the Minister to listen not only to his right hon. Friend but to hon. Members on this side of the House. We know very well that the responsibility is widely spread, and that the Government inherited the situation. But that does not make it any better when old people not on supplementary benefits are suffering hardship. There is much hidden poverty among people who still regard supplementary benefits as a form of charity. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will say that they should be encouraged not to do so, but they are of a generation that felt like that.
They have not very long to live. I hope that the Minister will show humanity and statesmanship in the matter and will propose a solution with which the House can agree. Otherwise, the battle must continue not only in the Division Lobbies but until we have another Government, which I am sure will do something about it. No Government can allow this crying anomaly to continue much longer. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will listen to all the arguments and provide a solution that will at least make life easier for the old people concerned in the evening of their lives. I hope that he does what his right hon. Friend suggests.
I know that the Bill is not perfect. It could not be in order unless it dealt with the National Insurance Fund. I hope that the Minister will agree to pay these old people the full pension as of right. They are so near the end of the road that it is the least we can do.
§ 12.18 p.m.
§ Mr. Kenneth Marks (Manchester, Gorton)
I oppose the Bill, not because I am unkind to old people or because I do not know a great deal about old age problems—I do—but because I am not convinced of the need by the arguments of the hon. Members opposite. If there is £17½ million to be used in the 763 form of pensions, it would be more just to use it in ways other than suggested by the Bill.
I feel like saying that this is where I came in, because almost as I entered the House last year there was a similar debate. It is significant that all such debates have taken place since the party opposite went into opposition. In the years before 1951, when the average age of these people was 68, there was no mention of the problem in the Opposition's manifestos. In 1955, the Conservative Party published, "United for Peace and Progress"—and on to Suez—but again there was no mention of this problem, although comments sent out during the election said clearly that National Assistance would of course be available for those pensioners who needed additional help. That still applies. There was nothing about the matter in 1959, when everyone else was having it so good. But in 1964 there came this statement by the Conservative Party:When next we make a general increase in pensions we shall give preferential treatment to the older pensioners.However, this was rather vague and I can find no specific statement that it meant using the present contributory pension scheme to do this. But in 1966, of course, when the Conservative Party was in opposition, it said that it would provide a pension for those too old to be covered by National Insurance. So it is now part of the official policy of the Opposition.
The Bill asks the Government to depart from three principles, about which we hear daily from the Opposition. The first is the contributory principle, which successive Conservative Governments have insisted upon. If we were to abandon the contributory system at a time when a White Paper on a new scheme is being discussed, it would cause a great deal of confusion.
The second principle to be abandoned would be one that is so dear to the hearts of hon. Members opposite—that in the social services priority should be given to those most in need. Surely that principle is also official Opposition policy. But I question whether the people concerned are in need. I should like to hear a great deal more evidence 764 about this. Perhaps half of them are, admit it and collect supplementary benefit. But we do not know about the rest. I know that some are certainly not in need and we would, therefore, be granting pensions to people with incomes far higher than the existing old-age pensions—indeed, far higher than incomes of many people still at work.
Do these people know their rights? There may not be so many of them in my constituency, but I have found that, in the main, when things like rate rebates or 100 per cent. grants on smokeless zone conversions come along, they are often in evidence in putting their arguments frequently finding, however, that they have too much capital or too much income to qualify for these grants. That, indeed, is the reason why some of them do not qualify for supplementary benefits.
In my constituency there must be over 8,000 old-age pensioners. It is not a constituency which Nancy Mitford would know about, and, incidentally, it is significant that, with one possible exception, hon. Members opposite who have taken part in the debate come from the lush South and the lusher constituencies of the lush South.
§ Mr. Marks
It is not as acute in Halifax or Gorton as in seaside and southern constituencies, but among my 8,000 pensioners half need to ask for supplementary benefits. Most of them have paid throughout their working careers, throughout their long lives of hardship. They need to obtain supplementary benefits to live at a reasonable level. Some of them obtain it with a certain pride. Like other hon. Members, I tell them that there is nothing to be ashamed of in doing so. They remember when they were forced under the means test, to contribute to the upkeep of their parents, and they accept supplementary benefit because it gives them that independence. I believe that if my right hon. Friend can get £17½ million from his colleagues, an increase in the supplementary benefit or an increase in the standard pension would be more beneficial.
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Mr. R. H. Turton (Thirsk and Malton)
I know that the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) is a man with considerable powers of sympathy, but I think that the speech we have just heard is one of a degree of callousness which I feel sure in later years he will regret
I feel that when the history of these times comes to be written, the main criticism that will be levelled at all of us will be about our neglect of the very elderly. Our comparative failure to provide them with suitable accommodation. When they are sick and frail in rural areas, they are taken far from their homes and neighbours to distant hospitals, and when they are sick and frail in urban areas they are placed in large wards in congested hospitals. But, above all, at a period of very great inflation, we make no provision to secure that the very old live in comfort.
I follow the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) in an appeal to avoid party in-fighting on the issue. I deplore that the Government have, I believe, placed a Whip in order to try to defeat this Measure. This is a common responsibility. The main cause of the situation has been pin-pointed by the right hon. Gentleman. When the 1946 Act was drafted—and I am one of the few Members present who were in the House at the time—that Measure was put forward by all parties as an attempt to get universal security in old age. It was for this reason that the late age entrant was put in. Where we were at fault was in not realising that those who were of pension age on 5th July, 1948, were going to live a very considerable time. They were left outside the scheme. This is the injustice and the measure of our failure.
Let us take the case, for example, of a single man who was self-employed but had his 65th birthday after 5th July, 1948. He paid in contributions the amount of £148 during the 10-year period, because he was allowed after reaching pension age to pay contributions at the non-employed rate, and he has so far received in pension £1,709. The man who had his 65th birthday before 5th July, 1948, was not allowed to pay any contributions and has received no benefit. That is the measure of the problem.
766 It is perfectly true that those who were employed and who were late age entrants paid slightly more, but they will also have received a great deal more in pensions. The difference between the dates of birthdays means that some people have received from the National Insurance Fund more than £1,500 more than they contributed.
It is asked why this problem was not tackled earlier. I take full responsibility for saying that I believe that both parties were to blame. However, when I was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and Natonal Insurance in 1954 we were faced with the difficulty of tackling this problem at a time when we were collecting contributions from late age entrants. That was the dilemma with which Governments were faced from 1948, when the Labour Party was in power, until 1958, when my party was in power. If we had said, as I freely admit we should have said, that the injustice ought to be remedied, it would have been difficult at that time to ask late age entrants to keep paying their contributions. However, the late age entrant scheme was finally completed in 1958, and from that time the Conservative Government and the succeeding Socialist Government were at fault.
It is now well past the time when this fault should be remedied. I was disappointed to find that the Secretary of State for Social Services made no reference in his recent White Paper to the problem of existing pensioners and how they would have their pensions kept in line with the increasing advantages which would be given to the young entering the scheme. My own views on the treatment of the very elderly are well known. I believe that pensions should increase with age, for I think that the needs of the very elderly are much greater than are the needs of those just reaching pensionable age.
The fault in our social security legislation is that it makes people think that they are very old when they get to the age of 65 and that the benefits of a pension should be the same at 65 as at 85. That is why I challenged the hon. Member for Gorton. I am certain that if he goes round his constituency, he will find many old people who had savings and who relied on them as long ago as 767 1948 and who have what may be old-fashioned pride, but who are now in desperate need.
I commend the suggestion of the right hon. Member for Sowerby that the deduction mentioned by proviso (a) to Clause 1 should be very small. I see the point of making a deduction, because of the so-called contributory principle, which I have always regarded as somewhat phoney, because the late age entrant was told that he would get an advantage if he contributed. Some did and some did not, while others had their contributions refunded. There is a point in making a deduction, but, as the right hon. Gentleman has suggested, it has to be remembered that these old people have already forgone more than £1,709 if they were single and much more if they were married. I hope that the deduction will be very small.
The right hon. Gentleman asked why the amount of the deduction should be left to the discretion of the Secretary of State. I thought that there was force in his argument. If the Bill goes to Committee, it may be decided what the sum should be so that it is not left to the Secretary of State's discretion. However, that is a Committee point.
I hope that the House will attack this problem. There is no reason why the National Insurance Fund cannot afford this amount, whether it is £22½ million or £30 million. We are dealing with a Fund which stands at about £1,600 million, or £1,700 million. As the right hon. Gentleman said, we have already dealt with the old workmen's compensation cases and removed them from the ambit of the Fund and every one of the 400,000 late age entrants—the number was not 500,000—has received a pension of at least £1,709 and it is therefore only right that this small sum should be taken from the Fund.
I ask the House to realise the great problem of the very elderly in today's society, and when we discuss the new White Paper I should like the House to tackle this problem. I do not say this from any party point of view, but there is a danger that in all these great and wonderful schemes we do not make sufficient distinction between the young able-bodied old and the old who become extremely old and very frail. Times have 768 changed, but, unfortunately, our ideas of social security have not changed with the times. There is a valuable opportunity today to take one step forward and to remove a crying injustice to some 125,000 very old people who would be grateful to us if the House unanimously passed the Bill.
§ 12.38 p.m.
§ Mr. William Hamling (Woolwich, West)
I hope that the right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) will read some of the answers he gave to some of the questions put to him when he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance on the subject of social security and that he will read some of his speeches defending the contributory pension. We are not concerned with the contributory principle only in this instance. No doubt we shall have other Bills which are intended to breach it, and if it is breached in one regard, why should it not be breached in others?
The House may well decide that we should depart from the contributory principle altogether. I hope that we shall be given an indication of official Conservative Party policy, a definitive statement of Conservative policy, on the whole subject of social security and the contributory principle. Do the Opposition believe in the contributory principle or not? If they are departng from it, they are departing from everything they ever did when in power.
On previous occasions when we have discussed this Measure I have appeared to get rather heated and I have used rather strong language. In the past, I have used terms such as "humbug" and "hypocrisy". At the moment I am not very heated and I am not using those words, but a great many people outside think them when they look at the Tory record, when they look at what the Tories did when they were in power and had opportunity to right the wrongs they are parading today. A great many people outside accuse them of humbug and hypocrisy—and of being mealy-mouthed about it at the same tme.
Let us look at the Bill. It is remarkable how little has been spoken about the Bill by its supporters. Very little has been said in explanation of it. It reminds one of the famous prospectus of a bogus company at the time of the South Sea 769 Bubble when a company was formed "for a purpose not yet to be disclosed and benefits not yet to be disclosed". It is remarkable how little the Bill says, and we have not been told what it would do.
Clause 1 refers one immediately to the Schedule and says that the persons described in the Schedule shallbe entitled to payment out of the fund of the pensions specified in column 2… provided that—I do not know what these words mean. Neither does anyone else. These words are completely meaningless.
- (a) where no contributions to the fund have been paid by a person coming within any of the said classes of person or, in the case of a widow coming within Class III, by her husband, the amount of the pension to be paid to such person shall be reduced by such amount as shall be prescribed by the Secretary of State as being equitable in all the circumstances".
The hon. Gentleman talks about establishing need. On previous occasions when this proposal was being debated it was suggested to the House that what "establishing need" meant was that the Minister would consider whether in an individual case need was established. I would refer the hon. Gentleman, before he gets too determined in his denial of that, to look back at the debates and to see what was said.
What do the words "equitable in all the circumstances" mean? What circumstances? Circumstances of the individual? Circumstances of the economic state of the nation? What circumstances? We are entitled to an explanation. What do they mean? The circumstances of the recipient? The circumstances of the fund? Or what? We have had no guidance whatsoever on this from the hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill, and the House is entitled to an explanation.
We are entitled to ask why the Secretary of State shall be given this arbitrary power to reduce the pension by any amount at all. By how much? One-third? One-quarter? One-half? Three-quarters? We have not been told.
This is a completely bogus prospectus. The case put up by the Opposition is bogus. The Bill itself is bogus and fraudulent. It offers nothing in real tangible terms to anyone. I have accused the Opposition of electioneering on this matter before today.
§ Mr. Hamling
How much will they get under the Bill? I will give way if the hon. Member wants to intervene and tell me by how much one pensioner will benefit, to his certain knowledge, as a result of the Bill.
§ Mr. Montgomery
I was only trying to get the hon. Member to explain how much electioneering there is in this when only 125,000 people in the whole country will be affected by it.
§ Mr. Hamling
I would remind the hon. Member of the speeches he made on this matter at his by-election—
§ Mr. Hamling
—when he referred to Whiggism and he referred to the determination of the Opposition, of the Conservative Party, really to give social benefits where they were most needed. We know very well of the speeches made in the country way back in March, 1965, and the speeches which he made on subsequent occasions by spokesmen opposite on this and related matters. What they have been seeking to do is to conceal the record of this Government in providing social security. Really, they have been trying to pretend that this Government have not been carrying out very major improvements in social security.
To come back to the Bill, I challenge the hon. Gentleman to quote a single case of a single person who would be a penny better off under the Bill, because the Bill would give the Secretary of State complete and arbitrary responsibility. He could do nothing. The Bill gives him power to do things. It does not put on the Minister any compulsion to do anything.
§ Mr. Hamling
I am dealing with the Bill which has been brought forward by the Opposition. I am demonstrating how empty the Bill is. It is not sufficient for the hon. Member to come back with that kind of claptrap. I am dealing with what the Bill says. I am asking the Opposition what it means. It is no answer for the hon. Gentleman to say, "What would you do?" What is worth doing has already 771 been done. We have consistently increased supplementary benefits—
§ Mr. Hamling
—consistently for all those people who are entitled to it if they are poor, and the hon. Gentleman knows it. Is he saying that they are not entitled to supplementary benefits?
§ Mr. Hamling
What we are talking about is their need. The Bill which is being paraded by the Opposition is being paraded as being something which is needed by these people because they are poor. That is what is being said. What I am demonstrating and what our Government have demonstrated many times is that the Government have provided very generous social benefits.
What the Bill does not do is to give anyone entitlement to the full pension, and we have not been told by the Opposition where, under the Bill, anyone would be given the full pension. It says that the Minister shall have power to do what he likes.
§ Mr. Hamling
The hon. Member expresses disbelief. He said himself that people could be given, perhaps, half-pension. Perhaps. He does not know. He cannot say, because the Bill does not say it either. Does he think this is worth anything? Clause 1(b) says:where any person entitled to a pension under this Act has contributed to the fund, the amount of the pension payable to him and to his wife or, in the case of a widow, to the widow of such person shall be reduced by such amount as shall be prescribed by the Secretary of State as being equitable having regard to the extent to which such person has contributed to the fund.Here we have a different principle. What we are now told is that one of the circumstances relating to a reduction of the benefit is the extent to which such a person has contributed to the fund. This seems a very strange qualification. First, we are told that we should not have any regard to the fact that they have made no contribution. But here we have another qualification, that one of the 772 circumstances to which the Secretary of State shall have regard is how much they have contributed. This is one of the biggest loads of nonsense which has ever been perpetrated on the House.
I should refer to the special categories which the hon. Member for Farnham mentioned. We have a new definition of need from the Opposition. For some time we have been told that Tory policy in social security is that people should have to prove need before they get the benefit, whether it be subsidies, family allowances or anything else. Apparently, there should be no benefits across the board, and benefits should be selective according to one's need. They say, "Why should we give millionaires the pension and family allowances? Why should we give the wealthy housing subsidies?" This is what we are always being told—that there should be a means test.
But how is the means test defined today? The Bill provides that, according to categories, those over 85 shall not have a means test. Is that because they are the most needful class in our society?
There are many other categories of people whose need is far greater. What about the mentally sick who have never contributed to anything and who there fore are subject to the means test, which hon. Members opposite apparently do not like for people over 85, and who have to prove need to the Supplementary Benefits Commission? If we say that people over the age of 85, many of whom are receiving Service pensions, many of whom are quite wealthy—
§ Mr. Hamling
In a moment.
What about widows, many of whom are sick, under the age of 50 and have never worked? Are they a special category? How many special categories are needed? What about deserted wives left with large families, in ill health and in distress? Are they a special category? Or is there to be only one special category in the calendar of the Conservative Party?
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan
The hon. Gentleman is labouring the argument which I was attempting to put, which 773 was simply that in considering retirement pensions we could perhaps follow the suggestion made last year by the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) and say that there is a case that older pensioners should have, as of right, a statutory pension larger than that of younger pensioners. This would be a method of taking some people outside the need for a means test.
§ Mr. Hamling
That is only saying in different words what the hon. Gentleman has already said once this morning, namely, that there is a special category of people who should not submit to this type of inquiry. He knows very well that this Government have made immense changes in the system of what used to be called National Assistance, or public assistance, and which we now call supplementary benefit. People who receive supplementary benefit are not subjected to the sort of inquiry which used to be made.
What about the severely disabled, many of whom are completely incapacitated? Are net they a special category? Once we say that there is a category of pensioner who shall not be subjected to the normal principles of establishing need there will be immense pressure from every other special interest for this concession. I think of the Disabled Income Group, which the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) knows very well. The hon. Gentleman and I have worked together with them. Are not they a group with special needs just as serious and significant as those of people about whom we have been speaking? I regard the hon. Gentleman's argument as very doubtful.
Would people have to apply for the pension under the Bill? We have not been told. If they would have to apply, how would they do so? Would they have to fill in a form of inquiry? Would they have to produce a birth certificate? Would they have to answer questions? We have not been told. These matters are relevant to the case.
It is said that these are people with pride who do not want to go to the Supplementary Benefits Commission for assistance. If they are too proud to do that, how are we to persuade them to apply for the pension under this Bill? Is 774 there to be some sort of inquiry? Are bona fides to be given?
§ Mr. Hamling
Bona fides must be established. It is no good hon. Members opposite grinning.
Is it to be said, "All that you do is to say that you want a pension", or will people be asked, "Why do you need a pension? Where do you live?" These are elementary inquiries. There is no reason why people over 85 years of age who need a pension could not in all conscience have their needs admirably dealt with by the Supplementary Benefits Commission, as happens with so many other people. I am sure that no hon. Member opposite would say that the Commission's administration is harsh, unfeeling and unsympathetic or that it is over-bearing in its inquiries. I know that it is not since I have a son-in-law who works for it. The members of the Commission are most sympathetic and very generous.
There is no need for this Bill. The Conservative Party has a curious attitude to social security. It claims that benefits should be paid only to those in need and that people should prove need. That is the general principle of hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. Hamling
I will quote what the hon. Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) said in the Sunday Times last Sunday:The state should concern itself with basic security".Then he said:Additional provision over and above basic security is best left to private and occupational schemes".Arthur Seldon, who is not a Socialist but a Conservative, wrote in the Sunday Telegraph:We must find a way of distributing pensions and all or most social benefits according to need".Do the Opposition say that Arthur Seldon does not convey the Conservative Party's philosophy about social security?
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan
The hon. Member is guilty of the most disgraceful trick in combining a very rapid and short quotation by my hon. and noble Friend with views expressed by Mr. Arthur 775 Seldon, who is not responsible for the official policy of the Tory Party on social security. As the hon. Gentleman knows very well, my hon. and noble Friend said as he quoted, but added that the concentration should be on those whose need is greatest. He must not use that as an argument to imply that the Tory Party does not wish to pay any benefits of any sort or kind except on proof of need, which is what the hon. Member has tried to do.
§ Mr. Hamling
Is the hon. Gentleman now saying that, on behalf of the Conservative Party, he repudiates the doctrine that benefits should not be paid across the board irrespective of need, that they should not be selective? Surely the whole burden of the Conservative case on social security and benefits in the last four years has been that this Government are paying benefits across the board and that the Tories would be selective on the basis of need.
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan
I would be in no way justified in speaking for the Tory Party policy on pensions, but nor is the hon. Gentleman justified in saying that the principles of selectivity and paying according to need, as put forward by my hon. and noble Friend and others in repeated statements and speeches, imply that no pension or benefit will ever be paid without some means test and that there will be a means test on everything. That is what the hon. Gentleman is trying to imply.
§ Mr. Hamling
I am not saying that at all. What I am saying is that the whole philosophy of the Conservative Party on social benefits is that people should prove need. On pensions, now, we are to have a different doctrine, so let us hear what the doctrine is. The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) would go on record as saying that we want to get away from the insurance principle altogether. I have no doubt that this is what he will say. If we are to depart from that principle altogether—that is surely one of the elements behind this whole controversy this morning—on what do we base the payment of pensions?
We on this side say, pay a basic pension. It is insufficient to live on, but on what does one base anything else? 776 On need? But one has to prove need. What the hon. Member is seeking to prove is that the Tory Party does not believe in that, that people should be paid pensions and social benefits as of right. That is what he is trying to say and it is against everything said in recent months by the Tory Party.
This is a "phoney" prospectus and a bogus Bill. It says nothing that anyone could put his hand to, because it says nothing tangible at all. It is a fraudulent Bill and I hope that the House will reject it.
§ 1.4 p.m.
§ Mr. Walter Loveys (Chichester)
We have just heard a pretty disgraceful speech from the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling). It was a filibustering speech which tried to criticise strongly the Conservative Party, but at the same time admitted that he did not know what that policy was. No wonder that the hon. Gentleman had such difficulty in getting his speech across. He also said that it was remarkable how little the Bill says. I think that that is one of its great advantages. It is a small and straightforward Bill, saying only that we would give a pension to the very elderly who are not qualified under the present scheme. The details for which he asked are really all Committee points.
I was impressed by the different approach—
§ Mr. Hamling
The hon. Gentleman says that the details are Committee points, but they are not. The details are clearly stated in the Bill to be filled in by the Secretary of State at his discretion. That has nothing to do with the Committee.
§ Mr. Loveys
We will have to disagree on that. The hon. Gentleman knows quite well what power the Committee has in this respect.
I was terribly disappointed with the speech of the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks), who opposed the Bill outright. I know the hon. Gentleman well and know that he is a most sympathetic man. His first point was that we should wait for the Bill which will be hatched from the Government White Paper, but wait is the one 777 thing which these very elderly people just cannot do, since they have not long to live.
His second point was that some people would get a pension that they did not need. The same applies to the ordinary retirement pension. Is he suggesting that there should be a means test for all pensions, whether for the very elderly or under the ordinary National Insurance scheme? I make no excuse for repeating that I represent a constituency which is one of those to which he referral as being in the "lush" South-East. I can assure him that there is nothing very lush about the circumstances of the very large number of elderly non-pensioners who live in this district.
How different from those two speeches was the speech of the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), whose experience and knowledge the House greatly respects. He suggested a nonparty approach. I am sorry that he started to tell us exactly what his nonparty approach was—that he had approached some of my right hon. and hon. Friends but no one on the Government benches—but the whole House would like to know full details of this and would, of course, like some agreed all-party approach.
The right hon. Gentleman said that the injustice should be remedied and he would go further than the Bill. He would give a full pension to those very elderly non-pensioners. That is certainly no argument for opposing the Bill, so I hope that he will support it, since it goes partially towards the aim which he has in mind.
I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) on having chosen this subject. During my years in the House, of the many anomalies and injustices in pensions and welfare which the House has tried to iron out, with considerable success, the continued lack of a pension as of right for the very elderly has stuck out like a sore thumb among those things which still need to be done. Many hon. Members opposite have considered that this is a party political matter—
§ Mr. Loveys
I would concede that assessment to the extent, and only to the 778 extent, that the Conservative and Liberal Parties both have a policy on this and are absolutely committed to introducing legislation. The only thing that could stop it on a change of Government is the present Government staying in office long enough to ensure that none or only a handful of those who would qualify remain. That would be tragic indeed. That would be tragic.
§ Mr. Hamling
The hon. Member said that the pension would be paid as of right. Yet the Bill gives the Minister of State arbitrary power to pay the whole pension, half of the pension or two-thirds of the pension. How can the hon. Member talk about a half-right or a quarter-right or a one-third right?
§ Mr. Loveys
The hon. Member and I must agree to disagree. That is a matter which could be dealt with in Committee. The point is that the Conservative and Liberal Parties have a definite policy to help these non-pensioners—a policy which is lacking in the Socialist Party. We must bear in mind always that each year 25,000 of these people die.
It is not my intention to go over all the arguments which have been advanced time and again on the five Private Members' Bills on this subject, all introduced by my hon. Friends over the last five years. I will touch on only two points—first, the basic case for the Bill and, secondly, what I believe is agreed as the strongest argument which could be advanced against the Bill, that the present supplementary allowances are sufficient to give the necessary help to the very elderly.
Dealing, first, with the basic need for the Bill, the case is very simple. Everyone is aware that the National Insurance pension—to which these people are not entitled—is not entirely covered by the contributions paid to the scheme and that therefore the contributory basis has been breached, leaving a large proportion of the ordinary retirement pension met by funds supplied by the Exchequer, which means by taxation, to which the very people about whom we are concerned have contributed. It must therefore be right that a pension at least of that proportion of the present retirement pension which is not based on contributions is the entitlement of everyone in 779 the land. That is the sole object of the Bill, and it is a simple, fair and just object.
The second argument is that supplementary benefits are of sufficient help, but many people are too proud to ask for that which they consider to be National Assistance, and which used to be called National Assistance. They are, of course, wrong. Of course everyone has a right to supplementary benefit just as he has a right to the pension. But in this elderly group this feeling of pride, if that is the right word, is very strong. Many hon. Members have had the experience which I have had of finding it impossible to break down this barrier.
Moreover, all supplementary benefits are based on a means test. Here we come back to the question of selectivity. I am in favour of some form of selectivity in welfare payments generally, but the basic retirement pension must be available to everyone, as is indeed the case, and therefore the pension which we are seeking in the Bill must come into the same category as does the ordinary national retirement pension.
I admit that I have not had as many letters on this Bill as I received on previous Bills on the subject. To some extent, that is because many of those who were eligible have passed away. Another reason is probably that there is a feeling of hopelessness engendered by the Government's continual refusal in this matter. But I receive regularly letters from one constituent—and I had one from him yesterday—who is concerned in this matter, as are his three brothers, who are aged 88, 92 and 94. All of them receive nothing in national retirement pensions. Every one of them has given particularly good service to the country in various walks of life.
That is no argument for or against the Bill. But when we receive such letters about four such brothers, it highlights the whole situation. It is morally wrong and logically unjustifiable that that the oldest members of the community have no pension rights even though they have contributed for a pension at a level somewhat below the full retirement pension. That is their right and that is all the Bill seeks to provide. I submit that it fully deserves our support.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)
I agree that when we receive letters such as that which the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Loveys) received about four brothers, they can be very moving. I can easily accept the contention of the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) that the quality of a society can be judged to some extent by the way in which that society looks after its old people.
The hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) may recall that when he first raised the matter some four years ago, I was one of those very concerned about it and who talked to him about it. Indeed, I wondered whether it was not a Bill which deserved all-party support and which should not be free of party politics. Having been stirred up by the hon. Member for Abingdon, I went at that time to discuss the situation with the West Lothian County Welfare Officer, Tom Watson, who is an extremely wise and an outstanding man in this field, as are many of those who work in geriatric situations. Mr. Tom Watson raised a very interesting question with me. He said, "I have studied the Bill introduced by the hon. Member for Abingdon, but are you quite sure that this is the way to do it?". He said that in his experience—and it is certainly true in my limited experience, too—many of the very old do not want cash as much as they want domiciliary help and help of all kinds.
This is a relevant consideration. Are we quite sure that in order to look after the very old—and we are talking about those over 86 years of age—we should concentrate on the question of money. It is, of course, easy for politicians to try to slide out of financial obligations of one kind or another and it is easy for the Government Party to try to protect the Treasury, but I feel from my personal experience of the very old, which I admit is limited, that perhaps cash is not the answer. At Christmas I made one of my twice-yearly visits, which many Members make, to the three old people's homes in West Lothian, and I talked to them. One thing which struck me is that at this age the physical act of making decisions in relation to cash and of knowing what to buy may in itself be very difficult and a burden to old people.
§ Mr. Julian Ridsdale (Harwich)
I will give one example in which the elderly need cash. When the daily help charge was increased, it worried a number of the elderly. That is one situation in which money in their pockets would have been worth while.
§ Mr. Dalyell
If such a charge is increased, is it not better to consult the welfare authorities, who certainly should be involved, in order to make this kind of decision on their behalf? The question is not, do we help those over 86? The question is, do we bring those over 86 into this scheme? That is the issue with which we are dealing. The question which I want to ask is are we looking after these people? That is the criterion. If we are not looking after them, then as a society we are blameworthy. But if we are, then I am not at all sure, in the light of all other considerations this morning, that this particular Bill helps very much.
I have another reflection. It may well be that as a Northerner I have a rather different experience from hon. Members who have spoken from the benches opposite. I do not want to enter into the philosophy of the discussion that hon. Members have had with my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks). It may well be that the need is greater in the South than in the North, rather than the other way round. I have a suspicion, however—and hon. Members opposite may deny it—that perhaps it is true that the welfare services, if not better, are much more fully developed in the North. There are differences in the different regions of Britain. In Scotland, one of our strong points is the development of welfare services for the old.
I have a little experience of the South of England. I have only an impression—I will put it no higher—that because of the actions of local councils, which vary from council to council, there really are differences. It may be that I would be pressing much more strongly for this kind of Bill if I represented a South of England constituency. I think, however, that I speak for most of Scotland—but I do not presume to speak for the North of England—in saying that it is the welfare services which take care of most of the problems to which hon. 782 Members representing South Coast constituencies have drawn attention. Therefore, granted our resources are limited, I deduce that the question really is how best to use them. The outline of the Bill does not present any kind of optimum use of those resources.
I suppose that all of us have some kind of a conscience, and I do not think that this is the kind of occasion to alleviate one's conscience by party political measures. Nevertheless, it is estimated that with the various measures which the Government have introduced to make provision for supplementary benefits, 60,000 people over the age of 86 now draw an average rate of £5 7s. a week. The argument is that £5 7s. is not enough, but in relation to the needs of 86-year-olds I am not sure that it can be argued that they are not looked after.
Knowing that the Bill was coming forward again, I talked to the staff of the Ministry of Social Security offices in West Lothian who do an excellent job. People who have experience and who spend their working lives involved in this kind of work are of the opinion that it is the local authority services which, perhaps, could be improved rather than an overall giving of cash to those who are supposed to be in need.
There is one other matter which I must raise. It was touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), who did not really make a party political speech. This whole argument has entered into party political terms since 1965 and anybody who makes points tends to be accused of being party political in the worst sense. I do not think that that was true of my hon. Friend.
My hon. Friend asked, however, to whom these payments were to be made. A high—at least, a significant—proportion of those to whom they are supposed to be made are wealthy people. Is it solemnly proposed to give what amounts to an ex gratia payment—
§ Mr. Dalyell
These are matters of opinion. One of the difficulties is that none of us has any absolute authority.
§ Mr. Dalyell
That is true. If I am devoid of facts, so is the hon. Member. I do not put it in that way, however. My suspicion is that a significant proportion—I had better be careful; I will not say a high proportion—
§ Mr. Hamling
Would not my hon. Friend also agree that many of these people are probably retired teachers who are receiving service pensions, which, as a result of previous measures by the present Government have been increased several times? Would he not also agree that many of them are Service pensioners?
§ Mr. Dalyell
I reflect that among my teaching colleagues, those who survive two years after retirement seem to have a certain propensity to longevity. One either dies on the job, just off it, or one lives a very long time. I suspect that my hon. Friend the Member for Woolwich, West has a point in what he has just said. I must not go on too long, however.
There is a very real question of whether people whom the Bill is intended to benefit had the opportunity to contribute. How does one find out whether a person had the opportunity to contribute and decided to opt out? Again, it is worth asking whether as a group we should choose the over 82-year-olds, as they were in 1965 when the hon. Member for Abingdon first introduced his Bill, or the over 86-year-olds as they are now. Is that necessarily the right basis?
One might take another basis, that of widows, who, as a group, have more need than the over-86 or the over 82-year-olds. I do not want to be personal, but what the Bill would do in my constituency would be to give to Lord Rosebery a sum from the Government to which he had not in any way contributed. I have no personal animosity or anything of the kind in relation to Lord Rosebery, but it seems to me to be a bit odd to introduce a blanket measure which would help Lord Rosebery.
§ Mr. Ridsdale
If I may give an example, one of the old people in question is aged 71 and has no pension at all.
§ Mr. Dalyell
If she has no pension at all at the age of 71, she may be a very proud person. There are difficulties. In that case, why does she not go, as many people do, to the Ministry of Social Security and get at least some sustenance on those grounds?
§ Mr. Ridsdale
Because she has a certain amount of gilt-edged investment, but it is depreciating every day.
§ Mr. Dalyell
This point was raised earlier in the debate and a plaintive cry went up. One must remember that many of the people involved were described as people whose capital had been "eroded". I suspect, however, that that is a comparative term.
I would like to ask the hon. Member for Harwich (Mr. Ridsdale) the capital sum involved in the case about which he has intervened. This is a very real question. Let us suppose that it has dwindled, as, I suspect, may be the case.
§ Mr. Dalyell
Let us say £800 to £1,000. Given all the other needs of old people, to what extent should we help people in that position? People like the hon. Member for Harwich are, perhaps, over-influenced by the real social problems, which I understand, of people who are frankly déclassé. This can often be very sad. It is often pathetic how people have gone down in the world and one can be sorry for them, as I often am. It can be very disagreeable.
Having said all that, however, is it solemnly proposed that the State should give them extra help, which is not given to other people, out of the money which should be allocated to the total needs of pensioners?
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan
The hon. Member is making a slight blurring of the definition. We are talking not simply of people who are over the age of 86, but of people over that age who, through no fault of their own, were excluded from the 1946 scheme and thereby unfairly treated compared with others who 785 have similar savings and are in a similar position but whose pension has gone up in step with the rise in the ordinary pension ever since.
§ Mr. Dalyell
In the hon. Member's reckoning, how many of the 125,000 were in fact excluded through no fault of their own? How many consciously opted not to contribute? As the mover of the Second Reading of the Bill he has a certain obligation to try to answer that question. I do not know the answer; does he? Is it not true that some of them had an opportunity to contribute and rightly or wrongly opted not to do so?
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan
The hon. Member is perfectly correct that there are two classes who could have contributed but these are not included in the 125,000 mentioned in the preamble to the Bill nor in the original set of costings. I refer to them in my speech because it is often argued that they also would have to be brought in.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The hon. Member for Farnham must have made a deep study of this subject. Otherwise he would not have brought in the Bill. I ask as a simple man how one would separate these two categories?
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan
The Ministry has a rough estimate of the extra number of those who might be involved.
§ Mr. Dalyell
This is not the place for a dialogue, but it is extremely difficult to establish who of their own volition decided not to contribute and who were genuinely not able to contribute. This is a very material point.
Other hon. Member wish to speak so I shall not go on for longer other than to say that when one examines the proposal involved in the Bill it does not seem to meet the crucial issue which is how society looks after its old people.
§ 1.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Fergus Montgomery (Brierley Hill)
Recently I read an article about the First Secretary of State and Secretary 786 of State for Employment and Productivity and what she said at one of the Labour Party conferences during the war when she was unknown. She made a soul-stirring speech the great theme of which was that for the British working class it was never jam today but always jam tomorrow. I cannot help wondering what she thinks about the proposals by the Secretary of State for Social Services who is not promising jam tomorrow but in 1992 if we are all spared or what she thinks about the people affected by this Bill brought in by my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Maurice Macmillan).
§ The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. Richard Crossman)
I do not want to debate the White Paper, but, since this is the third time that the assertion has been made by hon. Members opposite, I had better put in on the record that if the scheme starts in 1972 the first benefits will be paid out 12 months later, not 22 years later, and that 19/20ths will be paid out so that there will be a steadily increasing amount of benefit over the years. It is not true to say that it will start 20 years later.
§ Mr. Montgomery
The right hon. Gentleman will also agree that the full benefits will not come into effect until 1992.
I was rather taken by the speech of the hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling) who as usual breathed fire and brimstone. He accused me of Whigism at my by-election, whatever that may be. I had more important things to say at that by-election than in urging people to back Lord Wigg's horses, by which they were not likely to benefit.
I think hon. Members opposite had better be careful before using such phrases as they use in these debates. I was born in an area where the Labour Party had always been traditionally strong and I remember going to Labour Party meetings and being told that the Labour Party was the only party which really cared for the workers, the poor and the underdog. Today when people talk about political humbug and hypocrisy they think about the party opposite because in government they act very differently from when they were in opposition. I never believed all the cant of the party opposite about fighting for 787 the underdog but if it is true I hope that we shall see some evidence of it today by their supporting this Bill.
I hope that the Government will take off the Whips. We know that the Whips have been put on to kill the Bill. Several hon. Members of the party opposite whom I do not even know have been badgering me this week to pair with them today. They were anxious to get away and not to have to vote against this humanitarian Measure. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham on again ventilating this problem. It concerns a dwindling number of people and it also happens to be concerned with the oldest section of the community. As a humanitarian Measure it deserves the full support of the House.
We have been told already that it concerns about 125,000 people. We debated this issue almost a year ago, on 16th February last year. At that time in our discussions we were talking about 150,000 who would be affected. In a year 25,000 of these people have died. We also know that their average age is 86. I have never had it satisfactorily explained to me why these people have no pension. It seems—I believe the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. James Griffiths) said this a year ago—that in 1948 the Government of the day denied them the advantage of a pension scheme because they were considered too old to participate. The people we are fighting for were never given the option of contributing to the scheme. That is a vital point which must be emphasised. The result is that they have no retirement pension.
Hon. Members opposite keep referring to them as rich people but there must be some among them who are poor and in desperate need. They are dipping into their savings and many are suffering real hardship. We are told that they should apply for supplementary benefit. The hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), whom I am glad has decided not to grace us with his presence today, when he intervened in the debate last year appeared to believe that the Bill was designed to help duchesses. That shows how much out of touch he is.
These people are our oldest citizens. Whether we like it or not they were brought up at a time when to accept any 788 form of State aid was considered unpopular and not the thing to do. Of course times have changed and we have to put across to them the rights that they have as citizens. Of course there is not any great slur in taking some form of assistance by supplementary benefit but every Minister of successive Governments has pointed out the difficulty of trying to get some people to accept their rights. All hon. Members must have had constituents whom they knew were entitled to benefit and hoped that they would apply but whom they could not induce to apply. I have often gone to the board and said, "Would you please call on so and so as though you are doing just a check up" in order that the board official could get the message across.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I thought the hon. Member referred to duchesses. A very real question arises. Granted that there are limited funds, should some be paid to the very rich? There is a genuine question here. The hon. Member, having made the point, should answer it.
§ Mr. Montgomery
I did not refer to duchesses in relation to the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) but with reference to the hon. Member for South Ayrshire. He joined the debate last year and I said that I was delighted that he is not gracing us with his presence today because we can do without him.
§ Mr. Dalyell
The substantial point is that this is a question we have to face: granted that there are limited public funds and the hon. Member's party is always talking about cutting public expenditure, do hon. Members opposite think that the pension should be paid to those who are very well off?
§ Mr. Montgomery
Yes of course. Retirement pensions today are paid generally including people who are millionaires.
§ Mr. Montgomery
The point is that some of these people happened to be rich and of course they will get the full pension but they would also have to declare it for tax purposes. That is a 789 vital point. We have to try to see that these old people get some form of pension because they were not given the right to join the National Insurance Scheme in 1948.
§ Mr. Murray
The hon. Gentleman said said that millionaires were drawing a pension. Did they contribute to the scheme?
§ Mr. Montgomery
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is not listening to what I am saying. It may be boring, but if he were to listen he would not make such pointless interventions. The people to whom I am referring were never given the option to contribute because in 1948 they were considered to be too old. I wish that hon. Gentlemen opposite would do a little homework before attending a debate such as this.
The old argument has been used that a pension scheme depends on contributions. It is said that if someone makes a contribution he gets a pension, but if we are honest we have to admit that the pension which a person receives today does not represent what he has paid in contributions. A substantial amount is added to his pension from money paid by the taxpayer, and also by the Exchequer. Our point is that as that happens for people who retire today, those people who, through no fault of their own, get no pension should receive a share of the money paid from the Exchequer and by present-day contributors. I do not see why the people whom we have in mind should not get a share of the money that is available. We are not advocating the payment of a full pension. We realise that that would introduce unfairness and anomalies. We are saying that they should have a part pension as a right.
The plight of some of these people is serious, indeed. They are living on savings which are dwindling rapidly. If a person knew how long he was going to live, it might not be a comforting thought, but he could make some provision for his old age. A person of 86 can live to be 100. If he has a small amount of savings, and he sees those savings dwindling it must be extremely worrying to him. These people are in the twilight of their lives, and in some cases they are having to pennypinch to eke out an existence.
790 A constituent of mine had a small corner shop. He stayed at work until he was over 80, simply because he could not afford to give up. He knew that once he gave up his shop he would have to live on his savings, because he was too old in 1948 to contribute to the National Insurance scheme, and therefore would get no pension. At a time when he should have been enjoying his retirement, he had to go on working to ensure that he did not starve.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) said, these people who do not get pensions often miss some of the fringe benefits, such as cheap cinema seats, which are allowed to pensioners who produce their pension books. The hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) talked about this sort of thing happening in the lush southern constituencies.
§ Mr. Higgins
The National Old People's Welfare Council, following my negotiations with it, has made an arrangement whereby cinema companies give concessions to these old people. This is the only concession they receive without a means test.
§ Mr. Montgomery
I am delighted to hear that. Manchester has a Conservative Council, and we should not expect its members to do otherwise.
I used to represent Newcastle, which I am sure no one will call a lush constituency. One of my constituents was an old lady who had no pension. The city council arranged for concessionary fares for those who could produce pension books, which allowed them to travel on any city bus for 1d. at off-peak times. This old lady who had no pension book often saw her neighbours who were pensioners travelling on buses for Id., while she, with a great deal less money than they had, had to pay full fare. I submit that this is nonsense. If we care about people, and if we are anxious to remedy injustice, we must take action now.
I agree with the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). His is the only sensible speech that we have heard from that side of the House. No political party has clean hands in this 791 matter. Let us make no bones about this. My party must bear its share of responsibility for the present state of affairs, but at least let it be recognised that we appreciate that there is a problem here, and have pledged that when we are returned to power we shall do something about it.
I hope that today the Government will relent, because this is an urgent Measure. We are asking for only a part-pension. We are asking that these old people should get their share of the contributions paid by those who are now at work, and their share of the money which comes from the Exchequer. The number involved is dwindling rapidly—at the rate of about 25,000 a year. I have always had great sympathy for the oldest section of the community, because I think that those who retire today have in most cases, had the opportunity to earn decent wages, and to have made some provision for their retirement. The oldest people, those whose working days coincided with the depression, had no chance to save. They did not have the same opportunities as those who are retiring now.
I hope that the House will give the Bill a Second Reading, because I regard this Measure as a great step forward. I believe that by giving the Bill a Second Reading today we can show that we are humane, that we care for these old people, and that we are at long last prepared to do something for them. We cannot deday for much longer. As I have said, 25,000 of these people have died since we debated this issue a year ago. We need to take action urgently, and I hope that that action will be taken today.
§ 1.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Albert Murray (Gravesend)
The speeches of hon. Gentlemen opposite today are beginning to restore my cynicism about Conservatism, because we have had this chestnut since 1964.
Perhaps we ought to go back to a little before then, and consider the Conservatives' pensions record. I have here a book published in 1959, when a former right hon. Member of this House, one who will not be unknown to the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) was Prime Minister. The book is entitled, "All the Answers". The strange thing is that there does not seem to be any answer to this question of non-pensioners. 792 The book runs to 280 pages, and in it there is a section devoted to social security. It starts by dealing with the origins of the Welfare State, and points out, in the usual cynical Conservative manner, that the Welfare State resulted from the efforts of the Conservative Party, and no one else really had anything to do with it.
In these pages devoted to social security I can find nothing about non-pensioners. On page 107, where reference is made to the new pensions scheme, the question is asked:What are the aims and main features of the National Insurance Act, 1959?The answer is:The Act has three main aims; (i) to put the National Insurance Scheme on a sound financial basis …From the Bill before us today, and from previous Bills, I should have thought that that was the last thing they intend to do. It all comes back to the cynicism of the Conservative Party. Week after week in this Chamber we hear requests by hon. Gentlemen opposite to cut expenditure, to reduce the number of civil servants, and so on. Then we get the usual Friday ritual of "private backwoodsmen's" time, when they can introduce matters for which they had 13 years in which to introduce them.
That is not the only book from which I shall quote. There are others, such as one entitled "How Conservatives have helped the British People". In this I see no mention of the help that they gave to the non-pensioners. There is not a word in that book about non-pensioners. It says how well the Conservative Party did for social security and pensions. Where were the non-pensioners then? Is this a breed who suddenly appeared on 16th October, 1964?
I can quote not only from booklets issued by the Conservative Party saying how they helped the British people, but from the OFFICIAL REPORT of the proceedings which took place in this House when the Conservatives were in office. The right hon. Member for Devon, North (Mr. Thorpe) was asking Questions of the then Minister, the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), who said:I cannot, therefore, see why one should make a distinction in the help given to them"—793 that is, the people without pensions—and a distinction in the help given to other unfortunate people in need through the National Assistance Board."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1962, Vol. 658, c. 7 and 8.]The Conservatives were saying at that time that the National Assistance Board was good enough for those not in receipt of pensions. Now we have suddenly had a switch. On 16th April, 1962, the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames answered my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Sir B. Janner) on the subject of non-pensioners over the age of 70, and he said:As regards the last two parts of the Question, Parliament has already made financial provisior for all persons in need through the National Assistance scheme."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th April, 1962, Vol. 658, c. 7.]On 16th July, 1962, the hon. Lady the Member for Finchley (Mrs. Thatcher), who has been a protagonist in this battle since October, 1964, said:I would point out that there is very little point in saying, on the one hand, that to get the pension as of right one should contribute to it and, on the other hand, 'Never mind whether you contributed or not, you will get it in any case'. That seems contradictory."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th July, 1962; Vol. 663, c. 5.]I would go further and say that the whole attitude of the Conservative Party in this matter is just as contradictory. Looking over the leaflets and pamphlets issued by the Conservatives, I see that one of them contains the words "This is what we have done". The face portrayed on the cover of the booklet is of a former Prime Minister who told us that we had never had it so good. I do not know whether he told that to the non-pensioners. On page 15 of "This is what we have done" by the right hon. Harold Macmillan, we find these words:Caring for the old.It points out that the Conservatives had raised the pensions. It did not say that they had done nothing about widows' pensions. It went on to say:A new graduated scheme will be introduced to meet changing conditions and to put pensions cm a sound financial basis.The whole theme running through the Conservative Party's attitude to pensions is "a sound financial basis". Now they want to put a certain group of people outside and to break through that financial basis. But when their Ministers 794 were answering Questions in 1962 they said that it would be contradictory to break through and give pensions to people who had not contributed. Such people, they said, could go to the National Assistance Board.
§ Lieut.-Commander S. L. C. Maydon (Wells)
The hon. Gentleman surely realises that if the whole system of social security is kept on a sound financial basis, there will be a greater financial margin with which to cater for such hardship cases.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether these people are a new class who have suddenly appeared. Of course, they are not, but their need has become greater in recent years, particularly in years of Socialist Government when prices have increased at such an abnormally high rate.
§ Mr. Murray
With respect, the hon. and gallant Member should not be telling me that this should be done on a sound financial basis. He should have told his right hon. Friends on his Front Bench before 1964. As to his reference to rising prices, I would have thought that it was well known that we have increased supplementary benefits and old-age pensions at a much higher rate than the Conservatives did when they were in power. Therefore, that point is of no avail. The Conservative Party cannot escape the fact that for 13 years they did nothing about this class of person.
The hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Montgomery) said that these people whom we are discussing were dying at the rate of 25,000 a year. This indicates that 10 years ago there were over 250,000 of them. Never mind about them being a new class of people. There were more of these non-pensioners when the Conservatives were in office.
§ Mr. Montgomery
Everyone of my hon. Friends who has spoken has made the point that we accept that our party was wrong, and we hope that hon. Members opposite will now see the light.
§ Mr. Murray
The hon. Member says that he accepts that his party was wrong. It has taken them a long time to wake up to the fact that they were wrong. It is no good their shaking their heads. They would not like to do 13 years in Dartmoor.
795 Here we have a group of people to whom this matter has a great emotive electoral appeal. In private Members' time, on Friday after Friday, we hear things from hon. Members opposite that they have never thought about before. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames said that National Assistance would cover the need. The hon. Member for Finchley said that it is covered by National Assistance. Then hon. Members opposite come here and say "We have had a sudden conversion." The Church of England would like a conversion rate such as that which the party opposite has got.
I come back to the pamphlets and books issued by the Conservative Party stating what they did about the social services. Here is a book called "The Campaign Guide 1964" containing 712 pages.
§ Mr. Murray
The hon. Gentleman said that; I did not. There is no mention in this book of the non-pensioner. Is that good value?
§ Mr. Murray
Because we had a change of Government. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Gwilym Roberts), who is so often right, is right again. In 1966 we had a Labour Government. Suddenly on 16th October, 1964, 300 Conservative Members of Parliament woke up on that dull dreary morning and suddenly realised that there are people called non-pensioners. They discovered that there were disabled persons and that they had not done anything about them for 13 years.
They said, "We were wrong, but we are going to do something about it now. We shall make speeches about it. We shall introduce Private Members' Bills. All will be sweetness and light. We have found some new classes of people for whom our wicked Government did nothing for 13 years". But it takes a 796 little time, of course. The Campaign Guide was issued in 1964. If any hon. Members get fed up with television comedy, they could do worse than read this and have a good laugh. There are 712 pages. Where is the reference to non-pensioners?
§ Mr. Murray
One cannot even find it there. On page 242 there is a long list—thumbnail size—of Conservative achievements:These improvements show that the Conservatives have kept—and will continue to-keep—their pledge to see that pensioners share in rising prosperity.No reference to non-pensioners, no reference to those who did not contribute. There is no mention in all these 712 pages of social security for non-pensioners.
The Opposition have some gall. As I say, it reinforces my cynicism about their party. They have picked on a particular group of people who, they feel, need help. Does the present system help these people? I maintain that it does help those who are in need. If one were introducing a pensions scheme covering all people, that is, starting afresh and without old-age pensioners as they are now, one might introduce a different sort of scheme. But these people who need help can receive supplementary benefit. This Government have changed the whole approach to social security. They have established a Ministry of Social Security. They have taken away the stigma of National Assistance. I maintain that they are doing a very good job.
In 1966, under this Government, the Rating Act was introduced to give rate rebates. Hon. Members would do well, in an idle moment, to compare that Act with the Rating (Interim Relief) Act 1964. I shall not go out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but, in the context of a debate about non-pensioners, it is worth comparing those two Acts to see how much the Exchequer is contributing to help all those in need now with what it was doing under the Conservative Government's Act of 1964. Under the 1964 Act, Torquay and one or two other South Coast resorts, I recall, received about £30,000, and areas such as mine were left with very little.
The Conservative Party talks about lowering taxation. One scheme which the 797 Opposition are pushing for an across-the-board payment to pensioners would cost anything up to £70 million. Where would that money come from without increased taxation? They may say, "Cut the number of civil servants". In that event, there would be a larger pension scheme but fewer civil servants to operate it. The scheme being pushed in the present Bill is likely to cost anything up to £30 million per annum. Perhaps hon. Members will tell us how they would raise that extra money. Would they raid the Fund?
It is interesting to refer back to previous debates on this subject and note the number of Conservative Members who voted. The hon. Member for Brierley Hill made some scathing remarks about Members who wanted to pair with him. Perhaps he will refer back, for example, to the debate on 25th March 1965. There were 107 Conservative Members voting. Where were the right hon. Members for Bexley (Mr. Heath), for Enfield, West (Mr. Iain Macleod) and for Barnet (Mr. Maudling)?
§ Mr. Murray
That is not the point. This is a Conservative Bill, not ours. They have no right to ask where the Prime Minister was.
§ Mr. Murray
The hon. Gentleman must be kidding. He cannot mean that. Hon. Members opposite must think we have just come up on the down train. Just because it is a Private Member's Bill, do they expect us to believe that it has nothing to do with the Conservative Party?
In 1966, when we had a similar debate on a subsequent Bill, 77 hon. Members opposite voted. The hon. Member for Brierley Hill might care to check the pairing list for his side on that day. Again, where were the right hon. Members for Bexley, for Barnet and for Enfield, West?
§ Mr. Murray
This is the place to work to get us out. If hon. Members opposite 798 feel so strongly about it, why are their benches not filled with 300 Members? The hon. Gentleman knows as well as I do that that is not on. [An. HON. MEMBER: "Where is Worcestershire, South?"] I hear a reference to the hon. Member for Worcestershire, South (Sir G. Nabarro). I would not ask for his presence. He has difficulty with cars. He cannot get his head into any of them.
In 1968, we had it again. There were 150 hon. Members opposite who voted. For a party which claims to be on the side of these people, it is not a very good performance.
Today, I shall vote against the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) said, pension schemes are not all they should be, and the real question is whether we are looking after people. That is what this is about. I maintain that, since they have been in office, this Government have really looked after people. They have raised supplementary benefits. They have merged the National Assistance Board under a new Ministry and given us the great Department of Health and Social Security. They introduced rate rebates and a diversity of Measures to help all the people of this country, and particularly the old. I shall be in the Lobby against this Bill today because it is further evidence of the cynicism of the Conservative Party when out of office. It is just a cynical as when it was in power.
§ 2.8 p.m.
§ Mr. A. P. Costain (Folkestone and Hythe)
First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray) on talking for more than a quarter of an hour without mentioning the Bill. I congratulate him also on making a speech of such inaccuracy. He might as well make it in his constituency, where it might be better listened to. He says that this is a Conservative Bill. It is not. It is a Private Member's Bill, and we on this side do not have the Whips on for Private Members' Bills.
I have been asked by four Labour Members today, two of whom have never spoken to me before, whether I would pair with them. I have paired for 4 o'clock, and I could have been away all day, but I particularly wanted to be present in order to put forward some 799 constituency cases. If the hon. Gentleman appreciated the depth of feeling on this matter in my constituency, he would not make such a stupid speech, quoting all the Conservative—
§ Mr. Costain
If the hon. Gentleman wants to interrupt, I am only too ready to give way. In fact, I like it. I like it because it gives me the opportunity—within the bounds of order, I hope—to point out that that document is full of promises which we kept. The hon. Gentleman should be looking at that and his own documents.
§ Mr. Murray
My point was that it never mentioned non-pensioners once. The hon. Gentleman's party did not make any promise to them. His Front Bench denied any possible promise in what it said.
§ Mr. Costain
That intervention reinforces my argument. We did not put that in the document because we were not sure that we could promise it. When our party make promises they are promises that we can keep.
§ Mr. Murray rose—
§ Mr. Costain
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will let me finish this point. We know that he has tried your patience, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, because he wants to be sure that all the people whipped for 4 o'clock will be here.
My points are very real constituency ones. But before I come to them I should like to say that we on this side are not proud that we did not deal with the matter during our years of office.
§ Mr. Murray rose—
§ Mr. Costain
I shall develop my argument before giving way. I am always willing to give way.
It was only over a period of years that we realised the depth of the problems here.
§ Mr. Costain
If the hon. Gentleman is going to go on making funny grunting noises, would he mind making them outside? We have put up with a quarter of 800 an hour of things that were not much less than grunting noises.
We on this side only began to realise the difficulties during our period in office. What has brought the problem much more to the fore is the very large drop in the value of the pound. What was a pound in the youth of old people of 80 and over is now a little under 4s. They have saved up small amounts of money and have not wanted to go on National Assistance because they were brought up in an age when people thought that nothing but their personal savings meant anything.
I get a number of cases at Folkestone of people whose savings have dwindled from a few thousand pounds to £500 or £600, and who are told that they have to get below that figure before they can get—
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts
The hon. Gentleman is quite incorrect. Nobody with £500 or £600 fails to qualify for what is now supplementary benefit and not National Assistance, as it was when the party opposite was in power. Such people will certainly get supplementary benefit under these conditions.
§ Mr. Costain
The hon. Gentleman is picking on a narrow point. It depends on how their savings are held. I accept that they can have certain assets. But such people, who have learnt to save, only see as real money that which they have in very negotiable securities or in the bank. Time and time again they ask me, "Must I really spend all my money?" That is what hon. Gentlemen opposite want them to do. Have they to spend all their money and have just the minimum of savings and then go on supplementary benefit? That is the problem they face.
I stayed behind today because an even greater problem has arisen in the past few months. In addition to the problem of giving such people pensions we now have the problem of burying them. Only this week I had a letter from a welfare officer in my constituency pointing out that because these elderly people were not eligible for pensions they did not even get the death benefit. I have a case which I hope the Minister will answer today, as I sent details to him too recently to have received a reply, of somebody in my constituency who died 801 and whose friends and relations, who have not much money, had to produce the cash for the burial. They hope to get some back eventually, but it takes time, and they have these financial problems at a period of their greatest distress.
This is a non-party issue, and time should not be wasted by hon. Members opposite in making party points. It is a human problem that the House can and should help to meet. We are not talking about vast sums. The hon. Member for Gravesend, in his long and rambling speech, did not even get his figures right. We are talking of a sum of about £17 million at the most, and it will dwindle from week to week as the numbers of those concerned grows smaller. They are the people that matter, and whom we want to help.
I cannot imagine any hon. Member opposite wanting to oppose such a Measure. I cannot believe that if the Whips were not on them they could go into the Division Lobby this afternoon. I hope very much that they will change their minds, defy the Whips and support the Bill.
§ 2.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts (Bedfordshire, South)
I shall not immediately deal with the points made by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Costain), nor shall I deal at length with what I regard as the hypocritical nature of the Bill. That has already been done very effectively by my eminent colleague the hon. Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray).
What the Opposition has said this afternoon will test the credulity not only of the House but of the public. Sometimes people talk about a credibility gap these days. Do we really believe, as the Opposition suggest, that in their 13 years in power, with all the facilities of the Government statisticians, such as they were under their administration, and all the facilities of information available to them, they were not aware of the extent of the problem? Now that they are in Opposition and such facilities are no longer available to them there is suddenly a new dawn. A new light has descended on them and they realise the extent of the problem. Not only the House but people in general will doubt the Opposition's credibility after this.
802 Two important principles are involved in the Bill. The first is that of non-selectivity. It is strange that the Opposition, which has many times in recent debates supported the argument for selectivity—with some parts of which argument I have some sympathy, are now saying, "We shall abandon this argument and shall give this money purely on an age basis, an entirely non-selective basis." Therefore, we start with a departure from a principle which the party opposite has developed, and with which there must be some sympathy.
The second principle involved is that of non-contribution. It may be that there are strong arguments for a non-contributory system. Some of my hon. Friends, and perhaps even some of my right hon. Friends, believe that there may be a case for a general non-contributory system, that perhaps the £1,500 million, or the kind of sum involved, could be found by other means, such as a negative—positive taxation system, and perhaps a bit of wealth taxation. But I am sure that the party opposite would be the last to support any of my hon. Friends and me who would favour such a non-contributory system.
It is some disappointment to me and to some of my hon. Friends that the Government's new scheme does not look more towards a non-contributory basis, and I am sure that the Opposition would resist any general non-contributory scheme. Yet here they are putting forward a non-contributory argument. They cannot have it both ways. Either we have a contributory or we have a non-contributory scheme. We cannot just have a mixture, as the Opposition are suggesting with this Bill.
It has also been suggested that the Labour Party has lost its reputation as a party which cares for people. This is absurd. The simple fact is that our pensioners are far better off—perhaps 20 per cent.—in real terms than when the Conservative Government left office. The present Government are spending £2,000 million more in toto on social welfare than did their predecessors.
One of the measures taken by the Government has been to extend and develop supplementary benefit. We should be quite clear what we are talking about in terms of this Bill. It has been suggested that 125,000 people are involved. I believe nothing of the sort. I 803 believe that the figure is much lower. I doubt whether it is one-half or even one-quarter of 125,000, because the majority of these people are already catered for, and catered for adequately, by supplementary benefits provided by the Government.
I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State will tell us, if the figures are available, how many people there are in the category of not receiving supplementary benefit. In other words, what is the size of the problem? A great deal of mythology about it has been spread by hon. Members opposite. A good deal of the mythology, to judge by the speech of the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe, is dangerous to these old people. The hon. Member referred to limits of £500 or £600, and this might persuade some old people with such sums in the bank that they are not entitled to supplementary benefit, whereas that is not the case. People with two or three times that amount can obtain some help.
It is wrong of hon. Members opposite to make misleading suggestions to these old people. I hope that my right hon. Friend will tell us the size of the problem and the number of people who are not receiving supplementary benefit. Perhaps he will emphasise the new conditions which the Government have established for the provision of supplementary benefit which makes it available to many thousands more people.
There are some hon. Members on this side who would support a non-contributory system if it were purely a system financed by some form of taxation, for we believe that there is a necessity for any sensible, decent and logical society to cater for all its citizens in old age. But I believe that the Government have made far more progress than their predecessors in trying to establish a move in this direction.
I know of no hon. Member on this side of the House who will support this Bill, which is basically a piece of humbug. It is not a matter of the Whips. Many of us have defied the Government Whips on previous occasions when we felt that a serious matter of conscience was involved. But we consider this Bill to be political humbug. It is a sorry and unsuccessful attempt to make use of human sympathy 804 for political ends. All human beings have a great deal of sympathy for the elderly—after all, we all grow old. I am very sorry indeed that the Opposition have chosen to take advantage of that genuine human sympathy for purely political purposes, because this 3ill is an attempt to make use of human sympathy for political purposes. We shall reject the Bill not because we have not human sympathy, but because we realise its political implications.
§ 2.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Terence L. Higgins (Worthing)
I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Maurice Macmillan). I hope that the Bill will be given a Second Reading. I was particularly interested in the illuminating figures he produced for the total cost of the Bill.
The Bill has had a long history. It was originally introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave). It was reintroduced by the late Robert Mathew, then the Member for Honiton. Later, it was brought in by my hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward), and I myself brought it back a little more than a year ago. It is worth spelling out briefly the fundamental point of principle involved, because this has not been fully appreciated by hon. Members opposite.
The principle is that if we give the pension to ordinary National Insurance pensioners without a means test, and part of that pension has not been covered in any actuarial sense by their contributions, old-age non-pensioners are as entitled to that part not covered by contributions as are the pensioners themselves.
It seems to me that the point in logic here is irrefutable, and it is difficult to avoid the impression that successive Governments of both colours have consistently given wrong answers on this clear point of principle. It is rather like two children in school. If they both get the right answer to a sum, it is likely that they worked it out individually. If they consistently get the wrong answer, it is possible that they have been cribbing from each other. The answers of successive Governments have been wrong on this principle, and I hope that we shall get 805 the Secretary of State's personal analysis of the logical case for accepting this Bill. I do not doubt that he has thought it through himself and I hope that he will be able to give us a helpful answer.
In the period immediately after my Bill was defeated last year, I wondered about the wisdom of reintroducing it. But on further reflection is seemed to me there was a strong case for doing so. That is why I am glad my hon. Friend has taken his opportunity in the Ballot to have it debated again.
First, the case in logic for the Bill is overwhelming. Secondly, this is undoubtedly a very urgent matter. It is not something we can drop by the wayside and return to at our leisure. The reason for that is abundantly clear. Thirdly, if one is convinced of the rightness of one's case—which is here as concerned with justice as with need—it is right not to take "No" for an answer and to proceed with trying to get the Government of the day to change their minds on the issue.
Again, there is no doubt that this group of people continue to suffer from the increase in the cost of living and have done so very severely during the last year. There is no doubt also that they have suffered more from inflation than any other group. It is particularly certain because many of them retired in a period when the advice they got from their bank managers on what to do with their money was to put it into War Loans, and in many senses they have been squeezed in two ways—not only because prices have gone up but because their actual income has tended to decline. Those who retired later may have had a more diversified set of investments.
Thirdly, it is probably true that if people outside the House were asked this afternoon whether people over the age of 80 got pensions only one or two in ten would know that they did not, and the number would be that high only because of previous Private Members' Bills on this subject. Many people may not realise that this injustice exists. Therefore, any opportunity to bring it to public attention should be taken.
Fourthly, since my hon. Friend decided to introduce the Bill the Government have produced a White Paper which completely destroys all the previous arguments from the Government about the contribution 806 and the actuarial principle. I shall return to that later.
This is certainly not a party issue. I utterly refute the argument of the hon. Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Gwilym Roberts), who said that the only reason why he would not vote for the Bill was that he thought that it was a party manoeuvre.
§ Mr. Gwilym Roberts indicated dissent.
§ Mr. Higgins
The hon. Gentleman may read it in HANSARD tomorrow. In any event, that is no argument for voting against the Bill if it is right in principle. If it is in any way true that there is any party benefit to be gained from the introduction of the Bill—and I do not accept that for a moment because it is a Private Member's Bill—the Government's solution is simply to accept the principle involved and say that they accept that these people have a case. I should then be the first to cheer and say, "What a splendid Government!" and acknowledge that at long last the Government had seen sense. That is the right non-party approach to this matter.
Another consideration in deciding whether to reintroduce the Bill was whether, if the Government were adamant in their opposition to it and put on the Whips to defeat it, that would dash the hopes of these very elderly people. That was something which needed to be carefully considered. I believe that their hopes would have been dashed even more if we had made no further attempt and had washed our hands of the whole thing and had just forgotten about it. I believe that on balance we have been right to bring the matter before the House again.
The cost now would clearly be far less than on previous occasions, but those who have survived are clearly even worse hit by inflation. If the Government gave the Bill a Second Reading and reached a reasonable arrangement in Committee and the later stages, those who have survived could be helped at less cost than previously.
I have two comments to make in parenthesis. We have made a little progress in this subject over the last four years, because, as a result of talks which I have had with the National Old People's Welfare Council, provisions are now 807 available, which I should like to publicise, for old-age non-pensioners to fill in a form and produce a birth certificate which will enable them to obtain arrangements, such as reduced prices for cinema seats—to which the cinemas have agreed as a result of representations which I made, and I am grateful to the cinemas for doing so—and possibly also to get some municipal concessions which are available. We have therefore made a little progress.
There is one respect, however, in which we have not made progress, and that is in connection with the death grant. I think that the right hon. Gentleman will concede that the extent to which the contributions of existing pensioners cover their pensions is very much less than 100 per cent., and therefore, that the amount received in death grant is something over and above even that, something for which they have not effectively contributed anything. If so, at least in that respect some concession should be made for the old-age non-pensioner, because all who survive are very concerned about the additional burden which the departure of the wife or husband will impose on the survivor. I therefore hope that the right hon. Gentleman will seriously consider this and, again, if the Government feel able to do something, I shall be among the first to say that this was something done in justice.
I turn now to the more technical questions of cost. It would be helpful if we could have the Government's official estimate of the cost. In the debate last year this issue was badly confused for two reasons. First, the right hon. Lady who is now the Paymaster-General and who replied on that occasion got tied up with the question of the Exchequer contribution, how much came from the Fund and how much was covered by contributions. The helpful way in which to consider this matter is to say what is the proportion of the National Insurance Pension which is covered by contributions, the balance being made up by the Exchequer contribution or direct by the Fund.
Secondly, the issue became confused because the right hon. Lady insisted on extending it further and further to include more and more groups not covered by the Bill. I clearly take the point made 808 by the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) that if we want to do something to help this group, who have much the strongest case, in some way we have to delimit the extent. However, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give a clear statement of the actual cost, allowing for the supplementary benefit saving and so on, of the Bill as it stands so that we can have some idea of the cost, which will be substantially less than the cost last year.
Recently, the Government have repeatedly said that the Conservative Party is always saying that Government expenditure could be cut and then proposing other forms of expenditure. It is perfectly clear that this is not one of the things on which we would feel it right to economise. This is the oldest possible age group, and I would have thought that this was a form of expenditure on which the House as a whole would feel that it was not right to economise, whatever views there might be about the general level of public expenditure.
§ Mr. Marks
My experience is that the majority of the 125,000 who would benefit from the Bill would be people who do not qualify for supplementary benefit because their income is too high, or because their capital is too large. I have heard nothing from hon. Members opposite today to suggest that I am wrong. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that most of these people have income—
§ Mr. Higgins
I refrained from interrupting the hon. Gentleman, but he has misunderstood what this is all about. I shall come to the three possible categories in a few moments. If the hon. Gentleman is to be logical, he must argue two things: first, that existing National Insurance pensions should all be means tested, because many are going to people who are well off—and if he is to argue that he should tell his constituents—and at a time when the Government intend to increase the national basic pension, an increase which has not been covered by the contributions of those already retired, he should vote against their proposal. If he is prepared to do those two things, I shall have greater respect for both his logic and his integrity.
§ Mr. Higgins
I shall come to that, but I shall be very surprised if the Secretary of State is happy with this exchange. Perhaps he will comment on it.
We do not believe that there is such a meaningful animal as the contributory principle in the sense that the amount paid in contributions determines the pension. There are three possible animals, and I will spell them out for the right hon. Gentleman. There can be a system clearly based on an actuarial principle, in which contributions and benefits have an actuarial basis. Secondly, at the other end of the scale, there can be a pension which is purely arbitrary, for which there are not contributions, the State simply paying a pension which is arbitrarily decided by the Government. Thirdly, there can be a hotch-potch between the two, which is what we have had in the post-war period, in which the amount which each pensioner is paid is an arbitrary decision of the Government. It might be tried to cover it by increasing contributions.
This is the very heart of the Bill. This is what the Bill is all about. We are saying that these people are as entitled to the part which is not covered by contributions as are those who have the National Insurance pension. We are not saying that they should have the whole pension. Though the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sowerby would disagree with me, I believe that that would be unfair to those who have contributed. In the White Paper the right hon. Gentleman seems to me to be saying that he is going for a complete pay-as-you-go system which, he says, is the same as the present system. At least he has admitted it. Last year we had some difficulty in getting this point over to the then Minister. If we have a pay-as-you-go system, when the pensions of those retired are covered by those people who have not yet retired, then the old-age non-pensioners are as entitled to be paid on that basis, except to the extent that they have not contributed, as anyone else. That is entirely consistent with the White Paper. That is why this Bill 810 should be accepted this afternoon and I hope the right hon. Gentleman will give attention to this point.
§ Mr. Crossman
I am willing to give attention, but I should like to be absolutely clear what I am giving attention to and I should like to get the proposition absolutely clear. Is it the proposition that in a pay-as-you-go scheme not only are the contributors fully paid up entitled to pensions but non-contributors, too? Is that the proposition I have to comment on?
§ Mr. Higgins
Let me spell it out once again, if I have not made the point clear. The point is that there are people in receipt of the National Insurance pension at the present time who have made contributions. Those people are receiving a pension which is far in excess of the amount which would be covered if those contributions which they have been making in the past had gone towards the provision of their pension on an actuarial basis. It is the contention of us on this side of the House that the old-age non-pensioners are as entitled to that part of the National Insurance pension not covered by contributions as are the existing pensioners because it all comes out of general taxation on a pay-as-you-go basis. This seems to me entirely consistent with the White Paper. The entitlement is effective through making contributions or by paying taxes, whatever we may call them. The difference between contributions and taxation is very much a metaphysical one here.
§ Mr. Crossman
I am grateful. I fully understand and I will reply in due course, if I catch the eye of the Chair.
§ Mr. Higgins
I am most grateful, because this is the very essence of the Bill and it seems to me that most of the arguments put up last year have been knocked down by the right hon. Gentleman in his own White Paper.
I do not want to detain the House too long, but I would just say a word or two about the speech of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Sowerby for whom I have the greatest respect, both personally and for his expertise in these matters, which expertise is certainly far greater than any I shall ever hope to aspire to. However, I was disturbed—I think that would be the right way to put it—when he referred to conversations which he 811 had apparently had with my right hon. Friends on our Front Bench, who are not here today, and did so without giving notice that he was going to refer to them. We are not in a position to say what may or may not have transpired in those private discussions. I think it was unfortunate and a falling below his normal Parliamentary standards that the right hon. Gentleman should not have behaved courteously on this occasion. He did not mention to me that he was proposing to raise our discussions but I accept that he expected me to be here, and he has not been disappointed.
We chatted about this matter, and the fact is that he suggested that perhaps there could be some sort of all-party agreement, and he said he would like to do anything he could to forward this. I pointed out to him, and I think it was right, two things: first of all, that if he was going to do this it was a question of how many of his colleagues he could carry with him, and secondly, that if it was on a purely personal basis, then, clearly, it would not get the matter all that much further forward, even give his expertise in this field. Secondly, it was clearly a matter for the Government. The Government do not require the agreement or the encouragement of the Opposition if they are going to produce or accept a Bill.
We on this side of the House who are concerned with the Bill would have been very glad indeed if that had happened, but the fact is that the Government have not, on repeated occasions, accepted the principle. We are very glad indeed that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sowerby will do anything he can to encourage the Government to change their mind, but I do not think one can accept the point of view that somehow the Opposition must say beforehand they agree with what the Government actually do. It seems to me a ludicrous situation which is not borne out by the true position.
I hope the Government will accept this Bill this afternoon. There are, as I say, three main groups who are affected. The first one is the group who fall below the level and many of these are in receipt of supplementary benefits.
The White Paper on Pensions says that three out of ten pensioners are in receipt of supplementary benefits. It would be 812 interesting for the House to know what percentage of old-age non-pensioners—three, five, nine out of ten—are in receipt of supplementary benefits. I hope the Secretary of State will be able to look up this figure, because it is extremely relevant indeed.
The second group is of those who are just above supplementary level. The right hon. Lady last year was inclined to dismiss those, but their real standard of living has gone down consistently, and they are, in that sense, in a more perilous position, and one must make allowances for the fact that people expect to have their standard of living maintained, and given that principle which is in the White Paper the right hon. Gentleman ought to be concerned not only with those just below the supplementary level but those just above it, too. It is quite true that many of them are quite well-off. If so, they will pay taxes, but it is clear that they are as entitled to the part not covered by contributions as are the pensioners, and also are entitled to additional help from the State.
I have spoken longer than I intended to, for which I apologise, but I think this is a very important matter indeed. I am still hopeful that the Government will find their way to look favourably both at the death benefit, which is not covered by the Bill, and also the main principle of the Bill, and that they allow the Bill to have a Second Reading. If so, that will be a way in which one can stop this from being regarded as in any way a party matter. This should be done by the House of Commons and there should be agreement here on this issue. I myself do not doubt for one moment that, if there were a free vote in this House on this issue, the strength of the arguments would carry overwhelmingly. It is not a party matter but one upon which the House even at this late stage, and before it is too late, ought to take effective action.
§ 2.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)
Because nearly everybody who has spoken from this side of the House represents a constituency south of the Thames, I should hate the impression to be given that this is a problem which is very much confined to the residential areas in the South—Farnham, Worthing, Chichester, 813 Abingdon. This is a problem which certainly affects a county like mine even though, and I am glad of that, people live longer in the more spacious circumstances of Lincolnshire and the more bracing atmosphere of the East Coast.
No one listening to the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) would have accused him of having changed his views about the Bill because of any pressure from the party Whips, and one accepts that his attitude to the Bill was sincere, but I do not think that those of us who heard him could accept that the welfare services in Scotland are better run than those in England. It is fair to say that in Scotland there is a long history of the proper manipulation and giving of English subsidies and grants—
§ Mr. Kimball
The grave differences in the administration of supplementary benefits from one county to another are apparent. Even in a county like mine, Lincolnshire, which has three administrative counties within it, we are perpetually coming up against differences in interpretation. When they arise, every effort is made to sort them out. But they create hardship and feelings between one lot of beneficiaries and another.
I wish to refer, briefly, to some remarks made on 16th February last year in c. 1815 of HANSARD by the hon. and learned Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) about the way in which the Government have handled this Bill's predecessors. We would all agree that this Bill has become controversial. It may even be embarrassing for some hon. Members. The right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) said that we should adopt a non-party approach to the Bill. The lesson which we should learn is that in private Members' time it is exceedingly difficult to get controversial legislation on the Statute Book. Many of us have tried it and have found it to be a disastrous experience.
In the past, controversial Bills were killed in Committee or died during the Report stage on those rather hot Fridays in May. These procedures were the right procedures. They were the procedures which the House always used to protect the rights of minorities and to prevent the passing of controversial legislation. 814 The Secretary of State for Social Services, when he was Leader of the House, facilitated the passing of controversial legislation.
§ Mr. Kimball
Quite a lot of it—the humanist controversial legislation. Today, as Secretary of State for the Social Services, he is hoist by his own petard. Why will he not allow this Bill to go through the normal Parliamentary processes? I am sure that my hon. Friends are enthusiastic enough about it to get a quorum. They will even keep their supporters here in May during the Report stage.
However, I wonder how the Bill would fare in the House of Lords. I wish to refer to a Bill which I introduced in 1959—the Agricultural Improvement Grants Bill. It ran into very serious trouble in another place, and I think that this Bill would run into the same trouble. The Explanatory Memorandum to this Bill says that the Bill will make no charge on public funds; it will be a charge on the National Insurance Fund. The National Insurance Fund is subsidised at regular intervals by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Therefore, indirectly, this Bill would be a charge on public funds. I understood that it was a most important Parliamentary rule that any charge on public funds should be made only with the approval and at the request of the Government of the day. Therefore, should this Bill go to another place, it might have a very stormy passage and might run into exactly the same difficulties as befell the Agricultural Improvement Grants Bill in 1959.
I add my voice to that of the sponsors of the Bill and say that we should give it a Second Reading. Let it embark on the dangerous and difficult course of a genuine Private Member's Bill through Parliament, not one of the kind which the Secretary of State for the Social Services instituted. Let the right hon. Gentleman for once benefit by the procedures which he has overridden in the past and which many of us would like to see resuscitated by the Government.
We are debating the Bill against the background of the White Paper, which many of us regard as proposing an extra imposition of tax under false colours, as a bad investment, and as of no interest 815 to anyone over 42 years of age. I hope that the Minister will say that, rather than clog up the wheels of Parliament with something which would have no effect until 1992, he will allow the Bill to have a fair run down the Parliamentary course.
§ 2.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Worsley (Chelsea)
My hon. Friend and namesake, the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), produced a new and subtle reason for supporting the Bill. He argued that it should be allowed to begin its course on the ground that it would eventually fall down at Beecher's Brook.
The House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) for bringing this matter before us. Whatever we may feel about the Bill, we all agree about the importance of the subject it covers. When the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Marks) referred, I thought slightingly, to the fact that, in the main, hon. Members who had spoken represented constituencies in the south of England, he was less than fair to my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend and I probably learnt more about this subject on the hills of the West Riding of Yorkshire, adjoining the constituency of the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), than anywhere else. We both learnt that the problems of the group of people we are debating were very pressing in that part of the world, as elsewhere. This is not a question of locality.
This is something of a regular feature in the House. I have not spoken in the previous debates, but I voted on the last couple of occasions that we debated this matter. There is always a certain repetitious quality in these debates. The accusation of partisanship has been made. I was slightly puzzled by some of the exchanges on this point. People, even in this place, sometimes talk about "party" as if it were a dirty word. I am prepared to be partisan concerning old people. Hon. Members on both sides of the House belong to great and historic parties. Although members of the Liberal Party have not been here today, they belong to a historic party. We simply believe that the approaches of our own party have merits which are not contained in those of other parties.
816 There is nothing wrong in putting forward a partisan view. We come together, honourably and courteously but in a partisan spirit, to test our mutual ideas in debate. In that way, since merit is not restricted to either side of the Chamber, and this is the whole purpose of Parliament, the best will out. So I do not apologise for being partisan and saying that, at least at the moment—perhaps this will change when the Secretary of State speaks—there is a difference of party policy on this matter. We, in our recent manifesto, in 1966, promised… to provide a pension for those too old to be covered by National Insurance.I wish to refer to some remarks of the right hon. Member for Sowerby and I do so regretfully because I have great respect for him. But he made a great error in referring to the conversations which he claims to have had with my hon. and noble Friend the Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) and with my hon. Friend the Member for Melton (Miss Pike). This puts me in a very difficult position. I know nothing of these conversations and the right hon. Gentleman succeeded in giving the impression, rightly or wrongly, intentionally or not, that they were more interested in party advantage in this than in discussing the Bill with a non-partisan approach.
It is the convention of the House that notice should be given in a matter like this and the purpose of that convention is to prevent these remarks being made out of context. I am sure that they were made without malice aforethought, knowing the right hon. Gentleman, but he has fallen below his own high standards in mentioning this, and I resent it.
§ Mr. Houghton
I hope that I will not be pursued any further on this. I listened to the hon. Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) and did not seek to intervene. I apologised at the time if I showed any discourtesy, but I mentioned the names of three hon. Members—first, the hon. Member for Worthing, who is here and heard what I said, second, the noble Lord the hon. Member for Hertford (Lord Balniel) who is the Opposition spokesman on social security, whom I fully expected to be in his place and who has, I am sure, good reason for not being here, and, third, the hon. Lady the Member for Melton (Miss Pike), to whom I probably 817 owe the strongest apology of all. I did not quote anything that anyone had said to me and I did not do it with malice aforethought. I hope to get, as a result of these conversations, a definition of the official Opposition point of view, which we have not had up to now, and I hope that the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley) will give it to us straight away.
§ Mr. Worsley rose—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The right hon. Gentleman has expressed regret and I think that we might leave this matter now.
§ Mr. Worsley
I bow to your Ruling, Mr. Speaker.
Another thing which is repeated in these debates is the parrot cry, which we have heard once or twice from hon. Members opposite, "Why did you do nothing between 1951 and 1964?" I am rather pleased that, apparently, when the Labour Party central office wishes to brief its back benchers it now hands out Conservative literature. This is a desirable development. I hope that they will not just look up individual references but will study the whole of our party policy, in which case they might talk more sense in future.
§ Mr. Murray
I have not been briefed by anyone. This literature has come from my own collection of Tory trivia.
§ Mr. Worsley
That makes me even more pleased. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman collects our literature—
§ Mr. Worsley
That is even better—it provides profit for us as well as in creased knowledge for the hon. Gentleman—
§ Mr. Worsley
The right hon. Gentleman must not blame me: I was led astray.
It is a nonsense to try to apportion blame on an issue like this. Hon. Members opposite have been governing this country for over four years and they know that they must take responsibility for this situation fully and completely. They started the scheme. It seems foolish to be partisan about the past, but I am 818 perfectly prepared to be partisan about the future—
§ Mr. Worsley
I am trying to follow the lead of the hon. Member's right hon. Friend, who told me to get to the point. When I am told that it is rubbish to say this, I am greatly tempted, but I will not pursue this because it is a trivial matter compared with the real issue which interests people outside—what we are going to do about these old people.
I therefore agree that we must all accept responsibility. However, this proposition does less than justice to the pioneering work of my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) who brought this matter to the attention of the House in a unique way. He has been supported, of course, particularly by my hon. Friends the Members for Tyne-mouth (Dame Irene Ward) and Worthing (Mr. Higgins), but he particularly drew the attention of the House to this matter.
But in other important respects, we are discussing this problem today in quite new circumstances and that in itself justifies the decision of my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham to use his luck in the Ballot—luck of which I am very jealous, incidentally, because it has never come my way—
§ Mr. Worsley
Well, I will keep trying.
We come to this problem in new circumstances because of the publication of the White Paper. I have been looking at the reports of the debates, including those which took place when I was not in the House, and I read the remarks made by the right hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) when she was speaking for the Government in 1965. Comparing the Labour Party with the Conservative Party she said:We, on the other hand, have a clear policy for the old people in our incomes guarantee. We are working very busily on it at the present time. We regard this as a very urgent matter, and it will be introduced as quickly as possible. Hon. Members opposite should look at our election manifesto."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th March, 1965; Vol 709, c 1156.]819 At that point the HANSARD reporters added the word "Interruption", and I am hardly surprised that they did so.
Just before that, the right hon. Member for Sowerby—who is in the Chamber—referred to these elderly people in these words:…these people…are not lost sight of…we shall keep them in mind when we undertake our review of the scheme".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th November, 1964; Vol. 702, c. 1400.]He was referring to the National Insurance Scheme. I have quoted those two statements, one referring to the income guarantee aspect and one to the insurance scheme aspect.
For several years since then the mountains have indeed been in labour. A seemingly endless succession of right hon. Members have presided inscrutably over the process—over the great review which we were continually told was in progress. The result of the labour is apparent to all. An expensive little mouse had resulted, and nobody is quite sure whether he likes it. This is not the time to debate the Government's plan. Certainly if it is Labour's great vote winner, we have already won the next General Election. Whatever the merits of the scheme—and of course it has some—it has two predominant themes. The first is "jam the day after tomorrow" and the second is that "money goes most where the need is least".
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member is beginning to do what he said he must not do. He must debate the Bill before the House.
§ Mr. Worsley
I am grateful, Mr. Speaker. The only point I wish to make about the scheme—and it is the most important new issue before the House this afternoon—is that the scheme does nothing for these people about whom we are talking. As has been pointed out over and over again, these people could not have joined the insurance scheme.
On previous occasions on which this has been debated in this Parliament, Ministers in their replies have made great play of the fact that this problem is part of the larger problem of those who, through no fault of their own, are wholly or partly left out of the insurance scheme. They are part of the same problem, for instance, as those who are incapable from 820 birth of working and who, therefore, can never qualify for insurance, and those who have a depleted record because of ill health. There are, in other words, others who are important and who fail to come within the scheme. It is one of the paradoxes of the scheme—both the existing scheme and the right hon. Gentleman's proposals—that those who are wholly or partly left out are often precisely the cases in which common sense suggests that the need is greatest.
As I understand it, the right hon. Gentleman's new plan does not help that. These groups, including the group which we are discussing, will still be outside the insurance scheme. Obviously we shall want to discuss the right hon. Gentleman's scheme in great detail. Knowing him as well as we do, we know that at least he will provide opportunities for debate. Both for that reason and because you, Mr. Speaker, would stop me, I will not follow that argument this afternoon, nor am I attempting to state a party attitude on it. The hon. Member for Woolwich, West (Mr. Hamling), who looks as though he is about to spring to his feet, challenged me to produce a comprehensive statement of party policy. He must have had a mischievous intent, for if I attempted to do that, I should be called to order, as he well knows.
§ Mr. Hamling
All I asked the hon. Member to do was to state the Conservative Party's attitude to the contributory principle.
§ Mr. Worsley
As the hon. Member very well knows, that is a wide subject and would involve a statement of party policy. We know the hon. Member is not as innocent as he appears.
Both for this group of people and for the wider groups to which I have referred, we will have to answer the question of whether we intend to go to the end of the century with these groups outside the insurance field and relying for ever on means-tested supplementary benefit. I say that because, in replying to debates of this character in the past, Ministers have always put a great emphasis on the realisation that this is part of a bigger problem.
But as far as this group is concerned—the "but" is so large that it makes all the difference in the world—for obvious 821 and human reasons we cannot wait. If they are not benefited soon and separately, they will not be benefited at all. As my hon. Friend the Member for Farnham said in moving the Second Reading of the Bill, there is no time. That is why we on this side believe that there is an overwhelming case for considering this problem separately and in advance.
I want to make two further remarks which are strictly relevant. The other point that Ministers have made in the past—and it has been made across the Floor of the House this afternoon—concerns the contributory nature of the Insurance Fund. I do not want to get into the detail of this. It is easy to get bogged down in the semantic argument, which I do not want to follow in particular. I realise, of course, that there is force in that argument. All my hon. Friends who have spoken have appreciated the point.
If that is regarded as too dangerous a precedent, a way is open to the Secretary of State which was not open to my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon. The right hon. Member for Sowerby referred in his speech, which apart from the matter to which I have referred, I found profoundly interesting, to the non-contributory pension. The Minister could use that piece of machinery if he were to revive it and strengthen and broaden it for the purpose.
We formerly had the non-contributory pension scheme, about which the right hon. Member for Sowerby asked questions when his party were in opposition. The replies given by my colleagues who were on the Government Front Bench at that time have been quoted. That, I understand, was the full extent of the questioning by the then Opposition during that Parliament on the non-contributory pension.
The non-contributory pension, however, has now been abolished. It was merged into the supplementary benefit scheme in 1966, when the right hon. Member for Sowerby was in general charge of the social services. He is, therefore, seeking to resuscitate a baby which he himself strangled. It is possible that he was wrong in strangling it and that we should have paid more attention to it at the time.
822 Perhaps the right way for the Government—I do not put it more strongly than that—might be to take a course which is not open to an Opposition Member under the rules of order and consider whether the concept behind the non-contributory pension would be a better way forward to avoid the sort of precedent which, I know, Ministers fear.
In my first question I gave the words of the right hon. Lady the Member for Lanark (Mrs. Hart) concerning the minimum income guarantee. We were told at that time, and we have been told ever since, to wait for the new scheme. What I would like to know from the Secretary of State, and what the House and the country would like to know, is whether that minimum income guarantee is now past history and whether it was simply an election gimmick which the party opposite thought that they could operate but have found that they cannot. The country should know this now.
I have of course read the right hon. Gentleman's White Paper with the greatest care. If I understand Chapter 4 rightly, it is a condemnation in pretty round terms of the whole principle upon which the minimum income guarantee was based. The right hon. Gentleman looks puzzled, but I believe this to be the case. I think he owes it to the House and to the country to tell us this afternoon whether the minimum income guarantee was merely an election gimmick three-and-a-half years ago, or whether it is to be brought into operation for the benefit of these people.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Special Services (Mr. Richard Crossman)
I thank the House for an extremely interesting debate. In reply to the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball), yes, as Leader of the House I made time for controversial humanist Bills and I am extremely glad that this Bill is being given time to get a Second Reading. I now have to reflect on what fate it will have today and to give my views.
I do not think this is a particularly party matter. In my view the aims of the Bill are incontestable, and I think the motives of the sponsors are incontestable, but it is my considered view that the Bill would do more harm than good in the area in which it seeks to 823 operate. I think I am right in saying that this is the fifth time—[HON. MEMBERS: "The fourth debate."]—the fourth debate we have had on this subject. I have not attended all of them, but I attended two and read through the others just before I came to the House.
I have noticed a very great change as the debate has developed. On our side of the House when it started a considerable number of hon. Members appeared to be worried and to think that there was a powerful case for the Bill, but as the debate has gone on there has been an understanding that whatever the motives there are quite formidable obstacles and difficulties which would arise if the Bill became law. I have noticed a decrease in the fervour and certainty of those who support the Measure and a greater understanding of the reasons against it. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] That may not be so on the other side of the House, but it certanily is on ours.
It may be that one of the reasons for this is that in the four years we have been discussing the problem there has been a tremendous change in the whole structure of what we now call supplementary benefit and what was then called National Assistance. We fulfilled a very large part of our election manifesto by the abolition of National Assistance and the beginning of the job of substituting a means-tested supplementary pension with benefit as of right without the stigma which previous attached under the previous National Assistance.
The effect of the enormous change since 1966, both in the standards and amount of benefit given, has been profound. It is realised that people not adequately catered for before 1966, although the scheme is not perfect yet, have been considered and we have laid the foundations for a new scheme. Before I came to the debate one of the first things in the field of social services I did—this was before I came to the new merged Ministry—was to take a look at the problem as a whole. I was anxious not to look at it from a party point of view. Having considered the matter, I came to the conclusion that opposition to the Bill was justified.
I have looked at the matter again because I wanted to answer the debate 824 myself as I regarded it as of great importance, not only because of the issue of principle on the contributory principle, but also because of the human interest involved in the issue itself. I recognise that there is a sense of grievance among those excluded from the National Insurance pension. There is complete sincerity in those who undertook the campaign.
I have heard the speech of the hon. Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) quite often, and today he reminded us again of his rôle in this matter. I tell him that it is not true that this idea originated in the House of Commons. Some years ago, when I was concerned in Opposition with social security matters, a gentleman called O'Hanlon, a man of considerable powers of persuasion, came to see me. He was organising a campaign on this issue. It takes someone outside about five years to get somebody in the House to wake up to a campaign, but this campaign started from outside, as a result of vigorous agitation on behalf of non-pensioners.
I think that it is relevant to know when this issue became important. It became important in 1958, and for a very simple reason. It was then that the 10-year period for the blanket late-age entrant pensions matured. Suddenly, a large number of new people got a good bargain for a 10-year contribution. They received the full rate of pension, and when they received it all sorts of other people said, "Why am I not getting it?" It was because of people wondering why they were not getting pensions that this move was made. Mr. O'Hanlon saw that people were dissatisfied, and he organised the campaign which finally reached us through the hon. Member for Abingdon. I think that that was the history of it.
I thought that in moving the Second Reading of the Bill the hon. Member for Farnham (Mr. Maurice Macmillan) made a good speech, but that it was a little sanctimonious. I shall not enter into party politics because, as the hon. Member for Chelsea (Mr. Worsley) said, it is always good to forget the past when it suits one to forget it. I see why the hon. Gentleman feels so strongly about this, because from 1958 to 1964, from the moment of the end of the 10-year period, this was palpably a social problem. There were more people then than 825 now, so it is clear that the problem was evident, and that a number of people sincerely held the view, "I have been unjustly excluded, because it was not my fault". The feeling was, "It was not my fault that I did not contribute. Why should not I have my pension, or part of it, because if I had had the chance to contribute I should have done so?".
I come now to the first issue on the Bill, the first narrow issue. Let us look at the rights and wrongs of this sense of grievance. Let us get the figures right. The hon. Member for Farnham said that 125,000 people were involved. This figure is arrived at by a simple piece of arithmetic, which even I can do. One takes the total number of people who were 65 in 1948, and one subtracts from that those who are now drawing old-age pensions. One thus gets the number of those who are not. This is the total number of people who do not get pensions. This is not the figure of all the people who do not draw pensions because they were excluded through no fault of their own. This figure represents those who, for whatever reason, do not draw a pension, so it is no good the hon. Gentleman saying that these 125,000 people are those who have a clear principle, because I have to remind the hon. Gentleman of the kind of people that we have.
We have no way of ascertaining to which category those various kinds of people belong. We cannot identify those who genuinely have a good case, those who say, "I should have contributed, but I was too old and I was excluded", or "I had no chance" or "I was excluded because I was a servant of the Crown", or "I was excluded because my income was too high", There are a number of current reasons; because the records do not survive, they cannot be checked. It would not be possible to establish whether it was a genuine case of someone's inability to contribute or whether someone had chosen not to take advantage of the insurance scheme. I shall not go through the list, because I do not think anybody can challenge what I am saying, but it fundamentally alters the whole argument of the hon. Member for Brierley Hill (Mr. Montgomery).
My hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) challenged the hon. Gentleman on this issue. He rightly said 826 that the hon. Member for Brierley Hill was assuming that these 125,000 people are all people who were excluded through no fault of their own. This is not true. The figure is that of the total number of people over 65 in 1948 who do not draw the pension for any and every reason, good, bad and indifferent. There is no clear principle which unites this group. In my view—and this has been considered carefully by my Department—there is no way now of checking their claims. One cannot ask an old lady to say, "In 1928 my husband was earning too much". There are many categories which depend on records which are unobtainable today.
When we are told that this is a simple case and that there is a simple piece of injustice which can be rectified, I fear that this is not true. What is true is that all one can do is to say that people who did not become pensioners, who were too old and did not get the pension in 1958, should be given the pension, whatever the case they have, whether it is good or bad.
Here we come to the second point, which the hon. Members for Chelsea and for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) raised, about contributions. I agree with them and I also agree very much with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton). I do not want to be legalistic about contributions. I certainly do not want—and I shall do no more than have a sentence about this—in the new scheme to introduce another legal nightmare like the one we have got about the contributions. I want as simple rules for the club as we can get. But there is one rule of a contributory club which must apply, and that is that one must pay the contributions. One can hardly talk about a contributory pension in one breath and then say "I will allot it to people who do not contribute" without making nonsense of the scheme. It is not a light thing to do to say that so many thousand people who admittedly do not contribute at all shall have equal rights with those who have contributed. I cannot get away from that. It is not just a piece of legalism. There is an absolutely vital issue here about a contributory scheme.
§ Mr. Higgins
The right hon. Gentleman used the word "equal rights". We are not arguing that there should be equal 827 rights. I am sure that it was a slip of the tongue on his part. The point is that they are entitled to that part of the pension which is not covered by pensioners' contributions.
§ Mr. Crossman
The hon. Gentleman listened to the debate and he knows that he, almost alone, took this interesting view about the actuarial calculation of the rights of these people. Many others took the view, which I rather share, that we either get people in the scheme or we do not, but one does not argue about a bigger pension. The issue is simply: should we bring into the scheme those who have admittedly not contributed at all? I will take separately the hon. Member's point about the contributions under the pay-as-you-go system.
I was asked about other figures. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South (Mr. Gwilym Roberts) asked me, of the 125,000 people who have not contributed and who do not draw a pension, how many are receiving supplementary benefit. These are rough figures; we have no precise figures, but within a few thousand, I calculate that there are 60,000 of the 125,000 who are in receipt of supplementary benefit. So it is about half of this group compared with one third of those receiving pensions. This is the most accurate analysis that we can get, but I can claim as a rough estimate that 60,000 of the 125,000 are in receipt of supplementary benefit. The others are too well off to qualify for supplementary benefit or alternatively have decided not to apply.
It is my suspicion that after the revision by my right hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) of National Assistance, the very large majority of those who were too proud to apply for National Assistance are now receiving supplementary benefit; 400,000 extra people do so, which is one of the greatest entitlement successes that we have had. It is a great illusion to go on saying that a large element among the old people who, for reasons of pride, stayed away from supplementary benefits were not assisted. One of the great achievements in the last four years was to break that down and bring them in. My own view, therefore, is that of the 65,000 who are not receiving supplementary 828 benefits the large majority are too well off to qualify.
I add one other point in this connection. Of those who are not in—again, we have no accurate figures—I assume that a very large number are receiving rate rebates, the rebates specifically designed to assist those who are not poor enough to have supplementary benefit, who are, perhaps, just above that level but who have some capital. We designed and trimmed the rate rebate scheme—I did it myself as Minister of Housing—precisely for this group. Therefore, since 80 per cent. of the people who receive rate rebates are old-age pensioners, one can go on to assume that a large number of those who are not receiving supplementary benefit among the 65,000 are receiving aid through rate rebates.
Therefore, with some assurance we can say that, as a result of what we have achieved in our supplementary benefit arrangements, one is not justified in going on to exaggerate the poverty of the group of people about whom we are speaking. Those who are the really ascertainable poor are fully covered by supplementary benefit, which now gives more than National Insurance, including rent. If they are too well off for that, a good further segment will be covered by the rate rebate scheme.
I do not accept that those who present a horrifying picture of this particular group of people as being in suffering are on the right line. I believe that they are suffering from a keen sense of injustice. They feel that they have the right—this is the central point of the speech of the hon. Member for Worthing—and they feel that they ought to be allowed, in part or in whole, to have the National Insurance pension.
I come now to what is, for me, an extremely interesting and tempting discussion about the contribution principle. I shall not discuss the White Paper, though it was quite fair of hon. Members opposite to quote it to me since the contribution issue is central to the whole debate. The hon. Member for Worthing put his view in a very clear speech. He points to our open abandonment of the actuarial principle. In fact, as we all know, it was abandoned on the day when the Beveridge scheme was introduced, when existing pensioners were blanketed in. Long before 829 even the 10-year pensioners were blanketed in, there was no actuarial principle left. I have never criticised the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Caprenter) for what he did in 1961, I think it was, when he openly stated that pensions would be based on the pay-as-you-go principle, as pensions in most democratic Western countries now are. That is the normal principle, generally speaking, in progressive countries, and we brought ours into line in their financing in 1961.
I should have appreciated it greatly if the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames had been present today so that I could have heard his view on the doctrine enunciated by his hon. Friend the Member for Worthing. I understand the hon. Gentleman's argument to be that, because we no longer have pensions paid into a fund and one is entitled to one's bit, plus the employer's bit, plus interest or plus profits as under a private policy—incidentally, we never really did that at all, but, as the hon. Gentleman says, we have new openly and admittedly ceased to do it—it would be right that people should at least have the Exchequer's contribution. His view is that, since we now say that the contribution earns a person an entitlement which he will receive in his due time, and the money is used meanwhile to meet existing liabilities, there being that sort of combination—which, I agree, needs some explaining—then, according to that doctrine, the Exchequer contribution is additional and anyone should be able to have that.
I have looked into this carefully. I looked into it before the White Paper was produced, and again before this debate. It is not a tenable proposition. A more radical change has been made. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames did a more radical change when he openly moved to pay-as-you-go. The basic principle of pay-as-you-go is that the contribution earns an entitlement. That is to say, there is a personal relationship between the amount one pays in and the amount one has out. There is a formula according to how this is done, but it has never been said that there should be only two parties to the business. I have always regarded it as a tripartite system, the State's contribution being a third contribution. There is no reason to say that that is available as a 830 hand-out to anyone who is not a contributory member. It is my considered view that under any pension scheme one will always have a number of people who fail to qualify for pension. It cannot be avoided, for instance, where they have lived abroad for many years, or where there are problems of illness or disability. There will always be some people who fall through the network of the pension, and for whom there must be a supplementary benefit scheme. There must be rules, and ours are not the same as the hon. Gentleman's.
§ Mr. Higgins
The point is that the right hon. Gentleman is changing the rules, and successive Governments have changed them. There is no magical formula. It is a purely arbitrary decision of the Government to pay more, and the contributions do not earn the total pension. If the Government can do that for people who have contributed, they can equally decide to give justice to those whom we are discussing.
§ Mr. Crossman
I look forward to a long debate on the White Paper. If we want to debate the exact interpretation of the contributory principle for pensions we can do so at length then. I can only say shortly to the hon. Gentleman that we do not share his view. It is nonsensical. I do not believe that it is held by any other pay-as-you-go scheme, whether the American Federal scheme or others in Europe. But I shall look carefully at the hon. Gentleman's point and give him a considered reply in our next debate.
I do not think that he will find that many people who deal with insurance would accept his view and interpretation, least of all as justification for saying that non-contributors will be entitled to some National Insurance pension because they can get their share of the percentage put in by the State. This would apply not only to those he mentioned, who were too old in 1948, but, as far as I can see, to any non-contributor. He would be saying that any non-contributor has that right, and would be extending the principle beyond people who were non-contributors through no fault of their own. The hon. Gentleman would embarrass his hon. Friends who sought to narrow the principle to apply it to those who tried hard to contribute. He is keen on logic, and I do not think that 831 in logic he can combine the belief that the State contribution belongs by right to every taxpayer, and can be got at by the taxpayer, with the view that we are considering 125,000 or 130,000 people who wanted to pay contributions and were excluded through no fault of their own. That seems a totally different theory. I understood from what the hon. Member for Farnham said that we were dealing with that narrow group, and not on the basis of the State contribution to the pension.
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan
I was also trying to make the point which my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing (Mr. Higgins) developed at greater length and with more clarity, that the argument against paying these people a pension that they have not contributed to does not apply to that part of the pension to which my hon. Friend referred. The right hon. Gentleman finds another argument on the contributory principle for not paying them. It may be equally unjust in his view to pay them, but he cannot say that it is unjust because of the contributory principle.
§ Mr. Crossman
We had better reserve the rest of this argument, having clarified our position.
The hon. Gentleman says that the State's contribution of roughly 18 per cent. of the total is not to be counted as a contribution but something which can be got hold of, even after the result, by anybody else. When one says that, one destroys any basis of the scheme, and I reject it totally. It has always been a tripartite scheme, with three elements contributing—the employer, the State and the employee. Each makes genuine contributions. None can pull anything out of the scheme half way, because that would make it totally unworkable.
So much for the technical arguments used on that point. The hon. Member for Farnham contended that one could successfully isolate a foolproof moral case for a group of people who had honestly wanted to contribute but were denied the opportunity. I have shown that this cannot be isolated. If the hon. Gentleman wants 125,000 people included, he is asking for pensions for a number of people who could have contributed but decided not to do so. So that case has gone. 832 He should have known that before he started.
§ Mr. Maurice Macmillan
But I was asking also on behalf of a number of people who were excluded and who could not have been included.
§ Mr. Crossman
I have given the hon. Gentleman the total of those who either were not or could not. That is the total number.
§ Mr. Crossman
We have given the hon. Gentleman the two. He said first of all one and then the other. There is the meaning of it.
I do not think there is a serious case for arguing that people should get part-pensions. It is an extraordinary theory that, if one cannot pay them the whole, one should pay them part. Either one is in or out of a club. Either one joins and is entitled or one does not join and therefore is not entitled. The case for partial pensioning is not only actuarially but practically unsound, and it is certainly undesirable.
We have a clear test before us. One can say that the whole business of contributions is very complex, burdensome and bureaucratic. My hon. Friend the Member for Bedfordshire, South suggests that we might scrap the whole basis of contributions. Of course, one can take the view that we should have a non-contributory principle, that we should have a flat-rate universal pension for all citizens paid out of taxation. One could have it either with a means test or without. I have seen both versions.
Sweden has a no-means-tested flat-rate pension for every citizen with a passport. They cut out all the bother. Everyone gets it, irrespective of wealth. But in such schemes a pension is either very low in order to be afforded, or very high, in which case the taxation to pay for it is formidable. If it is high enough to be worth having, it has to be means-tested, as in Australia. However, my hon. Friend was the only person to suggest that we should look at that, and the Opposition are not asking gor anything like a non-contributory system.
The Opposition are admitting that we should have a contributory system but 833 at the same time are saying that, although it should be contributory, we should pay out for those who are not contributors. I find this rather a ridiculous proposition at a time when we are re-asserting the importance of the contributory principle.
The right hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) put forward a most important point, which I can appreciate. He says, "Let us think of these people not as non-contributors but as old people. They are all over 80. Is there not a case in any revision of pension plans for having classifications to avoid the individual means test?" That point is worthy of consideration and the right hon. Gentleman put it movingly. He suggested classification by groups, varying the amount of pension according to group. He suggested that one of the classifications should be by age, so that a pension paid at a certain level at the age of 65 should go up at 70 and then again at 80, for example. This, indeed, has almost been made official Conservative policy.
But I think that it is wrong, for two reasons. First, there is no real evidence that need in old age is precisely related to the particular period of old age. Someone younger than 70 may desperately need something more than a person over 70. The difficulty is that, if one is going to increase a pension at the age of 70 or 80, or whatever stages might be selected, one will either do so by increasing the total burden of the pension or by decreasing the value of the pensions lower down.
Secondly, the Opposition are demanding reduction of taxation but there would be a great addition to the burden of taxation if, to the flat-rate level, we added automatic increases at different ages. We must cost what would be the total increase incurred if we decided to agree to guarantees against inflation or to automatic adjustments and, in addition, to guarantee further increases at 70 or 80. All this would be formidably to increase the burden. If there were extra money, I would use it differently.
§ Mr. Turton
Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake a survey in his Department to see whether the incidence of applications for supplementary benefit varies with age? When I was at the Ministry, I found that the proportion of 834 the very old was more than double that of those who had just reached pensionable age.
§ Mr. Crossman
I wanted to complete the argument and to say what I felt. I think that there is a great deal to be said for trying to get group need analysed, but there are two groups which I consider to be more important than age groups. One is the sex group. The widow constitutes a group which needs special treatment because of all the people who are poor and unhappy, the widow forms a large element and she lives alone. Therefore, in our White Paper we have made special provision for the widow as a group.
The other group about which I am concerned is those who have disability. If I had to look for other areas of further development, I would go for disability, and that is why, for the first time, we have introduced the concept of a constant attendance allowance. I would look for help for disability as a group before I looked to the 70s and 80s.
I absolutely accept that the right hon. Gentleman knows a great deal about the subject and I would not say that I knew that I was right, but I have a deep feeling that he would find that much of the money which he would give to the people of 70 and 80 would be going to well-off people who could afford not to have it, and so his principle of selectivity would have gone and he might do better by considering my suggestion of regarding widowhood and disability as more important groups, relevant to the issue of cash benefit, than old-age pensioners.
Thirdly, it is my view, although I may be wrong, that care and social services, become more and more important relevant to cash the older one grows. The right hon. Gentleman was right about this. He mentioned a case—and I was very much aware of what he was thinking about—of people having to go a long way from home. The case which he has in mind has very much touched me. This is the problem of old people being moved to old people's homes or hospitals 30 miles from where they have lived. I would say that the provision of domiciliary help in their own homes in the first place, home helps and health workers, and then old people's homes near enough for there to be constant visiting by relatives, is of the highest 835 priority. If I have to compare needs, I would rather spend another £20 million, or much more than that, in that way than on some grading up of cash benefits for those of 70 or 80.
This was the view of my predecessors responsible for social security and health when those Departments were independent and tremendous advances have been made under the present Government in the provision of services. We have greatly increased, although not nearly enough, the number of home helps. We have enormously increased the number of places at old people's homes. We have spent a lot of money in capital investment and maintenance is extremely expensive, and we have done what we can with the rent rebate, which is a cash benefit.
I would have thought that we had a good record over the last four years of helping this very group of the 80-year-olds, for practically everybody in an old people's home is over 80, because the pressure is so great and they need to be there. I think that I am right, but I am prepared to think again and study it. However, it is the view of the Government, and I believe it is the view of my hon. Friends, that if we have the choice and if the people of the country have the choice between a party which says that the cash benefits should be increased at 70 and 80 and a party which says that we should increase the services and the care given by voluntary associations, the choice will be the latter.
Loneliness is one of the worst things of all. Those who have worked in the welfare services know that we owe these people more than sheer cash. I was rebuked by a number of self-righteous hon. Members opposite for being inhumane, but I wonder whether there has not been more humanity in what we have been doing in the last four years than there was in the speeches of hon. Members opposite.
§ Mr. James Griffiths (Llanelly)
Will my right hon. Friend allow me to say with what pleasure I have listened to his speech, and particularly the last part of it? My experience has been, and continues to be, that the biggest problem of old age is that of care for the old, particularly when there is left only one 836 of the two old partners. A great part of the problem is that they are very lonely. I think my right hon. Friend is right in concentrating upon that as one of the most urgent problems of old age, particularly since such a large number of the old are beyond 80.
§ Mr. Crossman
My right hon. Friend knows more than most of us about this problem and has done more in it.
Somebody below the Gangway said about the Bill that the whole point of the Bill and what the Bill is about is that what the old people want is a special pension, if necessary well below the level of the National Insurance pension. I have pointed out that nearly half of them are getting far better than that through supplementary benefits, and rate rebates. Moreover, I have pointed out that the number of those who would gain in cash terms by this Bill would be the minimum number. It is wrong to make the contention that the benefits should be in cash, rather than in services, if we want to help all of them. In the last four years, while hon. Members opposite have debated year after year, we have been actually changing the position of the old people and improving it. It is for all of these reasons that I ask for the rejection of the Bill.
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)
The right hon. Gentleman spoke very sincerely on this problem, and of course care and home help and so on are all part of the problem of the very old, but the right hon. Gentleman disappointed me by seeming to lose sight completely of the fact that we are dealing with the special case of people who, at the moment, have reached a minimum age of 86 and that, therefore, we are dealing with a problem which needs immediate attention if we are to deal with it at all.
It is of no use saying that in 10 years' time we shall have more domiciliary arrangements, it is no use saying that in 10 years' time we shall have more home help. The inference of this is that we have a lot of time to work this problem out. My hon. Friends who are sponsoring the Bill realise that there are all these aspects, as the right hon. Gentleman says, to the problem, but they also realise that if we are to deal with it we must deal with it at once, or we shall not be able 837 to deal with it at all. He was talking about the lonely. Yes, but if a person gets a pension as a result of this Bill he or she will probably be able to obtain some help immediately, not in several years' time when it will be too late. What has been completely lacking by right hon. and hon. Members opposite is realisation that we are dealing with a problem which must be dealt with now, and that once the problem has disappeared it will have disappeared for ever. I am not as hostile as some of my hon. Friends are to the Government's attitude, but I must insist that they understand that if we are to deal with the problem it must be dealt with now, and that it arises because under the original Act these people were left out.
§ Mr. James Griffiths
Hon. Members opposite keep on talking about people having been left out. It was agreed unanimously in this House that contributions to insurance would cease at 65. Hon. Members opposite talk as though it was decided that some people should be left out. That was not how it was decided It was a question of age. No one on this side of the House or that suggested in 1945 or 1946 that contributions should be paid beyond the age of 65.
§ Sir D. Glover
I accept everything the right hon. Gentleman says. I do not think there was this division across the Floor of the House at that time. At that time the problem had not arisen. We had not got people over 80 suffering because they had been left out. Only since my hon. Friend the Member for Abingdon (Mr. Neave) brought this matter to the House
§ has the nation realised that when we did something in 1946 we created a problem.
§ I accept that not everyone of these old people is on the breadline. But with the drop in the value of money, an enormous number of them, if they were drawing an additional amount by way of pension, would be able to provide themselves with some home help which inflation has prevented them from providing out of their own resources. This would be doing exactly what the Secretary of State said the Government would like to do.
§ The Bill would deal with this problem. It would alleviate the loneliness of these old people. In the last 12 months, 25,000 people of this age have died. In the next 12 months, the figure will be more than 25,000 because these old people are getting older. Therefore, the percentage of deaths in any one year will rise. If the House wants to do something for these old people it must do it now. It cannot be done as a result of steps which might be taken in the non-forseeable future or by providing for more old people's homes. By the time that that happens, the problem will have been solved by death.
§ My hon. Friends have done a valuable job by bringing the Bill before the House. I hope that the humanitarian approach of most hon. Members will ensure that it gets a Second Reading.
§ Question put, That the Bill be now read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 96, Noes 157.839
|Division No 58.]||AYES||[3.58 p.m.|
|Astor, John||Elliott, R. W.(N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, N.)||Holland, Phillp|
|Atkins, Humphrey (M't'n & M'd'n)||Emery, Peter||Hordern, Peter|
|Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Errington, Sir Eric||Hunt, John|
|Bell, Ronald||Fisher, Nigel||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)|
|Berry, Hn. Anthony||Fortescue, Tim||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Gibson-Watt, David||Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.)|
|Birch, Rt. Hn. Nigel||Giles, Rear-Adm. Morgan||Kimball, Marcus|
|Black, Sir Cyril||Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.)||Langford-Holt, Sir John|
|Blaker, Peter||Glover, Sir Douglas||Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry|
|Body, Richard||Glyn, Sir Richard||Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'dfield)|
|Bossom, Sir Clive||Goodhew, Victor||Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John||Grant, Anthony||Longden, Gilbert|
|Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward||Gresham Cooke, R.||Lubbock, Eric|
|Braine, Bernard||Grieve, Percy||McAdden, Sir Stephen|
|Bullus, Sir Eric||Griffiths, Eldon (Bury St. Edmunds)||Macmillan, Maurice (Farnham)|
|Campbell, B. (Oldham, W.)||Gurden, Harold||Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.|
|Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert||Hall, John (Wycombe)||Maydon, Lt.-Cmdr. S. L. C.|
|Channon, II. P. G.||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere||Montgomery, Fergus|
|Crouch, David||Hastings, Stephen||Mott-Radclyffe, Sir Charles|
|Dean, Paul||Heald, Rt. Hn. Sir Lionel||Neave, Airey|
|Doughty, Charles||Heseltine, Michael||Onslow, Cranley|
|Drayson, G. B.||Hill, J. E. B.||Page, Graham (Crosby)|
|Eden, Sir John||Hogg, Rt. Hn. Quintin||Page, John (Harrow, W.)|
|Peel, John||Russell, Sir Ronald||van Straubenzee, W. R.|
|Percival, Ian||Scott, Nicholas||Vaughan-Morgan, Rt. Hn. Sir John|
|Price, David (Eastleigh)||Sharples, Richard||Vickers, Dame Joan|
|Prior, J. M. L.||Silvester, Frederick||Weatherill, Bernard|
|Pym, Francis||Smith, John (London & W'minster)||Wells, John (Maidstone)|
|Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter||Stainton, Keith||Worsley, Marcus|
|Rees-Davies, W. R.||Summers, Sir Spencer|
|Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David||Tapsell, Peter||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)||Mr. W. H. Loveys and|
|Ridley, Hn. Nicholas||Turton, Rt. Hn. R. H.||Mr. Terence L. Higgins.|
|Albu, Austen||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||O'Malley, Brian|
|Anderson, Donald||Haseldine, Norman||Oram, Albert E.|
|Archer, Peter||Hattersley, Roy||Orme, Stanley|
|Ashley, Jack||Herbison, Rt. Hn. Margaret||Owen, Dr. David (Plymouth, S'tn)|
|Atkins, Ronald (Preston, N.)||Hilton, W. S.||Page, Derek (King's Lynn)|
|Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham)||Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas||Paget, R. T.|
|Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood||Howell, Denis (Small Heath)||Palmer, Arthur|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Howie, W.||Panned, Rt. Hn. Charles|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Hoy, James||Parkin, Ben (Paddington, N.)|
|Boston, Terence||Huckfield, Leslie||Parkyn, Brian (Bedford)|
|Boyden, James||Hynd, John||Pavitt, Laurence|
|Bradley, Tom||Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill)||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred|
|Bray, Dr. Jeremy||Jenkins, Hugh (Putney)||Pentland, Norman|
|Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne, W.)||Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford)||Perry, Ernest G. (Battersea, S.)|
|Buchan, Norman||Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Prentice, Rt. Hn. R. E.|
|Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James||Judd, Frank||Rees, Merlyn|
|Coe, Denis||Judd, Frank||Reynolds, Rt. Hn. G. W.|
|Concannon, J. D.||Kelley, Richard||Richard, Ivor|
|Cronin, John||Kenyon, Clifford||Roberts, Gwilym (Bedfordshire, S.)|
|Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Kerr, Russell (Feltham)||Robinson, Rt. Hn. Kenneth (St. P'c'as)|
|Crossman, Rt. Hn. Richard||Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick (Newton)||Roebuck, Roy|
|Dalyell, Tam||Lee, Rt. Hn. Jennie (Cannock)||Ryan, John|
|Davidson, Arthur (Accrington)||Lestor, Miss Joan||Shaw, Arnold (llford, S.)|
|Delargy, Hugh||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Sheldon, Robert|
|Dell, Edmund||Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)||Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)|
|Dewar, Donald||Loughlin, Charles||Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)|
|Diamond, Rt. Hn. John||Luard, Evan||Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)|
|Dickens, Jamas||McBride, Neil||Skeffington, Arthur|
|Driberg, Tom||McCann, John||Slater, Joseph|
|Dunwoody, Mrs. Gwyneth (Exeter)||MacColl, James||Snow, Julian|
|Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e)||Macdonald, A. H.||Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||McKay, Mrs. Margaret||Swingler, Stephen|
|Ellis, John||Mackie, John||Taverns, Dick|
|English, Michael||Maclennan, Robert||Thomson, Rt. Hn. George|
|Ennals, David||MacPherson, Malcolm||Tomney, Frank|
|Evans, Fred (Caerphilly)||Mallalieu, J. P. W.(Huddersfield, E.)||Varley, Eric G.|
|Faulds, Andrew||Marks, Kenneth||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Fernyhough, E.||Marquand, David||Wallace, George|
|Finch, Harold||Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard||Watkins, David (Consett)|
|Fletcher, Rt. Hn. Sir Eric (Islington, E.)||Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy||Weitzman, David|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Maxwell, Robert||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Foley, Maurice||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert||Whitaker, Ben|
|Foot, Rt. Hn. Sir Dingle (Ipswich)||Mendelson, John||White, Mrs. Eirene|
|Fowler, Gerry||Mikardo, Ian||Whitlock, William|
|Freeson, Reginald||Miller, Dr. M. S.||Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)|
|Ginsburg, David||Mitchell, R. C. (S'th'pton, Test)||Williams, Alan Lee (Hornchurch)|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hn. P. C.||Molloy, William||Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)|
|Greenwood, Rt. Hn. Anthony||Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)||Willis, Rt. Hn. George|
|Gregory, Arnold||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)||Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)|
|Grey, Charles (Durham)||Morris, John (Aberavon)||Winnick, David|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hn. James (Llanelly)||Moyle, Roland|
|Hamilton, William (Fife, W.)||Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hamling, William||Murray, Albert||Mr. Alan Fitch and|
|Harper, Joseph||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.)||Mr. Ioan L. Evans.|